1. Aretha Frankensteins

The only logical explanation for how good this place is is that their inch-thick buttermilk pancakes are actually crafted by the hands of breakfast deities and their omelettes are stuffed by brunch warlocks. No mortal can make food like that. We’re onto you, Aretha.

2. Clumpies Ice Cream Co.

Just try to walk past Clumpies on Northshore and ignore the overpowering scent of fresh waffle cones luring you inside to grab a scoop of Mayan spice chocolate or Tutti Frutti littered with Pop-Rocks. We dare you.

3. JJ’s Bohemia

Because nothing says ‘dive bar’ like cheap beer, sticky floors, hip visual clutter, misspelled graffiti claiming ‘FORVEVER IS NOW’, live performances from Shark Week, Elk Milk, or local comedians, and a communal handwashing station where you’ll meet the person you’ll probably be stumbling home with later that night.

4. The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe

Do you like your mouth stuffed with loaded potatoes smothered in sour cream, jalapenos, cheese, bacon bits, and barbecued chicken with a side of creamy hashbrown casserole and spicy hot slaw in an atmosphere that mimics either your hip grandmother’s living room, a Florida condo, or both?

…is that even a question?

5. Sluggo’s North

Sluggo’s is a safe haven for those looking to avoid any animal products but who also aren’t total f-ing douchebags like the folks who order a dry soy patty on a handful of naked lettuce and pretend it’s halfway enjoyable.

Grilled and marinated seitan slices thrown on local rye, smothered with kraut and grilled onions, and dripping with Russian dressing and soy cheese? Breaded and grilled seitan nuggets soaked in buffalo sauce and dipped in a creamy, soy ranch? Garlic mashed potatoes slathered in mushroom gravy?

Food has never been so messy, so delicious, yet so damn ethical.

6. Bluegrass Grill

Sure, it may give you flashbacks to loud, chaotic, and packed meals spent with your entire Southern family but goddamn, those biscuits.

7. The Yellow Deli

You’ve got fresh sandwiches, herbal teas, yerba mate, trippy wall art criticising ‘Hippiecrits’ and pot, tie-dye floors, a framed Woodstock ticket, fluid stringed music fueling Israeli folk dances, rustic wood and hand-crafted furnishings, ‘come as you are’ bathrooms, and a hand operated dumbwaiter carrying the Fruit of the Spirit upstairs. And, of course, by the Fruit of the Spirit, I mean roast and corned beef, hot pepper jack and provolone cheeses, onions, tomatoes, mayo, and mustard, dripping with Deli Rose sauce and pressed together in an onion roll served with a side of Joy’s Special Chili and cream cheese pie drizzled with honey.

*drools*

8. Taconooga

Battered, seasoned, and fried cactus dipped in spicy mayo? ‘Nuff said.

9. The Bitter Alibi

In a tiny basement scattered with board games and beer cans, hanging out at The Bitter Alibi is a lot like hanging out at your high school buddy’s house except with less empty Doritos bags and more IPAs.

10. Bea’s

If you can see the bottom of your bowl, servers will snatch up the current smorgasbord of food and replace it with fresher and hotter bowls of fried chicken, peach cobbler, fried okra, turnip greens, new potatoes soaked in a white cream sauce, pinto beans, buttered yeast rolls, and coleslaw. The tea is syrupy sweet, the warm hospitality is like a family reunion, and the tangy chow-chow relish compliments pretty much everything. Yeah, you may have to sit with total strangers during the rush, but small talk is normally kept to a minimum since everyone is pretty much face down in comfort food.

Be warned, though. Pace yourself or you’ll end up having to dig your pants out of your gut for the next two days.

This story was produced through the travel journalism programs at MatadorU. Learn More

11. City Cafe

Sure, you may have to wait so long for a table that you find yourself either drooling all over the rotating plates of giant, assorted cakes or passing the time in the connected hotel lobby, but where else are you going to get a side of strip steak for $13.95 and a plate of rice stuffed grape leaves or fajita omelettes washed down with a beer from a retro style diner at four in the morning?

12. Moccasin Bend Brewery Company

Oh, MBBC, you little dingy bar made of stone wall masonry and oak beams tucked away in the trees of St. Elmo where you’d imagine your hermit uncle would reside. Come back. We miss you.