As possibly the top metropolitan center in the American South, Atlanta, Georgia is most definitely home to a restaurant culture that can easily compete with the best of them. As a classic Southern city, Atlanta is obviously home to some excellent soul and Southern food restaurants, as well as many crossover restaurants incorporating traditional Southern elements. Although Southern and Southern-influenced fare might be a strong point to the Atlanta culinary landscape, whatever type of food you are looking for, it is readily available in the culturally rich and diverse city of Atlanta.
Soul and Southern Cuisine
No discussion of Atlanta Southern food can be had without mention of Mary Mac’s Tea Room, serving loyal patrons for over 60 years. Mary Mac’s was recently featured on ABC’s The Chew and is considered a staple of Southern cooking in the ATL. Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles, owned by soul singer Gladys Knight and her husband Ron Winans is another local favorite featuring unique cuisine specific to the region. You might also want to check out historic soul food restaurant Paschals, located in the Castleberry Hills arts district, or Soul Veg, an all-vegan soul food restaurant with two locations in the city.
If you are looking for the finest in Italian food in Atlanta, check out Sotto Sotto Cucina Italiana in the upscale Inman Park neighborhood, or visit La Grotta Ristorante Italiano (be sure to try their pan-roasted chicken breasts stuffed with prosciutto, sage and fontina cheese) or Pricci (featuring an open kitchen replete with a wood-burning oven) in Buckhead. For excellent Italian fare on a slightly tighter budget, consider Pasta Da Pulcinella in Midtown, La Tavola in Virginia Highlands, or Antica Posta in Buckhead.
For Latin cuisine in Atlanta, chef Hector Santiago’s (of Bravo’s Top Chef fame) Pura Vida in Poncey-Highlands is one of the top choices; a unique Latin-inspired tapas bar featuring anything but typical “Mexican restaurant” fare which can be boring and predictable. If you are looking for Mexican food but want something special and unique, try Taqueria La Oaxaquena, featuring regional Mexican favorites from Oaxaca in Central Mexico. For an inexpensive and non-pretentious but still delectable choice, try Holy Taco in East Atlanta Village, featuring local grass-fed and hormone-free meats and local and organic vegetables wherever possible, minus the high price tag.
Peter Chang’s Tasty China is easily one of the best Chinese restaurants in the metro area, specializing in Szechuan cuisine including not-so-run-of-the-mill dishes such as shredded pumpkin with ginger sauce and lotus roots with beef served in a clay pot. The prices are not too expensive, but don’t let that fool you; the food is superb. For Thai food, Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro on Peachtree Street is an excellent option, featuring chef Nan Niyomkul, who was born in Bangkok and honed her skills in New York City before relocating to Atlanta in the mid-90s. For the best Indian food in the city, you might want to consider MGR Palace or Swapna, and if Korean food is on your menu, Woo Nam Jeong/Stone Bowl House is likely your best bet.
For Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in Atlanta, Rumi’s Kitchen, a Persian restaurant named after legendary poet Rumi is sure to satisfy your taste buds. If you are looking for a great falafel, Pita Palace is revered by Atlanta locals for what is likely the best falafel in town. Lebanese bistro Mezza is another great choice, specializing in its namesake “mezza,” Lebanese for small tapas plates made to be shared among friends.
When it comes to American cuisine in Atlanta, chef Kevin Rathbun pretty much takes the cake with his acclaimed Rathbun’s and Kevin Rathbun Steak restaurants (he is also the man behind Mediterranean tapas bar Krog Bar). Other good options for American fare include Cakes and Ale in Decatur, and Woodfire Grill in Midtown.
Bacchanalia is generally considered to be the premier fine dining restaurant in Atlanta, having topped the Zagat restaurant guide to the city every year since 1996. Chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison source many of the ingredients used in their dishes from their own farm, and take great pride in using only the highest quality organic ingredients in their gourmet cuisine. Canoe, peacefully located on the Chattahoochee River is another revered Atlanta fine dining institution and Zagat favorite which is certainly worth every penny for its scrumptious cuisine, tranquil setting, and impeccable service.
Atlanta is home to a large international community, providing for a wide variety of authentic ethnic food options, but it still retains strong roots in American and Southern culture, making it a veritable playground for culinary enthusiasts looking to enjoy all varieties of cuisine. For big-city quality with a healthy helping of Southern hospitality, we suggest you make the most of Atlanta food culture while on vacation in the ATL.