Good Eats

Eat Like a Local in Chattanooga

Chef Erik Niel’s go-to greasy spoons

photo: HEATHER ANN THOMAS


Between Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the famed choo-choo, Chattanooga is widely known for its attractions. Lately, the city’s culinary culture has begun drawing raves, too. “Chattanooga food is at a breakout moment,” says local chef and James Beard-semifinalist Erik Niel. “It’s ready for things to happen.” Niel has been at the forefront of this citywide food renaissance with his two restaurants, Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats, and the Scenic City Supper Club, a quarterly gathering he co-founded to bring in top chefs from around the country to collaborate with and promote up-and-coming local talent. Despite his forward-looking approach to food, Niel’s local favorites are the tried-and-true restaurants that have nourished the city for decades. Below, see his picks for places to eat in Tennessee’s Scenic City.


Champy’s Fried Chicken
526 E. ML King Boulevard, Chattanooga

“This is one of my weaknesses. It’s turned into a small chain, but the original one is on MLK Boulevard. You can get forties and fowl, they say. And they have a drive-through window, so we get a family pack of fried chicken and sides. It’s fried to order, fresh, delicious, and makes me so happy.”  —  champyschicken.com

TARA DONNE


Sugar’s Ribs
2450 15th Avenue, Chattanooga

“This is my favorite place to go with my wife and my six-year-old son, who is extremely picky. Sugar’s sits on a mountain in East Ridge. It’s run by Lawton Haygood, who’s one of my restaurateur heroes, and his wife Karen. I lived in Texas for high school and college, and it’s the Texas boy in me who likes Sugar’s. It’s the best barbecue gets around here. And there’s a little family of goats on the hill by the restaurant, so every time we go we have to get cabbage leaves from the kitchen and feed them. My son has been doing it since he was two and we can’t stop now.” —  sugarsribs.com

COURTESY OF SUGAR’S RIBS


River Street Deli
151 River Street, Chattanooga 

“I love sandwiches way more than I should. River Street Deli is owned by a New York ex-pat and he just knows how to run a deli. I like to go in on Mondays and get Stromboli—Mondays are Stromboli day. I’m from Louisiana, so I know his version of a muffaletta is not a New Orleans muffaletta, but it gets me there. It’s so good. I also never walk out of there without a side of egg salad.” — riverstreet-deli.com

COURTESY RIVER STREET DELI


Zarzour’s
1627 Rossville Avenue, Chattanooga

“Zarzour’s is named for the family that runs it. It’s by most accounts the oldest restaurant in Chattanooga, and it’s our greasy spoon. If you’ve partaken a little too much the night before, it really hits the spot. It’s like going to eat at a friend’s house with a little kitchenette—it predates Waffle House in that way.” — facebook.com/zarzourscafe

COURTESY OF ZARZOUR’S


Uncle Larry’s Restaurant
736 E. ML King Boulevard, Chattanooga

“This is just down the street from Champy’s. They’ve got fried chicken and fried catfish, but I’d say the fish is what they’re known best for. It’s southern soul food and really good. Kind of a dive, but it’s delicious.” — unclelarrysrestaurant.com

COURTESY OF UNCLE LARRY’S

 


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