Pre-show dinner and drinks can be tricky. Maybe you’re with a group of people who have a bunch of different tastes or you’re bringing a date who you’re trying to impress. Also, unless it’s a late show, you’re probably going to be a little pressed for time. Here are a few of our favorite options within a short walking or driving distance of five of the city’s most popular music venues. Nothing too fancy where you can’t get in wearing your concert shoes that you don’t mind having beer spilled on, but all with good food and drinks that will justify the hustle to eat beforehand, rather than trying to see if the concession stand snacks can pass for a meal.
The Fox Theatre
When your ticket scalper was 45 minutes late to your meet-up and you need a quicker, but still sit-down, option before the show starts, head to Papi’s. The Cuban steak sandwich with potato sticks is just as good as you’d expect from a sandwich with fried potatoes on it, though you can’t go wrong ordering mojitos and a bunch of snacks for the table - like their stand-out empanadas and the tostones supremos, which are basically loaded nachos with plantain chips instead of tortilla chips.
The peak of your last New Orleans trip was when a brass band came marching down Frenchmen St. and you latched onto their second line parade while eating a po’boy. Starting your night at this Viet-Cajun restaurant can help you get back to that place before a show. Get the Cajun shrimp burger or charbroiled oysters with a Sazerac or Pimm’s Cup slushie. Depending on the concert, you can probably predict whether the crowd will be sitting down or standing up and dancing so take that into consideration before deciding on a second round of drinks.
This classic meat-and-three has several large dining rooms with tables of all sizes that will be quickly filled with fried chicken, pork chops, fried okra, and sweet potato souffle. But first you’ll get a bread basket that includes cinnamon rolls, which will make you less angry at your superfan friend who refuses to stick around for dessert (though the pies really are worth missing the opener’s opener). Just make sure you get the cornbread crumbled in potlikker, the rich liquid from the collard green pot, which has been a pre-Fox Theatre tradition since Mary Mac’s opened in 1945.
Whether you’re here pre-show for dinner or post-show to keep the night going (they’re open until midnight during the week and 2:30am on the weekends), as a rule, multiple orders of The Porter’s garlic and herb Belgian fries should be ordered before you even sit down at one of their long tables in the back. Their rotating beer list always has a bunch of unique beers, the fish and chips are a perfect combo of crunchy and salty, and there are some pretty great vegetarian options, like the pastrami-spiced beet reuben. Also, just about everything comes with a heap of those Belgian fries, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still get a few extra orders for the table.
There’s a little window next to the Variety Playhouse entrance that opens one hour before the venue’s doors. Be there when they do if you want a full selection of things like brisket, ribs, and creamed corn from Das BBQ because they tend to run out. Plus, getting there early means you don’t have to eat your pulled pork sandwich in a general admission mosh pit, which we cannot endorse.
If your night is going to feature rootsy Americana or music played unironically on an old-timey washboard, it would only make sense to start at The Wrecking Bar, a restaurant that has its own farm and brews its own beer. Plus, like vodka sodas and strobe lights, brown liquor and banjo music are meant to go together. So when that’s your plan, head here first to work your way down the extensive whiskey list. They also have a food menu that runs from things like mini corndogs and soft pretzels with cheddar fondue to charred octopus and charcuterie boards.
One of the best - and more affordable - ways to start a night that ends at Tabernacle is with the 20-piece family meal from Gus’s. Pair it with sides like baked beans and slaw, and get way more mac and cheese than you think you need, it’s going to go fast. Then make the less than 10-minute walk over to the show, or take the long way if you need a few more minutes on your feet.
You really want to impress the person you’re bringing to the show tonight. The concert itself was the first step, but you also need to make sure you get the night off to a good start. Alma Cocina is an upscale Mexican spot that’s perfect to bring a date to for tacos and margaritas. And if you need a little extra liquid courage to tell this person that you want to do something big like move in together or start leaving a toothbrush in their medicine cabinet, get one of their tequila cubes - a fruit or coffee-infused ice cube with tequila poured over it.
It was a big enough effort just getting all your friends together for this show to begin with. But now, since you took charge with the tickets, everyone’s looking to you for the dinner plan as well. Amalfi Pizza is an easy and great answer. This spot has a big menu of salads, brick-oven pizzas, pastas, and calzones, and it’s a large enough space that you’ll be able to enjoy some personal space before getting crammed into the general admission pit at the show.
Your friend texted the group chain that they have two extra tickets to the show - one on the floor and the other way up in the balcony. You and one other person responded within seconds of each other and it was too close to call. Meet at Punch Bowl Social, order some nachos and a burger, and challenge them to your choice of ping pong, bocce, foosball, or bowling to see who gets those floor seats.
The only choice you should have to make at the end of a long day is, “pizza or calzone?” Conveniently, those are the only things on the menu at Antico Pizza, and they do both incredibly well, so just skip the decision and order both instead. Their large communal tables are for walk-ins and, unlike their original West Midtown location, this spot is not BYOB. They have a full bar and are known to roll kegs out to their patio for quick service on nights when the Braves are playing next door. Call ahead to see if they’ll be doing the same before your show at The Roxy.
El Super Pan makes the best Cuban sandwich in Atlanta at their food stall in Ponce City Market and they’ve expanded their menu well beyond sandwiches at this second sit-down location at The Battery. The full bar does Cuba Libres and caipirinhas, but their Palomas are our favorite, mostly because we can pretend we’re ordering it for the Vitamin C. If there’s a steak or octopus special, get it for the table along with a few orders of yuca fries and maduros.
Your perpetually single friend bought an extra ticket two months ago and decided to bring the most recent person they swiped right on to the show, which means you’re about to be stuck at a dinner with a stranger who will probably make jokes about their definitely-not-receding hairline. Thankfully, the Vietnamese/French food at Le Fat is really good and creative enough that you can just steer the conversation towards what you’re eating. Share things like softshell BLT baos, escargot in Sriracha butter, and papaya salads, and be thankful that you’re about to be somewhere loud that’s not exactly conversation-friendly.
Bartaco is an easy spot for when someone in your group is a pescatarian, another doesn’t eat meat, and a third decided to make up a new restriction based on the day of the week. Sit outside under the lights and sip a mezcal pineapple cocktail with a plate of crispy rock shrimp tacos and weigh the sunk cost of just staying here all night and skipping the show altogether.
Upbeet looks like a mix of a library cafe and a school cafeteria that’s way nicer than ours ever was and it’s a great place to get something quick and healthy before a show. This fast casual spot serves things like grain bowls, salads, smoothies, and toasts with seating ranging from bar seats to large communal tables. They also carry kombucha from 10 different breweries and can make you a superfood mushroom latte. If you’re not sure that one of those will keep you moving the way you want at the show, there’s a good amount of beer and wine to try too.