Despite a year of ups and downs due to the ongoing global health crisis, the Atlanta dining industry continues to showcase the resilience and wild creativity of the people working in its restaurants and bars. Dining rooms reopened and patios were given serious upgrades. New state and city policies brought to-go cocktails, on-street dining (parklets), and open-container districts to metro Atlanta. Unionization efforts in Georgia’s hospitality industry ramped up. And while food halls boomed in Atlanta, more pop-ups than ever before came on the scene, as people struck out on their own to launch dream businesses.
As 2021 draws to a close, and, as is tradition, Eater surveyed Atlanta food writers, restaurant industry authorities, and a few readers on everything from their favorite new restaurant or pop-up and best meal of the year to what they hope to start seeing on the Atlanta dining scene in 2022.
First up, we ask our experts and readers to share their favorite new restaurant to open or pop-up to launch in 2021. Check back throughout the rest of the week for more Year in Eater feedback from the experts and from our readers.
Kris Martins, Eater Atlanta contributor
[Peruvian pop-up from chef Arnaldo Castillo] La Chingana
Mike Jordan, editor of Butter ATL
I know somebody else will say this, too, but it’s gotta be Lucian Books and Wine. Beth [McKibben], I think actually pushed me to go, and I remember they didn’t have the fries and sorrel mayo or the duck leg that night, which she insisted I order. But, I ordered enough, between the raw hamachi, oysters, sea scallops and eggplant, to have a well-rounded experience that was good enough to recommend. They also make great negronis and pour all sorts of great wine. I specifically remember having a really good vermouth before dinner. Also, it must be said that a restaurant and wine bar with a bookstore inside could certainly have gone left, but that place has such a natural vibe and makes so much sense.
Sam Worley, deputy editor of Atlanta magazine
Chef Thip Athakhanh, owner of Snackboxe Bistro
[Filipina bakery] Three Lolas Bake Shop had me at Sans Rival Cake.
Jennifer Zyman, Eater Atlanta contributor and host of podcast The Food That Binds
One of my favorite new pop-ups this year was Soupbelly dumplings. I can’t make every dumpling under the sun like Candy Hom, and her dumplings made weeknight meals and easy lunches super fast. Her potstickers and dumplings especially are like having precious jewels in the freezer, and they are way better than store-bought dumplings. I also liked supporting her because she did so much cooking for Freefridge99 throughout the pandemic.
Beth McKibben, editor of Eater Atlanta
For me, the most exciting new restaurants to open around Atlanta this year were Lucian Books and Wine in Buckhead (that duck and those fries, y’all), Grass VBQ Joint in Stone Mountain (into the Titustown veef brisket with Vidalia VBQ sauce), and Thai restaurant Tum Pok Pok on Buford Highway (basil lemongrass mussels and Isan sausage). All three are bringing something fresh and genuine to the Atlanta dining scene. As for pop-ups, my picks go to Taiwanese-American fare from Mighty Hans, chef Justin Dixon’s Atlanta-centric sandwich shop Humble Mumble, and Mexican street eats from Gorditas ATL.
Eater readers surveyed
Several readers who participated in the 2021 Year in Eater dining survey listed Lyla Lila, Talat Market, JenChan’s, Little Bear, and Tum Pok Pok as their favorite new Atlanta restaurants. Shoutouts also went out to pop-ups Gigi’s Italian Kitchen and Spina Pizza.
All Year in Eater coverage [EATL]