Atlanta is so much more than just the capital city of Georgia; it's the epicenter of Southern hospitality, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the city's impressive dining scene. Fried chicken, barbecue and pizza garner as much love and attention from Atlanta chefs as the finer ingredients grown by one of the many local farms. International cuisine flourishes along the Buford Highway corridor, while smaller urban neighborhoods encourage risk-taking chefs. The debate over the city's best eats is always vigorous, but the visitor reaps the rewards anyway. Here's our take on what's tastiest in this fair city.
Holeman & Finch Public House
The cocktails are some of the city's best, and the 10 p.m. fresh-ground burger (gotta be there at 10 for the burger bell, or you'll miss the fun) has become a bucket-list experience for every Atlanta foodie. House charcuterie and dishes such as tea-braised collards, or quail breast with creamed corn, red-eye gravy and caramelized figs, always feature a clever Southern twist.
The newest concept from Angus Brown, Nhan Le and Jeff Jurgena -- the team of chefs at the popular late-night spot Octopus Bar -- is an all-around smart and hip food experience. We love the numerous outstanding beverage options (wine, cocktail and beer lovers will swoon), fresh oyster and nigiri selections, and dishes such as whole roasted branzino and tagliatelle with sea urchin. The dry-aged cast-iron rib eye is a carnivore's joy, and don't miss the horchata ice cream with Flame Prince peaches and mint. If it seems as if this restaurant is doing a lot, well, it is, but with success and promise.
This unusual chef concept is the brainchild of Kevin Gillespie, a Top Chef finalist and locally grown Southerner. Gillespie wanted to create a dining experience that eliminated "menu anxiety," so at Gunshow, he and the other chefs personally walk around with wooden platters (carved by Gillespie's grandfather) of each dish as they come off the line. You'll get a personal description from the chef and a chance to see the dish and smell for yourself if it's what you hanker for. Beware: You can easily rack up a big bill because everything looks good. The menu changes nightly, but repeat fan favorites include chicken fried lobster, kung pao Brussels sprouts and pork belly steam buns.
Think Naples, Italy, authenticity and serious eating, and you have the vibe at Antico. Atlanta has good pizza options, but nothing rivals Antico's bubbly, slightly scorched crust with traditional toppings. Seating is communal, and it's BYOB. The owners have developed a little Italy with an adjacent gelateria and a Gio's Chicken Amalfitano just next door.
Ten-best lists must surely tire of Bacchanalia--it's always on them, but the reasons stand tall: infinitely fresh provender from the chef/owners' farm, painstakingly crafted plates and classy service. Expect to enjoy dishes such as the confit foie gras terrine with Georgia peach, spiced figs and spiced Georgia peanut. For an almost equally inspired evening at half the price, try their "second-label" restaurant near Decatur, called Floataway Cafe.
At this fine-dining restaurant, James Beard Award-winning chef (for best in the Southeast in 2012) and owner Linton Hopkins, a native Atlanta son, redefines Southern cuisine with elegant interpretations and pristine, locally farmed ingredients. Try the beef tenderloin with bone marrow, roots, foie gras and black-eyed peas after an appetizer of blue crab galette with citrus, black pepper and ghee.
Courtesy Green Olive Media
Ask any Atlantan where to find the best barbecue, and a serious debate will ensue, but most can agree that Fox Bros. is a top destination. Being the best means big crowds, but the wait is worth the trouble, especially after you've tasted the chicken-fried ribs, smoked wings and bewitchingly delicious beef brisket.
Southern chefs love to combine Southern techniques and international ingredients, and Sobban is the Korean version of that -- bibimbop and fried chicken with a sultry Korean kick draw the crowds. Super-tight indoor seating makes this a bad choice on a rainy, cold night (most of the seating is outdoors), but you'll love the japche made with sweet potato noodle, togarashi tofu, shiitake, chives and seasonal vegetables, or the fried pork chop with potato salad, kimchi slaw and a peach hot mustard sauce.
One of the jewels in the crown of chef Ford Fry's Atlanta restaurant collection, The Optimist is a full-on seafood experience, complete with a fresh oyster bar. Always packed and buzzy, it has cocktails that draw as many fans as the cuisine. Fry's seafood gumbo with "pot luck" garlic bread is a sultry, wonderful dish; ditto the duck-fat-poached swordfish with glazed pork belly, blackberry, chanterelle mushroom and sherry jus.
Popular Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun opened this destination in 2013, to the delight of critics and diners. The focus is on Italian dishes, with a nice selection of antipasti and fresh pastas, such as the spaghetti with clams, white wine and fines herbes. Steaks are his specialty, and the dry-aged porterhouse for two is worth the extravagance. But save room for the finale: affogato with cardamom doughnuts and vanilla gelato.