The city of Athens is known more for football than food. But what many SEC football fans may not know is that Athens is actually home to some of the best comfort foods in the Southeast. Inspired by the hit Food Network series, here are a few of my favorites:

Macaroni & Cheese at Strickland's Restaurant

chicken, cheese
Srishti Mishra

Being the picky eater that I am, mac 'n cheese is no exception. In my opinion, it is indeed possible to screw up mac 'n cheese (oh and don't even get me started on my eternal hatred for Kraft). So I was very skeptical when I saw Strickland's version at a UGA tailgate a few months ago.

But holy shit was I wrong. Strickland's mac 'n cheese exceeded all of my expectations and I still daydream about it in my free time. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the cheese sauce was just the right viscosity and just the right amount of cheesy.

The best part is Strickland's didn't even try to be fancy, they embraced the simplicity of the dish. And for that I am forever thankful. 

General Breakfast Cuisine at The Big Family Cafe

This place is what "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" dreams are made of. No seriously. Typical of most joints featured on Guy Fieri's hit show, the cafe is located on the side of an easy-to-miss, fairly run-down strip mall on the West Side of Athens, but the food is worth the small search.

In fact the high quality of the food exceeds its considerably low prices so much that, for probably the first time in my collegiate career, my heart did not sink when the check showed up at the end of my scrumptious, continental breakfast. 

Biscuits & Jam at Mama's Boy Restaurant 

If the biscuits and jam don't grab your attention the moment you sit down at Mama's Boy, idk what will. The biscuits may be square and massive compared to the petite and traditional round shape everybody is familiar with, but don't let 'em fool you because they're fluffier than your meemaw's goose-feather pillows and more addictive than her sweet tea - but don't worry, that secret will stay between us.

And the homemade jam is absolute perfection. You can tell it's authentic stuff, because there's still seeds in there. And let's be honest - ya can't fake seeds. And this is not one of those foods that tastes weird with seeds in it. The viscosity is on point, because it's not watery or oddly-runny, but it's also not jiggly or gel thick.

Stone-ground Grits at South Kitchen + Bar

Grits are a Southern staple food that non-Southerners love to hate on. I guess grits are an acquired taste. But what many out-of-towners may not be aware of is their grits-consuming experience could be greatly attributed to the fact that the is a right way and a wrong way to cook them *gives major side-eye to summer camp cafeterias*.

Over the years of consuming grits, I've come to the realization that the cheesier the better—this is also coming from a girl who strongly believes that a massive amount of cheese can fix virtually any dish.

So what's the one restaurant that gets the cheese-to-grits ratio correct every time? South Kitchen + Bar for sure. It's probably not their #1 Most Requested Dish Ever, but it is the #1 dish that I mostly request.

Cinnamon Rolls at Cinnaholic 

One of the newest culinary establishments along Athens' famous Broad Street, Cinnaholic is serving up some vegan realness. Okay but in full disclosure, if nobody told me this place was vegan, I would have no idea because the rolls are that great. Nevertheless clearly some form of sorcery was involved in creating these yummy rolls of sweet deliciousness. 

Cake at Cecelia Villaveces Cakes

This bakery is Athens's best kept secret. Well it was until Southern Living had to go and blab about it. All jokes aside, this family-owned establishment deserves all the media attention, because their cakes are truly one-of-a-kind (and I don't even like cake).

You can taste the freshness in every bite and can literally feel the love ooze out of the icing. And the best part? These bougie desserts are totally affordable starting at a base price of $16 for a whole cake.  

Beer Dip at Pauley's Crepe Bar 

As someone who immigrated to the United States at a very young age, I'm always confused yet oddly fascinated with American cuisine. From specialty dishes like the quintessential meatloaf to the insert-random-combo-of-ingredients-here casseroles, or in this particular case, tailgate cuisine.

Like wtf even is beer dip? I mean, the concept of why it's perfectly acceptable for an alcoholic beverage to intermingle with a dairy product is beyond me. But boy oh boy did Pauley's show me up.

I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever eaten a more gourmet all-American appetizer than Pauley's very own Terrapin Dip. This unique-to-non-tailgaters dish is made with shredded Cheddar and local beer sourced from Terrapin Beer Co. and served with some sort of crispy carbohydrate made in-house (usually pita chips or crostini).

Like South Kitchen + Bar, I'm sure the terrapin dip is not Pauley's #1 moneymaker. However, the dip is unique to their restaurant and certainly attracts predominantly the Panhellenic masses. But hey, if you can't make it all the way out to Athens, GA for a taste, no worries cause Spoon UGA gotchu

Eggs Benedict at Five and Ten

smoked salmon, bacon, egg
Srishti Mishra

Whether you get 'em poached, coddled, cured, soft-boiled, or simply sunny side up, these folks do a mighty fine job with the basic egg. My personal favorite egg dish originates from their Brunch menu (aka the 5&10 Benedict).

The latke serves as the perfect carb-laden vehicle for the poached eggs, the true showstopper. The poached eggs are complemented by the creaminess of the hollandaise sauce that goes hand-in-hand with their thick slab of delicious bacon.

And let's not forget the smoked salmon, which enrobes the dish providing the perfect amount of seafood saltiness in every bite. It's truly an egg-lover's dream.

Best Mocktail at Five and Ten

5&10 has a bomb cocktail menu to complement any egg dish on their menu, although my personal favorite is their signature mocktail The Calypso Singer. Even though the ingredients found within The Calypso Singer seem like they belong in a homemade medicinal concoction, the mocktail actually tastes like the inside of a Thai restaurant (in the best way possible).

I downed my first one before even being seated for dinner and insisted on a second one to accompany my meal. #worthit.