Food & Drink

All the Restaurants True Atlantans Should Eat At

Published On 03/17/2016 Published On 03/17/2016

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.

Flickr/Derek Baird

Gladys Knight’s Signature Chicken & Waffles

Downtown

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.

Soul Vegetarian

West End

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.

Majestic Diner

Poncey-Highland

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.

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Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Poncey-Highland

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.

The Varsity

Midtown

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.

Chanterelles

West End

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.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

Morningside

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 Colonnade

Morningside

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. 

Ray’s on the River

Cumberland

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.

Riverdale Dwarf House Chick-fil-A

The Dwarf House

Hapeville

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

Virginia-Highland

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. 

The Busy Bee Cafe

West End

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.

R. Thomas Deluxe Grill

R. Thomas Deluxe Grill

Buckhead

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.

The Big Chicken

Marietta

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. 

JR Crickets

Midtown

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?  

Polaris

Polaris

Downtown

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. 

The Vortex

Little 5 Points

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.

Pittypat’s Porch

Downtown

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. 

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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.

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1. Gladys Knight & Ron Winans Chicken and Waffles 529 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Downtown)

From the “The Empress of Soul” herself, GKRWCW is the undisputed bastion of Atlanta chicken and waffles. With brunch all day, this down-home, Southern eatery serves up all the classic dishes you could want, including fried green tomatoes, collared green spring rolls, and more.

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2. Soul Vegetarian No. 2 652 N Highland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 (Little 5 Points)

"Your health is your wealth" at this homey little Atkins Park joint. Serving up meatless and dairy-free takes on your Southern comfort favorites and a few Mediterranean meals, Soul Vegetarian substitutes beef ribs for kalebone, tofu, and cauliflower steaks for barbecue full of spice, and sandwiches, gyros, and rice platters come piled high with the same veggies in disguise for a dining experience that's healthy but no less flavorful.

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3. Majestic Diner 1031 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 (Midtown)

An Atlanta landmark since 1929, Majestic Diner offers up "food that pleases," including milkshakes, pancakes, hamburgers, waffles, and just about any other comfort food you crave. Bright lights, late hours, and endearing greasy spoon goodness-- what more do you really need?

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4. Mary Mac's Tea Room 224 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Midtown)

At Mary Mac's Tea Room, patrons can enjoy a taste of authentic Southern cooking and hospitality. This means heaping plates of staples like fried chicken, braised ox tails, and grilled liver and onions, as well as a number of specialty drinks like the Mint Julep and Georgia Peach. The place is over 70 years old and was officially named “Atlanta’s Dining Room” by the City of Atlanta. 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 (pre-Bieber).

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5. The Varsity 61 North Ave NW, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Downtown)

Billed as "the world's largest drive-in," The Varsity in downtown Atlanta can accommodate up to 600 cars and 800 patrons. Each day, the drive-in sells more than two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of fresh-cut potatoes, 5,000 homemade fried pies, and a ton of onion rings (literally). The place was founded in 1928, was featured in Gone with the Wind, and has had been visited by three presidents (Carter, Bush, and Clinton). Basically, you need to go here just to say you did.

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6. Chanterelle's 646 Evans St SW, Atlanta, GA 30310 (West End)

Chanterelle's is a staple of the West End neighborhood, and has been given a s/o by T.I., Goodie Mob, Young Jeezy, and other revered ATL rap artists -- and never in disrespectful terms. There’s a rosemary chicken dish that will turn a comfort food atheist (do they exist?) into a believer.

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7. The Colonnade Restaurant 1879 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30324 (Morningside)

Being such an Atlanta institution, they pack a full bar with heavy pours. And with over two-dozen regular sides, including “rice & giblet gravy,” you can have a different version of their delicious fried chicken for a month. It’s a place you can get reliable local dishes like North Georgia trout, as well as unique nightly specials, which are known to include unexpected grub like BBQ kangaroo.

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8. Ray's on the River 6700 Powers Ferry Road, Sandy Springs, Sandy Springs, GA 30339

The respected steak and 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 (so, uh, everyone?).

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9. Dwarf House 461 N Central Ave, Hapeville, GA 30354

The original Chick-fil-A, a.k.a. The Dwarf House, is a pint sized eatery that's open late serving all your favorite fried chicken faves. There are several locations, but the Tri-Cities spot was the springboard from which the Cathy family made billions by throwing billions of nuggets and chicken sandwiches into your mouth. 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.

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10. Atkins Park Restaurant 794 N Highland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 (Virginia Highland)

Atkins Park is Atlanta's oldest continually-running restaurant (it began as a deli in 1922) and the figurative cornerstone of Virginia-Highland. It remained relevant and beloved by Atlantans, with solid burgers, sandwiches, and entrees like short rib pot roast. Its beer selection beats a lot of newer and trendier places in the beloved Va-Hi district--there's a wide assortment of canned, bottled, and draft beer available, as well as a varied selection of wines. AK offers late-night drinking and family-friendly dining under the same roof.

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11. Busy Bee Cafe 810 Martin Luther King Jr Dr SW, Atlanta, GA 30314 (West End)

Busy Bee Cafe serves traditional Southern eats. Their specialty is a 12 ­hour ­marinated masterpiece that draws fans from Macon to Marietta, and the only way to eat it is “smothered” in pan gravy. In the past year, Bernie Sanders and Killer Mike broke bread and fried chicken bones in political fellowship. Some would say BBC is “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.

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12. R. Thomas Deluxe Grill 1812 Peachtree St NW, Atlanta, GA 30309 (Buckhead)

This is the best 24-hour place in Buckhead. It's got all your classic American fare, but the stand-out is the the signature R. Thomas quesadilla with a perfect combo of eggs, bacon, cheese, and greens. It's delicious, yet somehow ridiculously healthy. Food's made of organic, free-range, gluten-free and raw food options. At any time of day, it's got 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.

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13. Big Chicken 12 Cobb Pkwy N, Marietta, GA 30062 (Marietta)

The chicken is fried, the potatoes are mashed and topped with gravy, the biscuits are baked-- the menu features all you can expect from a KFC. The only thing that makes it 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.

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14. JR Crickets 129 North Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Midtown)

JR's been slinging delicious, possibly-the-best chicken wings in the ATL since 1982, and you can get 'em in a variety of flavors, from lemon-pepper, to Buffalo-BBQ, to Buffalo-teriyaki, and more. Also worth mentioning: their kick-a ranch and bleu cheese sauces.

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15. Polaris 265 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30303

Polaris is a rotating restaurant on top of a Downtown hotel. Expect apps like brandy rabbit boudin with fried pork belly cracklings and caramelized Benton’s bacon popcorn, or entrees like cold-smoked Kurobuta pork tenderloin, or slow-stewed red chile chicken? It's THE place for proposals and graduations -- especially after the one-million-dollar renovation -- and rotates every 45 minutes.

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16. The Vortex 438 Moreland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 (Little 5 Points)

This sibling-owned bar and restaurant in Little Five Points is a self-proclaimed "Official Idiot-Free Zone," and they're notorious for kicking out rude or high-maintenance customers to create a laid-back and fun crowd (they're usually pretty young, too). It's hard to imagine why anyone here would be picky with their food when they've got such a massive selection of whopping, diverse signature burgers like the Hawaiian-themed Freaky Tiki and the Holy Guacamole (self-explanatory), along with a hefty selection of local draft beers (and beer cocktails), cocktails and shooters.

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17. Pittypat's Porch 25 Andrew Young International Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30303 (Downtown)

Serving up soul food with traditional Southern offerings, you can wash your meal down with a glass (or three) of “Pittypat’s Punch,” which is a a delicious mix of moonshine and fruit juice cocktail. It’s named after a character from Gone with the Wind, and PP's plates of Southern fried chicken seem to mimic the movie title soon after they reach your seat at the dinner table.

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