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Spring Dining Guide: About Our Star Ratings

Review by Jenny Turknett

Jenny Turknett is a member of the AJC's dining team

By Jenny Turknett

Both La Fourchette and Big Shanty Smokehouse received three stars by Atlanta Journal-Constitution restaurant reviewers; Table & Main and Burger Tap each earned two.

Ratings such as these reflect the ongoing national debate surrounding the issue of star ratings and restaurant reviews. Last month, when New York Times dining critic Pete Wells awarded one star to a burger joint, some scoffed at the notion that a casual spot could earn even a single star. Should stars be reserved for fine dining only?

Star ratings have been and likely always will be a contentious topic. Some critics advocate for the elimination of star ratings, finding it difficult to accurately represent their assessments graphically. In fact, the LA Times recently announced that star ratings will no longer be included with its reviews. Instead, it will offer a short summary box with each review for at-a-glance comparisons.

In 2005, the New York Post renounced the star system, only to reinstate it four years later. Are star ratings a necessary evil? Many readers desire a way to compare restaurants at a glance. Yet, once more we find ourselves marching into the land of comparing casual and formal fare.

We live in a time and a town where cheap eats are trending and pizzerias, burger dives and gastropubs abound. We’ve seen the closing of the guardians of fine dining such as Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and Seeger’s and the subsequent rise of Food Truck Fridays. In keeping with this pattern, at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, not only do we assign star ratings to pizza, barbecue and burger establishments, we have one reviewer dedicated to reviewing the casual beat.

Whether food is served by white-gloved waiters or from Formica counters, we judge all restaurants according to the same criteria: consistency, value, its ambitions and whether it qualifies as a destination. Each and every star signifies achievement. Under this system, restaurants like La Fourchette are judged using the same method as restaurants like Big Shanty Smokehouse. Yet, such restaurants are not pitted against each other in the process.

To the contrary, because the AJC’s star ratings assess restaurants according to what they aspire to be, they are judged against themselves and other restaurants with similar ambitions. That’s how La Fourchette and Big Shanty Smokehouse can both be evaluated by the same system and both earn three stars. The two don’t receive side-by-side comparisons, rather, we see how Big Shanty Smokehouse stacks up against spots like Heirloom Market and Beaver Creek Biscuit Company and Barbecue.

Discovering hidden gems

In such a sprawling and fragmented city, our star rating system unearths gems hidden in each neighborhood enclave and distinguishes destination restaurants — those worth a drive from anywhere in the metro area. Eateries earning two stars, like Home Grown GA, Chicken and the Egg, No. 246 and Sabor Inka serve their neighborhoods well with consistently solid fare. To earn a third star, a restaurant must qualify as a destination.

If you look at the list of restaurants reviewed since the rating system was revised in August 2010, you’ll notice that most have earned between one and three stars.

Our system favors hard-to-find ethnic cuisine, like Shami Kabab Afghan Restaurant, because with few options for such fare, it is worthy of a drive. By the same token, restaurants serving cuisine well-represented across the metro area, such as Table & Main, a Southern farm-to-table restaurant in Roswell, may suffer from this system now that farm-to-table restaurants have popped up all over town.

With so many neighborhoods and so many dining options, our restaurant reviews can guide you in finding those locally loved spots and those worth a road trip, whether casual or more upscale.

Where we’ve eaten

Here’s a list of restaurants categorized by ratings since the AJC’s revised star rating system took effect in August 2010.

5 stars:


4 stars:

  • 4th & Swift, Atlanta
  • Bacchanalia, Atlanta
  • Cakes & Ale, Decatur
  • Empire State South, Atlanta
  • Miller Union, Atlanta
  • Rathbun’s, Atlanta
  • Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta

3 stars:

  • Alma Cocina, Atlanta
  • Alpine Bakery and Trattoria, Alpharetta
  • The Bakery at Cakes & Ale, Decatur
  • Barcelona Wine Bar, Atlanta
  • Beaver Creek Biscuit Co. and Barbecue, Austell
  • Big Shanty Smokehouse, Kennesaw
  • Bishoku, Sandy Springs
  • Buckhead Diner, Atlanta
  • Cafe Restaurant Dominicano, Norcross
  • Cardamom Hill, Atlanta
  • Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, Atlanta
  • Folia Brazilian Steakhouse, Kennesaw
  • Golden House, Duluth
  • Grits Cafe, Forsyth
  • Gu’s Bistro, Doraville
  • Hearth Pizza Tavern, Sandy Springs
  • Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta
  • Holy Taco, Atlanta
  • Imane Moroccan, Duluth
  • La Fourchette, Atlanta
  • Local Three Kitchen & Bar, Atlanta
  • Manhattan NY Pizza, Norcross
  • Nam Phuong, Atlanta
  • Octopus Bar, Atlanta
  • One Eared Stag, Atlanta
  • The Red Eyed Mule, Marietta
  • Rise-n-Dine, Atlanta
  • Roswell Teahouse, Roswell
  • Seed Kitchen & Bar, Marietta
  • Shami Kabab, Duluth
  • Sufi’s Atlanta, Atlanta
  • Tofu Village, Marietta
  • Tomo Japanese Restaurant, Atlanta
  • Viande Rouge Steakhouse, Johns Creek
  • Vingenzo’s Pasta & Pizzeria, Woodstock
  • Wisteria, Atlanta
  • Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House, Doraville
  • Woodfire Grill, Atlanta

2 stars:

  • Bleu House Cafe, Norcross
  • Botekim Brazilian Bistro, Marietta
  • Burger Tap, Atlanta
  • Cafe Jonah and the Magical Attic, Atlanta
  • Chicken and the Egg, Marietta
  • Cibo e Beve, Sandy Springs
  • Crawfish Shack, Atlanta
  • Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Atlanta
  • Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, Atlanta
  • Double Zero Napoletana, Sandy Springs
  • Food 101, Sandy Springs
  • Grand Champion BBQ, Roswell
  • Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Atlanta
  • Havana South, Buford
  • HD1, Atlanta
  • H Harper Station, Atlanta
  • Home Grown GA, Atlanta
  • Inchin’s Bamboo Garden, Alpharetta
  • Kaleidoscope Bistro & Pub, Atlanta
  • Kozmo Gastro Pub, Alpharetta
  • Las Arepas de Julia, Lilburn
  • Lucky’s Burger and Brew, Roswell
  • Lunacy Black Market, Atlanta
  • Mama’s Pizza, Alpharetta
  • Mirch Masala, Decatur
  • No. 246, Decatur
  • Ormsby’s, Atlanta
  • Peter Cheng Cuisine, Sandy Springs
  • Phillippopolis Tavern, Smyrna
  • Pizzeria Vesuvius, Atlanta
  • Raku, Duluth
  • Ringside Franks and Shakes, Sandy Springs
  • Sabor Inka, Lawrenceville
  • Sapori di Napoli, Decatur
  • Sonny’s Place, Atlanta
  • The Sound Table, Atlanta
  • Sprig, Decatur
  • Table & Main, Roswell
  • Tempo Doeloe, Doraville
  • Three Blind Mice, Lilburn
  • Trattoria One 41, Johns Creek
  • Truffles Cafe, Atlanta
  • Victory Sandwich Bar, Atlanta
  • Watershed, Decatur (closed since reviewed)
  • West Cobb Diner, Marietta
  • Wong Kee BBQ and Peking Duck, Norcross

1 star:

  • 52 Bistro, Alpharetta
  • 2 Dog Restaurant, Gainesville
  • The Beignet Connection, Atlanta
  • Big Tex Cantina, Decatur
  • Caffe Fortunato, Marietta
  • Escorpion, Atlanta
  • The Family Dog, Atlanta
  • Gabriel’s, Marietta
  • Goin’ Coastal, Atlanta
  • Grinds & Wines, Peachtree City
  • Henry’s Louisiana Grill, Acworth
  • Horseradish Grill, Atlanta
  • Latitude Food and Drink, Atlanta (closed since reviewed)
  • Monkoltep Thai Restaurant, Newnan
  • Nine Street Kitchen, Roswell
  • Park Cafe, Duluth
  • Seasons 52, Dunwoody
  • Sinbad’s Feast, Johns Creek
  • Sip Wine, Milton
  • Southern Art Restaurant & Bourbon Bar, Alanta
  • Sri Krishna Vilas, Alpharetta
  • Ten Bistro, Norcross
  • Umezono Japanese Restaurant, Smyrna
  • Wildflour, Alpharetta
  • Yeah! Burger, Atlanta


  • Deckard’s American Tavern, Atlanta
  • Firkin & Gryphon, Dunwoody
  • Ocean Prime, Atlanta
  • Papouli’s Mediterranean Cafe and Market, Alpharetta
  • Pico Autentico, Roswell
  • Republic Social House, Atlanta



Return to Spring Dining Guide: Atlanta 50

6 comments Add your comment

observer 1

March 22nd, 2012
9:53 am

just a note. Rathbuns is in Inman Park, not the Old Fourth Ward. 4th&Swift is in the Old Fourth Ward. Thanks.

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[...] 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.) [...]

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Jenny Turknett

March 22nd, 2012
11:56 am

Good catch — updated!

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[...] 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.) [...]

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March 23rd, 2012
8:53 am

The biggest mistake that I can see in this list is giving Woodfire Grill a 3 start rating. Definitely need to revisit.

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tom snyder

March 23rd, 2012
9:30 am

Check out “Bite” in Johns Creek. Outstanding bistro and a byob until their liquor license comes.
Food is outstanding – serves lunch all week and dinner Thurs – Sat. It has become our favorite place for good food.

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