As Brady/Belichick aim to win their sixth Super Bowl ring together, Atlanta is hosting The Show for a third time. The ATL has changed plenty since that “One Yard Short” game in 2000–hell, that was four OutKast albums ago. Instead of Ye Olde Georgia Dome, this one will be played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium (of Transformer-esque-retractable-roof fame). But some local traditions stand strong, including three killer Bs: Beer prices at the game ($ 5), rapper Big Boi on stage, and Bacchanalia (still topping Best-Of lists twenty-five years in).
Atlanta is regularly touted as the epicenter of cool down South, but it belongs in any conversation about the best U.S. cities, period. It’s an art and design hub with creativity spilling into the streets. It’s an LGBTQ stronghold below the Bible Belt. It owns hip-hop’s heavyweight division and serves as Hollywood East for indie and blockbuster filmmaking. It thrives as the black capital of America with a hearty triumvirate of universities, home ownership, and high median income. And we haven’t even gotten to the food. Yeah, there’s soul-crushing traffic and no beaches in sight, but that’s like bitching about Chicago for being cold. Deal with it. Besides, from the World’s Busiest Airport, you can jet anywhere, or you can take a car up Springer Mountain to the starting line of the Appalachian Trail in under two hours.
For the insider’s POV on the best of what the city has to offer, we pinged twenty Atlanta experts with actual boots on the ground for their recommendations on where to eat, where to drink, and where to explore.
Our Roster of Contributors
Kevin Gillespie (Chef/Owner, Gunshow), Gina Hopkins (Founder/CEO, Resurgens Hospitality Group), Nick Leahy (Chef/Owner, AIX), Bart Sasso (Partner, Ticonderoga Club), Steven Satterfield (Owner, Miller Union)
Tiffanie Barriere (The Drinking Coach), Philip Burrus (Head Judge, Southeastern Sommelier Society), Eric Crane (Advanced Sommelier, Empire Distributors, Inc.), Jacob Gragg (President, Southeastern Sommelier Society), Kacey Jane Ivey (Certified Sommelier, Quality Wine & Spirits)
Dominique Love (Founder, Atlanta Food & Wine Festival), Tara Murphy (Owner, 360 Media), Ray Murray, Rico Wade, and Sleepy Brown (Organized Noize), Angela Hansberger (Spirits Writer/Culture Journalist, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Cathy Huyghe (Wine Columnist, Forbes.com)
Where to Eat
Start at the top of this list; when polled, the crowd shouted these picks like a Greek chorus.
“Best breakfast in the country. Period.” –Eric Crane
“Either go with the Comfy Chicken Biscuit, or if you feel like a beast, go with my signature item, the Kagefighter: two pancakes, filled with sausage, butter, and syrup, topped with fried chicken and covered in gravy.” –Kevin Gillespie
“Beautiful spaces, memorable French-inspired dishes, solid cocktails, and little details that tell the story of the Hotel’s infamous past. Maitre d’ William Bubier serves up unflagging enthusiasm here. The stairway leading down to Tiny Lou’s is a secret scenic viewpoint. If you didn’t come into the restaurant in a good mood, you will leave in one.” –Angela Hansberger
“Bar on roof with skyline! Everybody is going.” –Mx. Alli Royce Soble
Just northeast of the city, sprinkled along a five-mile stretch of dollar stores, auto parts dealers, and check cashers, is Atlanta’s hub for global cuisine.
“Korean, Colombian, Mexican, Ethiopian… my favorites are Phở Bắc and Las Delicias de la Abuela Restaurante for an arepa. Buford Highway Farmer’s Market is next-door. The aisles are categorized by country; it is such a cool experience.” –Kacey Jane Ivey
“Sushi Hayakawa, in an unassuming strip mall, is hands down the best sushi spot in the city. Make a reservation yesterday, though, it fills up quick!” –Jacob Gragg
“Hae Woon Dae has twenty-four-hour Korean BBQ.” –Nick Leahy
“The brisket from these two Texas brothers is damn good, and their smoked chicken wings are ridiculous.” –Leahy
“It’s a Jewish-Chinese mash-up pop-up inside S.O.S. Tiki Bar. Really interesting food, and it’s their last month. They’re about to go brick and mortar. Atlanta is every race, every gender. We celebrate good food done by good people. The rest doesn’t matter.” –Leahy
“The best soundtrack around is the symphony of shucking oysters, the shaking of riffs on classic cocktails, the chatter of regulars at the bar, the whoosh of the library ladder rolling by so a far-up spirit can be reached, and the occasional train.” –Hansberger
“Order the caviar. Incredible presentation with pickled lemon. Even if you don’t like caviar, it’s what you need to get. Also, sit at the bar.” –Tara Murphy
At this Provençal restaurant and wine bar, look for the pissaladière amuse bouche, a classic tart of the region topped with caramelized onions, briny black olives, and anchovies.
“I spent time growing up there. Had lots of friends and family there. ATL had lots of Parisian brasseries and bistro, but nothing Provençal. We’re less about heavy cream, butter, and Bordeaux; more about seafood, garlic, lemon, and lesser-known AOCs.” –Leahy
“The late Josh Ozersky described it as ‘an abandoned factory, or meth lab,’ which I take as a compliment! It’s a madhouse all the time, and it’s all communal seating, so if you can make it in, then great.” –Gillespie
“Everyone knows we are always slammed for dinner, but a lesser known fact is our lunch rocks, too. And we have a killer drink list.” –Satterfield
This posh spot was among the first in the region to employ full-time sommeliers, and their pairings are as provocative as the food. If you believe that sea-fresh langoustine or cellar-aged Burgundy can change your day, go for dinner.
“Mother Nature writes the menu. We just execute it.” –Gina Hopkins
“Bazati’s art deco rooftop bar, Estrella, brings a Latin vibe, while The Brasserie is a perfect mix of modern elegance and the welcoming energy of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods. Sweeping views of the city and excellent people watching.” –Dominique Love
Where to Drink
“It looks a lot like your grandpa’s basement bar, and a little like the shaggin’ wagon van your dad drove in the ’70s with cut-out diamond shaped windows.” –Hansberger
Right next to AIX, this dive has serious blues played by amazing musicians and a cheap cover. As long as you can’t be bothered by cigarettes.
“Favorite hole-in-the-wall, of course. The music is great, and while they still allow smoking, it is a very entertaining venue.” –Hopkins
“For first timers, I always recommend starting with a Ticonderoga Cup, the only cocktail that never leaves our menu. For food, Poh’s Eggplant is an incredibly unique dish. Chef David Bies’ Indonesian grandmother passed it down to him and is a must.” –Bart Sasso
Through an unmarked black door to the left of the main entrance, look for the red lightbulbs.
“Open a little later, they serve high-end wine, a great bourbon selection, and play all hip-hop, which is awesome because this is Atlanta. You can hear Kendrick Lamar and ATCQ, but also Migos and Gucci.” –Ivey
“This restaurant has been around for nearly two decades, but it has the very best selection of Greek wine anywhere, over 100 selections. It’s my personal favorite place to go and order bottles I’ve never had before. Pro tip: Sundays they offer every bottle on the list at 50 percent off. And their grilled octopus dish is legendary.” –Gragg
Stop by this beverage studio near the stadium in historically weird Castleberry Hill.
“By-appointment, ninety-minute tasting sessions that use spirits to tell stories. Experiences change monthly, and are only open to six people at a time.” –Love
“One of the best beer bars in the country. The only spot in Atlanta to be honored with hosting a Zwanze day event from the illustrious Cantillon Brewery in Belgium, it’s a must-stop for beer lovers. Semi-secret tip: One of the best private rooms I’ve ever seen, it’s a single large table set inside their semi-underground beer cellar.” –Crane
“While you’re in that Little Five Points district, peek down the block from Porter. The weirdest street art in Atlanta can be found around Elmyr.” –Ray Murray
Off the Beaten Path
Oakland Cemetery is an opulent time capsule of the Victorian era with huge oaks and gorgeous monuments. It’s an easy walk from the King Memorial MARTA Station, and along the way you can hit Nick’s Food to Go (a little Greek sandwich shop), Daddy D’z, the BBQ Joynt (a stupendous, hickory-smoked, divey gem), and Ria’s Bluebird.
With its photogenic murals and city views, this one’s obvious.
“Start near Krog Street Market for Richard’s Southern Fried Hot Chicken (Pro tip: It’s excellent cold the next day), stop along at Nina & Rafi, Ticonderoga Club, Ladybird, and then spill out into Piedmont Park.” –Satterfield
“Must-stop along the BeltLine: Ponce City Market, another huge urban renewal project. Used to be the Sears Roebuck manufacturing facility, 12 million square feet of industrial space, now cool shops, restaurants, local artisans, etc.” –Cathy Huyghe
For Super Bowl LIII, Atlanta is unveiling its inaugural Trap Music Museum Hall of Fame Exhibit honoring Gucci Mane, Jeezy, and T.I. with original exhibits dedicated to 2 Chainz and Rick Ross. An expanded “Escape the Trap”-room experience awaits. Check out the reel for Southern hip hop’s living monument here.
“Everyone who has ever run for office makes some announcement here. Get some kind of dark beer, some jalapeño poppers, and a Reuben. Then ask if anyone likes Trump.” –Philip Burrus
Right around the corner from Manuel’s, this vegan soul-food restaurant is run by an Atlanta chapter of the African Hebrew Israelite Community of Jerusalem. Barbecue kalebone, collard greens, corn bread. Do it. And don’t skip the non-dairy vanilla pecan ice cream.
This longstanding Italian restaurant in the Inman Park neighborhood is just perfect.
“The dining room is cozy, and while it can be buzzy, it’s never loud; you can unwind and have a conversation. Menu doesn’t change a whole lot and it doesn’t have to. Perfectly al dente pasta and a wine list with fun surprises, my standard go-to is the Spaghetti a la Bottarga and a crisp white, but their veal chop is killer.” –Sasso
“Something for everyone, from a delicate egg dish to a substantial burger.” –Satterfield
“Grant Park, with its historic homes, never disappoints on a morning run. Bonus, run on Sunday and hit the GP Farmers Market for a Buttermilk Bar from Revolution.” –Caroline Dieter
“The best hole-in-the-wall spot to eat at in Atlanta. Has been for years. Soul food at its best.” –Rico Wade
“This place is a landmark on Ponce. They’ve been serving blackened chicken plates and pasta for EVER. Still good, still cheap, and a stupid-good insider secret.” –Burrus
Come for small-plates Mediterranean (and free parking!) in Midtown.
“The chef, Sari Masri, came from Israel and opened his first shop back in 1997. If you need a garlic fix, this is the place to get it. There is a fried cauliflower plate that is not on the on-line menu that is absolutely delicious.” –Burrus