Everyone knows that any self-respecting trip to a brand new-to-you city absolutely has to feature the local cuisine (if not, you need a refresher in how to vacation properly). And that goes double if you’re visiting Atlanta -- one of the world’s greatest places to eat. Nobody cooks quite like they do in the ATL -- we’re talking crispy catfish sliders, shrimp & grits, freshly powdered doughnuts, and battered & crunchy fried chicken. And while we can’t blame you if you don’t want to look up from your chicken & gravy biscuits, Atlanta is also a premiere city for bars, music, coffee houses, parks, and food markets. To make sure you have the absolute best (and most literally delicious) time in Atlanta, we’ve rounded up everything you need to eat in this city before you leave -- and things to do and see after your meal. Just don’t call it Hotlanta.
Dancing is strongly encouraged at this cornerstone of the redeveloped Edgewood and Boulevard intersection in Old Fourth Ward, the historic melting pot neighborhood just east of downtown. Not only is the mix of house, world, hip-hop, reggae and other forms of music impeccable (as well as the drinks), your meal won’t skip a beat either. The menu features small plates from shrimp-chorizo tacos to perfectly smoked wings, but the standout serving of grilled tentacle, napa cut kimchi, and crispy shallot will funk you right on up (which is exactly what owner and beloved local DJ Karl Injex had in mind all along). And if you happen to eat too many catfish sliders, you can feel good knowing there’s plenty of room to groove those extra calories away with the additional dance space next door, or that you’re in a great location that puts you close to the newly opened Georgia Beer Garden (all from the state!), Joystick Gamebar for arcade games and cocktails, and lots more good fun.
Before Woodfire Grill’s Kevin Gillespie was all trendy from being a Top Chef finalist, he was right here in ATL, kicking all kinds of culinary hind parts -- maybe even grilling them if they were ethically sourced. Now he’s got one of the hottest restaurants in the country with Gunshow, where chefs wheel around carts of foods they’ve personally prepared just for the night, and serve them dim-sum-style to the dining room. The menu changes weekly, so your guess is as good as ours whether the venison carpaccio, braised pork shank with ham tots, or crispy veal sweetbread with matcha cake & red beans will be available. But whatever you do get, just know you’ll enjoy an innovative take on the restaurant experience, and one that serves as a tastefully unexpected example of the creative firepower coming from the inimitable kitchen we call Atlanta. For further shenanigans just head east on Glenwood Ave -- in spare minutes you’ll arrive at East Atlanta Village, the awesomely quirky neighborhood where more bars, pubs and late-night hangouts await.
“Ms.” Ann Price, the chef behind the burger, was as famous for her grill skills as she was for kicking people out of her line for anything from swearing to cutting in front of someone. She passed away in April 2015, but her legacy remains in the shacky restaurant on Atlanta’s eclectic and energetic Eastside. You’re likely to wait a while in a pretty zero-frills environment, but you’re unlikely to leave dissatisfied once you experience the double-bacon chili cheeseburger that was once named America’s best burger by The Wall Street Journal in 2007. There’s not much in the way things to do near Ann’s -- the pilgrimage says a lot about how good the burgers are -- but you’re not far from a few great neighborhoods, like Little Five Points, known for its eclectic boho vibe with vintage clothing stores like Rag-O-Rama, record stores like Mood’s Music, coffee shops, and Crystal Blue, a new-age shop where you can buy stones to help center yourself after having the best burger of your life.
These wings were featured on Donald Glover’s fantastic Atlanta TV series for a reason. The locally famous franchised restaurant has been a city institution for almost 35 years, since the first one opened not far from the south end of Georgia Tech. They’re now all over the place -- one’s even as far flung as the neighborhood of Smyrna, for Pete’s sake, and one’s at the edge of Midtown, in what used to be an IHOP (we guarantee you’ll recognize it). Anyway, the wings, regardless of your flavor choice, may not come with pancakes but are always crispy, and the fries are always perfectly seasoned, no matter which metro area location is closest to you. Three of the franchises are clustered not too far from each other -- and not too far from the World of Coca-Cola, The Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
If instead of buffalo wings you’re craving that down-home feeling that can only come from a deliciously fried, crunchy, battered bird, the Busy Bee Cafe is not too far away from JR Cricket’s. The Busy Bee is the O.G., featuring top-shelf credentials that come from being one of the cornerstones of the history-making neighborhood of West End (on the national register of historic places) where leaders of the Civil Rights Movement met to discuss plans over plates of soul food, not far from the Atlanta University Center.
Open-faced and overflowing with steaming white sausage gravy, the CCB is a buttermilk-marinated chicken breast dredged in flour, cornstarch, onion & garlic powder, paprika, salt & pepper, and laid atop a fluffy biscuit bed. It’s the perfect beginning to a beautiful country morning of enjoying breakfast with others (many others -- this place is always packed) and taking in the retro hole-in-the-wall vibe of Home Grown that matches the funky, artsy, tucked-away terrain of Reynoldstown. The resto is not too far from the infamous Krog St. Tunnel and all its famous, and constantly updated, street art. Work in some time to stroll over -- after breakfasting on this gravy-smothered favorite, you’re going to need it.
Few things are more southern than a good pork chop. That’s something Houston-native and owner of JCT., Chef Ford Fry, knows very well. He managed to start a culinary empire in ATL with JCT. and its famous pork chop in 2007, and soon built upon its success with highly lauded local restaurants like The Optimist, St. Cecilia, and Marcel. This country supper staple is cut from locally-sourced heritage pigs, which are bred to be darker, meatier and fattier -- making for a juicier bite that’s made even more flavorful by the taste of hickory cooked into every forkful. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be in the super-booming West Midtown district, having dinner above an actual junction of historic Atlanta railroads. You know the city was once named Terminus because of our train traffic, right? Little history for you there. (You’re welcome.)
No, it doesn’t need to be hot outside to make the great decision that is purchasing a frozen sweet treat from the brand that became ATL’s first legal food cart in 2010. Sure, there are many other amazing flavors (chocolate sea salt, key lime pie and lemon basil are never bad options), but the salted caramel will make you chomp down into the pop, forgoing any attempt to hold onto the moment or avoid brain freeze. If you visit the original pop stand, you’re walking distance from the Kibbee Gallery of Contemporary Art, which features exhibitions by up-and-coming Atlanta artists. Worth it.
No disrespect to Shaq, who now owns the Ponce Krispy Kreme, but his isn’t the city’s absolute greatest doughnut business. That title belongs to Sublime. Perhaps the most important items on the menu are the A-Town Cream and the A-Town Mocha, two super-soft, flaky, cream-filled creations designed to completely, and deliciously, crater your diet plans. If you don’t believe us, see how whipped and creamy these A-shaped donuts are for yourself on their homepage. They totally deserve their decadent videos of cream drizzle and powdered sugar dustings in slo-mo. Now, whether or not the students of nearby Georgia Tech are studying hard enough to deserve them, we won’t know until they launch their first internet startups. Check out the divey Northside Tavern for live music while you’re around Georgia Tech. The bar is a 10 minute walk from the doughnut shop and nothing works up an appetite for iced, fried dough like live blues & jazz.
We’ve all been better humans since Chef Zeb Stevenson, a rock star kitchen technician who looks like he could easily be a long-lost original member of Weezer, brought his grandmother’s exceptional recipe for this thickened chicken soup dish to Watershed. It’s conveniently located between the ritzy fanciness of Buckhead, where you’re free to do your part to contribute to the local economy (i.e. go shopping), and the always busy Midtown, which is overflowing with the best clubs and lounges in Atlanta. There’s nothing too fancy about the recipe (you can even find it online if you wanna try it at home), but that’s the whole point. It’s sometimes the simple dishes that remind us of how simply awesome Atlanta’s food scene is. (And how much we love our grandmothers.)
There’s probably a decent steakhouse in every major or secondary market in the US. Kevin Rathbun doesn’t make just decent steaks though; he makes once-a-year steaks that aren’t going to come cheap, but also aren’t going to be quickly forgotten by your mind, belly, or soul. Because you already know going in that you’re coming out with a thinner wallet, why not go big-boy-style and have the blue-cheese-butter-topped Cowboy with onion rings? It’s everybody’s recommendation; you’ll thank us for sure. Here’s a bonus -- you’re right next to Krog St. Market, a food market that also sells specialty goods, hand-crafted items, and produce that you have to visit with whatever is left in your wallet. Skip dessert at Kevin Rathbun’s and have it at The Little Tart bakery at the market instead.
You can’t be in Atlanta without eating shrimp and grits -- it might as well be against the law. There are a good number of places where you can’t go wrong, but SCK is so good you can’t even go not-right. (That’s a thing, right?) Whether you prefer the original location on Crescent Ave in Midtown, the Smyrna outpost, or the recently opened Buckhead version, the breakfast meal you can eat all day is always perfectly served with smoky tomato gravy, Tasso ham, poblano chiles, and all the love you can feel from the best kind of comfort food.
Fruitologist (yes, it’s a real job!) Myrna Perez has been blending amazing Earth-derived beverages at her Old Fourth Ward fruteria since 2006, conveniently offering BeltLine pedestrians, cyclists, or anyone seeking a break from their driving commute a place to enjoy healthier options. Smoothies are made using fruits from the Andes Mountains, Caribbean, and South America, and blended with OJ, pineapple juice, milk, or water (try the passionfruit-mixed Pura Pasión). Hang around for a ham and Havarti or roasted turkey and Swiss sammy, or for just $2 grab a small helping of chulpe, which is a crunchy, salty Ecuadorian-style toasted corn historically known as an energy-sustaining snack for Incan warriors. Lotta Frutta is right near the Martin Luther King Jr. birth home as well as the September Gray Fine Art Gallery -- so make an afternoon out of it after you get juiced up.
The people have spoken, and as they shouted the praises of Daddy D’s, the fully cleaned bones of pork ribs flew from their jaws. Be like your fellow Atlanta barbecue addicts and order a hickory/oak pit-smoked rack, which will arrive in front of you so tender than you’ll hear Ralph Tresvant’s silky R+B pipes singing inside your head, or the voices of Sugarland’s Kristin and Brandon Bush (who LOVE Daddy D’z) as you tear into the saucy, messy, unbelievably tasty meat. And don’t worry about finding it -- just drive down Memorial until you see the most ridiculously awesome, jury-rigged sign in the city standing atop the building next to a metal pig statue...
When you start a citywide revolution with a late-night burger, which you only sell in limited quantities on a first-come/first-served basis at your restaurant’s bar, you know you’ve struck gold. Or at least Kraft American-cheese-yellow. Seriously, if you’ve ever been to a restaurant that sells a burger “stack,” it was inspired by these guys. H&F uses its own bread, two 4oz patties made of pasture-raised chuck and brisket, bread-and-butter pickles, red onions, and house-made mustard and ketchup. If you’re not going to be near Buckhead, H&F Burger in Ponce City Market is just as good.
When someone like Chef Art Smith (former personal chef for Oprah and proprietor of Southern Art and Bourbon Bar) says Arepa Mia is an Atlanta must-try, believe him. Those unbelievably yummy, criss-crossed Venezuelan breakfast cornmeal patties simply cannot be imitated or duplicated, and let’s not pretend that you’re flying over to Venezuela in the near future. Stay here in ATL, visit the location in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market downtown (right around Georgia State University and Grady Hospital), and order the pernil, which is stuffed with caramelized onions and 12-hour roasted pork from north Georgia’s Riverview Farms, and served with fresh cilantro sauce. You’re in an international, world-class city -- eat like you know it.