The reboot of lower State Street wouldn’t be complete without a mecca for exquisite, Instagram-worthy eats. The proverbial eagle has landed with Blackbird, situated in the chic new Hotel Californian. Sophisticated, playful dishes like green gazpacho with soft shell crab or octopus with kale and apricot are as eye-popping as they are palate-invigorating. The bar is similarly impressive with knockouts such as the Moreton’s Giving Tree (Manhattan-esque, with local bourbon and fig) and an inspired, dynamic wine list. While the interior is sleek, the service impeccable, and the food refined and often revelatory (with hay semifreddo and nettle ice cream, the Strawberry Field dessert is head-spinning and delicious), the vibe is lively and resolutely un-stuffy.
In 2016, chef Justin West shuttered his beloved white-tablecloth joint, Julienne, in favor of a stable of Southern Pride smokers, and today he’s serving some of the best barbecue this side of Hill Country at Wildwood Kitchen. Housed off the beaten path in a collective called the Mill, West serves perfectly executed versions of the usual suspects: pulled pork, brisket, sausage, fried chicken, braised greens, beans, towering salads, house-made barbecue sauces, and the gloriously naughty Frito pie, featuring chili, cheese, and sour cream all served, as it should be, in the corn chips bag.