The Ultimate Buckhead Dining Guide
Finding exceptional places to eat in Buckhead can be tricky. Since it’s the financial center of Atlanta proper, you can quickly find yourself paying premium prices for that same food that's readily available and significantly cheaper at the Sidney Marcus QuikTrip. Use this guide to get rid of the guesswork so you can make the best dining decisions whenever you’re in ATL’s ritzy northeast neighborhood.
This brilliant-royal-blue-painted restaurant looks like the house your crazy aunt bought after her second divorce. And then learned to make phenomenal chicken biscuits in. The simplicity sells it, as you can get white bread French toast, a three-egg pimento cheese omelet sided with Benton’s bacon, a bowl of stone-ground grits with a side of local favorite Delia’s chicken sausage, and a mug of four-minute-French-pressed Rev coffee (Straight Outta Smyrna).
You almost instinctively want to give this accolade to the highly regarded Brazilian steakhouse Chama Gaucha or even the yet-to-open American Cut. Why? Because Chops has been around for decades and should be old news. However, it’s not. It’s good as hell, and because of that, it’s not cheap, but then again no respectable steakhouse is inexpensive anymore, so you’re going to spend at least $60-75 on a conservative dinner for one. Go for it. Chewing high-priced cuts of their 8oz, 1,700-degree-broiled, custom-aged, USDA Prime pepper-crusted filet is worth a week of budgetary struggle.
The cheeseburger, one of Atlanta's most famous cheeseburgers, is now available all day and is no less delicious than it was back when the only way to get one was to know a secret handshake or whatever. It’s still a perfectly measured double-patty stack on a house-made bun, but here you get added ambiance and can try on a bit of “I only eat H&F Burgers at the original Holeman & Finch” smug elitism, because nothing says “elitism” like a Buckhead cheeseburger.
It may appear smaller than you expect for $22, but then you remember you’re in Buckhead, and then you see the chunky chunks of pink sea-meat piled on top of the H&F bun, and realize that aside from a moderate slathering of mayo there’s no additional filler. Pair it with one of the fantastic wines that owner Ian Mendelsohn -- a sommelier who ran the wine department at Christie’s Auction House for five years -- has selected.
Best Southern food
Whether you’re from the South or not, nobody’s country enough to question the kitchen credibility of Florida native Art Smith. Lest we forget, he was Oprah’s personal chef before he opened the classy Southern supper house inside the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, and actually won a James Beard Award. All that really means is that you should definitely try the chicken-and-dumplings soup (named “Addie Mae’s” after Smith’s mother), braised pork belly with yams and sorghum syrup, or GA shrimp and grits w/ house-made andouille, hominy, and okra.
An ATL restaurant that people outside the city seem to know about, Umi’s big thing is their focus on premium quality and the unwavering freshness of the sushi, along with the flavor treatment it receives from Chef Fuyuhiko Ito, the man behind the counter at the infamous MF Sushi of Buckhead-Past.
The view from the patio is satisfying in and of itself, but you’re there for the bourbon-cured salmon and the “Grains & Greens” salad with dried apricot, farro verde, local bibb... Hahaha. Please. You’ll get the jumbo lump crab cake, and then a malted buttermilk waffle under real Vermont maple syrup, with a fried quarter of Springer Mountain Farms chicken. You’ll sit under the mist-sprayers like a helpless beached dolphin, hoping some nice people team up and roll you back out the door to enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Best Mexican food
You’ll find other Mexican restaurants once you pass the Brookwood curve. Ignore them. Stay focused; keep driving until you get to the edge of Sandy Springs near Chastain. That’s where Ford Fry’s folks do elevated Tex-Mex, from citrus-habanero shrimp ceviche to chipotle-molasses chargrilled short rib, twice-cooked pork belly fajitas, and tacos in both hard-shell form or chalupa-ish “puffy” versions.
There was once a Decatur location, just like there was once a Scientology overlord named Xenu, but who knows what the hell happened because one day it just went away. Fortunately for you -- unless you’re Beck or John Travolta -- Bhojanic reappeared in Buckhead and is still slamming Punjabi cuisine like it never left. Even the food truck serves incredible samosas, but since you’re in the area, you might as well grab plates of veggie items like eggplant makki ki roti (you’ll never miss the meat), or boneless lamb curry.
Because of the semi-hidden, upper-level location of Tuk Tuk, many people thought they wouldn’t last. But the chef, DeeDee Niyomkul, whose parents are behind Nan (Midtown’s unquestionably great Thai fine-dining establishment) took a turn from her folks’ menu stylings and focused on street food. The results are small plates like moist Thai beef jerky and crisp mussel omelette, to Bangkok street noodles (glass, rice, egg, rice sticks... ), and whole fried chili-lime red snapper.
You’ll feel indulgent before you even begin spiraling the seafood-rich linguini al frutti di mare -- or any other handcrafted pasta -- around your spoon, since Dolce’s classy, mid-century-modern designed dining room opens up the feasting experience to the community. You could also go al fresco while peeping the shopping scene, but rather than stare at people spending money on this season’s most-easily-torn scarf, you could put your head down and scarf up a helping of veal scaloppine alla sorrentina w/ potato gnocchi, mozzarella, and eggplant, or one of their exceptional Neapolitan style pizzas.
One of the most reputed new restaurants of the past year, Le Bilbo goes bistro with a truly Parisian experience, right in the middle of The Shops at Buckhead Atlanta. Originally from NYC’s Upper East Side, where they know good food when they get it because all the good food isn’t normally there for some reason, their house-made duck foie gras terrine is a good place to start, followed by the Mediterranean branzino or beurre-blanc-ed Cajun chicken with crispy fries on the patio with a light and refreshing glass of rosé.
Best place to pretend you’re not in Buckhead
It’s South African food in a coastal-designed white building with a vine-draped floating trellis outside. And it’s on West Paces Ferry, not too far from the governor’s mansion. But here you can get small plates served cold (steak carpaccio w/ dijon and fried capers), or hot, such as the ostrich sliders or the peri-peri chicken skillet. They’ve got bigger sharable plates such as lamb chop lollipops, a platter of prawn, beef filet, and chicken kebabs, and white wine linguini and clams.
You don’t build a 65ft-tall bronze fish next to a sidewalk if you’re just an oversized Long John Silver’s. You have to be an institution, like Dominique Wilkins, except, well, shaped like a fish. And that’s EXACTLY what AFM is: a throwback that’s still great and still down for the home team, with over 100 varieties of swimming supper flown in fresh daily, which you can purchase and cook at home (good luck with that), or let professionals pan-fry, roast, broil, or bake. Sure, newer kids selling meals to pescatarians have hit the Pharr Rd block, but none have hung as tough.
Most romantic restaurant
This 16-year-old institution of American edible exceptionalism was white-on-white all around until this spring. Now, with a down-to-earthier attitude that includes warmer hues and a more casual atmosphere, it’s certainly going for a younger crowd, but the food and feeling still tell your guests that you are sexually attracted to them, in a very sweet, non-threatening, expensive sort of way. With entrees priced at a minimum of $28, your pursuit of some unlucky person’s heart/draws may bankrupt you, but at least you’ll live an exceptionally beautiful dream.
Best non-fancy place to eat
There’s a damned comedy club -- The Punchline -- in the back, for god’s sake. But you’ll get the last laugh instead of the certain hangover that would claim your next morning as long as you soak up those bad liquid decisions with breakfast, steak, Italian -- hell, pretty much every other type of food we’ve featured in this roundup can probably be ordered here. Is it delicious? For diner food, yeah! But look, it’s open 24 hours. It’s quick. And people are always coming in and out. You’ll never eat alone.
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