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Best Atlanta Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
You might assume that eating in Atlanta is a panoply of deep-fried, carb- and calorie-laden, comfort food—and it can be that—but it's become so much more. Over the last decade, the city has become widely known for its top tier chefs and restaurants, as recent seasons of Bravo TV’s Top Chef attest. Atlantans Kevin Gillespie and Richard Blais both just missed the top prize. One nice feature of the best Atlanta restaurants is that they hit all price points, from the whimsical affordability if FLIP Burger Boutique to the all-out indulgent splurge of Bacchanalia. You'll also find a wide variety of venues, from the down-to-earth Southern charm of Ria's Bluebird and Carver's Country Kitchen to the sleek urban vibe of Two Urban Licks. Keep in mind, the best Atlanta restaurants aren't always the most expensive. Whatever your style or budget, one thing's for certain: You won't leave Atlanta hungry.

Bacchanalia

Neighborhood: Westside Price: Expensive
With a named derived from the Roman god of indulgence, Bacchanalia is indeed one of the best places to eat in Atlanta, and one of the city's most indulgent pleasures. Zagat's has repeatedly picked it as the city's best and we couldn’t agree with them more. Using only organic ingredients (many culled from the personal farm of chefs and co-owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison), Bacchanalia melds freshness, flavor and earth-friendliness in its seasonal New American cuisine. For us, tops on the dinner menu would be the Georgia rainbow trout served with local sweet corn and chanterelle mushrooms although the wood-grilled Tybee Island shrimp (from the coastal island off Savannah) is a close second. The four-course prix fixe menu consists of appetizer, entrée, cheese and dessert and runs $75 per person. A la carte items are available at the bar. If you're going that route, choose the blue crab fritter appetizer served with Thai pepper essence, a perennial favorite and considered by many to be among the world's best. Closed Sundays.

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Woodfire Grill

Neighborhood: Virginia-Highland Price: Expensive
Woodfire's heat picked up in 2009 when Kevin Gillespie, executive chef here since 2008, became a viewer favorite during season six (the Vegas season) of Bravo TV's Top Chef, a competition he only narrowly missed winning. The cuisine here is New American with a Southern slant; fresh local ingredients and sustainable meats and seafood are fire roasted and grilled. The food is prepared simply though your taste buds will think otherwise thanks to Gillespie's magic. The pork belly, which may be wood-grilled one day and slow roasted with peanuts and spices the next thanks to the daily menu changes, never fails to impress us. Woodfire Grill is one of the best Atlanta restaurants for classic local flavorings. Dinner consists of first, second and main courses, but the very popular three- and five-course tasting menus will guarantee you’ll get whatever Chef Gillespie thinks is his best that particular night.

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Canoe

Neighborhood: Westside Price: Expensive
Located in the Vinings neighborhood a bit north/northwest of most of Atlanta's action, Canoe's tagline is "Tucked Away, Not Far Away." It’s positively gorgeous setting on the banks of the Chattahoochee River—not to mention its exquisite food and service—make it well worth the hike. If you're looking for delicious food with an unbeatable view Canoe is one of the best Atlanta restaurants to visit. The fare is New American with a leaning toward Southern fare and a focus on seafood, but it packs enough variety to please most any palate. For starters, the smoked salmon with crispy potato cake and Vermont goat cheese is a house specialty, while for mains it's got to be the slow-roasted Carolina rabbit with Swiss chard, bacon ravioli and candied garlic sauce. The salmon is awesome, but the rabbit is our favorite. While not cheap, Canoe pleasantly weighs in toward the more affordable end of expensive. You can have a nice appetizer, main entrée and a glass of wine and still drop less than $50 per person—and there are some very nice (and nicely priced) bottles on the “value selections” section of the wine menu. 

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MetroFresh

Neighborhood: Midtown Price: Moderate
Thank goodness for that Midnight Train to Georgia. When former Hollywood actor Mitchell Anderson (of Doogie Howser, MD and Party of Five fame) moved to Atlanta some years ago, he opened MetroFresh. The vegetarian-friendly Midtown favorite is beloved for its ever-changing but always fresh, tasty, healthy and homemade fare. MetroFresh is one of our picks for the top Atlanta restaurants to grab lunch. Soups, salads and sandwiches are the lunchtime stars, with mouth-watering selections like pumpkin soup topped with macadamia nuts; arugula salad with red pears, walnuts and bleu cheese; and the natural maple honey turkey and havarti cheese sandwich. Dinner always consists of two entree choices (one either meat or chicken, one either fish or vegetarian) and comes with a cup of soup or a side.

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South City Kitchen

Neighborhood: Midtown Price: Moderate
If you want real Southern cooking with a bit of sophistication, look no further than South City Kitchen in Midtown. The menu takes a turn on traditional cuisine with its unique prep and ingredients: You won’t find fried green tomatoes garnished with goat cheese at Paula Deen’s esteemed Savannah eatery, and putting roasted mushrooms into the house-ground meatloaf is genius. Housed in an old bungalow on Crescent Avenue just down the road from the Federal Reserve Bank and the Margaret Mitchell House, South City features two levels of seating and an exhibition kitchen while its patio offers great views of the Atlanta skyline. South City kitchen is one of the best Atlanta restaurants for ambiance and a decadent meal. Feast on favorites like buttermilk-battered fried chicken, shrimp and grits, she-crab soup and banana pudding. You can count calories when you get home.

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Two Urban Licks

Neighborhood: Poncey-Highland Price: Moderate
Your visit to Two Urban Licks begins with an arrival you won't soon forget: Its entrance, seemingly in the middle of an industrial zone, is an old loading dock. Once inside, you'll quickly see what draws the crowds: The former warehouse has been sleekly decked out as an urban lounge. Even with the passing of several seasons since its 2004 debut, it still fills up with Atlanta's trendy set. The setting and the innovative (even quirky) menu selections have kept it on the short list for the city’s foodies. The salmon chips (short smoked salmon with chipotle cream cheese, capers, and red onion) are a popular appetizer, while the bronzed sea scallops (served over smoked gouda grits—seriously—in a tomato broth) are our favorite. Prices are on the high end of moderate, but it's a hip dining experience that sums up Atlanta’s cutting-edge cuisine scene.

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FLIP Burger Boutique

Neighborhood: Westside Price: Budget
A burger's a burger, right? Wrong. FLIP takes the burger concept and adventurously flips it on its side, starting with an array of meats that includes crab, shrimp, lamb, ossobuco, and chorizo, and even a few vegetarian options like faux-lafel. Next come the condiments, which feature experimental options like smoke-infused mayo and pomegranate ketchup. And for sides, how about tempura fried rutabaga or buffalo sweetbread nuggets? No? Don't worry, FLIP has great regular fries too. If that much variety on a burger menu is confusing, just order what we have: a chorizo (spicy pork sausage, romesco ketchup, hash browns, fried egg, manchego cheese, smoked mayo) and a Krispy Kreme flavored milk shake. Oh my. The eccentric menu and vibrant ambiance of FLIP shouldn't be missed, it is definitely one of the best places to eat in Atlanta. FLIP's creative director is Season 4 Top Chef runner-up Richard Blais.

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Ria's Bluebird

Neighborhood: Grant Park
Price: Budget
She may look tough, but owner and chef Ria Pell lovingly serves up her modern take on classic Southern cooking in this semi-underground local favorite. The homemade pancakes with real buttermilk and vanilla are a perennial crowd pleaser (not to mention "the world's best," according to the New York Times)—add carmelized bananas to seal the deal. We’re accustomed to “real” meat with our meals, but Ria’s country fried tempeh (lacking only soy-milk gravy perhaps) is mouth watering if you ask us. The location is a bit odd: Bluebird is on an industrial-ish corner in a former drive-thru liquor store across from a cemetery, but that hasn’t stopped Atlantans from swarming in to savor Ria’s cooking. The space is small so be prepared to wait for a table at peak times, especially on weekends. Ria's is open every day, but only from 8am to 3pm, so there's no dinner.

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Dua Vietnamese

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget
Good Vietnamese in Atlanta? You bet, and in a Downtown location that's within easy walking distance of CNN Center less than a mile from the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola too. The prices—under $10 for a big bowl of soup and a drink—are easy on your wallet, too. Dua's specialty is its pho (pronounced "fuh”) soup, but we think the bun (noodle salad) and com (rice dishes) are excellent too. The lemongrass/chile broth pho is a standout in our book and everything comes in a variety of incarnations and spiciness. Open weekdays only, 10AM to 5PM. If you’re planning on lunch at Dua, get there early: the crowds move in by noon and by 1PM, they’re often out of the most popular items. There’s additional seating with dimmer lighting and couches downstairs that’s popular with students from nearby Georgia State.

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Carver's Country Kitchen

Neighborhood: Westside Price: Budget
Every weekday morning at 4, owners Robert and Sharon Carver start frying up the fare for the very popular Southern lunch smorgasbord at Carver's Country Kitchen, an out of the way Westside haunt that's well worth the jaunt. Marvel at the high kitsch decor, but then get down to choosing from the meat-plus-two-sides menu. The line-up rotates daily, but signature dishes include Dolly Parton fried chicken breast, fried catfish, sweet potato casserole, mashed rutabagas, and Coca Cola cake. Luxury this ain't: You'll eat off of styrofoam plates, and you'll like it. At peak times, parking can be tricky in this not-the-poshest of neighborhoods, lines can stretch out the door and seating is often communal. But the atmosphere is incredibly friendly, and this is some of the best and most authentic Southern grub in Atlanta. Bear in mind that cash is king at Carver's (no credit cards) and it's only open Monday to Friday, 11AM to 3PM.
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