Downtown Atlanta has long had an allure all its own. Home to a slew of globally recognized attractions like World of Coca-Cola, CNN Center, the Georgia Aquarium, the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena and Centennial Olympic Park, not to mention countless office towers, it's a hub for business, sporting events and tourism. Whether it's an Atlanta Hawks basketball game at Philips, a world-class musical performance at Georgia State University's Rialto Center for the Arts, or a mega fashion show at AmericasMart, Downtown Atlanta thrives at attracting visitors. Though Buckhead, Midtown and surrounding in-town neighborhoods have long claimed much of the nightlife crowd, recent Downtown developments in this and neighboring areas have amped up the area's allure after dark.
Grand new hotels, renovated buildings and exciting new dining concepts have exploded onto the scene giving locals and visitors extra incentive to stick around Downtown after the event, festival or race is over. Given Atlanta's national reputation as a culinary hotbed – and the home to numerous James Beard award-winners and former Top Chef fan-favorites – it's no surprise that restaurant newcomers have been exceptional. Whether you're craving a juicy cheeseburger, a liquid nitrogen cocktail or a perfectly cooked steak, Atlanta's up to the challenge. Here, we've hand-picked 10 of our favorites within a two-mile radius of Philips Arena. Downtown? You bet!
Dantanna's Downtown blends the upscale sports bar with impeccable food that's good every time. The CNN Center location is truly in the heart of it all just a short walk from Philips Arena, the Georgia Aquarium and neighboring downtown attractions. You'll recognize most, if not all of the items on the menu, but don't dismiss this for typical pub fare. Get a steak or a burger (both are truly indulgent), and have fun with the appetizers and sides. The beef carpaccio is particularly excellent. Though the dining room is lovely, choose a seat on one of two outdoor patios, each boasting numerous plasma TVs. Pair it with a dirty martini and a ball game and call it a night! ((404) 522-8873)
Sweet Auburn Curb Market
The oldest public market in Atlanta is also, arguably, the tastiest. Located in the Martin Luther King Historic District, the market is jam-packed with vendors selling fresh produce and seafood, and at any given moment, is a popular feasting ground for Georgia State students, businessmen and regular folks, alike. In the last few years, the market underwent a transformative renovation restoring it to its former glory. The jazzed up building also coincided with the introduction of a number of exceptional new in-market restaurants as well. Comfort food is a common theme among the stalls with Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Sweet Auburn Bakery (pictured) Bell Street Burritos and Sweet Auburn BBQ topping our list of recommendations. (404-659-1665)
For an easy-going dinner, this local neighborhood bar's always a safe bet. Attracting a young, hip crowd this Grant Park pub makes for an idyllic spot to unwind after a long day of meetings Downtown. Hang out on the patio with a cool craft brew (there's a good chance it's local) and an order of smoked wings, or venture inside and try your hand at a game of darts. If you're apt to partake in bar games, consider watching or potentially joining in regularly scheduled week night events: Mondays are dart league nights, Tuesdays are trivia and Wednesdays bring in the Atlanta Bocce League. (404-681-3344)
The Sound Table
Jonesing for an edgy spot for sipping cocktails and tasting innovative dishes? Look no further. The menu at this local tastemaker was crafted specifically for the top-notch bar program, so imbibe during your visit and don't be afraid to let your server guide your selections. The drink selection is ambitious and, at times, completely foreign (keep your smartphone at the ready so you can Google ingredients). Given the ingredient-driven dishes, the menu is constantly changing and there's the chance you may not see one posted online when you make your reservation. It's ok. You should still go. Follow up the experience with ping pong at local and celebrity favorite (Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson have all been spotted here), Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium.
Ray's in the City
With multiple locations throughout Atlanta, Ray's Restaurants are known for their dedication to quality ingredients, sustainable seafood and thoughtfully prepared entrees. After re-invigorating the bar program this past year, diners can expect seasonally inspired specialty craft cocktails alongside the usual offerings. On the food front, fish takes center stage (most often in grilled form) alongside the raw oysters and fresh sushi selection. We'll happily order from the market selection any day, though the specialty dishes are especially delectable (the horseradish-crusted grouper is superb). On par with the fine dining is the beautiful decor: An aquarium, onyx bar and tiled walls lend the place quiet sophistication. (404-524-9224)
No Mas Cantina
Mexican restaurant No Mas Cantina sits within the hottest up-and-coming Atlanta neighborhood of the moment, Castleberry Hill. A thriving arts community just a stone's throw away from downtown, this historic warehouse district is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been attracting a wave of young professionals and trendy restaurants. No Mas Cantina's a prime example with its sprawling outdoor garden and popular margarita-sipping patio. Crowd-pleasing eats run the gamut from queso and chips and carnitas tacos to more adventurous seafood dishes, like the camarones brochette (bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with chipotle pepper and cheese and served over polenta). (404-574-5678)
Since opening in late 2011, Alma Cocina has become a regular favorite for upscale Mexican food in downtown Atlanta. The restaurant interiors blend western stylings with contemporary furnishings for an ambiance that's both mod and welcoming, and the same extends to the food. Peruse the list and you'll see a slew of familiar appetizers and entrees, done up with an extravagant flourish. Presentation is top-notch and so are the flavors. Scoop into a vibrant dish of red snapper ceviche, crunch into savory fried avocado tacos and indulge in the flavorful pork pibil tamales. Good news for gluten-free folks: the restaurant has its own menu for you. (404-968-9662)
This gluttonously greasy local fixture has been a national hotspot since 1928. Sidle into a booth inside or go authentic and place your order from you car. Order a chocolate shake and take your pick of traditional diner fare. You can't go wrong with the chili cheese dog, a Varsity Orange (sugary sweet orange soda), or the oh so delicious pimento cheese burger. Just remember to pace yourself. Take in the retro vibe of "the world's largest drive-in" and re-imagine the Atlanta of yesteryear as you dig into good old-fashioned American eats. It's the quintessential Atlanta dining experience. Don't leave without trying it at least once. (404-881-1706)
This sleek, modish restaurant feels nothing like your typical hotel restaurant chain. Lodged within the W Atlanta-Downtown it serves global cuisine with a carnivorous twist. Steaks and meats are a major facet of the hearty menu rounded out by a selection of seafood, small plates and salads. Among the offerings are Florida stone crab, Japanese Kobe-cut steak, chicken liver pate, raw oysters and a smorgasbord of rich desserts. You'd do well to order the delightfully fluffy popovers as well. Though be warned that they're dangerously addictive. After, take a cocktail to the roof and admire aerial views of the city poolside. (404-577-7601)
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.
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