With Atlanta‘s emergence as an international city, the food scene has exploded with cuisine for every taste and budget. As a lifelong Atlanta resident and an avid foodie, it is my honor as a southern gentleman to guide you to five of Atlanta’s can’t-miss eateries.
If you’re new to Atlanta or in town for a convention or vacation, the first thing you need to know is that Atlanta comprises a cluster of diverse neighborhoods; each with its own distinct vibe and variety of dining alternatives. For the purpose of this guide I’ve selected one of my favorite establishments in each of my favorite spots. No matter where you are staying in the city, you’re bound to be near at least one of these purveyors of gastronomic goodness.
Leon’s Full Service
Any restaurant with “Bacon in a Glass” on its menu is destined to be one of my favorites. Leon’s Full Service is located in a former service station in the heart of Decatur, a city within the city. Though the menu has a great selection of vegetarian and gluten-free items, my inner carnivore usually opts for the beef brisket sandwich or the slow braised pork shank, and a bucket of pub frites with goat cheese fondue and garlic aioli dipping sauce. Leon’s offers the one of the best outdoor dining experiences in Atlanta, especially if you are into people-watching: An endless parade of pedestrians always passes by while exploring Decatur’s many restaurants, shops, and boutiques.
Harry & Sons
Harry and Sons is located on the main strip of the trendy Virginia Highlands neighborhood, and is my go-to place for sushi and authentic Thai food. Dishes are prepared with fresh local meats and vegetables with imported Thai spices. Some of my favorite dishes are the spicy shrimp coconut soup (best in the city), super-sized basil rolls served with peanut sauce, spicy beef salad (I like mine “Thai hot”), and the chicken lamb spiced with fresh basil, green onions, lime juice, and chilies. After dinner, I usually like to take a stroll to walk off the calories from the ample portions. I also have to exercise great willpower to resist stopping in the nearby Yogli Mogli Frozen Yogurt shop for dessert.
Viewfinder Tip: Parking is at a premium in Atlanta, particularly around trendy restaurant areas. Be sure to park in a legal spot to avoid having your car booted.
The single place I recommend to Atlanta visitors more than any other is The Varsity. Located in Midtown, adjacent to the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology (also known as Georgia Tech), The Varsity is the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. The place has its own lingo for just about everything on the menu. I usually order two chili slaw dogs with greasy onion rings, and a Jumbo F-O (that stands for Frosted Orange: Think, drinkable orange Creamsicle). But you don’t go to The Varsity for its food. You go to The Varsity for the experience. When you step up to the counter, be prepared to answer the question, “What’ll ya have?” Some of the cashiers remind the crowds to “Have your order on your mind and your money in your hand!” This Atlanta institution is a cultural melting pot as it has served a mix of locals, tourists, college students, school children, business executives, athletes, celebrities, politicians, and even presidents. To me, this place is Atlanta.
Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House
Six Feet Under is located in the Grant Park neighborhood across the street from the historic Oakland Cemetery. Though the rooftop bar offers amazing views of the cemetery and Atlanta skyline, my favorite thing about Six Feet Under is the food. Some of my regular selections are the catfish tacos, oysters Rockefeller, crab cake sliders, and Spicy Rat Toes. Yes, I said Spicy Rat Toes. They’re not real rat toes (of course), they are an addicting appetizer comprising jalapeños stuffed with shrimp and wrapped with bacon. After dinner, I recommend taking a stroll through the famous cemetery that serves as the final resting place for Gone With the Wind author, Margaret Mitchell; golf legend, Bobby Jones; 25 former Atlanta mayors; six former Georgia governors, and a slew of Confederate soldiers.
Located in the super-artsy Little Five Points area of Candler Park, The Vortex has perhaps the most unique atmosphere of any restaurant in Atlanta: You enter this popular biker dive through a giant skull. The eclectic decor of bones, coffins, motorcycles, signs, and airplanes will keep you entertained while you wait for your food. The Vortex offers some of the most creative burgers anywhere to be found. The Fat Elvis burger has peanut butter, bacon and fried bananas. The Carnivorgasm has grilled sirloin patties, pulled, smoked pork, bacon, sliced ham, turkey, cheddar cheese, and whiskey pimento cheese. My favorite burger is the Double Coronary Bypass: a half-pound of sirloin patty topped with two fried eggs, six slices of American cheese, and eight slices of bacon, served between two grilled cheese sandwiches that are used in place of regular hamburger buns.
What are some of the can’t miss eateries in your town?