This is my hometown. Inevitably, one always thinks the place he or she grew up is the most mundane. Perhaps unless your hometown is Manhattan, Paris, or Mars, in which case you probably recognize your homestead is lightyears away from suburban doldrums.
In addition to feeling that my hometown is particularly lackluster by the fact that I know it too well, the truth is, objectively, it kind of is. There are few critically acclaimed restaurants in Jackson. There are no spectacular museums to visit. Aside from shopping at a few upscale boutiques, taking a fitness class, or eating (anywhere), there isn't much to aside from the usual domesticated activities prevalent in small-city American life.
That said, Jackson is underrated. Wide stretches of crisp blue skies blanket the city, giving way to the most vibrant shade of coral each day at sunset. There are a multitude of charming, noteworthy places to eat, both intimate cafes and "greasy spoons," as my dad calls them, that you could easily pack on 8 lbs. in a week without even trying. The people are friendly, the sweet tea is high octane, and the arts scene, rich with local flavor, has long been supported in Jackson, be it music, theater, dance, literature, or visual arts.
Chances are, most of you reading this will never find yourselves in Jackson, MS. But if for some reason you do, I can tell you some of my favorite locales, and I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
Dear Lord in Heaven I never want to live in a world in which Rooster's does not exist. I started frequenting this spot in high school (when my metabolism was much higher) and still, every time I come home, I make a stop here. They serve--hear me out--***the best*** country fried steak I've ever had in my life. I know, you're thinking, "WTF is Country Fried Steak?" Well, find out for yourself. It's delicious.
It's also located in Fondren, which is Jackson's "hip" area.
Think 90's-era Reality Bites-style coffee shops, only one that appeals to not only the artists and the youth, but also to the nice middle-aged men and women in the area. That's Cups. It's been the OG coffee house in Jackson since coffee houses became "a thing."
The Cathead Distillery & Venue
Part distillery, part venue, Cathead produces, vodka (the Honeysuckle Vodka is delightful), gin, and chicory liqueur. Go for a show or a tour and support the Cathead cause--live music.
George's Museum Cafe
One of the aforementioned "greasy spoons," George's Cafe has been around since I was an itty bitty kid. Formerly "George's Cafeteria," it was located in South Jackson by my grandma's house. Now situated next to the Ag Museum in North Jackson, it's still a buffet-line style restaurant with some of the best baked chicken and sides you'll ever try.
Every Jacksonian knows about Keifer's. This local institution has been serving up salads, wraps, and one of it's most notable items, the Pita Mozz, at lightning speed for decades. There's a new location (across the street from where the original used to be) and the ownership has changed, but the food is still the same, and just as good, as ever.
It's laughable how many down-home meat-and-threes you could come across in Jackson, and Trace Grill is one of the most notorious. It's in a new location, still off Highway 51, and like George's or Roosters, the sweet tea is like rocket fuel and the food is hearty, homey, and far from healthy.
If you want old school, then you've found it. Housed in a building erected in the late 1800s, The Elite has been serving southern cooking in downtown Jackson since 1974. The waitresses are as sweet as the pies they serve and also, have potentially been working there since the doors opened.
What I love about this crappy old dive bar is that on a weekend night--especially during the summer--you'll find the most eclectic group of people. Next to an old drunk cowboy you may find a Tory Burch–clad sorority girl, who's drinking a Cosmopolitan next to a drug dealer, who's drinking Hennessy next to a frat boy, who's drinking a PBR next to a used car salesman. Everyone's just looking to do a little L-I-V-I-N.
While I grew up having dinners at this Italian restaurant & bar, I frequent it nowadays with my dad. He meets a crew of his buddies here each night after work to talk bullshit and drink red wine. The food is pretty good (go for the pizza or the lasagna) and it's a solid choice for a good time.
Brent's Drugs & The Apothecary
Brent's is an old-school pharmacy and soda foundation dating back to 1946. Now Brent's is a fully operating restaurant with a speakeasy, The Apothecary, in the back. It's one of the best--and only--places in Jackson to get a finely crafted cocktail or craft beer in a chill, dimly lit space.
Hal & Mal's
As a teenager, I'd frequent this old-school spot for the occasional lunch with my dad and under-21 concerts. (For reference, I saw Tonic AND Better Than Ezra here.) In college, it's where I'd visit old friends. Now I hear they've got Tony's Tamales, some of the best tamales in the south, and serve a mean veggie burger.
I've eaten a lot of steak. In a lot of cities. And in several different countries. Shapley's filet is one of the Top Three Best Steaks I've ever eaten. Everything else is good, too. Think: high-end steakhouse with a buttered-up southern twist.
This relatively new spot got accolades from Bon Appétit magazine back in 2015, which never happens, so I knew I has to try it. It's eclectic for southern fare, but accessible enough. (Know your audience.) Also, it's located in the Duling School, which has a lot of history.
Like Saltine, Babalu is one of the few new modern eateries that veers away from southern staples with a hip spin. It's got great cocktails, small plates, and is perfect for date night or groups.
This is one of my favorite lunch spots when I'm looking for something delicious, but more aligned with traditional lunch fare (less fried chicken plates, more soup/salad combos). It's been around since 1998, so it's kind of a staple in town. Plus, the bread is homemade and fresh from the kitchen. While you're at Banner Hall, you have to stop by Lemuria Books, another landmark spot in town.
And last but not least, if you have a backyard to sit in, pick up some crawfish and shrimp from either Mudbugs or The Crawdad Hole. Make sure they're in season, though. Try February to April for a good batch of crawfish and enjoy the sunset on a warm day.