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The last time I summoned the sheer chutzpah to propose a list of metro Atlanta’s top 50
restaurants, the year was 2004. Back then many of the best restaurants were also the most ambitious ones. Scouting out the talented chefs who used top-tier ingredients meant going to a lot of places with tablecloths and ice-filled wine buckets.
That hierarchy has collapsed, and I have to say it makes this quest a lot more rewarding. Today you can eat great food in scores of casual joints, in bars where you shout over head-banger music, in revitalized neighborhoods throughout the metro area, in farmers markets and at food truck rallies.
All across Atlanta, I have witnessed the doctrine of manifest yumminess. (Find an “Atlanta 50″ restaurant near you with our interactive map.)
So how do you choose 50 from this bounty?
You eat and eat, and eat some more. But first you must decide what doesn’t belong.
I chose to stay away from restaurants outside the metro area (sorry, Athens) and restaurants that only serve late at night (like Octopus Bar) or on weekends (Quinones at Bacchanalia).
I avoided some very good places that suffer from inconsistency and others that are too similar to better spots nearby. I tried as best as I could to provide a variety of styles and cuisines.
I’m still looking for a French, Thai or Middle Eastern spot to merit a place on this list. I’m sorry to the worthy Italian and Japanese restaurants that were edged out.
I did not limit it to only those places that we’ve rated three stars and above but instead made room for two-star restaurants — such as Roswell’s Table & Main and Lilburn’s Three Blind Mice — that add so much to their communities and connect so well with their fans. It’s not an ITP or an OTP thing, it’s a looking-like-Atlanta thing.
Some restaurants that I had not previously rated, but have visited at least twice, now get a rating.
Two previously rated places got a bump. Atlanta’s Heirloom Market BBQ deserves three stars as a citywide destination for its inimitable fusion barbecue. Miller Union has grown into a defining restaurant for today’s Atlanta and it deserves a fourth star. (A guide to our star ratings and a list of the restaurants we’ve rated.)
No restaurant on this list lost a star. Yay!
I hope you enjoy this list and can use it as a guide when you travel throughout metro Atlanta. As you can see, there’s lots to explore.
(Restaurant capsule reviews listed in alphabetical order.)
> 4th & Swift, Atlanta; Abattoir, Atlanta; Antico Pizza Napoletana, Midtown; Aria, Buckhead; Bacchanalia, Midtown; Barcelona Wine Bar, Atlanta; Bistro VG, Roswell; Bocado, Midtown; Bone’s, Buckhead; Busy Bee Cafe, Atlanta.
> Cafe Restaurant Dominicano, Norcross; Cakes & Ale (restaurant and bakery), Decatur; Canoe, Atlanta; Cardamom Hill, Atlanta; Community Q BBQ, Decatur; Empire State South, Midtown; Desta, Atlanta; Ecco, Atlanta; Golden House, Duluth.
> Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta; Honey Pig, Duluth; Holeman and Finch, Atlanta; Kevin Rathbun Steak, Atlanta; Kyma, Buckhead; McKendrick Steak House, Dunwoody; Miller Union, Midtown; Nam Phuong, Norcross; One Eared Stag, Atlanta; Pura Vida Tapas, Atlanta.
> Rathbun’s, Atlanta; Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta; Rumi’s Kitchen, Sandy Springs; Seed Kitchen & Bar, Marietta; Sotto Sotto, Atlanta; Sound Table, Atlanta; Sushi House Hayakawa, Doraville; Table & Main, Roswell; Taqueria del Sol, three metro locations; Taqueria Oaxaquena, Jonesboro; Tasty China, Marietta.
> Three Blind Mice, Lilburn; Tofu Village, Marietta; Tomo Japanese Restaurant, Buckhead; Umaido, Suwanee; Varasano’s, Atlanta; Viande Rouge Steakhouse , Johns Creek; Vingenzo’s, Woodstock; Woodfire Grill, Atlanta; Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House, Doraville; World Peace Cafe, Sandy Springs.
> BEHIND THE ATLANTA 50: AJC chief dining critic John Kessler has spent the past three months researching this dining guide by revisiting potential “top 50” restaurants at a breakneck pace that would put members of any competitive eating league to shame.
Many of the places he revisited made the “Atlanta 50” cut, and many others did not. He downed Sichuan dan dan noodles in his car, ate Ethiopian food for breakfast and brought his editor leftover steak in exchange for a busted deadline or two.
> Where We’ve Eaten: All Our Restaurant Reviews Since 2010
> First Look: Recently Opened Restaurants
> Fall 2011 Dining Guide: Distinctive Culinary Voices
> Spring 2011 Dining Guide: Splurges and Destinations
> A Night On The Town: Our Complete Food, Restaurant and Nightclub Guide