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100 Best Restaurants 2014
By The Editors with contributions from Wendell Brock and Austin Holt | Photo: Angie Mosier | July 9, 2014
Our buzzing list of the top eateries in A-Town, plus Best of the City awards. Take a bite!
From tried-and-true classics to recently opened culinary stars, JEZEBEL’s 100 Best Restaurants list spotlights the city’s best when it comes to dining. For the 15th consecutive year, we’ve asked you, our in-the-know readers, to chime in on your go-to spots (which you did by the thousands!), while our editorial team has been hard at work scoping out the good, the fab and the truly sensational, from Buckhead to Marietta to Decatur and beyond. In the next 28 pages, dig in to a sizzling rundown of rising-chefs, revamped menus, fresh openings, mouthwatering dishes and the perfect summer sippers. Plus, we’re calling out the best burger, mobile eats, celeb-sighting spots and more in our Best of the City section, making it easier than ever for you to plan your next dining detour. So, what are you waiting for? Satisfy your social cravings (and appetites!) with these trending outposts. Get to grubbin’!
$–Dinner entree price range
B–Brunch available (times vary)
R–Reservations accepted (restrictions may apply)
F–Furry friends welcome
1 | Umi
3050 Peachtree Road NW | Buckhead | 404.841.0040 | @umisushiatl | $40-$75 | R
Indulge in a superior level of Japanese culinary preparation and presentation at partner/chef Fuyuhiko Ito’s Umi—the most happening resto in A-Town, co-owned by longtime Atlantans Farshid Arshid and Charlie Hendon. Their vision was to create a subtly elegant interior that welcomes guests with unique floor-to-ceiling blackwashed, burnt-wood panels, polished light-wood furniture and moss-green banquettes. Orb chandeliers, sculptural chairs and the thoughtful addition of shiny river rocks (to rest your chopsticks on) are all part of the restaurant’s inventive design, but still allow the cuisine to take center stage.
Although Ito was trained as a French chef, his black cod misoyaki was inspired by Nobu Matsuhisa’s famous dish. Despite his classical leanings, Ito isn’t afraid to add modernity into his delectable creations. The spicy-tuna crispy rice and yellowtail jalapeno top the list for best starters, followed by the nigiri lineup, which includes superfresh options such as the unagi (barbecue fresh-water eel), hotate (live scallop) and others flown in from Tokyo fish markets five days a week. Specialty rolls that wow include the new page roll with shrimp tempura on the inside, topped with paper-thin sliced lemon and fresh salmoneel sauce; and the Kobe beef roll with slices of slightly cooked Kobe beef, daikon sprouts and green onion. To complement both typical and innovative rolls, expect a bevy of inventive dishes such as the Chilean sea bass yu-an yaki, marinated in a yu-an sauce and wrapped in a cedar sheet that’s set ablaze for a true smoky flavor and presentation that’s full of pageantry.
Take care to save room for a green-tea souffle dessert prepared by Ito’s wife, Pastry Chef Lisa Ito—only 12 are served up per night. Like the rest of the evening’s experience, it inspires wonder with every bite.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Yellowtail jalapeno; Main course: Black cod misoyaki; Sip on: Tenzan sake; End with: Green-tea souffle
Insider Tip: Try The Aburi sushi, which is all the rage in Japan—the fish is handtorched for a flavor profile that’s more complex than raw sushi.
Celeb Cred: Drake, Freddie Freeman, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Ryan, Dan Uggla, Usher
2 | St. Cecilia
3455 Peachtree Road NE | Buckhead | 404.554.9995 | @stceciliaatl | $10-$46 | R
In the days leading up to the opening of St. Cecilia, Ford Fry’s latest addition to the Buckhead dining scene, the expectations were palpable: A million-dollar-plus renovation to the sprawling Bluepointe space by the world-renowned Meyer Davis Studio was being spit-polished. A menu of coastal European-inspired fare was first being crafted by Fry’s hand-chosen überchef Brian Horn (who recently returned to help with the culinary programs at JCT. Kitchen & Bar, The Optimist and No. 246). A towering bar and superchill lounge space was set to be a new staple for happy hour and beyond. St. C’s was slated to be the restaurateur’s biggest foray yet, so we can understand why the buzz would be a little intense.
Occasionally, a restaurant is capable of living up to such a difficult level of hype, and our palates are better off for it. And then once in a blue moon, we’re simply blown away. Sure enough, everything about St. Cecilia is exquisite.
Natural light floods a space that successfully walks the razor-thin line between modern elegance and rustic charm, as new Chef de Cuisine Craig Richards and Creative Director Drew Belline have stepped in to bring their own savoir-faire simplicity to Horn’s meticulously crafted menu of fresh fish and hand-kneaded pasta. Shareable antipasti like charred octopus with cured tomato-and-bean salad is savory and refreshing. Similarly, the Cappelletti with wild Georgia shrimp, microgastronomic seaurchin froth and pickled herbs combines a hardiness with an inescapable delicacy. Loup de Mer, sparsely garnished with marcona almond and citrus, reaches simple perfection in a way seldom achieved by seafood in this city. The overall effect of Richards’ and Belline’s new twists are intoxicating.
Along with beverage director Bradley Wyatt, Fry’s star mixologist Lara Creasy consulted on St. C’s crafted cocktail list. Gin fans will rejoice with the Green River, which combines muddled arugula, black pepper and cynar for a combination as spicy and sultry as a summer afternoon on the Chattahoochee. A list of small-batch wines has been carefully cultivated and marries the menu precisely. But don’t just take our word for it—the accolades have been pouring in from across the country. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—Fry’s on fire.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Cobia tartare; Main course: Agnolotti with red wine-braised beef short rib; Sip on: Barber of Seville; End with: Whey panna cotta with strawberry
Insider Tip: Make reservations two weeks in advance or plan to sit at the bar.
Celeb Cred: Drew Barrymore, Conan O’Brien, Robert Redford, Matt Ryan
3 | Chops Lobster Bar
70 W. Paces Ferry Road NW | Buckhead | 404.262.2675 | @chopslobsterbar | $26-$104 | R
Chops Lobster Bar is the American seafood and steakhouse personified. The dimly lit dining room with its dark-wood booths, white tablecloths and big-city bustle sets the stage for a redblooded meal like no other. Every moment of the experience at Chops (and its downstairs counterpart, Lobster Bar) is luxe: Knowledgeable servers guide you through the extensive menu and decadent specials (lobster mac and cheese, anyone?); waiters wheel carts of tableside-served specialties like tenderloin steak tartare and fresh genuine Dover sole; while enormous towers of fresh seafood are intermittently on parade through the crowd. Diving into one of these towers is a decadent must for seafood-lovers: Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp, ceviche, cold-water oysters and colossal lump crab reign over a bed of ice. If cold isn’t your thing, warm up for the main course with a signature cold-water South African flash-fried lobster tail. Then, “steak” your claim with the resto’s namesake entrees. Each prime cut of meat is perfection, whether you prefer the filet mignon, bone-in New York sirloin dry-aged with Himalayan pink salt or the coveted Kobe: The $19 per ounce genuine A-5 Miyazaki Wagyu is available in filet- or New York strip-style cuts. Take any of these exquisite carnivorous options to the next level by adding foie gras, white truffle butter or traditional béarnaise sauce to the mix.
But the entrees aren’t the only standouts. The sides are easily meals in and of themselves. Indulge in truffle Parmesan fries or thick-cut onion rings with cracked-pepper steak sauce for the table. Veggies get the royal treatment too, thanks to decadent creamed spinach and jumbo asparagus with a Parmesan crust.
And after you’ve reveled in dessert or a glass of port, head downstairs to The Club. But be prepared to only get a glance: This speakeasy-style, invite-only spot is so in-demand there’s a waiting list to get on the waiting list for membership. Now that’s exclusive.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Shellfish Tower; Main course: Snake River Farms Wagyu Kobe New York strip; Sip on: Smoky Manhattan; End with: James Beard Award-winning white-chocolate banana cream pie
Insider Tip: Behind a secret door lies a lounge known as The Club at Chops that’s members only. The VIP establishment has a humidor, mosaic-tile roof and leather chairs filled with sports stars, actors and other prominent who’s who.
Celeb Cred: Jennifer Aniston, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Dan Uggla
4 | The Optimist
914 Howell Mill Road | Westside | 404.477.6260 | @theoptimistatl | $21-$33 | R P
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the words “raw bar” were not on the tips of Atlanta diners’ tongues. Then, Ford Fry decided to unleash The Optimist, Westside’s seafood-serving darling of a dining room, and everything started to change.
Stashed away in an unassuming warehouse on Howell Mill Road, the elements of a surf-side, Old World boardwalk are flanked with nautical hues, white tile and hardwoods. A long bar, outfitted with carnival-esque exposed bulbs, is stocked with bubbly prosecco—the perfect accompaniment to a selection of multicoastal oysters from the aforementioned raw bar, one room away.
Executive Chef Adam Evans has cultivated an assortment of the kind of simple, fresh fare for which Fry’s restaurants are now renowned. Seafood gumbo with garlic bread is an ideal starter, as is a pickable crop of shell-on Georgia shrimp a la plancha in a creamy white-wine sauce with sopping toast, arbol chili butter and lime. Hearth-roasted fish is the star of Evans’ kitchen. It’s hard to do Better than the crispy whole red snapper with a garlicky ginger sauce and charred peppers.
There aren’t a lot of spots that really set the pace for an entire category of dining in this town: Prior to The Optimist, our landlocked city provided only a few options for really spectacular seafood. Now, well, have you seen all the oysters in this town lately? Setting a trend isn’t easy, but as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We apparently have Fry to thank for that.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Shell-on Georgia shrimp a la plancha; Main course: Duck fat-poached swordfish, smoked short-rib, fava beans, treviso and horseradish butter; Sip on: Scurvy Scoundrel; End with: Toasted coconut sorbet
Insider Tip: Chef Adam Evans says, “Ask for a chef-prepared fish collar. We always have some interesting fish cuts!”
Celeb Cred: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon
5 | New York Prime
3424 Peachtree Road NE | Buckhead | 404.846.0644 | @newyorkprime | $29-$60 | R P
The definition of “prime” refers to something of the first importance, highest rank or greatest significance. New York Prime is the name, too, of the old-school steakhouse anchoring the ground floor of the Monarch Tower that incorporates all of that (and more!) into its cuisine and ambience.
For starters, the steak might as well be passing Ivy League entrance exams—each one must be certified to the USDA’s highest standards, then aged, cut and charred on a special 1700-degree Southbend broiler to guarantee that the best possible quality meat ends up on your plate. The seafood? It gets the same VIP treatment. The colossal shrimp cocktail only allows U10s or higher, so each crustacean is about the size of a child’s fist.
Aside from top-notch tastes, the interiors follow suit and are a study in contemporary masculinity—dark, warm leather booths, low lighting, palm trees and wood panels. Service here is from a different era—a throwback to when the customer’s every wish was granted. In the formal main room—separate from the lively bar—white-coated wait staff bring out barrel-cut sizzling filets, while gargantuan oyster shells slip around on ice and baked potatoes are dressed tableside. It’s instantly clear upon arrival that Owner Greg Greenbaum, General Manager Michael Smith, Managing Partner Bobby Donlan and their team work hard to imbue everything from atmosphere to drinks, with a clever sophistication that evokes a time when the pleasures of gestation and cocktailing were savored at a slower pace.
Sometimes, dinner should be a pageantry-filled spectacle.It certainly is in this Buckhead chophouse that’s been on our Top 10 list since 2003.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Thick-cut sizzling bacon, served by the slice; Main course: 22 oz. Bone-in rib steak; Sip on: Woodford Double Oaked Manhattan; End with: White chocolate banana cream pie with buttery walnut shortbread crust
Insider Tip: Order the cheesecake, which is flown in from the famed Carnegie Deli in New York regularly.
Celeb Cred: Kevin Bacon, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Kuchar, Tyler Perry
6 | Bistro Niko
3344 Peachtree Road NE | Buckhead | 404.261.6456 | @bistroniko | $19-$30 | B R P
To step into Bistro Niko is to step back in time to 1920s Paris. Walking to your table is a feast for the senses: Charcuterie and raw oyster bar options on ice are on dazzling display in front of the open kitchen. The dining room—sleek and chic thanks to dark wood booths, a floor-to-ceiling wall of bar shelving, ivory subway tiled walls and ornate carvings on the ceiling—is an inviting respite. French art adorns the walls, alongside photos of the Parisian brasseries that inspired the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group’s Karatassos family when they created the bistro.
For those looking for a more intimate setting, the Salon is a romantic nook off the entrance from which lovebirds can enjoy a quiet evening (and a killer view of the chefs in action). And, of course, the popular wraparound patio overlooking Peachtree Road is a haute spot to see and be seen as you sip and snack après work.
True Francophiles will delight in chef Gary Donlick’s authentic delicacies like foie gras with brioche croutons; apple compote and port-wine glaze; frisee aux lardons (salad) with bacon, a poached egg and brioche croutons; or a simple but delicious classic coq au vin—chicken in red wine, Parisian mushrooms, pearl onions and steamed potatoes. But, this wouldn’t be a true French affair without indulgent desserts, oui? Chocolate lovers will go crazy for profiteroles (choux pastry, vanilla ice cream, bitter chocolate sauce and almonds).
Wanting just a little somethin’ somethin’? Bistro Niko’s small plates are just as heavenly as the entrees. Share a tarte (traditional French pizza). Our faves: the mushroom and Gruyere and the smoked salmon with creme fraiche and chives. Wash it all down with one of the brasserie’s well-priced wines or a specialty cocktail.
At brunch, the brioche French toast with maple syrup and applewood-smoked bacon is a sweet go-to, while the croque madame served with crisped duck potatoes is a savory delight. On the sinful side, a Harvey Wallbanger with vodka, orange juice and galliano is the perfect complement to a très-chic meal.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Mussels Le Coze; Main course: Boeuf Bourguignon; Sip on: Le St. Germain; End with: Profiteroles
Insider Tip: Belgian Waffle Chantilly with freshly whipped cream and warm maple syrup is only available during Sunday brunch from 11AM-3PM.
Celeb Cred: Jimmy Buffett, Liam Hemsworth, Ludacris, Tim Tebow
7 | Gunshow
924 Garrett St. | Glenwood | 404.380.1886 | @gunshowatl | $8-$26 | R
When meat master and Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie left his post at the helm of perennial fave Woodfire Grill, we were surprised. There were burblings that the guy was starting his own restaurant—some funky little place, just a little off the beaten Path, where his creativity could be let off the leash.
And so, we have Gunshow, an utterly imaginative tribute to the chef’s Southern roots. Did we expect it to be good? Of course—this is Kevin Gillespie we’re talking about. But it wasn’t until our reservations were set, and we began taking a look at the menu, that we really got an idea of how unique this Glenwood dining room was going to be.
First of all, there’s the cart. Every few minutes, a multitiered carriage makes its rounds around the large, single-room space, weaving between long communal tables, touting a selection of freshly made delicacies straight from the open kitchen. Try something daring like Jamaican curried goat or go for funky change-ups to old standbys like oyster-mushroom Rockefeller or the West Coast burger: all brought to your table, explained, joked about, and, if it’s up your alley, put down in front of you. Empty plates are piled up, food is tallied and at the end of the evening, you get your bill. It’s fun, it’s different, it’s delicious—and it changes every week.
Speaking of which: Gunshow has expanded its wine and beer offerings to include a limited selection of drinks du jour. Every night, barkeep Mercedes O’Brien comes up with a shortlist of tasty sippers, loads her drink cart with all the fixings and rounds the room, making small talk with thirsty patrons while she shakes and strains. A bar on wheels: Why has nobody thought of this before?
Want to talk shop? Gillespie himself mixes and mingles with patrons from time to time, because nothing goes with dinner like a little foodie chit-chat. This star chef treats his guests like family, which, really, is what it’s all about.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Beef tartare; Main course: Low Country broil; Sip on: Smoked Old Fashioned; End with: Old-fashioned warm banana pudding
Insider Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for a “secret dish,” denoted by a blank space on the menu.
Celeb Cred: Jon Favreau, Bill Paxton, Vince Vaughn
8 | Miller Union
999 Brady Ave. NW | Westside | 678.733.8550 | @millerunion | $21-$33 | R P
New restaurants open in a continuous cycle in this town, but sometimes you can’t beat a classic.
It’s never hard to come up with new reasons to dine at Miller Union, the dream come true of Executive Chef Steven Satterfield and super sommelier Neal McCarthy. With an interior crafted by ai3, ATL’s go-to design firm, the whole place exudes a modern aesthetic with a well-weathered hand, where whitewash marries perfectly with steel windows and patterned wall coverings. Urban chic at its finest.
Satterfield has conjured up an ever-evolving menu that celebrates sustainable fare prepared simply, worthily showcasing the flavors of the season. Duck-leg confit with roasted peaches and oyster mushrooms create a sweet, refreshing summer charm; sauteed quail with basic aioli and faro is fresh and light; and if grilled flank steak with snap beans, cherry tomatoes and new potatoes doesn’t say, “Southern dinner down on the farm,” we don’t know what does. Is it any wonder that Satterfield was (finally) a James Beard Award finalist in the last couple of years? No, it’s not. (Congrats!)
A capable craft bar helped set the standard for cocktails in this town, but it’s McCarthy’s wine list that always leaves us impressed. There aren’t many restaurants that can combine MU’s style with a steakhouse-sized bottle-andglass menu, but under this gifted sommelier’s cultivation, the effect is seamless. You can’t help but respect a place that does pairings so perfectly—ask your server for a recommendation.
Before sipping, arrive a little before dusk to get a gander at the setting sun from one of our favorite patios in town. And plan to stick around for a while—diners in the know are always packing MU out, so you’re bound to run into someone you know at this Westside staple.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Shrimp, watermelon, cucumber, hot pepper, cilantro and lime salad; Main course: Georgia pastured chicken, grilled summer squash, feta, chili oil, mint and almonds; Sip on: Tangled Up in Blue; End with: Roasted peaches and cashew ice cream in a puff pastry
Insider Tip: The bar can extract a glass from any wine on the “by the bottle” list as they have Coravin Wine Access Technology, but you have to know to ask.
Celeb Cred: Cameron Diaz, Megan Fox, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds
9 | King + Duke
3060 Peachtree Road NW | Buckhead | 404.477.3500 | @kingandduke | $16-$86 | B R P
When Ford Fry decided to try his luck at Buckhead dining, we were wondering if he could pull it off. After all, the king of the Westside had just come off a string of successful openings, but early-American cuisine (read: awesome meat) with a wood-fired char, all in the old Nava space? We would have to see.
As it turns out, King + Duke was the right step in an entirely new direction for this restaurateur extraordinaire. Teaming up with Joe Schafer (touted by JEZ as the hottest chef in Atlanta), the two concocted a lineup of fresh fare designed around the kitchen’s most prominent feature; a 24-foot-long open woodfire hearth (yeah, you’ve heard of it).
Let’s walk through your meal for a sec. Starting with a bowl of the coal-roasted onion soup is a no-brainer—this staple starter is smoky and kicked with pale ale: so good. Next, an order of Brunswick shrimp will have to be hidden from friends if you don’t want errant forks jabbing at your plate. And as varied and exciting as this “back to basics” menu is, we can’t go any further without singing the praises of The Duke: a house-ground burger crafted from carefully aged cuts, with coal-roasted onion and fries. Don’t let the simplicity fool you—this is perfection on a crusty bun. And for dessert? The sinful Valrhona chocolate cremeaux is to die for.
Then again, simplicity is the name of the game here. From the clean but rough-hewn attention to design we’ve come to expect from Fry’s empire; to the drinks, brought to you by mixology mastermind Lara Creasy; to the service, which remains intrinsically casual (but never off point) from top to bottom.
After all: the folks who make King + Duke tick know that a great restaurant should never take itself too seriously. You, on the other hand, may beg to differ—but we know you’ll have a great time, regardless.
Fave Dishes: Start with: Candied lamb belly with cucumber, sheep’s milk feta and warm flat breads; Main course: Mississippi rabbit with rabbit bacon, mustard and mushrooms with farro salad and rabbit liver roast; Sip on: The Yearling; End with: Dates + Ale
Insider Tip: Order the dry-aged steak tartare. “Dry-aged steak tartare isn’t listed on the menu, [but] is available every day until we run out,” shares chef Joe Schafer.
Celeb Cred: Jessica Alba, Jack Black, Matt Ryan, Usher
10 | Empire State South
999 Peachtree St. NE | Midtown | 404.541.1105 | @essouth | $20-$46 | B R P F
As Top Chef judge and restaurateur Hugh Acheson continues to build his empire (opening both The Florence in Savannah and Cinco y Diez in Athens, Ga. this year), his actual empire—Empire State South—remains one of the best restaurants in Atlanta four years after it first opened.
The airy dining room and bar flow into each other, embellished with brown leather banquettes, rustic farm tables and a soaring wall of shelves lined with barrelaged spirits.
Pull up a steampunk-esque stool at the bar, and you’ll often find bartenders standing on the counter reaching for bottles and bitters to make refreshing cocktails like Aesop Sour with gin, raspberry eau de vie, hay sugar and Absinthe.
The vibe here is casual (there’s a bocce court in the courtyard, after all) but the food is eclectic and sophisticated, while still being comforting. With Executive Chef Josh Hopkins (previously of Abattoir, STG Trattoria and White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails) taking over the kitchen last summer, the toque has been handed the reins by Acheson and has been busy giving the resto’s classics his own spin. The menu changes daily—depending on what fresh produce comes in the back door—so Hopkins essentially creates new plates or tweaks the components of old standards on the reg.
The new ESS cuisine still gets tummies rumbling with dishes like fresh Georgia catfish served next to fairy-tale eggplant, fillet beans, red pepper and charred leek. Craving something more unusual? Hopkins won’t disappoint with his stuffed quail entree over abalone mushrooms, turnips, lambs quarter and crisp potato, either.
In a surprise twist, former Executive Chef Ryan Smith returned to the ovens he once manned, but this time as the resto’s interim pastry chef. The new desserts—lovage tart with blueberry sorbet, black butter cake with peach ice cream, and chocolate cremeux with toastedoat gelato—all stem from his Willy Wonka mind, and are a sweet end to a monumental meal.
Fave Dishes: Start with: In Jars; Main course: Duck breast with broccoli, butter beans, chanterelles, sourdough gnocci and oat puff; Sip on: Kipling’s Muse; End with: Black butter cake with peach ice cream
Insider Tip: Ask to sit at table 7. It’s the special two-chair table they give to guests celebrating an anniversary, proposal or birthday. It’s the best seat in the house.
Celeb Cred: Conan O’Brien, Nina Dobrev, Jennifer Nettles, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Usher