Despite the ups and downs of 2021 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.
We’ve already asked Atlanta food writers, restaurant industry insiders, and a few Eater readers to name the best new restaurants and pop-ups of 2021. Now, they name their best meals in Atlanta this year.
Check back throughout the week for more Year in Eater feedback from the experts and from our readers.
Kris Martins, Eater Atlanta contributor
When I got off a plane and immediately made a beeline for Supremo’s [Taco] anniversary party and ordered nearly one of everything. Every single item on the menu is fabulous.
Mike Jordan, editor of Butter ATL
The Chastain, definitely. My wife and I went for our anniversary, and it was just so very good in the simplest way. My wife had the burger, and said it might be the best burger she’s ever had. I had trout, and the sommelier suggested a muscadet, which was a perfect pairing. Our friends from ASW Distillery were there and sent over a couple pours of a fancy bourbon to wish us well, and we shared the warm chocolate chip cookie for dessert, which, by the way, is just absolute drugs. The only thing that place was missing that night was some good music, like maybe Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal duets playing over the sound system, but I know it’s not really that kind of neighborhood. I still might request “Saturday Love” next time I’m there.
Sam Worley, deputy editor of Atlanta magazine
Less a single meal than one long, highly significant weekend of devoted eating. It was May, I was finally two weeks past my second vaccine shot, and a close friend was in town: We had brunch at Northern China Eatery (chive pie, Shanxi cold noodles, dumplings, some other stuff), dinner at Bon Ton (hot oyster po’boy, blackened catfish bowl, a Sazerac or two), dinner at Leon’s [Full Service] in Decatur (I literally can’t remember a single thing we ate here because I was just so happy to be sitting down and eating in a building that wasn’t my house). The food was all excellent, of course—but the weekend was a reminder (as the pandemic has been, generally) that great meals are about much more than just the food or even the restaurant.
Obviously the novelty wore off, and some of the anxiety returned. But not before (and here’s a top meal from a new restaurant) I made it to Lucian, a wine bar with impeccable vibes. The food, like the gorgeous dining room, is fancy-ish but not precious or uptight: hamachi crudo, oysters, a big beautiful bowl of french fries with aioli.
Chef Thip Athakhanh, owner of Snackboxe Bistro
Eggplant Curry from Kamayan ATL was very memorable for me — rich and flavorful. It transported me to the Philippines.
Jennifer Zyman, Eater Atlanta contributor and host of podcast The Food That Binds
One of my first fine dining meals since the pandemic was eye-opening after solely cooking for myself or getting takeout. I frankly thought Covid had made me evolve past wanting to sit down in a restaurant and eat deconstructed food. That was until I went to Joey Ward’s Southern Belle one night during a hosted charity dinner. I had forgotten how much food could surprise me when seasoned chefs get creative, and the meal revived a fire inside of me I frankly thought was gone.
Beth McKibben, editor of Eater Atlanta
Top meals for me were definitely the perfectly cooked duck breast and succotash (and those crispy fries with whatever mayo chef Brian Hendrickson whipped up paired with champagne) at Lucian, the Kamayan spread from Filipino pop-up (soon to be a restaurant) Kamayan ATL, and the entire Korean-Peruvian menu from the duel pop-up this fall between Seoul Chikin and La Chingana. Shout out to the ube blondies from pop-up Three Lolas Bakeshop and the horchata cream stuffed doughnuts from DMT Taqueria, too.
Eater readers surveyed
Eater readers who participated in the 2021 Year in Eater dining survey listed the duck leg from Lucian Books and Wine, sweet potato ravioli from the Betty, the wagyu beef ravioli and duck lasagna from Lyla Lila, the crispy rice salad and pork larb from Talat Market, the barbacoa burrito from El Tesoro, fried chicken with lobster mac at Poor Calvin’s, and smoked mackerel appetizer and mushroom and ricotta agnolotti with brisket from Banshee as their top meals of 2021.
All Year in Eater coverage [EATL]