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Best of Savannah 2011: Food 

Best Chef

Roberto Leoci

Chef at the restaurant which bears his name, Roberto Leoci brings a genuine trattoria feel to a city not known for its wealth of real Italian offerings. His pasta carbonara - complete with perfect poached egg on top - is spoken of in hushed tones, and is the true testament to his seriousness - yet ever-so-light touch - as an evangelist of real Italian trattoria cuisine.

Runner-up: Matt Roher, Cha Bella

Best New Restaurant

Best Gourmet Burger

Best Veggie Burger

Green Truck Neighborhood Pub

It's hard to believe that it's only been seven months since Green Truck seismically altered the dining options of Baldwin Park and Thomas Square residents, but it's true.

Taking over a location that hadn't seen a restaurant last more than a few months in a neighborhood that was off the beaten path for tourists, Green Truck owner Josh Yates thought his venture would be a cozy, quiet respite with a slow, but steady stream of residents wandering in for the occasional burger or beer.

But as soon as the doors opened, folks were lining up to get a taste of things in the self-proclaimed "home of homemade."

"It definitely took us by surprise and anyone who came in the first few weeks will tell you that. We weren't prepared staffing wise or layout wise," says Yates. "We didn't think so many people would be waiting to eat here. I had to hire a lot more people."

The "green" in Green Truck isn't just the color of the old pickup parked out front either. Although the basics of locally sourced burgers, fries and salads won't be changing any time soon, Yates says that there are plans for more seasonal specials in conjunction with what local farmers are growing, as well as a behind the scenes push to reduce energy consumption and reduce the restaurant's carbon footprint.

"When someone opens a restaurant it's very much a reflection of themselves, so we brought a lot of those values into our restaurant as well," Yates says. "It's worked out for us." -- Patrick Rodgers

Best Family Restaurant

Carey Hilliard's

This perennial winner with several locations in the area has the fried & tasty formula all figured out.

Runner-up: Spanky's

Best Southside Restaurant

Tangerine's Fusion & Sushi Bar

Don't dis south of DeRenne -- the southside has many of Savannah's tastiest joint, including this Pac Rim-style bistro from the same folks that gave you Ele Fine Fusion.

Runner-up: Spanky's

Best Island Restaurant

Ele Fine Fusion

Recognizing a market opportunity when they saw one -- i.e., the lack of fine dining east of the Wilmington River -- Ele is not only filling a niche but filling it well.

Runner-up: Basil's

Best Tybee Restaurant

Best Outdoor Dining

The Crab Shack

In a world where chefs just try to do too much with seafood, the Crab Shack knows that keeping it fresh and simple is the real key to success.

Runner-up, Tybee: Sundae Café

Runner-up, Outdoor: Leoci's

Best Westside Restaurant

Cheddar's Casual Cafe

This southeastern chain -- with five locations in Georgia -- prospers because of a large menu that caters to just about every taste.

Runner-up: Bit's Pizzeria

Best Lunch

Best Takeout

Best Meal Under $10

Zunzi's

It's small but it packs a hell of a punch, South African style, wrapping up three categories this year. Rich traditional cuisine combines with friendly service for a unique Savannah experience.

Runner-up, Lunch: Kayak Kafe

Runner-up, Takeout: Hirano's

Runner-up, under $10: Sammy Green's

Best Pub Food

Molly MacPherson's Scottish Pub

Molly's - part of the active and growing pub nexus on the City Market periphery - not only offers a crazy-huge variety of quality Scotches. They give you something to sink your teeth into, literally, with a full menu of apps, salads, and tasty entrees like fish ‘n' chips, shepherd's pie, steak ‘n' Guinness stew, salmon, NY strip, and more.

Runner-up: Churchill's

Best Tapas

Jazz'd Tapas Bar

Seems like just yesterday that the Currys set up shop with what was then a craaaazy idea for a downstairs tapas bar. Looks like they knew what they were doing!

Runner-up: Sugar Daddy's

Best Catering

Susan Mason

Not only a caterer but an author - Susan Mason's Silver Service is a hit.

Runner-up: Nick Mueller

Best Late Night Restaurant

Sweet Melissa's

When you absolutely, positively, have to have a slice before you keep partying into the wee hours.

Runner-up: Sushi Zen

Best Vegetarian Restaurant

Sentient Bean

Handmade Paninis, quiches, and dairy-free sweet treats. Not to mention Fair Trade java...

Runner-up: Cha Bella

Best Organic Restaurant

Cha Bella

Chef Matt Roher, fresh off his standout gig as host chef for the Georgia Organics conference "Farmer's Feast," continues to craft a rotating seasonal menu from locally sources growers and farms.

Runner-up: Sentient Bean

Best Place for Steak

Ruth's Chris

High-end steak with a steady calendar of special cuisine and wine events to boot.

Runner-up: Longhorn

Best Pancakes

IHOP

Still one of the tastiest and best bargains around.

Runner-up: Pancake House

Best Breakfast

Best Brunch

J. Christopher's

This regional chain - housed in a former auto garage - is wheeling out the tasty deals, in a bustling and friendly setting. Especially on Sundays!

Runner-up, Breakfast: The Breakfast Club

Runner-up, Brunch: B. Matthews

Best Burger Under $5

Best French Fries

Five Guys

In years past, Burger King or McDonald's would win this category of "under $5." No offense to BK or Mickey D's, but we're certainly glad Five Guys staked out a high profile spot downtown in order to dish out their signature tasty patties and bag full o' fries. Not to mention the free peanuts!

Runner-up, under $5: McDonald's

Runner-up, Fries: Green Truck

Best Fried Chicken

Best Southern Food

Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room

This beloved Savannah institution continues a tradition of community, excellence, hospitality, and taste! Too bad the tourists have discovered it, eh?

Runner-up, Chicken: KFC

Runner-up: Southern: The Lady & Sons

Best Sub Shop

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches

Nothin' like a real sub, and Jimmy John's is raising the bar in this Southern town not known for great subs.

Runner-up: Larry's Giant Subs

Best Barbecue

Best Ribs

Wiley's Championship BBQ

Wiley's hasn't been in town - or more accurately, on the islands - for long, but in that time they have absolutely taken the local BBQ scene by storm. Get their early to avoid the rush, which is basically the whole time they're open!

Runner-up, BBQ & Ribs: Blowin' Smoke

Best Deli

Best Bagels

Midtown Deli & Bagel Shop

Let's face it, y'all: Savannah ain't a deli or bagel type of town. That said, Midtown Deli is the place to go when you need that fix. The prices are pretty much unbeatable for the hearty food you'll get.

Runner-up, Deli: Publix

Runner-up, Bagel: Panera

Best Place to Buy Local Seafood

Russo's Seafood

A beloved local institution continues to bring the best in fresh seafood to midtown.

Runner-up: Matthews Seafood

Best Buffet

The Lady & Sons

Still one of Savannah's number one tourist draws.

Runner-up: Golden Corral

Best Salad

Kayak Kafe

One of Broughton's best lunch spots specializes in killer, fresh salads.

Runner-up: Ruby Tuesdays

Best Gourmet Pizza

Mellow Mushroom

Big hearty pies and calzones in a boisterous setting.

Runner-up: Vinnie Van Go-Go's

Best Pizzeria

Best Delivery Pizza

Vinnie Van Go-Go's

Vinnie's has been holding down the west end of City Market since before it was a huge tourist hangout, serving a tasty thin crust pie with a hefty side of cool. Their delivery bikes are a common and welcome sight downtown.

Runner-up, Pizzeria: Mellow Mushroom

Runner-up, Delivery: Screamin' Mimi's

Best Bakery

Back in the Day

This anchor corner store in Starland delivers the goods, both sweet and savory. Just had a blueberry cheesecake from there that defied description.

Runner-up: Baker's Pride

Best Desserts

Lulu's Chocolate Bar

Not only a fantastic place to get a signature martini, but let's not forget they deal in an especially wicked variety of chocolatey goodness.

Runner-up: Gigi's Cupcakes

Best Ice Cream

Leopold's

No surprise here. Native Savannahian and Hollywood produce Stratton Leopold hasn't forgotten his family roots in Savannah small business, much to the delight of local and tourist alike.

Runner-up: Cold Stone Creamery

Best Frozen Yogurt

Lovin' Spoons

Despite the massive influx of fro-yo places on Broughton Street downtown, this Southside locale - there's also one in Pooler - took the top spot.

Runner-up: La Berry

Best Coffeehouse

The Sentient Bean

Sofas to chill on, cool tuneage, wi-fi, good java, tasty food, film screenings, everyone you know... what's not to like?

Runner-up: Gallery Espresso

Best Cup of Coffee

Starbucks

Everyone's secret guilty pleasure.

Runner-up: The Sentient Bean

Best Overall Restaurant

Best Fine Dining

Best Downtown Restaurant

Best Wait Staff

Most Romantic Restaurant

The Olde Pink House

Not only one of Savannah's favorite restaurants but one of our favorite institutions of any type, the Olde Pink House combines enormous history (the first place the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Savannah) with architectural beauty (the pink color's actually an accident - paint bleeding through the stucco) and of course excellent New and Classic Southern cuisine in an excellent atmosphere, delightful to tourists and locals alike.

The Pink House has stepped its game up lately with an extensive remodeling throughout, including a gorgeous and swank street-level bar area on the south façade.

Runner-up, Overall: Leoci's

Runner-up, Fine: Elizabeth on 37th

Runner-up, Wait Staff: Elizabeth on 37th

Runner-up, Downtown: Garibaldi's

Runner-up, Romantic: Elizabeth on 37th

Best Soul Food

Sisters of the New South

Taking over from the "New South Café" - since relocated to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum - the good Sisters dole out a diverse menu of upgraded Southern/Soul Food hits.

Runner-up: Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room

Best French

Papillotte

Don't be fooled by the whole "takeout" thing - this is bona fide gourmet French food. The cassoulet is ce' magnifique.

Runner-up: Brasserie 529

Best Japanese

Miyabi Japanese Steak House

First time win for this extremely popular Southside spot, which also has great sushi to boot.

Runner-up: Hirano's

Best Sushi

Sushi Zen

Perennial winner in this category, courtesy of Chef Yoshi at the helm.

Runner-up: Wasabi's

Best Indian

Taste of India

Quite simply one of the best bargains in Savannah, and one of the tastiest as well.

Runner-up: Pakwan

Best Middle Eastern

Al Salaam

Though set in a humble storefront next to a laundromat in a quiet midtown neighborhood, Al Salaam Deli and Middle Eastern Restaurant has one of the most distinctive interiors of any Savannah establishment.

Owner Meqbe Salameh has wallpapered his restaurant with dozens of National Geographic covers, spanning decades of the magazine's existence.

It's a unique look that fits in perfectly with Mr. Salameh's vision, which he has built over the course of 11 years of running the restaurant with his wife Rosita, a Savannah native.

"It takes many cultures coming together to make a world," he says, pointing to the magazine covers. "Our restaurant is like that too -- we have international people coming here, neighborhood people, everybody."

While many people in town know about the famous National Geographic wallpaper, the real reason people keep coming to Al Salaam is the food. Everything is grilled to order, from falafel to gyros to kebabs.

Other Middle Eastern goodies on the menu include hummus, babaganoush, and baklava.

Whatever you get, it's going to be fresh, zesty, and just the right temperature -- and reasonably priced.

Many gyro places just cut the meat right off the rotisserie and plop it into a pita. Not so at Al Salaam.

"We put it on the grill after we cut it," says Rosita Salameh. "We put the pita on the grill for a few minutes too."

While the Salamehs don't take it on themselves to stuff their pitas with French fries -- a cost-cutting move you see often these days in Europe -- they will do it if you ask them to.

"We get people from other countries, and they ask us to put fries in their gyros," says Rosita. "They expect it that way, so we do it if they ask."

While occasionally Mr. Salameh contemplates moving the restaurant to take advantage of the traffic downtown, he's happy he doesn't have to pay the exorbitant rents downtown which have been the end of many an overeager restaurateur.

Here on Habersham Street, Al Salaam does a steady neighborhood business, whether at rush hour or in between usual meal times.

A native of Jordan, Mr. Salameh worked for awhile in restaurants at Harbour Town on Hilton Head before moving to Savannah and opening Al Salaam.

"I've always liked to cook, even as a kid," he laughs.

Best Chinese

Wangs II

Has anyone else ever won this category? The very model of consistency Wang II made everyone forget Wangs I ever existed. Did it?

Runner-up: Green Tea

Best Italian

Bella's Italian Café

Habersham Village hosts this very popular neighborhood trattoria.

Runner-up: Leoci's

Best Mexican

Jalapeno's

Hearty food and lots of it, washed down with Margaritas from the full bar.

Runner-up: Juarez

Best Greek

Olympia Café

Now one of River Street's most venerable institutions, great for a quick bite or a nice sitdown dinner.

Runner-up: Troy

Best Caribbean

Toucan Café

This popular Southside spot combines casual cuisine with a quality sit-down dining experience.

Runner-up: Rancho Allegre

Best Thai

Saigon Restaurant

This place on Broughton doesn't only deal in Vietnamese - it has a very solid Thai menu as well.

Runner-up: The King and I

Best Vietnamese

Saigon Flavors

Go to Stephenson and Waters for the best Vietnamese food in town, from pho to perfect pork lunch sandwiches.

Runner-up: Saigon Bistro

Best Wings

Wild Wing Cafe

Any way you want 'em, in a fun and lively atmosphere at City Market.

Runner-up: Coach's

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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