Part of the renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard corridor, the relatively new Wasabi’s (113 MLK Jr. Blvd., 912/233-8899, daily 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., $8–20) is making a name for itself with its sushi, in a town with several very good sushi restaurants already. The à la carte tempura is also especially tasty and the Sapporo on draft is a real plus. There’s an early-bird sushi boat for two offered 4–6:30 p.m., $29.95.
With an unprepossessing interior but an excellent, inexpensive menu that’s a Vietnamese/Thai hybrid, Saigon (4 W. Broughton St., 912/232-5288, $7) is a good place to stop in for a quick, tasty lunch while shopping.
Purists may scoff at its attractive interior and awesome bottled beer selection, but the hottest BBQ joint in Savannah is Blowin’ Smoke BBQ (514 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, 912/231-2385, www.blowinsmokebbq.com, Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $7–12). It isn’t necessarily the most authentic, but it’s the most fun, with a large outdoor courtyard in addition to the roomy interior. The service is good, and the BBQ portions are vast and tasty, with a delicious sauce that avoids the overly sweet nature of many regional sauces.
A local legend, Wall’s BBQ (515 E. York Lane, 912/232-9754, Thurs.–Sat., call for hours, $6–9) is one family’s labor of love, tucked away in a back alley—they’re called “lanes” in Savannah—that you’ll miss if you blink.
Another great local barbecue joint tucked away in a lane is Angel’s BBQ (21 W. Oglethorpe Lane, 912/495-0902, www.angels-bbq.com, Tues. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Wed.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m., $5–9). Get there by finding Independent Presbyterian Church at the northwest corner of Chippewa Square and walking down the lane next to the church. They offer a particularly Memphis-style take on barbecue, but you might try the unique house specialty, the barbecued bologna. Don’t miss the peanuts-and-greens on the side. Vegetarians can opt for the “Faux-Q,” i.e., barbecue-flavored tofu.
Breakfast and Brunch
Downtowners swear by the low-key little Firefly Café (321 Habersham St., 912/234-1971, Tues.–Sun. 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., $12–25) on quiet Troup Square, and not only for the excellent omelets (maybe the best in town), great sandwiches (one word: Reuben!), and fresh salads (try the spinach salad with goat cheese). It’s also a neighborhood place to see old friends and catch up over coffee, with the charming interior only enhancing the general bonhomie. This is a particularly good choice for vegetarians and vegans for all meals of the day.
The meteoric rise of Paula Deen and her Lady & Sons has only made local epicures even more exuberant in their praise for Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room (107 W. Jones St., 912/232-5997, www.mrswilkes.com, Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m., $13), Savannah’s original comfort food mecca. President Obama’s impromptu lunchtime visit with the local mayor in 2010 has further raised the restaurant’s already legendary profile.
Though the delightful Sema Wilkes herself has passed on, nothing has changed—not the communal dining room, the cheerful service, the care taken with take-out customers, and, most of all, not the food—a succulent mélange of the South’s greatest hits, from the best fried chicken in town to snap beans to black-eyed peas to collard greens. While each day boasts a different set menu, most all the classics are on the table each meal.
Once the home of General James Habersham and the first place the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Savannah, the Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St., 912/232-4286, Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., $15–30) is still a hub of activity in Savannah, as tourists and locals alike frequent the classic interior of the dining room and the downstairs Planter’s Tavern. Regularly voted “Most Romantic Restaurant in Savannah”—though make no mistake, they pack you in pretty tight here—the Pink House is known for its savvy (and often sassy!) service and the uniquely regional flair it adds to traditional dishes, with liberal doses of pecans, Vidalia onions, shrimp, and crab. The she-crab soup and lamb chops in particular are crowd-pleasers, and the scored crispy flounder stacks up to similar versions of this dish at several other spots in town. Reservations recommended.
Some writers would be tempted to put Cha Bella (102 E. Broad St., 912/790-7888, www.cha-bella.com, Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m., $17–35) in the “New Southern” category, but I prefer to think that this restaurant’s forte—savory dishes using only the freshest locally grown organic ingredients—makes it a classic throwback to the way food was always intended to be. This new spot is getting a large local following eager to enjoy its concise menu from Chef Matthew Roher, featuring fresh salads like grilled eggplant and plum tomatoes topped with local artisan goat cheese, and entrées like the Georgia white shrimp risotto. The patio bar is a favorite hangout for downtown’s hip movers and shakers.
For years, Savannahians with good taste have patronized the location of this restaurant in the city’s ugly southside sprawl. Now, there’s a new downtown location of Rancho Alegre (402 MLK Blvd., 912/292-1656, $8–20) at the fringe of the Historic District bringing the same dedication to authentic Cuban cuisine. Try the tamal with roasted pork on the side, or perhaps the chicharrones de pollo. If you have a large party, call ahead so Chef Juan Manuel Rodriguez can prepare his signature seafood paella. In any case, save room for dark, delicious Cuban coffee.
Though the dining room stays busy, the entrées at
Il Pasticcio (2 E. Broughton St., 912/231-8888, www.ilpasticciosavannah.com, Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5:30–11:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m., $20–36) take a back seat to its atmosphere: dark, sexy, and Euro-trendy—think Florence or Milan. Take a seat at the cozy, ornate circular bar and ordering an appetizer while you enjoy the cosmopolitan crowd of beautiful people and the spacious views.
The hot new Italian place in town is Leoci’s Trattoria (606 Abercorn St., 912/335-7027, www.leocis.com, daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $10–20), named for its executive chef, Italian-American Roberto Leoci. His compact but diverse menu offers delights such as a crispy delicious pizza, excellent paninis, and a wild mushroom risotto. The room is small and intimate and the restaurant is quite popular, so a wait is not unusual.
A new addition to the Broughton Street restaurant mix is the storefront spot T-Rex Mex (217 W. Broughton St., 912/232-3466), which serves its own unique version of typical Tex-Mex food, with a particular focus on excellent burritos. My favorite is the jerk chicken burrito.
Savannah’s single most unique dining experience happens at Casbah (118 E. Broughton St., 912/234-6168, daily 5:30–10:30 p.m., $10–20). This Moroccan restaurant features nightly belly dancing shows, with the dancers doing their thing from table to table to prerecorded (and loud) music beginning at 6:30 or 7 p.m. with continuing shows through the evening. Beware—sometimes they grab a guest for a quick “lesson”!
But don’t let the over-the-top floor show or the “market” of authentic but overpriced Moroccan goods take away from the incredible food. Served in communal Moroccan style, these dishes hew to the deceptively simple cuisine of North Africa, with an emphasis on expertly grilled and seasoned meats and saffron rice. The lamb kabobs are to die for—best I’ve had anywhere.
Look for the long lunchtime line outside the tiny storefront that is Zunzi’s (108 E. York St., 912/443-9555, Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $5–10). This takeout joint is one of Savannah’s favorite lunch spots, the labor of love of South African expatriates Gabby and Johnny DeBeer. Try the exquisite South African–style sausage.
Coffee, Tea, and Sweets
He helped produce Mission Impossible III and other Hollywood productions, but Savannah native Stratton Leopold’s other claim to fame is running the 100-year-old family business at Leopold’s Ice Cream (212 E. Broughton St., 912/234-4442, www.leopoldsicecream.com, Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.). Now in a new location but with the same delicious family ice cream recipe, Leopold’s also offers soup and sandwiches to go with its delicious sweet treats. Memorabilia from Stratton’s various movies is all around the shop, which always stays open after every evening performance at the Lucas Theatre around the corner. You can occasionally find Stratton himself behind the counter doling out scoops.
A coffeehouse before coffeehouses were cool, Savannah’s original java joint, Gallery Espresso (234 Bull St., 912/233-5348, www.galleryespresso.com, Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m.), currently occupies a prime corner lot on beautiful Chippewa Square. Of course there’s the requisite free Wi-Fi, and while you sip and surf you can also enjoy the regular rotating modern art exhibits by well-known local artists, all curated by owner Jessica Barnhill.
For a more upscale take on sweets, check out the chocolate goodies at Wright Square Cafe (21 W. York St., 912/238-1150). While they do offer tasty wraps and sandwiches, let’s not kid ourselves. The draw here is the outrageous assortment of high-quality, European-style brownies, cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats.
Starbucks has a location downtown at 1 E. Broughton St. (912/447-6742).
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition