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Good food in Atlanta

Hello. I'm travelling to Atlanta next week for a short visit and would really like to experience some real southern food -- biscuits, fried green tomatoes, mac 'n' cheese, fried chicken. You get the idea. I'm not really looking for a chain but more an independent hidden gem that's sort of quirky with a bit of character.

In fact, I'd welcome all recommendations for good places to eat in Atlanta that aren't too $$$ but deliver good food and a dose of originality rather than a generic, big-box type of feel -- southern food or not.

And my last request is for Atlanta's best bakery.

I welcome all of your suggestions! Thank you.

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  1. Best bakery, hands down, is Alon's. Highland Bakery is also quite good, but there is no comparison. There is shockingly little soutehrn food to be had here. For southern-ish food I would recommend Home, Wisteria, and Watershed - though none are cheap. A million years ago Horseradish Grill was good, but I have not been there in so long I can't say if it still makes the cut. My personal favorite is Green's which is definitely a bargain, but it is out in the burbs (Roswell to be exact) and is a haul if you are staying intown. For really good food on a budget there are a lot of options, particularly if you like Indian, Chinese, and Thai. Off the top of my head - I love Com for Vietnamese, Figo Pasta, Din Ho for Chinese, Top Floor for eclectic fun food, Thai Chili (Briarcliff location), Babette's Cafe, and for great burgers Vortex. Enjoy!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Narshkite

      great suggestions, thanks so much!

      1. re: Narshkite

        Green's - liquor store on Buford Hwy and Ponce de Leon (best gourmet beer selection in the state)
        Greenwood's on Green Street- excellent southern food experience in Roswell

        Greenwood's is worth the trip; it's a great value (you may bring back as much as you eat, esp. if you get the fried chicken). We had a great meal at Home recently; think the tab was about $140 for 2, but we also had drinks and dessert.

      2. Mary Mac's on Ponce for the old school "tea room" ambience and decent Southern "meat and three;" Watershed in Decatur for best chef-oriented Southern (Scott Peacock is one the city's best, Tuesdays are fried chicken night); Thelma's on Auburn Ave for authentic Southern Soul; Colonnade on Cheshire Bridge for a 60s Southern throwback and a stiff cocktail ("where gay meets gray").

        Wisteria is very interesting French by way of the South and consistently good. Try Restaurant Eugene for high-end southern. Top Flr in Midtown is a great spot for a not too pricey drink and a nosh. Carroll St Cafe in Cabbagetown for the antithesis of Big Box. Vortex for a killer Burger. Fuel in Kirkwood for killer pizza off the beaten path.

        1. Home. Opened in Atlanta in April by this season's Top Chef contestant Richard Blais...Straight forward ingredients, yet adventurous in production. The restaurant is actually an old home itself with a very unique feel. Great food and great service. The wine list is fun and paired very well... Good Luck!!

          1. thanks everyone for these suggestions -- v helpful!

            1. Horseradish still does the job, but not nearly as good as when Scott Peacock was there. For a real southern lunch place, try Colonnade on Cheshire Bridge. Another fun place that offers a real southern feel is the "OK Cafe" on West Paces Ferry at I-75 (had lunch at the counter and was dying seeing all of the great things leaving the kitchen - collard greens, sweet potatoes and sweet potato chips, black beans, mac and cheese - you get the picture. One of the few in town that still offers a true vegetable plate. A great place for dinner is Haven Restaurant - in Brookhaven, just North of Buckhead off Peachtree Road (you could also take MARTA to this restaurant with a couple block, or very short cab ride). Definitely not the big box feel and a great menu - you can check it out at www.havenrestaurant.com.

              3 Replies
              1. re: atlantachowhound

                Or, rather than go to the Colonnade, you could buy the cans of food and open them yourself.

                1. re: hillarybrown

                  OK, that's a bit obnoxious. Not like you'd expect anything different at Mary Mac's. It's old school, and that's how old school works. My Mom still laughs that the common manner of cooking green beans in the 60's and 70's was to put them in the pressure cooker for 15 min. For us these days, it's 5-6 minutes in boiling water then maybe briefly saute to add some stuff.

                  There's a big difference between this type of place and any of the 'nouveau' places that have opened in the last 10-15 years. Doesn't mean they need to change. Not to mention that the "gray" portion of the crowd might eat elsewhere as a result.

                  Oh, and it's still a screaming bargain.

                  And they haven't been open for lunch for a while now.

                  1. re: ted

                    Oh, I don't mean that the "old-school" way is wrong in the slightest. I'm fine with green beans that have been pressure cooked. I'm just saying that the Colonnade is not the best example of that style of food done well. If you're going for atmosphere, that's totally fine.

              2. A final recommendation for very good southern food is Son's Place on the corner of Hurt and Dekalb. Great fried chicken, veggies, etc.

                Almost forgot another one, Silver Skillet on 14th near GaTech. Hard to get to with the bridge closed but worth it.


                1. What? No recommendations for The Varsity? No visit to Atlanta is complete without having one of their cardiac candy offerings!!!!

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: dkst0426

                    I assume that was a joke. The Varsity is for clueless tourists with no taste buds.

                    1. re: dreish

                      I wouldn't say that's true. It has its own appeal. It's just a tastebud-numbing appeal.

                      1. re: hillarybrown

                        hey - i tried a few months ago while visiting just because i wanted to. many things were lousy but the onion rings and the varsity orange i actually thought were pretty good!

                        1. re: dkst0426

                          One needn't be a "food snob" to think The Varsity is absolutely awful.

                          It is, in fact, absolutely awful. I ate better in my grade school cafeteria. Far, far better.

                          1. re: uptown jimmy

                            Maybe we should recommend your grade school cafeteria, then :)

                            1. re: dkst0426

                              Well, it has been a long time. I'm sure they've gone downhill, as all great restaurants do....

                              1. re: uptown jimmy

                                the burgers are dreadful. i still thought the onion rings were good. and the experience (which was certainly new to my kids) was fun all the same.

                                1. re: AMFM

                                  Perhaps the ones in Atlanta are better than the one here in Athens? I ate at the Athens location once, and it was barely edible. It was weird how bad it was. It made McDonald's seem pretty good.

                                  1. re: uptown jimmy

                                    don't know. not an expert - just went to the atlanta one (the original) in april because it seemed a fun thing to do with kids. not expecting great food. but i think it could be okay if you ordered the right things. i'd avoid the burgers and fries - agree with you there that mcd's might even have them beat. but my kids chicken tenders were tasty as well as the aforementioned onion rings and orange drink. heard the dogs are better than burgers. but again - i don't need to be a repeat customer. but i think it can be fun to try once and not necessarily THAT bad! :)

                                    1. re: uptown jimmy

                                      Yes, the ones in Atlanta do tend to be better than the one in Athens. And the burgers should, indeed, be avoided.

                              2. re: uptown jimmy

                                Of course you could just be ordering wrong. I went to school at GT so I did a LOT of damage at the Varsity. My usual:

                                2 chili slaw dawgs
                                onion rings
                                FO (Frosted Orange)
                                Fried Peach Pie

                                The fried peach pie is probably the best thing they have on the menu. It's that Southern, flaky, lard based crust with peach filling. They're served hot - really, really good.

                                1. re: Magic Pig

                                  If you're looking for fancy or healthy food, stay away. But if you're looking for an occasional bad behavior treat, the Varsity's wonderful. I've never had a burger there. Burger lovers: go to the vortex. But the hot dogs? Yummy. The softest buns in the world. I get mine with chili. And as for fries, if you like prefab, factory fries, by all means go to McD's. OTOH, if you like actual potatoes cut with their skins on and fried as-is (the kind my mama made) that's the place to be. Hmmmm...this is making me want some Big V. Good thing I work in Alpharetta... Haynes Br, here I come.

                              3. re: dkst0426

                                I like fast food enough to eat it sometimes even though I feel a little like I'm dumping toxic waste down my throat. But from watching Gordon Ramsay's shows, I now get paranoid about things that taste "off", because I can just picture what the kitchen and refrigerator probably look like. A staff that doesn't care about the quality of their product, or that doesn't have Megacorp Headquarters giving them idiot-proof instructions, is a dangerous thing.

                                1. re: dreish

                                  Nobody goes to the Varsity because the food tastes exceptional. It's an Atlanta institution and you really should go check it out. From the "What'llyahave" greeting to the order being yelled out, to the lovely plastic chairs you'll sit in(or if it's not too hot, the carhop service),it's all about the experience. With the volume of food that this place pulls off, you'll never worry about anything "bad" being served, but it's more of an aquired taste. Like the hamburgers for example. It's not that they taste good, it's just that you get used to the smushed bun with the drab piece of meat. It's nicely complimented when you serve it up "A.C" style (with American Cheese) and "walk it through the garden" with lettuce and tomato. As a Yankee transplant who now resides here in Atlanta, I must admit I get a hankering every now and then for a li'l grease served up the Varsity way!!

                          2. Best bakery is definitely Alon's in the highlands, and they have a new one open in dunwoody. It's amazing, and they have lots of great prepared food, salads, soups and amazing sandwiches, it would be a great place for a quick lunch. For good souther bbq, go to fat matt's on piedmond road. Best BBQ! No frills, cash only, and on some nights, you'll have entertainment. The ribs there are as good as they get. For southern food, South City Kitchen (there are two, one in midtown and one in the vinings) is great, and so is Restaurant Eugene. Eugene's "sunday supper" is a great deal. It's a three course prix-fix meal, $30 a head. The menu is very southern, and they have great fried chicken and biscuits!

                            1. awesome -- thanks to you all for all of these suggestions. i think i'll leave atlanta with a very full tummy! one last question, any good homemade ice cream joints? thanks!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: mynameisr

                                Not ice cream, but if you're in the Highlands, try Paolo's (sp?) gelato at the corner of N. Highland and Virginia

                                1. re: mynameisr

                                  Your request for a homemade ice cream joint prompts me to second the Greenwood's on Green Street suggestion. I have posted about it before and so have many others so you may want to look into what others have had to say.

                                  You get a two for one with Greenwood's with respect to your posts. First, Bill Greenwood serves terrific southern food. His fried chicken is great and worth the wait. The greens are perfect in my opinion; just the right amount of vinegar. I don't recall biscuits but the cornbread is pretty good. Plus it has all kinds of character. Very groovy in a kitschy sort of way and with a great sense of humor. In fact, there is a hand painted sign up front that says "Be Nice or Leave." The sign is just past the patio at the top of which sit two gharishly painted Elvis heads. The pies are reason enough to go. My wife loves the coconut cream. My favorite is the Blackberry. One thing to remember, Bill did not take credit cards in the past but would take your check and has taken my word to come back with cash. The credit card policy may have changed though.

                                  Everything about Greenwood's is in line with your request: "Southern food, independent, hidden gem, quirky with character." You described Greenwood's perfectly.

                                  The second reason for Greenwoods is that there is a BBQ place across the very quiet street. (Like 20 feet.) Bill owns that too. You didn't say you were looking for BBQ, but it is a great place nonetheless. The reason I mention it though is because Bill makes his own ice cream and sells it from a funky old trailer outside. Lots of fun choices. I recommend calling to see if he has started selling ice cream yet. I tried calling but no one answered.

                                  Another great thing about Swallow is that the music is amazing and more often than not a great act from Nashville.

                                  Both places are in Old Roswell which is worth the drive itself depending on where you are staying.

                                  I will post a link below for Swallow at the Hollow:

                                  Let us know how you ate.

                                  1. re: bananna slug

                                    After eating at Swallow last night and having posted above in response to the request for homemade ice cream, I thought I should give an update. Bill Greenwood is not selling ice cream from his funky truck at the moment. Seems the truck was hit by lightining so it is out of commission. Weird. He is, however, serving at least a couple of homemade flavors across the street at Greenwoods.

                                  2. re: mynameisr

                                    Jake's has awesome ice cream. The one in the old fourth ward is in a cute little place too with shops. Right near Rathbun's. Oh and you didn't ask for breakfast/brunch but I really liked Murphy's - biscuits that come with the meal are divine and so is the corned beef hash. And Belly General Store is nice too. The olive oil bagels are ok but the to go orders of grits with toppings are yummy - and the atmosphere is cute. Heard the cupcakes rock but was only there for breakfast.

                                    Oh and to kind of second a previous recommendation, my family thought Home was really good. The Top Chef Richard's place. New southern or something.

                                  3. thank you everyone for all of your suggestions -- i'm so glad i came to this board!

                                    1. I'd recommend the Holeman & Finch Public House. It's run by the Restaurant Eugene folks, right next to the restaurant on Peachtree. It's a gastro-pub kind of place, but many of the dishes are creatively done old fashioned dishes. The plates are smallish. You aren't required to get the crispy pig ear sandwich, of course, the carbonara is good, the fried oyster salad lovely, and the house-made charcuterie plate is quite good, and, at $15, it's the most expensive item on the menu. Cocktails are excellent.

                                      Also new-ish and very good, Cakes and Ale in Decatur. The chef used to work at Watershed, has trained in Napa, and makes precisely nice simple dishes. The slow-roasted pork w/ flageolets was excellent, as was the halibut.

                                      Two doors down is Sawicki's, she serves an excellent sandwich if you're looking for a quick lunch.

                                      1. I was in Atlanta a couple of years ago and the places we really liked were the Flying Biscuit for breakfast and if you want something really Atlanta - there are 2 places - Glady's Knights Chicken & Waffles place and the Varsity Drive-In. I disagree with everyone down the bottom of this thread who think that the Varsity stinks. If you love hot dogs with cole slaw and cheese on top (The Cheese Slaw Dog) this is the place to be. I forgot to mention that the onion rings rock. Great hot dogs and fries and their Frozen Orange drink was out of this world. The Varsity is a gem. And cheap. I think you can't do Atlanta without going there. It's been there for too many years. Worth the trip to me. Then again, I love burgers and hot dogs. I read about it in Road Food and thought it was excellent. You can't be a food snob though. If you just want food that also has atmosphere that is the place for you. Try for yourself and see.

                                        The Fried Chicken at Glady's was pretty good. I think they also had Fried Green Tomatoes too when I was there. The Flying Biscuit has fried green tomatoes and they were pretty good. Just my 2 cents.

                                        1. Hands down, no competition - Mary Mac's Tea Room on Ponce De Leon. Yummo!! :) It's mouth-watering southern deliciousness.

                                          1. Alons, though not cheap, is a wonderful bakery and sandwich shop, and so much more. For a highter budget, they offer a lot of great take-home entrees too. The best bakery in town IMHO.
                                            Doc Che's Noodles is good, cheap, fresh Asian fusion.
                                            Figo is good pasta at a low price.
                                            The Colonade, on Cheshire Bridge Road, is one of the last traditional southern restaurants around.
                                            Ru San's offers good cheap sushi.
                                            The Bread Garden on Amsterdam is another a good bread bakery.
                                            Buford Highway is loaded with good Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Salvador (seafood) restaurants.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: weremonkey

                                              For all of you fans of Alon's - just found out that they offer evening cooking classes at the perimeter location. You are there actually cooking while people are there eating. My friends who did it had a blast.

                                            2. Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker, and, if you can possibly swing it, head east on I-20 a little ways to Social Circle and the Blue Willow Inn.

                                              And to all these posters, the taste of the food at the Varsity has little to do with the enjoyment. It's one of the few cultural events we have left in Atlanta.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Nazan Yar

                                                just saw matthew's on diner's drive-ins and dives last night. looked good.