Despite having the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast at just over 6 million people and now the world’s second busiest airport (Hartsfield-Jackson International), after holding the number one spot for 20 years, Atlanta is mostly overlooked by outsiders obsessed with Southern food and culture. Charleston has Lowcountry cooking and scads of storied historic buildings along its streets. Nashville has hot chicken and its famed music row. And New Orleans gave birth to the American cocktail scene.
Atlanta doesn’t have the same culinary buzz associated with those aforementioned destinations, but residents of the city and its sprawling metropolitan area know the secrets behind the dining scene here lie in its diversity and fierce entrepreneurial spirit.
There’s more to Atlanta food than Southern fare.
Welcome to ATL
As Delta Air Lines in Atlanta blossomed in the 1960s and more businesses set up shop here, the populations of the city and its burgeoning metropolitan region have boomed. This flood of people from elsewhere has led to the unfair reputation of Atlanta being a “transplant city” without any culinary culture of its own. It’s true that there isn’t one ancient, unique dish locals point to as a mascot of sorts. Instead, Atlanta offers myriad examples of foodways from around the world. The global pantry influences all sorts of restaurants in Atlanta as people from all over the world move here to take advantage of job opportunities in the tech and creative fields and north Georgia’s temperate climate. The latter means Atlanta offers a robust outdoor dining scene and a patio season that often begins in March and stretches into December.
As for food, expect to find restaurants around Atlanta serving up everything from Filipino, Ethiopian, Sichuan, and Bangladeshi dishes to heaping plates of soul, Southern, and Colombian food and plenty of great barbecue and wings.
With that, welcome to ATL or the A. Just please don’t call it “Hotlanta”.
Disclaimer: Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here. Wear a mask when indoors or in crowded situations. Some restaurants require masks for all guests, regardless of vaccination status.
Where to Start on Eater Atlanta’s Best of Maps
Hot Restaurants: These are the hottest restaurant’s right now around Atlanta. The list includes all-day brunch from the Breakfast Boys, wine, bites, and books at Lucian Books and Wine in Buckhead, South American coffee, wine, and tapas bar El Viñedo Local, coffee, beer, and food at Biggerstaff Brewing Co., and Afro-Caribbean restaurant and cigar lounge Continent.
Essential Restaurants: Updated quarterly, the Eater 38 is chock full of excellent dining recommendations. The list includes longtime Atlanta staples, restaurants with loyal followings, and cult favorites locals love. The Eater 38 reflects the impressive diversity of Atlanta’s dining scene, too. This includes restaurants like Gullah- and Lowcountry fare from Virgil’s; the epic tasting menu from fine dining stalwart Bacchanalia; some of Atlanta’s best fried chicken at Busy Bee Cafe; Ethiopian and Eritrean fare at Feedel Bistro; masterful Thai dishes from Talat Market; skillful takes on in-season vegetables from Miller Union and Redbird; and the inviting Candler Park neighborhood restaurant Gato, which often serves as an incubator for rising, young chefs.
Barbecue: Barbecue is a very big deal in Atlanta and, deservedly, requires its very own essentials list. While there are smokehouses all over the metro area, Atlanta’s best-of barbecue lists have been dominated by two names: Fox Bros., featuring Texas-style brisket at beef ribs, and Heirloom Market, which mixes Southern-American and Korean flavors. But this list is filled with tons of really great barbecue joints and is updated often with additional restaurants and pop-ups to check out. Sadly, a fire claimed the Riverside location of beloved B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque. But, owner Bryan Furman is opening a brand new restaurant around the corner in 2021.
Classic Restaurants: While Atlanta’s newer restaurants tend to capture most of the spotlight, these longtime, classic dining institutions continue to stand the test of time.
Southern: Which foods fall under the “Southern” umbrella varies by region in the South. However, many people associate Southern food with down-home comfort dishes like fried chicken, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, grits, biscuits and gravy, and pimento cheese paired with sweet tea and banana pudding or pecan pie for dessert. Check out this list of Southern restaurants throughout Atlanta.
Soul Food: What’s the difference between soul food and Southern food? The phrase “soul food” was first coined in the 1960s, seemingly meant to describe the honest-to-goodness, comforting foods often prepared at home by African-American Southerners, with many dishes rooted in survival and the African diaspora. Atlanta has no shortage of great restaurants that identify cuisine served on the menu as soul food. Here are a few restaurants to try.
Restaurants Near the Airport: Whether you are an Atlanta local looking to grab a bite in the area or a weary traveler heading off the highway or staying in a nearby hotel, there is plenty of great food to be found at restaurants in cities and neighborhoods around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants: Despite its reputation for wings and barbecue, Atlanta also features a thriving vegetarian and vegan dining scene. This list of Atlanta vegetarian and vegan restaurants includes menus offering everything from Chinese and Indian fare to raw food kitchens, and even a vegan pizzeria.
Wings: Atlanta knows wings, and there are plenty of great places around town offering flats, drums, and even that tiny extra part that some people eat as if it actually held meat. From smoked to fried, sweet and sour to extra-sauced, including the quintessential Atlanta wing flavor, lemon pepper, these restaurants are leading the wing pack.
Beer: Now that Georgia’s beer laws have been brought into the 21st century, drinkers can actually buy beers directly from breweries, by the glass in taprooms or up to a case to go. The updated laws also mean a new crop of breweries have opened around Atlanta, and more are yet to come. Here’s a list of the best breweries to check out around the metro right now.
Cocktails: Despite numerous hurdles caused by the pandemic, bars are slowly coming back online in Atlanta. Now, in addition to grabbing a seat at the bar for cocktails, many establishments are also putting greater emphasis on outdoor seating on spacious patios, offering drink kits to compile at home, or serving to-go cocktails to enjoy outdoors. Here are a few of Atlanta’s newest drinking destinations and libation pop-ups.
Hotel Bars: As more Atlanta hotels focus attention on upping the drinks game, greater emphasis is being placed on well-curated cocktail and wine lists meant to attract both locals and ATL tourists. Grab drinks at one of these hotel bars around Atlanta.
Burgers: Atlantans love a good burger, and there are plenty to choose from here. When one is choosing their favorite from the list of Atlanta’s best burgers, one must consider whether they prefer the double-stack or single, thick patty cooked to temperature.
Breakfast: Atlanta isn’t lacking in restaurants serving up a variety of takes on the morning meal. Eater’s breakfast map is filled with some of metro Atlanta’s best bets for biscuits, pancakes, bacon, eggs, and, most importantly, coffee to kick the day off right.
Brunch: In a city like Atlanta, where folks like to have a variety of dining options on the table, there’s one surefire way to remind people that ATL is indeed a Southern city — all-day brunch restaurants. Check out these restaurants serving brunch all day.
Coffee: This city’s love for coffee means there are plenty of quality independent shops to seek out around Atlanta. Check out Eater’s lengthy list of essential Atlanta coffee shops, coffee pop-ups, and roasteries.
Fried Chicken: There’s plenty of great fried chicken to be had in and around Atlanta, from platters served at southern and soul food restaurants that have been in business for decades, to original takes by relative newcomers on ATL’s fried chicken scene.
Patios: Atlanta’s lengthy warm season sees the city enjoying outdoor living and al fresco dining nearly ten months out of the year. That also means Atlanta is full of great patios like these. Consider these rooftop patios with serious views or these patios offering outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, too.
Wine Shops: Many people have turned to their local wine shop for guidance on bottles to purchase for meals at home or to pair with takeout from restaurants for picnics in the park. Here are a few Atlanta shops and markets to check out offering outstanding wine selections on the shelves, ranging from natural and biodynamic to Old World reds and whites.
Anticipated Restaurant Openings: Want to know the restaurants to get excited about opening around Atlanta over the next year? Check out this continually updated list of anticipated restaurant openings broken down by neighborhood.
Here are more Eater Atlanta maps to consider.
Some Dining Neighborhoods to Know
Blandtown/Underwood Hills/Westside Provisions
This burgeoning area of town includes a slew of great restaurants found at spots like Westside Provisions District, such as Redbird, West Egg Cafe, Cooks and Soldiers, Taqueria Del Sol, Forza Storico, Marcel, and Aziza, and emerging complexes like the Interlock and Star Metals on Howell Mill Road. But get beyond this dense dining district in northwest Atlanta to check out other award-winning restaurants like Miller Union, Star Provisions and Bacchanalia, and Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, and the area’s bustling brewery scene in Blandtown and Underwood Hills. Drop by the new food hall, Chattahoochee Food Works, backed by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. Maybe consider ending an evening out at the iconic Northside Tavern, which is still playing the blues and slinging shots of Wild Turkey well into the wee hours after decades on Howell Mill.
This neighborhood isn’t as trendy as it once was, but Buckhead is still home to some of the best high-end restaurants in Atlanta. Atlas, located in the St. Regis hotel, is high-priced, but the exquisite menu and beautifully adorned walls make it a refuge for those who miss traditional fine dining. After receiving a fresh coat of paint, Gerry Klaskala’s Aria feels updated while continuing to serve well-executed European cuisine mixed with Southern ingredients. For those seeking different takes on Italian, try chef Ford Fry’s stunner St. Cecilia across from Phipps Plaza. Then there’s the newer additions to the Buckhead dining scene, Mission & Market and Little Alley Steak. Consider Storico Fresco for classic pasta dishes and plenty of Italian wine.
Buford Highway isn’t a single neighborhood or its own municipality. It’s a four-lane highway stretching from the tip of Brookhaven just north of the city of Atlanta to Duluth in the northern suburban county of Gwinnett filled with restaurants and markets representing nearly two dozen countries from around the globe. In other words, Buford Highway is a gourmand’s paradise featuring foods from nations like Vietnam and Korea to Mexico and Colombia. Deciding where and what to eat along Buford Highway can be overwhelming so, Eater compiled this list of essential restaurants to try. It’s just the tip of the culinary iceberg along this road. There are also upward of 20 marisquerias (Mexican seafood restaurants) around metro Atlanta to explore, too. Make sure to explore the restaurants found on streets adjacent to Buford Highway, including the food court at Atlanta Chinatown.
The historic neighborhood of Castleberry Hill lies west of downtown Atlanta and directly in the shadows of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena. The neighborhood turned its many industrial warehouses and buildings into art galleries, loft spaces, restaurants, and music venues. This hip and trendy neighborhood is home to an eclectic mix of musicians and creatives, and often sees its restaurants and bars hosting celebrities and Falcons, Hawks, and Atlanta United soccer fans on game days. Dining options here include neighborhood hangouts Elliott Street Deli, offering a few of Atlanta’s best sandwiches, and Bottle Rocket, serving an interesting mix of fresh sushi, fried rice bowls, burgers, and even a steak and sushi combo. There’s also Dat Fire Jerk Chicken three blocks from the Benz on Northside Drive, which dubbed itself “Atlanta’s best jerk chicken”. In nearby Vine City, try BJT Wings for the quintessential Atlanta wing flavor, lemon pepper, and the iconic Busy Bee Cafe, which serves some of Atlanta’s best fried chicken. For cocktails and light bites, be sure to check out Parlor in the heart of Castleberry Hill.
Located directly east of the Atlanta city limits, this municipality boasts a charming downtown and some of the metro area’s finest bars and restaurants all within a few blocks. An ideal evening starts at Kimball House for some of the best cocktails and the best oyster selection in town, or at Victory Sandwich Bar for light snacks, beers, and Jack and Coke slushies. Grab a seat on the patio at the Deer and the Dove for crispy rabbit legs fried in fermented buttermilk and grilled octopus and shrimp terrine. Want traditional Southern for dinner? Head to Revival for dinner. Craving raw fish or an outstanding omakase experience? Brush Sushi Izakaya is a great choice, or dig into Italian food at the White Bull around the corner. For Spanish tapas pop over to Iberian Pig on the square. Head to Chai Pani for Indian street food or dine on pub grub paired with beer at Brick Store Pub. Beyond downtown, Las Brasas is home to a variety of Peruvian roasted meats
Downtown Atlanta is home to the city’s biggest tourist attractions like the Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame, and Georgia Aquarium, not to mention the towering transformer that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the revamped home of the Atlanta Hawks, State Farm Arena. While the area caters mostly to office dwellers, college students from Georgia State, and tourists, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path dining options like Dua Vietamese, Aamar Indian Cuisine, and Mediterranean dishes from Aviva by Kameel. For those looking for dinner and a view, make a reservation at the iconic SunDial Restaurant. Trader Vic’s in the Hilton Downtown is a must-visit for those seeking stiff tiki drinks like the fogcutter or original mai tai.
East Point/College Park/Hapeville (Tri-Cities)
Newcomers to Atlanta, as well as those who work in or travel to the city, may have heard of the towns of East Point, College Park, and Hapeville referred to as the “ATL Airport District.” But residents of the area (and old-school Atlanta natives) still call it the Tri-Cities. Its namesake high school and assortment of landmarks were made famous on albums by former East Point residents André 3000 and Big Boi, the duo behind Outkast. The Tri-Cities are filled with some of metro Atlanta’s best kept secrets, including Taco Pete, a West Coast-style taco stand in East Point serving everything from tacos to hot dogs to great wings. There’s Hattie Marie’s Texas-style barbecue, Bole Ethiopian, and Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and Bar in College Park. Volare brings Southern-French fancy to Hapeville. Check out this neighborhood guide for more great restaurant options written by longtime East Point resident and Atlanta journalist Mike Jordan.
Atlanta’s first streetcar suburb has been home to some quality dining options for quite some time, but the neighborhood has exploded with development in recent years. Krog Street Market, with its food stalls and craft beer bar, is almost always packed at peak hours. Krog Street Market features a few Atlanta dining scene veterans, including chef Todd Richards and his soul food stall Soul: Food and Culture, the team behind Ticonderoga Club, serving a mix of Asian, Southern, and New England fare paired with creative cocktails, and Watchman’s Seafood and Spirits from the partners of Kimball House. Elsewhere, BoccaLupo turns out Atlanta’s best pasta, and Sotto Sotto is a go-to for multi-course Italian feasts. Bread & Butterfly has become a destination for French bistro fare and great wines by the glass. Diners will forget about Chipotle forever after one bite at Bell Street Burritos, which also has locations in Buckhead and Tucker. And, tucked away on Lake Avenue is a quaint breakfast and lunch spot named Julianna’s serving Hungarian-style crepes made from an old family recipe.
Old Fourth Ward
No Atlanta neighborhood has seen more change due to BeltLine-related growth than the Old Fourth Ward. O4W is home to Ponce City Market, which features restaurants and food stalls from Atlanta chefs such as Anne Quatrano, Linton Hopkins, and Hector Santiago in the market’s Central Food Hall. In the shadow of Ponce City Market is 8Arm, serving some of the best cocktails and fresh takes on contemporary cuisine in the city. Further up the road on Ponce, the Hotel Clermont includes fine dining at Tiny Lou’s above where the ladies dance at the Clermont Lounge. Further east, check out the restaurants and bars within the Edgewood Avenue dining district, including a location of Slutty Vegan, Edgewood Pizza, Our Bar ATL, Georgia Beer Garden, Noni’s, and Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. Pop by Staplehouse market for a bottle of wine and snacks from chef Ryan Smith and his team, and take a seat in the garden patio. There are also a slew of dining options all along the Eastside Beltline trail from Ponce City Market to Krog Street Market. But, be sure to seek out other spots around the area, including My Abuelas Food for takes on Puerto Rican dishes inspired by the owners’ grandmothers, sandwich shop and market LottaFrutta, and restaurants in neighboring Poncey-Highland like Southern Belle and El Ponce.
Surrounding I-20 on Atlanta’s southwest side lie the neighborhoods of West End and Westview, home to Atlanta’s historic Black colleges Clark Atlanta University, Spelman, and Morehouse. The neighborhoods are filled with plenty of great dining options, including many of the city’s best vegan and vegetarian restaurants like Soul Vegetarian as well as casual spots like D Cafe serving breakfast and lunch staples and Slutty Vegan for its line-inducing meatless burgers. Check out brewpub Lean Draft House or bar and restaurant Bogg’s Social and Supply, too. The Lee + White complex in West End is anchored by several local food and beverage purveyors such Best End Brewing, Hop City Craft Beer & Wine’s Boxcar gastropub, and second locations of ASW Distillery and Monday Night Brewing’s Garage brewing facility.
Other great dining neighborhoods to check out:
Little Five Points
Atlanta Glossary of Food Terms
Scattered, smothered, covered, etc.:
Atlanta — well, Norcross — is home to the greatest restaurant chain in the world, Waffle House. Familiar fans will know exactly how they prefer their hash browns. For example, some people prefer a fairly simple order of smothered and covered (for the uninformed, that’s shredded, griddled potatoes mixed with chopped onion and topped with American cheese). First-timers who need guidance in their breakfast-potatoes order will be pleased to find a glossary of hash brown terminology right there on the Waffle House menu.
A double cheeseburger, made from two thin patties that are cooked up nice and crispy on a griddle.
In 2017, the first season of Atlanta, the Emmy-nominated show created by actor-rapper-writer and former Stone Mountain resident Donald Glover, brought a new level of awareness to “lemon pepper wet.” The scene: Paper Boi and Darius are waiting on a to-go order at a quiet J.R. Crickets restaurant. Their server returns with an Styrofoam box full of chicken wings and informs the two they’ve been hooked up by the kitchen. The wings have lemon pepper seasoning and Buffalo sauce, aka lemon pepper wet. American Deli tosses its wings in a spicy lemon pepper sauce using clarified butter rather than Buffalo sauce.
A traditional side found at many barbecue restaurants throughout Georgia. The hearty dish usually includes beans and/or vegetables and it definitely contains smoked meat.
Atlanta has become enamored with the updated idea of a food court. In Inman Park, there’s Krog Street Market and the Old Fourth Ward has Ponce City Market. The Collective at Coda opened in 2020 at Tech Square in Midtown, with new food halls Politan Row in Midtown and Chattahoochee Food Works in Underwood Hills now open. But this trend isn’t just bringing new dining to urban dwellers. Developments are taking the food halls to OTP locations such as Marietta Square Market, the Daily in Alpharetta, and Halcyon in southern Forsyth County.
The Atlanta BeltLine is an ongoing and often controversial project that transforms old railroad tracks into a walking path that loops around the city. The New York Times has called it a “glorified sidewalk,” which isn’t exactly wrong. When the project was announced, there were promises of transit and affordable housing, but so far, the BeltLine has mostly inspired too many bland mixed-use developments crammed with similar restaurant concepts and gentrification.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Popular restaurants Aria, Spring, Bacchanalia, Miller Union, Gunshow, Tiny Lou’s, Lazy Betty, and Sushi Hayakawa all require advanced booking. Consider one of these restaurants when looking to splurge on a night out on the town.
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• Keep an eye on the Eater Atlanta homepage. New stories will always show up near the top and flow down toward the bottom of the page as they get older, while important recent stories will stay pinned right at the top. Also, check out our big sister, Eater.com, for national and international food news.
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