When Brian Sabo opened his new restaurant, Meo Mio, in Chattanooga Valley in January, he thought it would take several months before he could call it a solid success. But business has exceeded expectations, he said.
Sabo, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to Chattanooga from Savannah, Tenn., in mid-2011, after hearing reports that Chattanooga was "booming and on the upswing."
By mid-February, he had already hit the revenue goals he didn't expect to see until months later, he said. It's a place where one-hour waits have been known to happen.
Meo Mio is one of many new restaurants to open in Chattanooga in the past year, all adding to the diversity of dining options that attract hometown folks as well as visitors to the city.
"I think we have an incredible diversity of options," said Candace Davis, marketing and public relations manager for the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "People are very positive when they talk about restaurants they visited while in Chattanooga."
Here's a glance at some of the new eateries around Chattanooga:
The downtown area experienced the strongest growth of restaurants in the past year with openings that included:
• Southside Saloon & Bistro, 1301 Chestnut St. Phone: 757-4730. A place for good food and live music at night. House specialties: Fried chicken livers, Wild Wild West Buffalo wings, Southside Cheeseburger. Something different: Jamaican jerk chicken bites.
• Pasta Italia, 200 M.L. King Blvd. Phone: 710-3467. An upscale Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown serving dinner only. House specialties: Pasta sampler featuring chef's daily choices. Something different: Rock salt fish.
• Southern Comfort, 511 Broad St. Phone: 386-5921. A meat-and-three restaurant by day, a meet-and-greet nightclub by night. House specialties: Daily lunch specials, hand-cut steaks on the evening menu. Something different: Grilled tiger shrimp over linguine with wine lemon butter sauce.
• Mean Mug Coffeehouse, 114 W. Main St. Phone: 825-4206. A comfortable coffeehouse in a historic setting serving breakfast and lunch daily. House specialties: Daily paninis, locally roasted coffees. Something different: Strawberry Almond Nutella Muffins.
• Chato Brasserie, 200 Manufacturers Road. Phone: 305-1352. A dinner-only establishment that's downtown chic with a focus on local fare. House specialties: Diver scallops, porcini-dusted Pickett farm trout. Something different: Buffalo Bolognese, Rib-eye Spinalis.
• Marco's Italian Bistro, 417 Frazier Ave. Phone: 710-2568. Authentic Italian cuisine made fresh daily. Specialties: House-made raviolis, ripiene pork loin. Something different: Fried egg carbonara with chicken or shrimp.
There are plenty of fast-food eateries from which to choose, but if you want to try something new and made-from-scratch, head over to:
• Meo Mio, 4119 Cummings Highway. Phone: 521-7160. Cajun and Creole dishes where cold beer is served up with a tasty dose of bon temps. House specialties: Shrimp and grits, gumbo, jambalaya. Something different: Bayou Buckets, such as the Canal Street Bucket with crab legs, boiled shrimp, fried oysters, red potatoes, slaw, corn on the cob, red beans and rice, and garlic bread sticks.
• Chianti, 8968 Dayton Pike. Phone: 332-4950. House specialties: New York-style pizzas on house-made and hand-tossed crusts, signature pastas. Something different: Zuppa di Pesce (shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and scungilli in fresh marinara sauce).
• Fuji Japanese Steak & Sushi, 5437 Highway 153. Phone: 531-3183. House specialties: Tuna Tataki, chef's choice sashimi combination. Something different: Harakiri (hibachi filet mignon, scallops, shrimp and lobster tail).
• Kioto Japanese, 8719 Hixson Pike. Phone: 521-8444. A Japanese restaurant in an unlikely location, a former barbecue barn. House favorites: sesame chicken; jumbo lemon shrimp. Something different: Yakiniku (sliced marinated beef).
The Hamilton Place area continued to experience growth in 2011 and early 2012, seeing such restaurants enter the market as:
• Bar Louie, upper floor at Hamilton Place across from Jos. A. Bank (opening in May). An artfully cool restaurant serving oversized sandwiches, seafood and signature cocktails. House specialties: Voodoo Chicken, po' boys. Something different: Bacon and fried egg sandwich, Buffalo calamari.
• Mellow Mushroom, 2318 Lifestyle Way. Phone: 468-3737. A second Chattanooga location for this popular pizza place. House specialties: Calzones, gourmet white pizza. Something different: Jerk chicken and jalapeno pizza.
• Sweet Peppers Deli, The Shoppes at Hamilton Place, 2040 Hamilton Place Blvd. Phone: 825-4999. Gourmet deli offering soups, sandwiches, cookies and cakes. House specialties: Reuben, Baja chicken wrap. Something different: Goat cheese and fire-roasted pepper sub.
Signal Mountain is a short drive from downtown Chattanooga and a popular location for several new restaurants, including:
• Gin Gin's, 1879 Taft Highway. Phone: 825-4540. Local restaurateur Virginia Cofer has made another hit with her newest eatery serving her signature comfort foods. House specialties: Daddy's Chicken, Marsha's BR Mushrooms, grilled salmon with Tabasco hollandaise. Something different: Chopped lamb steaks with mushrooms and onions topped with rosemary-mint demi-glace.
• Poppy's Smokehouse, 2102 Taft Highway. Phone: 305-1936. Some of the best 'cue on the mountain. House specialties: Famous ribs, beef brisket, pork sliders. Something different: Pork Puppies (Think hushpuppies, but with finely chopped smoked pork.)