For years, Atlantans were talking up their food scene to anyone who would listen. No longer was it a place for just deep-fried Southern fare, they would insist (though no one does chicken and waffles better). Instead it was a culinary center where big-name chefs were pushing boundaries—and awaiting their due.
And then, vindication: Esquire named Atlanta seafood joint The Optimist (914 Howell Mill Rd.; 404-477-6260; dinner for two, $60*) the restaurant of the year in 2012. That same year, Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene (2277 Peachtree Rd.; 404-355-0321; dinner for two, $80) and Hugh Acheson, currently of Empire State South (999 Peachtree St. NE; 404-541-1105; dinner for two, $65), split the James Beard Award for best chef in the Southeast.
The accolades kept coming. In 2016, Bon Appétit named Atlanta’s Staplehouse (541 Edgewood Ave. SE; 404-524-5005; dinner for two, $60) the best new restaurant in America. And in May of 2017, Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield took home the region’s James Beard Award for his work at Miller Union (999 Brady Ave. NW; 678-733-8550; dinner for two, $60).
“It felt like a symbolic win for the city,” Satterfield says. “It’s further recognition that we have such a vibrant food scene.” Here’s how to explore it for yourself.
If you want a reservation at Staplehouse, in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, you’ll need an alarm and a fast internet connection. At noon on the second Friday of every month, the 40-seat restaurant releases its reservations for the next 30 days online—and within about five minutes, the spots are booked. Everyone, it seems, wants to try chef Ryan Smith’s seasonal creations. One highlight: chicken-liver-mousse tart made with a crust of sliced Georgia peaches and served with celery shavings and basil snipped from the on-site garden.
Over at Miller Union, a warehouse turned restaurant on the Westside, reservations are also hard to come by, especially since Satterfield took home a James Beard Award. His accolades stem from his ability to make poetry out of produce, and on his menu, locally sourced vegetables often upstage the meat. Don’t miss the farm-egg appetizer, arguably the most popular dish, whose feature ingredient is baked in a rich celery cream and placed over crusty grilled bread.
In Buckhead, Umi (3050 Peachtree Rd. NW; 404-841-0040; dinner for two, $150) stands out for both its food and its celebrity clientele. Stars from Elton John to Kate Winslet have dined at this upscale yet affordable Japanese spot. To order like a VIP, ask for Jennifer Lawrence’s usual: edamame, avocado salad, spicy tuna crispy rice and black cod misoyaki. Umi’s team is also behind the food at neighboring speakeasy Himitsu (3050 Peachtree Rd. NW; by reservation only; dinner for two, $60; cocktails for two, $40).
The Rule Breakers
Ordering off a menu? How predictable. At Gunshow (924 Garrett St.; 404-380-1886; dinner for two, $75), in Glenwood Park, Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie and his crew wheel around carts full of tapas for diners to choose from. Likewise, cocktails are presented tableside in “pick-your-poison” style. The overhead lights are bright, the hard-rock music loud, the vintage-clad staff cheerful. “There’s a certain brashness to it,” Gillespie says. “It is very much a show, and the diner feels like a spectator.”
Speaking of shows, Venkman’s (740 Ralph McGill Blvd.; 470-225-6162; dinner for two, $30; show prices vary), in Old Fourth Ward, puts on concerts nightly—but this isn’t a music venue dressed up as a restaurant. “We’re very creative with both the menu and the music,” says co-owner Nicholas Niespodziani. This means that on a given Tuesday night, you can listen to jazz from trumpeter and singer Joe Gransden (whose fans include Clint Eastwood and Smokey Robinson) while noshing on charred octopus with spiced grits, mussels escabeche (fried and marinated then served cold) and chicharrónes (fried pork rinds). Consider washing it all down with the restaurant’s signature old-fashioned or a glass of rosé on draft.
The Neighborhood Knockouts
Travelers looking for a laid-back evening can head to Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood for a meal at homey Italian-American joint BoccaLupo (753 Edgewood Ave. NE; 404-577-2332; dinner for two, $36). Set in a minimalist bungalow, it’s the kind of place where diners dress casually and bartenders call everyone by name. Despite the easygoing setting, chef Bruce Logue’s menu is anything but low-key: He makes all of his pastas by hand, including a rich 20-yolk tagliatelle.
Down the road, One Eared Stag (1029 Edgewood Ave. NE; 404-525-4479; dinner for two, $60) draws serious foot traffic thanks to dishes like the Meatstick, chef Robert Phalen’s celebrated two-patty burger, made with bacon and grass-fed beef. The restaurant’s bar is one of the liveliest in town, a hub for debating local news and pouring back libations.
The Food-Stall Standouts
Top Chef alum Hector Santiago doesn’t need to work in a conventional restaurant to attract lines an hour long. He argues that casual gourmet is Atlanta’s next big trend—as shown by the success of his Latin food stall, El Super Pan (675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE; 404-600-2465; dinner for two, $20), at Ponce City Market, in the Ponce de Leon corridor. As Santiago puts it: “In Atlanta, we want to eat great food in shorts and flip-flops”—food like his Cuban sandwich, assembled using a 19th-century recipe and traditional bread flown in from Tampa’s historic La Segunda Bakery.
Santiago isn’t the only big-name Atlanta chef to enter the food-stall scene. His compatriots at Ponce City Market include Anne Quatrano of W.H. Stiles Fish Camp (404-365-0410 ext. 5; dinner for two, $30), Linton Hopkins of H&F Burger (404-355-3762; dinner for two, $20) and Hop’s Chicken (404-355-3762; dinner for two, $18), as well as Todd Ginsberg of Fred’s Meat & Bread (99 Krog St.; dinner for two, $24), at Krog Street Market, in Inman Park.
More Great Eats
In an unassuming strip mall on Atlanta’s Buford Highway, chef Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa, from the Japanese island of Hokkaido, cuts chunks of octopus he flew in from home at Sushi Hayakawa (5979 Buford Hwy., Suite A-10; 770-986-0010; dinner for two, $70). He’s earned such a loyal following that reservations tend to fill up three weeks out. His fatty-tuna nigiri is sliced thick and set over warm rice with just a dot of potent wasabi, and his abalone is sourced from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market.
About two miles southwest on Buford Highway, El Rey del Taco (5288 Buford Hwy.; 770-986-0032; dinner for two, $12) lives up to its name, which translates as “The King of Tacos.” Considered by many to be the top taco joint in the city, it offers fillings suitable for mainstream palates (slow-cooked pork or grilled chuck steak) and adventurous eaters (goat meat or beef cheeks). Bonus: The doors stay open until 4:30 a.m. on weekends if you’re craving a late-night snack or just can’t bring yourself to leave Atlanta without working in one more bite.
RCI® affiliated resorts near Atlanta include:
Enjoy the outdoors at the on-site golf course or horseback-riding trails. 200 Appleseed Ct., Clarkesville
Member Review: “Clean and spacious accommodations.”
Families love the indoor and outdoor pools, movie rentals, candy shop and more. 387 Brucken St., Helen
Member Review: “The staff was so kind and helpful.”
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these one-, two- and three-bedroom units are equipped with a kitchen, fireplace and Jacuzzi. 273 Carrie Cox Dr., Helen
Member Review: “Relaxing and peaceful setting.”
Peaceful grounds overlooking a lake, a surprisingly short drive to downtown Atlanta. 62 Fairfield Rd., Villa Rica
Member Review: “Spacious and well-kept units.”
Kids stay entertained thanks to a playground, on-site fishing and an Olympic-size pool. 501 Sky Valley Way, Dillard
Member Review: “Great views!”
Day trips are a great way to experience other destinations during your stay. Did you know you can rent a car through RCI® Travel** to take advantage of all that Georgia has to offer? And with a Best Rate Guarantee on flights, car rental, hotels and more, RCI Travel can save you the hassle of searching other travel providers.***
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI resorts in Atlanta include:
The Georgian Terrace by Sotherly
This landmark midtown hotel hosted the premiere gala for Gone With the Wind, in 1939, and has welcomed everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Elvis Presley. 659 Peachtree St. NE; 800-651-2316; thegeorgianterrace.com; doubles from $299 a night
Thanks to a convenient midtown location, a Southern-inspired restaurant and a giant spa and fitness center, this hot spot is a favorite among both visitors and locals. 1065 Peachtree St. NE; 877-872-0104; loewshotels.com; doubles from $249 a night
This boutique downtown property offers a pet-friendly floor, a women-only floor featuring L’Occitane amenities and even an allergy-sensitive floor. 176 Peachtree St. NW; 404-523-5155; ellishotel.com; doubles from $189 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
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- ***For Terms and conditions for the RCI Best Rate Guarantee, go to RCITravel.com/BRG. RCI is not responsible for honoring the RCI Travel Best Rate Guarantee.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2017