Ages ago, I moved from Chicago to Atlanta.
And now that I’ve lived here for the last thousand years or so, I’m starting to get a feel for what’s good to eat down here (and what’s not.) It’s also probably worth mentioning that I’m a foodie, a wine-lover, a cocktail fiend, and an atmosphere aficionado. I love to eat. And I love to eat out on the town.
Before we start, I’ve got a disclaimer. The following ten restaurants are NOT what I’m claiming to be Atlanta’s best food. That’s a different list. This list is exactly what the title says. Good food + good cocktails + cool atmosphere = on the list. These are all places I’d take a date, and none of them will break your bank.
In no particular order, please enjoy:
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Tannery Row Ale House
Features – It’s all about the building. It’s literally a former tannery.
Way out in Buford (NE ‘burb of Atlanta) diners can experience classic American cuisine in a renovated tannery. The ceiling is three-stories high. The building still has remnants of its past as a full-service tannery…from 1873. The food here isn’t really the draw; it’s good, but not transcendent. It’s about the coolness of eating in a huge & open building. Tannery Row also doubles as a great event space, hosting New Years’ parties and other bashes. They can do it because they’re frickin’ huge.
Sage Woodfire Tavern (Two locations: Perimeter and Alpharetta)
Features – Huuuuge bar. Excellent wine list. Fantastic meat dishes.
Situated on Atlanta’s Northeast perimeter, Sage Woodfire is a meat and wine lover’s paradise. You say you want a great lamb shank, a succulent slab of pork, or a bombastic-good hamburger? This is your spot. And let’s not forget the wine list, which is big and yet somehow still refined. The wait-staff never fails to make excellent pairings. And…if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, they’ve got all the goodies. (Personally, I’m convinced they have a master-level sommelier hiding behind the bar.) Speaking of bars, Sage’s is truly massive. It’d be hard not to enjoy yourself sitting up there, soaking up the warm, oaky, and vibrant atmosphere.
Features – Kabobs, custom cocktails, and the best rice around
Perhaps some are intimidated by the idea of Persian cuisine. At Rumi’s there’s no need to be. The menu features an amazing selection of fresh, perfectly-spiced meats, fine sauces, and over-the-top good rice. Like chicken, lamb, salmon, or prawns? Good, because Rumi’s makes them all taste unique and yet utterly approachable. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the cocktails are absurdly good. I’d list them here, but they’re all amazing. Just. Go.
Brio (Downtown location)
Features – Classic Italian dishes served with fine wine in an upscale setting
In a big, open room, with a wait-staff buzzing all around, patrons can still find a seat and enjoy a private (maybe even romantic) evening. In the heart of downtown (there’s also a Perimeter location) Brio is accessible, fun, and delicious. They have all the classic Italian dishes, and they do them very well. While good for dates, it’s also a great spot for larger groups, which the huge central room can easily accommodate. Once again, here’s a spot with a good (but not great) wine selection. Need some noodles and a good drink or three? Get downtown and try Brio.
Eclipse di Luna (Perimeter location)
Features – Fast-paced tapas with amazing cocktails and late-night live music
Eclipse di Luna is one of my personal favorite spots in Atlanta. Either on dates or in small, tight groups, its lively atmosphere and stunningly good beverages can make the night just happen. The menu is almost all tapas, and it’s all great. Spiced taters, hummus, smoked salmon…the list goes on and on. It’s all got a hint of Spanish flavor; nothing too spicy, nothing too tame. Every time I go here, a pitcher of a little sumthin’ sumthin’ (usually mojitos) finds its way to my table. If you want a nice and loud night, this is your spot. (And afterward, head over to Café Intermezzo for coffee and cake.)
Features – Small, focused menu. Top shelf cocktails. Wonderful staff.
Now let’s head out of the city. Way up in Flowery Branch (practice home of the Atlanta Falcons) one can find a true Southern gem. With a tight menu (usually 6-8 entrees) Antebellum’s focus is to make each bite life-changing good. They feature contemporary Southern cuisine, such as wild scallops & shrimp, braised duck, and mouth-watering short ribs. And let’s not forget the small but formidable wine list, perfectly paired to the seasonal menu. The bar is tiny, and yet…if you can find a seat there…you might not want to leave.
Features – Straight up Mex and Tex-Mex entrees. Heavenly margaritas.
In sunny Suwanee, one can find Cinco, a somewhat upscale take on Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Want sizzling hot fajitas? Go here. Want some choice tacos? Yep. Right here. Cinco isn’t super fancy, but it’ll fill you up with some damn good (and super fresh) food. Featured on Cinco’s menu are its margaritas, all of which are sharp, strong, and deeeeelicious. If you’re staying out late, Cinco also has a secondary bar attached to the restaurant. It’s called Cinco After 5. It’s great for people-watching (and eavesdropping) while sipping on top-notch cocktails.
Atlantic Seafood Company
Features – Super fresh seafood paired with excellent service
Up in Alpharetta, we find Atlantic Seafood Company. As far as variety and quality of seafood options, there might be no better location in Atlanta. They’ve got everything…and they’ll prepare it any way you please. If you want classic and fresh-off-the-boat crustaceans or fish, they’re yours. And if you’ve got a taste for fresh oysters, look no further. Not to be outdone, ASC’s staff is fast, courteous, and professional. I’ve been there dozens of times, and I’ve yet to have a sub-par experience. Plus, like most of the restaurants on this list, Atlantic Seafood has superior craft cocktails.
Features – Craft beers, excellent daily specials, and specialty pizzas.
A personal favorite of mine, Kaleidoscope is both a quality spot (to haunt and people-watch) and a solid choice for dinner and a loud conversation. Situated in the heart of Brookhaven, it features a huge long-table in its heart, surrounded by smaller, cozier tables. The bartending game is strong, with weekly craft beer specials and a tasty core of tending-toward-strong cocktails. They’ve recently added a pizza oven, which only adds to an already wonderful menu. Aside from the food and spirits, KScope has some of the liveliest late-night crowds in town. Pick a spot and sip the night away, people.
Features – Mega-friendly staff. Monthly menu specials. Superior atmosphere.
With a sprinkling of locations in and around metro Atlanta, Marlow’s has quickly become a dining/drinking hot spot. The M (as they call it) specializes in its super, super, super friendly staff. Seriously, the M team is as professional and courteous as they come. Even better, as someone who’s been to the M hundreds of times, I attest I’ve never had a bad meal there. Gumbo, pork chops, salmon, crème brulee…it’s all solid. While not boasting a massive beer or wine selection, their cocktails are top notch, especially the famous New Fashioned. Forget your average sports bar. Hit up the M.
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Headed to Atlanta for the weekend? Lived here for ages and looking for someplace new? Try one of these. You’ll not regret it.
And when you’re done eating (and maybe getting tipsy) entertain your guests at home with some quality Coffee Table Philosophy.
J Edward Neill
Author of the new novella, A Door Never Dreamed Of
Prolific painter of giant canvasses
Dark fiction novelist extraordinaire