Hattiesburg, Mississippi is one of those cities that you just can’t ignore. With a resident population of less than 50,000, the number increases by another 15,000 when students are on campus at the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University. Camp Shelby, the nation’s largest state training site, is just a short drive away, and Hattiesburg shares the title of “Birthplace of Rock and Roll” with Clarksdale, Memphis, New Orleans, and Detroit. With its 1964 Freedom Summer Trail, it is an important destination for telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement.
Hattiesburg’s location is strategic as it is where Interstate 59 and Highways 49, 98 and 11 intersect, but was previously a major rail hub. It is a midpoint between Jackson, Mississippi; Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Mobile, Alabama, earning it the nickname “Central City.” Public art is starting to appear more frequently, and his Pocket Alley was born during the pandemic.
One of Hattiesburg’s most striking identities is its appeal to foodies. Although there are many chain restaurants in the city, there are also a whopping 200 locally owned restaurants that provide regional flair and culinary options.
During a brief visit to Hattiesburg recently, I tried as many of these local restaurants as I could fit into my schedule. Here are my recommendations listed in no particular order.
My visit was arranged by VisitHattiesburg, but all opinions are my own.
1. Crescent City Grill
Robert St. John, a talented chef who is also a creative genius, is making a powerful impact on the palates of Hattiesburg diners. He owns six distinctly different restaurants in town, and the Crescent City Grill is considered the most elegant with its handsome wood and stained glass accents and inviting patio. At the same time, it’s family-friendly with a Cajun-leaning menu featuring fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. Crescent City Grill’s white chocolate bread pudding won Best Dessert at a local competition. I chose to try a couple of the appetizers and can highly recommend the crayfish cake and the Gulf shrimp wontons.
Pro Tip: Everyone looks forward to the seasonal lobster menu, usually offered between January and July.
2. Mahogany bar
Diners can walk directly to Mahogany Bar from the Crescent City Grill, and yet the bar has a different vibe. Unsurprisingly, there’s a wide selection of beers and wines, but the bartender is also adept at whipping up creative and delicious mocktails.
Beautiful herbal infused citrus and blackberry drinks were created for my husband and me. They were both refreshing and imaginative.
3. The Tex-Mex Ray
Go through another door and you’ll find the colorful atmosphere of El Rayo Tex Mex spilling onto their patio. Saturdays are good times to visit El Rayo. A “Bottomless Tex Mex Brunch” is offered from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Popular Mexican favorites appear on the menu along with unexpected items like lobster enchiladas, barbecue baby back ribs and smoked gouda cheese. lightning it’s Spanish for “the lightning bolt,” so you’ll see those bolts all over the menu, logo, and décor.
4. Ed’s Burger
At Ed’s burger joint, everyone burgers are double patties with certified Black Angus ground beef. If you order a Fat Ed, you’ll be greeted with a triple burger described as “hugely huge.” For those not in the mood for a burger, Ed has you covered with hot dog options and various sandwiches. The homemade bacon jam highlights many of the menu options in terms of flavor, and the scones are baked fresh each morning.
Outrageous Shakes are works of art and the size is shareable. I ordered the Candy Shop creation and had my sugar quota for a week! It was so good and so much fun to devour.
Pro Tip: Be sure to order a side of sweet potato fries. The marshmallow dipping sauce is made at home.
Note: The first four recommendations are located in the Midtown Market, so you can park once and walk to any of them. They are also owned by Robert St. John and the New South Restaurant Group, which helped start an agency called Extra Table, which provides healthy food for hungry and food insecure people in the Hattiesburg area.
5. Sully’s Tavern
At Sully’s Tavern, it’s all about the steaks cut from certified Angus beef that’s wet-aged, never frozen. For appetizers, I recommend the South of the Border Egg Rolls, the Sully Sacks, and the Jalapeño Curd Cheese, or you can try all three with a combo plate.
Sully’s atmosphere is enhanced by live music every night from Monday to Saturday. He was happy to find that the music level was nice and not too loud for conversation with my fellow diners. The decoration and name refer to John Sullivan, a bare-knuckle world heavyweight champion from the late 19th century. The restaurant is near the site of the last known bare-knuckle fight in 1889, which Sullivan won against fierce contender Jake Kilrain. Both men survived the fight, barely, and Kilrain eventually served as a pallbearer at Sullivan’s funeral.
This is a casual, family-friendly place with great food.
6. The warehouse kitchen and market
Gourmet coffee and freshly baked cookies are just two of the reasons to start your day at The Depot Kitchen & Market. The location near the train station is attractive and conducive to a relaxing breakfast or lunch. Bru’s Breakfast Bowl is a favorite on the menu. It’s anchored by a cheddar cheese biscuit topped with sausage gravy, bacon, a scrambled egg, and cheddar cheese.
Another excellent option is the Breakfast Plate, made up of two poached eggs, bacon, cheese, fruit, a salad and brioche toast. And did I mention the coffee? The blend of choice for The Depot comes from Portland, Oregon-based Coava Coffee Roasters.
Lunch is also special at The Depot with an enticing selection of sandwiches and salads.
7. The Birdhouse Cafe
Owner and chef Katie Dixon is a refreshing burst of energy every time she’s in the room. Her petite and fit body is a great advertisement for her passion for exercise and healthy, nutritious eating. She can be sure that the plant-based dishes served at The Birdhouse Café are full of fresh produce and great flavors. Although she has not had formal training as a chef, she grew up watching her grandmother serve the people she loved, and Katie began cooking to motivate the clients she helped as a personal trainer. Her abilities have risen to the level of being a kitchen master Season 7 Finalist and Season 14 Food Network Star. Katie has also traveled to 50 countries and brings culinary goodness found around the world to Hattiesburg.
My husband and I tried one of The Birdhouse Café’s smoothie bowls with wonderful granola, acai, fruit, oatmeal, strawberries, blueberries and banana and a sandwich called the Heavy Tee which consists of turkey, brie, green apple, spinach and bacon. .
Don’t be surprised when you arrive at the address on Highway 98. The Birdhouse Café is inside an appliance store.
Pro Tip: Plan to get a copy of Katie’s beautiful cookbook, be nurturedIt’s packed with healthy, creative tips and gorgeous photography.
Note: The restaurants above are the ones I personally visited, but there are four more that are on my list for a future visit because I heard such rave reviews from locals while in town.
8. Jutamas Thai Restaurant
Jutamas Thai Restaurant’s original location is at 910 Timothy Lane, but they recently added a second store on Highway 98. The words “fine” and “authentic” are often used as descriptors for the atmosphere and menu at Jutamas. Made-to-order dishes with fresh ingredients keep diners coming back often. Pineapple fried rice served in a pineapple shell is extremely popular, but it all sounds amazing.
9. Movie Star Restaurant
Classics like fried chicken, country-style sides, cornbread and cobblers are the headlines at Movie Star Restaurant. Their buffet lunch and family atmosphere are big magnets for hungry Hattiesburg folks.
10. The Midtowner
The Midtowner is across the street from the main entrance of the University of Southern Mississippi, so it’s guaranteed to draw students with its sweet brined chicken and giant buttermilk pancakes. This is primarily a breakfast and lunch diner serving food every day to people who want the familiar southern comforts.
Pro Tip: The new “Hattiesbirds” mural is directly across from The Midtowner, so pick your favorite bird and snap a selfie while you’re in the area.
11. Mario’s Italian Restaurant
Mario’s Italian Restaurant is a pasta lover’s paradise. Three Italian brothers serve Sicilian dishes made from scratch, and their alfredo sauce is said to be divine. Those brothers are often seen cooking, serving, and even clearing tables while politely interacting with their guests and staff.
These 11 restaurants are just the beginning, considering the count is up to 200 local restaurants in Hattiesburg, but I can verify that the city is well on its way to becoming a recognized food mecca. Pack your stretch pants and plan a visit soon. To ease your conscience, plan to burn off some calories with a hike or bike ride along the Longleaf Trace, which begins in downtown Hattiesburg and stretches for 44 miles.