What's Cooking in JXN MS?
A culinary guide curated in partnership with The Local Palate and writer Chris Chamberlain
Jackson, MS prides itself on the diversity of its population, something that is reflected in the city’s deliciously varied restaurant scene. From down-home soul food to fine dining, Jackson offers excellent opportunities to discover a bite of Southern culture presented in vibrant restaurants springing up in some of the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods.
The city’s culinary community also demonstrates a laudable diversity of restaurant ownership and clientele. The welcoming atmosphere in these eateries befits the attitude of Southern hospitality that makes Jackson restaurants so special.
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 restaurant is now open seven days a week, serving Saturday and Sunday brunch.
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.
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!
City with Soul Standouts
A restaurant doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the latest to be one of the greatest in Jackson, and there are plenty more mature and or less flashy dining options worth your consideration.
Focusing on wood-fired meats, seafood and pizzas and boasting the largest whiskey collection in town, The Manship sounds like it would be named after a decidedly masculine sailing vessel. In truth, the name comes from the historic gothic revival mansion located not too far from the restaurant in Belhaven. The Manship strives to utilize whole animal cookery whenever possible out of respect for the farmers and their livestock that provide the proteins. This philosophy shows up throughout the Mediterranean-leaning menu from charcuterie boards of cured meats to pasta sauces to pizza toppings.
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!
This family-owned pie shop is located in a lovely restored Craftsman-style bungalow divided into many distinct spaces where you can find people working quietly on their laptops or sharing a flight of sweet and savory scones. They take their coffee very seriously at Urban Foxes, and that care is evident in each deliciously complex cup that they brew. Evenings feature occasional live music and trivia nights, so there’s always something going on in the Foxes’ den.
Adventurous diners from across the country have discovered what locals have always known: Stamps’ burgers are some of the best they’ve ever had. Located in West Jackson near Jackson State University, this small mom-and-pop grill turns out thick, juicy pattied burgers that are big enough to feed even the hungriest diner. Many people around town swear by their turkey burger as well.
The “Pint” in the name of this affable barbecue bar refers to the taproom in the back which features one of the most impressive selection of craft beers in Jackson. The bar is lined with trophies from competitive BBQ events, and that’s where the “Pig” comes in. The pitmasters moved from contests to serving their delectable smoked meats to the public instead of just lucky judges. From super smoky cola-glazed ribs to peppery beef brisket to their popular smoked bologna, Pig & Pint is a winner. Try their cheesy Bacon Melt sandwich with pork belly, brisket and collard greens for a taste of Mississippi on toast.
This Belhaven refuge combines a sort of woodsy feel with a novel almost steampunk industrial vibe to create an eminently comfortable neighborhood hang. The bar and lounge area are great places to enjoy a craft cocktail or beer while you wait for a table to open up, which is a common occurrence at this popular eatery. Patience is rewarded with a seasonal menu of dishes inspired by Southern, French and Creole influences. Even with so many excellent choices on the menu, the No.7 Burger with candied bacon and tomato-bacon aioli is always a power move.
Intriguing pizza combinations and a commitment to their New York-style make this 15-year-old Jackson restaurant a local treasure. Relocating to The District at Eastover in 2021, the red-checkered tablecloths, welcoming patio, and dough made from scratch daily made a move, too. Sal & Mookie’s also brought along their family-friendly ice cream scoop shop that opens to an outside pickup window for after-school treats on good weather days.
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.
As Jackson grows and matures as a city, new dining establishments continue to make splashes as exciting additions to the restaurant community. It’s hard to keep up with all of them sometimes, but it sure is a delicious task to try.
Fire and food come together at this modern Mediterranean eatery where the kitchen revolves around an Italian pizza oven and an eight-spit rotisserie where meats turn and cook slowly to lock in flavors. These meats are the centerpiece of the menu which features salads, wraps and rice bowls made using shawarma-style chicken or beef, souvlaki pork or lamb or falafel for a vegetarian option. The rest of the menu is like a tour of the Mediterranean with pizzas, Middle Eastern mezze small plates and Greek-inspired side dishes.
This family-run eatery utilizes Gambian culinary methods to deliver a scrumptiousmenu that excites the senses and delightsthe palate. Opened by Jospeh Sambou in 2022, Sambou’s was recognized as a James Beard Semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant” and was also named to the New York Times’ “25 Restaurant Dishes We Couldn’t Stop Thinking About This Year.”
Calling the city home since March of 2019, Godfrey Morgan’s restaurant is a local treasure, now located in Colonial Mart off Old Canton Road. Godfrey's pulls out all the stops when it comes to uniqueness and authenticity by serving everything from authentic Jamaican jerk chicken to a feast-worthy seafood pot bigger than your head.
Crazy Cat Eat Up started out as just a bakery, but soon customers began clamoring for them to expand into a full-service restaurant offering lunch throughout the week and dinner on Thursday through Saturday night. Serving elegantly plated inventive dishes that range from salads to sandwiches to seafood, Crazy Cat focuses on seasonal food presented in an unfussy Southern ambiance, like dining in your favorite grandma’s tearoom. (Providing she was a very good cook, of course.) True to their baking heritage, the desserts at Crazy Cat are insanely delicious.
Take a virtual trip to a cozy European bistro at this all-day café in Belhaven. The former residential home has been converted into an attractive oasis with gleaming brass accents and a sparkling white marble bar where they serve specialty coffee drinks during the day and inventive cocktails at night. The menu also skews European with seasonal fare made using fresh ingredients and a thoughtful attitude toward sourcing. From fresh breads and egg dishes at breakfast and lunch to classic French dishes like Duck Confit Cassoulet and Steak Frites at the evening meal, Elvie’s knows exactly what sort of restaurant they want to be and maintains a laser focus on their food.
Capital City Cocktails & Brews
They say a man cannot live by bread alone, so it’s fortunate that Jackson also offers some fabulous spots to grab a craft cocktail or a glass of beer or wine.
Fertile Ground Beer Co. is a vibrant and inviting brewery, carefully crafted to serve the community, seven days a week at Belhaven Town Center. Four core beers are always on tap along with seasonal rotations of varied styles. A meeting room that seats 45 seated (with AV and beer taps) is available for rent. An outside patio features benches from a beer garden in Germany, a giant Connect Four and corn hole.
Hidden away in the back of the iconic Brent’s Drugs diner is this little speakeasy-inspired lounge that has just the prescription for your maladies. Utilizing fresh juices and house-made ingredients in their updated versions of classic cocktails, the talented bartenders at The Apothecary enjoy educating their guests about the history of mixology. The same kitchen that puts out the great diner food at Brent’s also offers elevated small plate late night bites to accompany your cocktails.
This large taproom aims to be Jackson’s favorite spot to enjoy craft beers, and they’ve come pretty close to hitting the bulls-eye. A large outdoor patio area is a gathering spot for anyone who enjoys an al fresco beverage. The walls behind the long interior bars are lined with beer taps offering a wide array of draft beers, plus they’ll be happy to mix you up a cocktail if you’d like. Their current menu is pizza, made in house, an excellent pairing with beer.
This upscale downtown cocktail lounge and nightclub projects a cosmopolitan vibe, especially on weekends where there’s more of a club scene. Whether you sit at the bar or in one of the more private plush booths, you’ll enjoy creative cocktails with the nice addition of occasional live musical acts.
An experience at the intimate lounge at the Fairview Inn really does feel like being served a fine cocktail in the clubby library of a family friend. The bookshelf-lined walls of the library of the former Fairview Mansion are still filled with historic tomes, many written by Mississippi authors. The personal service from the talented bartenders is exemplary, and the Library offers one of the best happy hours in town from 4:00 until 6:00 Monday through Friday.
Fertile Ground Beer Co. is a vibrant and inviting brewery, inside and out, carefully crafted to serve the community, seven days a week. Four core beers are always on tap along with seasonal rotations of varied styles. An outside patio features benches from a beer garden in Germany, a giant Connect Four and corn hole. Food trucks and neighborhood festivals revolve their activities around this Belhaven Town Center cultural hub.