All-Time Greats

The 19 Most Essential Food Experiences in Atlanta

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If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that our favorite restaurant today isn’t guaranteed to be here tomorrow. So let’s enjoy our city’s legendary restaurants while we still can, shall we? Atlanta has a bevy of new and exciting places to try, but let’s not forget about the stalwarts of the scene either. From the fancy to the frill-less, any restaurant, or experience, on this list is worth visiting at least once. 

Grab a bite at Ponce City Market

Old Fourth Ward
It’s hard to miss the behemoth Ponce City Market. The former Sears, Roebuck warehouse now houses a food hall, boutiques, and apartments and while it is touristy it’s still worth checking out. In the food hall you’ll find such tempting options as Indian street food restaurant Botiwalla, and H&F Burger. On the second level there’s Pizza Jean’s (they make pizza dough using house-milled flour, come on!) and the recently opened Bar Vegan (think fancy drinks and vegan Philly cheesesteaks).

Sop up the farm egg at Miller Union

West Midtown
Miller Union is an Atlanta institution, best known for Steven Satterfield’s whimsical touch with vegetables. The star of the menu, though, just might be the farm egg. The egg is baked in rich, earthy celery cream. It also comes with grilled bread which you’ll wish you had more of to ensure you get every last bite. 
How to order: Order online via website

Look for the rainbow umbrella and order a King of Pop

Various locations
It’s not an Atlanta festival or day at the park without King of Pops. Atlanta’s ubiquitous popsicle brand can be found scattered around the city pedaling fruity pops from under their signature rainbow umbrellas. Sure, you can buy them at Whole Foods now but that’s not nearly as fun as buying one when you’re working up a sweat on the BeltLine. 

Dine at the nationally lauded Staplehouse

Old Fourth Ward
Staplehouse was an instant hit when it opened in 2015, and it’s no wonder why. Chef-owner Ryan Smith prepares whimsically plated dishes with a minimalist’s approach that lets ingredients shine. When it’s open for regular service, the menu changes often and you’re guaranteed seasonal produce as well as delectable menu staples like the fluffy potato rolls. These days, Staplehouse has artfully reinvented itself as a market. Guests can purchase beer and wine as well as provisions like produce and charcuterie. Most importantly, diners can still eat Smith’s food in takeout form. The menu is limited and features items like grains with mushrooms and a farm egg, and smoked brisket sold by the pound. Enjoy it on their back patio or take it home with you.

Eat soul food with the stars and politicians at The Busy Bee Cafe

Downtown
Lunch at the Busy Bee, a restaurant that’s been making bellies happy with fried chicken since 1947, is a must. When the dining room is open, it’s almost always bustling with locals and tourists alike chowing down on soul food. It doesn’t hurt that the Busy Bee counts President Obama and Killer Mike among its visitors, either. While it would be nice to eat in their cozy dining room lined with photos of celebrity guests, getting takeout will give you the fried chicken fix you crave. Order some to-go along with a side of yams and macaroni and cheese.
How to order: Order takeout online.

Feast on a crab fritter at Bacchanalia

West Midtown
It may be on its third location, but Bacchanalia is one of Atlanta’s signature restaurants. It’s high-end and a total splurge, but Anne Quatrano's team executes seasonally inspired dishes so well. They currently offer a four-course prix fixe menu ($95). It changes often, but you can almost always expect to order the beloved crab fritter served with citrus and avocado. A modified prix fixe menu is available for takeout. 
How to order: Book a table on Resy or order takeout.

Do a food crawl on Buford Highway

Various locations
Buford Highway stretches from Buckhead to Duluth and is lined with international eateries. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Stops along the way might include Lee’s Bakery for banh mi on a house-made baguette, La Pastorcita for tacos, Pho 24, Food Terminal for Malaysian street food, and Las Delicias de la Abuela for Colombian food. End the crawl at Masterpiece in Duluth where James Beard-nominated Rui Liu skillfully creates Szechuan food. Order up some mapo tofu, dan dan noodles, and dry pot cauliflower. Or take it to-go for an at-home Szechuan feast.
How to order: Order instructions vary

Chow down on “Atlanta-style” barbecue 

Multiple locations
Don’t say Atlanta isn’t a barbecue city. With restaurants like Heirloom Market, the creation of husband and wife team Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor, making Korean-infused barbecue and Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q giving Atlanta succulent brisket, we’re not lacking. Check out this list for more barbecue places to hit up.
How to order: Order instructions vary.

Have “what she’s having” at The General Muir

Emory Point
Modern Jewish deli fare can be enjoyed at this Atlanta gem near the CDC. Many hangovers have been cured with the help of the smoked hash made with crispy pastrami and runny eggs, or the double stack burger topped with American cheese and pickles or maybe even a bowl of matzoh ball soup. And don’t get us started on the Avenue A, an open-faced bagel topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, grapefruit, and avocado. Whatever you order for your meal, don’t leave without a black and white cookie. And maybe swing next-door to TGM Bread, which sells loaves, buns, and English muffins and has reopened its dining room and patio with reservations and face masks required. Keep an eye out for their forthcoming Sandy Springs location, too. 
How to order: Sit in the dining room or patio with an OpenTable reservation or order takeout.

Order the omakase at Sushi Hayakawa

Doraville
Some of the city’s best sushi is found tucked away in a Buford Highway strip mall. Here, chef Atsushi Hayakawa expertly crafts top-notch sushi with fish flown in daily from Japan. Truly traditional omakase is a rarity in Atlanta, but it’s the only option here offered at $165 per person for a limited number of people. Or you can order a bento box to-go. Seating is super limited, so don’t even think about going with a reservation.
How to order: Dine-in with a reservation or order takeout through Tock.

Sop up a hangover at Home Grown

Reynoldstown
Two words: Comfy. Chicken. There are many delicious items on the breakfast and lunch menus at this beloved greasy spoon, but the comfy chicken biscuits make hearts sing with joy. It’s why there will be hours-long waits on the weekend. A big fluffy biscuit is split in half and topped with fried chicken and a hearty ladle of pork sausage gravy. If you must order something else, try the pimento cheese sandwich with served grilled on Texas toast. 
How to order: Dine in the dining room, on the patio, or order takeout.

Throw back a brew at Brick Store Pub

Decatur
Beer and pub grub is a simple combination, but Brick Store Pub has done it so well since 1997. Good eats here include the fish and chips and soft pretzels. The beer list is thick with plenty of brews on draft and in growlers. You can dine in the restaurant or on the patio, but there’s also a takeaway window if you want to get a roadie.
How to order: Dine in the dining room, order from the window, or order takeout.

Hit up happy hour at The Colonnade

Morningside
It’s impossible to talk about Atlanta institutions without mentioning the Colonnade. It’s staunchly old school—no computers here, but but credit cards are accepted now—and known for Southern comfort food. The interiors are not what you’d call modern, but they are definitely comfortable. The 93-year-old restaurant is famous for its $13 happy hour special, but that’s discontinued for now. Still, one can go and feast on reasonably priced fried chicken, fried okra, coconut cream pie, and martinis (or you can do curbside takeout).
How to order: Dine in or get curbside takeout by calling 404-874-5642.

Eat a Top Chef-worthy meal at Gunshow

Glenwood Park
When friends came to town to visit in the Before Times, this was the place to take them. Owned by Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow is an open-concept restaurant with a high-energy atmosphere. The music is loud, the lights are bright, and the food and drinks are extremely well-executed. Gunshow is known for its inventiveness with dishes like crispy pork belly with confit sweet potato, pickled red onion, and watermelon. To make the restaurant as COVID-safe (as possible), it added plexiglass dividers between seats and in front of the kitchen. 
How to order: Dine in the dining room or on the limited patio, or order takeout.

Dine by the river at Canoe

Vinings
Canoe is the place to go when Atlantans are celebrating a birthday. Or an anniversary. Or anything, really! It’s located just outside the city in Vinings  and is one of the few places you can actually dine on the river. It’s luxurious and lodge-like with a dinner menu stacked for carnivores with slow-braised rabbit and a duck n’ beef burger. The pro-move, though, is to go for brunch when you can enjoy the view from almost any table in the restaurant (or, even better, sit outside). The pastry basket and brioche French toast will leave you comatose in the best way possible. 
How to order: Dine in their dining room, the patio, or the lawn by the river.

Have a Quadruple Bypass at The Vortex

Little Five Points and Midtown
The 20-foot laughing skull outside of the Vortex’s Little Five Points location has been a fixture of Atlanta’s landscape since 1995. Known for its general irreverence, the Vortex is a can’t-miss Atlanta destination. When it comes to ordering food, think gluttonous. They’re famous for their over-the-top “Bypass Burgers,” (anything beyond a “Single Bypass Burger” comes with restrictions) but a regular (plain) burger is still delicious. Their signature burgers come stacked with ridiculous topping combinations like the Elvis which has peanut butter and fried plantains on it. Don’t worry, there’s  plenty of booze to drown it all in. The Midtown location also houses comedy club Laughing Skull Lounge which is back in action.
How to order: Order online via DoorDash.

 

The Varsity in downtown Atlanta
The Varsity in downtown Atlanta | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Get a Frosted Orange at the Varsity

Midtown
The Varsity has been an Atlanta institution since 1928. Shouts of “What’ll ya have?” will greet you when you order. There are burgers, hotdogs, and, of course, peach hand pies. Whatever you order, though, should be accompanied by a Frosted Orange milkshake. It’s a blend of vanilla ice cream and the Varsity’s Orange drink. 
How to order: Sit in the socially distant dining room, which has added Plexiglass at its counters and spaced its customers at least six feet apart.

Slurp oysters at Kimball House

Decatur 
You won’t find a more robust oyster list in Atlanta than the one at Kimball House. Not only there are plenty of oysters from around the country to choose from, but the menu includes incredibly helpful descriptions, too. (Who wouldn’t want to throw back an oyster with notes of vidalia onion and breakfast radish?) While you’re working your way through those bivalves, go ahead and order a cocktail or two like a classic Sazerac or one of its rotating creations. 

Delight in Indian cuisines in Decatur 

Multiple locations
Atlanta has a large Indian community with restaurants representative of different parts of the large country throughout the metro area. Decatur, though, is where you’ll find some of the city’s most iconic Indian restaurants, like Chai Pani, a fast casual street food joint from the brain of Meherwan Irani with crave-worthy dishes like kale pakora and okra fries. For a more classic take, visit Zyka a few miles away. Counter service and with no frills, people line up to feast on their chicken 65, vegetable samosa, and pistachio kulfi (a rich frozen dessert).

Treat yourself to a peach slider at Revolution Doughnuts

Decatur and Inman Park
Revolution Doughnuts produces the city’s top doughnuts all year long, but their peach sliders are a must. What better way to make the most of our state fruit than by putting them in sugar-dusted fried dough? There’s a catch, though: These are only available during peach season (summertime). So get them while they’re hot.
How to order: Order online via website.

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Lia Picard is an Atlanta-based journalist writing about food, travel, and a variety of other topics. Her work appears in The Washington PostBon Appetit, and CNN Travel.
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