Hal & Mal's. Credit: Ben Hon

Where to Drink and Dine in Downtown Jackson

In the heart of the city, dining options range from dive bar classic to soul food goodness - and everything in between


HAL & MAL’S
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.

MAYFLOWER CAFE
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 IRON HORSE GRILL
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!

SUGAR’S PLACE
This tiny wing shack in the historic Farish St. district serves basic breakfast foods along with exemplary fried chicken. There’s no printed menu at Sugar’s, but if you’re looking for wings or chicken and waffles in the morning accompanied by a funky soundtrack, this is your place!

A plate of lobster with green beans and and orange half
Johnny T's

JOHNNY T’S BISTRO & BLUES
Johnny T’s occupies a beloved spot on historic Farish St., the former home of the iconic Crystal Palace which was the hub of entertainment in the middle of the 20th century. Murals of some of the entertainers who performed there like Lena Horne, Muddy Waters and Redd Foxx show up in murals that decorate the interior and exterior of this stylish cafe. The bar offers premium spirits, and the food menu takes inspiration from classic Southern dishes with a real focus on seafood. A hip lounge upstairs showcases diverse musical acts in a classy showroom with floor-to-ceiling mirrors to make it easier to see and be seen.

KEIFER’S
Local hot-spot Keifer’s Downtown has been serving Jackson’s favorite Greek food since 1981. Specialties include gyros, hummus, and house-made feta dressing, as well as their poplar burger and curly fries. For starters, Keifer’s offers light and delicious appetizers like Hummus and Pita with Mozzarella. If you’re looking for a lighter meal, choose one of their delicious salads like the Grecian, Tossed Salad, Grilled Chicken or Gyro Salad, or a Cucumber Salad. For wraps, try the Gyro, Chicken Yavne, Veggie Cheese, BLT, Pita Club, or Steak and Cheese, just to name a few. On weekdays, try out the burger specials. Try a Mushroom Mozzarella Burger on Mondays and Wednesdays or a Bacon Cheeseburger on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. No meal at Keifer’sis complete with out a side of Cottage Fries, Curly Fries, or chips or soup of the day. Of course, finish off your gyro meal with a piece of delicious Baklava for dessert.

BASIL’S DOWNTOWN
Located in downtown Jackson, two blocks from the state capitol, Basil’s is serving up fresh paninis, pasta and desserts under $10 every weekday. A few of Basil’s star paninis are the “Turkarella” (turkey, fresh mozzarella, Roma red tomatoes and pesto mayo), “The Slam” (ham, salami, fresh mozzarella, roasted red bell peppers, pesto mayo and olive salad), and “Prime Rib” (roasted bell peppers, provolone cheese and horseradish mayo). Feeling adventurous? Try “The Elvis,” a peanut butter and banana panini that pairs perfectly with a glass of cold milk. You’ll thank us – very much. If you’re looking to eat lighter, opt for one of their salads, including pasta salad, priced at $8. Dressings range from comeback to champagne vinaigrette.

ESTELLE WINE BAR AND BISTRO
Winner of the Diner’s Choice 2020 title, Estelle is the ideal place to get your weekend started. With everything from light bites to hearty dinners, this restaurant offers something for every taste. Not only does Estelle have a sensational dinner menu, but they also serve brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 am to 2 pm. From sweet and sticky cinnamon rolls to savory and classic eggs benedict, Estelle is your destination for weekend brunch.

A man stands outside a shop with a sign that reads "Big Apple Inn"
Geno Lee, 4th generation proprietor of Big Apple Inn

BIG APPLE INN
Big Apple Inn is not a New York diner, and it’s not bed and breakfast, so if you’re trying to figure it out from the name alone, you will not have much luck guessing what foodie goodness awaits you there. Pig ear sandwiches, anyone? If this is not something you’d typically include on your foodie must-haves, we say please don’t knock it until you try it. When you try it, know that you’re biting into a bit of Jackson’s history that is uniquely our own. Big Apple Inn has been featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and you can believe these sandwiches are a hit with locals. They also offer turkey tamales and smoked sausage sandwiches you will not find anywhere else. Foodie favorites include smoked sausage sandwiches, bologna sandwiches and hot tamales.

NISSAN CAFE
A breakfast and lunch spot on the museums’ northwest corner, Chef Nick Wallace's Nissan Cafe at the Two Mississippi Museums offers a menu that includes a breakfast press with pork belly and tomatoes, croissant and cheese grits, alongside lunch features like Mississippi Gumbo, Southern-style ramen and brisket wraps. “It’s a Southern-focused menu,” Wallace said, “but it should be considered ‘eclectic.’ That’s what we really are here in the South.”

THE WEEKEND JXN
Downtown's newest eatery, The Weekend Jxn says "everyday is the weekend." Aiming to bring New Orleans-style brunch, The Weekend serves shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles and a host of other creole and southern flavored dishes. Add to that a bar, outdoor patio and live music, all in a cozy atmosphere and this spot near the Old Capitol Museum is ready to serve the office crowd as well as evening diners.

STEVE'S DOWNTOWN DELI AND BAKERY
Steve’s Downtown Deli and Bakery on Congress Street has a great assortment of sandwiches, like the blackened shrimp po’boy, made with remoulade, lettuce and tomato. They also have a great cheeseburger, ham and cheddar quiche and even a pepperoni pizza. Look for daily specials and baked items that are to die for.

Paul Wolf

Author

Paul Wolf