The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Atlanta
If you take one look at our list of Atlanta's most important restaurants and say, "Where's The Varsity? This list sucks!" Then we'll say... um, something rude probably, then stick out our tongues, and finally point out that we write about restaurants all the time, so clearly we know what what we're doing, which in this case, is picking the places making the greatest contributions to the ATL's highly active and awesome dining scene. Feast your eyes...
In true Atlanta fashion, we allowed Hugh Acheson, from Canada, to become the chef version of Drake and turn the city out with his impressively crafted "Southern" cuisine. Not only did he do it and do it well, he proved that "Southern" is a state of mind, belly and taste buds. With ESS, he also brought a bocce court to the heart of Midtown and a menu for all four food types -- breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.
Though it moved down the street to a modernized Castleberry Hill hotel location after the original building became a Clark Atlanta University dormitory, Paschal’s still makes the list because it still features many of the same time-tested meals enjoyed by MLK and all the other iconic leaders of Atlanta’s historic Civil Rights Movement (John Lewis, Andrew Young, Ralph David Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, etc.). They’d have strategy sessions and negotiate over nonviolent tactics and messaging, all while killing plates of fried chicken and mac & cheese. Soul food at its truest.
A lot of couples who’ve never owned and operated a restaurant think it’s a cute and romantic thing to do. It’s not; it’s hard, unforgiving, and usually thankless/rewardless work. Add the fact that you never get a real break from your significant other because of restaurant hours and all the nearby butcher knives. But somehow married meal-makers Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison make it work, and they've made a great reputation, mad money, and unmatched food fresh from their own organic farms. Maybe that’s why the chews at Baccha are consistently rated as the top restaurant in town -- not only are they famously fresh, but they might really be seasoned with love.
Seven-years-shy of 100, AP is ATL’s oldest standing restaurant, and it puts that played out burger place on North Ave to shame. No matter how the times and menu changes, you can always get lots of local eats, from boiled Georgia peanuts to North GA trout and all types of Vidalia onion trickery.
NLC is an established Mexican darling; one that’s been serving authentic Mexican from deep within the Westside since 1992, before it was all "cool again." Those tacos, burritos, chimichangas, brisket barbacoas, and margaritas -- ESPECIALLY those lovely fishbowl margaritas -- made it a consistent critical darling and crowd favorite, and if you were lucky enough to get a spot inside during the annual Cinco bash, you could probably tell that business isn't slowing down as it approaches 25 years in biz.
Ann Price passed away in April, but her legacy is much more than a Ghetto Burger. Even before the national press dubbed her beef patty sammy the best in America back in 2007, she had a long line of folks waiting to taste her homestyle recipe from one of eight stools with a good view of the flat top grill. The family says it's gonna keep it alive for now; you’d better get over there and pay respects to her world-famous talent by biting into the gold sandwiched between that sesame-seeded bun. RIP Ms. Ann! If Tupac was right and heaven has a ghetto, its kitchen is about to get a whole new attitude and a much better burger.
First of all, you’re on a super-sustainable organic farm eating the freshest picked stuff since your booger-eating phase back in elementary school. Second, you could actually buy a townhome and live on one of the property’s four hamlets if you have the money. Third, those James Beard-cheffed pork chops, rabbit legs, and chocolate Bourbon pecan pies won’t eat themselves. Next time you’re feeling earthy, take that ride down 85 like YoungBloodZ and eat the gold standard of natural nosh.
The retired South African pro soccer player who opened 10 DS back in ‘98 knew what he and his family were doing when they opened this oasis of food from his homeland. It looks like a corporate office from Roswell Rd, but once you get past the door, and especially when you hit the bungalow-designed back patio, you feel transported to the motherland. And that’s before you bite into those super-sized prawns or that undeniable curry chicken. You might not even notice you’re surrounded by major superstars who’re all wondering how you knew about their favorite Atlanta resto, or if you might be some hot new producer that can help them with a few good beats after you eat.
You already know this Buford Highway-based bastion of Vietnamese broth bowls is a big pho-king deal. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s delicious, not to mention the bubble tea will make you burn all your bags of Lipton like we’re stuck in a Boston time bubble. Get to slurpin’.
Those national chef competition shows weren’t even big back in 2004 when Kevin Rathbun opened the first of several fancy feast foundries in our proud and portly town. We’ve been much better ever since, and the addition of Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak, and KR SteakBar only proved that there would be no question as to why almost any critic with a respected voice showed reverence for the way he prepared not only steak but also everything else brought from the kitchen he built.
Since 2008, when former Navy Petty Officer Kamal Grant launched his brilliant gourmet doughnut business from its genius location (directly across from Georgia Tech), it’s been the sweetest love story between us (that includes you) and those beautifully baked pastries. Favorites range from the vowel-shaped/Belgian-chocolate-dipped/custard-filled “A-Town Mocha” and frosted croissants, to ice-cream-centered doughnut "burgers" and weirdly delectable treats like salted caramel with reduced balsamic vinegar. These days we have a few new shops obviously inspired by the original (Sarah, Revolution, etc.), but there’s only one Sublime.
Who even knows the top reason to go to this infamous joint? It could be the cornbread muffins (made from the kernels of daily hand-shucked cobs), the soul-pleasing, hand-washed collards, the timeless fried bird, the GA peach cobbler, or the fried green tomatoes -- all of which are certified classics. No joke, even the Georgia House of Representatives recognized it as "Atlanta’s Dining Room" in an official resolution, you know, because elected leaders do important work. It was even referenced on an episode of your favorite show-- Designing Women -- back in the day. You can’t front on 70 years of service and proper Southern sustenance.
That old blue and white brick building on the east side of MLK with the caricature sign of retired founder Nick Poulos above the front entry doesn’t look all that special at first. Then you get in there and order the town’s best gyro, which Nick’s family still makes to perfection after 21 years. That Super Mario graffiti mural out-back adds to the awesomeness, especially if you’ve ever met Nick, who resembles the Nintendo icon so closely that you’ve always wished you had the nerve to ask him when was the last time he kicked Bowser’s ass.
Before this, it’s not that we were eating horrible pizza; plenty coal- and brick-oven spots around town had ushered in a golden era of crusty, cheesy pies. After this, you can barely even casually mention that you had pizza in the previous month without someone snarkily asking, “But was it Antico though?” It made all the other players in ATL’s pizza wars a few years ago call “uncle” and seek to be seen in the same circles, or at least hoping to carve out a slice of their own. Oh, and you know that whole amazing Little Italy thing we have going on in Home Park? That all started here.
There’ve always been rumors from folks who’ve worked here that the kitchen is pretty sketch. Still, anybody that’s ever been young, broke and hungry in ATL (especially during their 20s) can testify about being saved from the brink by that super-affordable meat + pasta deal they run from a square Ponce de Leon shack. Not only that -- don’t lie -- it’s actually delicious.
Sure, it’s not that much better than Buckhead Diner, Landmark, or any of the other 24-hour greasy spoons around town. But it’s in Poncey-Highland, which means part of the appeal of picking this place for a hangover-curing, night-ending breakfast is in being around the wildly assorted characters you’ll see who also made some questionable decisions earlier that night. It’s kinda less about the food than the vibe.
The year was 1947. The war was over, and still, two years later, everybody had one question on their minds: Where are we going for dinner on Sunday? The answer was, and still is, a West End establishment that taught every other restaurant in town (except, some would say, Mary Mac’s) how to bread and fry a de-feathered yardbird. It also perfected the meat-and-three via baked turkey wings, "Joe Lewis" Ham Hocks (they pack a punch), and even chitlins if you really want to show how stuck in the ‘40s you still are today. No judgment; maybe they’re delicious! We’ll take your word for it.
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