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ISO life-changing food in Atlanta. BBQ & chicken & umami especially.

Hard-core chowhounds about to go to Atlanta for a conf for a few days, searching for bold, mindblowing, deep, wonderful food. Would love some suggestions about places to go. Cost doesn't matter, and will drive over an hour or two in any direction for ecstatic stuff. Not just looking for a "nice meal," could care less about decor, and don't care about drinks/cocktails. This is all about peak food experiences. I travel a lot, all over the world, and I'm looking for what Atlanta (and the surrounding area) does so well that you want to scream it from the rooftops. Here's what we're looking for.

1) Life-changing BBQ. Been to Franklin in Austin? Lil Jake's Eat it And Beat It in Kansas City in the mid-90s? That caliber of stuff. The top 1%. So moist and smoky and deep and flavorful it'll make you weep. Went to Fox Bros a few yrs ago (client meal) and was totally unimpressed. Went up to Smok'n Pig, which was good, but still looking to top that. Bonus points for lil shacks in the middle of nowhere, but will go anywhere that does cue right. Special bonus points for happy (non-sysco, non-feedlot) meat, but not holding my breath on that one. There's a reason folks line up 4 hours for Franklin.

2) Life-changing fried chicken. With biscuits, gravy, collards, etc. This could either be classic-style (e.g. Strouds in Kansas City), or hipster style (Country Cat in Portland, Ma'ono in Seattle). Either way, it needs to be insanely juicy and flavorful, a celebration of fat and crunch. As above, happy chickens are a plus. Not looking for "yeah, this place does fried chicken." Looking for OM NOM NOM THIS IS THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN I HAD IN MY LIFE!!

3) Other awesome stuff. Only criterion is true awesomeness. What do I mean? Places like State Bird Provisions or Mission Chinese in San Fran, Xi'an's Famous Noodles in NYC, Pok Pok or Nong's Khao Man Gai or Gruner in Portland, Paseo in Seattle. Al Forno in Providence in the early-to-mid 90s. Koji in LA. I don't care whether it's a food truck or a $500 meal, uber-traditional or crazy postmodern, I'm looking for brilliant bold intensely umami-flavorful and masterful cooking that would make the staff at Lucky Peach sit up and take notice and go there right now to write a feature article.

No restrictions of any sort, except that we don't want anything less than ecstatic. Would love your suggestions!! Thanks much!!!

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  1. Star Provisions, Howell Mill Rd. NW. Cheese, Charcuterie, Deli, house wares, Abattoir Restaurant, and a few more in a restored slaughter (house). Must See !

    3 Replies
    1. re: 3MTA3

      2nd that! Their buttermilk fried chicken is some of the best.

      For more traditional Southern/Soul, Thelma's Kitchen/Rib Shack on Auburn Ave is one of the best cafeteria/meat n 2. Ribs are smoky/sweet, and the fried chicken is light and crispy. Sides are seasoned well, not too salty or greasy. Lunch is the best time to go-late afternoon the food sells out or dries out. The building looks shabby-it's a nod to the building's earlier occupant and landmark, The Auburn Ave. Rib Shack. It's close to downtown which is a plus, Atlanta traffic is legendary.

      1. re: Pietime

        Ohhhh yeah! Lunch there instead of lame conference food, for sure! Love the look of Thelmas. Thanks!

      2. re: 3MTA3

        Sweet! That place looks amazing! Thanks so much!

      3. For BBQ, heirloom may be good bet - it's Korean-bbq "fusion" - take out only thanks to the county, Voted #1 in Atlanta magazine this year. There'll probably be a line to get in but not nearly as long as Franklin.

        1. Posts like these make me want to be even more of a curmudgeon than I already am (possibly to join our resident McKendrick’s/burger curmudgeon).

          Anything advertised as “life changing” has a high probability of being squashed under the weight of expectations. And for rattling off a long list of places elsewhere, sheesh, do a little research instead of asking for a spoon feed.

          That said, some somewhat-unusual things I’ve really enjoyed here:

          -Kerala fried chicken at Cardamom Hill

          -Lunchtime ramen at Miso Izakaya. As good as Momofuku? No. As good as Ivan Orkin? I don’t know- it was midnight and 90F when I had his, so I’m not even sure I enjoyed it.

          -Community Q. More straight-up Southern than Heirloom Mkt, and with an awesome array of veggie sides beyond the typical

          -Patak Meats- way out in the burbs; been there forever; every kind of European fresh/cured meat product you can think of east of France. Only open weekdays and the first Sat of the month and reliably has the longest lines of any food establishment I can think of in Atlanta. Ridiculously cheap and I don’t care whether the pig slept on a feather bed because their stuff tastes damn good regardless. You can get some stuff at YDFM (see below) like smoked liverwurst (!!!).

          Since the staff at Lucky Peach seem to cook in addition to eating out, I’d suggest checking out one of our amazing warehouse groceries- Buford Highway Farmer’s Market or Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market. Think Central Market in Austin, not the Union Square green market.

          I have not been to Franklins (though I have seen the Amex commercial with Nobu), but I have pilgrimaged to Coopers and OK Joes. I’m Teo Danger and I approve this message.

          1. 1) Why does everyone think Atlanta is a BBQ city?? I would skip this based on your stated objectives.
            2) I still love the total experience at Busy Bee. You may debate whether it's the best, life-altering fried chicken in the city, but the total Southern meat & 3 experience is perfected in my mind when you eat at the counter here. And they know their greens!! If you want fancier, then JCT is a great choice for fried chicken too.
            3) Empire State South's farm egg is something I'm still fantacizing about months later.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jboeke

              Agreed. I lived in ATL for 10 years, never had good BBQ there.

            2. TED heres definitionof what ou called me cur·mudg·eon (kr-mjn)
              n.
              An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions
              That sure isnt me,and i have to say im disappointed in your attempt at humor at my expense.Guess ill move on to another food site if thats the way Im viewed

              6 Replies
              1. re: bobstripower

                Hey, sorry. It was really just an attempt at humor. You'll note that I also self referred. I also resisted the temptation lately to respond to someone recommending Fat Matt's, which is just awful.

                I've been participating here for a really long time (10+ years). It's been a bummer to see how much participation for ATL tailed off around the time that it became it's own board. I guess folks just go to the review sites or reddit these days.

                Now, like salomesalami, you see folks with one post parachuting in to have someone be their travel planner. And I saw that post and it triggered a lot of that frustration. There isn't a ton of discussion (if I want X, where to go or what's new around Y that's good). And the same folks pop in with the same suggestions (kudos to jboeke on mentioning the Busy Bee- I haven't been in ages and need to find an excuse to go). And I saw the OP and it triggered a lot of that frustration.

                So, here's another Southern suggestion- Home Grown on Memorial. Only been once but I really enjoyed the meat and 3-ish menu. And I haven't been to Greenwood's in Roswell in a long time but I have fond memories of their fried chicken doused with honey-vinegar sauce. Oh, and pie.

                1. re: ted

                  ted thanks BTW we went to Priccis for our 45th anniversary--it was fantatsic really i had the lobster taco appetizer, and osso bucco--wife had the veal scallopini--both execllent then we had the baba rumcake as dessert,on them. Wines by glass list is also excellent. Ive been to Sotto and think Pricci is so much better.Dont know why morefolks dont mention it here--probably because its not "new", I go to NYC every year for a few days, and the best places there are the oldies but goodies

                  1. re: bobstripower

                    It's been many moons since I ate at Pricci- I remember thinking that you could do the pasta dishes and still have a reasonably-priced meal for a nice restaurant.

                    We get into a loop of only trying new-ish places because we get out so infrequently due to work/Chowpup. So, I get where you're coming from.

                    I made porchetta yesterday, and it would be really easy to get into the mode of saying nothing (at least meat-wise) is better than I can cook at home. But most of the time I don't have the time/inclination to do that. Also, cheeseburger sliders made from Publix chuck (2 min per side on grill) and their potato rolls (plus homemade half sour, dijon, ketchup) are pretty darn good with a beer and maybe baked sweet potato fries on a Friday night.

                  2. re: ted

                    Hi ted. Thanks for all the suggestions -- this is really helpful. I didn't mean to seem like a parachuter. I actually did a lot of research before asking my question -- read stuff on boards, asked around -- and was left needing more info, because I felt like there was a decent amount of ok stuff in Atlanta, but maybe not much really really good stuff, and possibly no BBQ worth eating (despite being a major southern hub).

                    It's often hard to tell the difference between decent and "life-changing" food just from reading recommendations, especially with the foodie explosion in the past ten years that's seen a proliferation of ok places masquerading as sublime, and fooling many. Like you, I find most of my peak food experiences these days by cooking at home. But when I travel, I want to taste a place at its best, and I've been burned too many times by misleading Yelp reviews, when I've been travelling and too time-pressed to research really deeply. So I tried to frame the question so that people would hopefully open up about peak food experiences, and wouldn't just recommend the usual "nice" restaurants that would be overpriced and underwhelming.

                    I too bemoan the decline of Chowhound over the years, and it's a sad thing, because Chowhound used to be populated mostly by hardcore ppl who would never self-identify as foodies, and were deeply sensitive to deeply wonderful food, prepared with love and skill and alchemical magic. I was actually an active poster to chowhound back in the late 90s when I lived in NYC, used to hang with Jim Leff sometimes and visit the fabled arepa lady, etc, and I'm really sensitive to the annoyance factor of those people who come on here and say "I want a nice meal in your city! Where should I eat?" I didn't mean to come across that way at all. I was just hoping for some juicy tips from a few folks on this board who still carry the chowhound spirit. And I thank you for your recommendations. And I will return here and post about what I've found, and my impressions, in hopes that others can be well steered.

                    A few more pointed questions now that I've researched even more:

                    Is Gunshow sublime, or just gimmicky? Is Barcelona worth a visit? Is Bacchanalia more of a "it's my birthday make it fancy" place than a "peak food" place? Would love any opinions on these.

                    Thanks so much!

                    1. re: salomesalami

                      I haven't been to Gunshow yet. Have heard mixed things from friends and reviews (maybe b/c it's such an odd concept).

                      I don't know that hardcore NYers will say good things, but I've really enjoyed The General Muir the couple times I've been.

                      Have no idea about Barcelona. And I haven't been to Bacchanalia in several years, but it was worth it then. The whole complex there, with JCT Kitchen (and esp. their upstairs bar if the weather's nice) is really cool for an urban warehouse re-build.

                      Generally, I don't know that I'm into Bacchanalia or Eugene except for the odd special occasion. Sometimes they're wonderful and sometimes you think "sheesh, I just paid $14 for a salad I could've picked from my garden." And yes, I have a copy of Dirt Candy and know where the money goes. I distinctly remember that feeling at Craft here before it closed.

                      I l-o-v-e Leon's in Decatur because it hits a great combination of quality/creativity and value in my opinion. I love what Holeman & Finch does, but it's a multiple price-wise and usually is so rich that my tummy rebels afterward. That you could hop from Leon's to No 246, The Brick Store, and Iberian there within a couple hundred yards of each other says great things about Decatur. They're all very different but each does its thing very well.

                      We've also had really good meals at Ammazza and Victory Sandwich Bar not too long ago.

                      Maybe it's just familiarity that makes it hard to apply superlatives. But it's still a great town to eat in.

                      1. re: salomesalami

                        if you are here on a Sunday go to theRizt Carlton Buckhead for brunch---they even have coiuple kinds of caviar,besides incredible meat/fish/shrimp et al--and mind blwoing desserts--its like 75 bucks but worth it.
                        Id be remiss is i didnt suggest McKendricks--its like Peters in Bklyn,realy that good
                        I lived for 4 years in Lexington NC the home of BBQ--and i find the Pig N Chick is very close--Bill is the owner and also lived in Lex--he makes his own dressing, one for NC and another SC, and then the normal run of the mill.If you go get the sandwich of pulled pork, hush puppies and ochre--its to die for.
                        And if i didnt mention it already Gu's bistro is the best Chinese, Szechuan in the city. Dont forget to post where you go,