The official date for the announcement of Atlanta’s first Michelin guide is set for Tuesday, October 24. The formal ceremony takes place in the evening at the Rialto Center for the Arts in downtown Atlanta, with local chefs invited to hear whether their restaurant made the cut for the inaugural guide. Anonymous inspectors have been dining in restaurants across Atlanta for months.
During the October 24 ceremony, Michelin will present its coveted stars, Bib Gourmands, and other distinctions to Atlanta restaurants deemed worthy of the French tire company’s guide, which began as a series of guidebooks at the start of the 20th century. Restaurants are inspected multiple times a year before being presented with a Michelin star rating and must consistently meet five key criteria to earn the status.
Michelin grants restaurants with high quality food at affordable prices (or “best value for money”) Bib Gourmand status. These restaurants are also considered the personal favorites of Michelin inspectors when dining on their own time. Restaurants with excellent sustainable and environmentally friendly practices are awarded a Michelin Green Star. Other restaurants with exceptional beverage lists are often recognized with a grape, sake bottle, or beer pint symbol from Michelin.
“The culinary scene in this fantastic city will now get the recognition it has long deserved,” Gwendal Poullennec, the International Director of the Michelin guides says in a press release. “Michelin’s team of anonymous inspectors was captivated by the quality, creativity and flavor in this diverse dining scene.”
No one who has lived in the city or surrounding suburbs for more than five minutes should be surprised by the latter part of that statement — a fact Atlantans have long known and been quietly proud of for years.
Since the news broke earlier this summer, much has been written about Michelin’s arrival in Atlanta, including accusations over the lack of diversity in the restaurant guide and pay-to-play by cities, along with what it will mean for the dining scene overall. The discourse following the announcement of the guide and which restaurants should make the cut ranged from pleasant debates to downright spicy, sometimes ill-informed hot takes and name-calling. Eater polled over 400 readers on their restaurant predictions for the Atlanta guide, many of whom urged inspectors to consider the more causal approach to fine dining in Atlanta and the sheer number of restaurants offering cuisines from countries throughout the world found in and around the city.
“As a lifelong and native Atlantan, our restaurant scene is so special because of the diverse influence of cultures. While we may not have many traditional fine dining options, we do have amazing representations of culturally important food from Southern to Korean to Ethiopian,” a reader polled for the survey stated. “Atlanta is culturally diverse and comforting. Some of the best food in the city is found right in shopping malls that have been there since the 1980s.”
Atlanta chefs, too, have opinions on the restaurants likely to be chosen for the guide. Chef Maximilian Hines of Breaker Breaker and supper club Stolen Goods says Michelin’s arrival is “a very big deal” and puts Atlanta on the map in terms of food.
“It’s going to have an impact, whether it’s positive or negative, I am torn on this. We are still fighting out of the ashes and impact of Covid, but I think this has brought a new crop of chefs out and we are seeing more diverse cooking concepts,” Hines says, who points to Atlanta being a majority Black city, as well as a city with an unpretentious Southern charm.
He agrees with many Eater readers that restaurants like Spring, Mujo, Miller Union, and Lyla Lila are likely in contention for star ratings, with Bib Gourmands for Talat Market, Busy Bee Cafe, Masterpiece, and Tio Lucho’s.
For Daily Chew head chef Olivia McCoy, she finds the news of an Atlanta Michelin guide exciting, but says it brings added pressure to not only her restaurant, but restaurants across the city.
“I worry that a Michelin guide in Atlanta will cause a negative spirit of competition to arise on the restaurant scene. Working all over the city from the Westside to Decatur, I have always seen our community as a family; every chef I have ever worked with has taught me, guided me, and pushed me to be thoughtful,” McCoy says. “I would hate for that feeling to go away, and for the future, young chefs not be able to experience that same restaurant scene.”
Like many, she hopes Michelin focuses on the culinary diversity on the Atlanta dining scene, something she calls “a mixed bag of delicious cuisines from so many cultures.”
“Many chefs are focused on using the bounty of Southern grown produce and melding it seamlessly into their cuisine to create the magic that is now being scrutinized and dissected,” she adds.
McCoy declined to provide specific restaurant predictions, only saying she wants the guide to reflect restaurants in Atlanta pushing the boundaries of food in the South and highlighting local ingredients.
Critically acclaimed chef and restaurateur Deborah VanTrece, who is also keeping her restaurant predictions close to the vest, says it’s a big deal for Michelin to finally offer Atlanta its very own guide. But getting a nod from Michelin, VanTrece says, isn’t what motivates chefs in Atlanta.
“Our food scene has been molded simply around the desire to produce great food and showcase the amazing myriad of cultures that make up this city,” says VanTrece. “With that being said, I’m glad Michelin has finally taken notice of all the amazing things that are happening down South.”
She feels the impact Michelin will ultimately have on the Atlanta dining scene will be positive and make more chefs step up their game. VanTrece wants to see the Atlanta guide highlight a wide variety of cuisines and the small pockets of communities that form the foundation of the dining scene here.
“I think Michelin has been too comfortable with the status quo for too many years and have had an inability to think outside their comfort zone,” she adds. “I’m glad to see movement, but until the [Atlanta] guide is released, we won’t know if that equates to real change and progress.”
Some Eater readers predicted one of the Atlanta restaurants that could receive a star from Michelin would be Aria, owned by chef Gerry Klaskala. His Buckhead restaurant has been a perennial fine dining favorite since opening in 2000 along East Paces Ferry Road.
Klaskala’s restaurant, however, is a prime example of how Atlantans like their fine dining: casual and approachable Southern hospitality and service with impeccable food. After years of serving as a classic, white-tablecloth fine dining restaurant, Klaskala revamped the interior and service at Aria in 2017 — a move meant to appeal to a younger generation of diners and to be more in line with how Atlantans are now dining out. There’s a walk-in ready bar and lounge for dinner and drinks and special pop-ups hosted on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Whether his restaurant is under consideration or not, Klaskala just hopes the Michelin guide will continue elevating Atlanta’s culinary reputation, which he says will only make dining in the city better for locals and visitors. The chef wants to see other chef-owned restaurants like his, restaurants he considers “the heart and soul of the community”, recognized by Michelin, as well as the many restaurants around Atlanta offering foods from countries across the globe.
“I trust the best restaurants will be recognized which, in turn, will make getting a reservation harder. That said, I expect to see Bacchanalia, Spring, and Lazy Betty on the list, which are all stellar in their respective culinary categories,” Klaskala predicts, who also offers BoccaLupo, Gigi’s Italian Kitchen, Lyla Lila, Hayakawa, and Kevin Rathbun Steak as Michelin contenders.
Ultimately, it’s not up to readers, diners, local restaurant critics, dining publications like Eater and Bon Appetit, or chefs as to the establishments chosen for the first Atlanta Michelin guide. October 24 will be the final word from Michelin in 2023 on the city’s dining scene, and reveal whether the anonymous inspectors really did get what Atlanta food truly means to locals, chefs, and restaurant workers. The impact, if any, the Michelin guide will have on Atlanta restaurants remains to be seen. But for thousands of restaurants throughout the city and suburbs, it will simply be business as usual.
“I don’t think you can rate Atlanta if you haven’t been in Atlanta for a while and understand us fairly,” Hines says. “With Michelin coming, I don’t want us to start changing formats to tasting menus or price points to the extreme that we stop cooking for our community. Don’t lose your soul for a star, Atlanta.”