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The 38 Essential Atlanta Restaurants, January '13

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city (inside the perimeter), spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every couple of months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.

This time around, after much reflecting and poring over reader emails and comments, the 38 bids adieu to Woodfire Grill, since the restaurant recently parted ways with its sous and executive chefs, and welcomes Bacchanalia and Ecco, among others, to the alphabetical list.

Beg to differ? Leave suggestions and explanations in the comments below or send them through the tipline.

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4th & Swift

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4th and Swift was called the “au courant vision of Atlanta restaurant design” by Atlanta magazine and has food to match the décor. On the menu are things like crispy Southern fried quail, local corn soup, pan-fried squash blossoms, Tybee Island shrimp ravioli.


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With Chef of the Year Tyler Williams helming the kitchen and Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison behind the concept, it's hard to go wrong at Abattoir. Go for small plates, like the octopus dog and beef tartare.

Alon's Bakery & Market

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The sandwiches and prepared foods at Alon’s are perfect for a casual lunch in the restaurant or taken to go. It only gets better with the old favorites like the fancy desserts and well-curated cheeses and the addition of wood-fired pizzas.

Antico Pizza Napoletana

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This pizzeria splashed onto the scene with its signature pies and unique atmosphere. National recognition and a cult following have only fed its progress; plans for expansion are blazing away like the imported Acunto ovens that feed the masses.

Aria Restaurant

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The elegant cuisine at Gerry Klaskala's lovely Buckhead restaurant make it perfect for special occasions. Desserts from talented pastry chef Kathryn King only add to the experience.


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Bacchanalia's five-course prix-fixe menu is consistently one of the best meals in Atlanta. The dinner is worth its price, but dishes can be ordered a la carte at the bar for those who just want a taste.

Skill is evident in each of Bocado's carefully crafted dishes. The restaurant's most destination-worthy creation is the Bocado burger stack, which has deservedly achieved legendary status among burger aficionados, but the small plates and lunchtime sandwiches are just as good.

Cafe Agora

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Colorful salads, perfectly seasoned meats, and soft warm bread are only half of what’s appealing about this postage stamp of a restaurant. Owner Al Ozelci brings the other irreplaceable half: the fatherly charm and hospitality.

Cakes & Ale Restaurant

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Cakes & Ale continues to capture the local food-loving hearts of Atlantans, who seem to prefer substance and ease over style and status. The lunchtime grain bowls from the Bakery at Cakes & Ale are one of this city's gems.

Community Q BBQ

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David Roberts, one of the co-founder of Marietta's Sam & Dave's, branched out to Decatur and opened this locally-driven barbecue.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen

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This casual Ethiopian restaurant is the best of its kind in the city, and it's open until at least midnight every day to boot. Get the vegetarian platter and/or lamb tibs.

Ecco's seasonally inspired fare is carefully prepared and executed. Don't miss the fried goat cheese appetizer and olive oil stracciatella ice cream, and if the weather is nice, ask for a tour of the rooftop garden.

Empire State South

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Hugh Acheson’s first Atlanta project feels like it’s been open much longer than a year. Seasonal produce is spun into whimsical dishes with reverence and the wine list is a treasure trove for true wine lovers.

Floataway Cafe

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Though it has been through many a change, this semi-hidden and subdued Anne Quatrano joint remains the jewel in her crown. Looks for fresh oysters, Moscow Mule cocktails served in chilled metal cups, and the city’s only noteworthy steak frites.

Fox Bros Bar-B-Q

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It’s all about the gut-bombs at the icon that proved great barbecue is possible in Atlanta. Tater tots covered in chili and cheese, massive short ribs, and Frito pie are staples that make this the only spot you should go for the morning— afternoon— after.

Heirloom Market BBQ

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This barbecue spot may be small, but the dynamic duo behind it bring more than enough pizzazz to compensate for the cramped quarters. Look for Korean-inspired Southern ‘cue and pitch-perfect sides.

Holeman & Finch Public House

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This bar is so much more than the crafted specialty cocktails and cult burger. It’s the place to take out of towners to show them what’s great about Atlanta and/or test a companion’s food fear factor. Case in point: Fried chicken heads, anyone?

JCT Kitchen & Bar

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Ford Fry calls JCT. Kitchen’s style Southern farmstead. The restaurant dishes out items that conjure up the South with a gourmet twist, like deviled eggs and pork belly with local clams as well as all kinds of poultry: fried chicken, hot chicken oysters, chicken liver mousse, and more.

The standard-bearer for upscale contemporary Greek food in the city, Kyma’s been bringing the bright flavors of Mediterranean seafood to life in Buckhead for a decade now. Look for show-stopping décor, fresh ingredients, good energy, and a nice wine list from this Buckhead Life Restaurant Group favorite.

La Tavola Trattoria

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La Tavola, Fifth Group's Italian restaurant in Virginia-Highland, does everything well. From mozzarella burrata to squid ink linguine or spaghetti and meatballs, the menu is sure to have something for everyone. Don't leave without trying the tiramisu.

Leon's Full Service

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Laid back and welcoming, this Decatur watering hole is a favorite hangout for those looking for well-crafted cocktail and fun nosh.

Little Bangkok

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This place is an exception to the “Thai food in Atlanta sucks” rule. Don’t expect weird dishes you’ve never had; instead, order slutty stand-bys like pad thai.

Miller Union

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Steven Satterfield knows how to make Southern food somehow less guilt-inducing, but still comforting. The farm egg baked in celery cream with grilled bread is a top ten Atlanta dish and the desserts will have you excited about ordering dessert again.

Miso Izakaya

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Named as one of Bon Appetit's six favorite izakayas in North America, Miso Izakaya also happens to be helmed by 2011 Eater Atlanta Award-Winning Chef of the Year Guy Wong. A favorite of locals and critics alike, the Japanese pub is a must-try.


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The upscale, contemporary comfort food at Murphy’s captures the spirit of Atlanta: the menu items are modern but full of history and feature fresh, local ingredients. Go for weekend brunch and walk around Virginia Highlands afterward.

Muss & Turner's

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This Smyrna spot is as close as we get to New York deli in Atlanta. Enormous sandwiches stuffed with all manner of homemade meats and fillings abound. The burger is definitely top three in Atlanta and the beer list is a whopper.

No. 246

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It's been called an "instant classic." Simple, straight-forward cooking in a clean semi-industrial space. Go for the pastas, whole roasted fish, and hulking sandwiches at lunch.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina

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Nuevo Laredo might not have the elaborate margarita menu that other restaurants boast, but the three classics they offer— house, Texas, and Cadillac— are strong and delicious. The food here is fantastic as well, so make sure you sit down for dinner instead of just drinking at the bar.

Octopus Bar

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Octopus Bar's late night only and caters to the industry crowd. Housed in what is So Ba by day, the restaurant opens at 10:30 p.m. and serves cocktails and dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, lobster rolls, and daeji bulgogi.

One Eared Stag

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One Eared Stag quickly became an Atlanta hotspot. Known for chef/owner Robert Phalen's inventiveness in the kitchen, for which he'd gained “one to watch” status at Holy Taco, the restaurant's brought the buzz back to Inman Park.

The Optimist

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Ford Fry's much-hyped fish camp and oyster bar in West Midtown opened in May and has since been the recipient of praise galore. It gets crowded, so for lunch or sit at the bar, and don't forget to leave some time for miniature golf.

Quoc Huong Bahn Mi Fast Food

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Airy bread slathered with mayo and filled with roasted pork, pickled vegetables, and a fluffy omelet? Yes, please. Oh, yeah? That sandwich will cost you $2.50. You’re welcome.


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There aren’t many bad things to say about Kevin Rathbun’s restaurant, so we’ll focus on the good: the food is great and so is the service. Rathbun’s is also conveniently located next to Krog Bar, so stop in before or after your meal for a glass of wine and an appetizer or a nightcap.