Best of Jackson 2021: Food and Drink | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Best of Jackson 2021: Food and Drink

Photo courtesy Amerigo Group

Photo courtesy Amerigo Group

Best Ethnic Market, Best Place for Healthy Food, Best Vegetarian Options: Aladdin Mediterranean Grocery; Aladdin Mediterranean Grill

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Photo by Imani Khayyam

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

Aladdin Mediterranean Grill has been a staple in the metro since 2004. Many locals regard Aladdin's, located near Fondren, as Jackson's premier spot for Mediterranean food such as shawarma, gyros, baklava and others. The restaurant and Aladdin's Mediterranean Grocery next door are perennially on the Best of Jackson winners' list. This year, the two together top the lists for Best Ethnic Grocery, Best Vegetarian Options and Best Place to Eat Healthy Food.

"We mostly do everything from scratch, and we use lean meat and fresh ingredients," Yoseph Ali, the proprietor, says of Aladdin's healthy food preparation. "(For vegetarians), falafels are the big items, along with mixed vegetables and grape leaves. And, of course, all the dips we have are vegetarian friendly."

For those who are not familiar with Aladdin's or Mediterranean food in general, Ali suggests they try the chicken gyros or one of the combination plates including items such as lamb chops and shrimp.

Aladdin's did have to make adjustments because of the COVID-19 virus, but it is still open for dine-in service, albeit with a smaller number of tables, and the staff has worked to improve the curbside takeaway and delivery services.

Having the grocery store on the other side of the wall makes it easier for the restaurant to buy in bulk and pass on the savings to customers, Ali says. Some of the more popular items available at the grocery include dates, olives, tea, coffee, cheese, nan, chicken and more—some of which cannot be found at most other local grocers, as Aladdin's imports them from overseas, particularly the large medjool dates.

Aladdin's desserts have garnered a number of fans as well, with baklava topping the list as a local favorite. —Richard Coupe

Best Ethnic Market Finalists

Asian Market (901 Lakeland Place, Suite 6, Flowood; 769-572-7050; asianmarketflowood.com) / Carniceria Valdez (2275 Highway 80; 601-352-6300; 6520 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland; 601-899-6922) / Mr. Chen's (5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865, mrchensms.com) / Patel Brothers (1999 Highway 80, Suite 15, 601-353-6611, patelbros.com)

Best Place for Healthy Food Finalists

Aplos Simple Medierranean (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174, 601-714-8989, eataplos.com) / Kale Me Crazy (1067 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite D, Ridgeland; 601-499-0459; ridgeland.kalemecrazy.net) / Mama Nature's Juice Bar (655 Lake Harbour Drive, Suite 400, Ridgeland; 601-499-4936; mamanatureswellness.com)

Best Vegetarian Options Finalists

BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-291-1146, coolalsrestaurant.org) / Kale Me Crazy (1067 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite D, 601-499-0459, ridgeland.kalemecrazy.net) / Mind Body and Soul Foodz (201 Ring Road, Suite 10, Ridgeland, 769-251-1211, mindbodyandsoulfoodz.com)

Best Fried Chicken, Best Lunch Counter/Buffet, Best Soul Food: Mama Hamil's Southern Cookin' & BBQ

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Photo courtesy Mama Hamil's

(480 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-856-4407, hamils.com)

Rising from its humble, log-cabin beginnings in 1977, Mama Hamil's now occupies the massive structure behind its original building, offering daily "blue plate specials," catering options and private event rooms.

Regardless of how customers choose to order the Madison restaurant's down-home southern cooking, Office Manager Bailey Lyles says the menu remains largely consistent. "Everything is handmade," Lyles remarks. "We do everything fresh every morning."

One of the eatery's freshest dishes is its popular fried chicken, which is hand-battered and fried throughout the day. "If it's out on the buffet, it's been cooked within 10 minutes," Lyles says of the signature poultry fare.

While the buffet is currently unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols, Lyles notes that customers' preferences are taken into account at every turn. "We haven't made it over 50% capacity," the office manager says. "Our customers are our top priority right now."

Although the restaurant's seating is limited, its menu is not, as it features items such as macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, peach cobbler and barbecue on the daily menu. For the cautious patrons who are not yet dining in, Mama Hamil's offers the same traditional favorites through online orders that can be picked up between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. each day.

Larger groups can choose delivery options, as the restaurant provides catered meals with a choice of two meats, three sides, a bread, a dessert and a beverage.

No matter how customers prefer to order, Mama Hamil's has resumed normal hours and are now once again open for both lunch and dinner. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Fried Chicken Finalists

Dumbo's on Duling (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-336-3600, dumbosjackson.com) / The Gathering at Livingston (106 Livingston Church Road, Flora, 601-667-4282, livingstonmercantile.com) / Georgia Blue (202 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-898-3330; 223 Ridge Way, Flowood; 601-919-1900, georgiablue.net) / Primos Cafe (2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood; 601-936-3398; 515 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland; 601-898-3600; 201 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-853-3350; primoscafe.com) / Rooster's (2906 N. State St., 601-982-2001, eatroosters.com)

Best Lunch Counter/Buffet Finalists

Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427, brentsdrugs.com) / Grant's Kitchen & Grill (3820 Flowood Drive, Flowood, 601-665-4764, grantskitchen.com) / Ichiban Chinese Buffet (153 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-0097; 3 Mac and Bones Blvd., Pearl, 769-208-2688; ichibangrillms.com) / Mama's Eats-N-Sweets (2017 Boling St., 601-713-0550, facebook.com/mamaseats) / McClain Resort (874 Holly Bush Road, Brandon, 601-829-1101, mcclain.ms)

Best Soul Food Finalists

Bully's Restaurant (3118 Livingston Road, Suite 6103, 601-362-0484, facebook.com/Bullys-Restaurant) / Godfrey's (2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602) / Josephine's Kitchen (4638 Hanging Moss Road, 769-572-4276, josephineskitchenms.com) / Sugar's Place (168 E. Griffith St., 601-352-2364, facebook.com/Sugars-Place-Downtown) / Sweetie Pies (110 E. South St., 769-524-4843, facebook.com/sweetiepiesofficial)

Best Barbecue, Best Outdoor Dining: The Pig & Pint

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Photo courtesy Pig & Pint

(3139 N. State St., 601-326-6070, pigandpint.com)

The strings of lights that adorn Fondren's popular barbecue restaurant create an inviting atmosphere for outdoor diners, as open-air picnic tables provide plenty of room for gatherings with family and friends. Prior to COVID, the restaurant also offered outdoor games like Jenga to add to the dining experience.

Smoked favorites include the Pepsi-Cola-glazed baby back ribs or the pulled-pork barbecue nachos, topped with peppers, queso and pickled onions. Barbecue fans who prefer to eat at home have a section of the menu dedicated specifically to them, as takeout options can feed anywhere from two to six people, with the "P&P 6-Pack" featuring two pounds of pulled pork and half a dozen brioche buns in addition to baked beans, comeback coleslaw and potato salad.

Diners can wash down these full-course southern meals with the more traditional sweet tea or by sampling Pig and Pint's selection of draft, canned and bottled beers, and any meal can be capped with the establishment's signature desserts: bananas foster bread pudding and white chocolate and cranberry bread pudding. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Barbecue Finalists

E & L Barbeque (1111 Bailey Ave., 601-355-5035, facebook.com/EandLBBQ) / Hickory Pit (1491 Canton Mart Road, 601-956-7079, facebook.com/Hickory-Pit) / Jefferson's Grill Restaurant & Catering (5612 Old Canton Road, 601-863-5227, facebook.com/Jeffersons-Grill-Restaurant-Catering) / Little Willie's BBQ (115 Village Square Drive, Suite G, Brandon, 601-992-6328; 5419 Highway 25, Suite L, Flowood, 769-572-4238; 3015 Highway 80, Pearl, 601-397-6698; littlewilliesbarbeque.com) / Sylvester's Mississippi Style BBQ (9434 Highway 18, Raymond, 601-346-8000, facebook.com/SylvestersMississippiStyleBBQ)

Best Outdoor Dining Finalists

Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863—8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Library Lounge at Fairview Inn (734 Fairview St., 601-948-3429, fairviewinn.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / The Rooftop Bar at Old Capitol Inn (226 N. State St., 601-359-9000, oldcapitolinn.com) / Sophomore Spanish Club (200 District Blvd. E., 601-203-3333, sophomorespanish.com)

Best Beer Selection (Restaurant), Best Place to Watch the Game: The Bulldog

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Photo courtesy The Bulldog

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

With exactly 50 beers available on tap, The Bulldog serves as a favorite haunt for locals aiming to watch NFL and college football, and for general manager Brittany Hutchins, the secret to the restaurant's success lies with the football fans themselves.

"They come in, and they know who'll be there," Hutchins says. "Half the time, they've already ordered their beer for them. It's like a family." The manager also credits The Bulldog's servers and bartenders for fostering an atmosphere that keeps sports devotees coming back week after week.

"One time, we were all down in the dumps because we thought (the customers) might not realize that we were open early, but out of nowhere, tons of Saints fans were there, cheering and watching the game," Hutchins recalls.

"We were passing out shots of Fireball. It was an awesome way to start the football season, and it was very memorable." She jokes that the restaurant has "about 150,000 TVs, so you can't go wrong there."

Besides libations, the restaurant offers a full dinner menu featuring original dishes such as crawfish banditos and Tex-Mex egg rolls with raspberry chipotle sauce. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Beer Selection (Restaurant) Finalists

Fondren Public (2765 Old Canton Road, 769-216-2589, facebook.com/fondrenpublic) / Hops and Habanas (2771 Old Canton Road, 769-572-4631, hopsandhabanas.com) / Martin's Downtown (214 S. State St., 601-3354-9712, martinsdowntownjxn.com) / The Pig & Pint (3139 N. State St., 601-326-6070, pigandpint.com) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)

Best Place to Watch the Game Finalists

4th and Goal Sports Cafe (5100 Interstate 55 N. Frontage Road, 769-208-8283, 4thgoal.com) / BB'S LIVE - Bonny Blair's (1149 Old Fannin Road, Brandon, 769-251-0692) / Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845, capitolgrillofjackson.com) / Fondren Public (2765 Old Canton Road, 769-216-2589, facebook.com/fondrenpublic) / Last Call Sports Grill (1428 Old Square Road, 601-713-2700, lastcallsportsgrill.com) / Names and Faces Lounge (224 E. Capitol St., 601-955-5285)

Best Breakfast and Best Plate Lunch: Primos Cafe

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File Photo by Trip Burns

(2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood; 601-936-3398; 515 Lake Harbor Drive, Ridgeland; 601-898-3600; 201 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-853-3350; primoscafe.com)

Primos Cafes, now with three locations, have been around since the 1920s and have a rich and storied tradition of serving food that keep Jacksonians coming back for more.

"That's why our business does so well. It reminds people of eating dinner at their mother's house," Kenya Parks, the director of operations for Primos Cafe, says.

The restaurant offers breakfast all day, and the menu ranges from the Primos Parfait—homemade granola served with Greek yogurt and fresh strawberries—to a more traditional southern breakfast featuring hash browns, biscuits, white sausage gravy and eggs anyway you want them.

On weekdays, Primos serves blue-plate specials. Monday through Saturday, the specials include a rotating entree with two vegetable dishes—although patrons may instead opt for an all-vegetable plate featuring four or five vegetable dishes.

"(The blue-plate specials) are rotated out every two months, but there are staples that never change," Parks says.

"For instance, fried chicken, turkey and dressing, and chicken and dumplings—those are things that will always be part of our blue plates." Meanwhile, Fridays consistently mean U.S. farm-raised catfish, which many describe as the highlight of the week, Parks asserts.

Other menu items include sandwiches, wraps, burgers, catfish tacos, and baskets of chicken strips or Gulf-fried shrimp served with onion rings, regular fries or sweet potato fries.

For dessert, customers can look for Primos' three-layer cake, which comes in flavors such as caramel, Italian cream, carrot and many more.

Alternatively, they can choose slices of pie in flavors like lemon or pecan, or visit the bakery for cookies, fudge squares and other freshly baked goods that they can take home to enjoy later. —Richard Coupe

Best Breakfast Finalists

Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427, brentsdrugs.com) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863—8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Jo's Diner (241 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601—988-9000, josdiner.net) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Sugar's Place (168 E. Griffith St., 601-352-2364)

Best Plate Lunch Finalists

George's Museum Cafe (Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum, 1150 Lakeland Drive, 601-981-1465, georges-museum-cafe.edan.io) / Georgia Blue (202 Baptist Drive, Madison, 601-898-3330; 223 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-919-1900; georgiablue.net) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com) / Taste of the Island (436 E. Capitol St., 601-360-5900) / Trace Grill (574F Highway 51 N., Ridgeland, 601-853-1014, thetracegrill.com)

Best Restaurant, Best Brunch: The Iron Horse Grill

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Photo courtesy Iron Horse Grill

(320 W. Pearl St., 601-398-0151, theironhorsegrill.com)

Given the effort that The Iron Horse Grill puts in its Sunday mid-morning meals, it's no wonder that the restaurant led the Best Brunch category of this year's Best of Jackson results.

During Sunday brunch, chefs operate stations where they prepare waffles with toppings such as maple syrup, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pecans, cinnamon, powdered sugar or whipped cream, as well as omelets with familiar breakfast trimmings like bacon, sausage, ham, cheese, bell peppers, green onions or mushrooms and more adventurous fillings like crabmeat and crawfish.

Additionally, Iron Horse offers bottomless mimosas and the smooth sounds of local jazz legend Tiger Rogers on the saxophone, creating an atmosphere that keeps customers coming back week after week.

Outside of brunch, Iron Horse presents its signature flavors every other day of the week as well, offering a vast menu of appetizers, fajitas, burgers, sandwiches, salads, desserts and many other specialties. Those looking to listen to live music as they dine can browse Iron Horse's website to see which artists are scheduled to perform in the weeks ahead.

Iron Horse also caters, allows customers to book private events and hosts the Mississippi Music Experience, an educational tour for students that explores the state's rich history of music and art. —Torsheta Jackson

Best Brunch Finalists

Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863—8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Primos Cafe (2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood; 601-936-3398; 515 Lake Harbor Drive, Ridgeland; 601-898-3600; 201 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-853-3350; primoscafe.com) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)

Best Restaurant Finalists

Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, Elviesrestaurant.com) / Ely's Restaurant & Bar (115 W. Jackson St., Suite 2E, Ridgeland, 601-605-6359, elysrestaurant.com) / Godfrey's (2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602) / Local 463 (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 5002, Ridgeland; 601-707-7684; local463.com) / Walker's Drive In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com)

Best Greek or Mediterranean Restaurant; Best Hangover Food: Keifer's

(710 Poplar Blvd., 601-355-6825, keifers.net; 120 N. Congress St., 601-353-4976, keifersdowntown.com)

Established in 1980, Keifer's has become known by nearly anyone who has spent enough time in the metro. It opened a second location down in 1981 and later moved to its current location on Poplar Avenue in 2011.

The menu features an extensive list of gyros, salads, desserts, appetizers and more. One of its most popular items—and one that lends to the title of Best Hangover Food—is probably the cottage fries, which are slices of potato fried and served with feta dressing (now available for purchase in bottle form at the Belhaven location). Other items of note include the pita mozz or peta feta, which is pita grilled and served with feta sauce.

Both locations also have daily specials, such as a bacon cheeseburger, an often-effective means of easing the pain of a hangover. In warmer weather, both locations' outside seating has been ideal for social distancing.

Keifer's in Belhaven is open Sunday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The downtown location is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. —Amber Helsel

Best Greek or Mediterranean Restaurant Finalists

Aladdin Mediterranean Grill (730 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6033, aladdininjackson.com) / Aplos Simple Mediterranean (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174, 601-714-8989, eataplos.com) / Kismet's Restaurant (315 Crossgates Blvd., Brandon, 601-825-8380, facebook.com/kismet) / Krilakis (207 W. Jackson St., Suite D, Ridgeland; 601-790-9463; krilakis.com) / Yiayia's Greek Kitchen (587 Highway 51, Suite J, Ridgeland; 601-853-1110; yiayiasgreekkitchen.net)

Best Hangover Food Finalists

Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427, brentsdrugs.com) / Da Shak Grill (5752 Terry Road, Suite A1, Byram, 601-398-1765, da-shak-grill.edan.io) / Fenian's Pub (901 E. Fortification St., 601-948-0055, fenianspub.com) / Rooster's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2001, eatroosters.com) / Santa Fe Grill & Bar (4924 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 769-216-3964, facebook.com/SantaFeJacksonMS)

Best Italian Food, Best Curbside Delivery: Amerigo Italian Restaurant

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Photo courtesy Amerigo Group

(6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-977-0563; 155 Market St., Flowood, 601-992-1550; amerigo.net)

Amerigo Italian Restaurant has been providing a taste of Italy to the Jackson community since the early 1980s, and their Ridgeland and Flowood locations are open for both lunch and dinner each day.

"We're committed to providing quality cuisine and service—while keeping our price point approachable," Director of Marketing Ali Gensert says of the restaurant's longstanding popularity with the Jackson community.

The variety of the restaurant's cuisine has kept Jacksonians coming back for decades, too, with customer favorites like smoked chicken ravioli, fettuccine imperial and pasta pomodoro highlighting the pasta menu and Prince Edward Island mussels and calamari fritti headlining the appetizer selection. Once the first two courses are cleared away, diners can sample sweeter tastes of Italy, with the restaurant offering tiramisu topped with creme anglaise and Kahlua-infused chocolate sauce.

These and other authentic dishes are also available for curbside pick-up, with Amerigo staff members on stand-by to bring takeout orders to customers who don't yet feel comfortable dining in.

"It's important for us to meet our guests' needs at all times," Gensert says of the practice. "Even if people aren't comfortable dining in, we still want to provide a nice meal for them. People want what's comfortable, and (our customers) know they can have a nice meal at Amerigo, even if it's served out of to-go boxes." —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Italian Food Finalists

BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar (4500 Interstate 55 Frontage Road, Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) / Cerami's Italian Restaurant (5417 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-919-2829, ceramisitalian.com) / Fratesi's (910 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-956-2929, fratesisrestaurant.com) / Sal & Mookie's (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919; 111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 130, Madison, 601-499-1300; salandmookies.com)

Best Curbside Delivery Finalists

Aplos Simple Mediterranean (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174, 601-714-8989, eataplos.com) / Babalu Tapas & Tacos (622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, eatbabalu.com) / Martin's at Midtown (1101 Belmont St., Vicksburg, 601-636-2353, martinsatmidtown.com) / The Pig & Pint (3139 N. State St., 601-326-6070, pigandpint.com) / Sal & Mookies (565 Taylor St.; 601-368-1919; 111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 130, Madion; 601-499-1300; salandmookies.com) / Trace Grill (574 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland; 601-853-1014; thetracegrill.com)

Best Fine Dining, Best Steak: Char Restaurant

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Photo courtesy Parachute Media

(4500 Interstate 55 N., 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com)

Char has been a popular choice for Jackson diners for years, but Marketing Director Ali Gensert believes that the company's people-oriented approach has kept customers coming back.

"One of the biggest things we have going for us is that we have been able to

celebrate with multiple generations of guests. It's a comfortable atmosphere for them—people came in with their parents, and now they're bringing their own families in," Gensert says.

Char's steaks have remained a popular menu item, as the Highland Village staple serves a range of cuts—filet mignons, New York strips and cowboy and standard ribeyes—topped with maitre d' butter. "We cook them to perfection as people order them," Gensert says of the beef selection.

Char's extensive menu also includes brunch, lunch and dinner options, with each meal featuring a curated wine and cocktail list. The private dining room can seat between 10 and 120 guests and features customized menu options, audio visual equipment and complimentary wireless internet. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Fine Dining Finalists

Amerigo Italian Restaurant (6592 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland; 601-977-0563; 155 Market St., Flowood; 601-992-1550; amerigo.net) / Koestler Prime (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 6001, Ridgeland, 601-957-3753, koestlerprime.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Shapley's Restaurant (868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-957-8000, mmshapleys.com) / Table 100 (100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202, tableonehundred.com) / Walker's Drive In ((3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com)

Best Steak Finalists

Ely's Restaurant & Bar (115 W. Jackson St., Suite 2E, Ridgeland, 601-605-6359, elysrestaurant.com) / Koestler Prime (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 6001, Ridgeland, 601-957-3753, koestlerprime.com) / Shapley's Restaurant (868 Centre St., Ridgeland, 601-957-8000, mmshapleys.com) / Tico's Steakhouse (1536 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-1030, ticossteakhouse.com) / Walker's Drive In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com)

Best Fries, Best Catering: Georgia Blue

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File Photo by Trip Burns

(202 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-898-3330; 223 Ridge Way, Flowood; 601-919-1900; georgiablue.net)

With locations in both Madison and Flowood, Georgia Blue's signature dishes present a metropolitan flair to down-home cooking, with plates such as turnip green bites and gyro nachos studding the menu. These staples are available for both guests who dine in and guests who take advantage of the restaurant's long-standing catering service.

"We want them to get the same menu and the same quality of service they'd get in a restaurant," proprietor Jason Burgardt says. The catering team works to fulfill this wish, as Burgardt notes that the staff tries to stay "a step or two ahead of every guest that calls."

The catering crew, which has remained largely consistent over the last seven years, isn't afraid to take on multiple gatherings at once. This comes in handy, as Burgardt notes that "word of mouth is (the restaurant's) best advertisement."

A favorite Georgia Blue creation for both catering events and indoor dining is the restaurant's original beer-battered curly wedge fries. "I haven't seen anyone else serve fries like ours," Burgardt says.

Although the fries were not on the business' original menu, they are now considered an essential feature by guests and management alike. "We've been serving these fries for six years now, and we've gotten a lot of good feedback from guests, so we've never gone back," Burgardt says. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Fries Finalists

Aplos Simple Mediterranean (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174, 601-714-8989, eataplos.com) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863—8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Fine & Dandy (100 District Blvd., 601-202-5050, eatdandy.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Rooster's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2001, eatroosters.com) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)

Best Caterer Finalists

4Top Catering (401 Fontaine Place, Suite 103, Ridgeland; 601-968-7575; 4topcatering.com) / Fresh Cut Catering & Floral (108 Cypress Cove, Flowood, 601-939-4518, freshcutcateringandfloral.com) / The Iron Horse Grill (320 W. Pearl St., 601-398-0151, theironhorsegrill.com) / Mangia Bene Catering (4465 Interstate 55 N., 601-362-2900, mangiabene-catering.com)

Best New Restaurant, Best New Addition: Dumbo's on Duling

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Photo courtesy Dumbo's on Duling

(3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-336-3600, dumbosjackson.com)

Paul Adair, owner of Dumbo's on Duling, gave his restaurant the name that had once been his own. Dumbo, the name that his first-grade classmates at Boyd Elementary School bestowed on him, has since brought the Jackson native good fortune during his first year in business.

"(Our first year) has been a little strange because of COVID, but we have a small footprint, and the community has been really good to us," Adair says. He added that the good reviews and consistent crowds have been encouraging for the restaurant nestled in the heart of Fondren and opening its doors during a difficult year.

Like the rest of the eclectic community, the restaurant has a unique flair. "Our space is really cool," Adair says. "Ferriss and Company took my vision and ran with it, so the aesthetics are really neat."

Dumbo's on Duling seeks to convey its singularity through its menu, too, offering a range of cuisines at brunch, lunch and dinner. Adair remarks that many customers prefer to order small plates when they come in to drink, which has caused their "snack" menu—which features signature staples such as crispy crab wontons and deviled eggs—to flourish.

Adair praises his dedicated staff, whom he promises are "smiling beneath their masks," for serving these snacks that complement the business' popular cocktail program, which Adair describes as simply "badass." —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best New Restaurant Finalists

Colony Bistro (121 Colony Crossing Way, Suite A, Madison; 601-707-4141; colonybistroms.com) / Da Shak Grill (5752 Terry Road, Suite A1, Byram; 601-398-1765; facebook.com/DaShakBarGill) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, Elviesrestaurant.com) / Sante Fe Grill & Bar (4924 Interstate 55 N. Frontage Road, Suite 105, 769-216-3464, facebook.com/SantaFeJacksonMS)

Best New Addition to Jackson Finalists

Coffee Prose - Highland Village (4500 Interstate 55 N. Frontage Road, Suite 173, 769-237-6153, coffeeprose.com) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, Elviesrestaurant.com) / Enchanting Memories Entertainment (662-590-2748, facebook.com/enchantingmemoriesentertainment) / Green Bean (100 E. Capitol St., Suite 106, 601-376-9317, greenbeanusa.com) / Kickin' Crab (6376 Ridgewood Court Drive, 601-665-4199, kickincrabms.com) / Mural On Old Capitol Inn (226 N. State St., 601-359-9000, oldcapitolinn.com)

Best Bakery: Campbell's Bakery

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Photo courtesy Campbell's Bakery

(3013 N. State St., 601-362-4628; 1121 N. Jefferson St., 601-292-7555; campbellsbakery.ms)

Campbell's Bakery may be one of the city's oldest of its kind, but owner Mitchell Moore has made the business over since his takeover in 2011. Before Moore, Campbell's Bakery had been open for 50 years in its original location. After Moore's takeover, he expanded to Madison in 2016—a location that unfortunately closed in 2020 amid the pandemic—and in 2019, he branched out and opened Campbell's Craft Donuts in Belhaven.

Campbell's has everything many would want in a bakery: cupcakes, petit fours, cookies, cakes, pies and custom cakes. The business even offers gluten-free treats like cupcakes and cookies. Drive a few blocks over to Campbell's Craft Donuts for a full menu complete with breakfast tacos, coffee and donuts nearly the size of your head. Both businesses have the ability to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Campbell's Bakery is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. —Amber Helsel

Finalists: Broad Street Baking Company (4465 Interstate 55 N., Suite 101, 601-362-2900, broadstbakery.com) / La Brioche Patisserie & Bistro (1200 Eastover Drive, 601-988-2299, labriochems.com) / The Prickly Hippie (500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-910-6730, pricklyhippie.com) / Primos Cafe (2323 Lakeland Drive, Flowood; 601-936-3398; 515 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland; 601-898-3600; 201 Baptist Drive, Madison; 601-853-3350; primoscafe.com) / Sugar Magnolia Takery (5417 Highway 25, Flowood, 601-992-8110, sugarmagnoliatakery.com)

Best Beer Selection (Store): Hops and Habanas

(2771 Old Canton Road, 769-572-4631, hopsandhabanas.com)

Time and time again, Hops and Habanas has graced the pages of Best of Jackson for its prominent beer selection. This year, however, appears to be the last time the storefront will be in the running for this particular category, as the business has closed as of mid-January.

Rather than being another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, Rick and Trayce Miles shut down the store because they wanted to leave the retail business, having decided in 2019 to do so by 2021.

Unable to find a buyer for the Hops and Habanas business, the Miles duo instead ended up selling the building itself. Nevertheless, they remain grateful for the support they have received from the public over the years. "We certainly appreciate our customer and community support over the years and will miss the many friendships we have made along the way. We thank all our past and most recent employees who represented Hops and Habanas," Rick, who is already a full-time ER physician, says.

"We do feel regrets on leaving a big void in the beer and cigar retail sales area as well as the Jackson social and entertainment scene. But in the end, we were ready for a lifestyle change of our own and are looking forward to moving on." —Richard Coupe

Finalists: Barley's Beer Barn (1716 Highway 51, Suite E, Madison; 601-790-7901; facebook.com/BarleysBeerBarn) / Craft Beer Cellar (500 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-790-7474, ridgeland.craftbeercellar.com) / LD's BeerRun (5006 Parkway Drive, 769-208-8686, facebook.com/LDsBeerRun)

Best Oysters, Best Happy Hour: Saltine Restaurant

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Photo courtesy Andrew Welch

(622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)

Saltine takes its name from the vessel of an oyster, paying homage to its oyster bar as one of its most prominent features. "It's our specialty and one of our top-selling items," Marketing Director Ali Gensert says. The Fondren staple sources oysters from a variety of locations in its quest to provide the freshest options for Jackson seafood connoisseurs.

The restaurant prepares the oysters in a variety of ways, with customer favorites including Bama BBQ served with white barbecue sauce and Oysters Lafitte garnished with crawfish tails, bacon, parmesan and the restaurant's signature hot sauce butter.

Diners can also try oysters on the half-shell, which are only $1 each during the Duling Street fixture's happy hour, which occurs daily from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. "We also offer half-off draft beers, wines and cocktails," Gensert says of the daily special.

Some of these half-priced libations include "Admiral Nelson's Revenge," a heady blend of spiced rum and peach schnapps; "Eye of the Storm," a patron reposado garnished with jalapeno syrup; and "Marlin Monroe," a sparkling beverage mixed with muddled strawberry and spiked with Tito's vodka.

The draft beers on tap during these daily sales are varied, ranging from domestic lagers such as Michelob Ultra to sours like the Mississippi-brewed Blackberry Sour. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Best Oysters Finalists

CAET Seafood and Oysterette (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 9015, Ridgeland; 601-321-9169; caetseafood.com) / Drago's Seafood Restaurant (1005 E. County Line Road, 601-957-1515, dragosjackson.com) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, Elviesrestaurant.com) / Shucker's Oyster Bar (116 Conestoga Road, Ridgeland, 601-853-0105, shuckersontherez.com)

Best Happy Hour Finalists

4th Avenue Lounge (209 S. Lamar St., 601-259-5825, 4thavenuejxn.com) / BB'S LIVE - Bonny Blair's (1149 Old Fannin Road, Brandon, 769-251-0692) / Last Call Sports Grill (1428 Old Square Road, 601-713-2700, lastcallsportsgrill.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Names and Faces Lounge (224 E. Capitol St., 601-955-5285, facebook.com/namesandfaceslounge) / Shucker's Oyster Bar (116 Conestoga Road, Ridgeland, 601-853-0105, shuckersontherez.com)

Best Place for Coffee, Best Geek Hangout: Cups Espresso Cafe

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Photo courtesy Cups Espresso Cafe

(multiple locations, cupsespressocafe.com)

With nine locations around the metro Jackson area, Cups Espresso Cafe aims to serve quality, locally roasted, internationally sourced coffee in an atmosphere where people can experience community. Angela Cottrell, director of marketing, emphasizes that Cups has a cup of coffee for everyone, as customers may choose from a wide assortment of flavored drip coffees, artisan cappuccinos and many more options.

The "very first ingredient," Cottrell emphasizes, comes from the beans that are roasted in Ridgeland and available for brewing within 24 hours.

Janice and Dennis Cameron opened the first Cups in Fondren in 1993. "She wanted to use Cups to promote local artists and creatives, and provide a place for people to come together," Cottrell says.

During the pandemic, each location remained open, offering curbside pick-up for customers and implementing social distancing and heightened cleaning practices to keep customers as safe as they could, all while maintaining that community atmosphere.

Cups has always offered free Wi-Fi for customers, a convenient feature for students, remote workers and geeks alike. Looking ahead, Cups plans to debut a new Tanzanian flavored coffee and bring back the Chocolate Spirit flavor under the name Chocolua, with 20% of the proceeds benefiting Stewpot Community Services. —Kyle Hamrick

Best Place for Coffee Finalists

The Bean (2914 N. State St., 769-572-5752, facebook.com/thebeanjxn) / Coffee Prose (1619 N. West St., 769-208-0230; 4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 173, 769-237-6153; coffeeprose.com) / Fusion Coffeehouse (1111A Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-856-6001, fusioncoffeehouse.com) / Mocha Mugs (1800 W. Government St., Brandon, 601-825-1006; 119 Grandview Blvd., Madison, 601-605-0160; 5610 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 601-919-3684; mochamugs.com) / The Prickly Hippie (500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland; 601-910-6730; pricklyhippie.com) / Urban Foxes (826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com)

Best Geek Hangout Finalists

Herbal Blessings (614 N. Farish St., 769-216-3450, herbalblessings601.com) / OffBeat (151 Wesley Ave., 601-376-9404, offbeatjxn.com) / Urban Foxes (826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com) / Van's Comics, Cards & Games (731 S. Pear Orchard Road, Suite 1, Ridgeland, 601-898-9950, vansccg.com) / The Warp Zone Arcade (393 Crossgates Blvd., Suite C, Brandon; 601-706-4764, facebook.com/TheWarpZoneArcade)

Best Burger: Stamps Super Burgers

(1801 Dalton St., 601-352-4555, super-burgers.business.site)

Stamps Super Burgers, located in a residential area just south of Jackson State University, remains a perennial winner of the Best Burger in the Best of Jackson series. The institution originally began as a family-run grocery store and meat market in the 1970s, and legend has it that the owner of the store, Al Stamps, wanted a burger one Sunday afternoon in the early 1980s and headed up to the store to make it himself, thus beginning a dynasty that has continued for decades.

The Super Burger sold for $1.65 in 1982, and while the fan-favorite costs a little more now, Best of Jackson results demonstrate that patrons consider the burger to be worth the price. The Stamps family's drive for excellence has resulted in a burger legend and a destination for Jacksonians and visitors alike. Stamps also offers turkey burgers, chicken sandwiches, chicken wings, fries, salads and other dishes. —Richard Coupe

Finalists: Burgers Blues Barbecue (168 W. Government St., Brandon, 601-829-2500, burgersblues.com) / Cool Al's (4654 McWillie Drive, 601-291-1146, coolalsrestaurant.org) / Lou's Full-Serv (904B E. Fortification St., 601-487-6359, lousfullserv.com) / Rooster's (2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2001, eatroosters.com)

Best Chicken Sandwich: Rooster's

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Photo by Nick Judin

(2906 N. State St., Suite 104, 601-982-2001, eatroosters.com)

As versatile as it is popular, Rooster's chicken sandwich allows customers to choose a more traditional grilled or fried chicken sandwich, a chicken club, a chicken mushroom swiss or a chicken jalapeno to whet their taste for poultry, all between freshly baked buns made daily.

Customers can pair their sandwiches with signature southern sides such as curly fries, onion rings, red beans and rice, and mac and cheese, or with desserts like banana pudding, garnished with sliced bananas and vanilla wafers.

Rooster's encourages patrons to share photos of these dishes on social media with the hashtag #JXNCKN, and the tag's gallery makes for perfect menu browsing. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Barrelhouse (3009 N. State St., 769-216-3167, barrelhousems.com) / Burgers Blues Barbecue (168 W. Government St., Brandon, 601-829-2500, burgersblues.com) / Dumbo's on Duling (3100 N. State St., Suite 102, 601-336-3600, dumbosjackson.com) / Fine & Dandy (100 District Blvd. E., 601-202-5050, eatdandy.com) / Josephine's Kitchen (4638 Hanging Moss Road, 769-572-4276, josephineskitchenms.com) / Lou's Full-Serv (904B E. Fortification St., 601-487-6359, lousfullserv.com)

Best Gumbo: Gumbo Girl

(900 E. County Line Road, Suite 107, Ridgeland; 601-790-0486; gumbogirl.com)

Marilyn Kithuka, 49, otherwise known as the "Gumbo Girl," has a bowl of gumbo for anybody and everybody, regardless of dietary restrictions or allergies.

Kithuka builds her gumbo on "a dark brown, rich, thick roux," she says, adding that her dishes are hearty as well. "In every spoon that you pick up, you're gonna get meat," the chef adds.

Born and raised in Jackson, Kithuka started cooking gumbo 20 years ago for her family and friends. After catering for a few years, she opened her first location off Highway 18 in 2015. In January 2020, Kithuka opened her current location in Ridgeland.

She credits her husband, James, for encouraging her to pursue her passion for cooking. "He was the key to me becoming Gumbo Girl," Kithuka said.

While many employees left due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the temporary closure of the Highway 18 location, Kithuka says she's "been fighting through it."

"God has given me one of my dreams," she says. "The next one is just to get back to some sense of normalcy." —Kyle Hamrick

Finalists: Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com) / Gumbo Pot (3401 Halls Ferry Road, Suite 5, Vicksburg, 601-501-1441, gumbopotms.com) / Hal & Mal's (200 Commerce St., 601-948-0777, halandmals.com) / The Lost Cajun (6745 S. Siwell Road, Byram; 769-257-6644; 190 Riverwind E. Drive, Suite 307, Pearl; 601-487-8598; thelostcajun.com) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, saltinerestaurant.com)

Best Doughnuts: Monroe's Donuts and Bakery

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Photo courtesy Monroe Jackson

(multiple locations, monroesdonutsandbakery.com)

After growing up in Holmes County, Monroe Jackson moved to Chicago, Ill., and his boss observed that he was the best dishwasher that he had ever had, so he took the young man under his wing and taught him to bake. After his boss' death 16 years later, Jackson returned to the metro and used the skills he had learned during his sojourn up north to open Monroe's Donuts in September 1995.

"We've had tough times," Jackson acknowledged. "What keeps you in business is having a good product, maintaining good customer service and keeping reasonable prices. Those three things will never fail."

Another aspect of Jackson's business that has never failed is the wide array of confections that the bakery rolls out from dawn to dusk. "We've got glazed and chocolate donuts, cinnamon twists, bear claws, apple fritters—all sorts. They're the best donuts in the state, and it keeps our customers coming back," Jackson concludes. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Campbell's Craft Donuts (1121 N. Jefferson St., 601-292-7555, campbellsdonuts.com) / The Dapper Doughnut (257 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-951-8999, thedapperdoughnut.com) / Donut Palace (multiple locations) / Pillow Donuts (707 Beau Pre Drive, Ridgeland, 601-790-9697; 1679 Old Fannin Road D, Flowood, 601-92-6040) / The Prickly Hippie (500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-910-6730, pricklyhippie.com)

Best Crawfish: T'Beaux's Crawfish and Catering

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Photo courtesy T'Beaux's Crawfish and Catering

(941 Highway 80, Clinton, 601-926-4793, facebook.com/tbeauxscrawfish)

When Leigh Anne Ray married into the Ray family, she also married into the family business: crawfish. Her father-in-law started T'Beaux's in 1992, and her husband, Kelly, began managing the carry-out seafood business before the two married.

"It's undoubtedly the seasoning. His dad has his own seasoning," Ray says of the secret behind the family's long-running success. "It's different than anyone else's, and it's a different kind of product than most people use. It's packaged just for our family."

Customers can buy the blend themselves for at-home use, though, with the purchase of live crawfish. The main events at T'Beaux's include the crowd-pleasing crawfish, as well as shrimp, snow crab, dungeness crab and raw oysters, all of which can be served with Cajun-inspired side dishes like boudin, gumbo, and boiled corn and potatoes. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Crawdad Hole (1150 Lakeland Drive, 601-982-9299, thecrawdadhole.com) / The Crawfish Hut (6956 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-957-8900) / Mudbugs (1299 Old Fannin Road, Brandon, 601-992-5225; 151 W. Government St., Brandon, 601-706-4751; mudbugscrawfish.com) / Sal & Phil's (6600 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Ridgeland, 601-957-1188, salandphils.com)

Best Chinese Food: Mr. Chen's

(5465 Interstate 55 N., 601-978-1865, mrchensms.com)

Known for its authenticity, Mr. Chen's—in a strip mall off Interstate 55 in Jackson—offers 160 distinct dishes, with 30 of these highlighted as "Chef's Specials."

Adventurous eaters can try something new like the restaurant's flame-seared frog legs or its tofu live fish soup, while those who prefer more familiar dishes can sample cashew or sweet-and-sour chicken.

The eatery also offers a variety of meatless options, with several dishes featuring tofu and vegetables. Mr. Chen's strives to ensure that customers know what to expect, adorning their menu with images of red peppers to indicate what dishes might be considered spicy to more sensitive tastebuds.

Those who do enjoy the menu's spicier offerings can cool off with a sweet treat such as an iced milk tea, egg pudding or fried ice cream. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: China Cafe (160 Promenade Blvd., Flowood, 601-919-1388, chinacafe.us) / Gourmet Chinese Restaurant (587 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-605-1061, gourmetridgeland.com) / Hunan Wok (6556 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-8988) / Ichiban Chinese Buffet (153 Ridge Way, Flowood; 601-919-0097; 3 Mac and Bones Blvd., Pearl; 769-208-2688; ichibangrillms.com) / Wok To Go (4329 N. State St., 601-981-2112)

Best Sandwich Place: Room Service

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Photo courtesy Room Service

(4659 McWillie Drive, 601-362-44617; 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-707-3600; roomservicejackson.com)

Room Service, which opened its doors in 1986, boasts 38 sandwiches, 35 salads and 24 dressings, all of which were inspired by owner Hays Thompson's time in his mother's kitchen.

Confident in his creations, Thompson began his business by delivering sandwiches door-to-door, on foot. The restaurant has since opened two locations, one now in northeast Jackson and one in Ridgeland.

Promising fresh ingredients, the establishment offers a set of sandwiches named after streets in Mississippi's capital city: Capitol Street, High Street, State Street, George Street, Congress and Northside, along with its own street address: the McWillie.

The menu of the Renaissance location features sandwiches with monikers derived from other areas of the country, such as the San Fran, the Aspen, the Deltan and the Bay St. Louis. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Basil's (2914 N. State St.; 601-982-2100; 1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland; 601-790-1919; 120 N. Congress St.; 601-944-9888; eatbasils.com) / The Beagle Bagel Cafe (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 145; 769-251-1892; 100 Mannsdale Park Drive, Suite II, Madison; 601-856-4377; beaglebagelcafe.com) / Martin's Downtown (214 S. State St., 601-354-9712, martinsdowntownjxn.com)

​Best Liquor/Wine Store: Corkscrew Fine Wine and Spirits

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Chris Pennock Photo by Nick Judin

(4800 Interstate 55, 601-981-1333, https://www.loc8nearme.com/mississippi/jackson/corkscrew/3736273/)

Corkscrew Fine Wine and Spirits carries everything from $4 bottles of wine to flagons of liquor that cost well over $1,000, supporting Closing Manager Chris Pennock's claim that the establishment has a "deep inventory."

"We are a warehouse-style liquor store, so we have a massive selection of items," Pennock says. "We carry several thousand options as opposed to several hundred."

Among the most known of these thousands of offerings are Corkscrew's high-end bourbon selection, which includes the entirety of the Buffalo Trace and Weller lines. Also popular at the I-55 fixture is tequila, as the store carries a range of choices from the Don Julio and Patron lines, along with Michael Jordan's signature libation, Cincoro Anejo.

The shop sells high amounts of alcohol each year, and Pennock believes that Corkscrew backs up their accolades with "great customer service," saying that customers "don't even have to touch their packages if they don't want to." —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Briarwood Wine & Spirits (4949 Old Canton Road, 601-956-5108, briarwoodwines.com) / Colony Wine Market (121 Colony Crossing Way, Suite B, Madison, 601-898-1075, colonywinemarket.com) / Fondren Cellars (633 Duling Ave., 769-216-2323, fondrencellars.com) / Kats Wine & Spirits (921 E. Fortification St., 601-983-5287, katswine.com) / Wine & Spirits in the Quarter (1855 Lakeland Drive, 601-366-6644, drinkinman.com)

Best Margarita: Babalu

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File Photo by Trip Burns

(622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, eatbabalu.com)

For Assistant Manager Jasline Lee, the secret to Babalu's margarita menu is in the mixing. "Our margaritas use fresh ingredients every single time," Lee says of the tequila-infused concoctions.

The ingredients, however, would be nothing without able hands to prepare them, and Lee commended Babalu's slate of bartenders.

"Our bartenders take time to learn and perfect their craft, and it's made fresh right in front of you, as soon as you order it," she says.

The Duling Avenue establishment offers selections ranging from their namesake pomegranate-flavored "Baba Rita" to the blood-orange "Fondren Rita" named for the neighborhood. Daring drinkers can order a "Shine a Rita," which is spiked with firefly peach moonshine.

Recently, the business expanded its already-extensive menu by bringing back the tamarind margarita, which Lee described as a definite "crowd-pleaser."

All of Babalu's signature "ritas" can be purchased for $11.50 or less. The business also holds "social hours" from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each weeknight to reduce cocktail prices even further. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Cinco De Mayo (800 Lake Harbour Drive, Ridgeland, 601-957-1882) / El Ranchito (1029 Highway 51, Madison, 601-605-1488, elranchitomadison.com) / Green Ghost Tacos (2820 N. State St., 601-487-6082; 1290 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-957-7436; greenghosttacos.com) / La Cazuela (1401 E. Fortification St., 601-353-3014) / Margaritas (1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 120, 601-957-7672) / Sombra Mexican Kitchen (140 Township Ave., Suite 100, Ridgeland; 601-707-7950; sombramexicankitchen.com)

Best Mexican/Latin Food: Green Ghost Tacos

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Photo courtesy Green Ghost Tacos

(2820 N. State St., 601-487-6082; 1290 E. County Line Road, Ridgeland, 601-957-7436; greenghosttacos.com)

Cesar Torres grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, and moved to Jackson with his family. After 14 years in Chicago, Ill., learning the restaurant business, Torres decided to return to Mississippi and open a Mexican restaurant with his mother. They opened up the first Green Ghost Tacos in Ridgeland in 2015, followed by a second location in Fondren in 2018.

"It's food you're not going to be able to get anywhere else," Torres says. "Whenever you come to my restaurant, you get a home-cooked meal like I ate when I was a little kid." He says his tacos, which can be customized from the outside in with any choice of meat and topping, are the crowd favorite, especially on Taco Tuesday when they sell for $2 apiece. —Kyle Hamrick

Finalists: Cazadores (500 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-853-4417) / El Cabrito Mexican Restaurant (2990 Highway 49, Florence, 601-845-0347) / El Ranchito (1029 Highway 51, Madison, 601-605-1488, elranchitomadison.com) / Papito's (111 Colony Crossing Way, Madison, 601-503-0275, papitosmexicanrestaurant.com) / Salsa's Mexican Restaurant (509 Springridge Road, Clinton, 601-924-3733, ordersalsamexicanrestaurantms.com) / Santa Fe Grill & Bar (4924 Interstate 55 N., Suite 105, 769-216-3964)

Best Pizza: The Pizza Shack

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Photo courtesy Pizza Shack

(925 E. Fortification St., 601-352-2001; 3040 Highway 80, Suite A, Pearl, 601-203-2986; 200 W. Leake St., Clinton, 601-708-1708;pizzashackms.com)

The Pizza Shack has been serving up traditional and thin-crust creations since 2005, making their own dough daily in-house, which manager and co-owner Tony Hollins believes is reflective of the business' commitment to freshness.

"We're known for piling on the toppings, so there are ingredients in every bite," Hollins says. These toppings range from Pizza Shack originals like chicken curry and chicken Thai to more traditional offerings such as pepperoni, canadian bacon, beef and pineapple.

Hollins purchased the East Fortification Street storefront in 2017 along with his wife, Cecila, and the pair continues to uphold the recipes customers love. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Capitol Grill (5050 Interstate 55 N., Suite F, 601-899-8845, capitolgrillofjackson.com) / Lost Pizza Co. (1392 W. Government, Brandon, 601-824-5515; 144 Friendly and Fresh Drive, Flowood, 601-345-8679; 500 Highway 51 in Trace Stadium, Ridgeland, 769-300-3116; lostpizza.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Sal and Mookie's (565 Taylor St., 601-368-1919; 111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 130, Madison, 601-499-1300; salandmookies.com) / Soulshine Pizza Factory (1111 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-856-8646; 5352 Highway 25, Suite 1100, Flowood, 601-919-2000; soulshinepizza.com)

Best Wine List or Wine Selection (Restaurant): Table 100

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File Photo by Trip Burns

(100 Ridge Way, Flowood, 601-420-4202, tableonehundred.com)

Table 100's menu devotes itself to white wines, as the restaurant offers a range of Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, Zinfandels and Rieslings, as well as "unique whites" like California's Damiano Vineyard "Carol Shelton Wild Thing."

Meanwhile, the red wine listings are just as varied, featuring Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, Merlots and Red Zinfandels, along with red blends like the 2015 "Chateau Trois Moulins."

"You can enjoy something and learn something, too," beverage manager and assistant general manager Chuck Nix says. "I try to find wines that are familiar enough to make guests comfortable but just unfamiliar enough for them to learn something new." —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: CAET Seafood and Oysterette (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 9015, Ridgeland, 601-321-9169, caetseafood.com) / Char Restaurant (4500 Interstate 55 N., 601-956-9562, charrestaurant.com) / Elvie's (809 Manship St., 601-863—8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Library Lounge at Fairview Inn (734 Fairview St., 601-948-3429, fairviewinn.com) / The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen (1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601-398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Walker's Drive In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com)

Best Seafood: The Seafood Shack

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Photo courtesy Seafood Shack

(1700 University Blvd., Suite 26, 601-357-0344, theseafoodshackjackson.com)

The Seafood Shack owes a portion of its success and renown to its relationship with Jackson State University, whose students and staff frequent the establishment due to its close proximity.

"We have a very good relationship with JSU," owner Cheryl Wade-Thompson says. "We have made it convenient for the students (to dine with us) by accepting the Super Card, and we do events where we directly support the students."

The number-one dish among student diners is the crazy cajun crab leg plate, which is topped with the restaurant's signature crazy cajun sauce, a butter-based condiment unique to The Seafood Shack. While this plate holds its place as a fan-favorite, Wade-Thompson points out that all of the restaurant's dishes feature "fresh and high-quality seafood at affordable prices."

Wade-Thompson, who owns the business with her husband, Johnny, also believes that the real culinary magic happens behind the scenes, and she notes that each dish is made with "love and passion, and with customers in mind."

"We do whatever we can to please our customers," she adds. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: CAET Seafood and Oysterette (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 9015, Ridgeland, 601-321-9169, caetseafood.com) / Crabs Seafood Shack (6954 Old Canton Road, Ridgeland, 601-956-5040, crabshackridgeland.com) / Da Shak Grill (5752 Terry Road, Suite A1, Byram, 601-398-1765, da-shak-grill.edan.io) / Saltine Restaurant (622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, jackson.saltinerestaurant.com) / Steamer's Shrimp and Crab Market (2530 Robinson Road, 601-665-4529, steamersshrimpandcrab.com)

Best Thai Food: Thai Tasty

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Photo courtesy Kristin Brenemin

(5050 Parkway Drive, 601-540-2534, facebook.com/thaitastyrestaurant)

"Customer service—that's all we know," Thai Tasty's owner, Ekkapob, told the Jackson Free Press. The Colonial Mart eatery aims to live up to its mantra, as the restaurant offers online ordering options to maximize customer safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The business also maximizes the value of their customers' dollar, continuing to offer their $8.95 lunch special from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, with each plate featuring steamed jasmine rice and a choice of chicken, beef, pork and tofu. Diners who return to sample the dinner menu can find vegetarian options, and the restaurant also invites customers with allergies to alert them to any nut, dairy or seafood sensitivities so that they can prepare dishes free from these products.

Thai Tasty also offers specialty items like the beef laab, customer-favorite beef noodle soup and cucumber salad, and a range of dessert options and Thai iced teas are available to top off customers' dining experiences. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Fusion Japanese & Thai Cuisine (1002 Treetops Blvd., Flowood, 601-664-7588, orderfusioncuisine.com) / Jutamas Thai Restaurant (500 Highway 51 Ridgeland, 769-300-4125, jutamasthaims.com) / Surin of Thailand (now closed) / Thai Time Thai and Sushi Restaurant (1405 Old Square Road, 601-982-9991, thaitimems.com) / Thailicious Restaurant (3000 Old Canton Road, Suite 105, 601-398-1456, thailiciousms.com)

Best Place for Dessert: Lou's Full-Serv

(904B E. Fortification St., 601-487-6359, lousfullserv.com)

Lou's Full-Serv staff crafts the restaurant's desserts from scratch. "Everything is homemade," owner Louis Larose explains. "It's all made in-house, from ice cream to our praline streusel to sauces."

One such sweet sauce is the vanilla white chocolate drizzle that tops both the bread pudding and the warm blueberry cake cobbler. Larose notes that these two desserts outsell the rest of their six-item menu nearly 2-to-1.

The restaurant's ice cream selection adorns many of the menu items and features flavors such as "buttermilk brown sugar-caramel cookies and vanilla," which is the restaurant's own spin on cookies and cream. For the connoisseurs of more traditional fare, the restaurant also offers homemade chocolate ice cream and a cast-iron pecan pie. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: The Beagle Bagel Cafe (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 145; 769-251-1892; 100 Mannsdale Park Drive, Suite II, Madison; 601-856-4377; beaglebagelcafe.com) / The Prickly Hippie (500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-910-6730, pricklyhippie.com) / Ridgeland Coffee Co. (377 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-856-7374, ridgelandcoffeeco.com) / Urban Foxes (826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com) / Walker's Drive In (3016 N. State St., 601-982-2633, walkersdrivein.com)

Best Sushi/Japanese Food: Ichiban Hibachi & Sushi

(153 Ridge Way, Flowood; 601-919-0097; 3 Mac and Bones Blvd., Pearl; 769-208-2688; ichibangrillms.com)

Longtime Best of Jackson winner Ichiban Hibachi & Sushi may owe its success to its expansive menu, which has everything from vegetable, chicken, lobster or scallop hibachi to bento boxes with chicken teriyaki or shrimp tempura, as well as seafood tofu soup, egg rolls, sashimi, spicy shrimp, sushi rolls and more.

Brother and sister duo Kam and Ling Ngai opened the original Ichiban on Lakeland in 2006. They later branched out to both Chinese and Japanese cuisine with Ichiban Chinese Buffet in addition to the hibachi restaurants. Now, they run five locations across the Jackson metro after the opening of a Madison location in 2019. —Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Edo Japanese Restaurant (5834 Ridgewood Road, Suite C, 601-899-8518, edojapaneserestaurantjackson.com) / Fusion Japanese & Thai Cuisine (1002 Treetops Blvd, Flowood; 601-664-7588; 1030A Highway 51, Madison; 601-790-7999; orderfusioncuisine.com) / Nagoya Japanese Restaurant (6351 Interstate 55 N., Suite 131; 601-977-8881; 111 Colony Crossing Way, Suite 380, Madison; 601-856-5678; nagoyamadison.com) / Sushi Village (398 Highway 51, Suite 100, 601-898-9688, sushivillageridgeland.com) / Wasabi Sushi & Grill (1107 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 111, 601-898-8849, wasabitownship.com)

Best Veggie Burger: Cool Al's

(4654 McWillie Drive, 601-291-1146, coolalsrestaurant.org)

In addition to its beef and turkey patties, Cool Al's offers a completely vegan and vegetarian menu, all cooked-to-order. For owner and general manager Shelby Kitchen, this approach ensures that each order can be prepared to suit the customer's taste, whether by allowing them to select a specific type of bun or to request a soy-free option.

"I try to make sure everyone has what they need," Kitchen says. "I think that's what sets us apart—we really care about our customers."

Some customer favorites include the Caribbean curry burger, flavored with the eatery's own Jamaican seasoning, and the west African burger, which comes with a serving of a spicy tomato ginger dipping sauce.

"We took over the restaurant last year," Kitchen recalls, but preparing these signature creations is a time-honored tradition for Kitchen and her crew, who take pride in Cool Al's 20-year history in the Jackson business scene. —Taylor McKay Hathorn

Finalists: Babalu (622 Duling Ave., 601-366-5757, eatbabalu.com) / Brent's Drugs (655 Duling Ave., 601-366-3427, brentsdrugs.com) / Local 463 (1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 5002, 601-707-7684, local463.com) / The Village Kitchen (219 W. County Line Road, 769-524-4575, facebook.com/thevillagekitchen219)

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