The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In Atlanta
You’re in Atlanta for the first time ever. Where do you start? With us, of course.
Maybe you’re here to visit your friend who came for college and never left, or maybe you’re one of the 500 people working on Avengers 12: Hulk Goes To Camp. Either way, you’ve made it to Atlanta and regardless of whether you flew into Hartsfield-Jackson or drove in via the interstate, you deserve a medal and maybe a stiff drink.
There are a lot of bars and restaurants to choose from, and just like the 70-plus streets in Atlanta with the word “Peachtree’ in the name, it can be tough to navigate your way through all of them. Luckily, that’s where we come in with our guide to the best places to eat and drink during your first trip to Atlanta.
photo credit: Amy Sinclair
Breakfast At Barney's
A velvet rope at the entrance of this popular venue can make it feel like you’re waiting to get into the club. Hell, there’s a strong chance you’ll see people still hungover from an actual club experience slumped over the subway-tiled bar in search of needed nourishment. But with some of the best brunch offerings in town, Barney’s, near Grady, is worth your time. There’s a dish for everyone here, including sweet favorites like their thick and fluffy 24 Karat Gold Pancakes that taste as good as they look. And there are savory staples like steak and eggs or lamb and eggs. For those looking for a lighter start to their day (since you’re probably still recovering from the previous night’s shenanigans), Barney’s offers vegan entrees and fresh pressed juices.
Did you know Atlanta was home to the world’s greatest pancakes? Well, if you’re visiting the city, it would be a shame if you didn’t get to know why the NY Times deemed the pancakes at Ria’s Bluebird best in the nation. And beyond the butter-rich, fluffy pancakes, there’s really nothing that disappoints at Ria's, located near the Oakland Cemetery. Whether you’ve gone paleo or vegan this week, there will be something on the menu for you. Grab a seat at the counter and get the slow-cooked brisket with poached eggs or the country-fried tempeh and gravy.
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Busy Bee Cafe
If your goal is to take down some Southern soul food while in Atlanta, then The Busy Bee Cafe in the West End should be the prerequisite stop. There’s some heavy history happening in the booths of this award-winning establishment. Opened in 1947, the Atlanta institution is still famous for its crispy fried chicken, greens, pork chops, and other soul food staples that have fed famous patrons from Martin Luther King Jr. to President Barack Obama.
Mary Mac's Tea Room
There are certain rites of passage you have to experience when you visit Atlanta, like ending a night at the Clermont Lounge or going to an entire museum dedicated to Coca-Cola. Getting lunch at Mary Mac’s Tea Room is another one. While locals don’t consider it a Southern food favorite, we acknowledge that it is a good box to check off your Atlanta to-do list since it's historic and has served a lot of famous people over the years. The Midtown institution opened in 1945 and has been a tourist favorite for fried chicken, peach cobbler, and more than 36 sides ever since. The fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and sweet potato souffle are all classics, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them.
Nuevo Laredo Cantina
Nuevo Laredo Cantina, a neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Underwood Hills on the Westside, has been around since 1992. This place attracts a big lunch crowd six days a week and for good reason; they serve great Mexican food and strong margaritas in a space that you could just as easily bring your parents to as you could your adult kickball team. If you come with a group, the chile rellenos, tampiquena steak, and lobster tacos are the three things you should split, along with a few margaritas.
If the name Slutty Vegan is brand new to you, then you’ve either been living under a rock or certainly living out of state. The plant-based burger chain started as a humble food truck, which continuously amassed hours-long waits and crowds of curious vegans and meat-eaters looking to get a taste of what all the fuss was about.
Now with more than seven locations across the South and an expanded menu that includes plant-based hot dogs, faux shrimp, and vegan chicken sandwiches, it’s almost a sin to hit the metro area and not get served a little Sloppy Toppy, or as the restaurant affectionately phrases it, get “sluttified.” The Edgewood location stays open until 1am on weekends, so partying vegans out on demon time have somewhere else in the city to turn to for a late night meal.
When you say you’re in SONO, few people in Atlanta know where that is. So just tell them you’re at Poor Calvin’s, which has more landmark recognition than most things in that area (for example, did you know ATL had a Central Park?). Okay, we’re lying a little; the Civic Center is pretty famous, but we’d say the food at Poor Calvin’s is close behind. Their lobster fried rice and lobster mac and cheese should be city attractions—sort of like putting them on a CityPass combo with visits to the Georgia Aquarium and The World of Coca-Cola. But seriously, anything and everything is good here, including the seafood pad thai, the soy-glazed beef tips, and their long list of cocktails. Speaking of, have you had Long Island iced tea with chai tea liqueur? It’s time to try.
Walking into Ticonderoga Club is kind of like walking into your eccentric uncle’s basement and finding a fully stocked bar just sitting there. There are old prints and retro antiques scattered about, and a photo of Grease-era John Travolta that’ll stare at you from across the room, all of which gives this small spot in Krog Street Market a weird charm that we really like. You can come here for a great cocktail, and snack on a small plate or two, or bring a group and get the $90 chuck wagon steak dinner to split. Just like the decorations themselves, the menu here, which includes dishes like steak tartare and sweet and sour charred pork, is all over the place, but this should be one of the first places you check out during your next visit.
Miller Union is an old faithful on the Westside that does a good job of feeling a little luxurious without being stuffy. They have an extensive wine list and a seasonal menu that changes each week, so even if you make a second trip here later in the year, it’ll still feel new and interesting. One thing that never leaves the menu though, is the farm egg, which is baked in celery cream and served with grilled bread, and should be the start to every meal here.
Whether you’re working in Atlanta or just flew in to see the aquarium, it’s good to have somewhere to go for an impressive client dinner or a date. For us, that’s the award-winning Bacchanalia. The menu at this Westside restaurant changes seasonally, but they always have a four-course, prix fixe menu available for $110. If you go a la carte instead, make sure to order the crab fritter with citrus and avocado to start. It’s the best dish on the menu, and might even surpass the aquarium’s whale sharks you saw earlier as the highlight of your day.
La Grotta Ristorante Italiano
La Grotta is the classic Italian restaurant that you should always have in your back pocket when you get burnt out on places serving things like beet spaghetti or deconstructed carbonara. This Buckhead staple opened way back in ’78, and has been serving hits—like their house tortellini, stuffed with onions, prosciutto, thyme, and mascarpone cheese, and covered in tomato sauce, ever since. If you don’t eat your whole body weight in pasta here, make sure to get the tiramisu too.
Atlanta may be landlocked, but the city has a decent offering of great seafood restaurants. And while there are a few newer spots on the scene, The Optimist in West Midtown is still a favorite. The three main reasons to come here are the great cocktails, creative seafood dishes, and high-level service. But if you need a fourth, you can practice putting on the three-hole mini-golf course next to the patio while you wait for a table. Their lobster roll is the most famous thing on the menu, but definitely make sure to get the crispy octopus, something from the crudo list, and some oysters, especially if you make it here for Happy Hour.
R. Thomas' Deluxe Grill
Walking up to R. Thomas in Buckhead’s Brookwood Hills, you may wonder why we’d recommend a place where they’ll likely be filming the next episode of Hoarders. Looking past the birdcages, multi-colored pinwheels, flags, and lawn art, though, you’ll find a restaurant that’s been serving vegan foods like tofu scrambles and kelp noodles since 1985. R. Thomas isn’t exclusively vegan, though, and also serves up favorites like chicken wings, meatloaf, seafood, and pasta.
Known for years for staying open around the clock and for always having a mixed cast of characters, from celebrities like Andre 3000 out looking for a late-night bite to hard-partying groups who needed some sustenance to end the night, these days the restaurant is open for takeout on Friday and Saturday until 5am, with dine-in closing at 1am.
photo credit: Tabia S. Lisenbee-Parker
Whether it’s after a big night of bar hopping or a long day of sightseeing, sometimes you just want a few slices of pizza and a beer. When that’s the case, figure out where the closest Fellini’s is and go immediately. This local chain has seven locations around town, so you’re never too far from one, and most stay open until 12am every night. Stop by for a slice of their spinach and mushroom pizza or a calzone if you want something that you can save half of for breakfast, and to see why Fellini's is a local staple.
The Rooftop at Hotel Clermont
If you’re looking for late-night eats, Hotel Clermont, situated in front of the legendary Clermont Lounge, offers three great options to grab a bite. If Tiny Lous, their fancy French restaurant, is closed for the day, head to the lobby bar or up to the rooftop for panoramic city views, small bites and more cocktails—it's open until midnight or 1am depending on the day of the week.