Food & Drink

The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Atlanta

Published On 05/13/2015 Published On 05/13/2015

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...

Empire State South

Empire State South

Midtown

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.

Paschal's Restaurant

Paschal's Restaurant

Castleberry Hill

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.

Bacchanalia

Bacchanalia

Westside/Home Park

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.

Atkins Park Tavern - Virginia Highland

Atkins Park

Virginia Highland

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.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina

Nuevo Laredo Cantina

Westside

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.

CHRIS WATKINS/Thrillist

Ann’s Snack Bar

Kirkwood

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.

The Farmhouse at Serenbe

The Farmhouse at Serenbe

Palmetto

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.

10 Degrees South

10 Degrees South

Buckhead

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.

Pho Dai Loi

Buford Highway

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’.

Rathbun's

Rathbun’s

Inman Park

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.

Sublime Doughnuts

Sublime Doughnuts

Westside/Home Park

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.

SEBASTIAN DAVIS/Thrillist

Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Midtown

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.

SEBASTIAN DAVIS/Thrillist

Nick’s Food To Go

Grant Park

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.

SEBASTIAN DAVIS/Thrillist

Antico Pizza Napoletana

Westside/Home Park

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.

Eats Restaurant

Eats Restaurant

Midtown

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.

Flickr/Jack Kennard

Majestic Diner

Poncey-Highland

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.

Busy Bee Cafe/Marcus Ryan

The Busy Bee Cafe

West End

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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1. Empire State South 999 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 (Midtown)

Empire State South is Hugh Acheson’s ode to Southern food, and despite its office building locale (and Acheson's Canadian roots) serves plates authentic enough to be home-cooked. It's rare to find a restaurant that excels at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but Empire State South manages to do so. The morning line-up boasts standouts like peanut brittle porridge and smoked catfish on an everything bagel, while lunch forces a corporate crowd to think outside the box with jars of baba ganoush, pimento cheese with bacon marmalade, and catfish mousse. Acheson fuses Southern ingredients to a new level at dinner, where the small plates-heavy menu features out-there dishes like rabbit boudin and grilled octopus on kimchee rice. Okay, maybe you can't recreate these recipes at home.

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2. Paschal's Restaurant 180 Northside Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30314 (Castleberry Hill)

Battering up and frying chicken with the Paschal brothers' famous 1947 secret recipe, this legendary Southern spot serves the comfort food you love -- like po' boys, shrimp and grits, and crisp fried catfish -- and's hosted a plethora of prominent figures, from Aretha Franklin to VP Al Gore to Dr. MLK Jr. End your meal with their famous peach cobbler, you'll be happy you did.

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3. Bacchanalia 1198 Howell Mill Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 (Midtown)

An award-winning and highly acclaimed American joint in Midtown from chefs/owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, Bacchanalia plates organic and seasonal eats from an a la carte menu, or choose their delectable five-course prix fixe option.

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4. Atkins Park Restaurant 794 N Highland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 (Virginia Highland)

Atkins Park is Atlanta's oldest continually-running restaurant (it began as a deli in 1922) and the figurative cornerstone of Virginia-Highland. It remained relevant and beloved by Atlantans, with solid burgers, sandwiches, and entrees like short rib pot roast. Its beer selection beats a lot of newer and trendier places in the beloved Va-Hi district--there's a wide assortment of canned, bottled, and draft beer available, as well as a varied selection of wines. AK offers late-night drinking and family-friendly dining under the same roof.

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5. Nuevo Laredo Cantina 1495 Chattahoochee Avenue NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 (West Atlanta)

While working for ATL giant Coca-Cola in the 1960s, current restaurateur Chance Evans took frequent trips to Mexico, presumably to figure out just how they made that much-coveted Mexican Coke. Anyway, those trips inspired Evans to open his own restaurant, which he's ensured is serving only the best, most authentic South-of-the-Border dishes, including huevos rancheros, chicken mole, chalupas, and more.

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6. Ann's Snack Bar 1615 Memorial Dr, Atlanta, GA 30317 (Kirkwood)

The burgers at Ann's snack bar, some of the best in Atlanta, could qualify the Kirkwood spot as the eighth wonder of the world. The voluptuous, hand-pressed Ghetto Burgers bring chili sauce, bacon, a super-secret seasoning, fat pieces of onion, and fried bacon together in a burger that's admittedly difficult to eat but so worth the mess (you've just gotta dive right into this one). There isn't ample seating, but after a short wait you can sit along the bar and watch it get made right in front of you, which, trust us, will work up an appetite large enough to tackle it on your own.

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7. Farmhouse at Serenbe 10950 Hutcheson Ferry Rd, Palmetto, GA 30268

First of all, you’re on a super-sustainable organic farm, eating the freshest-picked stuff since your booger-eating phase back in your youth. Next, 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.

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8. 10 Degrees South 4183 Roswell Rd, Atlanta, GA 30342 (Buckhead)

The retired South African pro soccer player who opened 10 DS back in '98 knew what he was doing when he 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'll feel transported.

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9. Pho Dai Loi 4186 Buford Hwy NW, Ste G, Atlanta, GA 30345

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 the yumz, not to mention their bubble tea will make you burn all your bags of Lipton like we’re stuck in a Boston time bubble. Get to slurpin’.

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10. Rathbun's 112 Krog St NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 (Inman Park)

Truth be told, Rathbun's menu is a little all over the place. We guess it's because Chef de Cuisine Nicholas Anderson couldn't decide which of his delicious offerings to put on the menu. We don't know a single other restaurant where you can start with sashimi, then get an elk steak. Rathbun owns three related establishments on the same street and offers cooking classes, so he basically runs the culinary show at Inman Park.

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11. Sublime Doughnuts 535 10th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 (Home Park)

Sublime is to donuts what Picasso was to painting. They're serious about the craft of creating sweet dough with a hole in the middle and their huge variety of gourmet donuts convey that with every delectable bite.

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12. Mary Mac's Tea Room 224 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Midtown)

At Mary Mac's Tea Room, patrons can enjoy a taste of authentic Southern cooking and hospitality. This means heaping plates of staples like fried chicken, braised ox tails, and grilled liver and onions, as well as a number of specialty drinks like the Mint Julep and Georgia Peach. The place is over 70 years old and was officially named “Atlanta’s Dining Room” by the City of Atlanta. Read any online traveler’s guides and you’ll be convinced that there’s no way to visit Atlanta without eating here. There are pencils and paper sheets on your table for you to write your own order, a tradition of MM’s that dates wayyy back (pre-Bieber).

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13. Nick's Food To Go 240 MLK Dr SE, Atlanta, GA 30312 (Grant Park)

This eatery keeps it simple with dishes like the "lamb plate with everything" and other greek eats.

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14. Antico Pizza Napoletana 1093 Hemphill Ave NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 (Home Park)

This tiny, family owned and operated pizza shop in Home Park doles out saucy, Neapolitan pizzas. Made using a wood-fired oven directly imported from Naples, pizzas come out perfectly charred, piled high with thick, melted mozzarella and flavorful San Marzano tomato sauce. A relaxed BYOB policy makes dining in a treat.

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15. Eats Restaurant 600 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Midtown)

Not a lot of frills at Eats Restaurant, but frills cost bills, my friend. Frills cost bills. And for those of us without bills, Eats is the perfect place to gorge on delicious meat and pasta dishes with insane portion sizes. Want to know what dish costs more than $10? None of them.

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16. Majestic Diner 1031 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 (Midtown)

An Atlanta landmark since 1929, Majestic Diner offers up "food that pleases," including milkshakes, pancakes, hamburgers, waffles, and just about any other comfort food you crave. Bright lights, late hours, and endearing greasy spoon goodness-- what more do you really need?

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17. Busy Bee Cafe 810 Martin Luther King Jr Dr SW, Atlanta, GA 30314 (West End)

Busy Bee Cafe serves traditional Southern eats. Their specialty is a 12 ­hour ­marinated masterpiece that draws fans from Macon to Marietta, and the only way to eat it is “smothered” in pan gravy. In the past year, Bernie Sanders and Killer Mike broke bread and fried chicken bones in political fellowship. Some would say BBC is “hot” again, but it’s had hot sauce ready for hungry guests and neighbors since icons of the Civil Rights Movement dined there for strategy sessions.

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