Where to eat, drink in Atlanta
Heading to Atlanta soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for a classic fried chicken biscuit covered in gravy or the best Chinese food in metro Atlanta, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.
1093 Hemphill Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30318
This review of Antico originally appeared March 9, 2015.
Nearly every time I traveled to Atlanta in the past few years, someone would tell me I absolutely had to try Antico Vera Pizza Napoletana. Those recommending the place had varying tastes, but they all agreed it was the finest pizza in Atlanta if not the entire South. So intense was their enthusiasm for the wood-oven pies that I began to experience an internal backlash. Maybe I didn’t want to try the place because I was already sick of hearing the raves. I avoided watching The Wire for several years for the same reason.
But just as disciples of Bunk and McNulty were proven correct when I finally watched the five seasons, the Antico adherents were vindicated last week when I picked up a Diavola (sopressata, pepperonata and buffalo mozzarella) pie while passing through Atlanta. The crust really is impossibly light and perfectly charred. The toppings really are of such high quality that they seem decadent on such a common food item.
I knew when I walked in that I had found a place that catered to my particular sensibilities. The main courses were cooked by fires fed by wood. The posted hours were “11:30 a.m. until out of dough.” In other words, this was a pizza place that operated by the same rules as the best barbecue joints. And the trio of ovens that produced those pies inspired as much awe as a fully-loaded, custom-built smokehouse. The embers in the ovens produced an ethereal glow that promised a flavor no place that plugs in its oven could reproduce.
Those ovens delivered on that promise. My pie had the faintest stripes of char on the underside. On top, the cheese melted under chunks of spicy meet and whole peppers. The crust bubbled on the edges into a fluffy tube while still remaining hearty enough in the middle to hold the toppings and oil. That slightly sweet crust also provided the ideal foil for the fire of the sopressata and the peppers.
After one bite, I was hooked. After downing an entire pie, I knew I’d become one of those people who insists you try Antico because you simply won’t believe what you’ve been missing. I apologize in advance, but like those people who drove me mad with their recommendations, I’m only looking out for your tastebuds.
B's Cracklin' Barbecue
2061 Main St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
This review of B's Cracklin' Barbecue originally appeared Jan. 3, 2017.
I’ve made my position on barbecue sauce clear in this space. If the meat is cooked properly, it’s completely unnecessary. This doesn’t mean I won’t eat barbecue sauce or argue the relative merits of the various regional specialties. It means I won’t factor in sauce quality when deciding whether I recommend a place.
So if you’re in Atlanta, go to B’s Cracklin' Barbecue because the pulled pork is juicy and tender and loaded with bits of bark. Go because the ribs are moist and meaty and require the tiniest pull to come clean off the bone for the perfect bite. But if you happen to take some of that pulled pork and place it atop one of B’s delectable cornbread cakes and then you happen to drizzle some of B’s Peach Mustard barbecue sauce on the meat, I won’t judge you. If you happen to roll up that circle of cornbread and eat the entire concoction like the countriest taco the world has ever seen, I certainly wouldn’t blame you. That’s what I did on two recent visits to B’s.
Mustard-based is the option offense of barbecue sauce. The people who like it swear by it. Everyone else hates it. I fall in the former group because I spent the first seven years of my life in Columbia, S.C., the capital of the state and of the mustard-based universe. The first pulled pork sandwiches I ate came smothered in the stuff. (We were Rush’s people, not Maurice’s people.) It was my normal in my most formative eating years, so what comes as a shock to the palate for those who encounter it later in life takes me back to some of my happiest memories. But the best mustard-based sauces needed a little sweetness to cut the tang. Not honey mustard sweetness—that’s too much—but just a touch. That’s what the peach does in B’s sauce.
B’s pitmaster Bryan Furman is a former welder who opened the original B’s in Savannah, Ga., in 2014. The Atlanta branch opened this past September. His menu is loaded with the type of stuff common to barbecue joints in South Carolina and coastal Georgia. B’s is the only place I’ve found outside the Palmetto State that carries my favorite duo of side dishes: Brunswick stew and hash and rice. Brunswick stew, a thick, tangy mix of whatever is left over when the cook is done, warms the soul when done properly. B’s definitely fits the bill. Thick chunks of pork lend a smoky essence to the tomato-based broth. Hash and rice, meanwhile, is a rare delicacy for those of us who don’t live in South Carolina. At family reunions when I was younger, the men would crack beers and spent all night cooking hash. (This is not corned beef hash. It’s usually a mix of of organ meat and vegetables cooked very slowly into an ultra-thick stew.) They’d take turns stirring the pot and telling stories. At lunch the next day, that hash would get ladled over rice. Eating it was almost as fun as cooking it.
One bite of B’s hash, which uses meat from the hog’s head, transported me back to my grandparents’ house to play tag with my cousins as we struggled to stay awake to see the hash to its completion. The barbecue at B’s was worth every penny, but I would have happily paid double just for the memories that came flooding back.
Heirloom Market BBQ
2243 Akers Mill Rd. SE, Atlanta, GA 30339
This review of Heirloom Market BBQ originally appeared March 27, 2012.
Barbecue gets pigeonholed as a regional cuisine enjoyed by people with provincial tastes, and that stereotype exists because it is at least partially true. Every time I mention a joint on my Twitter feed, I get responses from people in other states claiming that beef/pork/mutton isn’t real barbecue and that mustard-based/vinegar-based/dry-rubbed is an unacceptable dressing for said meat.
This is foolish. It’s all barbecue. The only rule is that the meat must be smoked low and slow.* After that, all bets are off. So if someone happens to grow up in another culture and then introduces elements of that culture’s cuisine into the barbecue canon, it isn’t cause for barbecue xenophobia. It is cause for celebration.
*This is not to be confused with the grammar rules about the word barbecue – which are extremely rigid and important. Barbecue is not a verb. It’s a noun, and it isn’t a synonym for grill no matter what those Yankees Merriam and Webster say**. It mostly describes slow-smoked meat, but it can describe an event if smoked meat is the main course. If you attend an event in someone’s back yard and the host hands you a hamburger or a hot dog, you are not at a barbecue. You are at a cookout.
** Unless you’re Australian. Then you can call it whatever the hell you want.
So give thanks that Jiyeon Lee didn’t continue her career as a pop star in her native Korea. Be grateful that Lee studied at Le Cordon Bleu and met partner Cody Taylor while working in the kitchen of Atlanta’s since-shuttered Repast. This confluence of events has made it possible for diners to walk into Heirloom Market and order the spicy Korean pulled pork sandwich.
A pulled pork sandwich with slaw is standard issue in Georgia. A pulled pork sandwich that incorporates gochujang (a spicy Korean pepper paste) into the sauce and uses kimchi slaw is not. The mashup marries the best of Korean and Southern barbecue, and it adds several layers of intrigue to a staple that occasionally needs a kick. The Korean influences don’t stop at the sandwich.
The ATLiens who pointed me toward the place raved about the brisket, but when I arrived for a 1 p.m. lunch last week, all the brisket was gone. I considered this a good sign. The ribs, soaked in a gochujang marinade before smoking, were tender and didn’t need any of the three sauces (tomato-based, vinegar-based, spicy Korean). Still, they paired well with any member of the trio. The Korean fried sweet potato with black sesame seeds was a welcome change from the baked beans-and-slaw side doldrums, and the mac and cheese proved that Lee and Taylor aren’t willing to pass on a great, classic recipe for the sake of experimentation. (Though they did use shells instead of macaroni noodles, so maybe they didn’t want to be total slaves to tradition.)
Parking is an adventure outside this former liquor store, but this is a barbecue badge of honor. On my visit, the owner of the next-door convenience store helped guide me to a spot so I wouldn’t occupy one of the ones reserved for his customers. Lines can be long, and seating space is limited. None of this matters. The food is worth the trouble.
Asian cuisine blends well with barbecue because many of the main ingredients are so similar. Heirloom Market isn’t the first to fuse the flavors, but it’s notable because it merges them so well. Now, I’m waiting for a chef to open the barbecue fusion restaurant that I predict will take America by storm: Cuban barbecue. Just imagine smoked pork on Cuban bread with a side of maduros (fried sweet plantains) and moro rice. There must be some way to fuse smoked brisket and ropa vieja. Chefs of America, make this happen.
Until then, enjoy the dulcet tones of Jiyeon Lee and dream of pulled pork sandwiches that would feel at home in the east or the west.
968 Memorial Dr SE, Atlanta, GA 30316
This review of Homegrown GA originally appeared Dec. 5, 2016 .
There is a popular bumper sticker where I live that decrees “If Anything Can Go Well, It Will.” I hate this bumper sticker. The premise is ludicrous, and thousands of years of recorded history have proven it laughably incorrect. Yet saps slap it on their cars anyway. One day a few years ago, I looked up the genesis of this bumper sticker. Somehow, its origin story manages to be even stupider than the idea that if a positive outcome is possible, that’s what will happen.
The website run by the creator of these bumper stickers is now down—that didn’t go so well, did it?—but a Redditor typed in the backstory two years ago. This confirms I didn’t hallucinate this tale. There is a guy from the Orlando area named Gene. One day, he was in a bad mood because he wanted to go from one of his mother’s (multiple) houses to another of his mother’s (multiple) houses, and he’d forgotten the keys. So he had to drive back and get them. Along the way, he began thinking about Murphy’s Law. He decided if he took the attitude opposite “If anything can go wrong, it will,” then the Sisyphean task of driving an extra half hour might not seem so awful. Shortly afterward, Gene’s new philosophy was confirmed when his trust fund kicked out some cash. Gene’s Law was born. So Gene decided to create bumper stickers that idiots would later use to cover dents.
Yes, Gene. Things typically will go well when mom owns multiple houses and you have a trust fund. The rest of us have a slightly different experience. If we simply assume things will go well and don’t take the action required to make things go well, then the world will beat us mercilessly. Your bumper stickers don’t usually adorn many new or expensive cars for a reason.
What does this have to do with food? I was thinking about Gene’s Law as I drove through Atlanta recently. I was in a bad mood for a silly reason, so I cycled through the possible solutions to put myself in a more optimistic frame of mind. Blindly assuming everything would go well obviously wasn’t a choice. I needed a more tangible option. Fortunately, Homegrown GA was only a few miles away.
The most popular item on the menu at Homegrown GA is the Comfy Chicken Biscuit. A tote board just to the left of the counter of this diner/Five-and-Dime store counts how many the place has served since it opened, and that number continues to skyrocket. The concept is simple. A fried chicken breast sits atop an open-faced biscuit. Chicken and biscuit are then covered in milk gravy. There is no fancy twist, no chef trying to take ownership of the dish by inserting kale or truffle oil. It’s just a fried chicken biscuit covered in gravy, and it’s beautiful.
But that isn’t all you should order. To truly eat all your feelings, add a side of cheddar chili home fries. I get that some of you vehemently dislike home fries, but that doesn’t mean I have to care or understand. Home fries are just potato chunks cooked in whatever seasoning is left in the pan after the main course is finished. They’re no better or worse than hash browns, and they’re especially adept at soaking up chili without getting soggy. The home fries at Homegrown GA had a crisp, tasty crust that paired perfectly with the fiery chili. This dish would have made an excellent main course had it not come alongside an even better one.
The meal was the ultimate mood booster. I left feeling much fatter yet considerably lighter. So I’m decreeing that from this point forward, Andy’s Law will be this: Everything may go wrong, so just eat biscuits and gravy. Now let’s go make some bumper stickers.
The Silver Skillet
200 14th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318
This review of the Silver Skillet originally appeared Nov. 9, 2015.
This is a brunch town, but I am a breakfast person. So when I found myself on the ground at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on Friday morning with no particular timetable to get to Birmingham— where I’d be staying the night before LSU-Alabama—I knew exactly where to go. I didn’t want a festive take on eggs Benedict. I didn’t want salmon-stuffed anything. I wanted breakfast. So I drove to The Silver Skillet, where they have served a frill-free most important meal of the day since 1956.
I was lucky. Had I come a day earlier, the place would have been closed to accommodate a film crew. On Friday, it was back to business as usual. Within minutes of arriving, I had country ham with red-eye gravy and a chicken biscuit sitting in front of me. The waitress asked if I’d like more biscuits. Of course I wanted more of those perfect, fluffy miracles. I couldn’t just dip my ham in that red-eye gravy.
At some of those fancier places, they would call red-eye gravy something pretentious like “country ham jus.” At The Silver Skillet, they call things what they are. There’s free parking across the street courtesy of The Moose Lodge. You can listen to the staff tell stories across the bar.
Waitress No. 1: You got a snake in your house?
Waitress No. 2: Yeah, but it was just a little one.
The country ham might be a little on the salty side, but it’s supposed to be. There is always more coffee, and there are always more biscuits. It’s heaven, and if you do it properly, you won’t need to eat again for the rest of the day.
Of course I did eat again on Friday. After going old-school in the morning, I went trendy that night. Former SI colleague Stewart Mandel, who lives in the Bay Area now, thought he’d been transported back to Brooklyn when he walked into Ollie Irene* in the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook. “Everyone here is dressed like they’re in Mumford and Sons,” Mandel said upon arrival. Hipster taint aside, the place made fantastic food. Mandel loved his Korean barbecue ribs, and my catfish sautéed with lemon butter and cajun ham was outstanding. Next time, though, we’re ordering the truffle butter burgers that aren’t on the menu. We didn’t learn about them until after we’d ordered them, and the ones that arrived at the next table over basically guaranteed a return trip the next time work brings me to Birmingham.
Of course, I’d also go back just for the flourless bourbon chocolate cake. Every bite exploded with a brown liquor-tinged, semisweet joy. It was rich enough to spilt but too delicious to share, and it went down smooth with the shot of vanilla milk that made me too happy to be mad that no one had told me about that burger earlier.
3940 Buford Hwy, Duluth, GA 30096
This review of Masterpiece originally appeared Dec. 27, 2016.
I had almost reached my destination when I saw the smoke. It billowed across Buford Highway and seemed out of place early on a Sunday afternoon. It smelled faintly of barbecue, but the volume seemed far too great for a restaurant. As I drove past the sprawling Duluth, Ga., complex that looked a little like a place where they might build missiles, the horror washed over me. This was the place where frozen barbecue gets cooked.
It’s called Suzanna’s Kitchen, and while I’m sure Suzanna is a perfectly nice person, barbecue wasn’t meant to be cooked in thousand-pound batches and vacuum sealed into 20-pound packages so it can live for months in a grocery store’s freezer. Barbecue is meant to be eaten as soon as it is cooked, which is why the best places open when the meat is done and close when they run out. Sure, the average person doesn’t have 16 hours to smoke a pork shoulder, but buying frozen barbecue isn’t the solution. There are plenty of reasonably priced meats that can be cooked quickly and taste wonderful. Cook those instead. Then visit your local barbecue joint for a fix. The plumes of smoke pouring out of Suzanna’s told me this advice is not being heeded.
I wasn’t in Duluth for mass-production barbecue, though. I’d come to find a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. Masterpiece has been called the best Chinese food in metro Atlanta and possibly the best in the South. The chefs cook Sichuan style, which means some of the dishes are so hot that they’ll leave the lips tingling. Despite the location, this is not a place to order the General Tsos Chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. It is, however, the perfect place to remember that not everyone is content to mass produce the same old slop.
While I waited for my Dong-po pork and a sichuan beef pot, I glanced down at my phone. A friend had pointed to a story in The New Yorker called “Our Automated Future.” I clicked and read about new advances in artificial intelligence that won’t create Skynet but probably will create another industrial revolution. Many of our industries will be disrupted, and a lot of us will have to adjust to stay employed.
The staff at Masterpiece probably won’t have to adjust, though. No one has invented the robot that understands why blocks of perfectly cooked pork belly swimming in a dark, nutty wine sauce satisfy so thoroughly. No machine can imagine how that sauce and that pork feel when cradled in a forkful of soft rice. And while the robots seem perfectly suited to take over the cooking of the pulled pork on the other side of Buford Highway, they probably couldn’t make that beef pot. Their programming would tell them that the average diner doesn’t want his mouth to throb after each bite. But their circuitry wouldn’t understand that tender, hearty beef in sauce that lights the mouth ablaze also lights the soul.
The hot green tea couldn’t quite calm my taste buds, but it didn’t matter. Every bite struck a blow for humanity.
1350 Buford Hwy NE, Buford, GA 30518
This review of Praise The Lard originally appeared April 10, 2017.
To put it in football terms, I backed up the barbecue joint I’m reviewing against its own goal line by showing up at 8:10 p.m. This violates one of my bedrock barbecue guidelines: Always go for lunch. Meat that takes hours to cook tends to be ready when the place opens. Go for dinner, and you’re putting yourself and the restaurant in a difficult spot. Go for a late dinner, and you’re asking to be disappointed. But I couldn’t resist. I was only in Buford for a night, and I’m a sucker for a great name. That’s how I wound up walking into Praise The Lard Barbecue 50 minutes before closing time.
Praise The Lard might be the best barbecue joint name in America. I also love Meat U Anywhere in Grapevine, Texas, and Cattleack Barbecue in Dallas. In the non-barbecue division, Austin’s Juan In A Million and Pho Shizzle in Renton, Wash., rank high. It would be wise for the proprietors at Praise The Lard to keep more size extra large T-shirts in stock. With a name that good, they can do a booming business selling gear. Fortunately, they can do a much bigger business selling barbecue.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Praise The Lard drove 99 yards against my appetite. Was everything perfect? Of course not. But that’s my fault for arriving when I did. Discovering a life hack to create the world’s most decadent pulled pork sandwich made up for any lateness-induced shortcomings.
Even at that late hour, the spare ribs and pulled pork lived up to the credo on Praise The Lard’s website. The place brags that its meat doesn’t need sauce, and these certainly didn’t. The spare ribs were moist and came off the bone with a slight pull. They were sprinkled with a spicy rub that gave the meat a kick but didn’t overpower it. Praise The Lard took a similar tack with the pulled pork, which was juicy but not greasy. That pork also had a slight spike in spice that set it apart from the average piles of pig at most places.
Don’t bother with the brisket. (It’s Georgia, so you shouldn’t expect much from anyone selling brisket.) Do try the turkey, which was excellent and would have been even better at lunch. Skip the Brunswick Stew, which the menu notes does not include lima beans. The menu does not advertise how sweet the stew is. My guess is the owners would explain that this is a feature rather than a bug. My tastebuds beg to differ.
Do order the grit cakes as a side. They’re amazing as offered, but they can be conscripted to provide the backbone of a truly decadent sandwich. What’s a grit cake? Take cooked grits and then season them properly with butter, salt and pepper. (There are no bad grits — only grits that weren’t prepared correctly.) Next, form the grits into cakes and fry them in oil. Praise The Lard makes perfect grits before frying the cakes, so by themselves the grit cakes make an addictive side. But before devouring those cakes, do me a favor. Pile some pulled pork on one cake and then slap the other cake on top. Now take a bite.
6912 Mableton Pkwy SE, Mableton, GA 30126
This review of Taco Prado originally appeared July 11, 2016.
The mechanics of this job require me to fly to Atlanta and drive west on Interstate 20 relatively often. Nearly every time I’ve done that, I’ve been hungry. If I’m headed that way, I’m usually facing too much of a time crunch to go into Atlanta and eat. This eliminates a bevy of wonderful places and leaves a long corridor of chains. I don’t eat much fast food—except on this particular drive. When Wendy’s introduced the pretzel bun, I tried it on this drive. When Chick-fil-a began selling grilled nuggets, I tried them on this drive. But every time I pulled through a drive-through, I longed for a better meal from a local spot. I just never took the time to look.
Sunday, I had an hour to kill. As the Atlanta skyline grew smaller in the rearview, I clicked on the Yelp app and pressed “Nearby.” For a while, it kept pointing me back to places in Atlanta. But that wasn’t the goal here. The place had to be outside the perimeter. After a few minutes, the app told me I was two miles from a place called Taco Prado. Good tacos rarely fail to make me happy, so I pulled off the interstate near Six Flags Over Georgia and headed a few minutes north to Mableton.
Taco Prado sits next to a transmission shop on a stretch of Mableton Parkway. It looks like every local Mexican restaurant in every small town in the South—Casa Kitsch. It does not, however, serve tacos like every local Mexican restaurant in every small town in the South. Most small-town Mexican places in this part of the country still concentrate on the lunch or dinner plate. Some carbohydrate is filled with a protein, smothered in cheese and served with a side of rice and beans. Taco Prado serves those plates, but is first and foremost a taqueria. This is a common concept in every city in the southwest and most of the larger cities throughout the country. It still isn’t common in the small-town South. Thanks to places like Austin-based Torchy’s Tacos, the taqueria is the next wave of fast casual. Once every city in America gets a Panera Bread, the next step will be a chain taqueria.
Mableton won’t need one because Taco Prado already has tacos covered. For less than $14 I got six tacos and a large drink. I ordered two of the al pastor (pork), one of the carne asada (grilled steak), one of the chorizo, one of the barbacoa (shredded beef) and one lengua (beef tongue). At those places I mentioned above, this probably would have cost me twice as much.
All of them came on grilled corn tortillas—flour was an option, but why bother?—and I had a cup of a the fiery house-made salsa at the ready in case any of them needed rescuing. Only one did. The rest required no adornment, though a drizzle of that salsa certainly didn’t detract. The al pastor featured juicy chunks of pork simmered in a tangy sauce. The barbacoa was moist and packed serious heat even without the salsa. The carne asada took the salsa the best. Meanwhile, the lengua tasted like the best part of a great beef stew. Except it came taco form, which made it infinitely better. The chorizo was the only taco I wouldn’t recommend. The meat was dry and overcooked, so skip that one and triple down on the al pastor or double down on the tongue.
Before you leave, spend the extra $1.50 and grab a mango pop from the freezer. You’ll be full. Your sweet tooth will be satisfied. You’ll have spent less than $20. You’ll be back on the interstate in five minutes.
So sorry, fast food chains on I-20 between Atlanta and Birmingham. We won’t be seeing much of each other anymore. Unless you can find a way to make a better tongue taco for less than $3, we’re through.