When the Western and Atlantic Railroad reached its endpoint the only thing there was a little town called “Terminus”. With its very uninspired name, it eventually became known as Atlanta, and finally, by 1847 it was a fully incorporated city. Because of its position as a railroad hub, the city grew exponentially and became an important center for commerce and manufacturing even during the war. Strategically Atlanta was an important place during the Civil War and while it was burned to the ground that wasn’t the end for Atlanta.
Atlanta has been a city that Kati and I drive through, drive to, and drive around a lot. Having friends in Atlanta, we have visited them. Traveling from Florida to our land in North Carolina, we go through Atlanta. And while driving to other destinations we drive around Atlanta. We connect and fly in and out of Atlanta many times to Europe. We visit parks and other sites in and around it. And we try to avoid the seemingly never ending road construction. But overall, Atlanta is not to be denied and a destination in its own right.
The city of Atlanta is the encapsulation of the new and the old. After the Civil War, the city essentially raised from the dead and became a modern metropolitan hub, and starting in the 1920s the city was booming economically. Classic Southern food not only inspires the chefs of Atlanta’s restaurants but its modern and diverse ethnic makeup brings international flair and fusion to the foodscape of the city. Check out some of Atlanta’s best restaurants
L T’s Wings
When it comes to deciding on where in the city you can get the best wings, you’ll get a different answer from anyone you ask. Frankly, it’s impossible to get a consensus about where is the best but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because that means you have a lot of options to weigh. Out of all the best places to get wings in the city, L T’s Wings consistently ranks as one of the best. When it comes to chicken wings and southern fried chicken L T’s Wings is a local favorite with even the city’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms agreeing that L T’s Wings is not just a restaurant it’s an institution.
L T’s Wings leans on simplicity and if you’re purposefully even looking for the place, it’s not that hard to miss. The small little white and red restaurant has nothing but a little sign out front designating the name. Homestyle simplicity is the name of the game here with simple ingredients, homemade sauces, and wings coated and cooked to perfection. L T’s Wings brings in locals, regulars, and tourists alike to indulge in their saucy goodness.
You don’t need tickets to this gun show but you will need your appetite. The restaurant is not really a place to bring a date and have a chilled out evening it is kind of the opposite. The restaurant is loud, boisterous, and busy. Whatever you know about dining in a restaurant doesn’t apply here. The owner is former Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie and the premise is that the food and drinks are carted around the restaurant and you just stop the person and choose what you want to eat. Drinks and cocktails here are abundant and also made tableside right in front of you. The food being wheeled around is more tapas-style rather than full plates or dishes but of course, you can order plates for yourself. The kitchen area is practically right in the open so you can see what’s going on in there. The atmosphere is loud and raucous with music blaring and loud noises coming from the kitchen. Dining here is more like going to a concert rather than dining out for dinner.
The owner of O4W, Anthony Spina moved from New Jersey to Atlanta and opened a pizza restaurant. That isn’t in itself a big deal as there were already plenty of great pizza places around serving everything from classic New York-style to authentic Neapolitan but Spina saw a gap in the pizza landscape of Atlanta; New Jersey-style pizza. So what is New Jersey-style pizza? According to Spina the Jersey-style pizza is a thick, square, 16-inch crust made with marinara, and dotted with mozzarella. Sounds similar to a Neapolitan but the difference is in the dough.
Spina grew up in a pizza-making family where if it wasn’t homemade by hand, it wasn’t worth serving and he brought that mentality with him here. O4W serves nothing but homemade pizzas made with homemade dough, homemade sauce, and locally produced cheese. Despite all the hard work that goes into the pizza-making the restaurant is a no-frills place that is very casual. There are brick walls, wooden tables, and a small bar that lacks any sort of pretense. Being located outside the city, pizza lovers downtown make the pilgrimage out here because it’s so good.
Located in Westside, Miller Union is such a popular restaurant that oftentimes people need to store their luggage somewhere because they come here straight from the airport. Miller Union is a relatively new place and currently occupies a large warehouse space turned kitchen and dining room. The restaurant gives a very industrial meets agricultural feel to the experience and shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because the food at Miller Union leans heavily on farm-fresh food and vegetarian-friendly options.
The owner and founder of Miller Union are Steven Satterfield, who is a James Beard award-winning chef who pretty much dedicated the restaurant to the love of vegetables. However, even meat-eaters will still enjoy dining at Miller Union but with so many plates and dishes dedicated to preparing and serving the very best veggies, you’d be amiss if you didn’t order their famous vegetable-centric plates. Miller Union also has a wide list of craft beers and cocktails. It’s the kind of place that’s not too stuffy but still full of people who will love and savor every bite.
Heirloom Market BBQ
Just outside the downtown area, Heirloom Market BBQ is the little barbecue spot with a big heart. When people talk about Atlanta being a mix of the modern and the old, this restaurant exemplifies just that. Heirloom Market BBQ is the brainchild of self-described “hillbilly chef” Cody Taylor and child-music-prodigy-turned-expat Jiyeon Lee. Despite coming from two very distinct culinary backgrounds they teamed up to deliver some of the best barbecue in Atlanta; Heirloom Market BBQ. The restaurant is small with very minimal table seating so you’d be better off just taking a to-go box also that way you don’t have to have people looking at you as you devour the saucy and meaty goodness that will surely coat your face while you eat. Try a little of everything from the southern style ribs or barbecue pork sandwich with kimchi coleslaw.
Grana provides that Italian grandmother’s level of cooking to people who might not have an Italian grandmother. The restaurant specializes in amazing and flavorful comfort food that also isn’t afraid to be a little adventurous when it comes to the dishes. Enjoy the classic southern Italian specialties but also don’t be afraid to dive into the modern twists of dishes people already know and love.
Started by chef Pat Pescarella, Grana’s food is rich in flavor, and with their large portions dining here really does feel like a trip to nonna’s house. While classic dishes like lasagna, meatballs, and varieties of pasta are available, there are also tasting platters available that you wouldn’t expect. Things like mozzarella tasting boards where you’ll have options like crispy and smoked or burrata di bufalo or a meatball tasting with delicious flavors like crispy veal and pork ricotta. If you’re looking to get your fill of carbs, their pasta is all homemade and they even have DIY cannoli. Best of all, Grana is pretty affordable with even higher-priced dishes not going for more than 30$ a plate.
Slutty Vegan ATL
The story of Slutty Vegan ATL is a true Atlanta success story. Starting from humble beginnings owner Pinky Cole began cooking and making delish vegan burgers for friends and family. Eventually, word of mouth grew and Cole began taking orders from people sliding into her Instagram DM’s asking where they can get some of her delicious burgers. She then opened a vegan burger delivery service and amassed a local following that led to her buying her first food truck. Setting up around Atlanta University the food appealed to young students, professionals, and the late-night crowd looking for something to eat after the bar. Finally, in only the span of three years, Slutty Vegan ATL has three locations with a fourth on the way as well as a bar and their roving food truck.
All of Slutty Vegan ATL burgers are plant-based and vegan. Meat eaters don’t let this deter you from trying their erotically named burgers like the “one night stand”, “super slut”, “sloppy toppy”, or a “Hollywood hooker”. Slutty Vegan ATL easily rivals any meat-based burger and for the vegans out there you’ll be in vegan junk food heaven.
If there is any Atlanta restaurant institution that deserves to be called “iconic” it’s Bones. The place has been around since 1979 and while plenty of newer places focus on fusion food and modern tastes, Bones brings the classics. The dishes that are indisputably delicious and always have been. Enjoy a chilled seafood platter of crab legs and oysters, or a warm and inviting lobster bisque. If you’re more of a “turf” person than a “surf” person then their dry-aged bone-in ribeye steaks are fantastic and served with a side of sautéed mushrooms and truffle butter mashed potatoes make for a rich and decadent dining experience.
The vibe here is a mix of old-school charm and modern sensibilities that don’t dampen the overall “classic” feel of the restaurant. Bones is a place you can imagine execs having a three-martini lunch while also being the type of restaurant where it wouldn’t be so out of place to see a girl’s night out. Just make sure to top off your visit to Bones with Georgia pecan pie topped with praline sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Busy Bee Cafe
The Busy Bee Café has been an Atlanta institution since 1947. Priding itself as serving “the south on a plate” the restaurant was started by a local woman named Lucy Jackson. Over the years ownership changed hands a few times but Lucy’s descendants are the current owners of the café and there’s a reason why they’ve been open so long. Busy Bee serves some of the best fried chicken and offers plenty of options for sides with the classic “meat and three sides” approach so your plate always has a little variety. Not only that but Busy Bee marinates their chicken for over 12 hours before it is hand-breaded then deep-fried. Finally, if that’s not enough, opt for the smothered version where you’ll get it all covered with pan gravy. While the original location has been around since the 40s, they hope to open up a second location in 2021.
Our Final Word
Southern food has never been so good. Atlanta brings in the modern and the fun with award-winning restaurants, bars, and fusion cuisine while still holding onto what makes Southern dining so special. From the casual to the classic and even loads of vegetarian and vegan-friendly places on the landscapes, Atlanta truly is one of the hubs of delicious dining in the South. What are some of your favorite restaurants in Atlanta?
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