Feature

The 10 Most Important Atlanta Restaurant Openings of 2015

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  December 14, 2015

2015 was a big year for the Atlanta food and beverage scene, with long-anticipated restaurants opening alongside surprise newcomers. Many made an impact, while many others who opened may yet still. These 10 spots all influenced the way we dine, or are otherwise representative of the current state of Atlanta.

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  • Credit: Christopher Hassiotis

    1. Ponce City Market

    Sure, putting a massive food hall up against individual spots is a bit of an unbalanced fight. But the impact Ponce City Market, whose food hall only opened in October, has had has already been significant. It's given local big-name restaurateurs space to expand their empire (Linton Hopkins' H&F Burger and Hop's Chicken, Anne Quatrano's Dub's Fish Camp); it's given too-long-absent chefs a place to return to the scene (Hector Santiago's El Super Pan); it's given burgeoning local entrepreneurs a chance to expand their operations (Simply Seoul, King of Pops); it's given OTP restaurant teams a chance to test intown waters (Jia); it's provided out-of-town chefs an inroad to Atlanta (Jonathan Waxman's Brezza Cucina, Sean Brock's Minero). Not everything is a total success, and not everything's even open yet, but this transformative use of space on the Beltline, itself one of the most exciting developments in town, puts PCM at No. 1.

    Must-Order: Vietnamese Crispy Fish Salad at Dub's

    675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE

  • 2. Little Trouble

    This new spot proves we've moved past the trend of old-timey bartenders serving up "tinctures" and "potions" and big glasses of tired effect. The team behind Victory Sandwich Bar and Paper Plane (RIP) instead opts for a neo-noir, futuristic vibe: concrete, dim lights, hard lines and tasty Asian-inspired snacks alongside solid drinks. It’s also important because it’s shown just how important design, branding and social media have become, with its quickly iconic neon entry lights already one of the most Instagrammed images on the local scene.

    Must-Order: Found Art cocktail

    1170 Howell Mill Rd.; 404-500-4737

  • 3. Ticonderoga Club

    Because when some of the best cocktail folks in town have been hopping around the city from place to place decide to get together with each other, recruit some serious chefs and open something of their own, you end up with this passion project of a pub in Krog Street Market where hospitality, excellent drinks and top-notch food come standard.

    Must-Order: Ticonderoga Cup cocktail

    99 Krog St.

  • 4. Staplehouse

    Many, many, many delays may have dampened some of the city’s excitement for this innovative restaurant — it’s tied to the nonprofit Giving Kitchen organization, its main dining room operates on a ticketed prix fixe system — but the impact of its recent opening has still made a mark. Top local chefs are often spotted at the bar or just stopping in for a bite of chef Ryan Smith’s meticulous seasonal fare on the patio (where the à la carte menu’s an option), and if Staplehouse is still a place where the hospitality industry dines, hopefully the rest of Atlanta will quickly catch on.

    Must-Order: Tasting menu

    541 Edgewood Ave. SE; 404-524-5005

  • 5. Atlas

    Chef Christopher Grossman turns out beautiful food in a setting adorned with museum-quality artwork. (Seriously! You’ll see signatures from Picasso and Chagall, among many others.) The nuanced, seasonal dishes and impeccable service at this restaurant in the St. Regis suggest that maybe Atlanta’s ready (again) for some serious fine dining.

    Must-Order: The seasonal menu's always changing, but go for rabbit if available

    88 W. Paces Ferry Rd NW; 404-600-6471

  • 6. Dish Dive

    Atlanta has plenty of glitzy culinary palaces whose construction cost multiple millions of dollars. We do that well. What we should do well too, but don’t do nearly as often, is the small neighborhood places that still turn out creative American cuisine crafted by thoughtful chefs. That’s just what the new Kirkwood spot offers — a modest (okay, tiny) space, modest prices, modest selections, and quality and flavors that are anything but, y’know…modest. A real gem.

    Must-Order: Fried oysters are often on the menu, and worth your attention

    2233 College Ave. NE; 404-957-7918

  • Credit: Sarah Dodge

    7. Revival

    Because it's great that a chef of Kevin Gillespie's (Top Chef, Gunshow) stature can open a restaurant where many entrees cost less than $20. Because it's great that he honors Southern traditions — namely those of his family, and specifically those of grandma — while working with quality ingredients. Because it's nice to have a place to take visiting family where you won't have to explain every ingredient listed on the menu. Because many of the other traditional Southern eateries remaining in Atlanta that Revival recalls aren't what they used to be. Because a warm welcome and flavorful food typify the South, and Gillespie and executive chef Andreas Muller (a Swede by birth) know how to deliver. 

    Must-Order: Bacon-wrapped meatloaf with cornbread

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

  • 8. Little Bacch

    This Joe Schafer–helmed offshoot of Bacchanalia is an important reminder about what can make dining out in Atlanta so rewarding — a great space, a sense of purpose behind the menu, and welcoming service. And that a new restaurant can succeed with such a focused (i.e. limited) menu of well-executed classics should encourage other restaurants to do a little trimming of the fat.

    Must-Order: Roast whole chicken

    1198 Howell Mill Rd.; 404-365-0410

  • Credit: Sarah Dodge

    9. Illegal Food

    Illegal Food’s early 2015 opening is important because it proves that a combination of hard work and great food can pay off — the burger spot (voted Atlanta’s No. 1 by Zagat readers) opened after its creators developed a cult following as a pop-up operating out of the Joystick Gamer kitchen. It’s also important because Illegal’s opening was a good lesson that duplicating success is tough, and high expectations and a change in format created some disappointment among clientele both new and old alike. Illegal’s recovered from some early missteps, but it’s an important reminder that no matter past acclaim or success, restaurant work’s never going to stop being a tough business (see also: MF Sushi).

    Must-Order: The Hank

    1044 Greenwood Ave. NE; 404-254-2141

  • Credit: Julie Soefer

    10. State of Grace

    Is it cheating to put a Houston restaurant on a list of Atlanta’s important openings? Well, yes. But let’s look at it this way — it’s the first restaurant outside of Atlanta that local restaurateur Ford Fry, currently Atlanta's most ambitious by far, has opened after setting up eight new spots here. And it’s the first of what looks to be more further afield, with plans in the works to duplicate his Krog Street Market Tex-Mex spot Superica (itself a semi-clone of Alpharetta’s The El Felix) in Charleston next year.

    Must-Order: Roast-duck “carnitas” for two

    3258 Westheimer Rd., Houston; 832-942-5080