Atlanta's 10 Most Important Restaurant Openings of 2016

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  December 19, 2016
Credit: 9 Mile Station; Bread & Butterfly/Andrew Thomas Lee; Mia Yakel; Concentrics

The past year was a big one for the Atlanta culinary scene, with long-anticipated restaurants opening alongside surprise newcomers. Some made an immediate impact, while others are slowly but steadily winning the city's hearts. These 10 spots — specializing in everything from BBQ to seafood to ramen — all influenced the way we dine out in 2016.

  • 8ARM
    Chefs Angus Brown and Nhan Le grabbed the attention of the Atlanta culinary world five years ago with Octopus Bar, the brash, inventive late-night restaurant in East Atlanta Village that often seemed like it was geared to delight chefs and other industry workers. They next set up shop, offering New American food drawing on seasonal Southern cooking with occasional Asian influences, at Lusca, an excellent South Buckhead eatery that nonetheless closed after two years. Now Brown, Le and pastry chef Sarah Dodge (also a food photographer who's worked with Zagat) have teamed up for 8ARM, a hip spot in the shadow of the Beltline and Ponce City Market that's quickly been embraced by the city's creative community.​ It's a casual cafe by day, a focused New American restaurant by night and proof that talent can bounce back in surprising ways.
    Must-order: Breakfast biscuit sandwich

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

  • 9 Mile Station
    The crown jewel atop Ponce City Market is this open-air, indoor/outdoor beer garden with killer city views. Some have grumbled that inaccessibility due to a Byzantine reservation-with-deposit system makes it not nearly as democratic as the best beer halls out there, and they're right. But still, we'll take a rooftop garden with an emphasis on local brews and Euro-influenced fare, even if it means it's more of a special-occasion kind of spot rather than a neighborhood hang. (It's also new, so we wouldn't be surprised if 2017 sees a change when it comes to booking.) 

    Must-order: Bratwurst and a Georgia beer

    675 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE; 770-999-1532

  • Credit: Dan Durnell

    Like Grain and Little Trouble last year, Amer proved how rewarding it can be when a place opens up with the primary goal of being an excellent bar, albeit one with great food. Much of the cocktail scene in Atlanta is dominated by bars inside restaurants, so when a standalone spot like this intimate Inman Park charmer opens up with elegant drinks courtesy of beverage director Matt Welch and company, the city should take note. 

    Must-order: The Bling Machine cocktail, made with vodka, lemon, vanilla, ginger, orgeat and mint

    299 North Highland Ave. NE; 404-600-5895

  • Bread & Butterfly
    This all-day Francophile bistro aims to please many types of appetites, and does so with aplomb in a bright, cheery place that's a welcome counterbalance to the spate of stylish yet dark locales that do their best work at night. Chef-owner Billy Allin and his team have created a welcoming space that excels at French bistro classics, but also turns out terrific renditions of American dishes, from burgers to pancakes. Any neighborhood would be lucky to have a place like Bread & Butterfly; Inman Park certainly is, and adds it to its long and growing list of riches. (And, yes, while the restaurant technically opened in the final weeks of 2015, it still qualifies for this year's list.)

    Must-order: Pancakes at breakfast or brunch

    290 Elizabeth St. NE; 678-515-4536

  • Credit: Brush Sushi Izakaya

    Brush Sushi Izakaya
    This Japanese arrival proved that high-end sushi restaurants need not exist only in the more tony parts of town, and that a location in Decatur can draw diners willing to shell out for quality. (Don't worry, those on a budget can find more affordable selections on the menu, ranging from noodles to robata-grilled chicken wings.) We'd be happier to see a wait out the door a little more often, but it's definitely making a splash — and a statement.

    Must-order: The chef's favorite catch of the day

    316 Church St., Decatur; 678-949-9412

  • The Greater Good BBQ
    It's not so much whether the Greater Good's newest outpost is the city's best barbecue (good luck with that never-ending argument), but it's the setting at a corner of Hosea Williams and Second Avenue that's so heartening, given that the intersection between the Kirkwood and East Lake neighborhoods sat desolate for years. This BBQ joint was the first restaurant to revive it, and more are on the way in 2017 (watch for New American spot Scout).

    Must-order: Potato skins stuffed with pimiento cheese and barbecue pork

    2358 Hosea L Williams Dr. NE; 404-377-0044

  • Nexto
    Chef Mihoko Obunai's attractive new ramen-and-more spot in Poncey Highland shows that hard work, patience and talent can pay off. She's a familiar face around Atlanta, from spots like Repast and Southbound and, most notably, her Ramen Freak pop-ups, and while a slow march to a place of her own after refining her menus and technique isn't the flashiest story in the restaurant industry, it is one of the most sensible. And the bowls she's turning out are among the most satisfying in town.

    Must-order: Tonkotsu ramen

    828 Ralph McGill Blvd.; 404-809-3763

  • Noble Fin
    This past summer, chef Jay Swift (most recently of the now-closed 4th & Swift) opened Noble Fin in the northeastern suburb of Peachtree Corners, with a focus on fresh seafood and steaks. It's by far the most upscale, exciting debut in the region, and hopefully points to more restaurateurs branching out with top-notch cuisine all around the metro area.
    Must-order: Crab cakes

    5260 Peachtree Pkwy., Peachtree Corners; 770-599-7979

  • Credit: Rising Son

    Rising Son
    As the country's income inequality grows, the middle ground disappears. Atlanta's certainly experiencing that in its real estate and housing markets, with luxury condos aplenty sprouting everywhere, but little for someone who just wants something modest. So it goes with restaurants, where glamorous, million-dollar build-outs dominate the landscape of what's new. It's important, then, to appreciate the middle-of-the-road spots that deliver winning, unpretentious food at approachable prices. Rising Son, an updated Southern eatery in Avondale run by a local couple, is just that sort of place. (Also see the newcomers Pea Ridge and Dish Dive for a similar vibe.)

    Must-order: Massive, stick-to-your ribs breakfast

    124 N. Avondale Rd., Avondale Estates; 404-600-5297

  • Credit: Fifth Group

    South City Kitchen Buckhead
    The Fifth Group team had settled into a groove over the past few years, comfortable in its ever-capable and inviting restaurants. But since it hadn't launched anything new in some time, the announcement of a third SCK intrigued. What Atlanta found when it opened was a reinvigorated style, familiarly Southern but contemporary, updated and vibrant, from the gorgeous interiors to chef Jason Starnes' sophisticated but soulful fare. SCK Buckhead showed that Fifth Group's still got it.

    Must-order: Spiced grilled quail

    3350 Peachtree Rd. #175; 404-815-6677