The 20 Best Restaurants in Athens, GA
Athens isn’t just the stomping grounds of the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s also home to some pretty incredible bars and eateries.
Located just over an hour east of Atlanta is one of the most celebrated college towns in the country and home of the three-time national college football champions, the Georgia Bulldogs. Yet while UGA is arguably one of the biggest selling points for Athens, the Southern college town is also home to a myriad of surprisingly great restaurants. From beloved local breweries to charming decades-old eateries, Athens’ food scene really covers all of the bases. So whether you’re thinking about attending the University of Georgia or are just visiting the area with some friends, these 20 Athens restaurants will most certainly take your tastebuds to school the next time that you visit, in addition to Atlanta's best restaurants.
Owned by UGA graduates Ryan and Alan Pope, The Place is a refined Southern restaurant where you can enjoy lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch. While its name is somewhat un Google-able when you casually recommend it in conversation, The Place is a restaurant that everyone should stop by when visiting Athens. Its lunch and dinner menus boast incredible offerings like Grilled Pork Chops, Hanger Steak, and Shrimp Burgers, and you can expect breakfast staples like Stuffed French Toast, Fried Chicken Biscuits, and Gouda Grits on the brunch menu. Plus, even if you’re just in need of a solid cocktail, The Place has you covered there, too.
For a culinary experience that offers a stark contrast from the boozy, Tex-Mex, Southern-style food options around Athens, look no further than Kelly’s Jamaican Food. A mainstay in the Athens area for over 20 years, Kelly’s has all of the classic Jamaican dishes that you know and love, from Jerk Chicken and Grilled Salmon to Oxtail and Curry Goat. With side options like the Mac and Cheese, Spicy Cabbage, and Plantains, it’ll be hard not to order up all of them the next time you stop by the Lumpkin or Westside location.
El Barrio is known for its tacos and tequilas, and while you should definitely pair some Birria Tacos with a couple of the signature tequila cocktails on your first, there’s so much good stuff on El Barrio’s menu that you’ll want to keep coming back. We’re talking weekly specials like the Birria Tora, signature dishes like the Blue Corn Chicken Empanadas, and an impressive assortment of flavored margaritas. In addition to the food and drinks, what makes El Barrio even cooler is its 10% discount for students and faculty at the University of Georgia from 11:30 am to 2 pm Tuesday through Saturday, so make sure you call up your friend from UGA next time you’re in Athens.
This French-American bistro, which opened in Athens’ Five Points neighborhood in spring 2018, is loaded with European charm. It’s in a renovated 1930s home and draws inspiration from the days when literary greats such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein were swanning around overseas. Executive chef Savannah Sasser prides herself on mixing traditional French cooking techniques with locally sourced ingredients for an ever-changing menu. Bonus: The restaurant is helmed by Krista and Jerry Slater, which should be especially appealing to those who are still mourning the beloved Atlanta cocktail bar, H. Harper Station.
The Table Bistro
Don’t be fooled by the small, simple space — the food here packs a big punch. Lots of gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetable-forward options are on the menu for those looking to eat healthy, and the pasta and handheld sections will still satisfy even if you’re super hungry.
With dark wooden tables, a brick bar, and plenty of natural light, this award-winning restaurant exudes warmth and Southern charm. It’s sophisticated, but has just enough casual familiarity to put you at ease. On its menu, you’ll find items like Grilled Halal Lamb Chops and Chicken-Fried Tofu, right above the Collard Greens, Fried chicken, and Duck-Fat Tater Tots (the latter is South’s unofficial signature dish).
The menu changes regularly since the ingredients are sourced locally, but you can expect Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches, salads, and soups. Most plates are meant to share, so you'd be smart to arrive with a group. Even better news? The prices aren’t too hard on the wallet.
Set in the former space of an iconic music club of the same name, Last Resort features local artwork, an amazing ambiance, and high-quality Southwestern-inspired food. Be sure to try the Fried Green Tomatoes or Potato Onion Pancakes. Add the Jalapeño Honey Mustard dressing to any salad for a hefty kick, and save some room for dessert, because the delicious, homemade cakes are served in generous portions.
Its fluffy, buttery, award-winning biscuits are the ultimate hangover cure. And you'll see for yourself when you show up how much Athens loves Mama’s Boy. Biscuits aside, the poached eggs, cheesy grits, and potato hash are also on the menu and worth the wait.
Without a doubt, Pulaski Heights BBQ has the best pulled pork and richest mac and cheese in town, but every real Southerner knows it’s all about the sauce. And that's why they'll load you up with all the spicy vinegar you can handle. And don’t forget, it's still BYOB.
Rowdy music venue by night, rooftop hangout by day. There’s no better place outside Sanford Stadium to watch SEC football than atop the Georgia Theatre. Straight out of The Branded Butcher kitchen, loaded burgers and Pretzel Bites are prepared for wild — and occasionally obnoxious — Georgia fans who need some sustenance on those very long, hot days.
Five & Ten
No tour of Athens is complete without a stop at Hugh Acheson’s flagship restaurant. It boasts some of the best fine dining in the Classic City, with a sophisticated menu of Braised Lamb Shank, Cornmeal-Fried Catfish, and Chilled Pea Soup — all sustainably sourced and beautifully plated. It is a bit on the pricier side, so come with an empty stomach... and a wealthy benefactor if available.
This laid-back gastropub not only carries craft beers from the best breweries in Georgia, but from everywhere else you'd imagine. Whether you’re an out-of-towner from Virginia, California, or Pennsylvania, Trappeze will likely have your beer of choice on tap. Its Belgian fries were voted best in Athens, and its bar food is top notch. And while said award-winning Belgian fries come with blue cheese, raspberry ketchup, or garlic aioli, we recommend getting all three.
This vegetarian-friendly Athens stalwart prides itself on variety. Choose from noodle bowls, veggie plates, falafel platters, tofu dishes...you name it. A laid-back environment with enormous portions, The Grit has become the go-to for vegetarians, vegans, celiacs, and omnivores alike. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a treat from the sweets display case on your way out!
The World Famous
Nestled in historic Downtown Athens, this eccentric entertainment venue is home to local comedians, musicians, and friends. However, we don’t really care about that, as it’s also home to the world-famous Chicken and Waffle Club. It boasts crispy fried chicken sandwiched between two waffles doused in hot sauce, and served over a bed of fries. Supplement it with one of the signature craft cocktails -- like the Maui Wowie -- for the complete Athens experience.
The makers of the constantly coveted Tropicália have an even better selection of ales on tap at their headquarters than in third-party stores. The brewery’s indoor/outdoor space is equally as impressive, with plenty of games to keep you occupied -- which is perfect when the weather's nice and day drinking is on the agenda.
Need a great seafood happy hour? You've found it. Doors open at 4pm, so you'll want to show up on the dot to grab a good seat on the patio or at the bar to enjoy Seabear’s oyster and beer specials. Other seafood options include Clam Chowder, Crab and Shrimp Cakes, and Steamed Mussels (which are served with a baguette to help you sop up the delicious sauce). There are plenty of non-seafood choices as well (from the beer-braised Beeler’s bratwurst to the sticky buns) and the service is some of the best in town.
Cali N Tito's
This Athens staple is known for its eclectic patio, BYOB policy, and the Cuban sandwich. The latter is authentic and a must-order for first-time diners. The meat is tender and juicy and sits perfectly between two slices of fresh, pillowy bread. After your meal, don’t be surprised to find yourself lingering and maybe even dancing.
Great for brunch, dinner, and of course dessert, Pauley’s has become a beloved Athens destination. It offers sweet and savory crepes and has more than 150 beers available. If you're extra hungry, start your meal with the Chicken Tchoupitoulas — warm ciabatta bread topped with southern-style chicken salad and melted mozzarella — then move on to the delicious crepes.
Anna Lanfreschi is a lover of all things food, skiing,cats and Atlanta. Follow her adventures on her blog, Belly of the Feast, or Twitter and Instagram.
Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @roshrisky.