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Despite having the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast at just over 6 million people, and the world’s busiest airport (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International), Atlanta is mostly overlooked by outsiders obsessed with Southern food and culture. Charleston has Lowcountry cooking and scads of storied historic buildings along its streets. Nashville has hot chicken and its famed music row. And New Orleans gave birth to the American cocktail movement.
Atlanta doesn’t feature the same culinary buzz associated with those aforementioned destinations, but residents of the city and its sprawling metropolitan area know the secret behind the dining scene lies within the sheer diversity of restaurants and the fostering of ATL’s fierce entrepreneurial spirit. There’s more to Atlanta food than Southern fare. And now Michelin is even taking note, with the debut of the first ever Atlanta dining guide in October 2023.
Welcome to ATL
As Delta Air Lines in Atlanta blossomed in the 1960s, and more businesses set up shop in ATL, the populations of the city and its burgeoning metropolitan region have boomed. This flood of people from elsewhere led to the unfair reputation of Atlanta being a “transplant city” without any culinary culture of its own. It’s true that there isn’t one ancient, unique dish locals point to as a mascot of sorts. Instead, Atlanta offers myriad examples of foodways and fusion foods. The global pantry influences many restaurants in Atlanta, as people from all over the world move here to take advantage of job opportunities in the tech and creative fields and north Georgia’s temperate climate. The latter also means Atlanta offers a robust outdoor dining scene and a patio season that often begins in March and stretches into early December.
As for food, expect to find restaurants around Atlanta serving everything from Filipino, Indian, food from countries throughout the African continent, and Sichuan to soul, Southern, and Colombian dishes and plenty of great barbecue and wings. With that, welcome to ATL or the A. Just please don’t call it “Hotlanta”.
Where to Start on Eater Atlanta’s Best of Maps
Hot Restaurants: These are the hottest restaurant’s right now around Atlanta. The list includes dishes representing the whole of the South at Southern National, chefs cooking up foods from countries from around the world at Uptown Kitchen, and great takes on Thai cuisine at Tyde Tate Kitchen and Bar of Thailand.
Essential Restaurants: Updated quarterly, the Eater 38 is chock-full of excellent dining recommendations. The list includes longtime Atlanta staples, restaurants with loyal followings, and cult favorites locals love. The Eater 38 reflects Atlanta’s impressive diversity. This includes restaurants like Gullah- and Lowcountry fare from Virgil’s; takes on classic Italian-American dishes at Gigi’s; traditional French and Alsatian cuisine from Cafe Alsace; dishes inspired by the diaspora of African cuisine at Continent; the epic tasting menu from fine dining stalwart Bacchanalia; and James Beard award winning restaurants the Deer and the Dove and Miller Union.
Barbecue: Barbecue is a very big deal in Atlanta and, deservedly, requires its very own essentials list. While there are smokehouses all over the metro area, Atlanta’s best-of barbecue lists have been dominated by two names: Fox Bros., featuring Texas-style brisket at beef ribs, and Heirloom Market, which mixes Southern-American and Korean flavors. But this list is filled with tons of really great barbecue joints.
Classic Restaurants: While Atlanta’s newer restaurants tend to capture most of the spotlight, these classic dining institutions continue to stand the test of time.
Southern: Which foods fall under the “Southern” umbrella varies by region in the South. Check out this list of Southern restaurants throughout Atlanta. There’s also Southern restaurant staples like the meat and three and Atlanta diners.
Soul Food: What’s the difference between soul food and Southern food? The phrase “soul food” was first coined in the 1960s, seemingly meant to describe the honest-to-goodness, comforting foods often prepared at home by African-American Southerners, with many dishes rooted in survival and the African diaspora. Here are a few restaurants to try.
Restaurants Near the Airport: Whether you’re a local looking to grab a bite in the area or a weary traveler heading off the highway or staying in a hotel, great food can be found at restaurants in cities and neighborhoods around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Pop-Ups: Atlanta’s restaurant pop-up scene is one of the best in the country and serving some of the most creative and innovative dishes found anywhere in the city and metro area. Here’s where to start.
Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants: Despite its reputation for wings and barbecue, Atlanta also features a thriving vegetarian and vegan dining scene. Start with these lists of Atlanta vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
Wings: Atlanta knows wings, and there are plenty of great places around town offering flats, drums, and even that tiny extra part that some people eat as if it actually held meat. These Atlanta restaurants are leading the wing pack.
Beer: Now that Georgia’s beer laws have been brought into the 21st century, drinkers can actually buy beers directly from breweries, by the glass in taprooms or up to a case to go. Here’s a list of the best breweries to check out right now.
Cocktails: Despite numerous hurdles caused by the pandemic, bars are slowly coming back online in Atlanta. Here are a few of Atlanta’s newest drinking destinations and libation pop-ups.
Hotel Bars: As more Atlanta hotels focus attention on upping the drinks game, greater emphasis is being placed on cocktail and wine lists meant to attract both locals and ATL tourists. Grab drinks at one of these hotel bars around Atlanta.
Breakfast: Atlanta isn’t lacking in restaurants serving up a variety of takes on the morning meal. Eater’s breakfast map is filled with some of metro Atlanta’s best bets for biscuits, pancakes, bacon, eggs, and, most importantly, coffee to kick the day off right.
Brunch: In a city like Atlanta, where folks like to have a variety of dining options on the table, there’s one surefire way to remind people that ATL is indeed a Southern city — all-day brunch restaurants. Check out these restaurants serving brunch all day and Atlanta restaurants with fresh new versions of brunch.
Coffee: This city’s love affair with coffee means there are plenty of quality independent shops to seek out around Atlanta. Check out these essential Atlanta coffee shops.
Fried Chicken: Atlanta isn’t lacking great fried chicken at restaurants, from platters served at southern and soul food restaurants that have been in business for decades, to original takes by relative newcomers on ATL’s fried chicken scene.
LGBTQ Bars: Atlanta is the capital of the queer South, and the city’s got the gay bars to prove it. Here are just a few LGBTQ bars and restaurants to consider around Atlanta.
Patios: Atlanta’s lengthy warm season sees the city enjoying outdoor living and al fresco dining nearly ten months out of the year. That also means Atlanta is full of great patios like these. Consider these rooftop patios with serious views, a covered patio for when Atlanta’s weather is less than pleasant, or these patios offering outdoor fireplaces and fire pits.
Blandtown/Underwood Hills/Westside Provisions
This burgeoning area of town includes a slew of great restaurants found at spots like Westside Provisions District, such as West Egg Cafe, Cooks and Soldiers, Taqueria Del Sol, Marcel, and Aziza, and emerging complexes like the Interlock and Star Metals on Howell Mill Road. But get beyond this dense dining district in northwest Atlanta to check out other award-winning restaurants like Miller Union, Star Provisions and Bacchanalia, and Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, and the area’s bustling brewery scene in Blandtown and Underwood Hills. Drop by the new food hall, Chattahoochee Food Works. Maybe consider ending an evening out at the iconic blues bar Northside Tavern.
This neighborhood isn’t as trendy as it once was, but Buckhead is still home to some of the best high-end restaurants in Atlanta. Atlas, located in the St. Regis hotel, is high-priced, but the exquisite menu makes it a refuge for those who miss traditional fine dining. After receiving a fresh coat of paint, Gerry Klaskala’s Aria feels updated while continuing to serve well-executed European cuisine mixed with Southern ingredients. Then there’s the newer additions to the Buckhead dining scene like French cafe and wine bar Le Bon Nosh, Mission & Market, and Little Alley Steak. Consider Storico Fresco for classic pasta dishes and plenty of Italian wine.
Buford Highway isn’t a single neighborhood or its own municipality. It’s a four-lane highway stretching from the tip of Brookhaven just north of the city of Atlanta to Duluth in the northern suburban county of Gwinnett filled with restaurants and markets representing nearly two dozen countries from around the globe. In other words, Buford Highway is a gourmand’s paradise featuring foods from nations like Vietnam and Korea to Mexico and Colombia. Deciding where and what to eat along Buford Highway can be overwhelming so, Eater compiled this list of essential restaurants to try. It’s just the tip of the culinary iceberg along this road. There are also upward of 20 marisquerias (Mexican seafood restaurants) around metro Atlanta to explore, too. Make sure to explore the restaurants found on streets adjacent to Buford Highway, including the food court at Atlanta Chinatown and Plaza Fiesta.
Located directly east of the Atlanta city limits, this municipality boasts a charming downtown and some of the metro area’s finest bars and restaurants all within a few blocks. An ideal evening starts at Kimball House for some of the best cocktails and the best oyster selection in town, or at Victory Sandwich Bar for light snacks, beers, and Jack and Coke slushies. Grab a seat at James Beard award-winning restaurant the Deer and the Dove for crispy rabbit legs fried in fermented buttermilk and grilled octopus and shrimp terrine. Or dig into Italian food at the White Bull just off of Decatur Square. For Spanish tapas pop over to Iberian Pig on the square. Head to critically acclaimed restaurant Chai Pani for Indian street food or dine on pub grub paired with beer at Brick Store Pub. Maybe consider this food crawl as your introduction to the Decatur food scene.
Downtown Atlanta is home to the city’s biggest tourist attractions like the Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame, and Georgia Aquarium, not to mention the towering transformer that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the revamped home of the Atlanta Hawks, State Farm Arena. While the area caters mostly to office dwellers, college students from Georgia State, and tourists, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path dining options like Dua Vietamese, Aamar Indian Cuisine, and Mediterranean dishes from Aviva by Kameel. For those looking for dinner and a view, make a reservation at the iconic SunDial Restaurant or rotating rooftop restaurant Polaris. Trader Vic’s in the Hilton Downtown is a must-visit for those seeking stiff tiki drinks like the Fogcutter or original Mai Tai.
East Point/College Park/Hapeville (Tri-Cities)
Newcomers to Atlanta, as well as those who work in or travel to the city, may have heard of the towns of East Point, College Park, and Hapeville referred to as the “ATL Airport District.” But longtime residents still call it the Tri-Cities. Its namesake high school and assortment of landmarks were made famous on albums by former East Point residents André 3000 and Big Boi, the duo behind Outkast. The Tri-Cities are filled with some of metro Atlanta’s best kept secrets, including Taco Pete, a West Coast-style taco stand in East Point serving everything from tacos to hot dogs to great wings. There’s Hattie Marie’s Texas-style barbecue, Bole Ethiopian, and Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar in College Park. Volare brings Southern-French fancy to Hapeville. Check out this neighborhood guide for more great restaurant options written by longtime East Point resident and Atlanta journalist Mike Jordan.
Atlanta’s first streetcar suburb has been home to some quality dining options for quite some time, but the neighborhood has exploded with development in recent years. Krog Street Market, with its food stalls and craft beer bar, is almost always packed at peak hours. Krog Street Market features a few Atlanta dining scene veterans, including chef Todd Richards and his soul food stall Soul: Food and Culture and the team behind Ticonderoga Club, serving a mix of Asian, Southern, and New England fare paired with creative cocktails. Elsewhere, BoccaLupo turns out Atlanta’s best pasta, and Sotto Sotto is a go-to for multi-course Italian feasts. Bread and Butterfly has become a destination for French bistro fare. Diners will forget about Chipotle forever after one bite at Bell Street Burritos, which also has locations in Buckhead and Tucker. And, tucked away on Lake Avenue is a quaint breakfast and lunch spot named Julianna’s serving Hungarian-style crepes made from an old family recipe.
Old Fourth Ward
No Atlanta neighborhood has seen more change due to BeltLine-related growth than the Old Fourth Ward. O4W is home to Ponce City Market, which features restaurants and food stalls from Atlanta chefs such as Anne Quatrano, Linton Hopkins, and Hector Santiago in the market’s Central Food Hall. Further up the road on Ponce, the Hotel Clermont includes fine dining at Tiny Lou’s above where the ladies dance at the Clermont Lounge. Further east, check out the restaurants and bars within the Edgewood Avenue dining district, including a location of Slutty Vegan, Edgewood Pizza, Our Bar ATL, Joystick Gamebar, and Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. Pop by Staplehouse for a bottle of wine and incredible dishes from chef Ryan Smith and his team or head next door for beer, coffee, and a meal at Biggerstaff Brewing. There are also a slew of dining options all along the Eastside Beltline trail from Ponce City Market to Krog Street Market, and beyond. But, be sure to seek out other spots around the area, including Glide Pizza at Studioplex, sandwich shop and market LottaFrutta, and restaurants in neighboring Poncey-Highland like Southern Belle, Fishmonger, and El Ponce.
A neighborhood founded by former enslaved people just after the Civil War, later becoming home to the majority of the city’s Jewish population in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Summerhill has long been a place for Atlantans to strike out on their own and open successful businesses. That entrepreneurial spirit continues today with the latest generation of restaurant and business owners here in the neighborhood and along its burgeoning Main Street: Georgia Avenue. Head to Summerhill for clever takes on Thai food at Talat Market or chef Jarrett Stieber tapping into his Jewish roots with hints of Sichuan spice at Little Bear, along with a variety of casual restaurants serving pizza, fried chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and barbecue. There’s beer and bites and even a beer garden from brewery Halfway Crooks, soft serve ice cream at Big Softie, and coffee and fresh pastries form Little Tart Bakeshop. New restaurants open here every year, including Mexican restaurant D Boca N Boca and Southern National from former One Flew South chef Duane Nutter and restaurateur Reginald “Reggie” Washington.
Surrounding I-20 on Atlanta’s southwest side lie the neighborhoods of West End and Westview, home to Atlanta’s historic Black colleges Clark Atlanta University, Spelman, and Morehouse. The neighborhoods are filled with plenty of great dining options, including many of the city’s best vegan and vegetarian restaurants like Soul Vegetarian as well as casual spots like D Cafe and Slutty Vegan for its line-inducing meatless burgers. Check out brewpub Lean Draft House or bar and restaurant Bogg’s Social and Supply. The Lee + White complex in West End is anchored by several local food and beverage purveyors, such Wild Heaven Beer and El Tesoro, Best End Brewing, Hop City Craft Beer and Wine’s Boxcar gastropub, and locations of ASW Distillery and Monday Night Brewing.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Popular restaurants Aria, Spring, Bacchanalia, Miller Union, Gunshow, Lazy Betty, Lucian Books and Wine, and edomae-style sushi restaurant Mujo all require advanced booking. Consider one of these restaurants when looking to splurge on a night out on the town.
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