A historic Southern college town, Oxford is a charming combination of genteel sophistication and laidback friendliness. Located in the northern Mississippi county of Lafayette, Oxford packs a generous amount of nonstop activity, endless fun, and fabulous food into its 10 square mile footprint.
Oxford is home to Ole Miss, the main campus of the University of Mississippi, the birthplace of best-selling author, John Grisham, and the estate of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, William Faulkner. The town sports a historic courthouse square with unique bookstores and the oldest department store in the South, but it’s Oxford’s impressive food scene that is currently garnering national attention.
My husband and I spent two delightful days exploring Oxford and sampling some of the town’s eclectic edibles. Here are seven food spots we highly recommend you try.
For this article, we were generously hosted by Visit Oxford. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
1. Tarasque Cucina
“Homey” describes Tarasque Cucina to a “T,” not only because of the comforting food and friendly service but because the restaurant is located in a converted ranch-style house. The restaurant is owned and operated by Chef John Stokes and his wife Lauren, who pride themselves on the freshness and flavor of their offerings highlighting Mississippi’s bounty.
Tarasque Cucina is known for its small plates and classic pastas, so my husband and I decided to share three dishes. We began with plump mussels in a white wine sauce with spicy sesame bread butts for dipping, followed by an attractive sunflower sprout Caesar salad with sunflower sprouts, napa cabbage, and featuring a zesty Caesar dressing. Capellini Puttanesca, thin pasta with a spicy tomato sauce, capers, Taggiasco olives, and shaved Grana Padano, brought up the rear, or so we thought. We were ready to stop right there, but our charming server brought us the most unique and most scrumptious tiramisu we ever tasted. The dessert consisted of layers of sponge cake, satiny zabaglione cream with what we learned was a touch of homemade lemon bitters. Nilla Wafers completed the lavish concoction. Each dish was superb, and the service impeccable.
After you place your order at the counter, you can choose to dine indoors or enjoy your meal on the patio. The dining room is wheelchair accessible, but getting to the patio involves going back outside and around through the parking lot.
Tarasque Cucina is BYOB with a charge of $2 per person for the glasses.
Pro Tip: Tarasque Cucina is a true hidden treasure, since non-locals may find it difficult to locate. You’ll find it tucked away behind Kiamie’s Wine & Liquor Store, which is convenient if you forget to bring something to drink.
2. Big Bad Breakfast
When you start your day at Big Bad Breakfast (BBB), you’ll be won over by the restaurant’s eye-opening offerings that are not only creative but arrive hot, fast, and full of flavor. Everything is made from scratch, including BBB’s signature house-cured Tabasco brown sugar bacon.
Try the Crumble, a lively concoction of a crumbled biscuit, grits, tomato gravy, crumbled bacon, poached eggs, and green onion. Or tuck into a Redneck Benny, featuring two poached eggs, country ham, and sausage gravy, piled on a biscuit, with a side of grits. For The High Lonesome, A fried egg crowns a dish of shrimp and grits, making this Southern classic breakfast worthy.
You can order up a stack of pancakes, waffles, or a skillet breakfast like Yard Work, with two scrambled eggs, assorted vegetables, sweet potato hash, and goat and Swiss cheese. Don’t feel like breakfast? BBB also serves burgers, fried chicken, and other Southern staples. Whatever you choose, you can wash it down with a breakfast cocktail or some of BBB’s excellent coffee.
Pro Tip: BBB is owned by James Beard Award winner John Currence, Top Chef Masters contestant, and owner of four popular Oxford restaurants plus two catering businesses. If you fall in love with the food at BBB, you might want to try City Grocery and Boure (for fine dining), as well as Snackbar (for its raw oysters).
3. Proud Larry’s
If you’re looking for some music to accompany a good meal, then Proud Larry’s is the venue for you. The restaurant serves an eclectic assortment of delectable pizzas, sandwiches, salads, mains, and snacks in an upbeat atmosphere.
I recommend the artichoke spinach dip for sharing. It’s hot, cheesy, with a subtle herby undertone. The chicken fajita salad features grilled marinated chicken breast atop a bed of mixed greens, along with tomatoes, jalapeños, black beans, tortilla chips, and grilled onions and peppers, served with a tangy cumin-citrus vinaigrette. Added to all this are portions of cheddar, mozzarella, salsa, and sour cream. I was set for the rest of the day with some in a takeout box. My husband, on the other hand, happily polished off the Philly cheesesteak, with chopped rib-eye steak, sautéed onions, bell peppers, and banana peppers. The entire sandwich was slathered with melted provolone and served on French bread. I had to snag just one of his sweet potato fries, and it was excellent.
Just as popular as Proud Larry’s food is the music. Concerts are occasionally free, but most have a reasonable charge. Information on dates and prices can be found on the restaurant’s website. Proud Larry’s is wheelchair accessible on the ground level, where the concerts are held.
Pro Tip: If you come to Proud Larry’s for dinner and music, you’ll want to purchase tickets in advance, or you might not be able to stay for the concert.
Combine a casual Greek-style taverna with a repurposed service station, and you have Volta. The large outdoor deck and selection of small plates make for a friendly atmosphere where folks come to unwind and delight in flavors of the Mediterranean.
Familiar favorites like hummus and pita and crunchy falafel balls combine with new takes like Buffalo Cauliflower. A solo or shared meal of small dishes can become an adventure for the tastebuds. Now all you need to make your meal complete is one of Volta’s frozen margaritas.
5. Oxford Canteen
Another gas station turned restaurant is Oxford Canteen, with a casual vibe and an all-day menu that is anything but boring.
Start your day with a bowl of cheesy chicken ramen topped with a fried egg, avocado toast, a breakfast taco, or breakfast burrito. If you prefer lunchtime food, go for a traditional Fried Bologna Sandwich, Beef-Brisket Grilled Cheese with Sriracha Mayo, or Grilled Goat Cheese. We wanted our sandwiches on sourdough bread, which is reputed to be excellent, but by the time we placed our order, there was none left.
6. Ajax Diner
You know you’ll get a generous stick-to-your-ribs meal at Ajax Diner, if for no other reason than this Oxford eatery is a popular grazing ground for Ole Miss students. If you’re craving some down-home cooking, this diner will fill you up with Southern comfort on a plate.
Located on Oxford’s charming town square, Ajax Diner has been serving up Southern classics like chicken and dumplings, fried catfish, and fried chicken since 1997, But that’s not all you will find at this family-owned meat and three. The menu is extensive with plates like fried oysters, fried shrimp, chicken fried steak, grilled ham, and pork chops. You can also opt for a salad, burger, barbecue sandwich, or choose from an assortment of Po’boys. The variety of vegetables and sides is just as extensive. Fried okra, squash casserole, steamed broccoli, butter beans, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, and sweet potato casserole are only a few of the choices. And let’s not forget the cornbread and the gravy. With so many tasty options, the challenge at Ajax is to decide what to try first.
7. Uptown Coffee
Whether you’re in the mood for a quick breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up, Uptown Coffee has just what you need to get you moving. Unlike the coffee chain that shall not be named, Uptown’s coffee is bold, flavorful, and tastes like good coffee should. We grabbed some coffee as we were about to leave Oxford, and found it to be a pleasant surprise. If we pass that way again, I plan to treat myself to a latte or cappuccino.
If, in your world, coffee isn’t exactly the elixir of life, Uptown serves a variety of hot and cold teas, smoothies, and soft drinks, along with apple cider and hot chocolate.
You can pick out a perfect accompaniment for your beverage of choice from a tantalizing selection of scones, muffins, pastries, cookies, and cakes. On the savory side, try a sausage and biscuit sandwich, or a breakfast taco with bacon, egg, and cheese or potato, egg, and cheese. And don’t forget a bag of assorted chocolate-covered espresso beans for future snacking.
Pro Tip: Unless you’re a die-hard college football fan, you might want to make sure Ole Miss won’t be playing at home during your visit. Win or lose, Oxford’s bars and restaurants will be full to overflowing.
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