Bored with your usual restaurant standbys? Look to our list of local favorites, determined by an informal poll of fellow Chattanoogans, to inspire your next meal. See all the nominees at chatterchattanooga.com, and if your favorite dish was left out, do us all a favor and fill us in via your social media platform of choice. Don't forget a photo, because knowing and seeing what other people eat is a big part of what social media is all about.
State of Confusion's Mexican Ceviche
Ceviche may not seem like a natural pick for a favorite in landlocked Chattanooga, but State of Confusion will ease your skepticism with a bite of the high quality ingredients found in any one of the Southside restaurant's ceviche options, which fill an entire category of its menu. The best-seller of the bunch is the Mexican ceviche, made with mahi mahi and shrimp cured in salt and citrus juices overnight. Tomato juice, pico and cilantro are added to give it that nice, juicy taste, says Bill Heckler, executive chef of Square One Holding Company, which owns State of Confusion.
Ready to move beyond the familiar flavors of the Mexican ceviche? Heckler recommends the Peruvian ceviche — which he was taught to make in Peru by six expert chefs, including Javier Wong, whose ceviche is considered the best in the world. In addition to winning over locals, Heckler's version won an award for Peruvian ceviche at a food festival in Lima.
Lupi's Pizza Pies' Lasagna
Referred to by Lupi's Operations Manager Matt Douglass as the restaurant's "hidden gem," lasagna is the sole pasta dish on the local pizza-maker's menu. Best known for its savory "pies" and seemingly endless list of inventive toppings, Lupi's added lasagna four or five years after opening, at the request of customers. "Once they start getting it, they get it and get it," owner Dorris Shober says of the lasagna, which is also sold in bulk in sizes serving 8-25. "People love to get it for big events."
The meaty lasagna is made with local ground beef from Myers Farm and local ground sausage from Lupi's own Flying Turtle Farm, which is also where the basil and zucchini for the veggie version are grown. The vegetable lasagna also includes spinach and local Monterey mushrooms. Both dishes are made with a ricotta-Parmesan cheese blend with fresh oregano and basil and Lupi's house-made sauce, all topped with mozzarella. Replace your usual pizza or calzone order with this dish and you may never go back.
Boathouse Restaurant's Voodoo Chicken
While the Boathouse is best known for oysters — the Riverside Drive restaurant sells more than 2,000 a day — it actually sells more chicken than anything else, says Food and Beverage Director Jason Greer. When voodoo chicken was added to the menu a few years ago, the main reason was because it provided another use for the chicken the restaurant was already prepping for dishes like the "Lotta Lotta Garlic Chicken" and the wood-spit roasted half chicken, chicken salad and sandwich."Thinking fried chicken was too traditionally Southern, they decided to use a soy-based, Asian-inspired marinade made with lots of chiles and spices for the dish," Greer says of the voodoo chicken. "Because the soy sauce dries out the skin, the chicken is crispier than the standard fried chicken dish." And because there's no breading, the dish is gluten free. Most people either love or hate the sauce served with it, he says. "It has a lot of ingredients a lot of people wouldn't recognize," except for soy sauce, red pepper flakes and rice wine vinegar.
Public House's Red Wine Braised Pot Roast
Public House is known for its elevated take on classic comfort foods like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, but the restaurant's red-wine braised pot roast takes the prize for most craveable dish among the eatery's local fans.
Made with certified Angus chuck roast braised in red wine for eight to 10 hours, the key to the dish (and its craveability) is the sauce created with the braising liquid fortified with red wine demi-glace, says general manager Lou Tharp. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and chipotle pepper — an unusual spice for a pot roast recipe — add even more flavor. The russet potatoes accompanying the dinner version of the dish are riced rather than mashed for a light and fluffy texture perfect for soaking up all that red wine goodnes.
Who needs home cooking when Public House does it so much better?
Taqueria Jalisco's Flautas
Taqueria Jalisco has long been a go-to spot for locals craving authentic Mexican food — from the family-owned eatery's food truck days, to its first location in a tiny brick building on Rossville Avenue, to its current modern space across the street. Jorge Parra co-owns the restaurant with his mother and both are natives of the Mexican state of Jalisco. The tacos are an obvious choice, but those in the know go for the flautas.
Parra says the flautas are made from his mom's recipe, with three flour tortillas rolled with perfectly seasoned chipotle chicken inside and fried for a light and crispy shell. They're topped with queso fresco, lettuce, house-made tomatillo avocado salsa, crema and in-house pickled carrots. Parra says it's the mixture of flavors that people love about the dish — savory, a little zesty from the pickled carrots (an ingredient that sets the dish apart from other flautas, he adds) and the fresh flavors of the salsa. Pair them with a paloma, a tequila based cocktail made with lime juice and grapefruit flavored soda, for the full experience.
Champy's Chicken's Mississippi Delta Hot Tamales
First conceived as early as 5,000-8,000 B.C. as a quick and convenient meal for indigenous Americans such as the Aztec, Incan and Mayans, tamales have evolved over the years, becoming a Latin tradition that was eventually brought to the Mississippi Delta by migrant workers coming to work in the cotton fields. "Multiple cultures converged to put a new spin on the tamale and, over time, it has continued to evolve and change into many different forms," says Delaney Still, general manager of Champy's on M.L. King Boulevard downtown.
Champy's owner Seth Champion, a Mississippi Delta native, has long been a fan of tamales. "He and his wife, Crissy, knew that introducing them to Chattanooga would be a game-changer. Sure enough, they've been a hit!" Still says. Champy's Mississippi Delta-style hot tamales are simmered instead of steamed for great flavor and spice, she says. While a typical Mexican-style tamale is 20% beef and 80% masa (corn dough), Champy's are made with 80% beef and 20% masa so each bite is hearty and flavorful. The hand-rolled bundles of joy are served with the restaurant's house-made sweet coleslaw and a stack of crackers, making for a quick and convenient meal beloved by indigenous Chattanoogans.
Syrup and Eggs' Carrot Cake Pancakes
Locals rave about the pancakes from St. Elmo's Syrup and Eggs, which offers a variety of flavor combos ranging from classics, such as Oreo and cream, to more unusual, like sweet pea pancakes with ricotta and lavender or Earl Grey tea pancakes with bergamot and grapefruit. Syrup and Eggs owner Ocia Hartley says she uses her 15 years of experience working in fine dining to help her come up with unique flavor combinations, but she also loves using classic combinations that are familiar for the customer. The carrot cake pancakes with cream cheese drizzle are one such combination that has turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser, she says.
Il Primo's Meatballs with Sunday Sauce
The inspiration for Il Primo's meatballs with Sunday sauce comes not from Italy, but from Italian-American immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to managing partner Josh Nason. These immigrants were predominantly poor and from rural Italy, and when they settled in Italian-American enclaves like Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or The Hill in St. Louis, they celebrated their newfound prosperity with meatballs the size of a fist atop piles of spaghetti. They'd make meatballs for the week on Sunday, which was also when they hosted their priests for dinner. "To eat a meatball is to partake in that heritage," says Nason.
Il Primo makes its baseball-size chunks with dry aged beef locally sourced from Simpson Farms, along with ground pork, veal and pancetta. They're baked in an oven at 300 F for no longer than two hours with marinara, allowing the flavor of the meat to dissipate into the sauce.