The Best Restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi, According to Chef Vishwesh Bhatt

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Chief Vishwesh Bhatt — Photo courtesy of Adam Robinson

Oxford, Mississippi is best known for being home to the University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss”. But visitors might be surprised to know that it’s also a hotbed for amazing restaurants, thanks in part to John Currence. His City Grocery Restaurant Group was founded in 1992 and has won countless awards and accolades.

They now have four restaurants, including Snackbar, a whimsical French and Southern-inspired bistro that opened in 2009. Chef Vishwesh Bhatt was appointed to the helm after meeting Currence, bringing his experience to create unique dishes and globally inspired. He earned five James Beard Award nominations before claiming “Best Chef: South” in May 2019.

“I came to Oxford to attend the University of Mississippi. I started working in restaurants for ‘beer money,'” Bhatt said. He started at a local vegetarian restaurant, which s turned into a job at another restaurant, and from there he approached Currence for a job, got hired at City Grocery, and worked his way up from prep to head chef.

delicatessen snackCharcuterie snack — Photo courtesy of City Grocery

Originally from India, Bhatt includes ingredients from his childhood, as well as those from Mississippi, in his dishes. He even replicated his mother’s recipe for greens.

“The good thing is that the South, which is my home now, and Gujarat, where I grew up, share many ingredients. Okra, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, greens, tomatoes and eggplant, to name a few. To name a few, southern ingredients lend themselves very well to spices.

But he also uses local produce, Mississippi catfish, rice and corn from the Mississippi Delta. “I firmly believe that as a chef in Mississippi, it is my responsibility to showcase Mississippi ingredients and bring as much positive attention to the state as possible.”

Oxford has become a foodie destination in its own right since Bhatt’s arrival. “Chef Currence and City Grocery have changed the food culture in the state of Mississippi. For a very long time, there weren’t many good food options in our little town. Now there are several, led by the City Grocery Restaurant Group We now have restaurants that run the gamut from white tablecloth to gas station chicken Oxford is now a legitimate foodie destination.

So we asked Bhatt about his favorite places to eat in Oxford, and here’s what he recommends.

Town grocery store

Shrimp and Grits at City GroceryShrimp and grits at City Grocery — Photo courtesy of City Grocery

Town grocery store is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the state of Mississippi. Chef John Currence opened the restaurant 27 years ago in a historic livery stable on Courthouse Square. Today, Chef Ralph Taylor is at the helm, carrying on the tradition of serving quality wine and Southern-inspired dishes.

“It remains a place that is still innovative, but deeply rooted in its mission to serve Southern food,” says Bhatt. “You can never go wrong with the shrimp and grits here, but I’m a big fan of the daily specials that come out of this iconic kitchen.”

At mom Jo’s

Soul food at Mama Jo'sSoul food at Mama Jo’s — Photo courtesy of Visit Oxford

It’s easy to miss this nondescript mall restaurant, but At mom Jo’s offers the best soul food in Oxford, with a buffet featuring fresh dishes prepared daily. The prices are friendly for the student crowd – a plate of fried chicken with two sides only costs you $8. “Mama Jo”, also known as Joester Egerson Brassell, has been feeding hungry visitors and locals for 16 years.

“There’s no better fried chicken in town,” Bhatt notes. “[But] don’t forget the accompaniments: green beans, squash casserole, macaroni. If sweet potato pie is on offer, I recommend starting with that.”

Zaap Thai food

Zaap Thai kitchen exteriorExterior of Zaap Thai Kitchen — Photo courtesy of Visit Oxford

Down the street from Mama Jo’s is Zaap Thai food, an authentic restaurant run by Rasita Palawan, who can be seen in the kitchen six days a week, alongside her daughter. The restaurant has space for dine-in and take-out.

“Unlike some small restaurants, Rasita doesn’t compromise,” says Bhatt. “She shops at local farmers’ markets and buys meat and fish from local vendors.”

Bhatt’s favorite menu items include Penang curry and ka prow kai, a chicken dish with basil and chili. Pad Thai and coconut tom kha soup are also favorites. “If sautéed catfish is [on] offer, take it.”

Volta

Tavern VoltaTavern Volta — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks

Installed in a converted service station, Tavern Volta is a popular Greek restaurant with locals, and every item on the menu has a Southern twist. For example, you’ll find traditional dishes like hummus and labneh, as well as souvlaki and gyros. But they also offer pizzas and quesadillas.

Bhatt says, “The Hotty Toddy Balls [mashed potato balls] and Greek chili cheese are also worth trying. My favorite is the lemon chicken wrap with added feta. »

Boure

stuffed burgerBurger Boure — Photo courtesy of Halie Johnson

On the other side of Oxford Square is Boure, another restaurant by chef John Currence that offers a bit of everything. Locals know how special it is and dine there frequently, whether for a quick appetizer on the upstairs balcony or a full meal.

Bhatt explains, “It’s a busy restaurant, but the service is attentive and quick. I particularly like the Bouré Burger, the gumbo and the crab cakes. If they offer the Worcestershire buttery rib eye special, take it! “

Saint Leon

Pizza in Saint-LeoPizza at St. Leo — Photo courtesy of Erin Austen Abbott

Opened by a California native, Saint Leon was a 2017 James Beard Award semi-finalist. The cozy restaurant is known for its Italian wines, wood-fired pizzas and craft cocktails. They also offer a weekend brunch with items like avocado toast and breakfast pizzas.

“You’ll often find me and my wife in their bar on Sunday night enjoying farinata or pizza with soppressata and burrata or steamed clams and a glass of nebbiolo,” says Bhatt. “If Mr. Stinchcomb runs the bar, a cocktail is a must.”

Whether you’re visiting a student or being one yourself, step out of the dining hall to experience the incredible food scene in Oxford, Mississippi.

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