Today we announce the winners of the 2023 Eater Awards for Atlanta, celebrating the newest restaurants, bars, and pop-ups that made the biggest impact on ATL’s dining scene this year.
Choosing the winners is never an easy task, and there were a number of worthy candidates in 2023, but these five spots stood out above the rest. This year’s winners include a restaurant transforming meaty Cuban and Mexican dishes into nearly indistinguishable vegan renditions; a cocktail bar where you want to be a regular serving food and drinks punching far above its weight; a counter-service spot slinging seriously stunning sandwiches; a Mexican restaurant doing major justice to Oaxacan fare; and a comeback story for a beloved OTP (outside the perimeter) restaurant most feared would never return.
Without further adieu, congratulations to the 2023 Eater Atlanta award winners.
Best New Atlanta Restaurant
780 Memorial Drive, Atlanta
For owners Sophia Marchese and Reid Trapani, La Semilla is the start of a new chapter together in restaurants, which first began five years ago with their vegan pop-up Happy Seed. La Semilla expands upon the pop-up’s menu and mission, celebrating Cuban culinary traditions and familial bonds through food that just so happens to not to contain any animal proteins.
Marchese’s grandmother came to the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba and, along with the couple’s travels through Central and South America, inspires the food at La Semilla. Named one of Eater’s Best New Restaurants in America for 2023, Trapani transforms Cuban and Mexican dishes into vegan versions rivaling their meatier counterparts.
Jackfruit ropa vieja empanadas are drizzled with mojo crema made from cashews. Comforting potato-based croquetas de jamon are stuffed with seitan ham Trapani makes himself, while chochoyotes (masa dumplings) get filled with corn puree and arrive in a corn stock mixed with coconut milk. The gooey yellow queso dip being gobbled up at nearly every table doesn’t contain dairy. Marchese’s grandmother personally approved the frituras de calabaza (fried pumpkin fritters), a dessert she hadn’t tasted since leaving Cuba as a child, and something Trapani lovingly recreated just for her. With Cuban music and Latin rhythms pumping through the sound system and a packed dining room nearly every night, La Semilla offers a fresh perspective on vegan food not found anywhere else in Atlanta.
Best Pop-Up to Permanent Restaurant
6 Olive Street, Avondale Estates
Atlanta features a thriving pop-up food scene, filled with restaurants and chefs infusing the city and metro area with wildly creative and innovative dishes people simply shouldn’t miss. Many of these roving kitchens eventually find permanent homes, including the Korean-influenced bakery pop-up Foodcation Forever, which opened as Leftie Lee’s cafe and bakery at Olive and Pine in Avondale Estates.
Leftie Lee’s is “equal parts pastry shop and sandwich shop”, according to owner and baker Vivian Lee, inspired by the Asian bakeries found all along the Buford Highway corridor. The bakery and cafe, which combines Lee’s surname with her daughter’s affectionate nickname, showcases the baker’s masterful bread-making skills and love for sandwiches, with flavors packing serious punch pulling from her Korean heritage. This includes the tangy Korean braised beef sandwich with shaved scallions and perilla leaf (part of the mint family) ranch served on milk bread (Lee recommends topping it with her kimchi). There’s also the gochujang honey butter Korean fried chicken sandwich, and a kalua pork sandwich garnished with grilled pineapple and kimchi mayo. The delectable chicken salad is styled after the flavors of Moroccan tagine. Lee is known for her pastries, too, including fluffy croissants, yuzu and black sesame blondies, and ube cinnamon rolls, as well as savory buns like roasted sweet potato and Swiss cheese. Don’t skip the eggy brunch sandwiches here on the weekends.
Best New Spot to Become a Regular
1 Moreland Avenue, Atlanta
There are some places in Atlanta you want to keep returning to again and again, and this unpretentious cocktail bar and restaurant from barman Tim Faulkner and chef Hudson Rouse (Rising Son) has become such a spot since opening in February on Moreland Avenue.
At Whoopsie’s, Faulkner and Rouse embrace the idea that nothing (and no one) is infallible, and that mistakes and unplanned occurrences often lead to positive outcomes. Whoopsie’s is intimate and unfussy, and built for an evening of convivial conversation, where drinkers can indulge in amaretto sours and lunch trays filled with Southern snacks like pimento cheese, chow chow, and deviled eggs. Here, Faulkner and Rouse have created a menu where classic cocktails such as the Tuxedo and Corn n’ Oil pair harmoniously with savory roast beef sandwiches topped with horsey sauce, seasonal vegetables and salads, and juicy prime rib for dinner.
Rouse grows most of the vegetables for the dishes at Whoospie’s, and meat comes from farms no more than 90 miles away. Dessert might feature mint ice cream with crushed Oreos, fashioned after the classic grasshopper cocktail, or the Tarzan’s Delight, which is based on Rouse’s grandmother’s chocolate mousse ice box pie. Whoopsie’s strikes the right balance between a comfortable neighborhood dive bar and a dinner party with friends, where you’ll lose track of time, and that’s okay.
Best Comeback Story of 2023
55 Roswell Street, Alpharetta
When chef Mel Toledo announced the closure of his beloved Roswell restaurant in 2020, regulars mourned the loss of the good food, cocktails, and vibe they always experienced there. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the Atlanta dining scene in the early days of the global health crisis, most feared the restaurant wouldn’t return. But Toledo kept his promise to bring Foundation Social Eatery back bigger and better than ever, and he’s done just that in Alpharetta.
Now open in what has become a burgeoning downtown dining district in Alpharetta, Foundation Social Eatery offers a sense of familiarity for regulars to the Roswell restaurant, but with a fresh take on both the food and decor. Expect to find a few of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, including the crispy Spanish octopus, pate, PEI mussels, and chicken bolognese, along with new dishes like salt- and sugar-cured scallop crudo served with warm brown butter vinaigrette, turnip and ricotta tortellini filled with duck confit and pickled mushrooms, and a confit lamb neck for two. Look for drinks like the Ghosted made with bourbon, lemon and a float of cabernet sauvignon (a spin on a whiskey sour using a technique to create clarified milk punches). In Alpharetta, Toledo has not only recaptured the magic of Foundation Social Eatery during its heyday in Roswell, but managed to kick it up a notch with a restaurant that has become a dining destination worth the travel from Atlanta.
Sleeper Hit of 2023
5255 Peachtree Boulevard, Chamblee
You’d be forgiven for missing the opening of this Chamblee Mexican restaurant, which flew under the radar for weeks after its February debut. But regulars to Oaxaca know the restaurant is something special, and have since it opened its doors earlier this year.
Oaxaca pays tribute to the variety of regional dishes found throughout the southwestern Mexican state through core ingredients like chiles, corn, cheese, moles, and beans, and cooking techniques incorporating smoke. Fresh masa made from ground corn is used for tortillas, tamales, tlayudas, and gorditas. Triangles of tetela de pato are stuffed with succulent duck confit and Oaxacan cheese, while tlayudas come topped with seasonal roast vegetables or marinated skirt steak and layers of black beans, Oaxacan cheese, and avocado. The flor de calabaza sees squash blossoms bursting from the seams, along with stretchy Oaxacan cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted onions.
For dessert, there’s corn husk mousse with meringue and churros dusted with cinnamon served with Mexican-style hot chocolate. The bar offers cocktails made with smoky mezcals and other agave spirits, as well as wines from Mexico and countries around Central and South America. Grab a seat in the dining room, which is flooded with natural light, or on the lively covered patio and tuck in for a transportive meal that may make you forget you’re still in Chamblee.