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The Atlanta Guide

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In some ways not unlike Los Angeles, Atlanta is a driver’s city, with generous suburbs that sprawl in every direction and a decentralized downtown. As young people have made their way back to the central city in recent years, all that room has allowed for unparalleled creative reuse, starting with a circle of railroad tracks the city is transforming into the Beltline, a hugely ambitious Highline-like pedestrian and bike path that completely encircles downtown. Artists have reclaimed the city’s historic buildings and warehouses into assets like the Goat Farm Arts Center, which hosts artist studios, performances, and events. And, helped by generous green space like the Botanic Gardens and downtown’s Olympic Centennial Park, developers have followed their lead with innovative developments like Ponce City Market and the Westside Provisions district. All this investment set the stage for a vibrant food scene, bravely led by Ford Fry, who somehow continues to make better and better restaurants as his empire grows. Oh, yeah, and the cultural legacy here includes both Scarlett O’Hara and hip-hop-and-R&B legends like Ludacris, Usher, and Outkast.

Aria

490 East Paces Ferry Rd., Buckhead | 404.233.7673

Aria has been around for fifteen-plus years, but its beautiful 2016 revamp by Atlanta firm Seiber Design has generated a lot of renewed interest. As ever, this is a white-tablecloth restaurant; there were a few bright oak tabletops added to the upstairs dining room, which is flanked by a leather banquette. The new bar, handsomely backed in dark wood panels, serves the full, seasonal dinner, and is a good option if you’re a pair without a reservation.

Atlas

88 West Paces Ferry Rd., Buckhead | 404.600.6471

Inside the St. Regis is Southern-inspired Atlas, whose menu is overseen by Aria’s Chef Jerry Klaskala, and directed by Executive Chef Christopher Grossman, who cut his teeth at French Laundry. What’s great about Atlas, beyond the food, is their art collection: be it Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, or works by local SCAD Atlanta students gracing the walls, it all adds beautifully to the experience.

Bacchanalia

1198 Howell Mill Rd., Knight Park | 404.365.0410

Star Provisions is one of our favorite places to shop in Atlanta: There's really good home and kitchen goods, takeout counters (the peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich is a hit), plus all sorts of prepared and packaged foods. Bacchanalia, accessible through the back of the store, is one of Atlanta's best restaurants. It's the perfect solution if you're looking for a sit-down meal: The bar is gigantic and deep, where you can feast on items like crab fritters and celery root ravioli a la carte. Otherwise, it’s a five-course prix-fixe situation.

Bar Margot

75 14th St. NE, Midtown | 404.881.5913

The highlight of Atlanta’s Four Seasons is the delightful Bar Margot. As the name suggests, the cocktail menu here is a real draw; house specialties include the Lady Victoria, a lemon-fresh vodka-rosemary concoction, plus a local-beer program. The restaurant does lunch and dinner with a number of snackable, shareable items on each menu (e.g. crab toast, burrata with pistachio butter, deviled eggs) in addition to their more substantial plates (lobster roll at lunch, lobster thermidor or chicken mattone at dinner). After midnight, they have a short-lived but appropriately satisfying late-night menu—think fried chicken sandwiches and house burgers dressed with charred onions.

Barcelona Atlanta Wine Bar & Restaurant

240 N. Highland Ave., Inman Park | 404.589.1010

We were sold on this place already for its patio—complete with a fire pit—and, fortunately, the food is fantastic, too. The cozy outdoor space here will make you want to cuddle up with a glass of rioja and order enough tapas to stick around for a while. While we like to go at night (aforementioned fire), we hear the brunch (there’s a bloody mary bar and a seriously good sangria) is just as great. There's an additional location in Knight Park, but this one's our favorite.

Beetlecat

299 N Highland Ave., Inman Park | 678.732.0360

Nautically themed, super-chic Beetlecat is part of Ford Fry’s Atlanta empire (Superica, St. Cecilia, King + Duke, Optimist, et al.). There’s a turquoise-seated bright oyster bar on the first level, and upstairs, a fun, 1970s vibe, complete with wood paneling and old-school leather couches. Prepare for a crowd and order the lobster roll.

Bocado

887 Howell Mill Rd., Marietta Street Artery | 404.815.1399

While simply done, the Bocado stack—two patties with American cheese and house pickles—is arguably the best burger in Atlanta. The menu is rounded out with other sandwiches, soups, and salads at lunch; entrees like roasted chicken served with braised collards and seared trout with succotash at dinner, and some veg-friendly plates—but, again, the burger is really the star of the show.

BoccaLupo

753 Edgewood Ave., Inman Park | 404.577.2332

BoccaLupo is an Inman Park Italian restaurant by Atlanta native chef Bruce Logue, who previously worked under goop-favorite Mario Batali at Babbo in NYC. The pasta—from the daily risotto to pan-fried shells, twenty-yolk tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, and black spaghetti with hot sausage and red shrimp—is expertly done. For good-weather days, there’s casual porch seating that extends the interior’s slightly industrial feel with roll-up, glass garage doors. (Note that the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.)

Bread & Butterfly

290 Elizabeth St., Inman Park | 678.515.4536

Right behind Beetlecat is the tiny, very Instagrammable, French-inspired bistro-café Bread & Butterfly, from the team behind the restaurant Cakes + Ale. Come for weekend brunch, or lunch during the week, and try the tomato soup, which comes with a fresh-baked, croissant-like pastry on top.

Cafe Sunflower

2140 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.352.8859

If you’re looking for amazing vegan and vegetarian food in Atlanta, look no further than Cafe Sunflower’s bright, unpretentious Peachtree Road location: The menu offers vegetarian takes on everything from pan-fried dumplings to lasagna to enchiladas. Their brunch menu includes fried “chicken” seitan waffles topped with mustard maple syrup and vegan whipped cream, pretty much guaranteeing any non-vegans present won’t have any gripes. Plus, in addition to their wine selection, there’s a rotating craft-beer menu.

Cakes & Ale

155 Sycamore St., Decatur | 404.377.7994

This beloved Decatur restaurant and attached café was the first concept by chef Billy Allin and wife Kristin Allin. (They later opened Bread & Butterfly and Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta.) The dishes, while creative, never sacrifice taste for art—whether it’s a veg-forward dish like carrots, mushrooms, mustard greens with a crispy egg, or lamb ragu gnocchi with turnip greens.

The Colonnade

1879 Cheshire Bridge Rd., Morningside-Lenox Park | 404.874.5642

The Colonnade is a total Atlanta fixture at this point—it made national news when the restaurant started taking credit cards for the first time in its nearly 100-year history back in 2014. An old building off a busy-ish thoroughfare, the décor’s nothing to write home about, but this is hands-down the place to come for great, old-school fried chicken.

Floataway Café

1123 Zonolite Rd., Morningside-Lenox Park | 404.892.1414

Another of Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s long-standing restaurants (they opened this shortly after Bacchanalia, in 1998), the Floataway occupies an airy, industrial warehouse space. The menu is roughly European, with a focus on fresh ingredients, including a hearty vegetable section and a few great pizzas. We like to come in the summer, when you can eat in the outdoor courtyard space.

Gunshow

924 Garrett St., Glenwood Park | 404.380.1886

If you don’t know what to expect, Gunshow might just be the most surprising dining experience in Atlanta. Here, there’s no such thing as ordering from a menu; plates of food come out of the kitchen as soon as they’re ready, then get carted around to diners, dim-sum style. Rather than stick to a set repertoire, chef/owner Kevin Gillespie and his team get together weekly to brainstorm and divvy up a menu of dishes they’re into at the moment. There’s no affiliation to any one style or cuisine, so you might get braised beef short ribs one day, and Mexican-style peanut-crusted snapper the next. The challenge is not getting attached to any one dish—odds are, you won’t see it again the next time you come back. Also of note: The bustling open kitchen is within eyeshot of almost every table.

Holeman & Finch

2277 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.948.1175

When Holeman & Finch first opened, you could only order their famous burgers (which most people say are the best in Atlanta) after 10pm, and you had to be quick about it—only twenty-four were served each evening. In response to overwhelming demand, the chef finally made them a regular menu fixture a few years ago. The burgers and the rest of their pub-inspired menu are best experienced from the cozy bar at the back of the space.

The Iberian Pig

121 Sycamore St., Decatur | http://www.theiberianpigatl.com/index

Occupying a cozy, wood-lined space right on the main square and Decatur, the Iberian Pig’s Spanish-inspired menu is neatly divided into cheese, charcuterie, and tapas, with a wine list that leans heavily on Spain, Chile, and Argentina to match. While they do the classics really well, we love their fusion dishes, like the pork-cheek tacos and their extra-flavorful macaroni-and-cheese with charcuterie.

JCT. Kitchen & Bar

1198 Howell Mill Rd., Westside Provisions District | 404.355.2252

Ford Fry’s first restaurant in Atlanta (he opened it back in 2007) occupies a comfortable corner of the Westside Provisions shopping district, making it a great lunch spot if you’re doing any shopping at Ann Mashburn, Billy Reid, or Seed Factory. There’s a hearty, comfort-food-focused menu (think shrimp and grits, meat and three, and fried chicken) downstairs, a limited menu with a full bar on the rooftop patio, where Fry has live music a few nights a week.

King + Duke

3060 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.477.3500

Another of Ford Fry’s creations, King + Duke’s menu is all about the huge open hearth that Fry installed in the kitchen, and which cooks navigate with a series of grills that can be moved around on pulleys. Most dishes see the hearth at some point, be they vegetables, like a whole-roasted cauliflower, or ambitious meats like the juicy, charred New York strip for two. The modern-yet-warm interior isn’t dissimilar from Ford’s other spaces, featuring bold brass light fixtures above the bar, worn leather barstools, and moody, dark walls. In the warmer months, try to grab a seat on the huge open-air patio, which is shaded by yellow-and-blue striped canopies in the sunshine and lit by twinkle lights in the evening.

Le Bilboquet

3035 Peachtree Rd. NE, Buckhead | 404.869.9944

An outpost of the longstanding uptown NYC French bistro (there’s also a Dallas location), Le Bilboquet is inside the retail center sometimes referred to here as The Shops Buckhead Atlanta. Come for the classics—moules-frites, beef tartare—served inside a bright dining room, and outside, on Le Bilboquet’s sidewalk patio, designed after a Parisian café.

Le Fat

935 Marietta St., Marietta Street Artery | 404.439.9850

The appeal of Le Fat, announced by a hanging neon sign on its exterior, has a lot to do with atmosphere. Taking cues from French colonial design, Le Fat is divided into two elegantly cool rooms: one a soft green hue, the walls illustrated with delicate magnolia trees. The bar in here feels like it could have been transported from a more tropical destination, a notion that goes hand in hand with Le Fat’s signature, summery cocktail list. Run by chef and Atlanta restaurateur Guy Wong, the Vietnamese-billed menu leans on Cantonese flavors, too. Come for date night (bonus: at a reasonable price).

Leon’s Full Service

131 E. Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur | 404.687.0500

So there are the cocktails (great), but then there are the snacks: cheese, "pub frites," and bacon in a glass. You can pretty much stay all day. The shaded patio is undeniably pleasant, and the open garage door (a big trend in Atlanta) makes it airy and bright.

Marcel

1170 Howell Mill Rd., Home Park | 404.665.4555

Named for the vivacious French boxing champion Marcel Cerdan, Ford Fry’s take on a classic French brasserie has all the trappings: luxe red banquettes, white-tablecloth-ed booth seating, and a dramatically lit bar. The menu focuses on meticulously sourced, heavy-hitting steaks; in fact, Marcel is the only steakhouse in the city that exclusively serves hormone-free beef. A meal like this comes with a price tag to match, so we like it best for special occasions—or just stop by for a glass of wine and an order of frites, best enjoyed near the patio fireplace.

Miller Union

999 Brady Ave., Home Park | 678.733.8550

Occupying the old Miller Union Stockyards, this is one of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants—early on, they had a review in the New York Times and were finalists for a James Beard Award—but even the most cynical locals will tell you that the food lives up to the hype. Co-owners Neal McCarthy (the general manager and sommelier) and Steven Satterfield (the chef) have an extraordinary commitment to sustainability, so the menu changes daily, but you can always count on fresh vegetables, including the Southern vegetable plate, to be crowd-pleasers. The wine list, made up of exclusively organic and biodynamic bottles, is one of the city’s best.

Nam Phuong

4051 Buford Hwy., Brookhaven | 404.633.2400

Nestled in a strip mall on Buford Highway, Nam Phuong is a major local favorite for authentic Vietnamese food. Everything on the—huge—menu is fresh and well-prepared, but we’re partial to their specialty, the Ba Vi: a make-your-own-summer-rolls platter that comes with shrimp balls, grilled pork, and beef with a slew of veggies and sauces and rice-paper rolls (which you dip into a specialty holder before rolling, for stickiness). Kids love it.

The Optimist

914 Howell Mill Rd., Home Park | 404.477.6260

Optimist’s dining room is actually separated into two distinct sections, divided by a nautical, blue-and-white striped curtain. In the traditional dining room, chef/owner Ford Fry serves a southern-inspired seafood menu featuring lobster rolls, peel-and-eat Georgia shrimp, and excellent hushpuppies. On the other side, a smaller oyster bar offers raw or roasted oysters (imported straight from the Alabama coast) and Fry’s signature punch. From there, you can also access the open-air turf patio, which has a few mini-golf holes and room for a live band.

Restaurant Eugene

2277 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.355.0321

This is our pick for a fine-dining, white-tablecloth experience in Atlanta—Chef Linton Hopkins is known for locally sourced ingredients, delicate plating, and sophisticated flavor profiles, all delivered by a supremely knowledgeable and attentive staff. While ordering à la carte is an option, you’ll be in good hands with their seven-course tasting menu.

Ria’s Bluebird

421 Memorial Dr., Grant Park | 404.521.3737

Ria Pell, the original owner of this cozy neighborhood breakfast joint, was something of a local hero—not only for her insanely good pancakes, but for the diverse, welcoming community she created at the diner. When she suddenly passed away a few years ago, ownership of the restaurant transferred to long-time manager Julie Pender, who operates the place in honor of Pell’s memory, serving her famous pancake recipe unchanged. Lines can get long here on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but the wait is more than worth it.

Sotto Sotto

313 N Highland Ave., Inman Park | 404.523.6678

An Inman Park staple since 1999, this is the kind of classic Italian restaurant every neighborhood should have. The wine menu is Italian through-and-through, and their most famous dish is actually a dessert: a Belgian-chocolate soup. For the main course, opt for the pastas and risottos, each of which can be ordered in a half-size so you don’t have to pick between favorites.

St. Cecilia

3455 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.554.9995

The first thing you’ll love about St. Cecilia is the décor: The restaurant is set in a lofty three-story space with tall ceilings and wide windows, with a lengthy (and stunning) marble bar that spans the length of the room. Behind the bar, liquor bottles, wine, books, and artfully placed knick-knacks are stacked library-style on tall, mirror-backed shelves, which have the effect of making the entire space seem even larger than it is. The menu skews coastal European with French and Mediterranean influences; star dishes include wood-grilled octopus, cacio e pepe, and a whole-roasted branzino.

Staplehouse

541 Edgewood Ave., Old Fourth Ward | 404.524.5005

One of the hottest restaurants to open in Atlanta in recent years, the idea for Staplehouse began in 2009 as a supper club run by the late chef Ryan Hidinger and his wife Jen. The couple initially played hosts to ten guests at their home every Sunday, and later, as many as two hundred came for a Labor Day backyard feast. Ryan, who was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in 2012, passed away in 2014. A little less than two years later, Jen opened Staplehouse with her sister Kara and an incredibly talented chef, also named Ryan—last name Smith—and an outpouring of support (monetary and otherwise) from their community. The profits from the restaurant go to the nonprofit that the family established, called The Giving Kitchen, which helps Atlanta restaurant workers in the midst of unexpected crises. Make no mistake: This restaurant has an incredible story (which merits more space than it is getting here), and a wonderful family vibe. But served from any kitchen, the food here would deserve to be on any best-of-Atlanta list. Everything is meant to be shared, it’s all seasonal, and the dozen dinner dishes and several lunch options get changed up frequently. Book in advance (or try the eight-seat bar).

Sun In My Belly

2161 College Ave., Kirkwood | 404.370.1088

Sun in My Belly, a catering company that also operates a brunch/dinner café out of the Kirkwood neighborhood, specializes in exactly the kind of dishes you’d hope from the name: “The Hangover” features a housemade biscuit with cheddar cheese, sausage, fried egg, avocado, potatoes, plus sriracha. The MLT sandwich is mozzarella with basil pesto on country bread. There’s tuna nicoise salad and fried chicken with mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens—and so on.

Superica

3850 Roswell Rd., Buckhead | 678.705.1235

This is one of those places that immediately transports you somewhere else: in the case, Austin, Texas. In addition to the endless patio outside, there's a stage for live music inside, and the décor is wonderfully Texan, with a big star behind the bar and a classic longhorn mount. If you're there for drinks, get the guacamole, queso, and a Vampire Weekend, their house horchata cocktail. They also have a location in Cabbagetown.

The General Muir

1540 Avenue Pl., Druid Hills | 678.927.9131

Don’t let the hip, glossy subway tiled interior fool you: as far as delis are concerned, The General Muir is the real deal. You can expect some seriously good matzoh ball soup, sandwiches featuring the pastrami they cure and smoke in-house, and fresh, hand-rolled and kettle boiled bagels with proper schmear options like scallion horseradish and dill caper. While it's open for breakfast, dinner, and weekend brunch (all from a full-service dining room), we recommend it for lunch—there’s a separate counter service area where you can grab a great sandwich, plus bagels, salads, and pastries. Bonus: there's an espresso bar with locally roasted coffee and a full bar.

Umi

3050 Peachtree Rd., Buckhead | 404.841.0040

Chef Fuyuhiko Ito’s Umi in Buckhead books weeks in advance—so plan a bit ahead for a dinner table here. The sushi is outstanding, as are the other carefully crafted Japanese dishes. The interior, done by ATL artist Todd Murphy, has cozy wood flooring matched by darker wood walls and sleek, minimalist tables and half-booths.

Watershed on Peachtree

1820 Peachtree Rd., Brookwood Hills | 404.809.3561

First opened in 1998 inside a converted gas station in downtown Decatur as a food and goods shop, Watershed is now an award-winning (and decidedly tonier) full-service restaurant in Atlanta’s historic Brookwood Hills neighborhood. What hasn’t changed, though, is the eatery’s farm-to-table ethos and commitment to fresh, progressive Southern food. Dinner options range from smoked pork loin with grits and bacon to poached jumbo scallops; Comfort food classics like mac ‘n’ cheese and cornbread don’t disappoint. They also have a pretty great bar, where you can order small bites like baby kale salad or cornmeal fried catfish. Note: their infamous fried chicken is on the lunch and dinner menus Wednesdays only.