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April/May 2005

Atlanta Dining Guide
Distinctive Dining to Feed Your Cravings
by Lisa Strickland

Innovative: Haven Restaurant
Even though Atlanta now has an indisputable reputation as a great "restaurant city," newcomers to the area still find it difficult to sort through the varied options to find the best place to match their mood or suit the occasion. The fact is, whatever you are looking for in a restaurant, you can find it in Atlanta. So keep this Dining Guide in a handy place, and let it be a stepping-stone to help you create your own personal list of dining preferences. Your next step: get out and start sampling the Atlanta dining scene.

The Best of the Best
Call very early to reserve a coveted table at Rathbun's (112 Krog St., 404-524-8280) in Inman Park. The toast of the town since it opened last April, the restaurant has hit the spot with Chef Kevin Rathbun's fresh approach and seasonal ingredients in dishes such as the bone-in ribeye with blue cheese crumbles or the succulent sea scallop Benedict. Rathbun's talent landed the restaurant on Bon Appetit's "Hot 50 Restaurants" list in March 2005 and in 2004 on Esquire magazine's list of the nation's best restaurants. Want to make an impression on out-of-town guests? Then this is the place for you.

Buckhead's Restaurant Eugene (2277 Peachtree Rd., 404-355-0321) also earned a coveted spot on the Esquire list last year. The stately Buckhead establishment is inspired by old Atlanta values-excellent service, understated elegance, upscale food-and its young owners, Executive Chef Linton Hopkins and his wife Gina, have created a menu that leans toward American classics with a sophisticated Southern twist such as pan-roasted Georgia quail stuffed with cornbread, country ham and white shrimp.

When asked which restaurant is the best in Atlanta, you're likely to hear all k inds of answers. However, the understated and elegant Bacchanalia (1198 Howell Mill Rd., 404-365-0410) in West Midtown is likely to come up more than once. Widely regarded as the best restaurant in the city, chefs and owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison use locally grown seasonal and organic produce to create innovative American cuisine that has kept Atlanta diners on the edge of their seats since it opened in 1993.

If you're searching for the best steak in Atlanta, Bone's (3130 Piedmont Rd., 404-237-2663) may very well end your search. This Buckhead tradition has all the makings of a great, upscale steak house-cushy leather booths, dark mahogany wood, professional servers and tender, juicy steak that just might bring a grown man to tears.

Perhaps one of Atlanta's most revered chefs, Guenter Seeger continues to amaze patrons of his Buckhead restaurant Seeger's (111 W. Paces Ferry Rd., 404-846-9779). While the restaurant is billed as modern classical French cuisine, Chef Seeger's bold flavor pairings and artful presentations leave diners breathless and bring him countless accolades. Choose from one of several prix fixe menus and sit back for an incredible culinary ride, which includes a seasonal truffle menu.

Innovative Cuisine
Haven (1441 Dresden Dr., 404-969-0700) brings a creative approach to American food in a bustling-and always busy-loft-like setting in Brookhaven. Call ahead for priority seating (no reservations) to sample the truffled potato hay, an appetizer resembling a miniature haystack, and Chef Jeff Gomez's inventive variations on classic fish, steak, duck and other entrees. An open kitchen allows diners to view the action, and an impressive wine wall features hundreds of bottles of wine. Vegan options have been rather limited in Atlanta, but thanks to the buzz Inman Park's Lush (913 Bernina Ave., 404-223-9292) has created, carnivores are more than happy to eat their veggies. The restaurant uses a vegetable protein to mimic meat in certain dishes, so some entrees such as seared tuna or chicken pesto pasta will sound familiar, but what you eat instead is much more pure, bringing out the natural flavors of the vegetables.

Sexy Midtowner Spice (793 Juniper St., 404-875-4242) has plenty of flash in its sleek locale at the corner of Juniper and Fifth Street, but the real substance is in the international fusion cuisine created by Chef Paul Albrecht. The menu emphasizes its fresh seafood and meats, flown in daily from organic and free-range farms, but there are plenty of organic vegetarian options as well.

Prepare to be dazzled at Joel (3290 Northside Pkwy., 404-233-3500)-first by the dramatic interior and then by the French cuisine accented by Asian and Mediterranean influences. Chef Joël Antunes built his reputation in some of the most respected restaurants in Paris, South of France, Bangkok, London and most recently at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. The menu is well priced but the special $29 three-course weeknight dinner option is one of the best deals in the city. Great cuisine does not end at the city limits, however.

dick and harry's (1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd., 770-641-8757) in Roswell is definitely worth the trip. For steak and seafood lovers alike, as well as those in the mood for something a little more adventurous such as wild game, dick and harry's features New American cuisine in a decidedly upscale yet comfortable atmosphere.

New on the Scene
Restaurateur Bob Amick's newest venture, TWO.urban licks (820 Ralph McGill Blvd., 404-522-4622), made a splash when it opened its doors in a former warehouse space. Executive Chef and Partner Scott Serpas's menu concept of "fiery American cooking" is taken quite literally with a 14-foot wood pit rotisserie tower in the middle of the dining area to grill meats, fish and barbecue.

Grace 17.20 (5155 Peachtree Pkwy., 678-421-1720) opened this past fall at The Forum at Peachtree Parkway in Norcross, giving us yet another reason to love this upscale outdoor shopping mall. The elegant newcomer focuses on fresh ingredients and the contemporary American menu changes seasonally. With Chef Charles Schwab being an alumnus of Bacchanalia, Grace 17.20 has the makings to be one of the best reasons to dine outside the Perimeter.

The Here to Serve restaurant group is giving Midtowners and the Colony Square after-five crowd a much-needed place to let loose with Shout (1197 Peachtree St., 404-846-2000), which opened in February. The restaurant offers tapas, pizza cooked in wood-burning ovens, a sushi bar, a rooftop patio with a bird's eye view of Peachtree Street and-like its sister Twist at Phipps Plaza-a lively atmosphere and specialty martinis.

Dining Alfresco
Atlanta is blessed with mild year-round weather, and we love to eat outdoors every chance we get. On a spring or summer sunny day, you'd be hard pressed to find a scene more jumping than Einstein's (1077 Juniper St., 404-876-7925) in Midtown. With its prime location near Piedmont Park and the highrises and condos of Midtown, the restaurant's expansive patio fronting Juniper Street allows diners to sip a cool drink while shaded under a tree, or take in the sun and munch from the crowd-pleasing menu.

Portofino's halibut
A few blocks away, Toast (817 W. Peachtree St., 404-815-9243) offers Atlantans the opportunity to dine on Chef Drew Van Leuvan's house-made pasta, bread, comfort entrees and sandwiches amidst the concrete jungle from its patio tucked behind the Biltmore Hotel. While the restaurant is surrounded by apartments and office buildings, the serene patio gives it a neighborhood bistro vibe perfect for a low-key meal.

Tucked away from the clubs of Buckhead in a rehabbed bungalow, Portofino's (3199 Paces Ferry Pl., 404-231-1136) shady stone and brick patio is just one draw to the American Italian bistro. Whether you're looking for a place to unwind after work with a glass of wine or enjoy one of the many fresh seafood specials, the breezy patio at Portofino-quite possibly the largest in Buckhead-is the place to keep cool on warm evenings.

Rooms with the Views
For a special night out, the setting needs to be perfect. See the city from 723 feet above downtown Atlanta at the Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar & View (210 Peachtree St., 404-589-7506) in the Westin Peachtree Plaza. This tri-level complex features a revolving restaurant, bar and viewing level. Thanks to Chef Scott Hall, the dining is right on a par with the unparalleled view.

Back down at ground level, Ray's on the River (6700 Powers Ferry Rd., 770-955-1187) is an old Atlanta favorite for its serene setting on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and its menu devoted nearly entirely to seafood. Time your visit to enjoy the sunset views, and you won't be disappointed.

For a view of a different sort, reserve a table at the 57th Fighter Group (3829 Clairmont Rd., 770-457-7227) in the Brookhaven/Chamblee area to watch the planes take off and land at Peachtree DeKalb Airport. The World War II-themed restaurant is a trip down memory lane for some, a kitschy adventure for others. The restaurant, set far back from busy Clairmont Road, is replete with military vehicles, sandbags, old photos and posters, and the nostalgic mood is enhanced by 1940s-era tunes.

Get the Party Started
Whether it's girls' or guys' night out or the first stop of many, you need a place to eat that will get the party off to a rousing start. Taverna Plaka (2196 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-636-2284) fits the bill. Before you ca n say "Opa!" the outgoing servers are singing, dancing (sometimes on the tables) or bringing you wonderful Greek delights such as saganaki, a gooey, decadent cheese appetizer that arrives at your table in flames.

At Fritti (311 N. Highland Ave., 404-880-9559), the servers stay on the floor but the vibe is still electric in this Inman Park favorite. Fritti's crispy, gourmet pizzas, amazing wine list and its cool, urban atmosphere guarantees there is always a crowd. Bring your group and explore the extensive menu of personal pizza creations perfect for sharing in large groups.

Tapas just lend themselves to a party, which is part of the reason getting a table at Noche (1000 Virginia Ave., 404-815-9155) on the weekends without a reservation is virtually impossible. But plan ahead for your night out in the Virginia-Highlands and you won't be disappointed. The extensive (and well-priced) tapas menu of Mexican, Southwestern and Spanish influences gives you plenty of options to peruse as you sip one of Noche's specialty margaritas.

Atlanta Traditions
Restaurants come and go all the time in this finicky city, but Atlantans remain loyal to their tried-and-true favorites. Perhaps one of Atlanta's most famous and most-visited restaurants is the original Varsity (61 North Ave., 404-881-1706) in Midtown. The big red "V" beckons diners from its spot on North Avenue and the fast-talking staff is quick to ask "what'll ya have?" as soon as you step in the door. Since 1928, The Varsity has been serving up chili cheese slaw dogs, cheeseburgers, onion rings, and the ever-popular Frosted Orange drink. You may need an antacid after a meal here, but it's an Atlanta must, whether you order at the counter or from your car window to the carhop.

Praline Basket
Around almost as long is Mary Mac's Tea Room (224 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-876-1800). Step back in time when you visit this haven for all food Southern. Since it opened in 1945, little has changed, from the menu and décor to the gracious hospitality of the staff. Collard greens, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and unbeatable sweet tea are just some of the reasons Atlantans love Mary Mac's.

On the other end of the dining spectrum is the venerable Pano's & Paul's (1232 W. Paces Ferry Rd., 404-261-3662), the flagship restaurant of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. Begun by restaurateur Pano Karatassos and Paul Albrecht (now chef at Spice) in 1979, Pano's and Paul's represents the foundation of an Atlanta empire that today includes 11 of the most well-respected restaurants in the city. After more than 25 years, Pano's & Paul's never disappoints its well-heeled guests with upscale American cuisine in an elegant atmosphere in Buckhead.

People Watching
Want to know what's hot in Atlanta? Just take a few tips from the beautiful p eople at Twist (3500 Peachtree Rd., 404-869-1191). Perhaps it's the restaurant's location at Phipps Plaza that accounts for the patrons' trendy threads, but Twist consistently draws a sophisticated crowd to enjoy its international fusion tapas, sushi, wraps and popular $5 martinis.

An Atlanta institution, Johnny's Hideaway (3771 Roswell Rd., 404-233-8026) is not known for its cuisine so much as its clientele of over-the-hill hipsters shaking their groove thing to Elvis impersonators on the dance floor. But the scene is definitely campy and fun, so Johnny's also draws in fun-loving partiers of all ages.

A cultural world away in funky Little Five Points, inhale the best burgers in town at the Vortex (438 Moreland Ave., 404-688-1828; 878 Peachtree St., 404-875-1667) and take in the eclectic clientele that make this neighborhood one of the most diverse in the city. Don't be intimidated by the skull and crossbones entrance and the tattoos and piercings decorating the staff. All walks of life are welcome to choose a burger creation from more than a dozen choices.

Off the Beaten Path
Once you find these hidden gems you'll no longer feel like a newcomer in the city. Driving around the industrial area behind Howell Mill Road, you may think you're in no-man's-land-that is until you stumble upon a packed parking lot and dozens of people waiting with margaritas in hand outside Nuevo Laredo Cantina (1495 Chattahoochee Ave., 404-352-9009), one of the best spots for Mexican fare in the city. Its authentic Mexican dishes attract families, singles and couples willing to wait it out for a table in this eclectic space.

If you're looking for the most inventive sandwiches in the city, you'll need a little direction to find Pangaea (1082 Huff Rd., 404-350-8787) in West Midtown. Once you turn off Howell Mill Road onto Huff Road, keep going past the furnishing warehouses and you'll find this bright, urban melting pot of "global grub" inspired by Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern flavors, from bahn-mi sandwiches to kebabs and paninis.

Not too far away is the Food Studio (887 W. Marietta St., 404-815-6677), located in a renovated factory building in the King Plow Arts Center. This urban-chic restaurant specializes in regional American cuisine and "food is art" dishes that are as pleasing to the eyes as they are to the stomach.

Wining and Dining
If your wine knowledge is not at sommelier level, don't fret-Atlanta has some wonderful restaurants that have built well-deserved reputations for knowing their vino. An American bistro known for its carefully selected, yet affordable, wine list and servers skilled with pairing wine and entrees, Toulouse (2293 Peachtree Rd., 404-351-9533), shares its knowledge with the public through special wine events focusing on various regions. A wine committee meets regularly to taste new wines on the market and update the offerings as necessary.

Ali-Oli (3535 Peachtree Rd., 404-266-0414) is a somewhat hidden treasure in Buckhead. This Italian-Mediterranean restaurant is housed in a multi-story shopping center/parking garage but the warm, sophisticated interior is anything but shopping mall-bland. Owner Ophelia Santos is one of the most well-known wine experts in the city, and her wine list reflects an exciting tour of the Mediterranean. The restaurant also offers wine instruction from the very basic to advanced training.

ONE.midtown kitchen (559 Dutch Valley Rd., 404-892-4111) offers one of the best wine deals in the city. The wine list is divided among price tiers and if you order the "bottomless glass" choice, you can drink as much as you want from all wines in the same category (prices range from $19-$49). Servers are adept at steering you toward best choices among the various categories and the bar scene overlooking Piedmont Park can be surprisingly relaxing in this high-energy restaurant.

Quick & Casual Cuisine
So it's Wednesday and you're tired of cooking. Don't resort to a drive-through: Atlanta has some great inexpensive gourmet spots to relax and enjoy a real meal. Two of the most popular quick-dining restaurants are within feet of each other in burgeoning West Midtown. Diners line up around the parking lot for the fresh guacamole, fantastic fish tacos and nightly specials served at Taqueria del Sol (1200 Howell Mill Rd., 404-352-5811; 359 W. Ponce de Leon, 404-377-7668); but don't worry, the line moves fast and you're ordering at the counter in no time. This open, airy spot is perfect for catching a quick bite to eat or lingering a bit longer with a margarita.

A stone's throw away another line snakes out the door at Osteria del Figo Pasta (1210 Howell Mill Rd., 404-351-3700), with diners contemplating over which homemade pasta choice to pair with sauces such as wild mushroom cream or pesto sauce. If you're not into m aking your own decisions, you can't go wrong ordering the zucca, a wonderfully rich butternut squash ravioli with mascarpone and radicchio sauce.

Bring a little glamour to your week by dining at Wolfgang Puck's quick-service restaurant in Buckhead, Wolfgang Puck Express (1745 Peachtree Rd., 404-815-1500). While it is a world away from Spago, this order-at-the-counter restaurant nonetheless features cuisine created by our favorite Austrian chef such as the signature Chinois chicken salad and pizzas, as well as overstuffed sandwiches, pasta and entrees such as Asian barbecue ribs.

Cap off the Night
To keep the date going after the movie, skip the loud bars and chill out at the cozy, candle-lit lounge of Apres Diem (931 Monroe Dr., 404-872-3333) in Midtown next to the Midtown Art Theatre. Sit back on a couch, at a table or on the large outdoor patio and unwind to the punchy jazz music with a shot of espresso and a sinful dessert.

Similar in ambience is Café Intermezzo, with locations in Buckhead (1845 Peachtree Rd., 404-355-0411) and Dunwoody (4505 Ashford Dunwoody Rd., 770-396-1344). Opt for sweets over entrees and head straight to the well-stocked dessert counter for the night's specials. The drink menu can be a bit overwhelming, but there is something for everyone, from nightcap to espresso.

Relatively new to the scene, Tarrazu (265 Ponce De Leon Ave., 404-815-2077) in Poncey-Highlands attracts a fashion-forward crowd of urban hipsters chilling out in the small yet cozy location. Sleek lines, warm colors, low lighting and smooth R&B music set the tone for sipping martinis or having a café mocha with a slice of cake from the counter.

Morning Glories
Brunch is meant to be an indulgence, but at least you can overeat for a good cause at Café 458 (458 Edgewood Ave., 404-523-1239) in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic District. On the weekends, Chef Kari Smid-Gomez creates favorites such as inventive frittatas, lemon raspberry bread pudding French toast, or Carolina pulled pork eggs Benedict with braised greens and Dijon hollandaise sauce for the brunch crowds. During the week, her cuisine is enjoyed by homeless men and women working to get their lives back on track through the Samaritan House of Atlanta. Money raised from weekend brunch goes to the nonprofit organization, and kitchen and wait staff are all volunteers.

Around 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays you're going to be in for a wait at some of the most popular brunch spots. Nowhere is the line longer than at Flying Biscuit Café-in both its Candler Park (1655 McClendon Ave., 404-687-8888) and Midtown (1001 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-8887) locations. People will wait for hours for the signature Flying Biscuit Breakfast-two farm-fresh eggs, free-range chicken & sage breakfast sausage, creamy grits, and of course a fluffy biscuit.

For some of the best grits in town-even if you are not a "grits person"-make a reservation for brunch at Watershed (406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-4900) in downtown Decatur and enjoy Chef Scott Peacock's modern take on Southern cuisine. The brunch menu includes favorites such as country ham and red-eye gravy, sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, and fluffy omelettes-served in a bright, simply decorated renovated gas station.

Romantic Rendezvous for Two
What could be more romantic than dining in a French restaurant? An old-time r in Atlanta at 27, South of France (2345 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-325-6963) serves some of the most authentic French cuisine in the city in a rustic dining room whose focal point is a large, stone-stacked fireplace setting the place aglow with warmth and light.

If American food is more to your liking, reserve a table at the always elegant Vinings Inn (3011 Paces Mill Rd., 770-438-2282) in historic Vinings. The 1800s house-turned-restaurant serves an upscale menu of American cuisine with a decidedly Southern twist-from stuffed fried green tomatoes to pan-roasted free-range chicken or roasted Australian lamb rack.

The cozy, dimly lit Supper Club (308 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-370-1207) in Decatur is not your average dining room. Tables are spaced for intimate dining and warm colors and rich fabrics give the 30-seat room a sensual feel. The menu is eclectic and seasonal with European bistro accents. The romantic hideaway focuses on featuring interesting wine and a private dining room is also available.

Turning the Tables on Ethnic Fare
Roswell's Marco Polo Chinese Restaurant (1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd., 770-998-3263) is proving Chinese cuisine is better enjoyed on a table set with linen than out of a takeout box in front of your TV. This upscale yet casual Chinese restaurant offers wine tastings to pair with your gourmet fare, artistic presentation and a family-friendly atmosphere.

It may not look like much from its strip mall exterior, but Zapata (5975 Peachtree Pkwy., 770-248-0052) in Norcross is one of the best spots for fresh, authentic Mexican fare. Don't come in expecting chips and salsa waiting on the table-instead order the queso fundido (tortillas, cheese dip and chorizo sausage) to start and continue with an impressive dish served hot in a molcajete, whose arrival is guaranteed to turn a few heads.

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