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Mar 13, 2014 10:52 AM

Please Review: A Weekend in Atlanta

I'll be visiting Atlanta for 5 days / 4 nights and was looking for feedback on my food plan of attack.

Dinner - The Spence
After dinner - Porter Beer Bar
Late Night - Octopus Bar

Brunch - One Eared Stag
Dinner - Miller Union
Late Night - Clermont Lounge

Brunch - Holeman & Finch Public House
Dinner - Empire State South
Late night - Vortex Bar & Grill

Out of town most of the day, but I should be back in time for a late dinner at Fox Brothers BBQ or maybe Holy Taco

Lunch: Bocado
Light dinner before the airport: Arepa Mia

What do you think? My guiding principles are to experience modern southern cooking and popular local spots with folks in their late 20s / early 30s.

Other spots I had my eye on were Abbetoir, 4th & Swift, and JCT.

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  1. First, you have an excellent list, including your back-up choices. With that said, a bit of variety might be in order. You might try Umi or Tomo for sushi, Don Antonio or Antico for pizza, Bocca Lupo for Italian, Rumi's Kitchen for Kebabs. Finally, you should give The General Muir a try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SJMDownunder

      I second everything above, and highly recommend Umi for its scene with 20-30 somethings. Sit at the bar. Tomo is great too but only for omakase with Tomo-san himself.

      Rumi's kitchen is a better lunch spot, IME.

    2. That's a pretty good list. I'd gain about 5 lb during my 5 days if I ate that list.

      My only quibble is that I'm not a big fan of The Spence. Honestly, I'm pretty much over Richard Blais and his various "concepts." They're just too precious and associated-with-a-name pricey. We went to it and The Lawrence not long after they opened and like the latter better. That's been a while, but the AJC just did a followup and still recommended The Lawrence (not in comparison, like I did, FWIW):

      You wouldn't do too badly eating at Porter. It also would be worth it to make the trek a few blocks south and have a beer at the Wrecking Bar.

      Another thought would be to go to East Atlanta and try Argosy and/or The Earl. Thinking more in terms of what the cool kids do rather than mind-blowing cuisine, but Argosy was pretty good when we last went. That ties into the hood for hitting Octopus Bar later.

      And nothing's ever happened to me, but just be sure to keep your situational awareness up in L5P and East Atlanta at night. Stuff happens occasionally, so just pay attention to your surroundings.

      One other thought- you're hitting all the trendy places, but you might consider Buford Hwy for something Asian or for real Mexican. Thinking of Lee's Bakery or El Rey del Taco for example.

      1. This definitely reads like a Tour de Young Hip ATL Foodies ;-) Kidding aside, it's a GREAT list. Every one of those places has legions of devotees.

        I would vote Fox Bros. over Holy Taco by a mile.

        1. Without knowing what city you are coming from (no reason to do certain things in ATL if you have good versions at home) ... made some suggested edits for a variety of reasons (geographic concerns, quality concerns, etc...etc..)

          Friday in Decatur
          Pre-Dinner: Kimball House (oyster happy hour 5-7pm)
          Dinner: Cakes & Ale
          After dinner: Beer @ Brickstore (moved porter for geographic reasons)
          Late Night - Cocktails @ Paper Plane

          Brunch - General Muir
          Dinner - BoccaLupo
          Late Night - Sister Louisa's then Clermont Lounge

          Brunch - The Porter (HF works if you want the burger but you're doing bocado so pass)
          Dinner - Empire State South
          Late night - Vortex Bar & Grill (meh ... but it's sunday so why not?)

          Late Night Dinner: Gato Arigato / Jimmy's Hot Chx (


          Lunch: Bocado if you want a burger, Cafe Agora if you aren't getting the burger.
          Dinner: Grab Varasano's or One Flew South (both at airport) inside terminals.

          1. Thanks for your terrific replies.

            For some context, I currently live in Toronto and have also lived in New York City. My choices were framed by my general lack of exposure to southern food locally and during my travels. I'd like to get a sense of what's "hot" right now in the south to inspire my own home cooking, and increase my knowledge of culinary trends in North America.

            I looked at Bocca Lupo but feel that I've had a lot of exposure to terrific Italian both in Toronto and New York to not feel like I'm missing out on much by skipping Atlanta's best Italian. Same with sushi; Toronto is decent and New York was certainly above average. Unless Atlanta has world-class sushi, I don't mind skipping this cuisine.

            I'm trying to find a way to squeeze The General Muir onto my list. I might end up overeating to try it out.

            I would love to check out the Buford Highway. What are some suggestions for good Mexican and good North Western (Xi'an) Chinese? We've got great dumplings and Pho in Toronto, so I don't necessarily need to hit those spots unless they're life affirming.

            The only place on my list that I'm really questioning is The Spence. To be honest, I chose it mostly because it's close to my hotel and I don't think I'll feel like travelling too far by car right off the bat. Plus, I've never eaten at a Richard Blais restaurant. Dunno if Abbetoir, 4th and Swift, or JCT would be a better choice. I could even be talked into Bacchanalia if it's as good as comparably priced tasting menus in New York (Momofuku, Per Se, Daniel, Splendido, etc.)

            I'm really looking forward to trying the burgers at H&F, and Bocado. I've also read that the burger at One Eared Stag is excellent, but I might skip it in favour of other, more adventurous, items on the menu. What are the other essential burgers in ATL? Depdending on how much I drink, I might end up ordering one at Vortex, because YOLO (don't worry, I'm planning on waking up to go for a run every morning to try and mitigate some of the excess calories of my trip).

            I genuinely do appreciate all of the comments and suggestions, so please keep them coming.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Skeets

              Toronto and NYC are wonderful dining cities, and much better options generally for Japanese and Italian than Atlanta. And, whilst I love the Buford, there is no Xi'an or Mexican to write home about given your background. So, sticking with Southern or otherwise "special" makes sense.

              I would simply replace The Spence with the General Muir on Friday night, when they have a fried chicken special. Get that along with the deviled eggs for a great Southern/NY deli vibe. And for Monday night, I'd try a Fox Bros or Heirloom BBQ.

              Enjoy your time in Atlanta.

              1. re: SJMDownunder

                IIRC, Heirloom isn't open on Monday. I recall figuring that out the hard way at lunch one time.

              2. re: Skeets

                Toronto is a tough act to follow. I still think your original list is solid for someone coming from Toronto. You do want to eat at Miller Union and Empire State South. You may not be wowed by The Spence, but if it's near your hotel, then why not. I can't say JCT would be "better"--it may have more of that "Southern" flavor you're after, though. I haven't been to Abbatoir or 4th & Swift in several years, but I really liked them--especially Abbatoir's offal menu (which nowadays you have to specifically request). As for fine dining, Bacchanalia is the best we've got, but I suspect it may struggle to win you over if you've been to the NY restos you mentioned.

                You've obviously done your homework thoroughly, and you can't go wrong with anything on your list--or the Buddha's list.

                As for Buford Highway, you're intuition to stay away from Vietnamese and dumplings is correct--adequate but far from world class. But I would say you should hit Gu's Bistro for its stellar Sichuanese cuisine. For fans of Sichuanese, it may be the best Chinese option in Atlanta for them, and probably can hold its own against the best Sichuanese in North America. As for Mexican, I don't have a feel for what you can find in Toronto, but there are plenty of places to grab a perfectly good taco of more or less the quality you can find in, say, California or, for that matter, Mexico City. El Rey Del Taco has many fans, but there are others.

                I've always had a soft spot for the Vortex's burgers, and I'm a bit put off by the whole fancy burger craze. Yeah, the H&F/Bocado burgers are good for the thin-patty style, but I prefer, as Jimmy Buffet put it, a huge hunk of meat. In this style, some burger fiends prefer the Earl over the Vortex.

                1. re: LorenzoGA

                  Well thanks sir! :-)

                  Agreed re: Gu's.

                  And to clarify my thoughts re: the vortex, it's a good burger but the reason to go there is the kitsch (which i do love as Lorenzo does). i'm thinking that there are more than a handful of burger spots in NYC that can offer a similar experience.

                  1. re: foodiebuddha

                    Maybe not. After all, Vortex went all-bar when the City passed its smoking ban for restaurants.

                    I suspect there are few places left in NYC where you can eat a burger while infusing in cigarette smoke.

                2. re: Skeets

                  Yeah, Atlanta's best food options are few and far between ... especially when stacked against NYC & Toronto.

                  Agreed w/ u re: BoccaLupo. While i love bruce's food (he ran the kitchen at babo for a bit), you can find that where you're at.

                  I would wholeheartedly agree with your reservations about The Spence. Don't feel bad about not eating at a blais restaurant, he seems more focused on being a rockstar than a chef ... you'll almost never find him in the kitchen.

                  Abattoir is a good option but let's remember that you're coming from awesome food cities so i don't think anything in ATL will blow your britches up.

                  You're just wasting stomach space with a vortex burger ... if you want to toss out some burgers you like in NYC, it'll give me a better idea of where to recommend here.

                  Holeman has sadly gone to shit - the food hasn't been good since the first two chefs came through there (Adam Binderman of Company Burger and Ryan Smith of forthcoming Staplehouse). The drinks are still solid but with Greg Best no longer there (the owner and guy who started pushing the envelope for atlanta), I again think you're wasting your time.

                  Bacchanalia is owned by the folks who own Abattoir. Since you seem like a guy who is interested in getting a feel for a city - might i suggest that you go to Bacch for a cocktail. Sit at the bar (the restaurant is in the back of their little market), order a few items a la carte and then walk over to Abattoir for dinner. Sit at the bar, let heather take care of you.

                  Atlanta's cocktail scene is far better than our restaurant scene so if you want some more thoughts in that direction just let me know.

                  I still think Decatur is a great bet and would say that Kimball House's oyster program is on par with Maison's.

                  You are correct re: Sushi, our one legit spot was Soto and he packed his bags for NYC roughly a decade ago (he now has 2-michelin ... and while i don't think that the only arbiter of what is good), that should tell you how far atlanta has to go when we run great food out of town.

                  1. re: foodiebuddha

                    Wow - way to slam your town. No, Atlanta is not NYC and it never will be, nor should it. The cuisine and food culture should reflect the local populace and culture. So constantly comparing Atlanta to other cities is not only unfair, it's illogical. I believe people come to this board to ask for what Atlanta has to offer, so a negative post like this that says we have a few gems but basically suck is not helpful for visitors.

                    1. re: jboeke

                      Maybe you misunderstand. One of the best ways to help focus restaurant recommendations to a person from out of town is to take into account where they are coming from. For example, I wouldn't recommend a person coming from Toronto for a few days seek out Chinese dumplings in Atlanta. I wouldn't recommend a person from Los Angeles seek out Mexican food in Atlanta. Conversely, if I were a visitor, I suspect it would not be worth my limited time to seek out, I dunno, fried chicken or barbecue in Toronto or New York. I think this is a VERY helpful approach for making recommendations to visitors--to ANY city in the world, not just Atlanta. The OP seems to be focusing on sampling cuisine that is at least somewhat characteristic of this region while not wanting to miss any other notable places Atlanta may have to offer in other genres (e.g., Octopus Bar, Clermont Lounge, The Porter). If I'm correct in my understanding, I think he's got a solid list.

                      1. re: LorenzoGA

                        Perhaps, but when the very first line is "Yeah, Atlanta's best food options are few and far between..." and the last line implies that any talent we develop gets run out of town, I find it hard to read the input as helpful.

                        1. re: jboeke

                          Fair enough. I sort of overlooked the first line. I'm not exactly sure what the Buddha meant--I'm sure he'll enlighten us.

                          As far as Soto, as you probably know, it's a sore point with Atlanta sushi-philes that we lost him to New York. As I also suspect you know, it's long been been said that Atlanta has an inferiority complex, wanting to think of itself as "the New York of the South." Foodies are not immune to this sentiment. More generally, there is a history of chefs making a name for themselves in Atlanta and then leaving the city for opportunities elsewhere. Blais is in San Diego now--who can blame him? I don't know whether any were quite "run out of town," but they sure ran when opportunity in a more food-oriented city came calling.

                          Gosh, if you want to dig into the history of restaurant culture in Atlanta, it's a Pandora's Box from what I've heard--a relative wasteland until, what, just 20 years ago or so? I am admittedly a relative newcomer to Atlanta, having lived here a little over 10 years. The whole psyche of this city, including its restaurant scene, is pretty interesting to observe.