Southern dining has never been more exciting or diverse than it is right now, with new restaurants serving everything from made-to-order pitas to all-but-extinct beaten biscuits. And thanks to these soon-to-be hot spots, our golden age ought to last for years to come.
Durham, North Carolina
Set to open in January
Plenty of restaurateurs are still talking about farm-to-table, but the three friends behind this one-of-a-kind joint really do follow their whole-hog barbecue all the way from pen to plate: Ryan Butler delivers heritage pigs from his farm to pit master Wyatt Dickson. Ben Adams handles the rest of the menu: everything from pork rinds and boiled peanuts to smoked fried chicken and sides of bacon-braised collard greens and sorghum-glazed sweet potatoes. It’s a modern-day meat-and-three, with roots in local barbecue tradition.—picnicdurham.com
Brush Sushi Izakaya
Set to open in February
Japanese food in the United States could taste so much better, Jason Liang says. Other chefs too often settle for crowd-pleasers like salmon and tuna, sourced from who-knows-where. “Sushi requires tremendous care and detail,” he says, which is why he gets fresh amberjack, mackerel, shrimp, and more from southeastern waters.
That insistence on quality ingredients extends to the rest of his sake-friendly menu, too. “There are a lot of chefs now using factory-farmed chicken, which I hate,” Liang says. “The texture of it is really, really bad, and the flavor is not right.” Grassroots Farms in Reidsville, Georgia, supplies pastured poultry for his charcoal-grilled yakitori skewers. “Americanized restaurants serve everything with spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce, which everybody likes,” he says. “Not as many people appreciate the delicate flavor of fresh fish with a brush of soy sauce. We’re hoping to educate our customers a little bit.”—brushatl.com
Set to open in March
Westfield, New Jersey native Michael Friedman makes award-winning fresh pastas at the Red Hen. Now, he is launching a second project: a tribute to the pizzerias of his childhood, with a menu that includes everything from meatballs to fried calamari to pies loaded with black truffles, lamb sausage, and more, along with locally produced country hams and wines. It’s poised to be another comfort food hit in one of the country’s new dining capitals.
Revolver Taco Lounge and Purépecha Room
Set to open in March
Revolver Taco Lounge has been a family business since it opened in Fort Worth in 2011. On any given night, you might catch owner Regino Rojas working the dining room at the white-tablecloth taqueria while his mother stirs the carnitas and his father washes dishes. And at the soon-to-open second location, a small number of diners will be able to join the family for a few hours each night, in a small, reservations-only room behind more traditional taqueria. “It’ll have an open kitchen, with my mom, sisters and aunt cooking more complex dishes, like mole, birria, and chiles en nogada,” Rojas says. “We want to feed you special dishes, but also teach you how we make them, and make you feel like you’re part of our family.” As is the case in many home kitchens, the day-to-day menu will be mostly up to mom. “My mom is the type of person who wakes up in the morning, goes to two or three stores, and cooks whatever she thinks is good,” he says. “I want her to have that freedom.”—revolvertacolounge.com
Shovel & Pick
Set to open in August
Travis Milton, from Wise County, Virginia, isn’t the first chef to champion Appalachia. After years of in-your-face displays of ramps, skillet cornbread, and white whiskey from tattooed revivalists all over the country, it might not seem like there’s a whole lot left to explore. Milton’s incredible larder, though, is proof that surprises remain. Expect heirloom varieties of corn, squash, and beans, as well as house-made vinegars and plenty of pickles, at this project from the critically lauded former chef de cuisine at Comfort, also in Richmond.