Eat Like a Local: Savannah, Georgia

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor

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.

A strawberry milkshake from Leopold’s. Courtesy: Leopold’s, Facebook

Got Georgia on your mind for summer vacation? Well, first of all: Kudos to you for bravery. It is HOT there right now, so rent a car unless you’re staying in the (compact, walkable) downtown. 

So says Jim Morekis, proud city native and editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah. He’s witnessed a “real Renaissance” in his hometown over the last several years. It’s a bit of a party town, he laughs, reminding us that his town has “probably the most liberal open container law in the country. In the historic district and almost the entire downtown you can walk around with a cocktail.” (That would sure take the edge off the heat.)

It’s also “not just another old history town,” he insists, and although “it’s in a conservative part of the country, it’s always been a cosmopolitan place because it’s a seaport. People really like to have a good time here.” With that in mind, here’s where to eat and drink to do Savannah like a local.

Best Place for Steak… and Karaoke: McDonough’s

Thanks to its “pub-lounge atmosphere” the “best karaoke singers in Savannah,” and  “certainly the best steak in town,” McDonough’s is a very necessary stop-off. The eclectic clientele is “half-local, half tourists,” says Morekis, with hipsters and army rangers elbow-to-elbow at the bar. “Everybody gets along,” he says, deeming this “kind of the best melting pot in town.” (And get that steak. Really.) (21 E Mcdonough St; 912-233-6136)

Where to Take the Edge Off Savannah Swelter: Leopold’s Ice Cream

Although Morekis discloses that he’s friends with the owner, he thinks many would agree that this is straight-up “the best ice cream you’re probably gonna find in the South.” Tourists flock here, and lines are “really long,” Morekis admits, but thanks to staffers who walk up and down that line proffering ice water to potential customers, “the line moves fast… not like Paula Deen’s where you’re gonna be waiting for hours and hours.” (212 East Broughton St.; 912-234-4442)

Best Burger: Ampersand

Ampersand also operates as a music venue. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

Morekis was “pleasantly surprised” by this new addition to his hometown. Part bar, part restaurants, part event space, with white-washed walls that feel decidedly modern, it’s got the best, juiciest burger in town: It’s grass-fed, “a super-great-cut of meat,” and part and parcel of the menu’s farm-to-table thing. Keep it simple here: “Sit at the bar, have a craft beer, order a hamburger,” he instructs, because although this place is tourist friendly it’s also a hipster hang out with an “upscale hipster swank vibe.” (36 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.; 912-665-6373)

Best Place for Tequila Snobs: Tequila’s Town

Tacos are also on the menu at Tequila’s Town. Photo credit: Tequila’s Town 

If you’re staying downtown, this is the “best Mexican place,” says Morekis, and “if you’re a hardcore tequila aficionado”—this joint has more than 70 types of the elixir—”that’s the place to go.” One caveat: “You will wait to get in. But it’s worth it.” Get the made-at-the-table guacamole. Obviously. (109 Whitaker St.; 912-236-3222)

Best Lunch: Kayak Kafe 

The slick interiors of Kayak Kafe. Photo credit: Kayak Kafe

Although he cautions that this is “not a big lunch or breakfast town,” with its “super-fresh ingredients, super-good salads, really good takes on Asian-inspired items,” this is locals’ go-to for lunch. “It’s an unpretentious lunch place if you’re shopping,” says Morekis of the slightly mod spot. He recommends the roast tilapia tacos. (1 E Broughton St.,; 912-233-6044)

Best BBQ: Sandfly BBQ

If you’ve rented a car or can take a cab, this is “the best old-school BBQ place in town, run by the same family for 40 years.” Morekis goes for pulled pork, which isn’t sweet and ketchup-based like a lot of Georgia BBQ, but more in the style of North Carolina, with a good vinegar-based sauce. (8413 Ferguson Ave.; 912-356-5463)

Best Hole in the Wall: Al Salaam Deli

“Without a doubt the best gyro and best falafel in town,” run by a “wonderful Jordanian man,” Al Salaam is a serious “hole in the wall diner, extremely unpretentious, pretty much a locals place,” where the walls are papered with dozens of “National Geographic” magazine covers. Get there early: It closes at 9 p.m.(2311 Habersham St.; 912-447-0400)

Best Fancy Feast: The Florence

The Florence restaurant in Savannah. Photo courtesy of Abshire PR 

Hugh Acheson from “Top Chef” has opened his first Savannah restaurant to much acclaim. It’s “in a restored, repurposed old warehouse, and a big, echo-y room,” says Morekis, who loves the Italian-inspired fare. “Get the $4 meatballs, which are wonderful, and the ricotta cavatelli.” It’s “definitely a pricey date night,” and Morekis pronounces it “the trendiest thing in town,” which is sometimes the best way to get a real feel for the local vibe. (1B West Victory Dr.; 912-234-5522)