If you’ve ever taken a road trip in the south, I bet you’ve passed your fair share of old red barns emblazoned with the words “See Rock City” or “Visit Ruby Falls” beckoning you toward Chattanooga.

Hot ChocolatierBut there’s a lot more to this this bluff-hugged city than famous landmarks. Chefs, bakers, and makers are hard at work, peppering this historic-yet-happening city with authentic and inspired Southern food. From mountainside to riverfront, there’s a happy plate waiting for you in the Scenic City.

Downtown Chattanooga is enjoying the same booming revitalization that has blessed many Southern cities over the past decade, and Warehouse Row is a perfect example of that progress. This Civil War fort-turned-warehouse has been thoughtfully repurposed to house an indoor community-driven mix of retail, fitness studios, and dining options.

Warehouse RowIn keeping with the reclaimed-industrial vibe of Warehouse Row, the mood at Public House, a bustling bistro, is fun, cool, and casual. And the lunch menu follows suit; it’s a refined, mindful nod to a classic Southern meat-and-three. You can’t go wrong with daily specials like meatloaf, pot pie, and shrimp and grits. For dessert, try the Chocolate Chip Cookie Banana Pudding (the waiter said it was like getting a hug from your grandma, and he wasn’t lying!). It’s a great spot to grab lunch or dinner after spending a few hours exploring this inspired space.

Champy'sOn the other end of the spectrum, you have Champy’s—a Chattanooga institution. The only thing reclaimed at this beloved fried chicken shack are the signed dollar bills thumbtacked to the walls (a trend started by the restaurant’s first servers). There’s nothing fancy about this place, and that’s why it’s so much fun. When my Styrofoam plate of just-fried chicken arrived, it was all I could do to take pictures before digging in. As I aimed my camera over my plate to get the best angle, I couldn’t help but notice the group at the table next to us. Turns out these guys are regulars with their own table (complete with a sign that says “The Family Table”), who regularly hold court over plates of fried chicken, catfish, and fried tamales. They were a hoot, just like the restaurant itself. Expect a wait—this is a very popular place.

For a casual dinner option, check out Urban Stack. This fun burger and bourbon bar plays up the same reclaimed industrial vibe as Warehouse Row (the original building was built in the 1860s). Their straightforward menu is based on Southern staples with more toppings than you can imagine. I opted for the most Southern burger I could find, the Fried Green Tomato Burger, slathered with rémoulade, and topped with yellow Cheddar and Benton’s bacon. And don’t skip their sides; they have everything from classic steakhouse favorites (Gouda Creamed Corn!) to crispy fries.

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Published by Taste of the South November 2015: Written by Brian Hoffman