Chef Jeff Buben has decided to close Vidalia, his longtime Southern restaurant. (Joseph Victor Stefanchik for The Washington Post)

After more than two decades of serving Southern fare to Washington, Vidalia is closing its doors.

Chef Jeff Buben, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Sallie, decided he would end the restaurant's run when its lease expired. Vidalia's last day of service for lunch and dinner will be Dec. 15.

Buben opened the restaurant in the subterranean space south of Dupont Circle in 1993. "You know one day it's going to end," he said.

Hamilton Johnson, foreground, seen with David Guas at the 2012 FreshFarm Markets Farmland Feast, is taking over Vidalia's space to open Honeysuckle. (Rebecca D'Angelo for The Washington Post) Hamilton Johnson, foreground, seen with David Guas at the 2012 FreshFarm Markets Farmland Feast, is taking over Vidalia's space to open Honeysuckle. (Rebecca D'Angelo for The Washington Post)

Buben called the closure "bittersweet." When Vidalia closes, he'll be turning over the keys to Hamilton Johnson, his former chef de cuisine. Johnson will turn the space into Honeysuckle, his first restaurant and a concept he's been tweaking since it initially debuted as a pop-up at Prequel last year. Johnson said Honeysuckle will be an "American regional" spot, with some Southern accents.

"This was a great situation where he's looking to do a restaurant, and the timing just worked out perfectly," Buben said of Johnson, who spent about seven years at Vidalia. "We need more chef-owners in the city. It's very tough for an independent restaurateur to get a hold in the city."

"What's happening couldn't be a better, a more fit ending to the whole thing," Buben said. "I wouldn't do it with anyone else other than Hamilton."

For years, Vidalia maintained a reputation as one of Washington's top restaurants. As recently as 2014, Post food critic Tom Sietsema gave it three out of four stars. In the 2016 Spring Dining Guide, however, Sietsema awarded it only one and a half stars, noting "no meal made me sadder this year than my last visit to Vidalia" and speculating that Johnson's departure was partially to blame.

Johnson will oversee a complete renovation of his old digs, with Honeysuckle expected to open in mid-January.

"I think it works beautifully for both parties," Johnson said, calling the transition something of a "homecoming."

Buben's other two restaurants, Bistro Bis and Woodward Table (which includes the adjacent WTF quick-serve spot), will remain open.

Read more:

The month of October in restaurant openings and closings

Vidalia review: A Southern dream no more