ATLGuide

15 Classic Restaurants In Atlanta

These city staples still bump as hard as the 6 o’clock Greg Street intro.
15 Classic Restaurants In Atlanta image

photo credit: Amy Sinclair

There’s no dinner party topic hotter than the old versus new Atlanta debate—and things really get contentious whenever the convo lands on the merits of FreakNik or The Varsity. But here’s where we can all agree: our restaurant scene is great today because it makes room for new, trendy hotspots while keeping love for the joints named-dropped in old Goodie Mob songs. And in an age when restaurant longevity should be measured in dog years, there is something to be said about decades-old institutions that keep us coming back and some newer establishments that have made a defining impact on our dining landscape. Here are some favorite classics in A-town.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Courtesy of Busy Bee

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Soul Food

West End/AUC

$$$$Perfect For:Classic EstablishmentLunchSerious Take-Out OperationVegetariansCasual Weeknight Dinner
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Not many venues can boast that they’ve lived through nearly 20 presidential administrations, and fewer can say they’ve had presidents and important historical figures as patrons. But Busy Bee, cooking the best soul food in the city since 1947, can say both since notable diners, including MLK and President Obama, have been served here over the years. This Vine City icon is takeout-only until further notice, and the always-present line out front shows no one is tripping about it. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the mood for fabulously fried chicken, baked turkey legs, or simply a smorgasbord of well-seasoned sides, Busy Bee never misses.

Thirty years ago (and when it was in West Midtown), getting a reservation at Bacchanalia would’ve earned you the envy of your peers. While it’s not the brag it used to be, their prix fixe menu at $110 per person and industrial-chic space on Ellsworth Industrial still make them one of our favorite fancy occasion meals. Their attentive service (the best in the city) starts with them helping you through their long leather-bound beverage “journal.” Then, the staff pace courses like clockwork and may even send you home with a big loaf of whatever’s left from their daily bakes. And their hush puppy-adjacent crab fritter and perfectly spongey soufflé cake are so close to our hearts we actually wear photos of each in lockets.

photo credit: Amy Sinclair

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If you’ve lived in Atlanta long enough, you’ve probably attended an engagement party or birthday dinner here. Overlooking a scenic side of the Chattahoochee River, Canoe has been a one-of-a-kind romantic setting for nearly three decades. Heavy wooden doors open to a warm space with a chic wilderness lodge decor that probably reminds the Delta and Coke execs of their lake cabins (we aspire). If there’s a wait for a table (it’s best to have a reservation for this Vinings spot), sit at the riverside bar and pass the time with dirty martinis and house-smoked salmon latkes. Canoe’s Southern menu has been a fad-resistant time capsule—there’s no need for gimmicks since signatures like their tasty popcorn sundae and tender braised rabbit still pack the house with a multigenerational crowd.

Buckhead’s Atlanta Fish Market has stayed a consistent course. The dining room today is just as spacious and bright as it was in the ’90s. Only now, the ladies eating fresh sushi in tweed St. John jackets sit next to groups in rocker tees and cargo shorts. Not that any of that matters when the attentive servers drop off sweet and spicy calamari, because your table will still feel like the only one in the place. Be it swordfish or expertly seared tuna steak, this fancy-ish seafood stalwart keeps making waves in all the right ways.

Black-and-white images of Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, and other Civil Rights pillars who frequented Paschal’s tower over its tables. And with classic soul tunes coming through the speakers, you might think you know what’s coming at this West End landmark—a soul-soothing scene and plates filled with catfish, candied yams, and cornbread. And that’s mostly what you get. But then a few hip-hop hits play and you'll see a robot waiter dropping off a plate of golden fried chicken, and it’s clear that this tasty, 1947-established community fixture is with the times, too.

“Majestic” is 100% not the first word we would normally associate with a diner that’s been around since 1929. But one bite of this Poncey Highland spot’s fluffy biscuits slathered with gravy and chopped up sausage bits has us feeling majestic AF. The biscuits sell out regularly, so get here early to grab a booth or hunker down on one of their red counter stools at the open-kitchen counter. The Majestic is no longer the late-night haven it used to be, but the now breakfast- and lunch-only spot still serves up some of the best diner food in the city.

If you spot a movie or TV show with a vintage counter and wait staff wearing earrings shaped like omelets, the shot was probably filmed at Silver Skillet on 14th Street. This breakfast and lunch counter has been an ATL staple since 1956—and, of course, a preferred backdrop for many set crews. Order the corned beef hash, buttermilk waffle, and soft scrambled eggs, which look like they’re straight from Mel’s Diner (that’s from Alice, young’uns). One bite and you’ll know this place isn’t a gimmick—the old-timey vibes and homestyle tastes are the real deal.

Ask any longtime local, and they’ll tell you that late nights and Fellini’s go together like marinara sauce and new shirts. The popular ATL chain is on our list of the city’s best pizza joints because it’s consistent, quick, and one of the few places in the city where you can still order by the slice. Out of their seven area locations, we’ve always been partial to Ponce. While a lot of that has to do with way too much partying down the street at MJQ, some of it is simply because we never get tired of sitting on the street-facing patio with a cold beer and a few massive NY-style slices of pepperoni, mushrooms, and extra cheese.

The bright yellow and green palm-tree-clad exterior of Havana Sandwich Shop stands out on Buford Highway, beckoning folks to walk through the glass doors. For 45-plus years, this family-owned spot has been stuffing delicious crusty bread cubanos with tender ham and tangy pickles (it’s listed as No. 1 on the menu for a reason). The casual dining room is always buzzing with regulars and curious first-timers, which is understandable since they make some of the best sandwiches in the city.

If walls could talk, Nakato’s traditional tatami-style private salon would tell the tales of many rowdy birthday celebrations. Hibachi stations are filled with couples and groups like they’ve been for the past 40 years, too. Service is quick, attentive, and, if laughs at the chefs’ recycled “egg roll” jokes are an indicator, still pretty entertaining. And then, of course, there’s the food. Shrimp tempura is golden and fluffy. Garlic noodles have just the right kick. The steak and chicken are cooked to the appropriate sizzle. Sure, hibachi is hibachi, but there isn’t a cooler dining experience so close to a dancing flame.

The Sun Dial in downtown’s Westin hotel has been a fixture for American fine dining in the city since the ’70s. Though the dining room no longer revolves, the Westin remains one of Atlanta’s tallest buildings, so their 360-degree panoramic skyline views make your glazed salmon or bearnaise-drench lobster dinner feel a little extra special. Sky high prices keep most locals at bay (get your mind right to pay $65 for a plate of fried chicken), but we’d clear things with our financial coach if it means impressing our out-of-town fam with a great meal and good views. Between the bill, the U-shaped leather booths, and the white-glove service, you’ll be the talk of the next reunion for sure.

Depending on the day, this Southern establishment on Ponce is either packed with out-of- towners or lunching colleagues. No matter how many times we’ve sat in Mary Mac’s homey dining room, we still feel the welcoming spirit of its 1940s teahouse origins. Name another meat-and-two stop where you write down your own order on a menu card. And where else will the waitress announce, “Comin’ in, honey” before plopping down your order of juicy pot roast and fluffy sweet potato soufflé? We’ll wait. And while we do, we’ll dip our cornbread into a cup of their brothy collard green potlikker (a fading Southern tradition that’s still very much the right move here).

If you’re looking for one business to capture the essence of Virginia-Highland, this 100-year-old-plus operation makes the short list. Thanks to muted lighting, slightly elevated booths, and just the right amount of tomfoolery, Atkins Park is where locals come for a good time every time. But where the tavern stands out from other pubs is with its plates. The duck fat-fried hot wings and chicken- and salsa-topped nachos are top-shelf bar bites we could eat all day or night.

Th Beautiful is an all-day-dining landmark on Cascade immortalized in Goodie Mob’s 1995 classic track “Soul Food.” But it’s their solid, downhome Southern dishes that continue to keep the regulars patiently waiting in this cafeteria-style line every day. In the mornings, the smell of sizzling hashbrowns, just-cracked eggs, and buttery pancakes will tickle your nose and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s the beef ribs and all of the lightly, under-seasoned vegetables. Eat in the immaculate dining room or take your plate home, where you can sprinkle a pinch of salt on your sides with no guilt.

photo credit: Tabia S. Lisenbee-Parker

$$$$Perfect For:Day DrinkingSports!

Atlanta didn’t invent hot wings, but we damn sure made ’em cool. And the 1982-founded franchise has discipled the gospel of lemon pepper like no other. Their slightly unkempt original location on North Avenue isn’t our favorite Crickets (in fact, we ranked them), but it’s an undeniable part of the city’s food lore. So we’ll roll into this late-night spot after a long, hard night of celebrating and order a 10-piece Dirty Bird (a wild mix of mild, barbecue, and lemon pepper sauces) and fries. Yeah, the wings are itsy-bitsy and are sometimes fried a little hard, but Crickets is family. You love ’em. You hate ’em. You douse ’em in ranch, and keep it pushing.

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