Atlanta's Top Restaurants: Eat the Best Meal of Your Life
By Kelly Skinner
Atlanta Local Expert
Yes, Atlantans like to eat. But if you lived here, wouldn’t you, too?
While the city’s love affair with Southern cuisine runs deep (shaping the chefs that run many of Atlanta’s beloved meat-and-three joints), Atlanta’s food dialogue expands far past fried chicken and chow-chow. From the run-down Jamaican jerk shack, to the high-end hotel eatery to the gourmet burger bar, Atlanta’s restaurants run the gamut of price, size, menu options and notoriety. Known as the Empire State of the South, Atlanta has taken its value as a food-forward city seriously, and has attracted a wealth of thoughtful, inventive, award-winning chefs in the process.
So, chiseling down the list of the area’s best to a lean 10 is a tricky process. These 10 were selected (by the author) because they continually produce amazing, high-caliber fare and keep customers coming back not only for the food, but for the service, the ambiance and the overall experience of eating there.
Dine on farm-fresh, contemporary Southern plates in chic surrounds at Watershed on Peachtree; go for a casual foray into impeccable (and affordable) Mexican cuisine at Taqueria del Sol; take in the opulence (both in the space and in the plates) at The Optimist; or give into your foodie leanings with an indulgent prix-fixe menu at Bacchanalia. Scratch that culinary itch and dine at these restaurants now:
10 Miller Union
Chef Steven Satterfield's curated menu of sustainable eats has been wowing diners since he opened this ethereal restaurant on Atlanta's Westside. Like others on this list, the culinary offerings are dictated by seasonality and are expertly prepared by way of Satterfield and his stellar team. Schmooze at the spacious wooden bar over one of the varied wine options, or opt for a seat in the airy dining room--a busy spot at lunch and dinner. Though the menu changes all the time, you'd do well to order the addictive feta snack and popular farm egg in celery cream before digging into your main course. (6787338550)
9 Watershed on Peachtree
Longtime Decatur mainstay (co-owned by Indigo Girl Emily Sailers) Watershed's newer rendition in Brookwood Hills has taken the former recipe for greatness and expanded upon it within its airy, neutral-toned space. A dominant bar upon entry adds a welcoming touch to the upscale restaurant, and doles out a range of tasty craft cocktails. The spacey dining room is a popular spot for Midtown business lunchers and those seeking an expertly prepared Southern feast. Local ingredients, once again, come into play here in a menu brimming with Southern classics (all showcasing Chef Joe Truex's interpretive flair). The restaurant's righteous fried chicken is served only on Wednesdays at lunch and dinner, which is when you should visit. (404 809 3561)
8 Taqueria del Sol
At face value, Taqueria del Sol's various locations look like any trendy Mexican joint with their industrial, renovated gas station get-ups, low prices and straight-forward menus. But then you see the line--a regular fixture at all times of day, at all locations. What's the hype about? The food is incredible--fried chicken tacos, spicy bbq tacos, beef enchiladas with red sauce, an incredible shrimp corn chowder and exceptionally delicious (though random) fried chicken with mashed potatoes and Sriracha (a special). Service is friendly, fast, and above all, efficient. Plus, there's none of that numbered Mexican plate stuff going on here. If you want a taco, you order a taco (not a #45a). If you want rice and beans on the side, order them yourself. (404-352-5811)
7 Cakes & Ale
The name of this restaurant references a line of Shakespeare's, and though it does have its own sunny little bakery (which shares a similar vibe to Thomas Keller's Bouchon), the restaurant is neither pub nor bakery. Instead, Decatur's Cakes & Ale focuses on producing a rotating menu of contemporary, seasonal, American-fusion plates. Whole-roasted fish, local meats and fresh-plucked veggies dictate the menu. Well-executed dishes benefit from unexpected ingredients (a dollop of green harissa here, a drizzle of fennel pollen or raab paste there) and from the well-curated list of wide-ranging wines. Snag one of the baked goodies at the bakery next door for dessert or an impromptu snack. (404-377-7994)
6 no. 246
Chef Ford Fry's Decatur restaurant serves an idyllic blend of rustic, Italian dishes brimming with flavor, and utilizing fresh, local ingredients. Located centrally in downtown Decatur the Smith Hanes-designed restaurant exudes sophisticated comfort with its warm wooden accents, dramatic windows overlooking Ponce, framed barnyard art and industrial-sized steel fans turning overhead. Helmed by Chef Drew Belline, the menu showcases a dazzling array of regularly changing housemaid pastas (which is the thing to get), wood-fired pizzas, clever cocktails showcasing flavors of the season and a playful appetizer menu that won't disappoint. The open kitchen allows a unique dining experience. Give into your foodie whims and sign up for a spot at the Black Sheep's Table, a communal 12-seat chef's table offering family-style dining ($45). (678-399-8246)
5 The Optimist
Chef-owner Ford Fry's (also owner of King + Duke, St. Cecilia, No. 246 and JCT. Kitchen & Bar) ode to the Southern coast has become an instant hit for Atlantans seeking seaside cuisine. Chef Adam Evans cooks up a menu peppered with seafood staples (think lobster rolls, hush puppies and eat-and-peel shrimp)as well as divergent renditions (wood hearth roasted mangrove snapper or duck fat poached swordfish with smoked short ribs). Begin your meal with an artful appetizer and indulge in one of the craft cocktails. Oyster aficionados will delight in the adjacent Oyster Bar at the Optimist, which features an extensive raw bar as well as multiple small plates. (404-477-6260)
4 Woodfire Grill
Originally gaining national recognition when its former chef, Kevin Gillespie, became a fan favorite on Top Chef, the rustic Buckhead eatery has continued its tradition of producing inventive, high-caliber food under sous chef Matt Weinstein's care. The grill is central to the restaurant's lodge-like dining room, so foodies can watch as Weinstein and his crew prepare dish after dish. Like others on this list, the menu is an ever-evolving affair and is widely influenced by the chef's whims and by what's in season. Visitors can choose from a five-course chef's tasting menu ($75) or a seven-course chef's grand tasting menu ($95). (404-347-9055)
3 Restaurant Eugene
James Beard-award winning, contemporary Southern restaurant Restaurant Eugene is an upscale farm-to-table eatery led by culinary whiz Chef Linton Hopkins. Settle into the sleek dining room of this Peachtree Battle local fixture (nestled beside sister restaurant, Holeman & Finch Public House) and dig into Chef Hopkins' five-course tasting menu for $85. Given Hopkins' focus on utilizing produce from local community farms (he and his wife, Gina, also co-founded the famed Peachtree Road Farmers Market), all dishes are fresh and seasonal, and the menu changes daily. An a la carte menu is also available for those not feeling up to a multicourse feast. (404-355-0321)
2 Empire State South
James Beard award-winning chef Hugh Acheson's first Atlanta restaurant offers an alternative take on Southern cuisine. The beautiful, rustic-chic space is teeming with a knowledgeable staff seeking to optimize your dining experience. The menu, overseen by Chef Josh Hopkins, is dictated by the season and is constantly changing. Pickled veggies, spreads in jars and tasty housemade condiments on the starters list add to the overall experience. Fish, poultry, wild game and beef dishes are typical main entrees and come with expertly rendered straight-from-the-garden sides. Ordering the "In Jars" appetizer is a must, and you'd do well to order the special on any given night. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has an awesome dessert menu to boot. (404-541-1105)
Encounter farm-fresh fare at its finest at chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison's award-winning restaurant. Set amid the duo's other impeccable eateries and market at Westside Provisions District (Abattoir, Quinones at Bacchanalia, Floataway Cafe and Star Provisions), the handsome 90-seat restaurant offers an unparalleled dining experience ideal for celebrating special occasions and for fueling foodie fodder. Dinner is a five-course, $85 prix-fixe affair that comes with two appetizer courses, an entree course, a cheese course and a dessert course. The contemporary menu is driven by the season and by the ingredients, many of which come from the chefs' Summerland Farms. (404-365-0410)
About Kelly Skinner
Kelly Skinner comes to Atlanta by way of sunny coastal city, Pensacola, FL. A lover of all things food, music and travel, Skinner found her perfect match in Atlanta in the food-centric hub of Decatur. A full-time freelance writer and editor, Skinner's byline has appeared in a range of publications including Paste, The Atlantan, Jezebel, Redbook, South and Living Intown. When she's not writing, editing and exploring Atlanta for the best places to eat, drink and play, Skinner loves doing yoga, running with her dog in Piedmont Park and scouring book stores and record shops for hidden treasures.
Read more about Kelly Skinner here.