Longtime Chattanoogans can remember the days when restaurants in the Scenic City were few and far between. Even as late as the early 1970s, there was just one Chinese restaurant downtown. There was no fine dining downtown, unless you belonged to a private club. Forget about Main Street and the North Shore. They were in shambles. Hamilton Place had yet to be invented. Forward thinkers were just coming of age.
Fast forward a few decades: How things have changed. Even during our spiraling economy, restaurateurs realized the Scenic City was a peach waiting to be plucked. There was room for growth. And grow it did, not only in Chattanooga but also around the area.
According to market research group Scarborough, Chattanooga ranks eighth in a top-10 list of cities in which local residents eat out five or more times a month. We're right up there with Atlanta (fourth), Birmingham (fifth), Dallas (seventh) and Orlando (10th).
"Even in a recession, people like to treat themselves," said Walt Baker, president of the Tennessee Hospitality Association. "We are such a mobile society, and we have a lot of families and individuals who have grown up with the convenience of going out to eat and put more stock in managing their time and social interaction than saving and eating at home."
And that's one thing that keeps the restaurant industry strong, Mr. Baker said.
Here's a list of some of the eateries that have opened in Chattanooga in the past year.
Alleia, 25 East Main St. - Upscale Italian dining in one of the most dynamic atmospheres on Main Street. Suggestions: quail with charred tomatoes; papparadelle with braised veal breast; angel hair with diver scallops, saffron and botarga.
BiBa's Italian Restaurant, 5918 Hixson Pike - Excellent mainstream Italian cuisine from pizza to pasta. Suggestions: Veal BiBa's, Chicken Dorothea, spaghetti and meatballs, tiramasu.
Cafe on the Corner, 826 Scenic Highway, Lookout Mountain - A bistro with an edge on some of the most creative cuisine in the area. Suggestions: fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits; Cafe meatloaf; parmesan-crusted pork.
Champy's Chicken, 526 M.L. King Blvd. - Possibly the best fried chicken in Chattanooga, along with handmade tamales and some of the tastiest Key lime pie north of the islands. Suggestions: fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, chicken on a stick, tamale platter.
Chattanooga Smokehouse, 416 M.L. King Blvd. - Great ribs, pulled pork and sides. Suggestions: rack of ribs, coleslaw.
Five 8 Burrito, 5715 Highway 58 - A great place for burritos of all kinds - big, bold and full of flavor. Suggestions: The Musical (rice, black beans, cheese and salsa), Traditional (ground beef or chicken, black beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa and sour cream), Suck Creek Wingless (hot and spicy).
Fuji Japanese Steakhouse, 2207 Overnight Drive - A hibachi-style restaurant erupting with flavor and panache. Suggestions: hibachi scallops; hibachi steak or chicken; sushi.
Joe Friday's Alaskan Coffee House, 825 Houston St. - Soups, sandwiches, huge salads and good selections of java. Suggestions: Southwestern grilled salad, any soup of the day, Cafe mocha, club sandwich.
New York Diner, 5665 Brainerd Road - A menu filled with something for everyone from breakfast through late-night dinner. Suggestions: breakfast platter with made-from-scratch biscuits and gravy; Philly cheesesteak; meatloaf.
Public House, 1110 Market St. - A dynamic eatery that puts a new touch on pub fare. Suggestions: Bay of Fundy salmon with pommeroy mustard sauce; Jonah crab cake with lemon beurre blanc; wine-braised beef short ribs.
Sweet Peppers Deli, 403 Broad St. - A wonderful deli in one of Chattanooga's most historic buildings serving incredible sandwiches, huge stuffed potatoes, salads and delicious desserts. Suggestions: Reuben; chopped salad with tomato and basil; smoked cheddar melt; carrot cake.
The Melting Pot, 2553 Lifestyle Way - Dip into a world of flavor at this spectacular fondue restaurant, the only one in town. It's an experience you'll never forget. Suggestions: Swiss cheese fondue; steak or chicken fondue; chocolate fondue with a splash of Bailey's.
Virginia's Southside Cafe, 1404 Cowart St. - A charming cafe on Chattanooga's Southside that offers a step up from traditional cafe fare. The menu offers a surprising mix. Suggestions: shrimp tacos, pimento cheese, Cobb salad, ginger-garlic-sesame-teriyaki flat-iron steak with wasabi aioli.