Oxford, Mississippi has many claims to fame. In addition to being the home of the University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss, Oxford has many literary distinctions and connections. William Faulkner, John Grisham, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Donna Tartt, and Larry Brown have strong ties to Oxford, and because of their presence and influence, many other renowned writers have visited this relatively small Southern town.
In 1979, Richard and Lisa Howorth opened Square Books, aptly named because of its imposing location on the courthouse square. They made reading and literature fun and appealing, and were the first in Oxford to serve cappuccinos, which were very attractive to the student population. It’s homey décor, reading nooks, and balcony overlooking downtown lured customers inside, and its popularity created a natural stop-in spot for established and budding authors.
Square Books expanded and now includes two other locations on the square – Square Books, Jr. (with a wide selection of children’s books), and Off Square Books, which is a half-block away and serves as host for the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Oxford is where James Meredith took his bold stand to be the first African American student to enroll at Ole Miss. A monument on campus honors that achievement. Visitors to Oxford will also enjoy touring Rowan Oak, the former home of William Faulkner, the L.Q.C. Lamar House Museum, or one of the five art galleries in town.
On many fall Saturdays in Oxford, the town will be flooded with alumni and fans supporting the Ole Miss football team and enjoying tailgating before and after the game in The Grove, a large, tree-studded greenspace on campus. You’ll hear cries of “Hotty Toddy” and see tents sporting chandeliers and a sea of red and blue clad people of all ages.
But, even if you aren’t a fan of sports, history, or literature, the culinary scene that has emerged in Oxford is reason enough to visit.
Chef John Currence, Emily Blount, Scott Caradine, and others have shaped the square and the areas nearby into a food-focused landscape with a wide appeal. Here are my top ten recommendations, in no particular order. They are ALL very good.
Will you also be visting Jackson during your time in Mississippi? Check out my guide to the best restaurants in Jackson, MS.
10 Must-Try Restaurants In Oxford, Mississippi
721 North Lamar Boulevard // +1 (662) 236 6363
The name does NOT represent the reality. This is not a snack bar in the normal sense, but is instead a restaurant with a popular happy hour featuring a large menu of cocktails, wine, and beer that serves dinner every night with dishes ranging from oysters on the half shell to burgers, small plates, not-so-small plates, and desserts.
Oysters arrive daily from around the country, and the oyster bar on the restaurant’s lower level is the main attraction. The burgers and small plates have prices that are student-friendly, while the not-so-small plates are more likely to be ordered by the older, established crowd, or when the parents are in town.
Snack Bar shares some of its cooking facilities with its next-door neighbor, Big Bad Breakfast. The owner of both restaurants is John Currence, and the main chef at Snack Bar is Vishwesh Bhatt, who was awarded the title of Best Chef – South by the James Beard Foundation in 2019. Make sure you visit Snack Bar for some of the best food in Oxford.
719 North Lamar Boulevard // +1 (662) 236-2666
As I’ve mentioned, Big Bad Breakfast is directly beside Snack Bar in Oxford. It’s a carefully planned convenience that Big Bad Breakfast serves breakfast and lunch, while Snack Bar offers a happy hour and serves dinner.
Owner/Chef John Currence is a product of the food culture in New Orleans, and is particularly fond of the breakfast meal. He believes you should be able to have a burger or fried chicken for breakfast and eggs for lunch, or vice versa, according to your whim.
Biscuits are made continually throughout the day, and from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, diners may order omelets, breakfast skillets, pancakes, French toast, waffles, or a sandwich, wrap, or burger. Or how about the best of both worlds together, with chicken and waffles?
The concept was an immediate success, and by 2013, the possibility of expanding to other cities came to fruition. There are now seven Big Bad Breakfast locations in five different states. Each is open seven days a week, but the hours vary slightly from city to city. If you’re looking for places to eat in Oxford, check this one out.
766 North Lamar Boulevard // +1 (662) 638-3393
Just across the highway from Snack Bar and Big Bad Breakfast, but with a completely different concept, owner, and menu, you’ll find the The New Oxford Canteen in a converted filling station.
Their grilled cheese has been called the best in Mississippi, but I want to try the Green Goddess Chicken Salad BLAT (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, and Tomato) sandwich served on an English muffin. Or, maybe I’ll time my next visit on Crabcake Tuesday.
At any rate, I can be assured that owner Corbin Evans is committed to partnering with local farmers engaged in sustainable practices. The coffee, by the way, comes from New Orleans.
Currently, they are only open for carry-out and delivery Tuesday through Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The creative carry-out/delivery menu lists such intriguing items as a Blackened Amberjack Po-Boy, Cheesy Chicken Ramen with Fried Egg, Dirty Grains (a combo of rice, quinoa, bell peppers, sweet potato, onions, zucchini, spinach, sriracha, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce) and salted brown butter Rice Krispy treats.
This is the perfect Oxford restaurant to grab some to-go food and take it to The Grove.
211 South Lamar Boulevard // +1 (662) 236-0050
The biggest passion of owner Scott Caradine is probably music, but the food he serves is very good, too. Pizzas may be the headliners (after all, he caters to thousands of hungry university students), but there are plenty of sandwich and salad choices, pasta, jambalaya, and crowd-favorite starters such as toasted ravioli or a combo platter with salsa, spinach/artichoke dip, and chips.
Before the pandemic, Proud Larry’s offered a full schedule of talented musicians on a regular basis, and most of the concerts required tickets that had to be purchased separately from your meal. Large posters of past events, plus those held in larger venues and sponsored by Proud Larry’s, grace the walls.
In mid-June, the restaurant opened back up for both dine-in and carry-out with strict social distancing measures in place. I am quite sure that when it is safe to do so the music will also return. In the meantime, check out Proud Larry’s for casual dining in Oxford.
922 Jackson Avenue East // +1 (662) 380-5141
To say that Saint Leo is an Italian restaurant is a gross understatement. In fact, it offers a distinctly northern Italian cuisine, featuring pizzas baked in a wood-fired Pavesi oven.
Those pizzas can be ordinary or extraordinary depending on your choice of toppings. The antipasti selections and pasta dishes are also outstanding, but the desserts made in-house make the meal a special occasion.
Owner Emily Blount is originally from California, and made it to Mississippi by way of Boston and New York before being lured by her Southern husband. She likes big cities and is using that background to keep things very interesting in Oxford.
A huge recognition came when the James Beard Foundation named Saint Leo as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2017.
Currently, they are in the process of moving right down the street to a larger location that is still on the square and turning the present location into Saint Leo Lounge, which will serve drinks and tapas and no doubt be an attractive gathering spot.
If you want Italian food in Oxford, visit Saint Leo.
152 Courthouse Square // +1 (662) 232-8080
Opened in 1992, City Grocery was the first John Currence restaurant in Oxford. The building was once a 19th-century livery stable, and the exposed brick walls and hardwood floors still hint of that history. Candles and white tablecloths increase the ambiance to a high level.
The menu may seem surprisingly small with only five appetizers, three salads, and six entrees, but each dish is robust and exceptional. Think bourbon-soaked peaches, a Caesar salad with fried oysters or grilled fish from the Gulf of Mexico with rice grits and asparagus.
The menu, in fact, has such a stellar reputation that reservations are not just recommended, they are a MUST if you hope to dine there, especially on a weekend. If you are looking for fine dining in Oxford, include the City Grocery among your choices.
110 Courthouse Square // +1 (662) 234 1968
Boure is considered to be a prime place for college students to go on a nice date. The prices are moderate, and the menu options range from familiar to slightly adventurous.
This is also a brainchild of John Currence and reflects the influence of his New Orleans upbringing with its Creole flavors and dishes. Diners can expect to find great burgers, salads full of locally sourced produce, and wonderful sandwiches, but also a fried crawfish basket, a shrimp po-boy, and pasta jambalaya, among other enticing items.
The building is on the square in what was originally Leslie’s Drug Store. The dining room is back open again, but there is also a popular dining balcony with a great view of all the action in downtown. Boure is a great spot for a family dinner in Oxford with a menu to appeal to all ages.
710 North Lamar Boulevard // +1 (662) 236-1871
Open for curbside to-go orders, dine-in, and outdoor seating, Volta Taverna is Oxford’s well-known Greek restaurant serving up traditional Greek dishes.
As with many restaurants on this list, the building where Volta is located had a previous life. In this case, it was as a car repair and oil change garage. It is often described as cool and funky, and locals rave about the food. Imagine hummus, gyros, and Greek pizza, of course, but what about Hotty Toddy balls? That eye-catching appetizer is made of garlic mashed potatoes, bacon, and mozzarella cheese, mixed and fried. That’s enough to make ME say “Hotty Toddy!”
Mediterranean words such as falafel, pita, lamb, and souvlaki dance across the menu, along with the highly anticipated baklava for dessert.
There is a kid’s menu full of “normal” items, so the kids can be satisfied while the parents try flavors from faraway places. For a Mediterranean flair in Oxford, try Volta.
118 Courthouse Square // +1 (662) 232 8880
Ajax Diner is the place to go if you’re looking for just good ol’ Southern comfort foods, such as turkey and dressing or chicken and dumplings. According to their website, they have been serving Oxford folks for twenty-two years and have dished up three hundred million butter beans, but who’s counting?
Ajax is also on the square and has a popular meat and three plate, in addition to burgers, sandwiches, and “The Big Easy” which is said to be football legend Eli Manning’s favorite. Online ordering is simple, and I advise you to not leave Oxford without sampling fried okra, squash casserole, chocolate chess pie, and banana pudding.
While you’re looking for a place to eat in the south, go southern, and try this Oxford restaurant.
1110 Van Buren Avenue // +1 +(662) 234 7003
The McEwen’s reputation began and continues just ninety minutes up the road from Oxford in Memphis, Tennessee, but the dining and cuisine style migrated to a prime location on the courthouse square in 2011.
After a couple of years of trying to replicate the Memphis menu in Oxford, the owners and chef agreed that they needed a few tweaks in order to be fully adopted by the small-town people of Oxford, who differed in their preferences to the big-city folks of Memphis. Those tweaks paid off and McEwen’s in Oxford is now widely recognized for its excellent food, great service, and appealing atmosphere.
A signature entrée is the Chilean seabass, and the banana cream pie is a must-try dessert.
But the local farmers get in the act at lunchtime. Farmers contribute what is fresh out of the ground that day, and the chef turns it into a Farmer’s Plate. Recently, for example, the Farmer’s Plate consisted of creamy mushroom soup, stewed leeks, sauteed kale, and onion rings.
Diners can be assured of many other options created from locally sourced produce with distinctly Mississippian flavors.
A bonus suggestion is The Sipp on South Lamar. It is an Oxford original offering small plates along with wine and bourbon flights. Although not technically a full-on restaurant, it is increasing in popularity with locals and those from out of town.
As you can tell, Oxford cuisine ranges from budget-friendly college student choices to the preferences of highly refined foodies. The commitment to serving great food runs deep, and those who visit will reap the benefits. The message is clear that your tastebuds will be satisfied in this proud Southern town. Whatever your choice of cuisine, Oxford restaurants will deliver a consistently satisfying meal.
Which of these Oxford, MS restaurants do you most want to try? Let us know in the comments section below!
Connie Pearson retired from past careers as a public school music teacher and as a missionary. She is currently a freelance travel and food writer and blogger based in Hartselle, Alabama. She has over 200 published articles in 24 different print and online publications, and her blog is There Goes Connie. Connie enjoys sampling regional cuisine wherever she goes and is a certified judge for the World Food Championships.