All the Restaurants True Atlantans Should Eat At
There are several things you have to do before you can be considered a legitimate resident of our great Southern city. Finding a place to live and obtaining an ID card are the first steps. But you’ll also need to seek the kind of places where many a great man or woman before your time blissfully let their bodies go, where gravy dishes are part of the table setup, and they’re refilled more than the water glasses. Speaking of those places, it’s mandatory that you visit and patronize them, and now you’re armed with a list specifically designed for that. Welcome to Atlanta.
Now that they’ve named a Midtown street after the famous Georgia-born and Georgia-singing songstress (not sure why The Pips didn’t get any love), it’s pretty much the law that you have to eat here at least once. It’s not cheap (particularly for chicken and waffles), and it’s not mind-blowing, but there’s a perpetual line outside every weekend morning (sometimes weekdays, too), and the general vibe of community will make you feel glad(ys) you stopped in.
It’s no secret that SV is an exception to the incorrect theory that food without meat is not amazingly good. You can walk into this long-standing veggie/vegan establishment not far from the Atlanta University Center wearing the same meat-dress that Lady Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV Awards, eat a lentil burger, and come out ready to strip butt-naked and sign a peace treaty with cows.
If we’re being real, Majestic isn’t really doing anything different than Landmark Diner, Buckhead Diner, or any other diner in town with bright lights, late hours, and decent-enough eats. But we’ve all -- yes, you too; don’t lie -- had that night where we knew the only thing that could save us from the suffering of a hungover morning was the endearing greasy spoon goodness of this Ponce people’s champ.
The place is over 70 years old and was officially named “Atlanta’s Dining Room” by the City of Atlanta in a 2011 resolution. Read any online traveler’s guides and you’ll be convinced that there’s no way to visit Atlanta without eating here. There are pencils and paper sheets on your table for you to write your own order, a tradition of MM’s that dates wayyy back. They’ll also give you a free cup of collard green juice (“Pot Likker”) if you ask. Oh, and there’s a sweet lady who will give you a back rub before dinner. For real.
Nobody’s saying it’s competing with spots like St. Cecilia, but the fact that MARTA trains stopping at North Ave are programmed to tell you you’re close to it says it all. The place was founded in 1928, was featured in Gone with the Wind, and has had three presidents stop by for meals (Carter, Bush, and Clinton). Basically, you need to go here just to say you did.
It’s a staple of the West End neighborhood, and has been shouted out by T.I., Goodie Mob, Young Jeezy, and other revered ATL rap artists -- and never in disrespectful terms. There’s a rosemary chicken dish almost always available that will turn a comfort food atheist into a believer, any given Sunday.
Today, the debate rages on whether or not they should have been on our newest Best BBQ in ATL list, but alas, they weren’t. Regardless, locals don’t seem to care that the ribs are allegedly boiled, then grilled. They’ll just tell you it’s your civic duty to at least have a bite.
The Cheshire Bridge comfort food institution, born in 1927, was originally located at the corner of Lindbergh and Piedmont. In the ‘60s, it moved and developed a rejuvenated reputation as a place where you could get reliable local dishes like North Georgia trout, as well as unique nightly specials, which are known to include unexpected items like BBQ kangaroo.
You forgot about Ray’s on the River, didn’t you? Well, a lot of other people didn’t, which is why the respected steak/seafood joint is still regularly packed 30+ years after opening on the bank of the Chattahoochee River. Serving everything from gumbo to oysters, lobster rolls, and 21-day wet-aged, hand-cut Delmonico ribeye steaks, Ray’s is still a favorite among those who appreciate consistency, fanciness, and an impeccable waterside view.
There are several locations, but the one that matters the most is the Tri-Cities spot. This location was the springboard from which the Cathy family made billions by throwing billions of nuggets and chicken sandwiches into your mouth via the restaurant they launched later: Chick-Fil-A. There’s nothing else to say here, other than a reminder that a 24-hour Chick-Fil-A that operates like a Waffle House is where you want to always be... unless it’s Sunday.
Atkins Park is our oldest continually running restaurant (it began as a deli in 1922), and the figurative cornerstone of Virginia-Highland. It’s also done a great job staying relevant and beloved by Atlantans, with reliably solid burgers, sandwiches, and entrees like short rib pot roast for the regular folks, as well as a beer selection that beats a lot of newer and trendier places in the beloved Va-Hi district.
In the past year, some significant things have happened at The Busy Bee. There was that time all the legendary '80s-era rappers dined there together, and that other time Bernie Sanders and Killer Mike broke bread and fried chicken bones in political fellowship. Some would say it’s “hot” again, but it’s had hot sauce ready for hungry guests and neighbors since icons of the Civil Rights Movement dined there for strategy sessions.
You don’t quite understand Atlanta until you’ve had a delicious, yet somehow ridiculously healthy breakfast (lots of organic, free-range, gluten-free and raw food options on the menu), at any random time of the day, in a cavernous space with fluorescent lighting and colorful talking parrots. Eat here to know Atlanta, and know yourself. Or, you know, just to get full and feel refreshingly weird all at the same time.
OK, so it’s a KFC. The chicken is fried, the potatoes are mashed and topped with gravy, the biscuits are baked, etc. The only thing that makes it somewhat different and an ATL landmark is, well, the extremely large, 56ft tall wooden chicken, which towers over all and will one day be worshipped by the true believers when the Great Chicken Rapture comes to pass, as predicted by the prophet Foghorn Leghorn.
It’s obvious that franchisees will put one of these taverns damn-near anywhere they can find an open building (sorry JRC, but the “The Original” sign outside what used to be the North Ave IHOP isn’t fooling anybody). However, we’re cool with the randomness of location because the wings are good. The beer? Eh, we’ll be nice and say it’s wet enough to drink, but who cares about froth and fizz when you can get a super-cheap pitcher of Heineken?
Yes, it’s a rotating restaurant on top of a Downtown hotel, so there’s that. But you’d be mistaken to think that just because such a concept is far from new that Polaris slacks on innovative dishes. Sure, there are other places where you can spin around until you’re dizzy and grab a sandwich, but where else in ATL can you expect apps like brandy rabbit boudin w/ fried pork belly cracklings, or caramelized Benton’s bacon popcorn? Or entrees like cold-smoked Kurobuta pork tenderloin, or slow-stewed red chile chicken? Nowhere but Polaris.
Long before anybody started seriously competing over who made ATL’s best burger, it was generally agreed upon that the biker-haven bar and resto with the giant skull sculpture entry was always a top contender. The same group of siblings still own Vortex, and though the original West Midtown location changed to a wider nearby space on Peachtree (where the owners built out Laughing Skull Lounge from the extra room), the famously “idiot-free” establishment’s locals have kept that same old good feeling alive.
No one would be surprised if they told us one day on the news that PPP was raided because it was secretly a hangout for immortal vampires on some From Dusk till Dawn or Blade shit. Even though the actual year of opening was 1967, everybody there seems to have known each other literally forever. Plus it’s named after a character from Gone with the Wind, and their plates of Southern fried chicken seem to mimic the movie title soon after they reach your seat at the dinner table.
Sign up here for our daily Atlanta email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun the ATL has to offer.
Mike Jordan didn’t have to eat at every restaurant on this list to know how ATL feels about the ones included, but he tried anyway. If you need further recommendations on what to eat when you visit, tweet @michaelbjordan.