22 Great Reasons to Dine in Atlanta This Spring
The City Too Busy to Hate's restaurant scene is on fire. Find out where you need to go to experience the full flower of the city's culinary chops.
If Atlantans have any common culture these days (beyond our triumphant Atlanta United soccer team) in a city of diverse neighborhoods, communities and interests, it’s food.
The city‘s food scene is booming with new restaurants seemingly opening weekly. There are a number of stalwarts that any visitor to the city needs to check out, from dim sum redux Gunshow, helmed by star chef Kevin Gillespie (whose Cold Beer restaurant featuring shareable plates and a beer garden, opens in June 2019 on Atlanta's walking path the BeltLine) to newfangled Southern food, chef-driven Empire State South from another local superstar Hugh Acheson or the special-occasion classic Bacchanalia which has moved from Atlanta’s Westside Provisions district to an even more vanguard spot on foodie-centric Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard.
But there are promising new developments on Atlanta’s food scene too, a rash of new restaurants, both affordable and high-end, outposts of national chains and unique homegrown spots where chef-driven concepts and creativity rule and trends like new Southern, street food, clean food, shareable plates and humble, homey food play out. Travel Channel runs down some of the best new options to visit or plan for the next time your travel takes you to Atlanta.
Atlas has been open since 2015 in the tony, celebrity-frequented St. Regis in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Celebrated for its outstanding changed-daily menu featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and complex, rich flavors, its deserved reputation comes courtesy of executive chef Christopher Grossman's French laundry pedigree. A subdued, even cozy and elegant jewel box, the restaurant feels intimate, with space broken up by banquettes and a gorgeous glass case of spirits that separates the bar and the main dining room.
Atlas restaurant at Atlanta's St. Regis hotel features an imaginative craft cocktail program including this exquisitely beautiful mint julep.
Also notable: the restaurant’s jaw-dropping multi-million dollar art collection on full view for diners who can sup under original works by Picasso, Chagall and Matisse. Artwork—culled from the billion dollar collection of Joe Lewis whose Tavistock Group owns the St. Regis and Atlas—regularly rotates out with works by SCAD students or area artists one month and priceless rareties the next. The well-heeled crowd who decamp at Atlas have a bounty of options to choose from, including a selection of more than 80 wines by the glass (and the opportunity to sample a rare vintage without mortgaging your house), expertly described with both flavor profiles, terroir and history by sommelier Samuel Gamble who brings an approachability to the Atlas wine offerings that invites questions and conversation. From assistant general manager and Bordeaux-native Julien Gobin to waitstaff and hosts, service is friendly, welcoming, never obsequious or stuffy. Atlas’s tasting menu is a remarkable treat, surveying the kitchen’s versatility with seafood, vegetables, Wagyu steak and seasonal vegetables, but the restaurant excels at offering plenty of options with an a la carte and also daily vegan and vegetarian menus. It's an accommodation to contemporary diets not normally seen in the fine dining realm. The Tavern at Atlas offers a less formal vibe, seasonal cocktails and snacks if dinner is not in the cards.
This spring the destination restaurant unveils a new “enchanted garden” dining experience with a Tavern on the Green-style glass enclosed patio reminiscent of Paris’s Ritz or an historic European train station, intended to give the feeling of the outdoors but with a respite from Atlanta’s hot summers and chilly winters. Scheduled for a May debut, that space will add an expanded bar area and dining room to the Atlas footprint.
Atlanta is a huge destination not just for tourists, but for business travelers and hotels are doing their part to court this coveted expense-account crowd. Located in the Dunwoody suburb of Atlanta, the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia recently underwent a glam $200 million upgrade.
Travelers know that many hotels are beginning to pay attention when it comes to in-hotel dining and putting some real muscle behind their food and beverage programs. As in most American cities, with rising foodie expectations has come a need for hotel restaurants—notorious bastions of sad singleton businessman meals and forgettable food—to up their game. A recently opened in-hotel restaurant with an approachable vibe is Parkwoods at Crowne Plaza. Parkwoods has gone the Southern-influenced comfort food route (a very safe bet since most hotel guests are probably looking for comfort over experimentation) and on that front really delivers. Its executive chef Joe Gentempo trained at the Culinary Institute of America and delivers satisfying, memorable options like a very good pork chop with cheddar grits and Tabasco butter served in a folksy cast-iron skillet. But the real star of the show is Gentempo's succulent fried chicken with braised collard greens, red eye gravy and sopping biscuit. Sous chef Sanje's Scotch bonnet hot sauce (a.k.a. Chef Je's Pepper Sauce) served in a small tincture bottle doles out the spicy goodness in small portions but you'll want to ladle the stuff on. A pretty pink Baroness cocktail with tequila, lime and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur is the perfect elegant-but-serious counter to the substantial fare from an in-house mixologist Darius Naderi, who understands nothing soothes a ruffled business traveler better than a well-crafted cocktail. Johnson Studio is the go-to design team for local restaurants and their stylish approach for Parkwoods takes full advantage of the restaurant's cozy-meets-dramatic atrium-like setting with a view of a garden that quickly makes you forget all the Atlanta traffic outside. Coming soon to that verdant, secret paradise: a beer garden, Backyard at Parkwoods, which will open in late spring 2019.
James Beard award-winner Anne Quatrano is an Atlanta food legend. Her Bacchanalia is destination dining for much of the city but in recent years Quatrano has displayed her more egalitarian, funkier, lifestyle side with W.H. Stiles Fish Camp a fish house in the buzzy food hall Ponce City Market. Just opened at Ponce City is all-day-breakfast spot Pancake Social featuring eight types of pancakes from savory to sweet as well as healthier, hipster brekkie options like a chia seed pudding and…you guessed it, avocado toast. The booming number of local farmers and specialty food purveyors supply much of the ingredient list for this comfort-concept restaurant.
Stack of Pancakes from Atlanta Restaurant Pancake Social
The new Atlanta restaurant Pancake Social at the buzzy Ponce City Market features breakfast all day and is helmed by a powerhouse local restaurant team including James Beard award-winner Anne Quatrano, Dan Jacobson, Steven Chan and Tony Riffel.
And coming soon is another paired Pancake Social and coffeehouse outpost in south Atlanta’s booming Pinewood Forest development, neighbor to the Pinewood film studio. >>Take a peek at a stunning Pinewood Forest Show House here.
Like Pinewood Forest, Serenbe is another booming burg south of the city with its own growing food scene. Newly open veggie-forward fast casual restaurant Halsa helmed by respected chef Nicolas Bour features clean food and mod-meets-earthy design by Smith Hanes Studio. Halsa is the latest food offering in the new Mado neighborhood at Serenbe, the live-work-play sustainable community. >>Tour the Naturally House at Mado here.
When Quatrano vacated her Bacchanalia space on the Westside, chef Zeb Stevenson stepped in. His Redbird, opening in June 2019, will feature globally-inspired cuisine including chickpea flatbreads grilled with garlic jam and olive oil and Georgia coast shrimp with garlic, wine and chilis and hopefully the same inventive cocktail program he offered at Midtown’s Proof and Provision. Guests will have the opportunity to sit at an 8-seat kitchen counter (apparently the latest hot new dining trend) where they will have a ringside view of chef Stevenson’s kitchen.
Westside Provisions District, an area close to both Buckhead and Midtown, is a great one-stop location for travelers with a bookstore, home stores, art galleries and plenty of restaurants and foodie shops. Coming soon is the Franklin, Tennessee-based Five Daughters Bakery, featuring homemade donuts and pastries including the 100 Layer Doughnut, a cross between the croissant and donut that takes several days to make. Catering to modern food tastes, the Paleo Crushers treat is made without grain, gluten, dairy or sugar and egg and dairy-free Vegan Doughnuts.
Though he grew up helping out at his family's Chinese restaurant in Atlanta, talented chef Ron Hsu has a fancy pedigree with stints cooking at New York City’s storied Le Bernardin. In-the-know Atlantans got a sneak peek at his wildly inventive menu at anticipatory pop-ups for his Lazy Betty tasting menu concept where unexpected flavors and a flair for gorgeous, conceptual plates married fine dining with a sense of fun and imagination. Pop up no more, chef Hsu now has a brick and mortar space in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood where he will feature his conceptual but highly delicious modern, seasonal fare. And just added to the restaurant's main tasting menu offerings, is new a la carte dining in its lounge space. Now walk-in guests who want a more low-key, spontaneous option can also benefit from Hsu's heady, imaginative fare.
As inspiring to look at as it is to taste, the inventive far at Lazy Betty, like this dish of foie gras, preserved gooseberries and petite salad belies the international influences of chef Ron Hsu.
Atlantans are gaga for the combination of great food and atmosphere that defines local company Concentrics Restaurants' string of local restaurants including Two Urban Licks on the walking path and social network that is Atlanta’s BeltLine. Added to the mix in a funky metal “cabin” in the parking lot near Two Urban Licks is new- kid-on-the-block Bully Boy. Combining shareable plates from chef Michael Bertozzi, a beachy vibe and a very low key ambiance, Bully Boy’s unique combo of memorable seafood dishes and globally-inspired fare is worth a try.
With metro Atlanta’s boom has come new and exciting pockets of growth. As the BeltLine spreads to Atlanta’s Southwest, exciting things are happening in food and drink. The Lee + White development in the West End neighborhood features a happening Monday Night Brewery outpost, kombucha taproom Cultured South, a hip gelato spot Honeysuckle Gelato and a satellite of the bespoke local distillery ASW, known for Georgia's first official rye whiskey, Resurgens, Fiddler's Bourbon and other locavore spirits.
ASW Whiskey Exchange Distillery in Atlanta's West End
The booming West End of Atlanta, home to the expanding BeltLine Westside Trail has brought an infusion of new businesses. Craft spirits venue ASW—home to Resurgens Rye, Fiddler's bourbon and a host of other locally-distilled spirits—already has a location in Midtown, but is opening a hip new tasting room and liquor destination for Atlanta's Southside.
ASW Whiskey Exchange
If the spike in new offerings is any indication, international cuisine from classic to experimental is currently hot in Atlanta. Bellina Alimentari owner Tal Baum will soon debut Aziza in the Westside Provisions District featuring Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine that reflect Baum’s Israeli childhood.
The sexy Italian restaurant Ecco in Atlanta’s on-fire Midtown (which has become increasingly pedestrian-friendly for this driving-dominant city) has a new Buckhead outpost. In keeping with the big-money vibe of that neighborhood (the Beverly Hills of Atlanta, natch), Ecco Buckhead is a handsome, capacious space with high ceilings and a more wow-factor vibe that still delivers some of the restaurant’s crave-able staples including don’t-miss menu items like crispy fried Cerignola olives stuffed with sausage, fried goat cheese with honey and black pepper and a selection of savory pastas and flatbreads.
Another neighborhood Italian spot, tiny Storico Fresco is a favorite for its elevated Italian deli offerings, with charcuterie and cheese, fresh and dried noodles and Italian sauces, condiments, sweets and prepared meals to pick up and make at home. The in-house restaurant is a great option to grab a glass of wine (take a recommendation from the knowledgeable wait staff) and enjoy some delicious appetizers or unwind with a hearty pasta. That provisions-plus-dining concept is soon coming to Atlanta’s Westside when Storico Fresco partners Michael Patrick and Pietro Gianni open Forza Storico is a variation on that theme with this new Italian provisions and dining spot.
With its shareable slate of Spanish tapas, cheese and charcuterie, the Iberian Pig has been a staple in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, whose family-friendly downtown is filled with cozy food options. In addition to small plates, the restaurant’s new outpost in Buckhead (which opens in early spring) will feature larger entrée-style dishes or raciones like burgers, a filet and whole fish to bring the popular concept to Buckhead's shopping- and business-centric neighborhood. The debut of the Iberian Pig in Buckhead is just one more indication that this neighborhood is becoming an increasingly destination-oriented stop for chef-driven spots.