An article offering 14 hidden restaurants in Chattanooga has been making the rounds this week on social media.
Although the article has some tasty suggestions, I think the author has misunderstood the definition of "hidden."
Each of the restaurants listed in the article is a great choice for a bite while visiting Chattanooga. There's no issue with the quality of restaurants listed. However, more flavors await as you dig a little deeper. And trust me, it's worth the dig.
I'm not sure if the author meant "hidden gems" instead, but even then it doesn't work. Restaurants that made the list, such as Community Pie, Brewhaus and Puckett's, are the opposite of "hidden" in every sense of the word. All three are located in the most high-trafficked areas of our city for both locals and tourists. All three have highly visible signage from those streets.
Great restaurants, yes. But hidden? Absolutely not.
Fringe eateries Uncle Larry's Restaurant and The Yellow Deli also both made the list. Both are wonderful and weird in their own ways, but I still wouldn't go so far as to say these restaurants are hidden. Both are located on Chattanooga's major downtown cross streets—McCallie Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard—and neither is difficult to find or happen upon accidentally.
To me, a restaurant that is "hidden" is one that is either tucked away in a far corner of the city or is situated under a building with little signage or indication of its presence. It should go without saying that the food should also be good. "Hidden" means nothing if it isn't worth going there in the first place.
Hidden restaurants offer a diner a sense they've stumbled on something special, a place only locals know about. It's an accomplishment to find a true hidden restaurant among a sea of chain restaurants and large establishments.
Here are my five truly hidden restaurants in Chattanooga. I'm sticking with the downtown area on this go-round, but I'd love to explore regionally hidden restaurants in the future. There's no rule that says I can't write two columns about this subject. Let me know in the comments below.
River Street Deli, 151 River St.
If you're not aware of River Street Deli, you're missing out not only on the best deli experience in Chattanooga, but simply one of the best dining experiences period. Located behind the busy Frazier Avenue corridor, the restaurant is truly hidden underneath Blue Skies and Clumpies Ice Cream on the backside of the building. Whenever I can, I'll walk across the bridge on Sunday mornings and get an early lunch. As I mentioned in a Date Night Dining article, there are a few restaurants in Chattanooga that I selfishly cling to my chest because I don't want anyone else to know about them. River Street Deli is the diamond of hidden gems. Owner Bruce Weiss is a pleasure to chat with, and I trust him implicitly when it comes to food and book recommendations.
Lamar's Restaurant, 1018 E. M.L. King Blvd.
They call it the Chrystal Lounge, and the room is the stuff of legend among Chattanooga residents. Velvet wallpaper on the walls, a sign reading "Happy birthday, Savannah" that has been there for years. Lamar's is also known to have some of the best fried chicken (as long as you have an hour or so to kill) in the city, and it's the first place I would take someone who wants a "dive experience." "Hidden" doesn't even do it justice. Hell, you might even walk through the front door and leave without realizing the lounge is in the back. I've never had a bad experience at Lamar's that I can recollect. But that doesn't mean I've not had a bad experience. Do you understand?
Aretha Frankenstein's, 518 Tremont St.
I know, I know. You think the service is nonexistent and/or harsh and that the wait times are ridiculous. I get it. As a Chattanooga resident, I don't often visit Aretha's for those reasons. But if you do go—especially during off-peak hours—the experience can be one of the best in Chattanooga. They're open 7 a.m. to midnight every day and easily have the best pancakes in town. Opened in 2003, the off-the-beaten-path restaurant was one of the first businesses to draw people to the now-popular Tremont area. It's still "hidden," though, and I can't believe it didn't make the author's list of 14. A tip: Blue Plate/Local 191 have the same pancakes.
Opa, 249 River St.
The best Greek food in Chattanooga is not Acropolis. It just isn't. Instead, the best can be found in a tiny white building tucked away behind Frazier Avenue near Coolidge Park. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Opa offers authentic Greek food prepared fresh by chef Michail Borodimos. I'm still amazed at how many people haven't tried the restaurant since it opened. Souvlaki pitas, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and the best tomatoes I've ever eaten can be found at Opa. Don't even get me started on their signature chocolate cake topped with baklava. This place is heaven and a true hidden gem in Chattanooga.
Boccaccia Ristorante Italiano, 3077 S. Broad St.
Alleia has some of the best Italian-fusion cuisine in Chattanooga, but if I'm in the mood for a "fancy" meal (and I'm choosing), it's Boccaccia. Located on South Broad Street on the basement level of the Southern Saddlery Building, Boccaccia is hidden and often forgotten as a place to visit. The interior is rustic, charming; the food is reasonably priced and flavorful. The best aspect? A free plate of pasta and dessert on your birthday. Walking up to Boccaccia for the first time, you get the idea you’re about to step into a speakeasy run by the local mob. But don't let that deter you. It's probably not true. I last wrote about this hidden restaurant in 2013.
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