Culinary Institutions in Jackson, Mississippi
In a crowded and growing restaurant market like Jackson, it takes something special to stand out after years in operation. These restaurants have stood the test of time and still manage to stay front-of-mind for the city’s diners.
Derek Emerson is one of the deans of Jackson chefs, and his flagship restaurant in Fondren presents sophisticated food in a casual environment. While the food is certainly elevated, the diner vibe is maintained by black and white tile floors and photos hanging on the walls depicting the history of Jackson and the restaurant.
One of Jackson’s premier live entertainment venues for blues, jazz and roots music, Hal & Mal’s is known as a family-friendly destination for diners seeking soulful comfort food served in an unfussy environment. The restaurant is particularly acclaimed for their soups and for hosting a weekly “Blue Monday” party with the Central Mississippi Blues Society. The kitchen is closed on Mondays, but the bar is definitely open.
Revered as “Fondren’s original neighborhood soda fountain since 1946,” Brent’s Drugs has expanded their menu to include more than just sodas and shakes. You can still order those treats (and you should,) but don’t miss out on the rest of the classic diner cuisine served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fountain vibe is still intact with a long counter lined with stools and vibrant turquoise color scheme; it’s just been updated for the Instagram era.
As the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the city, this downtown landmark has been serving Greek-inspired seafood and steak dishes since the FDR Administration. From their famous Comeback Sauce house salad dressing to fresh seafood served broiled, blackened or fried, Mayflower Cafe offers memorable food that is a large part of Jackson’s history. Don’t let the humble environs fool you; there is definitely some sophisticated food coming out of the kitchen.
The massive and modern dining room at BRAVO! is a popular gathering spot for friends and families looking to celebrate special occasions over platters of delicious Italian food. The open kitchen offers a view of the bustle of the staff as they prepare wood-fired pizzas, steaks and pasta plus some excellent seafood dishes as well. The wine list has been recognized as one of the finest in the city.
Every great dining city needs at least one classic steakhouse, and Char has that base covered for Jackson. The stylish decor fits nicely with its menu of old school classic cuts such as a filet with maître d’ butter or a massive cowboy ribeye which can be prepared with quintessential steakhouse variations like Oscar-style, au poivre or topped with béarnaise sauce. The kitchen also offers seafood dishes ranging from redfish to scallops to a perfectly seared slice of ahi tuna. Delicious home-style vegetable dishes are appropriately sized for sharing with the table.
For generations, the Crechale family has operated one of Jackson’s go-to spots for steak and seafood, and the current family members have been intelligent enough not to mess with a good thing. The jukebox still plays hits from years gone by, the broiled flounder is still deboned with a flourish tableside, and the onion rings are still impossible to stop eating until the basket is empty. All entrees include a crisp garden salad with Crechale’s iconic Greek-inspired Comeback dressing plus rolls and a huge potato, so you shouldn’t leave hungry.
The main design elements at this hole-in-the-wall burger joint are the hundreds of bumper stickers plastered on the walls by fans from all over the country. They flock to this nondescript cinderblock building on the edge of Midtown for bargain specialty burgers, the daily plate lunch specials and for a slice of CS’s extraordinary peanut butter pie.
Bully’s is definitely a family affair, to the point that family members actually built the humble brick building that houses one of the finest soul food restaurants in Jackson. Employees treat their customers like kin, filling up plates with classic dishes like oxtails, neck- bones, smoked turkey wings and all the soulful sides you could want from mashed potatoes to rice and gravy to a rotating selection of slow-cooked greens. Daily specials are always worth checking out before you order
Jackson’s oldest bakery has been the city’s go-to destination for made-from-scratch baked goods since 1962. Mr. Campbell’s original recipes are still used to make their specialty almond-flavored iced teacakes (first-timers try one free). But Campbell’s is also known for their custom cakes for special occasions, cheesecakes, cookies and other sweet treats.
Just across Poplar Boulevard from its original location, Keifer's is a longtime fixture in the Belhaven neighborhood. Opened in 1980, “Jackson didn’t know what hummus was, or gyros or falafel or cottage fries,” current general manager Chip Holden explains. Keifer’s was also one of the very first restaurants in the Jackson area to offer outdoor seating. Today, the menu hasn't changed and the decor - painstakingly recreated from the original location - lives on.
The historic building occupied by The Iron Horse Grill was originally constructed as a smokehouse early in the 20th century. This probably explains why the edifice has burned down twice over the years and definitely inspires the restaurant’s menu of charcoal-grilled meats, seafood, fajitas and burgers. In addition to all that smoky goodness, The Iron Horse Grill also hosts live music performances featuring regional acts playing on the stage in their lounge area. The music can get pretty smokin’, too!
A culinary guide curated in partnership with The Local Palate and writer Chris Chamberlain