Atlanta is among the world’s greatest places to eat, but -- like all great cities -- has certain areas and neighborhoods that are just better at feeding us than others. And sure, some neighborhoods are loaded with enough bars that you can drink your way through a horrible meal, but we're not here to talk about them. No, friends, we're here now to talk about places that offer the best opportunity to satisfy the most discerning critic's appetite for flavors and full bellies.
It doesn’t make sense that such a major area of town isn’t dominating suppertime, and maybe it’s unfair they’re at the bottom, but you have to grade the high-IQ kid more harshly if you want to see them reach their potential. The mere fact that Hugh Acheson could cause a major uproar if he were to just up and close Empire State South -- may that never happen -- shows you just how fragile the scene is. Not that there aren’t long-standing restaurants that have consistently held it down: South City Kitchen, Nan Thai Fine Dining, TAP, and on. You can meat out at Community Smith, you can next-level at The Lawrence (coconut kashmiri octopus? Yes. Tempura veal sweetbreads? Naturally), and you can do a Mediterranean/Italian mix at Ecco, so it’s not like there aren’t more than a few options. But the truth is that Midtown is currently better setup for drinking than eating, and its bars upstage the food.
14. Little Five Points
When you’re looking to eat and you’re locked into L5P -- which you will be after a certain hour due to traffic on Moreland and Euclid -- there’s no place weirder than here. This is mostly a destination for strange-but-harmless folks who just want to wander, and the food kind of reflects that sentiment. That said, Savage Pizza is still murderously tasty, Front Page News never disappoints when it comes to gumbo and scenery, The Vortex still makes one of the best burgers in the city, and even the TV show Atlanta had to acknowledge the significance of Zesto, aka “everybody’s favorite fake Dairy Queen.” There’s also good reason to visit the rooftops at Arcadia and the rebuilt Corner Tavern for comfort food with great city views, or you know, just views of the people.
Downtown has come quite a long way from the days of serving up pretty much nothing to whatever the Ritz-Carlton had on the menu. There’s still a lot of hotel action (definitely hit the Ritz’s just-opened, quite banging AG Steakhouse), but along with places like Max Lager's Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery -- whose wings are phenomenal -- you now have its sister restaurant, White Oak, which goes full-barrel with whiskey and American fare. Alma Cocina puts in major work on the Mexican side of things. You can literally get some surprisingly great stuffings in the Peachtree Center food court, including what might be ATL’s best falafel at Aviva by Kameel.
Why you’re in Roswell is anybody’s guess -- we don’t want to know. But since you’re there, and if you’re hungry, you’re in luck as long as you can make it Downtown to Canton St. That’s where you’ll find an amazing dining district, with Little Alley holding you down in terms of bovine and bourbon (lots and lots of both), its sister restaurant Salt Factory, and other related restaurants like Table & Main and Osteria Mattone, which are both from owner Ryan Pernice, and serve comfortably upscale Southern meals, and Northern Italian cuisine, respectively. And you will respect it, because it’s good enough to give you a post-dinner glow so warming that you won’t even notice the horrendous traffic heading back into town.
There’s not much else to do in Vinings other than eat and live. That said, it’s impossible to diminish the role Canoe plays in ATL Metro’s dining scene -- it could sell Krystal burgers from its riverside plot of land and folks would still be there constantly. Then there’s Muss & Turner’s, which is technically in Smyrna but we can’t leave them out for such a forgivable offense; everybody knows they’re an ATL must-eat. C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar is also worth the drive and the premium price point -- you do remember this is Vinings, right? And what about the oft-overlooked-by-outsiders Soho? You’ve probably passed it while zooming through Paces Ferry, but next time you’re in the area, stop, grab a table, and order the sesame ahi tuna or the elk tenderloin.
Taco Mac started right here. But besides that, it’s important to pay a visit to Atkins Park, since it’s the city’s longest continually licensed restaurant. And don’t miss the trout at Goin’ Coastal, or the tried-and-true Italian of La Tavola. Genki is still slinging great sushi, and though Noche went down in the flames of Here to Serve Restaurant Group, TomTom still has you covered on tapas, D.B.A. has a legitimate claim to being in the city’s top five BBQ spots, and there are plenty of sweets available -- from biscuits at Callie’s to gelato at Paolo’s.
Good luck getting in and out of this other-dimensional, maze-like neighborhood between ATL and Decatur without getting lost, but if you’re lucky and have a reliable Garmin, maybe you’ll make it to Arizona Ave, where Ration & Dram rules the world -- or at least those who kneel to delicious beignets, chicken biscuits, and other brunch staples. Sun In My Belly can’t be beaten for breakfast, and Elmyriachi’s burrito game is top-notch, particularly when you add a margarita pitcher. Then there’s the funky little resto that could, DISH DIVE, started by Jeff Myers who also cofounded Top Flr and The Sound Table. DD’s jazzed-up affordable meals, such as freeform chili flake lasagna with tomato fondue, and braised pork belly with jalapeño grits and French toast, are a perfect draw for outsiders as well as residents of a community still figuring out if it’s gentrifying or staying nice and simple.
Nobody remembers to shout out Dugan’s, and that’s crazy, because those blessed chicken wings have saved many lives, spared many budgets, and brought joy to many stomachs, including this humble writer’s. Sweet Auburn Barbecue holds it down with smoked meats that carry taste influences that stay true to ATL’s weird little world, and there’s nothing quite like the politically charged atmosphere and magically delicious meatloaf at the newly renovated Manuel’s Tavern. And though it’s not clear if the super-new 8ARM is really O4W or Poncey, you can be sure it’ll become a cornerstone of the community, since it’s the latest offering of the heralded Octopus Bar and Lusca duo Nhan Le and Angus Brown. But the real heavy-hitter on the strip is PCM, which put Hector Santiago, the Hopkins family, Jonathan Waxman, Guy Wong, the folks from The Pinewood in Decatur, Anne Quatrano, and many other major ATL chefs under one roof. That instantly turned the old Sears building into a culinary destination and landmark nobody can afford to miss.
Try as you might to avoid the area due to traffic, cost of everything, or just the residents’ attitudes, you can’t hate on your options for fine dining in ATL’s ritziest ITP hood. The Buckhead Life gang still has a stranglehold on many of the best spots around (Chops, Atlanta Fish Market, Bistro Niko, etc.), but they’ve been challenged by newer, younger residents who aren’t attached to culinary landmarks (with the exception of Landmark Diner, which is immortal). Remember how everybody was sad for a day when Bluepointe closed, but now St. Cecilia is there and folks realize the closing was for the best? And what are you gonna do -- get this week’s direct deposit and not eat at Umi, or Atlas, or the Zeb-Stevenson-reinvigorated Watershed, or OG Restaurant Eugene? You can ride around Buckhead going broke eating lavish meals and never regret losing a single dollar. Even the food across the street at Phipps Plaza is probably beating almost every other mall in America.
6. East Atlanta
The Village is really not trying to impress you, but it’s failing as there’s still an eclectic mix of world cuisine and experimental dishes happening from the center of Flat Shoals and Glenwood, and spreading outward. How crazy is it that Argosy makes a killer pizza, burger, and hot chicken sandwich with all they’ve got going on? And who knew late-night food could be so esoteric, yet so universal at once before Octopus Bar? And what made the wonderfully crazy owner of We Suki Suki bring elements of Buford Highway to EAV, and name her tiny little nook after an indiscreet line of dialogue from Full Metal Jacket? You’ll have to go to find out.
Good meals are all around in The Dec, although you’d be forgiven for spending tomorrow’s lunch money on today’s drinks at Leon’s, Victory, or anywhere else in the area with a beverage program on par with its kitchen. Still, there’s no denying what Kimball House did for Atlanta’s oyster boom, or all the authentic Indian spots from Chai Pani to Chatpatti, not to mention the tapas at Iberian Pig, the pub fare and supreme beer selection at Brick Store, or beloved meat-n-threes from hangouts like The Pinewood Tippling Room to humble digs like Our Way Cafe. And if you’ve never eaten at Cakes & Ale, you should seek therapy -- something’s wrong with anybody that sees such a restaurant name and doesn’t make it a priority to find out what’s up. Oh, and did you know that a lot of people say No. 246 is still Ford Fry’s best restaurant? It’s true, so act like you’ve been eating there before it was trendy to mention Ford Fry like he’s your personal chef.
4. Old Fourth Ward
The mixture of cultures that come together just northeast of Downtown make for an unusually complete catalog of cooking. There’s the consistently unmissable fried bird at Harold’s Chicken (which still calls itself an “ice bar” for whatever reason, but there’s no ice bar, so let’s stop that). There’s also the scenery, as well as wood-fired dishes you can tastefully shove into your mouth at TWO Urban Licks, and live music blended perfectly with Southern kitchen sensibilities at Venkman’s. The breakfast and brunch madness of Highland Bakery still crushes the vast majority of what you’ll find elsewhere in ATL, and Serpas is still kicking ass with maple leaf duck breast and Berkshire pork chops, so don’t leave them out of contention. Of course the feel-/eat-good story of the year was Staplehouse, recently called “America’s best new restaurant” by other national media, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be eating all the Naples-style pies at Ammazza, or chomping to the beat while dining at The Sound Table, or keeping things Italian at Noni’s.
3. Inman Park
This anti-cheap neighborhood has million-dollar homes and is famous for housing political power players, but they’ve created a culinary culture in which you don’t have to be rich or famous to eat like a local. Krog St. Market made a big difference, with Richard’s Southern Fried serving Nashville-style hot chicken that’s actually worth the hefty price tag, as well as the infamous dumplings of Gu’s -- which was one of Buford Highway’s greatest hits -- and the immaculate menu at Ticonderoga. Just up the road on the corner of North Highland and Elizabeth is where you’ll find Fritti (great pizza), Pure (good tacos), Barcelona (supreme wine and tapas), and all the fun new stuff happening at Inman Quarter, from Ford Fry’s BeetleCat (sort of The Optimist lite), and Billy Streck’s Hampton & Hudson, which may be able to claim bragging rights for ATL’s best fish & chips. Whatever you do and wherever you go, don’t leave the neighborhood without at least eating “The Meatstick” burger at One Eared Stag, which could change your life for the better and beefier.
2. West Midtown
There once was a time called The Nineties, when the only decent options for eating in the section of Howell Mill between 17th Street and Northside Drive were Six Feet Under, La Fonda Latina, and Bacchanalia, which is about as crazy a range of dining options you could imagine. Then came Taqueria del Sol, and a new millennium, followed by Chow Baby in 2005, which served the humanitarian purpose of scaring everybody out of letting the scourge of fast-casual Mongolian stir-fry joints take over the street. Now the table is immaculately set with Ford Fry playing culinary Monopoly by way of JCT.’s reliably on-point, upscale comfort food, Marcel’s steaks, and The Optimist and Oyster Bar. Then there’s Miller Union, about which nothing bad can ever be said, as well as the always-on burgers at Bocado, good sushi on both sides of Howell Mill (from either O-Ku or Eight), and the immediately celebrated Cooks & Soldiers, which is right across from Little Trouble. Down at the triangle there’s Bartaco with the delightful tortilla-wrapped proteins, Le Fat bringing the Vietnamese noise, Octane with the city’s best coffee, and the house-brewed beer and tavern food at 5 Seasons. For such a considerably tucked-away area, there are so many amazing restaurants to pick from.
1. Buford Highway
Nothing in the world compares to dining on BuHi, outside of actually taking a world tasting tour, which you know you cannot afford. It doesn’t even make sense to start naming names -- sure, the infamous Pho Dai Loi 2, Lee’s Bakery, Canton House, El Rey del Taco, and Sushi House Hayakawa are major players, but the fun is in the discovery. So all you have to do to experience some of the best dumplings, banh mi, tacos, sushi, pho, and other foods from Asia, Latin America, and everywhere else is simply get in your car -- or someone else’s -- and ride up from Buckhead one day, taking bites of everything in your path. If you’re somehow not pleasantly suicidal after eating the entirety of life and culture, keep going until you get to Masterpiece, which is WAY OTP but is considered the best Chinese food in town by critics who should know. Seriously, there is no competition, and if you’ve been in Atlanta more than a month and have never done one of these eating tours, what are you even doing here?
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