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, their best meals in Atlanta this year, to offer up their favorite spots to regularly dine in Atlanta, and what got them excited in 2021 for the future of restaurants and dining in Atlanta.
Finally, instead of offering up dining predictions for 2022, we asked these industry insiders and Eater readers to create a dining wish list for Atlanta. Here’s what each had to say about what they hope to see in the future at Atlanta restaurants.
Kris Martins, Eater Atlanta contributor
Wine shops that double as wine bars. I love what 3 Parks Wine has done with its tastings. It’d be great for that to take a more permanent form. Read about the Vibrary, a bookshop, wine bar, and wine shop in Stone Mountain.
More (really) late night spots. I love the idea of pop-ups taking over for late-night service at restaurants.
More restaurants that focus on capturing regional cuisine. So, instead of concepts described as “Italian” or “Brazilian,” I’d like to see menus that zoom in and instead focus on Sicily or Bahia, for example.
Mike Jordan, editor of Butter ATL
I’d like for Atlanta to let people drink in more designated outdoor spaces, because we are adults and can handle a nice pleasant walk with a beer on the BeltLine.
Sam Worley, deputy editor of Atlanta magazine
I know that this horse has left the barn, but I desperately wish to see the end of cashless restaurants and menus accessible only by scanning a QR code. Millions of people in the U.S. don’t have bank accounts; they might not be the target demographic for these cashless restaurants, but I worry that restaurants (and other businesses) are helping build momentum toward a broadly cashless future—something harder for poor people, in a country where it’s already a nightmare to be poor.
Ditto menus that you need a smartphone to access, though I have a more selfish objection here—especially during this long, lonely pandemic, it sucks to meet a friend for dinner and have to immediately hunch over your phone just to order. I’m sick of looking at this thing!
Chef Thip Athakhanh, owner of Snackboxe Bistro
I would love to see more Asian-inspired brunch menu options at restaurants besides dim sum and ramen. A tapas-style, small plates, banchan of southeast Asian cuisine would be a great concept for the Atlanta food scene. As a foodie myself, I want to try a little bit of everything.
Jennifer Zyman, Eater Atlanta contributor and host of podcast The Food That Binds
I would like to see more utilitarian restaurants open, such as a 24-hour Greek diner or more Jewish delis. While Atlanta has a lot of creative chefs and excellent and immigrant-led cuisine, we need more neighborhood spots to flesh out the landscape. So, I vote for more Greek salad served at 2 a.m. and deli Reubens for all.
Beth McKibben, editor of Eater Atlanta
Growing up in the northeast, I miss dropping in for random bites to eat throughout the day at a classic diner. While Atlanta has a few diners, there aren’t really enough to satisfy that need for a club sandwich or grilled cheese and a cup of black coffee or pot roast, Greek salad, or patty melt paired with a fresh slice of pie from the pastry case at any hour.
2021 proved Atlanta needs more bookstore and wine bar or coffee shop combos like Lucian Books and Wine, Read Shop, and the Vibrary, too. These places are accessible and have such a vibe, one that is relaxing and unhurried (something Atlanta needs now more than ever.) Not every restaurant has to be all about the “scene” or “the ‘gram” here. I frequented the Atticus on Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut, as a teen, where I would order a pot of tea or cup of coffee, a turkey club, and read for an hour or two after perusing the shelves for new books. The experiences had solo or with friends at that cafe and bookshop stuck with me.
Frankly, I would just love to have a true neighborhood cafe nearby where I live in Atlanta that I can actually walk to for coffee in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and a glass of wine or light dinner in the evening. Looking forward to the Daily opening on Trabert Avenue next year.
Eater readers surveyed
Several Eater readers who participated in the 2021 Year in Eater dining survey wish to see the following in Atlanta:
- More Lebanese/Middle Eastern/Greek restaurants
- West African restaurants
- No more QR code menus
- More Kosher restaurants
- Breweries with local restaurants inside, like Inner Voice Brewing and Glide Pizza
- More wine bars
- More casual fine dining establishments like Spring
- A true street food scene in Atlanta with food trucks, carts, trailers, tents, and windows
- Focus on outdoor dining and closure of streets for parklets
- Non-generic breakfast restaurants that also open early in the morning
- All Year in Eater coverage [EATL]