Today we announce the winners of the 2021 Eater Awards, celebrating the new restaurants and pop-ups that made the largest impact on all 24 Eater cities since January 2020.
After deferring last year’s awards as the industry came to grips with the state of dining during the early days of the pandemic, restaurants are now settling into the cadence of a new normal. But restaurants fresh on the Atlanta dining scene are setting the standard for what the future of the industry looks like and how it operates.
Choosing these winners is never easy — a task made more difficult this year by the extenuating circumstances brought on by the global health crisis. The 2021 winners include two restaurants that began as pop-ups and successfully transitioned to neighborhood destinations; a restaurant staying true to its owners’ culinary roots and bringing Atlantans along for the ride; a vegan restaurant with a fresh take on a Southern food institution; a pandemic pivot from full-service dining to a neighborhood market and counter-service restaurant; and a pop-up born from the desire to create a food legacy.
With that, congratulations to the Atlanta winners for Best New Restaurant, Best Pop-Up to Permanent Restaurant, Best New Menu, Best Pandemic Pivot, Best New Pop-Up, and Best New Vegan Restaurant. Winners will receive Eater’s illustrious tomato can trophy to put on display.
Best New Restaurant
Tum Pok Pok, Chamblee
5000 Buford Highway
Atlanta includes a multitude of American Thai restaurants, some better than others. But when Tum Pok Pok opened on Buford Highway in April, it captured the attention of not only dining critics, but those seeking tried and true Thai dishes in Atlanta. The Chamblee restaurant, owned by Adidsara Weerasin and Jakkrit Tuanphakdee, specializes in Isan street eats and foods sold by vendors or found in homes throughout northeast Thailand bordering the Mekong River. Weerasin and Tuanphakdee’s menu is transportive and genuine, filled with the dishes, flavors, heat, and ingredients of the Isan region, similar to those found in the neighboring country of Laos. Think som tum (green papaya salad), larb khaotord, crab and pork dumplings, green curry, and pad thai Pok Pok with giant freshwater prawns tossed in fragrant tamarind sauce.
Best Pop-Up to Permanent Restaurant
Talat Market, Summerhill
112 Ormond Street
When owners Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter launched Talat Market as a pop-up four years ago at Gato in Candler Park, they committed to showcasing Thai dishes using Georgia ingredients. Savang, whose parents own restaurant Danthai in Lawrenceville, wanted to bring the foods of his family and Thailand alive on the menu. His grandmother sold pineapples at a market in Thailand, which is also the inspiration for the restaurant’s logo. An aunt owns a mango stand. An uncle owns a food stall that serves braised pork legs. After successfully transitioning from pop-up to permanent restaurant in April 2020, Talat Market is now a dining destination. That commitment to family recipes, original takes on Thai dishes, and Georgia farmers continues in Summerhill, too, where dishes like fish head soup, crispy rice salad, and grilled spiny lobster pair with martinis, natural wine, and beer slushies.
Best New Menu
Little Bear, Summerhill
71 Georgia Avenue
After running pop-up Eat Me Speak Me for years, chef Jarrett Stieber saw his dream to own a restaurant come to fruition in February 2020. Little Bear is a charming Summerhill spot where Stieber and his crew poke fun at fine dining’s proclivity for tweezer food with dishes rivaling the five-star establishments the chef lampoons. But, just three weeks after opening, the pandemic caused Stieber to shut down the dining room and shift Little Bear to takeout. The takeout menus continued to be as interesting and fun as those Stieber created at the restaurant and for Eat Me Speak Me. The clever food here is an experience and listed with the same tongue-in-cheek descriptions which sustained Little Bear through the lean, dark days of the early pandemic until dine-in service returned to the restaurant this summer. While the menu offers no wrong moves, Little Bear regulars know to tell their server, “Just f*ck me up, fam!”, to partake in a four-course meal of Stieber’s own design.
Best Pandemic Pivot
Staplehouse Market, Old Fourth Ward
541 Edgewood Avenue
Staplehouse, the award-winning tasting menu restaurant on Edgewood Avenue, transformed into a neighborhood market and counter-service establishment with a glorious garden patio last fall after the restaurant’s chef Ryan Smith and wife Kara Hidinger purchased it from non-profit Giving Kitchen. Despite this drastic shift in operations, Smith and his team continue to churn out an impressive list of dishes daily from the market kitchen, including the former restaurant’s chicken liver tart and tender slices of brisket smoked in a barrel smoker and served with fresh tortillas. Don’t skip the pastry case here, or an opportunity to create a charcuterie and cheese board with the Staplehouse Everything Crackers and spongy focaccia topped with onion jam. Order cocktails or grab a bottle of wine from the market and head out back to enjoy on the covered patio or tables in the garden filled with friends and families gathered for a casual afternoon.
Best New Vegan Restaurant
Grass VBQ Joint, Stone Mountain
5385 Five Forks Trickum Road
What started out as a pop-up, first at the Global Grub Collective and then at Orpheus Brewing, has now become one of metro Atlanta’s most successful vegan restaurants. But what sets owner Terry Sargent’s Stone Mountain restaurant apart are his vegan takes on Southern barbecue staples. At Grass VBQ Joint, Sargent doesn’t skimp on the flavors expected in barbecue down South, doling out smoked pulled jackfruit, smoked chick’n with Alabama white sauce and bread and butter pickles, and veef brisket sandwiches topped with celery slaw and Vidalia onion sauce. Paired with traditional sides, including vegan smoked mac and cheese, bourbon baked beans, and even Brunswick stew, Sargent proves at Grass VBQ Joint that there’s more to Southern barbecue than smoked meat.
Best New Pop-Up
La Chingana, Various locations
Chef Arnaldo Castillo first launched La Chingana in 2020 while working as the head chef of Minero at Ponce City Market. In the beginning, the sole purpose behind the pop-up was to provide relief for essential workers during the pandemic. When Castillo found himself at a crossroads in his career earlier this year, he left his job at Minero to focus full time on growing La Chingana into a roving Atlanta restaurant which tells his family’s story through the foods of Peru. With his own business, Castillo says, he can begin building generational wealth for his future children. Now, the chef can be found popping up at restaurants across Atlanta offering menus filled with classic and deeply personal Peruvian dishes packed with flavor and heart, like ceviche clásico, jamón del país sandwiches, choros a la chorrillana (mussel escabeche on sourdough toast), and causa limeña. Castillo plans to turn La Chingana into a permanent restaurant, an homage to Lima and northern Peru, where his family hails from, and his godmother’s restaurant there.