Today we announce the winners of the 2022 Eater Awards, celebrating the newest restaurants and bars that made the biggest impact on the Atlanta dining scene this year.
Despite dining rooms back open at full capacity and cocktails flowing at bars once again, 2022 proved to be another difficult year for the restaurant industry. Labor shortages lingered, causing service to suffer, and prices on ingredients skyrocketed, sometimes as much as 25 percent, leaving restaurant owners little choice but to pass costs on to diners.
But it turned out to be a banner year in Atlanta restaurant openings. More than 180 establishments have already opened since January 2022. And while some new restaurants were definitely better than others, a few were undeniably head and shoulders above the rest this year.
Choosing the winners is never an easy task, and there were a number of worthy candidates in 2022. This year’s winners include an omakase restaurant built around personalized experiences; a cocktail bar serving up some serious drinks and otherworldly ambiance; a pop-up pivot to a restaurant that captured the heart of a neighborhood; a seafood market and cafe that became a breakout success; and a pop-up serving nourishing dishes just like grandma used to make.
With that, congratulations to this year’s Eater Awards winners.
Best New Restaurant
691 14th Street, Home Park/Howell Mill corridor
Mujo might be the hottest reservation in town — and the most challenging to secure. But for those who’ve gained access to this intimate Japanese restaurant on Howell Mill Road, patience pays off. Led by chef J. Trent Harris, the 15-seat omakase restaurant gives a nightly master class in hospitality and the nuanced art of edomae-style sushi. Harris honed his skills working at Michelin star sushi establishments Sushi Ginza Onodera and Shuko in New York and Tokyo. He credits mentors like Sushi Ginza Onodera master sushi chef Masaki Saito for teaching him to respect the foundations, the fish, and the traditions of making sushi, while also allowing him space to create his own interpretations.
A chance meeting in New York with Atlanta restaurateur Federico “Fred” Castellucci III offered Harris the opportunity to strike out on his own — first with an omakase pop-up run from the kitchen at Cooks and Soldiers, then with his own restaurant next door. The attention to detail and personalized touches experienced throughout a meal at Mujo are tailored to the personal preferences of each diner. A night at Mujo begins with cocktails served at a small bar beyond the dining room reserved exclusively for guests of the restaurant. During dinner, Harris and his team offer exquisite courses of nigiri prepared in the edomae style, broken up by beautifully presented dishes like hakurei turnip tartlets or buta nikomi with braised Iberico pork. There are nods to other Japanese culinary traditions, too, including tamagoyaki (Japanese shrimp and egg cake similar to an omelette) and during dessert, which comes paired with konacha green tea. With its debut in 2022, Mujo raised the bar high for restaurants on Atlanta’s bustling sushi scene, and challengers now need to level up.
Best New Cocktail Bar
420 Edgewood Avenue, Sweet Auburn
For Georgia Beer Garden and Joystick Gamebar owners Johnny Martinez and Brandon Ley and partner Kysha Cyrus, Mambo Zombi is more than just a cocktail bar with otherworldly ambiance. This is where the trio is reconnecting with their roots, both familial and within the restaurant community. To access the bar, people ascend a staircase outside of Georgia Beer Garden and enter through a towering pink casket aglow in ultraviolet light. The hodgepodge design is oddly compelling and comforting, inspired by global celebrations of life, the ancestors, and the afterlife threaded throughout holidays like Día de los Muertos, All Souls Day, and Qingming.
Having worked alongside celebrated bartenders like Greg Best of Ticonderoga Club and Andy Minchow of Dead End Drinks (formerly Ration and Dram) over her 20-year career, Mambo Zombi is where the cocktail spotlight finally shines brightly on Cyrus. Here, Cyrus leans into her Jamaican heritage and Afro-Caribbean roots, infusing rum-, cachaça-, and mezcal-based cocktails with house-made shrubs or juicing fresh corn and sugar cane to make syrups and milks. Drinks on the menu range from classics like the Mai Tai, Ti’ Punch, and Singapore Sling to original concoctions from Cyrus, including the Monkey Screwed made with spiced banana-infused rum. “We want to celebrate it all here: life, death, and rebirth. This bar oozes exuberance in every way,” Martinez says. “[Mambo Zombi] celebrates all the living we still have left to do on Earth. It’s a place to reconnect.”
Best Pivot of 2022
1660 McLendon Avenue, Candler Park
After closing his restaurant Gato in July, and fostering numerous pop-ups over the last decade, Nicolas Stinson handed the keys to his tiny Candler Park space over to chefs Eric Brooks and Jacob Armando. With professional ties to Atlanta restaurants like Little Bear, Redbird, Bacchanalia, and Kimball House, Brooks and Armando began popping up for dinner three nights a week at Gato in the summer of 2021. The pair quickly found success, charming regulars and local residents in a dining room lit by candlelight, where tables are draped in red checkered linens and a delightful menu of red sauce joint classics are made using seasonal produce and fresh pastas.
Now open as a restaurant, the cozy, unfussy atmosphere that first endeared diners to the pop-up remains intact. The duo continues to please palates at Gigi’s with dishes like rigatoni fazool with cowpeas, chicken marsala served with sides of savory focaccia, and fried polenta topped with creme fraiche, trout roe, and sturgeon caviar. But Brooks and Armando haven’t forgotten their roots. They’re carrying on the legacy started by Stinson a decade ago, opening Gigi’s to pop-ups on Thursday evenings to help foster emerging chefs on the Atlanta dining scene.
Breakout Hit of 2022
674 North Highland Avenue, Poncey-Highland
It became apparent within days after opening in April, that something magical was taking place at Fishmonger in Poncey-Highland. In its first week, the petite seafood market sold nearly 700 pounds of fresh fish, with the kitchen at Fishmonger serving close to 60 blackened grouper sandwiches a day during lunch. Months later, people continue to crowd around bright yellow cocktail tables lining the sidewalk out front to indulge in scallop crudo, hot bowls of seafood chowder, and freshly shucked oysters topped with creme fraiche and beads of bright red fish roe. A steady stream of people flows into the market daily to purchase oysters by the dozen, whole fish caught just that morning, and fresh shrimp paired with Fishmonger’s tangy cocktail sauce.
Backed by chef Nhan Le and Skip Engelbrecht (Octopus Bar, 8ARM) and chef Bradford Forsblom, Fishmonger is what the seafood scene in Atlanta needed — a seafood market, cafe, and raw bar rolled into one with a BYOB policy that Atlantans have come to adore. The breakout success of the little seafood market that could led to the opening of a second, larger location in Kirkwood this fall.
Best Pop-Up of the Year
519 Memorial Drive, Grant Park
The state of Atlanta’s pop-up scene is stronger than ever. One could argue that to truly grasp the depth and breadth of the vast food landscape found here, look to the pop-ups and the chefs who are setting the stage for the future of dining in Atlanta. For those who’ve been following Molli Voraotsady and her Laotian food pop-up since its days at the Bookhouse Pub, Qommunity, and 8ARM (RIP), there was no question as to whether they’d follow So So Fed to its next residency at Full Commission in Grant Park.
With a name inspired by the storied Atlanta record label, So So Fed is a culinary love letter dedicated to family recipes and foods often cooked by Voraotsady’s late grandmother. Comforting bowls of red pork curry served with sticky rice are laden with vegetables like Thai eggplant, zucchini, and bamboo shoots beside tender chunks of pork shoulder swimming in aromatic chili broth. Subtle spice radiates from the crispy skin of the Hat Yai fried chicken, enhanced by sides of fragrant jasmine rice. Heat from chilis in the Lao papaya salad are balanced by warm fermented flavors that build with each bite. Look for cocktails created by former 8ARM general manager and bartender Joshua Fryer at the pop-up, including the So So Toddy made with navy proof rum, flying dragon orange, Thai chili, and hot chai. Currently operating from the dining room at Full Commission Sunday through Tuesday evenings, what Voraotsady achieves with So So Fed is a triumph of food meant to nourish both body and soul.