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The 38 Essential Atlanta Restaurants, January '14

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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, loosely), 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 Bocado— nothing against the top-notch burger— as well as Honey Pig, Little Bangkok, and No. 246. New additions to the alphabetical list are BoccaLupo, Chai Pani, Gunshow, and Victory Sandwich Bar.

For those of you readying the pitchforks because your favorite restaurant isn't on the list, wouldn't it just be more productive to leave your thoughts in the comments? State your cases for (or against) restaurants below or in the tipline. And don't forget that newer restaurants can be found in the Eater Atlanta Heatmap, updated monthly.

March 2013: Added: Local Three, Woodfire Grill, Iberian Pig, Nick's Food to Go, Pho Dai Loi #2, Wrecking Bar Brewpub, Honey Pig.
July 2013: Added: Gu's Bistro, Rumi's Kitchen, Table & Main.
October 2013: Added: Abattoir, The General Muir.
January 2013: Added: BoccaLupo, Chai Pani, Gunshow, Victory Sandwich Bar.

· All Eater 38 Coverage [-EATL-]

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4th & Swift

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4th & 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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Local favorite Hector Santiago, previously of the well-loved Pura Vida, is now in the kitchen at Anne Quatrano's Abattoir. The chophouse-style restaurant serves small plates and meat-centric entrees; adventurous diners should ask for Santiago's secret butcher's menu, which offers dishes like blood sausage, chicken hearts, and even blood cake.

Antico Pizza Napoletana

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Antico's got certified authentic pizza and a local cult following. Plans for expansion are blazing away like the imported Acunto ovens that feed the masses— find Gio's Chicken Amalfitano and Caffe Gio right next door, with a limoncello bar and some Antico outposts coming soon.

Aria Restaurant

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


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Bacchanalia's five-course set menu is consistently called 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.


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Opened in April, BoccaLupo quickly became both a neighborhood favorite and a destination restaurant. Head in for the pasta (the black spaghetti and the 20-yolk tagliatelle are popular choices), stay for the patio— and you can't go wrong with either wine or the craft cocktails. Chef Bruce Logue also offers a $40 pasta tasting if you're feeling crazy.

Cakes & Ale Restaurant

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There have been some recent changes, but Cakes & Ale continues to capture the local food-loving hearts of Atlantans who prefer substance and simplicity over style and status. The restaurant now offers Sunday brunch, and the pastries at the next door cafe are as good as ever.

Chai Pani

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Indian restaurants abound in Atlanta, but Chai Pani is the one to try: from the Decatur spot's signature street food dishes (some with local twists, like the kale pakoras) to the North Indian thalis and the chef specials, which range from well-researched historic dishes to contemporary comfort food favorites, the menu has something for everyone.

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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This upscale Southern restaurant is Hugh Acheson’s first Atlanta project. The wine list, cocktails, and outdoor bocce court are worth a visit alone, but if you stay for dinner, do get the farm egg or the "in jars" appetizer to start, then move on to the seasonal entrees.

Floataway Cafe

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Though it has been through many a change, this semi-hidden Anne Quatrano joint remains a 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— okay, afternoon— after.

The General Muir

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This upscale Jewish deli concept from Ben and Jen Johnson of popular breakfast spot, West Egg, and executive chef Todd Ginsberg has been winning hearts since it opened in early 2013. The burger is one of the best in town, but other star dishes include the poutine fries, cheesecake, and sandwiches with reuben and turkey.

Gu's Bistro

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The Chinese Szechuan food at Gu's Bistro has developed a heavy following amongst Atlanta's food enthusiasts— so much so that an intown location is on the way. Favorites at this Buford Highway spot include the tea-smoked duck and the dry eggplant.


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Kevin Gillespie's innovative new restaurant Gunshow opened in May in Glenwood Park. The format is the first of its kind in Atlanta: You don't order from the menu, but by taking dishes off of a tray or cart that's passed around (sometimes) by the chef who cooked the food. The menu changes often and has had everything from pork skin risotto to an In-N-Out-esque "West Coast" burger so far, plus Swedish-inspired dishes unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in town. Pro tip: The bill adds up quickly, so go with a group.

Heirloom Market BBQ

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This barbecue spot has very limited seating, but the duo behind it, who also own new Korean-Southern diner Sobban bring more than enough flavor to compensate for the cramped quarters or a ride home in a to-go box. Look for Korean-inspired Southern ‘cue and pitch-perfect sides.

Holeman & Finch Public House

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This public house is so much more than the crafted specialty cocktails and cult burger. With the restaurant's local, seasonal offerings, keen attention to details, and fun atmosphere, it’s the place to take out of towners to show them what’s great about Atlanta. Try the carbonara, sweetbreads, and sticky toffee pudding if you miss the double stack.

The Iberian Pig

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Downtown Decatur tapas spot The Iberian Pig has great service and wine, but where it really shines is the carefully curated charcuterie and the small plates, which range from eggplant fries to pork cheek tacos.

JCT Kitchen

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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 and serves them in an beautiful but industrial converted-warehouse space. Hit the upstairs bar for a pre-dinner drink, especially when the weather is nice.

The standard-bearer for upscale contemporary Greek food in the city, Kyma’s been bringing the bright flavors of Mediterranean seafood to life 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.

Local Three

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An upscale restaurant without any of the stuffiness, Local Three focuses on showing guests a good time while serving Southern-inspired food with fresh, local ingredients.

Miller Union

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Steven Satterfield's farm-fresh, updated Southern cooking is simple and elegant. The farm egg baked in celery cream with grilled bread is a top ten Atlanta dish, the restaurant has one of the best vegetable plates in town, and the lunchtime-only ice cream sandwiches are the perfect after-meal treat.

Miso Izakaya

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Named as one of Bon Appetit's six favorite izakayas in North America, Miso Izakaya 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.

Muss & Turner's

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This Smyrna spot serves enormous lunch sandwiches stuffed with all manner of homemade meats and fillings— with a side of pickles. The burger is definitely a top contender, the goat cheese cheesecake is phenomenal, and the beer list is a whopper. Don't miss the speakeasy behind the refrigerator door.

Nick's Food To Go

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Get a gyro at this takeout-only spot and you won't be sorry— unless, of course, you manage to annoy Nick, who can ask for your order and threaten to kick you out of the space in the same breath.

Octopus Bar

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Serving late-night only and catering to the industry crowd, Octopus Bar opens at 10:30 p.m. and serves cocktails and dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, lobster rolls, and daeji bulgogi. Find it inside and to the left of the space that's Vietnamese restaurant So Ba by day.

One Eared Stag

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This Inman Park restaurant is known for its bold menu, thanks to chef/owner Robert Phalen's inventiveness in the kitchen. You cant go wrong with lunch or dinner— or the chef's breakfast, served with a Schlitz, at brunch.

The Optimist

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Ford Fry's much-hyped fish camp and oyster bar in West Midtown opened in 2012 and has since been the recipient of praise galore. Don't be afraid to sit at the bar, and don't forget to leave some time for miniature golf.

Pho Dai Loi 2

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Buford Highway is home to many great ethnic restaurants, but Pho Dai Loi #2 has made a name for itself as a city favorite. The pho is key here, but the bun (a rice noodle dish), bubble tea, and iced coffee are also great options.


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After a recent remodel and some menu changes, Kevin Rathbun's restaurant, Rathbun's, is back in full form. The food and the service are consistently great, and the Inman Park restaurant is conveniently located next to Krog Bar, where diners can stop in before or after a meal for a glass of wine and an appetizer or a nightcap.

Restaurant Eugene

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Restaurant Eugene’s Linton Hopkins won 2012's James Beard Award for Best Southeast Chef, and for good reason. This restaurant puts a definite emphasis on good food and an even bigger one on making sure everything is sourced locally. Order the tasting menu to make sure you don't miss a thing.

Rumi's Kitchen

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Last year, Rumi's Kitchen moved a few doors down from its first location into a new space. With it came an airier dining room and better parking along with the top-notch Persian food Atlantans have come to love from owner Ali Meshgali.

Sotto Sotto

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If one Atlanta Italian restaurant must be crowned supreme, this Inman Park favorite deserves the title. A long list of pastas made with care is the menu’s centerpiece and will ensure a successful night on any special occasion.