10 Best Southern Restaurants in Atlanta: Upscale, Casual and Down Home

At 10Best, we're always on the lookout for Atlanta's best restaurants, and while we appreciate places that have a broad culinary range, we can't help but adore restaurants that specialize in a given cuisine. If you are in the downtown area and looking for a spot that will provide you with some entertainment, look no further than Sweet Georgia Juke Joint

Want to visit a place that you don't have to get gussied up to dine, has been around for decades and is steeped in history? Check out Mary Mac's Tea Room or The Colonnade or Busy Bee Cafe. None take reservations, so expect waits if you visit at peak times. 

Think the terms "southern" and "upscale" don't go together? You'd be mistaken. We've also included on this 10 Best list of Southern restaurants, those establishments that not only provide a beautiful and classy decor, but these restaurants have received much praise from national press. A visit to Empire State South seems mandatory for most of the celebrities than come through Atlanta. JCT Kitchen, located on the Westside of the city, had their "Angry Mussels" appetizer featured on the  Travel Channel. Other upscale spots in the A are Wisteria and South City Kitchen. 

Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint
Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint represents a deep history of music, food, drink and socializing in the South. With the downtown location, Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint attracts a lot of folks from out of town. But locals craving southern food with a side of music, should check this place out too. Besides the Peach daiquiri listed above, there's also Moonshine available here. Exceptional drinks, staff and upscale comfort food! Mac and cheese and fried chicken are a must as are the Shrimp and Grits. If you enjoy Jazz music, this is definitely a spot you will want to check out. There's even a dance floor to enjoy some dancing from the band. (4042090907)

Busy Bee Café
The Busy Bee Cafe is a casual diner serving southern style soul food. But it has reigned supreme as one of the favorite spots for soul food in Atlanta for years. This diner is a favorite of students at the nearby University who pack them full during lunch. Chitlins, ham hocks, meat loaf, and fried whiting are amongst some of the southern favorites on the menu. The staff always remains pleasant even during busy periods. The food and service will more than make up for the long wait. Save room for dessert! Banana pudding, red velvet cake, key lime cake, lemon pound cake are all customer favorites. Don't expect a late diner. The restaurant closes at 7 pm. (404-525-9212)

Horseradish Grill
Just like Atlanta itself, Horseradish Grill's New Southern cuisine manages to reconcile tradition and modernity. Their fried chicken is a staple the locals and those visiting love. Other solid choices are Grouper, Trout and even steaks. While the interior of the Sandy Springs restaurant is classy and well appointed, there's a certain charm to the outdoor patio. Idyllic outdoor seating under beautiful oak trees provides more secluded seating and is perfect on warm evenings. If your plans are to visit before a concert at Chastain, make sure to make reservations, as this is a popular choice for many concert goers. (404-255-7277)

Open since 1927, The Colonnade has been an attraction for nearly 100 years. Not much has been updated as far as the decor, but that doesn't keep the crowds away. It was the type of place your grandparents would have had dates back in the dat. Expect to find all your southern favorits here: fried chicken, grilled trout, cornbread. If you like chicken livers, you can find tasty ones here. It is also popular for special events. There's a banquet facility in the back the accommodate up to 72 people. Staff is courteous, polite and helpful. Most entrees are around twelve dollars. (404-874-5642)

Mary Mac's Tea Room
This restaurant is known as the place for classic Southern cuisine. Recently cited by Gourmet magazine as the best place for family dining in Atlanta, Mary Mac's has been providing great food in a comfortable atmosphere for more than 50 years. The charming staff bring out plates piled high with country favorites like fried catfish, country steak, and meatloaf, with sides like macaroni and cheese, sweet potato soufflé, squash soufflé, black-eyed peas, steamed cabbage, and collard greens. More upscale choices like filet mignon and prime rib are also available. Don't leave without sampling the homemade cinnamon rolls, a house specialty. People buy them by the dozen to take home. (404-876-1800)

JCT. Kitchen & Bar
With its light colored walls and light wood interior there is something very cheery about JCT Kitchen. It is headed by chef Ford Fry, who has opened up a notable seafood restaurant nearby as well. Start off your southern food experience with the Angry Mussels or the Pork Belly. For entrees get the Trout, Shrimp and Grits or Chicken and Dumplings. Sunday evenings feature a dinner served family style that is priced under $25. When the weather allows visit the upstairs bar before or after your meal. Often times, there is live music playing. This is a great spot to take out of towners. (404-355-2252)

South City Kitchen
This attractive, remodeled 1920s bungalow has a pleasant dining room dominated by an open kitchen. You can watch chefs whip up fantastic new Southern dishes like Coca-cola braised Salmon and grits, pan-fried catfish with mustard greens and warm pepper jelly, and crab hash with poached eggs and Idaho potatoes. You may be tempted to fill up first on the biscuits and cornbread, but try to resist as the main entrees and dessert are well worth saving room for. Though the Southern influence is obvious in the menu and the decor, the surroundings and the presentation are thoroughly modern. Great spot to take visitors. (404-873-7358)

Empire State South
Empire State South didn't take long to make it to the top of many critics "must visit" list. The restaurant is quite good at taking a new twist to old southern favorites. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The large restaurant features a bar area, perfect for those dining alone, with the rest of the seating area is perfect for large groups. Make sure to try the "super food" which is a vegetable plate that is not only healthy but extremely tasty too. Desserts can be hit or miss, but the appetizers are always winners. The interesting part about each dish is that the perfect mouthful is when everything on the plate is combined for the perfect bite. (404-541-1105)

Wisteria, located in a freestanding building with exposed brick and dark lighting it is extremely romantic, but also a fantastic choice to take an out of town guest. Wisteria can be described as upscale Southern. Don't miss The Patrice, a signature drink made with tequila and champagne is the perfect start to a relaxing evening. The huge wine list is an oenophile dream. The Black-Eyed Pea Hummus served up with home-made sweet potato chips had just the right amount of garlic and lemon juice. The scallops are another hit in the appetizer department. This is a twist on bacon-wrapped scallops using pork belly instead. The mussels, garlicky and served up with tomatoes are quite delicious. By far the most popular dish on the menu is the Molasses rubbed pork tenderloin. It brings guests back time and time again. (404-525-3363)

Malika is the Author of Food Lovers' Guide to Atlanta. With a background in marketing, Maika's passion is Writing and Social Media Marketing and she works for various clients in Atlanta. Malika also seeks Atlanta's hidden gems, writing about them on her Atlanta Restaurant Blog.  She believes that an exceptional meal can be found at a hole-in-the-wall joint, as well as in a swanky building.  Exotic travel is also important to our Atlanta expert, who wants to see the whole world. “There are so many great experiences and so much we can all learn from different cultures,” she says.  

Read more about Malika Harricharan here.

Connect with Malika via: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+

Maps and Directions

Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Southern
Neighborhood: Downtown
Cost: $$$
Busy Bee Café 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Soul Food, Southern
Neighborhood: Downtown
Cost: $
Horseradish Grill 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Local Specialty, Southern
Cost: $$
Colonnade 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Southern
Cost: $
Mary Mac's Tea Room 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Continental
Cost: $
JCT. Kitchen & Bar 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, New American, Southern
Neighborhood: Westside
Cost: $$$
South City Kitchen 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Local Specialty, Southern
Cost: $$
Empire State South 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Southern
Neighborhood: Midtown
Wisteria 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Local Specialty, Southern
Cost: $$
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