Eat a Giant Polenta Feast On Your Table
BEST NEW RESTAURANT: THE EXPAT
1680 S Lumpkin Street
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 mourn the beloved Atlanta cocktail bar, H. Harper Station.
BEST FOR SOMETHING HEALTHY: THE TABLE BISTRO
1075 Baxter Street, B102
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 handhelds sections will satisfy if you’re extra hungry.
BEST FOR BRUNCH: HOME.MADE
1072 Baxter Street
A few doors down from The Table Bistro, this spot is known for its Saturday brunch menu. Yes, Saturday -- the restaurant is closed on Sundays. But moving your brunch plans up a day is worth it: The food here is as delicious as it is beautiful. Plus, the restaurant’s shop has southern-inspired gifts for your foodie friends (think cheese straws, pecans, and sweet tea caramels).
BEST FOR A COFFEE & AVOCADO TOAST: FRANKLIN HOUSE CAFE
480 E Broad Street, Suite 101
Located in a historic building on the corner of Broad Street and Thomas Street downtown, this new cafe serves both drip coffee and espresso, and offers a scaled back food menu where you can’t go wrong. Avocado toast is a staple, but their other food offerings -- including paninis, waffles, and toasts -- rotate seasonally.
BEST TATER TOTS: SOUTH KITCHEN & BAR
247 E Washington Street
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 lamb chops and amberjack, next to fried chicken and duck-fat tater tots (the latter is South’s unofficial signature dish).
Good for grabbing lunch: The National
232 W Hancock Avenue
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 are very friendly on the wallet.
Good for bringing the parents: Last Resort Grill
174-184 W Clayton Street
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.
Best biscuit: Mama’s Boy
197 Oak Street
These fluffy, buttery, award-winning monsters are the ultimate hangover cure. And you'll see for yourself when you show up (every weekend the line is out the door). Biscuits aside, the poached eggs, cheesy grits, and potato hash are also on the menu and worth the wait.
Best Southern food: Pulaski Heights BBQ
675 Pulaski Street
Without a doubt, it 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.
Best place to go on game day: Rooftop of the Georgia Theatre
215 N Lumpkin Street
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 chili cheese fries are prepared for wild -- and occasionally obnoxious -- Georgia fans who need some sustenance on those very long, hot days.
Best late-night eats: The Grill
171 College Avenue
This 24-hour diner is known for its waffle fries served with feta cheese dressing. And they just so happen to taste even better around 2-3am, which is precisely when The Grill tends to be on a wait. Other items to quell your late-night hunger include the triple cheeseburger, the double grilled cheese sandwich, chicken fingers, and an old-fashioned milkshake. It's not known for its service, but you won't care.
Best special occasion spot: Five & Ten
1073 S Milledge Avenue
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 duck breast, seasonal fish, and mouthwatering stews -- 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.
Best bakery: Ike & Jane Cafe and Bakery
1307 Prince Avenue
A little place on Prince, Ike & Jane is like your grandma’s house away from home, and has all the gourmet, home-baked goods you’ve been missing since you went away for school. Here, you’ll find cereal-coated donuts, holiday-themed cupcakes, banana breads, brownies, and more, all baked from scratch, and all available by custom order.
Best drinks: Trappeze Pub
269 N Hull Street
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.
Best vegetarian: The Grit
199 Prince Avenue
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 slice of the Grasshopper Cake to-go on your way out.
Best chicken and waffles: The World Famous
351 N Hull Street
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.
Best brewery: Creature Comforts
271 W Hancock Avenue
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.
Best seafood: Seabear Oyster Bar
297 Prince Avenue, Suite 10
Need a great seafood happy hour? You've found it. We’re talking $1.50 oysters and beer specials. Doors open at 3pm and you'll want to show up on the dot to grab a seat on the patio or at the bar. Other seafood options include lobster bisque, shrimp po-boy, and mussels (which are served with fries to help you sop up the sauce). There are plenty of non-seafood choices as well (avocado toast and sticky buns) and the service is some of the best in town.
Best Cuban Sandwich: Cali N Tito's
1427 S Lumpkin Street
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.
Best crepes: Pauley's Crepe Bar
134 E Clayton Street
Great for brunch, dinner, and of course dessert, Pauley’s has become a beloved Athens destination. So much so, the restaurant has actually expanded to Atlanta. 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 chicken salad and melted cheese -- then move on to the delicious crepes.