(Our interactive map makes it easy to find an “Atlanta 50″ restaurant near you.)
> 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.HEIRLOOM MARKET BBQ 2243 Akers Mill Road, Atlanta, 770-612-2502
Take a bite of the spicy pork sandwich ($6.50) at Heirloom Market BBQ and you are tasting the future. The Berkshire pork from Georgia’s Riverview Farms first takes a dip in a marinade of Korean gochujang chile paste, then is slathered with a sugary rub and smokes for hours over hickory and fruitwood. It arrives chopped — a heap of crusty, black-pink porkiness on a toasted potato bun with kimchi coleslaw. How do you say “oink” in Korean?
The young couple behind Heirloom Market BBQ combine their divergent backgrounds with remarkable ease. Jiyeon Lee was a former teenage pop star in her native Korea before she came to America to study cooking at Tucker’s Le Cordon Bleu. Cody Taylor is a self-proclaimed “hillbilly” from eastern Tennessee whose culinary career landed him in the kitchen of Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. The two opened this slip of a spot in late 2010 and turned Atlanta barbecue on its nose.
Look for great sides, such as fried tofu with tobacco onions and chile glaze and an amazing melange of cabbage and black-eyed peas.HONEY PIG 3473 Old Norcross Road, Duluth, 404-476-9292
When this restaurant opened about four years ago in Norcross, it ushered in an era of dining I’ll call “Korean 2.0.” Instead of the homey, shopworn Korean barbecue joints of Buford Highway, we suddenly found ourselves descending on Duluth to shop in immaculate new Korean markets, eat shaved ice at pop-kitsch Korean sweet shops and check out all the really beautiful, elaborately decorated new Korean restaurants.
Honey Pig was the star of this scene from Day One, thanks to its bristling energy, young crowd and new-style menu. Rather than smoky charcoal grills with their splattering, burning fat we knew from barbecue restaurants of yore, we gather here around metal domes and cooked slips of pork belly, beef tongue, chicken and seafood until they crisp, then wrap them in either sleek rice paper rounds or slivers of marinated giant radish. How fun to drink beer and Korean raspberry wine as you nibble your way through this feast and waited for the grand finale. A server curls a whole octopus leg around the brazier to cook, then prepares a grand fried rice with all the leftover bits of meat, pickles and whatnot.HOLEMAN AND FINCH 2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, 404-948-1175
So many minds have already been blown by the food, the drink, and the insatiably bold vision of this influential joint, that I barely know where to start heaping praise. This is, after all, the jamming little tavern that brought craft cocktails, whole-animal butchering and — holla — the 10 p.m. burger to Atlanta.
Not content to rest on its lard-slicked laurels, the kitchen keeps upping its game. The house charcuterie assortment now includes lamb liverwurst, lardo (cured pork fat) and a veal terrine with puffed beef tendon. But if your tastes are a little less adventurous, the chicken liver pate with apple cider jelly still entices.
Can you think of any food you’d rather wash down with bar guru Greg Best’s inimitable libations?
The restaurant has recently started serving Saturday lunch, which has been an immediate hit with customers. The headliner: a Hawaiian-style loco moco (plate lunch), but not like any you’d find in Hawaii. This one has spiced ham, fried eggs, sorghum teriyaki and — oh, yeah — foie gras.
The foodie dreams (and livers) of Atlantans everywhere have been changed by this restaurant.KEVIN RATHBUN STEAK 154 Krog St., Atlanta, 404-524-5600
Set just up the block from Kevin Rathbun’s flagship restaurant, this steak house-plus offers one of the most bodaciously over-the-top menus in town. Dozens of appetizers, entrees and sides round out a full steak house bill of fare. You can certainly have a fantastic dry-aged porterhouse for two with a loaded twice-baked potato and creamed spinach if that’s your plan for the evening.
But you can also feast on pimento cheese filled bacon puffs, lobster fritters, venison carpaccio, a whole branzino fish, piquillo pepper risotto, duck in Grand Marnier sauce with foie gras and, well, you get the idea. This menu is huge and mostly successful now that the kitchen has learned to keep its excessive use of fat and salt in check.
The restaurant is huge as well. Amber lit, sprawling, with an open kitchen and one of those bars you never want to leave (folks routinely decide on dinner in the bar), it feels like the essence of high-energy Atlanta.KYMA 3085 Piedmont Road, Buckhead, 404-262-0702
You can find good fish specials on menus all over Atlanta, but things get tricky when you want to find a restaurant that focuses on seafood and really dives deeply into the soul of the ocean. That’s what makes Kyma so special in this town.
The most heartfelt of all the restaurants in the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, Kyma on one level serves the Greek-style food of owner’s Pano Karatassos’ parental homeland — a glistening-with-oil Greek salad topped with a wedge of milky feta, a jumble of tender plugs of never-frozen calamari with wedges of lemon, and a whole lavraki (Mediterranean sea bass) fish grilled just to the point where the flesh turns to soft flakes, with a lemon-olive oil emulsion on the side.
But don’t ignore contemporary dishes such as seared white tuna over an explosively lemony quinoa salad, and a pan-crisped skate wing with brown butter.McKENDRICK STEAK HOUSE 4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, 770-512-8888
Now might be a good time to stop deriding Atlanta as a “meat and potatoes” town and acknowledge that some of our best dining destinations are steak houses. The word means so much more than slabs of beef loin cooked in a high-temperature broiler. It signifies top-quality meat and seafood prepared with recipes that make sense, a wine list that shows depth and commitment and a service corps that takes its mission seriously. I had almost forgotten how brilliantly McKendrick’s fires on all fronts. Chef Thomas Minchella does such a smart job with his menu, giving it a gentle contemporary spin. For a recent lunch special he offered a rib eye cap (that flavorful crescent on the north end of the fat stripe) with two fat grilled shrimp and a drape of béarnaise sauce for a canny take on surf and turf. Then again, a simple wet-aged New York strip is the tender beaut you go to steak houses for.
His side dishes also thrill. Look past the creamed spinach to the fat cubes of butternut squash that had apparently been deep fried and blotted dry until they turn to vegetable custard.
Service feels so geared to anticipating the customer’s needs. When I walked in with a laptop slung over my shoulder, the hostess asked if I needed a table near an outlet.MILLER UNION 999 Brady Ave., Midtown, 678-733-8550
What makes this Westside restaurant such a prime example of state-of-the-art dining in Atlanta is the way it melds the talents and resumés of its two owners. Chef Steven Satterfield, a native Southerner, was the longtime second-in-command at Watershed, the iconic Decatur restaurant where Scott Peacock advanced the case for market-driven regional cuisine. Manager Neal McCarthy, an Englishman, was the general manager at Sotto Sotto, where he was charged with both a great wine list and an unusually informed front-of-the-house staff. Together they have created a miracle of tone, as friendly and low key as it is urbane and sophisticated.
It’s the rare restaurant where you trust both the Southern veg plate and the $60 bottle of Côtes du Rhône, where you can pop creamy grits fritters with cocktails at the bar, and also marvel at the layers of nuance in a plate of braised rabbit with kohlrabi puree, celery, tangerine and preserved lemon. Local architecture firm AI3’s celebrated dining room features keen farmhouse design in a warehouse space under the best lighting in the city.NAM PHUONG 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross, 770-409-8686
This Vietnamese restaurant cuts a dashing figure that is rare in a city dominated by bare-bones pho (beef noodle soup) parlors. The dining room beckons in the grand manner of a Chinese banquet hall, ornate and glossy with an air of wealth.
Opened by the mother-and-son team of Tieng and David Nguyen, Nam Phuong is already a sensation with Vietnamese diners, who pack it nightly. A growing crossover clientele comes as well, to explore the hundred-item-long menu and make new discoveries.
You should by all means try one of the bun hoi dishes — a do-it-yourself summer roll assemblage with your choice of fillings. In fact, go for broke. Nam Phuong’s Ba Vi “Three Delights” gives you the best taste of what this kitchen is up to. You get rounds of diaphanous, brittle rice sheets, a bowl of hot water to soften them in and gazillions of things to wrap inside. You moisten the wrap, lay it on your plate, then choose your delight from shrimp mousse grilled on sugarcane, house-made pork sausage or leaf-wrapped ground beef bundles. The waiter will help you assemble the first bundle burrito-style, and you will marvel at its self-adhesion. Then you will dip it, wolf it down and immediately want another.
A second location has opened on Buford Highway.ONE EARED STAG 1029 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, 404-525-4479
One Eared Stag has established itself as the prime destination for diners who love to experiment and try new flavors and ingredients. Chef Robert Phalen and managing partners Robert McDonald and Zoe Cernut (the trio behind East Atlanta Village’s idiosyncratic Holy Taco) have stripped the former Shaun’s space in Inman Park of its genteel veneer and devised an uncompromising menu to match.
Skewered veal heart, fried rabbit with parsley salad, grilled sardines and pole beans with apricots were but a few of the items that jammed to their own strange beats when the restaurant opened last summer. Oxtail pappardelle and Welsh rarebit with lamb belly count among the two dozen dishes on the current menu that you absolutely, positively won’t find elsewhere.
But if One Eared Stag delights you with its bold spirit, it may also frustrate you with its inconsistencies. The kitchen drops the ball at times, the service can be haphazard, and the pared-down rock-and-roll atmosphere is sure to alienate a segment of the dining public that needs more cosseting.
This isn’t a polished restaurant by any stretch, but it is often a terrific place to eat and a true destination.PURA VIDA TAPAS 656 N Highland Ave., Atlanta, 404-870-9797
Chef/owner Hector Santiago’s inspired small plates here reflect his Puerto Rican heritage, his fine-dining training and his lovingly whacked-out perspective. He makes celery root gnocchi and dots them with celery ceviche, lime, serrano peppers and fried cheese for a dish that seems light and rich at the same time. He smokes tofu to set on a calabaza squash puree and anoints it with pumpkinseed oil and pickled plum sauce, and your brain zings from Mexico to Japan. If there’s any problem with the food, it’s that you can keep ordering plates out of sheer interest rather than appetite, $10 here and $12 there, and not pay attention to the bill.
Santiago and his wife, Leslie, a co-owner and manager, made a smart decision in hiring Paul Calvert, the cocktail maven who make Sound Table such a destination for drinks. Calvert has one of the better bar palates in town, and he knows how to use the smoke of mezcal and the bright tang of fresh fruit juice to create flavors that tickle your palate and your brain.