Best Mexican or Latin Food; Best Outdoor Dining; Best Happy Hour; Best Place for Cocktails; Most Innovative Menu; Best Margaritas; Best Place for a First Date: Babalu Tacos & Tapas
622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, babalutacos.com
"I haven't even ordered, yet, and I'm impressed" was the thought that ran through my mind as I sat in Babalu Tacos & Tapas waiting for my cold glass of lemonade. After a friend's urging, I decided to try Babalu and was pleased with what I found.
The restaurant offers fresh dishes and innovative recipes, such as the modern spin on the BLT, a spice-seared yellowfin tuna "BLC," complete with bacon, marinated cucumbers, arugula and a wasabi aioli, all served on a sourdough bun, and the grilled lamb sliders with mint-cilantro chimichurri and a red onion marmalade on yeast rolls. Babalu is famous for making its guacamole tableside, slicing fresh avocados and mixing it, all while making light conversation and adding life to your meal.
During happy hour, Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Babalu has $1 off draft beers, $2 tacos, $4 sangria (made fresh at the bar), and $5 house wine and well drinks. All cocktails contain fresh ingredients, such as pomegranate and agave nectar in the signature Baba-Rita. The restaurant has a $2 taco special on Tuesday, $5 margaritas on Monday and daily features.
Babalu has an outside dining area, fitted with soft, strung lights and a heater, so intimate evenings go by without a hitch. The staff is well-versed on the menu, so you won't spend the majority of your time deciding on what to order. Babalu has options for nearly every eater, including vegetarian dishes and something light if all you need is a quick bite.
Though its flagship restaurant is based in Jackson, Babalu has extended its Latin-influenced cuisine to Memphis and, most recently, Birmingham. —Maya Miller
Best Mexican/Latin Finalists
Cafe Ole (2752 N. State St., 769-524-3627) / La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 601-353-3014) / Papitos Mexican Restaurant and Grill (111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 1200, Madison, 601-605-0275; 173 Promenade Blvd., Flowood, 601-919-0448; 6376 Ridgewood Court Drive, 601-665-4632) / Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland, 601-707-7950, sombramexicankitchen.com)
Best Outdoor Dining Finalists
Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com) / The Pig & Pint (3139 N. State St., 601-326-6070, pigandpint.com) / Keifer's (120 N. Congress St., 601-353-4975; 705 Poplar Blvd., 601-355-6825, keifers.net) / Burgers & Blues (960 N. State St., 601-709-5171; 1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038; burgersblues.com)
Most Innovative Menu Finalists
The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Parlor Market (115 W. Capitol St., 601-360-0090, parlormarket.com) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com) / La Finestra (120 N. Congress St., 601-345-8735, eatlafinestra.com)
Best Happy Hour Finalists
Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845, capitolgrillofjackson.com) / Fenian's Pub (901 E. Fortification St., 601-948-0055, fenianspub.happytables.com) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com) / Time Out Sports Cafe (6270 Old Canton Road, 601-978-1839, timeoutcafe.com)
Best Place for Cocktails Finalists
Library Lounge at Fairview Inn (734 Fairview St., 601-948-3429, fairviewinn.com) / CAET Wine Bar (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-321-9169, caetwinebar.com) / The Apothecary at Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 769-257-3517, apothecaryjackson.com) / Julep Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411)
Best Margaritas Finalists
Jaco's Tacos (318 S. State St., 601-961-7001; 7049 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-898-3242; jacostacos.net) / Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland, 601-707-7950, sombramexicankitchen.com) / La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 601-353-3014) / Margaritas Mexican Restaurant (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 601-957-7672)
Best Place for a First Date Finalists
Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com) / King Edward Grill (235 W. Capitol St., 601-353-5464, kingedwardhoteljackson.com) / Cups Espresso Cafe (Multiple locations; cupsespressocafe.com) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)
Best New Restaurant; Best Place for Ribs; Best Barbecue: The Pig & Pint
3139 N. State St., 601-326-6070, pigandpint.com
If you haven't experienced The Pig & Pint, yet, you should soon. The restaurant, which opened in March 2014, doesn't just serve just the standards such as pulled pork or smoked chicken (though they do have that option in the form of the 'cue plate or a barbecue sandwich).
The Pig & Pint also has specials such as the pork-belly corn dogs served with a seasonal beer mustard and smoked tomato-ginger jam and my personal favorite, the barbecue nachos, which come with either pulled pork or smoked chicken, and have smokehouse beans, pickled onions, a Lucky Town Brewing Company pico de gallo and a special barbecue sauce.
If you're feeling extra special, though, try the restaurant's Pepsi-glazed baby-back rib, which comes in half or full and are served with bread and a choice of two sides, including smoked tomato cole slaw, potato salad and house pork rinds. And if you like a beer with your barbecue—and who doesn't?—the restaurant has a wide assortment of craft beers.
The Pig & Pint sets itself apart by taking barbecue and turning it on its head. —Amber Helsel
Best Place for Ribs Finalists
Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 601-956-7079, hickorypitjxn.com) / Chimneyville Smokehouse (970 High St., 601-354-4665, chimneyville.com) / E&L Barbeque (1111 Bailey Ave., 601-355-5035) / King Edward Grill (235 W. Capitol St., 601-353-5464, kingedwardhoteljackson.com)
Best New Restaurant Finalists
Lou's Full Serv (904B E. Fortification St., 601-487-6359) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com) / The Feathered Cow (4760 Interstate 55 N., 769-233-8366) / CAET Wine Bar (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-321-9169, caetwinebar.com)
Best Barbecue Finalists
E&L Barbeque (1111 Bailey Ave., 601-355-5035) / Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 601-956-7079, hickorypitjxn.com) / Chimneyville Smokehouse (970 High St., 601-354-4665) / Smokehouse BBQ (2227 Highway 471, Brandon, 601-829-0520)
Best Place to Watch the Game: Best Burger: Burgers and Blues
960 N. State St., 601-709-5171; 1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038; burgersblues.com
Word of mouth won't do them justice. Burgers & Blues is an experience.
"It's quality ingredients and our special recipe," owner Steven Sahler says. In addition to fresh-ground beef that is delivered twice a week, Burgers & Blues' burgers are hand-pattied and never frozen. The restaurant gets everything from buns to burger dressings daily.
The staff makes you feel at home, and the walls are lined with TV screens that allow many to enjoy the games. With the restaurant's wide selection of beer, you can have a nice draft to go along with it. And if you're up for a little friendly competition yourself, you can try the "Whammy Challenge," where you must eat the Whammy Burger that contains three one-pound patties, along with a milkshake and one pound of fries, in 30 minutes or less. If you complete the challenge (and even the great Adam Richman of "Man vs. Food" couldn't), you get the burger for free, a T-shirt and a picture on the wall of fame. The last person to complete the challenge was championship eater Randy Santel in November 2014. —Arcadia Smith
Best Place to Watch the Game Finalists
Fondren Public (2765 Old Canton Road, 769-216-2589) / Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845, capitolgrillofjackson.com) / Mississippi Legends Grill (5352 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-919-1165) / The Alumni House (110 Bass Pro Drive, Pearl, 601-939-5238, alumnihousepearl.com)
Best Local Burger Finalists
The Feathered Cow (4760 Interstate 55 N., 769-233-8366) / Mugshots Grill & Bar (4245 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-932-4031, mugshotsgrillandbar.com) / Babalu Tacos & Tapas (622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, babalutacos.com) / Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713-3020)
Best Local Brunch: Julep Restaurant and Bar
4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411
If a southern-fried brunch is what you want, Julep Restaurant and Bar has you covered. The brunch menu has everything you could ever want, including New Orleans beignets and the Julep quiche, made with smoked sausage and spinach or tomato basil with a side of a strawberry pecan salad. Other dishes includes southern favorites such as grits and grillades, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and a steak and eggs Benedict that comes with a Crystal hot-sauce hollandaise and potato hash. The double-wide breakfast has three eggs, a biscuit with sausage gravy, bacon, smoked gouda grits and potato hash, and the strawberry and chocolate chip pancakes come with bacon. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. —Ashley Sanders
Best Local Brunch Finalist
La Finestra (120 N. Congress St., 601-345-8735, eatlafinestra.com) / Char (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com) /
Table 100 (100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202, tableonehundred.com) / Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com)
Best Seafood; Best New Bar: Saltine
622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com
Calling Chef Jesse Houston's Saltine Oyster Bar your typical oyster bar completely ignores the macabre "Alice in Wonderland"-inspired carpenter and walrus murals, the Randall system custom beer infuser, the 30 craft beers on tap and, most importantly, the bivalves, which represent oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, east and west coasts and Canada. The restaurant has even gotten some from as far away as New Zealand. On its website, the restaurant says it focuses on "Southern cuisine highlighting fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables to share."
Along with Saltine's tremendous selection of tap beer, it also offers 63 beers by the bottle that cover the standards such as lagers, pale ales, IPAs and stouts, but also entertain the less-traveled beer styles such as Trappists and sours. Although it is clear that Saltine takes beer seriously, its cocktail list features nautically named drinks such as the Pieces of Eight, with passion fruit and St. Germain elderberry liqueur.
Despite only opening in August 2014, Saltine's pairing of fresh seafood with craft beverage is quickly turning the restaurant into a local favorite for bringing friends together or shaking the work week off. —Zachary Oren Smith
Best New Bar Finalists
One Block East (642 Tombigbee St., 601-944-0203, oneblockeast.com) / CAET Wine Bar (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-321-9169, caetwinebar.com) / The Hideaway (5100 Interstate 55 N., 769-208-8283, hideawayms.com)
Best Seafood Finalists
Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com) / 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) / Mayflower Cafe (123 W. Capitol St., 601-355-4122, mayflowercafems.com)
Best Asian Restaurant; Best Sushi/Japanese: Nagoya
6351 Interstate 55 N., Suite 131, 601-977-8881
Since 2009, Nagoya has received top honors in the Best of Jackson competition, and with its sushi and hibachi menu, one can see why.
Nagoya's vast menu includes items such as standard fare such as chicken teriyaki, pan-fried dumplings and a hibachi menu with items such as shrimp, steak and scallops, but it also has some dishes that scream "Jackson," including the oyster tempura and BBQ squid. While everyone knows it as an affordable Japanese restaurant, people also know Nagoya for its great sushi, both cooked and raw. Nagoya offers fresh seafood and a variety of sushi, including a la carte items such as tuna, yellowtail, salmon roe and smelt roe, plus rolls including California, Alaska, Miami, tuna, soft shell crab and rainbow. Nagoya also offers catering, takeout and a full bar. —Ashley Sanders Best Asian Restaurant Finalists
Mr. Chen's Restaurant (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865) / Fusion Japanese & Thai Cuisine (1002 Treetops Blvd., Flowood, 601-664-7588) / Thai Tasty (5050 Parkway Drive, 601-540-2534) / Sakura Bana (4800 Interstate 55 N., 601-982-3035, sakurabanajackson.com)
Best Sushi/Japanese Finalists
Edo Japanese Restaurant (5834 Ridgewood Road, 601-899-8518) / Little Tokyo (876 Avery Blvd., Ridgeland, 601-991-3800) / Sakura Bana (4800 Interstate 55 N., 601-982-3035, sakurabanajackson.com) / Crazy Ninja Rock-N-Roll Sushi & Hibachi (2560 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-420-4058, crazyninjarestaurant.com)
Best Local Breakfast; Best Place for Dessert: Primos Cafe
515 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-936-3398; primoscafe.com
Primos Cafe has been a Jackson staple for years and has won Best of Jackson awards for many of those years. This year, it wins Best Local Breakfast and Best Place for Dessert.
During breakfast, Primos serves dishes such as the early-bird platter, which is two eggs, a choice of sausage or bacon, grits or hash browns, and toast or a biscuit. Buttermilk pancakes are served with a choice of sausage or bacon. The scrambler platter has scrambled eggs with bacon or sausage, peppers, green onions, cheddar and hot-pepper cheese, with your choice of grits or hash browns, and toast or biscuit. The sides include cheese grits, cinnamon rolls, English muffins, fresh fruit, and granola with milk or yogurt.
If its breakfast isn't enough to make you want Primos, the cafe also offers desserts including cakes, cookies, pies and brownies. The made-from-scratch cakes include options such as caramel, Italian cream, chocolate, red velvet, strawberry, German chocolate and carrot. Cookie lovers can choose from chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter, and butter cookies, and other dessert options include pecan pies, cupcakes and lemon squares. —Ashley Sanders
Best Local Breakfast Finalists
Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com) / Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427) / The 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; thebeaglebagelcafe.com) / Heart & Soul Diner (900 Municipal Drive, Brandon, 601-825-9922)
Best Place for Dessert Finalists
Amerigo Italian Restaurant (6592 Old Canton Road, 601-977-0563, amerigo.net) / Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com) / La Brioche (2906 N. State St., 601-988-2299, labriochems.com) / Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919, salandmookies.com)
Best Gumbo: Que Sera Sera
2801 N. State St., 601-981-2520, queserams.com
More than 20 years ago, Que Sera Sera opened in an underdeveloped part of Fondren. Boo Noble, father of the current owner Perrin Noble, made his gumbo, an original recipe modified from the Duggan family of the Duggan Seafood Company.
The Nobles make award-winning gumbo from scratch with a variety of seasonings and fresh ingredients, which include shrimp, crawfish, crab, oysters, andouille sausage, okra and celery—a combo that wins this award perennially.
In addition to its gumbo, the Nobles take pride in offering an affordable menu and friendly customer service.
After all these years, Que Sera Sera, which means "whatever will be will be," remains a huge part of the community of Fondren offering locals the taste of New Orleans, and a huge outdoor cafe, without the travel. —Kelly Stone
Best Gumbo Finalists
Fat Tuesday's (6923 Old Canton Road, Suite 105, 601-956-2971, fattuesdaysrestaurant.com) / Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com) / Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com) / Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com)
Best Greek Restaurant; Best Mediterranean or Middle Eastern: Keifer's
120 N. Congress St., 601-353-4975; 705 Poplar Boulevard, 601-355-6825; keifers.net
Capital City mainstay Keifer's has proved that its Greek and Mediterranean cuisine is still one of the best in Jackson nearly 35 years after opening its doors. Opened by Rick Olson and Paula Coe in 1980, Keifer's since moved across the street from its original location, but the majority of its famous menu since day one remains.
Specializing in gyros, homemade appetizers, and Greek and Mediterranean salads, Keifer's has the distinction of bringing authentic Greek and Mediterranean cuisine to Jackson while adding southern flare. It makes for a casual yet memorable dining experience difficult to duplicate in Jackson. With a downtown location that opened in 1981, Keifer's is ideal for people in the city who may just need a quick stop before a business meeting.
With something even for the pickiest of eaters, the staff and management at Keifer's continue to strive to meet the needs of the Belhaven and downtown areas with one of the best atmospheres for casual dining in Jackson. —Greg Pigott
Best Greek Restaurant Finalists
Krilakis (207 W. Jackson St., Suite D, Ridgeland, 601-790-9463) / Kristos Amerigreek Dining (971 Madison Ave., Madison, 601-605-2266) / Bill's Greek Tavern (4760 McWillie Drive, 601-982-9295) / Vasilios Greek Cuisine (828 Highway 51, Madison, 601-853-0028)
Best Mediterranean/Middle Eastern Finalists
Mediterranean Fish and Grill (6550 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-0082) / Petra Cafe (currently relocating) / Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033, aladdininjackson.com)
Best Local Pizza; Best Hangover Food: The Pizza Shack
925 E. Fortification St., 601-352-2001; 5046 Parkway Drive, 601-957-1975; thepizzashackjackson.com
Since 2007, The Pizza Shack has made a name for itself in Jackson with its good food and friendly atmosphere. It has become a staple in the Colonial Mart Shopping Center and Belhaven areas. "We have a lot of new things up our sleeves in the coming months," Mike Parker, who co-owns it with Ryan Patrick says. "Our Fortification location will be opening a deck, and we (finalized) a deal to open a new location in Byram."
With a long line of loyal customers, The Pizza Shack's pizza, wings, subs, salads and deserts makes it a great choice for a family outing, work lunch or, of course, a quick stop after a rough night at the bar. The simple menu continues to grow with items that have made it popular for several years. Parker added that the best is yet to come.
"We are always grateful to the people of Jackson for their continued business and are always coming up with new ideas and pizzas to keep the menu even more interesting," he says. —Greg Pigott
Best Local Pizza Finalists
Soulshine Pizza Factory (1111 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 1, Ridgeland, 601-856-8646; 5352 Lakeland Drive, Suite 1100, Flowood, 601-919-2000) / Basil's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2100; 120 N. Congress St., Suite L1, 601-944-9888) / Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919, salandmookies.com)
Best Hangover Food Finalists
Cherokee Inn (1410 Old Square Road, 601-362-6388, cherokeedriveinn.com) / Burgers & Blues (960 N. State St., 601-709-5171; 1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038; burgersblues.com) / Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427) / The Feathered Cow (4760 Interstate 55 N., 769-233-8366)
Best Kids Menu; Best Meal Under $10: Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint
565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919, salandmookies.com
It's not easy to get real New York-style pizza without stepping foot on an airplane. But with more than 20 pizzas and ice-cream flavors to choose from, Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint in Fondren transports you there without the hassle of airfare. It's even named for characters in Spike Lee's New York-based film, "Do the Right Thing."
Some local favorites include the Riker's Island, for those who love supreme pizza, the Meat Packing District for carnivores or the 4 Train for barbecue lovers. Overwhelmed by choices? Drop in for lunch and try pizza by the slice with a salad or soup for $5.50 or $8 to add a second slice. The restaurant offers three different slices, including a vegetarian option, each day.
The family-friendly joint also has a wide selection for the youngsters, including fried or grilled chicken entrees, hamburgers, pasta, grilled cheese and, of course, pizza. Kids can customize their pizza to their liking, but the popular choices are cheese or pepperoni. For dessert, Sal & Mookie's has an ice cream bar with a huge selection of ice cream including flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon. —Nicole Sheriff
Best Kids' Menu Finalists
The Islander Seafood and Oyster House (1220 E. Northside Drive, Suite 100, 601-366-5441) / Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427) / Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-936-3398) / Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900)
Best Meal Under $10 Finalists
High Noon Cafe (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602) / 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) / The 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)
Best Local Lunch Buffet; Best Soul Food: Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin' & BBQ
751 Highway 51, 601-856-4407, hamils.com
If you like turnip greens, fried chicken and other soul-food staples, Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin' & BBQ has you covered. The restaurant has grown significantly since opening its doors in 1977. Once located in a small cabin that seated about 60 lunch patrons per day, Mama Hamil's now has multiple levels of seating and enough parking to accommodate more than 300 customers.
Don't let the new location fool you, though; this is casual, down-home cooking at its finest. For most people, Mama Hamil's selling point is its expansive selection of southern favorite foods, including banana pudding, smoked chicken and the restaurant's popular fried catfish, which is added to the dinner buffet on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. —Pamela Hosey
Best Local Lunch Buffet Finalists
Two Sisters' Kitchen (707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180) / Spice Avenue (4711 Interstate 55 N., 601-982-0890) / Ichiban Hibachi Grill and Sushi Japanese Steakhouse (153 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-0097) / Thai House (1405 Old Square Road, 601-982-9991) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com)
Best Soul Food Finalists
Bully's Restaurant (3118 Livingston Road, 601-362-0484) / Gloria's Kitchen (2855 Bailey Ave., 601-362-0009) / Two Sisters' Kitchen (707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180)
Best Place for Healthy Food; Best Vegetarian Options: Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative, High Noon Cafe
2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602, rainbowcoop.org
You might not know it from the number of soul-food and barbecue restaurants, but being a vegetarian in Jackson isn't as difficult as it once was. At the same time, it takes more than a plate of leafy greens to please the palate of a discerning vegetarian. That's where Rainbow Co-op and High Noon Cafe come in.
High Noon has been a staple within Jackson's vegetarian community since it opened in 1982, two years after its parent store opened. High Noon offers dairy-free, gluten-free and meat-free dishes without sacrificing taste. The menu includes a black bean and spinach burrito, a Portabella Caesar salad and the High Noon Burger, the restaurant's signature beet burger, as well as daily specials.
For masters of vegetarian cooking, Rainbow Co-op is definitely the place to go. Rainbow provides health-conscious Jacksonians with a place to shop, eat and socialize. From organic peanut butter and local and regional produce to Zum bath collections, Rainbow stocks its shelves to satisfy everyone. —Pamela Hosey
Best Place for Healthy Food Finalists
Bruno's Adobo (127 S. Roach St., 601-944-9501, now closed) / Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com) / Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033, aladdininjackson.com)
Best Vegetarian Options Finalists
La Finestra (120 N. Congress St., 601-345-8735, eatlafinestra.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033, aladdininjackson.com)
Best Local French Fries: Rooster's
2906 N. State St., 601-982-2001, glennfoods.com
Just inside Fondren Corner, you'll find Jackson staple Rooster's and its popular fries. The restaurant's fresh-cut curly fries come with just the right amount of salt and pepper. Customers often pair the side item with ketchup and house dipping sauces, which father-and-son owners, Tim and Nathan Glenn, developed, with their special comeback sauce being the most famous. Jacksonians clearly love the combination of the tang from the comeback sauce and the saltiness of the fries.
Rooster's southern-style menu includes homemade burgers, country-fried steaks, fried chicken and red beans and rice, which keeps tourists and locals coming back for more than just the comeback sauce and curly fries. —Kelly Stone
Best Local French Fries Finalists
Burgers & Blues (960 N. State St., 601-709-5171; 1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038; burgersblues.com) / The Feathered Cow (4760 Interstate 55 N., 769-233-8366) / Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713-3020) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)
Best Italian: Amerigo
6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-977-0563, amerigo.net
The Jackson area has a handful of Italian eateries to offer, but the comfortable atmosphere and varied menu of Amerigo in Ridgeland has led it to this award many years. The restaurant is best known for its traditional and modern takes on Italian cuisine, including made-from-scratch pastas, hand-tossed pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven, seafood entrees, griddle-pressed paninis and three-cheese tortellini, a staff and customer favorite.
Amerigo delivers a causal dining experience, which is an adaptable eating option for any occasion. Its expansive wine list and creative cocktails make it an easy choice for a fun dinner with friends or a romantic date-night destination. Even if you plan on falling back on Italian food fundamentals, such as spaghetti and meatballs, Amerigo has you covered. —Kelly Stone
Best Italian Finalists
BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / La Finestra (120 N. Congress St., 601-345-8735, eatlafinestra.com) / Cerami's Italian Restaurant (5417 Lakeland Drive, Suite I, Flowood, 601-919-2829, ceramis.net) / Fratesi's Italian Cuisine (910 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-956-2929)
Best Local Donuts: Donut Palace
If you've lived around Jackson long enough, chances are you remember those weekend mornings when your mom or dad would go get donuts from Donut Palace. Most of its locations are in shopping centers, which make them all the more convenient to those who want something sweet (or savory) for breakfast. Donut Palace offers many donut selections, which include glazed, maple, chocolate, vanilla sprinkle and chocolate sprinkle donuts, and specialty donuts such as chocolate Bavarian, plain long-john pastries, lemon, Boston Creme, raspberry and chocolate creme jelly-filled donuts. And if you want something on the side of your donut, the shops offer drinks such as chocolate milk and orange juice.
Though most locations are only opened in the mornings, Donut Palace is a place to get up early for. —Ashley Sanders
Best Local Doughnuts Finalists
Monroe's Donuts and Bakery (6310 Medgar Evers Blvd., 601-981-3208; 255 East McDowell Road, 601-373-1185; 717 Rice Road, Suite A, Ridgeland, 601-856-2353; 125 S. Congress St.; monroesdonutsandbakery.com) / Pillow Donuts (1679 Old Fannin Road, Flowood, 601-992-6040; 707 Beau Pre Drive, Ridgeland, 601-790-9697) / Scurlock's Donuts Shop & Eatery (125 S. Congress St., now closed)
Best Restaurant: Walker's Drive-In
3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com
When Chef Derek Emerson decided in 2001 to purchase Walker's Drive-In—which has been open since 1948—it was because he wanted to ensure that the long-standing restaurant would be in good hands. Emerson has more than made good on his intentions to make Walker's the best it can be. Using the best fresh and local and ingredients it can find, Walker's is a hit in Jackson, especially its seafood menu, which Emerson says is one of the biggest draws. With pan-roasted Gulf grouper, pan-seared jumbo sea scallops, wood-grilled gulf shrimp, redfish Anna with lump crabmeat and more, diners certainly have plenty of excellent options.
"My favorite (dish) is the veal and lobster Kathy, which is named after a customer who had it as her last meal before she passed away from cancer," Emerson says. "She was one of the nicest people I ever met, so that dish has always been special to me." —Dustin Cardon
Best Restaurant Finalists
Babalu Tacos & Tapas (622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, babalutacos.com) / BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Saltine Oyster Bar (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)
Best Place to Get Coffee: Cups Espresso Cafe
Multiple locations; cupsespressocafe.com
Cups has a coffee—and a location—for every occasion. For example, the medium-roast Ethiopia Yirgacheffe imbued with surprising whispers of Brazil nut and lemon zest is somewhat akin to Cups' Lakeland Drive location, an unexpectedly fun little hideaway nestled at The Quarter. By contrast, Cups' Sumatra Mandheling of sun-lit hyacinth and dark chocolate boldness screams "Hey, look at me!" much in the same way that the Fondren store, a popular locale for college students and University of Mississippi Medical Center employees, is among the premier cafes in which to be seen in Jackson. The Regions Building lobby location is all business, like the classic albeit non-alcoholic White Russian, one of Cups' signatures. There are 10 metro locations in all. — R.L. Nave
Best Place to Get Coffee Finalists
Seattle Drip (Multiple locations, seattledrip.com) / Mocha Mugs (Multiple locations, mochamugs.com) / Sneaky Beans (2914 N. State St., 601-487-6349, sneakybeans.com) / Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com)
Best Local Fried Chicken: Two Sisters' Kitchen
(707 N. Congress St., 601-353-1180)
For more than 20 years, Two Sisters' Kitchen has been serving up some of the best fried chicken in the Jackson metro area. Inside the large Victorian-style house, which evokes memories of grandma's house after church on Sundays, Two Sisters' Kitchen completes the experience with an excellent lunch buffet and a warm, welcoming staff.
A few of Jackson's famous foodie visitors, such as Food & Wine Magazine and "Man v. Food Nation," have praised the restaurant's fried chicken. Try Two Sisters' Kitchen's version of this traditional southern dish, and you'll see why Jacksonians agree on its greatness—and why it's a perennial winner in this category. —Pamela Hosey
Best Local Fried Chicken Finalists
Mama Hamil's Southern Cooking & BBQ (751 Highway 51, Madison, 601-856-4407; hamils.com) / Julep Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 601-362-1411, juleprestaurant.com) / Rooster's (2906 N. State St., 601-982-2001, glennfoods.com) / The Feathered Cow (4760 Interstate 55 N., 769-233-8366)
Best Sandwich Place: Room Service
4659 McWillie Drive, 601-362-4617, roomservicejackson.com; 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 104, Ridgeland, 601-707-3600; roomservicenorth.com
With no dine-in options, take-out restaurant Room Service will have its drivers deliver one of Jackson's best sandwiches directly to your door. Open on weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for pick-up and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for delivery, Room Service's large-portion sammies and salads make the perfect lunch for the too-busy city dweller and office worker.
Founded in 1986, Room Service has an extensive menu, with 35 sandwiches and 33 gourmet salads—with 23 dressing choices—all made fresh to order. While one UrbanSpoon commenter in 2011 equated the restaurant's spirited founder and manager Hays Thompson to the Soup Nazi on "Seinfeld," it's clear that Jacksonians are willing to go to great lengths for a Room Service sammie.
"There is absolutely not a better sandwich served in Jackson, so I will play his little game," the commenter said. —Anna Wolfe
Best Sandwich Place Finalists
The Beagle Bagel Cafe (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 145 (Highland Village), 769-251-1892; 898 Avery Blvd. N., Ridgeland, 601-956-1773; 100 Mannsdale Park Drive, Madison, 601-856-4377; thebeaglebagelcafe.com) / Basil's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2100; 120 N. Congress St., Suite L1, 601-944-9888) / Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com) / Steve's Deli (125 S. Congress St., Suite 103, 601-969-1119; 201 S. Lamar St., 601-714-5683; stevesdowntown.com)
Best Plate Lunch: Georgia Blue
111 Colony Crossing, Suite 130, Madison; 223 Ridge Way, Flowood; georgiablue.net
Georgia Blue, which has two Jackson metro locations, has "a certain swagger," as the Flowood location's assistant manager and bartender John Hime describes it.
The blue-plate lunch, specifically, draws the largest customer base, and it is what gives Georgia Blue its "Best of Jackson" status.
On the blue-plate menu's most popular days—Thursday and Sunday—the dishes are often first come, first served. Hime calls the fried chicken served on Tuesday and Thursday to-die-for. But the early bird gets the worm on Sunday, which is the day Georgia Blue serves its prime rib. Each plate comes with an entree, three sides, a choice of a roll or cornbread and a drink and costs $10 before 4 p.m., $12 after. The drink is not included after 4 p.m.
The restaurant also prides itself on the live music that plays Thursday through Saturday—a bit of southern rock to pair with southern cuisine. —Anna Wolfe
Best Plate Lunch Finalists
McDade's Markets (Multiple locations; mcdadesmarkets.com) / Walker's Drive-In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com) / Primos Cafe (515 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-898-3600; 2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-936-3398; primoscafe.com) / The Trace Grill (574 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-853-1014, thetracegrill.com)
Best Steak: Shapley's
868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-965-9566, shapleysrestaurant.com
Shapley's sectioned seating provides an intimate date spot or a place for families who aren't dressed for fine dining. But the privacy isn't the best thing about Shapley's—it's the consistent nature of their food preparation. Jacksonians have voted Shapley's steaks as the best available in Jackson for two years running and has been recognized numerous times.
Shapley's, founded in 1985, has been using the same products and the same chefs for the last 25 years. "We've got a tremendous amount of tenure in our kitchen," says Scott Koestler, owner and chef. Located in Ridgeland, Shapley's might be fancy, but it's not flashy. It has made its name through consistency and serving the finest foods possible. While Jacksonians might consider Shapley's as fine dining, Koestler says customers should feel comfortable coming as they are—and eating a fine steak. —Anna Wolfe
Best Steak Finalists
Kathryn's Steakhouse (6800 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-2803, kathrynssteaks.com) / Ely's Restaurant & Bar (115 W. Jackson St., Suite 2E, Ridgeland, 601-605-6359, elysrestaurant.com) / Tico's Steak House (1536 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-1030, ticossteakhouse.com) / Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com)
Best Take Out: O.E.C. Japanese Express
The name O.E.C. comes from the Japanese word oishii, which means "very delicious." It's a name that is appropriate for Jackson's pick for the Best Takeout. Its dishes are individually prepared and made from fresh ingredients with low salt and sugar and no M.S.G.
The menu at O.E.C. features appetizers such as crab, seaweed or squid salad, egg or crab egg rolls, kani cheese and edamame; a wide variety of sushi rolls including cucumber, avocado, crab, salmon, spicy tuna, eel, shrimp tempura and more; and Hibachi-cooked chicken, steak, shrimp, scallops, salmon or assorted vegetables, all available in combos and served with fried rice.
With its many locations, O.E.C. is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and to make takeout easier, everything already comes in a to-go container. —Dustin Cardon
Best Take Out Finalists
Sal & Mookie's New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919) / Amerigo Italian Restaurant (6592 Old Canton Road, 601-977-0563) / Mr. Chen's Restaurant (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865) / Cafe Ole (2752 N. State St., 769-524-3627)
Best Veggie Burger: Majestic Burger
1067 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-707-0093, majesticburger.com
The health-conscious eater need only make one stop for a delicious, meat-free meal: Majestic Burger. The winner of the Best Veggie Burger in Jackson prides itself on delicious options for vegetarians.
What many don't know is that Majestic Burger also offers a vegan burger. While both burgers contain mushroom, onion, red bell pepper, corn and black beans, the veggie burger also has milk and cheese, whereas the vegan burger is made with a wheat flour base.
Although the restaurant also offers a great selection of salads and seafood, such as redfish and tilapia, it's Majestic Burger's signature sweet-sourdough bun—one of five bun options—that seems to keep the mouths of repeat customers watering. —Anna Wolfe
Best Veggie Burger Finalists
High Noon Cafe (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602, rainbowcoop.org) / Hal & Mal's (200 S. Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com) / Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-713-3020) / Burgers & Blues (960 N. State St., 601-709-5171; 1060 E. County Line Road, Suite 22, Ridgeland, 601-899-0038; burgersblues.com)
Best Wine List/Selection: CAET Wine Bar
3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-321-9169, caetwinebar.com
On any given night at CAET, the Fondren wine bar from the owners of nearby Walker's Drive-In, you might be seated next to power players jabbering about the burdens of public service. After a few minutes of that, you'll be grateful for CAET's 10-page wine list that starts with a good range of reds and whites available by the pour, including two- and four-ounce options for sampling. These pours start at $3.50 for two-ounce taste of a Spanish Albarino.
CAET's enthusiastic and knowledgeable servers can suggest an appropriate sweet or savory small plate to complement your selection or a good wine to go with your meal. In the event you can't finish a full bottle from CAET's expansive selection, servers are happy to cork it and seal it in a bag with a receipt for your enjoyment later. —R.L. Nave
Best Wine List/Selection Finalists
BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 142, 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com)
Best Bakery: Broad Street Baking Company
4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com
If you love fresh bread, desserts and coffee, Broad Street Baking Company is the place to go. Broad Street offers a variety of breads made from scratch, plus pastries, cookies, desserts, and complete meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its cakes are delectable, rich and are all priced at $38. A few of the many options are Oreo Crunch, caramel and king cake, available this year from Jan. 6 to Feb. 17. The bakery also has specialty king cakes for other holidays, including its Death by Candy king cake that comes out around Halloween.
For dinner and lunch, try Broad Street's sandwiches, paninis, po-boys and wraps, including the portobello vegetarian sandwich, club sandwich, the contadino wrap. beef Panini, and the tomato and basil grilled cheese Panini. Sandwiches come with a choice of artisan bread such as focaccia, multigrain sourdough, New York rye and farmhouse white. —Ashley Sanders
Best Bakery Finalists
Campbell's Bakery (3013 N. State St., 601-362-4628, campbellsbakery.ms) / La Brioche (2906 N. State St., 601-988-2299, labriochems.com) / The 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; thebeaglebagelcafe.com)