Eat This Now: Atlanta's 30 Essential Dishes

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  January 23, 2017
Credit: Mia Yakel, Porch Light, Andrew Thomas Lee/Bread & Butterfly, Jinya Ramen Bar

Atlanta's dining scene is constantly evolving, with new restaurants popping up weekly. An embarrassment of riches is certainly a great problem to have, but diving into the vast array of choices can be overwhelming. If you want to know what the city's about right now, these are the dishes — mostly new, with some classics — that you've got to get out and try.

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    Kurobuta tonkotsu ramen at Nexto
    Chef Mihoko Obunai's Poncey-Highland noodle shop provides a range of creative dishes, but a good place to start is with the classic tonkotsu-broth ramen. In the bowl you'll find roast pork belly, menma (pickled bamboo shoots), egg and scallions, enhancing the rich broth and springy noodles.

    828 Ralph McGill Blvd. NE; 404-809-3763

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    Steak frites at The Federal
    This new Midtown spot from chefs Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere resurrects some of that simple bistro appeal that made the restaurant Shaun's such a charmer in the previous decade. The steak frites is a classic, available as à la carte or as part of a prix fixe happy-hour special at the bar. Served with mâitre d'hôtel butter and a salad of sunflower sprouts, it's a straightforward but well-executed dish that represents a great return to form for the duo.

    1050 Crescent Ave. NE; 404-343-3857

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    Crispy pork belly at Amara
    This Inman Park newcomer offers a pleasing mash-up of Indian flavors and traditions with contemporary American cooking centered around shareable small plates. This dish of crispy pork belly glazed with jaggery cane sugar and served over potato-poha hash with a soft-poached, 63-degree egg encapsulates what works best about the approach.

    870 Inman Village Pkwy. NE; 470-305-7405

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    Hello Kitty bento box at Tea House Formosa
    Is it gimmicky? Oh yeah. Is it the best bento box in Atlanta? Nope. But is it — thanks to both its intrinsically cute Instagrammability and its scarcity (with only 30 available per day) — driving Atlanta diners into a tizzy? You bet.

    5302 Buford Hwy.; 470-349-8105

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    Skillet cornbread at Revival
    The cornbread at Kevin Gillespie's Southern eatery — cooked in an iron skillet — comes from a recipe passed down from his great-grandmother. It's simultaneously dense yet airy, the hot crust giving way to a pillowy interior that's more cakelike than most. Slather on some honeyed butter and you're all set.

    129 Church St., Decatur; 470-225-6770

  • Credit: Jinya Ramen Bar

    Cha Cha Cha ramen at Jinya Ramen Bar
    Garlic lovers at this hopping new Sandy Springs ramen bar should look for this specialty, made with a rich tonkotsu pork broth, roast pork, a seasoned egg and veggies such as sprouts, onion, scallion and plenty of garlic atop thick noodles.​ Want to dig deeper into the menu? Check out our more extensive look at Jinya's must-try dishes.

    5975 Roswell Road B217, Sandy Springs; 404-600-6974

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    Oysters at Kimball House
    This handsome Decatur restaurant boasts the city's best oyster selection by far, and its weekday happy hour is a must-do for anyone who wants to see the city's raw oyster renaissance in action.

    303 E. Howard Ave., Decatur; 404-378-3502

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    Smoked tofu bun at El Super Pan
    A vegetarian delight from chef Hector Santiago's Ponce City Market food stall, this surprising sandwich delivers flavor, texture and satisfaction — basically everything you could want in a handheld bite. The smoked tofu is firm but creamy, with housemade gochujang that's tangy and slightly spicy, fresh herbs like dill and cilantro that pop, and candied pumpkin seeds that add crunch and an unexpectedly welcome sweetness. (Check out more of Santiago's dishes here.)

    675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE; 404-600-2465

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    Black spaghetti at Bocca Lupo
    Order plenty of the creative, contemporary pasta dishes at chef Bruce Logue's Inman Park Italian, but make sure one of them is the black spaghetti. Colored with squid ink and served al dente, the dish is made for those who like a little heat. Spice from the Calabrese sausage slowly builds, but it's balanced by sweet red shrimp and a showering of crisp, fresh scallions.

    753 Edgewood Ave. NE; 404-577-2332

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    Triple torta at Porch Light Latin Kitchen
    The raved-about triple torta sandwich at this Smyrna pan-Latin marries savory and salty flavors thanks to its trio of meats — short rib, bacon and pork shoulder —​ plus avocado aïoli and a fried egg.​

    300 Village Green Circle SE, Smyrna; 678-309-9858

  • Credit: Eat Me Speak Me

    Pretty much anything at Eat Me Speak Me
    Atlanta chef Jarrett Stieber has done things his way for years, nabbing a James Beard Rising Star Chef nomination and a 2014 Zagat 30 Under 30 honor thanks to his former semi-permanent pop-up in the back of the Candler Park Market. His current weekends-only spot produces some of the city's most exciting dishes. He's playful with plating, whether it's salad or seafood, and relies on hyper-seasonal ingredients for his ever-changing menu, so pop in and order what looks good. 

    1658 McLendon Ave. NE; 404-371-0889

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    Pastries at 8ARM
    Sarah Dodge, the pastry chef at this new Poncey-Highland cafe-by-day, restaurant-by-night, honed her baking skills at Spice to Table and Little Tart, and taught baking classes at Preserving Place. Many of the baked goods draw on flavors both seasonal and year-round, but the simple biscuits, cinnamon rolls and English muffins make for a great starting point. For more on 8ARM's menu and what to expect in the evening hours, check out Zagat Atlanta's First Look.

    710 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE; 470-875-5856

  • Xiao long bao at Yong He Zhi Jia
    With a mild, savory broth filling a dough that's on the thicker end of the dumpling spectrum, this Taiwanese newcomer has focused on the city's obsession with soup dumplings and become the go-to BuHi spot for xiao long bao. 

    4897 Buford Hwy. NE, Chamblee; 470-299-8929

  • Credit: Mia Yakel

    Pastrami-crusted rib-eye at American Cut
    The signature cut of beef at this tony new Buckhead steakhouse is the "pastrami" bone-in rib-eye, a 20-ouncer that's been dry-aged for four weeks. Lightly smoked, it's rubbed in garlic, ginger, coriander, pepper and other spices, then seared. Check out more of the menu in our First Look at American Cut

    3035 Peachtree Road NE; 770-415-9766

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    Lobster roll at BeetleCat
    At Ford Fry's nautical-themed Inman Park spot you’ll find a particularly fun lobster roll — one of three varieties on the lunch menu — served not on the predictable split-top hot dog bun, but rather as a hamburger. The lobster meat is poached in butter and served warm, with lemon, herbs and a healthy dollop of aïoli to grapple with before chowing down.

    299 N. Highland Ave. NE; 678-732-0360

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    Vietnamese crispy fish salad at Dub's Fish Camp
    This salad at Anne Quatrano's seafood place is one of the stars of the menu. Crisp, cool cabbage and veggies contrast with a hearty, moist and just-out-of-the-fryer piece of fish (whatever the day's catch is), topped with a tangy, fish sauce–spiked dressing. Peanuts give it a little crunch, while scallions, cilantro and lime add zip, and a few chiles spice things up.

    675 Ponce de Leon Ave.; 678-235-3929

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    Grandma Pie at O4W Pizza
    In its exodus from the Old Fourth Ward to the far suburbs, O4W Pizza retained its name and its exemplary pies while expanding its kitchen, seating and menu. Despite all the new varieties, this 16-inch pie, cooked in a cast-iron pan for a crisp crust, still sets the standard and has both OTP and ITP ​Atlantans flocking to try it. It's topped simply — just some fresh mozzarella, housemade marinara, pecorino, fresh oregano and basil — but perfectly. 

    3117 Main St., Duluth; 678-587-5420

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    Tebasaki chicken wings at Ton Ton
    The best item at this Ponce City Market noodle shop? The chicken wings. They come out of a deep fryer piping hot, then get tossed in a sauce of garlic, soy, sugar and other ingredients. The sauce caramelizes slightly, sealing in the juicy chicken while keeping the exterior sticky, crisp and delicious. ​

    675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, N151; 404-883-3507

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    Chicken sandwich at Richards' Southern Fried
    A hot chicken stall from chef Todd Richards, executive chef of White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails, appeared in Krog Street Market this past summer, replicating the fried chicken he perfected while at The Shed at Glenwood. Expect regular, spicy and extra-spicy styles, best ordered as a sandwich at the heat level of your choosing, topped with creamy pimento cheese and tangy chow-chow.
    99 Krog St. NE

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    Rolled ice cream at 8 Degrees Fahrenheit
    Even with chillier weather upon us, lines still snake out the door of this Buford Highway dessert spot. 8 Degrees offers Thai-style ice cream rolls made with a dairy-free liquid (largely soy) that's frozen at the eponymous temperature, mixed with flavorings and toppings, and delivered in a charming, tasty and decidedly Instagrammable presentation.

    5090 Buford Hwy. Ste. 101, Doraville; 678-585-3818

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    Pizza Carnevale at Amalfi
    Fior di latte mozzarella, fresh basil, crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a drizzle of imported olive oil might suggest a traditional margherita pizza, but this Downtown newcomer spins the Neapolitan classic on its head by creating mozzarella-filled dough pockets inspired, apparently, by Venetian Carnival masks. Among a sea of great pizzas in Atlanta, the result still stands out, tasty and decidedly nontraditional.

    17 Andrew Young International Blvd NE; 404-228-7528

  • Tacos on handmade tortillas at El Rey del Taco
    Atlanta is packed with must-try tacos, but this BuHi late-night favorite remains essential. Owner Martin Macias and his team cook everything to order with fresh ingredients, from standards like pork and chicken to more adventurous offerings such as tongue, tripe or cow cheek. Shell out the extra 25 cents for the handmade tortillas.

    5288 Buford Hwy. NE, Doraville; 770-986-0032

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    Crab cake at Noble Fin
    Every place serving crab cakes says they avoid filler, but Noble Fin actually means it. Chef-owner Jay Swift's Baltimore background shines through with this massive cake ($18), bursting with Maryland blue crab and served with simple Saltines and tartar sauce.

    5260 Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Corners, 770-599-7979 

  • Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee/Courtesy Polished Pig Media

    Pancakes at Bread & Butterfly
    This new French bistro in the Inman Quarter development has pancakes on both its weekend brunch and weekday breakfast menus — ones worth seeking out any day of the week. Sweet and airy, with a bit of an eggy chew, they're tough to beat. (But if you'd like to try, here's a roundup of some of Atlanta's best pancakes.) 

    290 Elizabeth St. NE; 678-515-4536

  • Tortelloni at Il Giallo Osteria & Bar
    There's a lot to like in the Sandy Springs dining scene, with a flurry of new restaurants bringing attention to the northern suburb. This Italian newcomer from chef and co-owner Jamie Adams is a standout, serving handmade pasta. The plump tortelloni, made daily, are stuffed with ricotta and wild greens and served with heirloom tomatoes and marjoram butter.

    5920 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs; 404-709-2148

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    Tartare at Cooks & Soldiers 
    This popular new Basque-inspired Westside arrival turns out a tartare that looks traditional, but isn't beef — and that's not an egg yolk, either. In fact, this entirely vegetarian dish (even the Worcestershire sauce is anchovy-free) has quickly become a signature, creatively casting cured tomatoes in the raw beef role, and creating a globe of carrot juice to take the place of the traditional yolk. The capers, onion and Dijon mustard? Well, those are just capers, onions and Dijon mustard.

    691 14th St. NW; 404-996-2623


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    Pork belly steamed bun at Suzy Siu's Baos
    If the pork belly buns at this new Krog Street Market food stall seem familiar, it's because they were perfected at Decatur's pan-Asian Makan ​(now rebranded and refocused as the ramen spot Taiyo), where they were a favorite on the menu. Rich slabs of pork belly are glazed with pecan sugar and served with pickled onions and herbs, making for one of KSM's most popular options.

    99 Krog St. NE

  • Credit: Heidi Geldhauser

    Charred octopus at Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar
    This starter at chef Doug Turbush's buzzy new East Cobb seafood spot offers a bit of spice from a piquant black pepper jam. But it balances both sweet and tart flavors thanks to a tangle of braised onions and a particularly clean, bright-tasting purée made from fresh and preserved lemons. (For more tentacles, check out our rundown of Atlanta's best octopus dishes.)

    4475 Roswell Road, Marietta; 770-635-7641

  • Watermelon bingsu at Orange Coffee Bar
    This cafe in Duluth turns out festively presented versions of the Asian shaved-ice treat bingsu. Depending on what's seasonal and available, you may find other melon balls atop a mountain of shaved ice, blanketed in sweet syrup, whipped cream and dessert beans.

    3473 Old Norcross Road, Duluth; 678-691-1646

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    Prime rib sandwich at The Mercury
    If you're a meat lover, check out this solid take on an American classic (available only at lunchtime). With a stick-to-the-basics approach, the sandwich sports thin-sliced rare prime rib on a crusty French roll, served with jus and horseradish cream, plus a side of fries.

    675 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE; 404-500-5253