Best of Jackson 2014: Food & Drink

Best Happy Hour; Most Innovative Menu; Best Margarita; Best Mexican/Latin; Best Outdoor Dining; Best Place for a First Date: Babalu Tacos and Tapas

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Courtesy Babalu

622 Duling Ave., Suite 106, 601-366-5757, babalums.com

Babalu Tacos and Tapas is the kind of restaurant people talk about nonstop when they leave Jackson. It's the kind of place they miss while studying in France, among some of the best cuisine in the world. Babalu is the kind of place that appeals to just about every type of gastronome—young and old, vegetarian and carnivore, teetotaler and happy-hour enthusiast.

When Babalu moved into Duling Hall in 2010, it brought "I Love Lucy" marathons and tableside guacamole and fresh tacos and that incredible burger. Signature cocktails such as the Pepe O'Malley, Baba Blue and Baba-Rita made a splash immediately. Since then, Babalu has continued to grow and innovate, offering seasonal infused margaritas with flavors such as blood orange and hibiscus, and Executive Chef David Ferris' dinner specials such as pan-seared scallops or whole roasted quail. This winter, the restaurant extended the life of its outdoor porch dining space, enclosing it in to stave off the cold. The eatery has been so successful that owners Bill Latham and Al Roberts, and their business partners, are opening a second location in Memphis with plans for a Birmingam location to follow.

The site of many a birthday party (featuring tequila-bottle sparklers), reunion, post-concert snack and first date, Babalu has become a part of the fabric of Fondren. The restaurant partners with local charities such as Stewpot and the Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital during the holidays, and offers occasional discounts for scrubs-wearing University of Mississippi Medical Center students and doctors. It's no wonder every hour is a happy one at Babalu. —Kathleen M. Mitchell

Best Happy Hour

Second: Last Call Sports Grill (1428 Old Square Road, 601-713-2700) / Third: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845) / Finalists: The Apothecary at Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 769-257-3517); Fondren Public (2765 Old Canton Road, 769-216-2589); Library Lounge at Fairview Inn (734 Fairview St., 601-948-3429)

Most Innovative Menu

Second: Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090)/ Third: Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633) / Finalists: Adobo (127 S. Roach St., 601-944-9501); The Apothecary at Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 769-257-3517); Underground 119 (119 S. President St., 601-352-2322)

Best Margarita

Second: Margaritas Mexican Restaurant (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 601-957-7672) / Third: Jaco's Tacos (318 S. State St., 601-961-7001; 7049 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-898-3242) / Finalists: La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 601-353-3014); Papitos Mexican Restaurant and Grill (111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 400, Madison, 601-605-0275; 173 Promenade Blvd., Flowood, 601-919-0448); Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland, 601-707-7950)

Best Mexican/Latin

Second: Jaco's Tacos (318 S. State St., 601-961-7001; 7049 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-898-3242) / Third: Margaritas Mexican Restaurant (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 601-957-7672) / Finalists: Cafe Ole (2752 N. State St., 769-
524-3627); La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 601-353-3014); Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland, 601-707-7950); Taqueria La Guadalupe (6537 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-206-7776)

Best Outdoor Dining

Second: Burgers & Blues (1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038)/ Third: Walker's Drive-In 
(3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633) / Finalists: Anjou Restaurant (361 Township Ave., Ridgeland, 601-707-0587); Jaco's Tacos (318 S. State St., 601-961-7001; Kristos - Casual Greek Dining (971 Madison Ave., Madison, 601-605-2266); Que Sera Sera (2801 N. State St., 601-981-2520); Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919)

Best Place for a First Date

Second: Julep Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411) / Third: BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111) / Finalists: The Apothecary at Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 769-257-3517); Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090); Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633)

Best Asian Restaurant; Best Sushi/Japanese: Nagoya Japanese Restaurant

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6351 Interstate 55 N., Suite 131, 601-977-8881; 111 Colony Crossing, Suite 380, Madison, 601-856-5678, nagoya-ms.net

People often seem surprised to discover that Jackson has some really great sushi. For the past five years, top honors has gone to Nagoya Japanese Restaurant, which offers area diners two locations where they can enjoy traditional and inventive takes on sushi as well as a hibachi menu.

On the sushi side, a full offering of fresh fish brought in daily can satisfy those who want simple sashimi in its purest sense, while Nagoya's "New Orleans Style" items like the oyster tempura roll make the adventure less intimidating for folks easing their way into sushi. The expansive menu also offers a variety of dishes featuring udon or soba noodles, as well as teriyaki dinners that come with miso soup and a salad at reasonable prices. If you find it hard to commit, combination plates give you a chance to try sushi and cooked dishes. —Julie Skipper

Best Asian Restaurant

Second: Mr. Chen's Restaurant (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865) / Third: Wasabi Sushi and Bar (100 E. Capitol St., Suite 105, 601-948-8808) / Finalists: Edo Japanese Restaurant (5834 Ridgewood Road, 601-899-8518); Miso (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 769-251-0119); Sakura Bana (4800 Interstate 55 N., Suite 11, 601-982-3035); Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant (2640 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-420-4848); Thai House (1405 Old Square Road, 601-982-9991)

Best Sushi/Japanese

Second: Little Tokyo (876 Avery Blvd., Ridgeland, 601-991-3800) / Third: Sakura Bana (4800 Interstate 55 N., Suite 11, 601-982-3035) / Finalists: Bonsai Japanese Steak House (1925 Lakeland Drive, 601-981-0606; 102 Clinton Center Drive, 601-924-4448); Crazy Ninja Rock-N-Roll Sushi & Hibachi (2560 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-420-4058); Edo Japanese Restaurant (5834 Ridgewood Road, 601-899-8518); Ichiban Hibachi and Sushi Japanese Steakhouse (153 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-0097); Wasabi Sushi and Bar (100 E. Capitol St., Suite 105, 601-948-8808)

Best Beer Selection: The Bulldog

6111 Ridgewood Road, 601-978-3502, bulldog-jackson.draftfreak.com

Tucked away in the far northeast corner of Jackson, The Bulldog looks like your garden-variety American casual-dining establishment. It isn't.

In fact, The Bulldog is one of the most pleasant surprises in Jackson. Sure, you can order a bite to eat, flirt with singles, or watch the game on one The Bulldog's large screens, but it's not quite a restaurant, nightclub or a sports bar.

Everything at The Bulldog revolves around its beer; specifically, its more than 62 beer taps. The Bulldog's managers attribute the beer pub's success to a combination of the vast selection, a CO2 and nitrogen mix they use to pump the draft, a special dishwasher and detergent for cleaning the glasses, and cleaning all the beer lines about twice a month, among other secret ingredients. —R.L. Nave

Second: Fondren Public (2765 Old Canton Road, 769-
216-2589) / Third: Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919) / Finalists: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845); Martin's Restaurant and Bar (214 S. State St., 601-354-9712); McDade's Market (Multiple Locations, mcdadesmarkets.com)

Best Meal Under $10; Best Sandwich Place: Newk's Eatery

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Courtesy Newk's Eatery

Multiple Locations, 601-709-4990, newks.com

Newk's, based in Jackson, offers budget-friendly meals and a family-friendly atmosphere. You can choose from a variety of fresh tossed salads, oven-baked sandwiches, pizzas, homemade desserts and more. The grilled chicken sandwich, served on warm toasted bread, is my favorite, while many of my co-workers gravitate toward the Pimiento cheese sandwich. Did I mention the loaded potato soup? It is always a crowd pleaser. In fact, all the soups are one of Newk's greatest-selling points (check the website for rotating daily soup schedule). To round out the meal, Newk's also serves desserts, including homemade cakes (buy a slice for your meal or take a whole one home), peanut-butter crispies and brownies. The "grab and go" station is available for those on the run or stopping through to pick up a quick meal. —Adriane Louie

Best Meal Under $10

Second: Georgia Blue (Multiple Locations, georgiablue.net) / Third: Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427) / Finalists: Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033); Basil's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2100; 120 N. Congress St., Suite L1, 601-944-9888); Cafe Ole (2752 N. State St., 769-524-3627); Gloria's Kitchen (2855 Bailey Ave., 601-362-0009)

Best Sandwich Place

Second: Room Service (4659 McWillie Drive, 601-362-4617; 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 104, Ridgeland, 601-707-3600) / Third: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-
362-2900) / Finalists: Basil's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2100; 120 N. Congress St., Suite L1, 601-
944-9888); Beagle Bagel Cafe (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 145, 769-251-1892; 898 Avery Blvd. N., Ridgeland, 601-956-1773; 100 Mannsdale Park Drive, Madison, 601-
856-4377); Steve's Deli (125 S. Congress St., Suite 103, 601-969-1119; 200 S. Lamar St., 601-714-5683)

Best Barbecue; Best Place for Ribs: E&L Barbeque

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1111 Bailey Ave., 601-355-5035

When my mother-in-law came to visit in the spring, she said wanted to try some great ribs while she was here, and the first place that came to mind was E&L. So one afternoon we piled into the car for our great barbecue adventure. When you first pull up to E&L, you might be a bit unsure if you're at the right address. The no-frills eatery often doesn't even look open. Yet regardless of the restaurant's appearance, its food is exquisite.

You'll almost always encounter a line during E&L's regular hours (from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until midnight Friday and Saturday), but the wait is worth it. When we got home, we rolled up our sleeves and dove into our succulent, sticky-sweet, tangy, big-ole messy Styrofoam box. Since that trip, I've been back several times, and I've not once been disappointed. Although simple, the menu at E&L offers something for everyone: spare ribs, rib tips, smoked hot links, polish sausage, chicken wings, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, turkey legs, pork, pig ear and steak sandwiches, catfish, pan trout filets, baked beans and potato salad. Put simply, E&L is meaty heaven. And always, always say yes to "sauce on fries."—ShaWanda Jacome

Best Barbecue

Second: Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 601-956-7079) / Third: Chimneyville Smokehouse (970 High St., 601-354-4665) Finalists: Haute Pig (now closed); State Street Barbeque (960 N. State St., 601-961-3433)

Best Place for Ribs

Second: Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 601-956-7079) / Third: Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q (2603 Highway 80 W., 601-355-7434; 1374 W. Government St., Brandon, 601-825-7675) / Finalists: Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland, 601-707-7950); State Street Barbeque (960 N. State St., 601-961-3433)

Best Breakfast; Best Brunch: Another Broken Egg

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1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 1009, 601-790-9170, anotherbrokenegg.com

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. With its warm and inviting atmosphere, Another Broken Egg Cafe is the perfect way to kick off a day of shopping at the Renaissance at Colony Park. The restaurant offers more than 114 different combinations of menu items. Traditional pancakes and cinnamon roll French toast, healthy fruit plates and yogurt parfaits, omelettes, eggs benedict, and Huevos Rancheros are some of the popular dishes. A local favorite is the sweet potato pancake, topped with a cinnamon-marmalade-infused syrup along with spiced pecans and whipped cream. Shrimp and grits is also a crowd-pleasing selection. If you like your brunch to lean more toward the lunch side, Another Broken Egg also offers heartier, more savory fare including sandwiches, salads and burgers. —Adriane Louie

Best Breakfast

Second: Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398) / Third: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-
362-2900) / Finalists: Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427); Sneaky Beans (2914 N. State St., 601-487-6349)

Best Brunch

Second: Julep Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411) / Third: Nick's Restaurant 
(3000 Old Canton Road, 601-981-8017) / Finalists: Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562); Mint the Restaurant (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 5002, 601-898-6468); Sophia's Restaurant at Fairview Inn (734 Fairview St., 601-948-3429); Table 100 (100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202)

Best Place for Healthy Food; Best Vegetarian Options: Rainbow Co-op

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2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602, rainbowcoop.org

Big-box grocery stores don't always have the best options if you're trying to eat healthy. Often, the produce isn't organic, and specialty items can be difficult to find, dwarfed by extra-large chip bags and frozen food in bulk. If you want healthier groceries, look no further than the ueber-local Rainbow Co-op in Fondren. Don't be fooled—Rainbow might look like a tiny grocery store, but it contains a great selection of natural, healthy, and vegan foods and ingredients. If you're seeking hard-to-find ingredients such as kefir and almond flour, Rainbow has you covered. The store has rows and rows of different types of flour, nuts, trail mix and other foods, with plastic bags and zip ties at each end so customers can measure out the amount they want.

Rainbow also got the vote for Best Vegetarian Options. The store has a great selection of vegetarian foods, including multiple varieties of veggie burgers and tons of tofu. If you're looking for a good vegetarian restaurant, look no further than High Noon Cafe, housed inside the complex.—Amber Helsel

Best Place for Healthy Food

Second: Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033) / Third: High Noon Cafe (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1513) / Finalist: Adobo (127 S. Roach St., 601-944-9501)

Best Vegetarian Options

Second: High Noon Cafe (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1513) / Third: Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033) / Finalists: Adobo (127 S. Roach St., 
601-944-9501); BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111)

Best Greek Restaurant; Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern: Keifer's

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705 Poplar Blvd., 601-355-6825; 120 N. Congress St., 601-353-4976

Keifer's is a popular winner every year, and for good reason. The restaurant Rick Olson and Paula Coe opened three decades ago consistently serves good food, fast and dependable. Now with a second location downtown and a new and improved location across the street from its original home, the Greek eatery serves lunch and dinner to an eclectic mix of college students, medical personnel, businesspeople, families and more.

Popular menu items including the chicken gyro, thick-cut cottage fries and pita mozz (or as I like to think of it—a feta dressing delivery system) have propelled Keifer's to its sixth Best Greek Restaurant award in a row—and this year, the eatery proves its hummus can stand with the best of them, taking the Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern prize as well. So grab a group of friends, order some pitchers of beer to split and enjoy Keifer's brand of comfort food. —Kathleen M. Mitchell

Best Greek

Second: Bill's Greek Tavern (4760 McWillie Drive, 601-982-9295) / Third: Kristos - Casual Greek Dining (971 Madison Ave., Madison, 601-605-2266) / Finalists: Krilakis (207 W. Jackson St., Suite D, Ridgeland, 601-790-9463); Wraps (1220 E. Northside Drive, Suite 420, 601-366-2006)

Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern

Second: Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033) / Third: Mediterranean Fish and Grill (6550 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-0082) / Finalist: Petra Cafe (2741 Old Canton Road, 601-366-0161)

Best Lunch Buffet; Best Soul Food: 
Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin'

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480 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-856-4407

Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin' in Madison is the definition of soul food—the chefs and restaurant owners put their souls into their food. I remember as a kid hearing Mama Hamil herself singing "Amazing Grace" from the kitchen of the small cabin that housed the restaurant until its move to a larger space in 2007.

I love taking friends visiting from out of state to Mama Hamil's because it truly captures Mississippi's authenticity. With the long picnic-table-style seating, you're elbow-to-elbow with people from all walks of life, all smiling, talking and enjoying their meal. The community captures the spirit of the south, and the food reflects the tastes of our culture. Collard greens, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pulled pork are just some of my favorites from the buffet. Of course, you can't forget to top it off with the homemade banana pudding or fruit cobbler. There's a reason Mama Hamil's dominates in these categories every year—it is simply the best. —Holly Perkins

Best Lunch Buffet

Second: Two Sisters' Kitchen (707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180) / Third: Ichiban Hibachi and Sushi Japanese Steakhouse (153 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-0097) / Finalists: Spice Avenue (4711 Interstate 55 N., 601-982-0890); Thai House (1405 Old Square Road, 601-982-9991)

Best Soul Food

Second: Two Sisters' Kitchen (707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180) / Third: Peaches (327 N. Farish St., 601-354-9267) / Finalists: Collins Dream Kitchen (1439 University Blvd., 601-
353-3845); Gloria's Kitchen (2855 Bailey Ave., 601-362-0009)

Best New Restaurant; Best Plate Lunch: 
Georgia Blue

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223 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-1900; 111 Colony Crossing, Suite 130 Madison, 601-898-3330; georgiablue.net

Georgia Blue offers a relaxed, home-style atmosphere dipped in southern flavor, with classic ingredients such as grits and crawfish re-imagined in more adventurous dishes (crawfish crepes or turnip green bites, anyone?) Dishes are served on bowl-shaped license plates, a nice, creative twist. Each weekday, Georgia Blue serves up a rotating lineup of classic blue-plate fare: country-fried steak, chicken and dumplings, and black-eyed peas are just a few of the items you can choose from.

The restaurant prides itself on defying labels. "We like to think of Georgia Blue as a wildcard in the restaurant world," the website says. Although the locally owned restaurant chain has only been around for a few years, Georgia Blue is already looking to expand to a fourth location—and beyond. The two locations in the Jackson metro also offer live performances by bands and guest singers on weekends. —Brittany Sanford

Best New Restaurant

Second: The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562) Third: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845) / Finalists: Cafe Ole 
(2752 N. State St., 769-524-3627); Miso (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 769-251-0119)

Best Plate Lunch

Second: McDade's Market (Multiple Locations, mcdadesmarkets.com) / Third: Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398) / Finalists: Cherokee Inn (1410 Old Square Road, 601-362-6388); Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888); The Trace Grill (574 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-853-1014); Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633)

Best Hangover Food; Best Pizza: The Pizza Shack

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925 E. Fortification St., 601-352-2001; 5046 Parkway Drive, Suite 6, 601-957-1975, thepizzashackjackson.com

The Pizza Shack calls itself the "neighborhood pizza place," and this year, Best of Jackson voters agree. The Pizza Shack, which has been in business since 2005, offers "Mississippi style" pizza, boasting an eclectic and extremely expansive menu. Try buffalo wings, cheese sticks or breadsticks for a traditional starter. Next, follow that up with one of The Pizza Shack's specialty pizzas, such as Double Cheeseburger (double seasoned beef with special sauce blend, aged cheddar cheese sauce, sliced American cheese, shredded cheddar, pickles and onions) or Cajun Joe (spicy andouille sausage, seasoned chicken, green and red pepper, and onions). You can also build your own pizza from a large variety of fresh ingredients. If you are not in the mood for pizza, try one of the large salads, sandwiches or dessert, including salted caramel brownies, cookies, New York Style cheesecake or tiramisu. Are you hungry, yet? —Adriane Louie

Best Hangover Food

Second: Burgers & Blues (1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038) / Third: Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427) / Finalists: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845); Cherokee Inn (1410 Old Square Road, 601-362-6388)

Best Pizza

Second: Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919) / Third: Soulshine Pizza Factory (1111 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 1, Ridgeland, 601-856-8646, 5352 Highway 25, Suite 1100, Flowood, 601-919-2000) / Finalists: Basil's 904 (904 E. Fortification St., Suite B, 601-352-2002); Hungry Howie's Pizza (7157 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-898-5008; 1060 Spillway Circle, Brandon, 601-706-0418; 105 Highway 80, Clinton, 601-708-0001); The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562)

Best Wine List/Selection: BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar

4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com

Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." Well, BRAVO!'s wine list is proof that proprietors Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal, and sommelier Lesley McHardy, also love us and love to see us happy. The Italian eatery offers a list that includes good values as well as splurge bottles for special occasions, and regulars eagerly anticipate the annual "clean out the cellar" month, where they can bid on bottles at bargain basement prices. The restaurant's ongoing Corks for Charity program gives a local nonprofit a chance to win a donation in the amount of the value of your bottle of wine when you donate your cork. Everybody wins! —Julie Skipper

Second: Table 100 (100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202, tableonehundred.com) / Third: Shapley's Restaurant (868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-957-3753, shapleysrestaurant.com) / Finalists: Anjou Restaurant (361 Township Ave., Ridgeland, 601-707-0587, anjourestaurant.net); Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090, 
parlormarket.com)

Best Restaurant: Walker's Drive-In

3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com

While it might seem like 2013 was the year of new Fondren, with fresh shops, restaurants and bars making the area arguably the hippest place in Jackson, Walker's Drive-In has been a Fondren staple for years. With consistently delicious food and equally consistent and stellar service, Walker's has the rare ability of making patrons feel like they're enjoying fine dining at their best friends' house. The diner-style restaurant offers a friendly, small town atmosphere, but the food is anything but "small town." The dinner menu boasts Veal and Lobster Kathy, and a Redfish Anna with Lump Crab Meat that's practically considered a Jackson institution, while the lunch menu includes daily blue-plate specials and arguably the best redfish sandwich in town at a price that won't break the bank. —Holly Perkins

Second: The Penguin Restaurant and Bar (1100 John R. Lynch St., Suite 6A, 769-251-5222) / Third: BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111) / Finalists: Babalu Tacos and Tapas (622 Duling Ave., Suite 106, 601-366-5757); Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562); Nick's Restaurant (3000 Old Canton Road, 601-981-8017); Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090); Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919)

Best Local Fried Chicken: Two Sisters' Kitchen

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Courtesy Piko Ewoodzie

707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180

When it comes to what makes Two Sisters' Kitchen's fried chicken so special, owner and founder Diann Alford will only say "the secret is in the spice." Along with the famous sides and other entrees, the delicious award-winning fried chicken has become a fixture of downtown dining. Since 1989, the Congress Street buffet has been a lunch hotspot serving folks from government employees to visiting dignitaries. The buffet-style meal rotates among other meats, vegetables, biscuits and dessert, but always features the chicken that made Two Sisters famous. Everything on the menu is made in-house and are "handmade with love," Alford says.

The welcoming home atmosphere and delicious cuisine has propelled Two Sisters' to national recognition in publications such as Food and Wine Magazine and The New York Times Food and Travel section, in a feature called "36 Hours in Jackson, Miss." An episode of the Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food Nation" recently featured Two Sisters', which Alford says has boosted the restaurant's business, as tourists and fans of the show come to try the fried chicken they saw on television.—Greg Pigott

Second: Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin' (480 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-856-4407) / Third: Julep Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411) / Finalists: Downtown Cafe (224 E. Capitol St., 601-592-5006); Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398); Rooster's (2906 N. State St., 601-
982-2001)

Best Place for Dessert: Primos Cafe

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515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398, primoscafe.com

I love stopping by Primos Cafe to find a special treat behind the glass bakery counter. It is especially fun around the holidays, when the eatery offers iced cookies decorated as pumpkins, turkeys or Christmas trees. The bakery case is always stocked with drool-worthy delicacies such as fruit drop cookies, Gingerbread men, caramel cupcakes and Primos' famous petit-fours. Both Primos locations also offer a take-away cooler with whole cakes and pies available for pick up, in classic southern flavors such as caramel, red velvet, Italian cream and strawberry. Everything is homemade and baked fresh, making a dessert from Primos the perfect complement to any potluck lunch or dinner party. You can also order ahead of time to guarantee that your favorite dessert will be available. —Adriane Louie

Second: Amerigo Italian Restaurant (6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-977-0563) / Third: Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919 / Finalists: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900); Campbell's Bakery (3013 N. State St., 601-362-4628); Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562)

Best Doughnuts: Shipley Do-Nuts

103 Highway 80 E., Clinton, 601-925-0020, shipleydonuts.ws

As you walk in the door of Shipley Do-Nuts, the sweet aroma of fresh dough and sugar greets you, enough to make your mouth water. Shipley Do-Nuts is a local favorite with plenty of crowd-pleasing donuts to choose from. Whether it's the chocolate iced donuts, chocolate cream-filled donuts or cinnamon twists (my personal favorites), or the apple fritters, cinnamon rolls, cake donuts and do-nut holes, Shipley serves them hot and ready starting at 6 a.m. daily. Grab a treat for yourself or buy a dozen or two for the whole office. After one bite, you will be coming back for more.—Adriane Louie

Second: Scurlock's Donuts Shop & Eatery (now closed) / Third: Donut Palace (Multiple Locations) / Finalists: Donut Barn (1069 Highway 51, Madison, 601-605-8100); Monroe's Donuts and Bakery (6310 Medgar Evers Blvd., 601-981-3208); Pillow Donuts (1679 Old Fannin Road, Flowood, 601-992-6040; 707 Beau Pre Drive, Ridgeland, 601-790-9697)

Best Place to Get Coffee: Cups: An Espresso Cafe

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Multiple locations, cupsespressocafe.com

Cups: An Espresso Cafe opened in 1993 and has been a favorite among Jacksonians ever since, thanks to its casual but eclectic environment that is both warm and inviting. Cups' ever-evolving menu always includes new flavors of coffee and tea, as well as Cups originals such as the Blondie (which combines flavors of coffee, caramel and white chocolate, topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel) and the Brunette (similar to the Blondie with darker chocolate and a hint of hazelnut). Cups also serves fruit smoothies made with low-fat yogurt, Italian sodas, hot chocolate, handcrafted espresso and pour-over coffee.

The espresso cafe prides itself on using coffee beans roasted in Jackson, and you can purchase raw or locally roasted beans in the cafes or online as well. The company, which Janice and Dennis Cameron founded, is also involved with the local arts scene, displaying local artists' work in each of its roastery locations. — Adriane Louie

Second: Sneaky Beans (2914 N. State St., 601-487-6349) / Third: Seattle Drip (Multiple Locations, seattledrip.com) / Finalists: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900); Fusion Coffeehouse (1111 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite A, Ridgeland, 601-856-6001)

Best Local Burger: 
Stamps Superburger

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1801 Dalton St., 601-352-4555

Nothing compares to a great hamburger—real beef seasoned to perfection served on a toasty bun. Stamps is a staple in Jackson and has been often imitated, but never quire replicated. The original stands tall as the granddaddy of other burger joints.

Algernon Stamps Sr. founded Stamps in 1970 and created the recipe and design for what became known as the "Superburger." The restaurant has been operating from the same location on Dalton Street for the past 44 years.

The original "Superburger" is a monster nearly one-pound behemoth, and the smaller 8-to-10-ounce version is plenty for the average person. The eatery even offers a turkey burger that matches its beef counterpart in size and flavor. No other hamburger can compete with the ones made at Stamps. The burgers are thick, tasty and filling.—Tommy Burton

Second: Mugshots Grill & Bar (4245 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-932-4031) / Third: Burgers & Blues (1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038) / Finalists: Babalu Tacos and Tapas (622 Duling Ave., Suite 106, 601-366-5757); Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713-3020); Majestic Burger (1067 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite B, Ridgeland, 601-707-0093); Rooster's (2906 N. State St., 601-982-2001); Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090)

Best Bakery: Broad Street Baking Company

4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com

The best place to get fresh, handmade bread, pastries and cookies is once again Broad Street Baking Company. Start your day off with a fresh danish or sticky bun, or stop by on the way home for a sweet afternoon treat. The chefs bake up a selection of artisan breads on site daily, from San Francisco sourdough, foccacia and rye (popular choices to bookend Broad Street's sandwiches) to more rare varieties such as Scottish struan and jalapeno cheddar brioche. The bread schedule is posted on Broad Street's website so you can see what day your favorite is available. Catering is also big business for Broad Street—the restaurant offers trays of sandwiches, pastries and desserts for office lunches, after-school snacks and more. —Adriane Louie

Second: Campbell's Bakery (3013 N. State St., 601-362-4628) / Third: Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398) / Finalists: Beagle Bagel Cafe (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 145, 769-251-1892; 898 Avery Blvd. N., Ridgeland, 601-956-1773; 100 Mannsdale Park Drive, Madison, 601-856-4377); Corner Bakery Cafe (108 Market St., Flowood, 601-919-9797; 149 Grandview Blvd., Madison, 601-607-7377); Gil's Bread (655 Lake Harbour Drive, Suite 500, Ridgeland, 601-856-0885); Great Harvest Bread Company (5006 Parkway Drive, 601-956-4406)

Best Veggie Burger: Burgers & Blues

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1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038, burgersblues.com

Though some meat eaters may be skeptical when it comes to veggie burgers, vegetable-based patties can be just as delicious as the real thing. One, in particular, could make even the most carnivorous of Jacksonians admit its deliciousness: the garden patty at Burgers & Blues. You can get it with the basic burger toppings, or you can have your veggie burger with barbecue sauce, steak sauce, eggs—almost any topping. My personal choice? The Sonic Boom with a garden patty. The burger has lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, habanero mayo, mustard, ketchup, fried jalapeno peppers and hot pepper jack cheese. —Amber Helsel

Second: Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713 3020 / Third: Majestic Burger (1067 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite B, Ridgeland, 601-707-0093) / Finalists: Adobo (127 S. Roach St., 601-944-9501); High Noon Cafe (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1513); Steve's Deli (125 S. Congress St., Suite 103, 601-969-1119; 200 S. Lamar St., 601-714-5683)

Best Gumbo: Que Sera Sera

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2801 N. State St., 601-981-2520, queserams.com

In 1989, Boo Noble opened Que Sera Sera in a Fondren neighborhood that was far from developed. When asked about the future of his establishment, he simply said, "Whatever will be, will be," and Que Sera Sera was born. The restaurant's famous gumbo, which has become a neighborhood staple, highlights Noble's New Orleans training.

Current owner Perrin Noble, Boo's son, says the gumbo is based on an original recipe from the Duggan family of the Duggan seafood company. "We've made modifications, but the gumbo will always special because it's made from scratch," the younger Noble says. The gumbo is always made fresh with quality ingredients including shrimp, crab, andouille sausage, oysters and crawfish, and features a plethora of different seasonings as well as celery and okra. Noble prides himself on Que Sera Sera staying true to his father's tradition of affordability while also featuring quality menu items. "We really feel like our restaurant brings out the diversity of Jackson," he says.

"Since we got here, the neighborhood has become an attractive spot for all people in the Jackson area, and I like to think my father was partly responsible for the building up of the neighborhood," Noble says. In addition to fresh food and sauces made in-house, Que Sera Sera also supports live music, hosting concerts called "The Party on the Patio." —Greg Pigott

Second: Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888) / Third: Fat Tuesday's Restaurant (6923 Old Canton Road, Suite 105, 601-956-2971) / Finalists: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900); Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562); The Islander Seafood and Oyster House (1220 E. Northside Drive, Suite 100, 601-366-5441)

Best Ethnic Restaurant: Aladdin Mediterranean Grill

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730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033, aladdininjackson.com

In 2004, Yoseph Ali looked at Jackson's restaurant scene and noticed an opening he was glad to fill. Originally from Ethiopia, Ali had been living in Jackson since 1997. While attending Jackson State University for a master's degree in hazardous materials management, Ali noticed Jackson had a distinct lack of the kind of food he had grown up enjoying in Ethiopia.

"I always wanted to have food like the kind I had in my home country here," Ali said. "I was living here in Jackson and saw there was room for good Mediterranean food here, since there were hardly any restaurants like that around. That gave me the idea to bring that kind of food home to Jackson, and I ended up starting Aladdin."

Ali opened the first Aladdin location in Fondren in 2004, and opened a second location in Flowood in 2007.

Aladdin offers falafel and gyros; sheep, beef and chicken kababs; chicken and beef shawarma; hummus, lamb chops, tilapia, fried kibby, baba ganuj and more. For dessert you can enjoy fresh baklava, burma, baklava fingers, bird nests and tiramisu. Aladdin also offers excellent vegetarian options and frequently makes the top three for JFP's Best Vegetarian Options category, with this year being no exception. Aladdin also has its own grocery store where customers can pick up ingredients to make their own great Mediterranean dishes at home.

Ali is looking to make this year a special one for Aladdin. "We're going into our 10th year of business, and I'm planning to have a celebration sometime this year for our customers to look forward to," he said. "I appreciate being here and look forward to celebrating another year in Fondren."—Dustin Cardon

Second: Mr. Chen's Restaurant (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865) / Third: Thai House (1405 Old Square Road, 601-982-9991) / Finalist: Spice Avenue (4711 Interstate 55 N., 601-982-0890)

Best Place to Eat When Someone Else Pays: 
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 6001, Ridgeland, 601-853-2734, ruthschris.com

You voted, and when someone else foots the bill, you want USDA Prime. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Ridgeland offers up that classic steakhouse experience you crave, starting with dark wood, leather-upholstered chairs, and a wine list from its European-inspired cellar that is heavy on reds. The restaurant, which started in New Orleans, also serves up a variety of steaks for you to enjoy at your companion's expense, from filet and New York strip to the giant Cowboy Ribeye if you're up for a challenge. Less red-meat-centric diners can enjoy lobster or seafood selections. Sides are a la carte and include traditional steakhouse staples such as spinach or broccoli au gratin and several takes on potatoes. Homemade desserts round out the decadent meal, which begs the question ... if someone else pays, does that include the caloric damage, too? —Julie Skipper

Second: Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633); Third: Shapley's Restaurant (868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-957-3753); Finalists: Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562); Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090); Table 100 (100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202); Tico's Steak House (1536 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-1030)

Best Wings: Wingstop

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Courtesy Flickr/Punctuated

Multiple Locations, wingstop.com

The lemon-pepper and original-hot wing flavors at Wingstop make my cheeks pucker and tongue dance. My family loves to order the family pack, which includes three choices of wing flavors, two dipping sauces, seasoned fries and veggie sticks. The good thing about the family pack is that we don't have to limit ourselves on the number of wings we eat, and we always have leftovers. You can choose between boneless or bone-in wings—usually it's bone-in for me. Wingstop also offers beer by the pitcher, which is the perfect complement to a 
basket of wings and a great game on the television. —Tam Curley

Second: Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919, salandmookies.com) / Third: Last Call Sports Grill (1428 Old Square Road, 601-713-2700, lastcallsportsgrill.com) / Finalists: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845, capitolgrillofjackson.com); Wing Station (5038 Parkway Drive, thewingstation.net)

Best Take-out: Room Service

4659 McWillie Drive, 601-362-4617, roomservicejackson.com 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-707-3600, roomservicenorth.com

Boasting 32 salads and 34 sandwiches—featuring ingredients ranging from pork loin to pimiento to smoked salmon and capers—the menu for Room Service offers an overwhelming assortment of lunch options.

Besides the main items, you can round your lunch out with sides of chips, spuds, chicken salad, chili or soup, as well as desserts and drinks. The company, which Hays Thompson founded more than 25 years ago, prides itself on making all the food fresh each day—no prepackaged salads or preservative-packed meat that was cooked in California and shipped in.

Room Service can serve much of the metro area between its two locations, one in Jackson and one in Ridgeland at the Renaissance, and it sticks to a simple formula. You order lunch Monday through Friday and it delivers, fast and fresh. —Kathleen M. Mitchell

Second: Newk's Eatery (Multiple Locations, newks.com) / Third: OEC Japanese Express (Multiple Locations, oecflowood.com) / Finalists: Mr. Chen's Restaurant (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865); Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919); Tokyo Express (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite D, 601-957-1368); Wok to Go (4329 N. State St., Suite F, 601-981-2112)

Best Kids' Menu: Sal and Mookie's New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint

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565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919, salandmookies.com

Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal opened Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint in Fondren in 2007 following a year spent developing a New York-style pizza recipe with Sal & Mookie's Chef Jon Pixler and Andrew Robertson, and a three-day pizza-eating/research trip to New York's best pizzerias to ensure they got it just right.

Sal and Mookie's offers a huge variety of specialty pizzas named for New York icons, such as the Empire State, the Andy Warhol, the Riker's Island, the South Street Seaport and many more. The restaurant also offers dishes from gourmet grilled panini sandwiches and Italian-style pastas to New York submarine sandwiches and hamburgers. The menu appeals to kids and adults alike, with specialties like the mac-and-cheese pizza (pictured). With approachable ingredients for young palettes mixed with more sophisticated tastes, it's the perfect place to entice kids to try new foods.

Of course, little ones likely think Sal and Mookie's ice cream parlor is the main attraction, with its 24 flavors of ice cream, sundaes, splits, shakes, malts and floats. As for adults, they often find their dessert in the fully stocked PiE Lounge bar, which offers handmade craft cocktails, and more than 40 beers on draft or by the bottle.  —Dustin Cardon

Second: Burgers & Blues (1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038) Third: The Froghead Grill (121 Clinton Center Drive, Clinton, 601-924-0725) / Finalists: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900); The Islander Seafood and Oyster House (1220 E. Northside Drive, Suite 100, 601-366-5441); Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, 601-936-3398)

Best Steak: Shapley's Restaurant

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868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-957-3753, shapleysrestaurant.com

When I hear the name Shapley's restaurant, I think "steak." Clearly, I'm not alone in that, as Jacksonians have once again agreed that the Ridgeland restaurant has the best steak in town. Tucked behind County Line Road, Shapley's has been grilling up some of the finest steaks in the Jackson area since 1985.

The restaurant uses flavorful seasonings on only select beef, offering steaks weighing up to 40 ounces. This is not the kind of restaurant where diners have to worry about charred meat, overcooked or undercooked filets, overseasoning, or any of the other rookie steak mistakes.

Be sure to ask one of the knowledgeable servers for advice on pairing your dinner with 
one of the wines from their impressive award-winning wine list. —Holly Perkins

Second: Tico's Steak House (1536 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-1030) / Third: Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562) / Finalists: BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111); Ely's Restaurant & Bar (115 W. Jackson St., Suite 2E, Ridgeland, 601-605-6359); Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633)

Best Italian: Amerigo Italian Restaurant

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Courtesy Amerigo

6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-977-0563; amerigo.net

Amerigo Italian Restaurant, which has been a local favorite since 1987, offers a combination of traditional and modern Italian dishes, including grilled paninis, fresh seafood entrees, five-layer lasagna and handcrafted pizza. Bon Appetit magazine even featured the restaurant's famous cheese fritters. One of my favorite dishes at Amerigo is the Chicken Margarite, which is grilled chicken served over angel hair pasta with mozzarella cheese; I choose to top it with garlic butter sauce. I always finish my meal with dessert—the Tiramisu with vanilla cream and Kahlua chocolate sauce is to die for. Amerigo also offers family-style catering that can accommodate a group of any size, featuring the same favorites patrons enjoy while dining in. —Adriane Louie

Second: BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111) Third: Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano (970 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-354-6600) / Finalists: Cerami's Italian Restaurant (5417 Lakeland Drive, Suite I, Flowood, 601-919-2829); Fratesi's Italian Cuisine (910 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601956-2929); Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919)

Best Seafood: Mayflower Cafe

123 W. Capitol St. 601-355-4122, mayflowercafems.com

Mississippi knows seafood, but you don't have to head to the coast to get the best. Since 1935, Mayflower Cafe has provided Jacksonians with fresh, delicious seafood. The neon lights of the Mayflower Cafe shining down onto Capitol Street are an iconic part of the city's history. The eatery is an icon of downtown Jackson, and for good reason. The self-proclaimed "Mississippi's Original Seafood Restaurant" has so many seafood offerings that it's difficult to choose just one. Luckily, you don't have to—seafood platters offer a variety, or you can mix and match oysters, redfish, stuffed shrimp, soft-shell crab and fresh sea scallops, to name a few of the menu items.—Holly Perkins

Second: Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633) / Third: Crab's Seafood Shack (6954 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-5040) / Finalists: The Islander Seafood and Oyster House (1220 E. Northside Drive, Suite 100, 601-366-5441); Sal and Phil's (6600 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-957-1188)

Best French Fries: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

122 Market St., Flowood, 601-983-5555; 1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 2001, Ridgeland, 601-605-1115; fiveguys.com

When you walk into Five Guys, it's a fairly original experience. The menu is simple—burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese and fries. The grilled cheese and burgers are great, but besides their famed burgers, Five Guys is also known for their fries. They take pride in their fried potato sticks, letting restaurant goers where they've sourced their current supply of potatoes by a sign on the wall. The homestyle fries are the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and the bits of potato skin give the fries that extra touch. You can get them Five Guys style or Cajun style, which is my favorite. And if you partake in the English tradition of using malt vinegar, Five Guys sets some out for you. —Amber Helsel

Second: Rooster's (2906 N. State St., 601-982-2001) / Third: Stamps Superburger (1801 Dalton St., 601-352-4555 / Finalists: Burgers & Blues (1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038); Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713-3020); Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919)

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