(Our interactive map makes it easy to find an “Atlanta 50″ restaurant near you.)
> 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.RATHBUN’S 112 Krog St., Atlanta, 404-524-8280
Look for faults at Rathbun’s, and you will find them. The bar has been slow to embrace the cocktail revolution, the kitchen has a few problems executing its massive menu, and the dining room on Saturday night remains one of the noisiest places on Earth. But this seminal Atlanta restaurant, which opened in 2004, still bristles with chef Kevin Rathbun’s special energy, and his flavors jump from the plate.
Eat a healthy meal another night, you’re here for braised short rib over spaghetti squash carbonara and custardy fried eggplant sticks dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Or maybe those excellent marrow bones with fig jam, or that luscious crab tart with creole mustard. You are definitely here for dessert, small enough in size that you need an assortment of these refined treats, which range from seasonal fruit crisps to the gotta-have peanut butter banana cream pie. Rathbun’s still gets my vote for the best dessert program in town.RESTAURANT EUGENE
Chef/owner Linton Hopkins is a restless sort — always tweaking, always finding new local products and producers, always researching Southern foodways and bringing it all to his table.
I’ve had many moments at this table that live in my mind as highlights of an omnivorous life. I’ll never forget the compressed disc of beet greens with smoked onions that Hopkins sandwiched between a turnip-buttermilk puree and a wild mound of mustard greens sweetened with blackberry juice. Nor his hot seared foie gras with parsnip puree, pickled sunchoke and a brilliant potlikker consommé — rich, resonant, zingy.
If anything, Hopkins is a vegetable whisperer. If the $40-plus price of his fish and meat entrees gives you pause, then don’t hesitate to sample his tasting of seasonal vegetables that will be a wonderland of color, flavor and texture.
Gina Hopkins, Linton’s wife, oversees an expensive but wonderful wine list that is sure to delight you with its grower champagnes and pinot noirs, both New World and Old World. She has a pretty unerring palate.
The down-side to Eugene, other than cost, is the kitchen’s occasional inconsistency. But know you’re eating in one of the country’s great culinary labs, a place that keeps Southern culinary traditions alive and vital.RUMI’S KITCHEN 6152 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, 404-477-2100
Owner Ali Mesghali, who has bopped around the Roswell Road Persian dining scene for a while, has landed in this narrow space that has the pleasantly cramped energy of a popular neighborhood bistro. There’s just enough glittering lights and shimmering fabric to suggest the mysticism for which Rumi, the 13th Century poet, is known.
As you walk into the dining room, you pass the open, tiled oven in which a chef bakes taftoun — the bubbly, crackly flatbreads you will eat far too much of during the course of the meal. Each order comes with fresh tarragon and mint sprigs, feta cheese, butter, radishes and walnuts. You’ll want to get an order of kashk bademjoon, a sublime eggplant puree with whey cheese and fried mint.
This restaurant is, at heart, a kebab house, so order a variety of kebabs and have them presented on a communal platter and sided by a mound of white and saffron basmati rice that’s so vast you could burrow in it.
Good Persian food, such as this, has flavors that aren’t merely clean but immaculate. Salt, lemon, yogurt, saffron, sumac, grill char: Each flavor comes through as a clear, stark chime.SEED KITCHEN & BAR 1311 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta, 678-214-6888
Seed figures among the cohort of exciting new spots that have goosed the northern perimeter food scene. It’s clearly the most forward-thinking in terms of its design, its wine program and its global larder.
Chef/owner Doug Turbush, who previously helmed the kitchen at Buckhead’s fusion-minded Bluepointe, has a particular fondness for Asian flavors, sharp edges and all. He shifts confidently from these to Mediterranean and then to Southern without losing the unifying tone and finesse that defines his style. Standouts include fresh fish preparations, such as salmon with goat cheese couscous in a sweet onion sauce and pan-seared flounder over Thai-spiced cauliflower and broccoli. And just when pimento cheese verges on overplayed, here comes Seed’s gorgeous pimento crostini with Benton’s ham and apple.
Considering the reasonable prices and the great choice of beverages, from wine to fresh juice, this restaurant bears exploring.SOTTO SOTTO 313 N Highland Ave., Atlanta, 404-523-6678
Is Sotto Sotto the best Italian restaurant in Atlanta? Yes. It’s a lovely urban space with its mottled splotches of paint on plaster-blasted walls. It’s not expensive, with only a couple of prestige wood-roasted meats breaking the $30 barrier. The service staff works like a BMW still under factory warranty.
And the kitchen remains so remarkably consistent. I know the bufula mozzarella with roasted peppers, anchovies and capers will give me that “hello, old friend” feeling every time because the mozzarella will be milk-oozy fresh and just cold enough to soften on the tongue. That seafood risotto — lush with tender shrimp, scallops, calamari and mussels — finds a place in my heart every time. The Italian wine list remains terrific, and the staff really knows where to steer you, whether you need a glass or a bottle.
Yeah, it’s a little loud. Even after owner Riccardo Ullio installed sound-absorption panels however many years ago. But you know what? This is a restaurant worth shouting about.SOUND TABLE 483 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, 404-835-2534
As the clever double-pun name suggests, this Old Fourth Ward restaurant from the team behind Top Flr and the brand new Lawrence has a dual personality — both a dining destination and a club set up to showcase the talents of visiting DJs. It’s a great spot to visit when you want a late meal composed of good cocktails and memorable small plates in an urban setting that will put you in mind of New York’s East Village.
Joey Zelinka has replaced the opening chef, and his menu bops around a lot of fun places. Try his grilled sweetbreads — nicely devoid of breading for a change of pace — with balls of fried boniato sweet potato. I really love his whacked-out spinach salad, set in a creamy puddle of curry-dill dressing and outfitted with pearl onions, chopped egg and tiles of Gruyère cheese. Buffalo frog legs, fat and meaty, need a little more than orange color and blue cheese dust to register as a chicken wing variation, but they’re still loads of fun with one of the house cocktails.
I’ve always liked the Stone Mountain, which blends cognac and apple brandy with pine and pear liqueurs. It’s like an autumn walk in an orchard with Charles Bukowski.SUSHI HOUSE HAYAKAWA 5979 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-986-0010
Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa’s little Buford Highway joint has a quality Germans might call “gemütlich” — a warmth and coziness that immediately makes you feel all’s right with the world. The bright lights and buzz of English and Japanese chatter will startle you as soon as you walk in. Staffers in Hayakawa T-shirts run about, and customers toast with tall glasses of Asahi draft beer and the dozens of craft sakes that Hayakawa plucks from the shelving behind the sushi bar.
You can order an expensive omakase (chef’s choice) meal here, but I don’t think that’s the way to go. Instead, read over the lengthy menu and the daily special cards, and ask for whatever appeals. I’d give equal opportunity to the kitchen and the sushi bar: Try broiled squid legs, miso soup infused with the flavor of shrimp heads and wonderful seasonal vegetables (turnip, kabocha pumpkin, asparagus) that have been lightly roasted with a sprinkle of Japanese chili seasoning.
Then ask what’s freshest at the sushi bar. There may be some live scallops in the shell, tuna belly and striped jack (shima aji), along with the sweetest geoduck clam you’ve ever tasted. Homesick Japanese people know to come here for some of the specialties that are hard to find elsewhere.TABLE & MAIN 1028 Canton St., Roswell, 678-869-5178
Table & Main has wasted no time in establishing itself as the most accomplished of the new restaurants revitalizing downtown Roswell. This canny renovation of a 1910 house takes full advantage of the front porch and bricked-in patio for added seating, while keeping the two interior rooms and wonderfully cozy side bar just this side of cramped.
There’s such good energy here, and such good service to back it up, that it seems an instant neighborhood classic. Owner Ryan Pernice really knows how to run the front of a very crowded house, keeping the mood spirited rather than shrieky. His partner, chef Ted Lahey, cooks the kind of Southern bistro fare that today’s Atlantans demand from their hot new restaurants. Fried chicken (crisp, juicy, and cut from a huge bird) and collard greens keep company on the menu with hanger steaks and wedge salads, and the kitchen strikes a good balance between homey and cheffy, between comforting and impressing.TAQUERIA DEL SOL
Some — not all — of us Atlantans find Taqueria del Sol the very essence of comfort food. We may watch our fat intake and eat only wild sustainable fish elsewhere. But we come to Taqueria to revel in those fish tacos with jalapeño mayonnaise and chase them down with chips and cheese dip — the latter covered in a fine dice of hot chile.
We love the Memphis pork tacos with their squishy barbecue sauce and slaw, we go nuts for the turnip greens with chile de arbol, and we know our kids will love the chicken enchiladas with lemon cream sauce. We love the fact the bill averages $10-$12 a head, making room for a really not-bad margarita.
Others people see long lines and ridiculous rules; we the fans know the line moves quickly, that we can get a beverage while we wait and we’ll bump into friends. You may roll your eyes when you find out there are no desserts; we know there’s always a bowl of navel oranges, there for the taking.TAQUERIA OAXAQUENA 605 Mt. Zion Road, Jonesboro, 770-960-3010
I first discovered this restaurant several years ago when I was hot on the trail of the elusive tlayuda — an enormous Oaxacan-style corn masa crisp slathered with bean puree and covered in a riot of cheese, meat and crispy vegetables. It’s a doozy: showered with marbles of chorizo, shreds of quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), ripe avocado, tomato, radish, frizzles of iceberg lettuce and roasted jalapeños. You rip off a hunk with the crust — which is alternately crisp, leathery, chewy and gooey — and you’re in texture heaven.
I have since learned the bodaciously long menu bears endless exploration. I’ve learned to love the tortas (sandwiches), sopes (thick and crisp-bottomed corn masa boats with fillings), caldos (whole-meal soups made with beef or seafood) and the fragrant handmade tortillas that come with each meal.
And, whatever I do, I don’t miss the Oaxacan-style chicken mole tamale, a sloppy marvel. Folds of floppy banana leaf hold steamed masa that’s as firm and cakey as cornbread crust in some parts and as tender as spoonbread in others.TASTY CHINA 585 Franklin Road, Marietta, 770-419-9849 (no website)
The story goes like this: Peter Chang showed up here and started cooking his hell-fired Sichuan fare. People went nuts. Then he left. People went ballistic. Then he came back and opened a fancier restaurant with his name on the door. People cheered. But the restaurant didn’t have the same juju. People went “eh.” Then he left, again. People yawned.
Meanwhile, Tasty China keeps cranking out those dishes we associate with Chang. And you know what? Fabulous, that’s what. That dry-fried eggplant with hot and numbing spices and tufts of cilantro has never been better — the surface all tingle and crunch, the inside like vegetal custard. I may have no dish in Atlanta that I love to inhale quite like Tasty China’s dan dan noodles with ground pork; they pop with peanut and scallion and thrum with hot pepper oil.
If this is your lasting legacy in Atlanta, chef Chang, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart.