Eat Like a Local: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
August 27, 2014

For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

(Photo credit: Courtesy Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que)

Nashville is just a two-hour drive from Chattanooga, Tennessee, but that trip is no longer a must if you want a good dining experience.

“I’ve lived in Chattanooga for 13 years now,” reporter Sean Phipps told us. “When I started college here, we had basically a row of restaurants downtown on Market Street, and they were all national chains. Over the past ten years, though, we’ve seen this focus on local foods and farm-to-table restaurants.”

That’s in response to local demand. “If you are opening a new restaurant and you don’t source locally, that’s a problem with restaurant-goers in Chattanooga,” he said.

Here’s where Phipps said you should eat in Chattanooga when you visit, because it’s a destination in its own right.

Alleia’s wood-burning oven. (Photo credit: Courtesy Alleia)

Best White Tablecloth: Alleia
Alleia’s chef Daniel Lindley has been nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the southeast in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. That’s quite a track record. The food is Italian, the wine list is extensive, and the vibe is friendly. “Occasionally, they will send out an invite for a big communal dinner,” said Phipps. “They put all the tables together in the restaurant, and for 25-30 bucks, they will feed you family-style. It really promotes the idea of sharing a meal with strangers.”(25 E Main St.; 423-305-6990)

Best Hole in the Wall: Lamar’s
Climb the steps of a former hotel on the corner of Central Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, walk through what appears to be to deserted dining room and down a small hallway, and enter a side room with a jukebox that plays Prince and soul music. You are now at Lamar’s. It’s “the last stop before you call it a night,” says Phipps, and you can order a side of fried chicken with your “wickedly strong” drink. “The hours can be weird. If the light’s on, they’re open.” You’ve must be 25 to get in, and you must play by owner Gerald’s rules. “There’s a sign in there that ‘No PDA.’ Some people have been scolded, I’ve heard.”(1018 E Martin Luther King Blvd.; 423-266-0988)

Best Dark and Sexy Date Spot: The Meeting Place
Connected to and owned by the same people who run the fancier Saint John’s restaurant—a “boat-shoes-and-navy-blazer-with-gold-buttons kind of place”—The Meeting Place is “sophisticated without being stuffy,” says Phipps. Diners can order smaller portions of the same dishes offered at Saint John’s, such as bacon-wrapped quail and pork rinds with bonito flakes, and the upstairs has couches, a round bar, and ample “nooks and crannies where you can have a quiet conversation,” says Phipps. “You can curl up and drink and disappear for a while.” (1278 Market St.; 423-266-4571)

Phipps’s favorite Bloody Mary. (Photo credit: Courtesy Local 191)

Best Hungover Brunch: The Blue Plate
A chorizo-heavy breakfast burrito from The Blue Plate is Phipps’s go-to hangover meal. “They serve breakfast all day, and there is a bar attached to it called Local 191 where they make an excellent Bloody Mary.” The salsa “kicks my world back into gear” and the coffee is strong. Sounds like a cure to us. (191 Chestnut St.; 423-648-6767)

Best BBQ: Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que
“What I feel about barbecue is the worse it looks, the more run-down [the [place] is, the better likelihood that you’re gonna get good barbecue,” says Phipps. Hickory Pit is located in a shack in the middle of a shopping center, and owner Mike Ford takes such pride in what he does, he’ll give you a personal tour of his smoker if you ask him. “When he serves you his pork, he does so with sauce on the side,” said Phipps. “He wants you to try the meat to see if you really need it.” (5611 Ringgold Rd.; 423-894-1217)

Road Trip Destination: Bald-Headed Bistro
A 35-mile drive from Chattanooga is a place in Cleveland, Tennessee called the Bald-Headed Bistro. It touts itself as being a “fine Western dining” restaurant. That entails Scotch and elk tenderloin, according to its menu. Its logs were salvaged from the Green Knolls Forest Fire in 2000, Rocky Mountain artisans crafted all of the furniture, and moose heads don the walls throughout the space. “It’s like a fancy hunting lodge,” says Phipps. (201 Keith St. SW, Cleveland; 423-472-6000)