|Atlanta is a town that eats, and eats well. If you
come to Atlanta expecting to load up on barbecue and collard
greens, well, you won't be disappointed, but you might also be
surprised at the spectrum of alternatives that greets you. The
1980s and especially the 1990s witnessed a restaurant boom here,
and new places continue to spring up faster than you can say
'fried green tomatoes.'
Traditional Southern cuisine is still served up nightly in places
that have stood for the better part of the century, but now
they're often right next door to a brand-new fusion joint or sushi
bar. World-class chefs from all over the globe have brought their
magic to the culinary capital of the South, and the blending of
influences has resulted in many an interesting mix. You won't have
any trouble turning up a top-rate Italian, French, Thai, Japanese,
or even Moroccan establishment, but to really broaden your palate,
look for places boasting 'new Southern? or 'contemporary
Southern.' Atlanta's best and most memorable dining is often to be
discovered in creative skillets that haven't yet quite made up
Atlanta is a town that drinks well, too, with a wide mix of bars,
taverns, and clubs that cater to every taste and demographic. For
a closer look, check the comprehensive guide that follows
immediately below the restaurant section.
Although there's not a whole lot going on downtown after dark, you
won't have to wander far to find a good place to eat. Catering to
a predominantly business crowd, downtown manages to hold its own
in a furiously competitive culinary market.
The place to see and be seen is Mumbo Jumbo, a high-energy joint which
features contemporary American cuisine and a lounge that stays open
well into the night. Another high-end favorite with local celebs and
sports figures is City Grill, which puts out fancy renderings of old
Southern classics. For your hardcore business tete-a-tetes, head over
to the no-nonsense, traditional wood-paneled charm of Dailey's.
Some of downtown's finest dining is to be found at hotel restaurants.
For the city's best Russian fare, make a reservation at Nikolai's
Roof on the 30th floor of the Atlanta Hilton and Towers. You'll find
the Westin well-stocked, too, from the Savannah Fish Company at street
level to the elegant, rotating Sun Dial offering unparalleled views
of the city from up on the roof.
Housed in an abandoned church, the Abbey was converted into a club
during the 1996 Olympics, and now lives on as a unique setting for
contemporary American fare. Across the street, the Mansion stands
as a reminder of all that is still wholesome and elegant about traditional
If you're in search of local tradition, however, few options hold
a candle to the Varsity. This white-tiled diner opened in 1928 and
still serves up greasy dogs, burgers, and fries in the comfort of
your own car. More of a newcomer but still an Atlanta favorite, Bertucci's
Brick Oven Pizza features several locations around the city, including
downtown on Peachtree Road. And it's tough to beat Mick's for good
solid eating on a budget, with locations at Underground Atlanta, a
few blocks up Peachtree across from Crawford Long Hospital, and various
other spots around Atlanta.
Finally, what major downtown would be complete without the obligatory
presence of a Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood? Both are centrally-located
on Peachtree Road and easily accessible to all downtown hotels and
The most frustrating aspect of dining out in Atlanta is not trying
to find a good place to eat, but deciding which worthy restaurants
you simply won't have time to try. Nowhere is this more true than
in Midtown, where some of the city's most enduring culinary
landmarks sit side by side with the latest and trendiest kitchens.
Steaks are the order of the day every day at Coohill's. Standing proud
at the corner of 12th and Peachtree, this high-end house of meat is
as trendy as it is traditional. These two qualities mix equally well
a few blocks away at South City Kitchen, where local chefs fashion
ever-more-innovative twists on classic Southern favorites. Consistently
rated at the top of Atlanta's crowded Italian list is Veni, Vidi,
Vici, always a dignified way to round out an evening of theatre at
the nearby Fox.
A bit kinder on the pocketbook but rich in local tradition is Mary
Mac's Tea Room. This old-time Southern stalwart was a favorite of
another old-time Southern stalwart, Jimmy Carter, who frequently stopped
by while he was governor. A short drive up Piedmont Road is Cowtippers,
that rarest of all culinary finds, yet so perfectly-suited to Midtown:
a gay steak house. For the best barbecue in town, continue up Piedmont
to Fat Matt's Rib Shack. There's a line around the building on Saturday
afternoons, but the hot barbecue and cool blues inside is worth the
The flavors of the Caribbean are on full display at the reasonably-priced
Bridgetown Grill. And you'll be hard pressed to find Mexican with
more flair and variety than at Zocalo, just steps from Piedmont Park.
No dining tour of Midtown would be complete without a snack, or at
least a beer, at the Park Tavern. Situated in the far Southeast corner
of Piedmont Park, local dog owners for years have tied up their pooches
along the fence to enjoy their lunch with a sweeping view of the park
and the Midtown skyline.
If you're coming to Atlanta just to eat, Buckhead is where you'll
want to set up camp. Acre for acre, this fashionable neighborhood
packs more tables per square foot than any other part of the city,
featuring many of Atlanta's finest, hippest, and most unique
offerings. Standing on the corner of Peachtree and Paces Ferry
Roads, you could throw four stones and hit arguably the city's
best steak, fish, Southwestern, and contemporary American
restaurants. As with everything else in Buckhead, however, prepare
to open your wallet a bit wider than usual.
Let's start with those four stones. You won't have to toss the first
one far to hit Nava, a new star on the local dining scene. Set in
the dead center of Buckhead, Nava's upscale Tex-Mex fusion is rounded
out by one of the most dazzling dessert carts in town. Throw your
second stone a bit harder in the same direction, and you're liable
to break a window at Chops, which runs neck-in-neck with Bone's (a
few blocks to the East) for top dog status in the steak-and-good-old-boy
business lunch game. Without even turning, toss rock number three
a bit harder still, and land it on the roof of 103 West, so named
for its address on East Paces Ferry Road. With its top-notch contemporary
American menu and one-of-a-kind wine list, there's not a classier
address in town for elegance and unabashed decadence. Finally, loft
your fourth stone toward the big fish on Pharr Road. The Atlanta Fish
Market is faithfully guarded by a three-story, 50-ton copper trout,
and faithfully frequented by the likes of local media mogul Ted Turner
(founder of CNN) and wife Jane Fonda.
For Italian, it's tough to beat the enormous platters of Tuscan perfection
at Maggiano's Little Italy. Head across the street to Lenox Square
Mall for French fare at Brasserie Le Coze, or walk down the block
and go American at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Faced
with a wait, have a drink by the fire in one of the warmest and most
dignified lobby bars found anywhere.
The diminutive dining room at Pano's and Paul's belies the enormous
range of their ever-changing menu, but the continental offerings are
second-to-none, and, after your first visit, you'll never again want
for a definition of 'posh.' A close rival in the intimacy department
is Bacchanalia. Set in an old house just off Piedmont Road, this softly-lit
spot finds ever-more-interesting ways to bring fish and fowl to your
For the utmost in romance and new Southern cooking, check out the
patio at Horseradish Grill. Directly across from Chastain Park, whose
outdoor amphitheater hosts big-name concerts and classical evenings
throughout the summer, this intimate lodge is a can't-miss. Or if
tapas is your game, stop in Eclipse di Luna, where local chef and
legend Paul Luna wows guests with his whimsical creations and frequent
outbursts of charming lunacy.
Get all the flash for a bit less cash at Buckhead Diner on Piedmont
Road. Always crowded, this nouvelle joint fixes up traditional American
fare that would do mom's table proud. Or check out Houston's across
from Lenox Square Mall for great steaks, ribs, and seafood at reasonable
As with other aspects of this neighborhood, the restaurants of Virginia-Highland
pride themselves on their laid-back dignity away from the maddening
crowds. Starting at the locally-famous Harry's-in-a-Hurry gourmet
grocery store at the corner of Ponce de Leon and North Highland, you'll
find most of the area's choicest selections on a lazy stroll up Highland
The hippest Highlands grub is to be had at Dish, a converted corner
gas station that offers a unique global menu in an atmosphere of funky
elegance. Not a block down the street you'll inevitably meet a crowd
at Surin of Thailand. A single dining room with the hottest Thai in
town and few frills, this newcomer is fast on its way to becoming
a local favorite.
The greatest single concentration of new and old, fancy and simple
is to be found at the neighborhood's namesake intersection of Virginia
and Highland Avenues. The dignified Highland Tap offers your best
bet for a great steak dinner and unbeatable martinis. Next door you'll
find a pair of brand-new hotspots, the casually-elegant la Tavola
Trattoria for Italian, and Noche for margaritas and chic Southwestern.
The two share a covered balcony section at the rear of the building.
Come early for Atlanta's most popular weekend brunch at Murphy's across
the street, or sample their solid American dinner menu.
The shack with the big covered porch next door is Taco Mac, a favorite
for affordable Mexican, great people-watching, and just about every
beer known to modern man. And you'll always be made to feel at home
at Everybody's Restaurant around the corner. Known best for it's pizza,
this fun joint also has several other locations throughout town.
Wander another half mile north on Highland to the corner of Amsterdam
and discover a cozy collection of trendy spots. The San Francisco
Roasting Company on the corner is a good place to read your paper
over java or ice cream, and it blocks most of the street noise from
Tiburon Grill, an ultra-cool, cozy room with an innovative flair for
fish. You can get your Italian fix next door at Camille's, which offers
carry-out specialties if you don't have time to linger on the covered
Farther up the road toward Morningside, set your sights on Indigo
Coastal Grill. Although there are bigger seafood spots in town,
few achieve the quaint, distinctive style of this catch. Your
taste for Latin is easily taken care of here as well, either on
the large back porch of the Caramba Cafe for Mexican, or across
the street at Atlanta's favorite Cuban kitchen, Mambo.
Little Five Points
The restaurants of Little Five Points keep an even pace with their
surroundings, in energy and attitude. You won't find much in the
way of fine dining in this area, but what the neighborhood lacks
in culinary quality, it makes up for with its alternative
atmosphere and remarkable diversity.
Walk through the mouth of the enormous skull on Moreland Avenue
and enter the Vortex, a landmark famed as much for its oversized
burgers and expansive beer list as for the oversized cranium
outside. For unique, unbeatable omelets and fanciful dinner
selections, venture a bit off the main drag for a visit to the
Flying Biscuit Cafe.
Nothing if not diverse, Little Five is home to a wide range of
economical options for world cuisine. Lodged among the shops and
piercing parlors of Euclid Avenue, you'll find hot shrimp and
bayou fare at Baker's Cajun Cafe, Cuban sandwiches and other
delights at La Fonda Latina, and tastes from every corner of the
Caribbean at Bridgetown Grill.
Points North, South, East, West
Wherever you find yourself in Atlanta, you're never far from a
great place to eat. While many of the biggest names might be
concentrated in Buckhead and Midtown, the rapid growth of the
metro area has been mirrored by similar expansion of the
restaurant scene, and some of the newest and hippest dining
destinations are to be found in all corners of the city.
Funky digs like the Heaping Bowl & Brew are helping along the
renaissance of such up-and-coming neighborhoods as East Atlanta,
an area some predict will be the site of the city's next big
nightlife boom. In the Decatur/Emory University area, unassuming
gems like Violette (French) are mixed and matched with college
hangouts like Burrito Art. And keep your eye on Vinings, a
developing neighborhood Northwest of Buckhead, and its flagship
restaurant, Canoe. Resting quietly on the banks of the
Chattahoochee River, this charming spot is a can't miss choice for
Atlanta is a town that knows how to have a good time, and the
broad diversity that embodies the city is reflected in its lively
bar scene. Whether you're looking to dance, relax with friends, or
hunker down for some serious drinking, the clubs and cantinas of
Atlanta provide ample opportunities for many memorable nights on
The downtown club scene matches pretty well with the restaurant scene;
unless you're a daytime drinker or a business traveler in search of
a nightcap, you won't find much. Your best bets are to be found within
the major hotels, as most of the big ones maintain at least one self-contained
watering hole. For a great view of the city in an elegant environment,
try the bar at the rotating Sun Dial restaurant atop the , where the
room is spinning even before you start drinking. For the athletic-minded,
Champions inside thWestine Marriott Marquis provides local brews and
25 screens of sports mania into the late hours.
Some area restaurants serve double duty as night spots after hours.
Try the upstairs lounge at Mumbo Jumbo for flash and celebrity-spotting,
or the downstairs tavern at Dailey's for old oaken charm and a good
cigar. The best bet for a downtown steak is also a great spot for
a downtown drink, so check out the bar at Morton's. Of course, you'll
always find the expected, heavily-tourist crowds at Planet Hollywood
and the Hard Rock Cafe. Same goes for the burger-and-beer masses who
flock to Hooters and Jock's & Jill's sports bars, both with multiple
locations in the downtown area.
This lively neighborhood is top of the Atlanta heap for trendy,
cutting-edge nightlife. Local headquarters for black lights and
velour shirts, Midtown caters to the dressed-up, tightly-groomed
crowd, and exacts heavy tariffs of its image-conscious patrons.
The martini rage continues unabated and unabashed at the Leopard Lounge,
one of Midtown's hippest hotspots. The spotted skins on the wall absorb
some of the din from the swinger-cum-yuppie crowd, but can't quite
drown out the blare of swing music from the basement. Around the corner,
the Crescent Room and Innuendo do their best send-ups of the ultra-flashy,
velvet-cordoned, New York rave scene. For a quieter stab at New York
chic, try nearby Nomenclature, just a block and a half but light years
away from the august Four Seasons Hotel on 14th Street.
The many small taverns and hotel bars that line Peachtree are popular
with locals and the after-work crowd, while restaurants such as Jock's
& Jill's at Peachtree and 10th Street are usually a good choice
for watching local sporting events, or for listening to live acoustic
music at happy hour. For a laid- back game of darts or a few pints
of sturdy British ale, head to the Prince of Wales, whose patio looks
out over Piedmont Park. At the opposite end of the park sits Park
Tavern (formerly The Mill), a great place to relax and soak in the
bucolic setting and an unparalleled view of the Midtown skyline.
For a walk on Midtown's wild side, swing by Club Anytime on Peachtree
Street. As the name implies, the doors of this lively after-hours
dance club never close, and it's where you'll find the serious night
owls after the weak and timid have gone home. More extreme still is
Backstreet, a frenetic, high-intensity club that can't seem to make
up its mind. Gay and straight, yuppie and grunger, old and young all
mingle late into the night, with an occasional drag queen thrown in
to make it still more interesting.
Midtown is the center of Atlanta's gay community, and home to the
city's highest concentration of alternative lifestyle clubs. Local
favorite Blake's serves up strong drinks in a high-volume, flashy
environment, while Burkhart's plays to a more diverse, and unpredictable,
crowd. My Sister's Room, on Monroe, is perhaps the neighborhood's
most laid-back and inviting lesbian hangout.
Buckhead reigns supreme as the epicenter of fast and furious nightlife
in Atlanta. Although certain establishments like the Havana Club cigar
bar and Otto's cater to an older, more reserved crowd, the vast majority
of clubs and bars are the stomping grounds of the city's 20- and 30-somethings.
On weekends, Buckhead surrenders to the loud and festive throngs,
as college kids and young professionals move from bar to bar, making
the streets all but impassable. Peachtree Road moves along pretty
well, but be warned: once you turn off onto side streets such as Pharr,
Buckhead, or East Paces Ferry, you can expect severe delays.
Peachtree is lined with an impressive stretch of great places, starting
with the Atlanta Beer Garten near the corner of Pharr. The large patio
is enclosed in the winter, and live music charges into the wee hours
on most weekend nights. A few steps down the sidewalk lands you at
Fado, an Irish-themed pub that serves up great ale and stout, but
whose decor is about as understated as a forty foot leprechaun. A
few doors down you'll find Plush, Buckhead's answer to rave rage,
with dim lights, throbbing tunes, and too-cool attitudes. If the '70s
is more your thing, don your bell bottoms and head up the road to
Have A Nice Day Cafe, where disco defies death four nights a week.
For the unabashed beer drinker, check out Buckhead Saloon next door,
where loud bands and raucous crowds shake the walls while the more
subdued patrons kick back with a pitcher and a game of pool.
Bolling Way is a short street that parallels Peachtree to the east
for several blocks. Many clubs with Peachtree Road addresses actually
have their main entrances on Bolling, such as Lulu's Bait Shack, a
sprawling, three-story Cajun joint with a 2500-square-foot rooftop
deck. Next door, Swinger's brings the sounds and styles of the 1940s
to the new zoot suit crowd, offering free swing dancing lessons and
plenty of floor space to show off your new moves. For a more contemporary
dance floor, take a short jump over to Mako's, where New Year's is
celebrated every night with free beads and plenty of party favors.
Bolling Way dead ends into East Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead's main
cross street, which is lined with similar establishments. Right at
the intersection, the aptly-named BAR is the site of what may be Atlanta's
most consistently-rowdy assembly. Turning east, such local favorites
as Park Bench, Dixie Tavern, and Rose & Crown do a steady business
most nights of the week. With live music and good drink specials,
Tin Roof Cantina, which is housed in the corner of a large parking
structure, marks more or less the end of the downtown Buckhead bar
As you make your way up Peachtree Road toward Lenox Square and Phipps
Plaza malls, you'll come across a mixed bag of various bars and small
clubs, such as the Chameleon, a live-music joint that hosts local
and some mid-range national talent. Near the corner of Piedmont Road,
the Rockbottom is an emerging favorite with the after-work mob, with
a wide range of self-brewed masterpieces. And, of course, one of the
most dignified places for a drink in all of Atlanta is the bar at
the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Stop by for a brandy if you want to drink
in Buckhead but you like things quiet.
While Buckhead hosts the ragers and Midtown attracts the ravers, a
more casual and eclectic flock finds its way to the
Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Known around town as "the
Highlands," the charm of this quieter quarter of the city
comes from its low-key residents, its one-of-a-kind taverns and
restaurants, and the fact that through the years of expansion and
development, it has held on fiercely to its defining neighborhood
qualities. In 1999, a loud community protest, complete with old
fashioned petitions and town meetings, quashed plans to bring a
large music venue to North Highland Avenue. It's not that
Highlanders don't like the vibrant nightlife that draws many
visitors to their corner of Atlanta-- they just like it fine the
way it is. And they're right to do so.
The majority of nightlife in the Highlands centers around two main
clusters, both on North Highland Avenue. Where Highland meets Virginia
Avenue, you'll find the door to Highland Tap standing proudly on the
corner. Follow the stairs down and say hello to the young professional
martini gang. The margarita reigns supreme a few doors down at Noche,
whose high-gloss bar in front sets the stage for the restaurant's
new-wave Tex-Mex menu.
If you're more in the mood for tavern food and a few cold pitchers,
cross the street to Moe's & Joe's or George's, whose no-nonsense
booths and fun-loving clientele closely mimic each other. For streetside
patio dining and one of the best brew selections in the city, cross
Virginia to Taco Mac and pull up a stool outside.
The other significant collection of watering holes in the Highlands
can be found four blocks to the south, again along North Highland
Avenue. The three-block area between Ponce de Leon Avenue and Drewry
Street house such local favorites as English pub-styled Atkin's Park
and the Dark Horse Tavern, with its three-story dining and drinking
porch in the rear. At the corner of St. Charles, stop by Neighbor's
for a bite and a choice seat on the biggest patio in the Highlands.
Or stop by Limerick Junction for a few pints of Guinness and some
live Irish folk tunes.
A bit off the beaten path, look for Manuel's Tavern at the corner
of North Avenue and North Highland. This old-time speakeasy is still
a favorite with city hall employees, and lively debates are a way
of life. Down on Ponce de Leon, leave your inhibitions at the door
when you enter the Clermont Lounge, a rollicking place that can't
seem to decide whether it wants to be a watering hole, a dance club,
or a strip joint.
Little Five Points
This eclectic corner of town, just South and East of the Highlands
and a short cab ride from downtown, boasts Atlanta's most extreme
nightly parade of alternative rockers and rebellious youth.
Although not unsafe, L5P isn't far from some
economically-depressed neighborhoods, and is perhaps most wisely
approached with a group.
Bring your nose ring and body paint when you visit the Vortex, one
of L5P's most visible and lasting landmarks. The 20-foot skull-shaped
entrance gives you some indication what you'll find inside, but don't
be scared away from the grill, which cooks up some of the meatiest
burgers in town. Across Moreland Avenue, trade your tattoos for earplugs
and dive into the Star Community Bar, where local bands and some larger
acts drive young crowds wild most nights. More moderate groups also
play the Star Bar, but it's best to check the schedule if you are
sensitive of ear.
The Brewhouse Cafe sits pleasantly at the intersection where
Moreland meets Euclid, and offers your best chance for some quiet
conversation and sensible brew. The large patio area looks out
over the heart of the neighborhood for some fascinating
people-watching. And no one seems to know what first brought the
bikers to the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, but each Sunday the long
line of Harleys along the storefront gives ample warning of the
court held inside. Most days, the Yacht Club is a simple bar with
good basic grub, and even on Sundays it doesn't get very rowdy.
The Best of the Rest
While most of Atlanta's club-hopping happens in the neighborhoods
outlined above, a few interesting exceptions are well worth a look.
Just North of the Perimeter, Ballyhoo's hosts perhaps the city's largest
and most-advertised singles dance party, while not far away, a few
blocks from Perimeter Mall, Mexico City mixes up pitcher after pitcher
of multi-flavored margaritas. Further North into Cobb County, you'll
find Stetson hats a-plenty standing in line to ride the mechanical
bull at Cowboy's, an enormous and enormously-popular send-up of a
country and western roadhouse.
Some of the lesser-known and up-and-coming in-town neighborhoods quietly
boast their share of winners, as well. Just South of Buckhead (in
SoBuck), the Tree House has long been a well-kept secret of young
professional locals, and offers a better-than-average menu early in
the evening. Out in Decatur, Eddie's Attic stands as the premier venue
for live acoustic talent, and despite its strict ban on talking during
performances, still turns pretty lively at times.
If you're looking to check out a neighborhood on the rise, wander
over to East Atlanta for a drink at the Fountainhead. Although the
area is still a bit sketchy, if the rise of the club scene around
town is any indication, East Atlanta should be the next big trend
within a few years.