Best of Atlanta 2020: Food & Drink


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Best of Atlanta 2020 Little Bear
Little Bear

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best New Restaurant: Little Bear

Chef Jarrett Stieber spent six years planning his first restaurant while simultaneously running his acclaimed pop-up, Eat Me Speak Me. Finally, he opened Little Bear (named for his astonishingly photogenic Great Pyrenees) on a promising late-winter evening in Summerhill’s ambitious and burgeoning restaurant district. “We struggled through everything, and we finally had two weeks where we were open in our own space the way we always wanted it to be,” he told us earlier this year. “We were hitting our stride and doing well. And then, this hits.” The pandemic has been cruel to Stieber, who closed his dining room in mid-March after only a few weeks and has yet to reopen it, save for a few recent private-dining reservations. But Atlantans hungering for his expansive, creative food have been generous. Little Bear has done a brisk and beautiful to-go business, with dishes spanning the cuisines of Hungary, Sichuan, Italy, and beyond (no two of Stieber’s ever-changing menus are alike) and boasting the likes of a deceptively simple red pea and noodle stew (blankets of perfect pappardelle mingling with bitter greens and dotted with perky Sea Island red peas, in a garlicky broth barely thickened with fermented squash paste) and fried chicken in young ginger broth (pristinely fried slices of thigh meat and tender stalks of bok choy, bathing in a sauce heady with ginger, sweet peppers, chili oil, and herbs). Month after month, the takeout program has kept the restaurant humming. We’re looking forward to the day when Little Bear, with eaters back in its dining room, again can sing. 71 Georgia Avenue, Summerhill, 404-500-5396,

Rod Lassiter and Parnass Lim Savang of Talat Market
Rod Lassiter and Parnass Lim Savang of Talat Market

Photograph by Diwang Valdez

Best New Chefs: Parnass Lim Savang and Rod Lassiter, Talat Market

Had this been a normal year (hahahahaha), we would have been completely dumbfounded as to how to choose between Little Bear and Talat Market as Best New Restaurant. Both were launched by dazzlingly talented chefs and born out of pop-up restaurants that left us yearning for years for brick-and-mortar incarnations. Both offer food that you can’t find anywhere else in the city (or, really, anywhere else at all). They’re even in the same neighborhood, a place with a magnetic pull for casual and creative food. Rather than flip a coin, we settled the matter on a technicality: Talat Market, which opened in late April, only has been able to offer takeout so far. When it finally does open its dreamy dining room, it can and will become a contender for Best New Restaurant 2021. In the meantime, spend as many dollars as you can spare digging into the Georgia-inflected, seasonally minded Thai creations of Best New Chefs Parnass Lim Savang and Rod Lassiter. Yum phonlamai is a fruit salad worthy of the gods, a mix of Asian pear, red plum, and grape graced with mint, betel leaf, lemongrass, fish sauce, scallop floss, and toasted coconut. When that fall dish arrived to subsequently haunt my palate for weeks, I was still pining for a dish I’d instantly become enamored of months earlier: yum khao thwat, a cacophony of crispy rice, red chili jam, beets, little gem lettuce, peanut, ginger, cilantro, and shallots. And Talat Market’s geng dang muu, a spicy red curry with ground pork that Savang’s grandmother used to make, isn’t just ready for its close-up; it’s already landed on the cover of Bon Appetit. 112 Ormond Street, Summerhill, 404-257-6255,

Best New OTP Restaurant: Sweet Octopus

Located in impossibly cute downtown Duluth, this two-story restaurant has an abundance of choices for diners who can’t make up their minds, everything from ramen to Thai curries to hefty empanadas stuffed with bacon and eggs or bulgogi barbecue. But the poke is where the restaurant really shines, and the Instagrammable items like poke doughnuts and sushi burritos are anything but gimmicky. Thick, soft rice easily absorbs the restaurant’s sweet eel sauce and spicy mayo with an extra kick, and the fish, avocado, and veggies are freakishly fresh. For a perfect lunch, opt for a salmon doughnut—they’re bigger than you’d expect—paired with a boba tea bobbing with rich, brown-sugary tapioca pearls. 3559 West Lawrenceville Street, Duluth, 678-825-2990,

Best New Comfort Food: Scotch Yard

There’s no sustenance more necessary at the moment than high-quality comfort food, and Scotch Yard is the place to order it. Chef Scotley Innis, who’s formerly of 5Church and appeared on Hell’s Kitchen, launched this pop-up out of a delivery- and takeout-only shared kitchen while working on his upcoming restaurant, the Continent. And if the food he’s putting out at Scotch Yard is any indication, the Continent will be a slam-dunk. Thick, rich lobster mac and cheese is the must-order dish; the texture of the pasta is perfect, the layers of flavor are complex, and you get a full lobster tail in your takeout box in addition to the large pieces scattered within. The seafood curry, too, is a bowl of luxe solace, the turmeric-yellowed rice laden with a lobster tail, huge shrimp, and massive stalks of bok choy. Perfectly charred jerk chicken can be ordered on its own or in simple, satisfying tacos. And the entrees are large and rich enough to eat over the course of two days. 800 Forrest Street; order via Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub, or DoorDash, or call 404-953-5301

Best Diner: Wonderkid

Before the pandemic, people fell under the charm of this exquisitely designed vintage diner dedicated to the 1970s, part ice cream and cakes parlor, part all-day breakfast place with egg dishes for the ages. The team (the King of Pops brothers and Bon Ton’s Darren Carr and Eric Simpkins) attracts a stylish crowd to the Atlanta Dairies complex on Memorial Drive. A row of overstuffed red banquettes facing an iconic shiny counter with traditional stools offers hospitable nooks for digging into neotraditional comfort fare, including plush cheeseburgers, pot pies, meatloaf melts, and some of the best layer cakes and soft-serve cones on this side of town. 777 Memorial Drive, Reynoldstown, 404-331-0909,

Lyla Lila review
Octopus with pistachio pesto and cannellini beans, grouper with fennel and dehydrated polenta, and crispy duck lasagna

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best Freeform Italian: Lyla Lila

Former head chef at St. Cecilia and all-around pasta artist Craig Richards continues to distinguish himself with sophisticated dishes that taste as good as they look. Specialties such as his crispy duck lasagna, extraordinarily thin raviolini with Sicilian pork ragu, and soulful Roman-style tagliolini cacio e pepe are some of the highlights of his menu. Italy is that menu’s main influence, but it detours toward Spain for some extra playfulness. The bar scene and the list of low-intervention wines get much love from a clientele eager for such refinements in the Fox Theatre neighborhood. 693 Peachtree Street, Midtown, 404-963-2637,

Best New Pizza (Central): Pizza Jeans

As with its sister operation, Root Baking Co., Pizza Jeans does just a few things (three or four pizzas whole or by-the-slice, a salad, a few sandwiches, breadsticks, a couple of sweets)—and does them exceedingly well. Formerly a Friday night pop-up inside Root’s second-floor Ponce City Market digs, Pizza Jeans took over more of the space this past summer as a permanent tenant (with Root retaining a counter for selling its glorious breads). Made with Root’s naturally leavened dough, Pizza Jeans’ lightly charred, generously sized pies stand out in a crowded field of exceptional pizza—new and otherwise. Chef’s special pies are thoughtful and fun; a recent one mixed red sauce with white garlic sauce and was topped with Sungold tomatoes, mascarpone, frisee, lemon, and local sausage. But the straight-up margherita shines just fine. Bonus: You can snag a loaf of Root’s sourdough, too. 675 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Old Fourth Ward, 470-639-8046,

Best New Pizza (South): Slim & Husky’s

This Adair Park pizza place is the second of two Atlanta outposts from the hip-hop–minded Nashville minichain, which gained attention by opening in historically Black and underserved North Nashville. While the first Atlanta location on the restaurant-saturated Westside was overshadowed by so many other openings, Slim & Husky’s mission has resonated more strongly in Adair Park. The pies have names evoking vintage hip-hop (Rony, Roni, Rone! or Got 5 On It), and they’re made in front of you, assembly-line style, before being placed in a conveyor oven. What emerges on the other side is high on stoner-y fun. Go for the Cee No Green, loaded with ground beef, pepperoni, sausage, and two styles of bacon. 581 Metropolitan Parkway, Adair Park, 404-458–3327,

Best New Pizza (North): MTH Pizza

Unwilling to commit to calling its pizza New York–style or Neapolitan–style, the founders of MTH Pizza—from the Muss & Turner’s team—settled on the dubious phrase “pizza a la Smyrna.” With so many solid pizza options in Atlanta, one might not feel inclined to seek out a Smyrna iteration. But one bite of the margherita would convince even the most skeptical diners that they shouldn’t rush to conclusions. And one bite of the clam pizza—the chewy bivalves mingling with near-buttery mozzarella and brightened with gremolata and a squeeze of charred lemon—would convince those diners that they should rush to Cobb County. MTH’s high-protein dough is fermented for three days and produces an undercarriage not as soft as that of a traditional Neapolitan and not as firm as a New York slice. And honestly, it’s the ideal compromise. 1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333,

Best Tacos: Supremo

Restaurateur Nhan Le (8Arm, Octopus Bar, and Soba) and former Octopus Bar chef Duane Kulers channel both Mexico City and southern California at this minuscule-in-size and gigantic-in-flavor taco shop. The shipping container–sized structure on Memorial Drive has a walk-up counter and a tiny, standing-only patio—and, really, what more do you need these days? For the spicy lamb barbacoa, the meat is swaddled in banana leaves and braised for five hours; the al pastor is properly made with pork marinated with guajillo and citrus and slow-roasted on a vertical rotating spit; and the rich and mellow mole gracing the chicken is composed from 30 ingredients. All are served on glorious tricolor tortillas made from three types of corn: The swirl of blue brings an earthiness, the white contributes a smooth and creamy texture, and the yellow lends a robust corn flavor. 701 Memorial Drive, Reynoldstown, 404-965-1446,

Where to eat take-out Atlanta coronavirus
NFA Burger

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best Burger: NFA Burger

You’ll find Atlanta’s best burger not at the bar of some rarefied, chef-driven restaurant but inside a Chevron on Chamblee Dunwoody Road. Owner Billy Kramer’s delectably griddled double-stack, accessorized only with American cheese, pickles, and “sassy sauce” (sort of like a spicy Thousand Island), brings to mind a Big Mac, but so much more delicious. Previously available only at Kramer’s popular pop-up, these burgers are worth the drive from wherever you are—no matter how many McDonald’s (or fancy cheffy spots) you must pass to get there. 5465 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, 404-666–2874,

Best Plant-Based: Mamak Vegan

Six years ago, Atlanta got a stunner of a Malaysian restaurant in Buford Highway’s Mamak. This year, Mamak expanded, opening a second spot in nearby Chamblee—but with a twist: The menu is entirely vegan. As with the original Mamak, the spice here is precisely calibrated and the flavors expertly layered. But the menu is more compact, with vegan riffs on Mamak classics as well as unique dishes. You will not miss the shrimp, squid, and egg in the chow kway teow; the ideally chewy, wok-fried noodles, now with tofu, are no less of a marvel. And even if you’re a Mamak veteran, you will be newly won over by fried rice with olive leaves, carrots, string beans, and ginger, or a fragrant soup of coconut milk, okra, bean sprouts, and tomato. That soup alone could sustain us through the winter. 2390 Chamblee Tucker Road, Chamblee, 678-909–8188,

Best Modern Filipino: Estrellita

A youthful energy animates this cute spot in Grant Park, just off Boulevard overlooking fancy plant nursery Garden*Hood. Two of the three owners are siblings born in the Philippines, and the food they serve is an homage to their mother’s cooking. The menu is compact—usually just eight items for dinner and another four for brunch. (We’re all about the egg, cheese, and Spam slider with banana sauce.) The dinner menu offers two types of lumpia (Filipino eggrolls, either traditionally stuffed with shrimp and chicken or Shanghai-style with ground beef and water chestnuts), lechon kawali (brined and deep-fried pork belly with rice), and the pancit (a giant portion of skinny noodles stir-fried with shrimp, a ton of vegetables, and just enough soy sauce to respect the integrity of the other stuff). And with only two tables on the sidewalk plus a few more inside, it’s easy for diners to socially distance and chill. 580 Woodward Avenue, Grant Park, 404-390-3038,

Best Neighborhood Pioneer: The Companion

Andy Gonzales of the ever-cozy Steinbeck’s pub in Oakhurst forged ahead midpandemic to open a restaurant in the underserved Bolton neighborhood on the west side. The Companion is as much fun outside as it is inside; the festive patio overlooks a historic masonic lodge and is a lovely setting for grazing on a tempura fish fillet sandwich with Sriracha tartar and Sichuan-style eggplant fries. The concise food, beer, and cocktail menus are well-tailored to the convivial spot—and there’s a takeout window, too. 2316 Marietta Road, Bolton, 404-228-1632,

Best New Barbecue: Taylor’d Bar-B-Q

Tired of businesses trying to collect hipster points all over the board? This low-key, quietly excellent new ’cue joint on the outskirts of Avondale Estates should hit all the right notes. The pulled pork comes in unctuous, rosy shards that honor the skill of the pitmaster. The ribs, smoked over a mix of pecan wood and white oak and deeply caramelized under a coating of spices, may fool the eye but not the palate: There’s a surprising tenderness under that near-black bark. Heavy-duty sides include a jambalaya ’cue cup (smoked pork, brisket, chicken, and andouille in rice) and five-cheese mac ’n’ cheese with large corkscrew pasta. The under-$10 bowls are an excellent value and a perfect lunch, even for the heartiest appetites. 2759 East College Avenue, Decatur, 678-974-8213,

Southern Belle Atlanta
Ceviche Like in Peru

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best Snacks and Cocktails: Southern Belle

In a prime location next to the Plaza Theatre on Ponce, chef Joey Ward’s delightful cocktail and small plates salon emerged on the scene as a chic anteroom for his far pricier Georgia Boy restaurant—but we can’t help but want to park ourselves at Southern Belle all night. Ward, previously of Gunshow, and his creative team have continued in the pandemic to sling clever dishes (crispy pork belly with Indian-spiced okra fries, peach and tamarind chutney, and chaat masala), witty drinks (the Fresh Quince of Bel-Air mixes gin, Campari, vermouth, lemon, and, of course, quince), and outstanding desserts (don’t skip the warm fig newton cake for two, prepared tableside), but most of the action now takes place in one of the most enchanting courtyards in town. Bonus: The glamorous outdoor space is also open for brunch. 1043 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Poncey-Highland, 404-698-3961,

Best New Date-Night Restaurant: Apt 4B

Hidden away in the back of a shopping center behind a tattoo parlor and a yoga studio, this Buckhead newcomer feels like a secret escape. And inside, the impeccably designed restaurant—abundant jewel tones, large abstract murals, and framed Jet magazine covers—exudes cool. The soundtrack fits the scene; the shelves of vinyl records on display come from the personal collection of owner Sim Walker (of Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar), a more than 10,000-album treasure trove that boasts everything from Wu-Tang Clan to the Mary Poppins soundtrack. (And yes, there’s a booth that often hosts live DJs.) But lest you think this restaurant is all style, Haitian-born chef Dayana Joseph’s Afro-Caribbean menu features plenty of shareable appetizers—oxtail hummus, duck wings a l’orange, lightly fried cracked conch—and impressive entrees like a whole fried red snapper paired with vividly pink pickled vegetables. If you’re not ready for the dine-in experience, order takeout at the bar and plate an elegant meal at home. 2293 Peachtree Street, Buckhead, 404-709-2906,

Best Food Truck Turned Brick-and-Mortar: Buena Gente

Claiming a tiny storefront in the always-packed Clairmont Road mini–strip mall that’s home to Community Q and Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar, this Cuban bakery—previously renowned as a food truck—is a welcome newcomer. The perfectly pressed Cubanos and Medianoches stuffed with ham, roast pork, and Swiss cheese (best eaten in your car before they have the time to cool down—the shop has no seating) are the main attraction. But the traditional snacks and sweet pastries (along with a strong cafecito) are excellent pick-me-ups—if you arrive early enough to nab them before they sell out. 1365 Clairmont Road, North Decatur, 678-744-5638,

Evergreen Butcher and Baker
Loaves of miche and sourdough

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best Butchery and Bakery: Evergreen Butcher & Baker

Emma Schacke is as remarkable a baker (mostly bread and viennoiseries, everything sourdough) as her husband, Sean, is a butcher (whole animals from local farmers, some well-priced, housemade charcuterie). The couple works in beauteous harmony—they even live above their Kirkwood store in a historic building that feels like an idyll. You can trust their contactless procedures as much as their magically delicious homemade pantry staples: Discover the magic of einkorn spelt bread and tangy miche; buy your dog a sourdough treat; and stock up on the finest croissants, sausage rolls, and fresh pork belly you can imagine. 2011 Hosea L. Williams Drive, Kirkwood, 404-996-2442,

Best New Coffee Roaster: Portrait Coffee

John Onwuchekwa and Aaron Fender created Portrait Coffee with a mission to disrupt the supply chain of the craft coffee industry, where Black and brown people grow the majority of coffee but aren’t the ones selling it. “When you tell people that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia by people that looked more like me and Aaron, they tend to be a little shocked regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic background,” Onwuchekwa told us in July. Launched online during the pandemic, Portrait has had Atlantans buzzing all year about their rich brews. In addition to its subscription program, Portrait takes orders online every Tuesday, when varieties often sell out by the end of the day. Your beans arrive just a few days later and will make your kitchen smell heavenly. Up next: A West End coffee shop that was delayed due to the pandemic.

Elemental Spirits Co.
Elemental Spirits Co.

Photograph by Martha Williams

Best Bottle Shop: Elemental Spirits Co.

Everything you need to become an at-home cocktail maven—or to stock up on unpretentious natural wines, or to create your own themed six-packs—is available in this expertly curated little shop occupying a former portion of Manuel’s Tavern. Owner Cory Atkinson, a cocktail hobbyist who lives in the neighborhood, and wine buyer Jesse Kirkpatrick, who used to manage Holeman & Finch Bottle Shop in Buckhead, have created the rare local bottle shop where virtual shopping is as engaging as in-person browsing. Vintage glassware and cocktail tools are available, too. 602 North Highland Avenue, Poncey-Highland, 404-990-4310,

Best New Brewery: The Lost Druid

The modern architecture is inspiring; the beer has a ton of structure and strong Germanic flavors; and the comfortable tap room and quiet beergarden-style patio are ideal settings for noshing on artichoke flatbreads, beef sliders with blue cheese and arugula, and spent-grain peach bread. And while the staff won’t overwhelm you with esoteric info, they’ll smartly answer questions about hop origins and brewing techniques. 2866 Washington Street, Avondale Estates, 404-998-5679,

Best New Gelato: Cremalosa

It’s easy to miss this tiny gelato shop tucked away in a mixed-use development across College Avenue from the Avondale MARTA station. But the shop, from former AJC food critic Meredith Ford, is worth seeking out for its ludicrously creamy, damn-near-velvety pints. The chocolate is a decadent dream, but we’re swooning even harder over the Rome-evoking pistachio. Get them both. 2657 East College Avenue, Decatur, 404-600-6085,

Erika Council (Bomb Biscuits)
We’ve long had a thing for Council’s fluffy biscuits, which prepandemic were available mostly at pop-ups. In the age of Covid, she started doing biscuit drops across most of Atlanta—yep, a half-dozen of these pick-me-ups, right on your doorstep.

Keyatta Mincey-Parker A Sip of Paradise
Keyatta Mincey Parker’s community garden in East Atlanta

Photograph by Martha Williams

Keyatta Mincey Parker (A Sip of Paradise)
A few weeks before her gig as a star bartender at Bon Ton was sidelined by Covid-19, Mincey Parker launched a community garden she’d conceived months earlier. Located in East Atlanta, A Sip of Paradise wound up offering a more-necessary-than-ever haven for service-industry workers dealing with the loss of income and mounting stress from the pandemic.

Pinky Cole (Slutty Vegan)
During the pandemic, Cole opened not just one additional outpost of her wildly popular (and vegan) burger shack but two. And on top of that, Cole (along with Derrick Hayes, see below) found time to give back: She helped buy a car for the widow of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by police in a Wendy’s parking lot, and partnered with Clark Atlanta University to provide scholarships for Brooks’s four children.,

Derrick Hayes (Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks)
After the pandemic forced him to close the dining room of his popular downtown restaurant—and after Big Dave’s was damaged in the riots following George Floyd’s killing—Hayes (with donations from two rappers, Lil Durk and Russ) not only handed out free food at his shop and to healthcare workers; he also gave all excess funds to Black-owned small businesses. And in addition to that, he helped Pinky Cole support the family of police shooting victim Rayshard Brooks.

Ryan Smith (Staplehouse)
Smith’s celebrated tasting-menu restaurant in Old Fourth Ward switched gears during the pandemic to hand out free meals to out-of-work restaurant workers, a mission aligned with that of its former sister nonprofit operation, Giving Kitchen. (Staplehouse restaurant subsequently split off from the nonprofit.) When Smith finally did reopen Staplehouse to the public, it was not as a special-occasion, prix-fixe spot but as a market offering beautifully crafted pantry items and takeout meals.

Jessamine Starr (Ett)
There are few restaurants that make more sense in a pandemic than not, but Jessamine Starr’s thoughtful and ingenious Ett is one of them. Of course, you can hardly call Ett a “restaurant”—and if you do, you’d have to acknowledge that it’s the oddest or smallest one (or both): a one-seat, zero-contact, open-air refuge accessible by a brief hike through the Roswell woods. Ett’s lone diners (only one is seated per night of service) pay only what they can. Starr has described Ett as more of a social experiment than a restaurant per se, but it is no less enchanting for it.

Maricela Vega (8Arm CSA)
When 8Arm temporarily closed in the early days of Covid-19’s spread, that gave its social-justice -minded chef a chance to further focus on a project already underway: a Community-Supported Agriculture program that benefits urban farmers. While 8Arm’s CSA does little to financially benefit the restaurant itself, it made all the difference to the farms that had supplied 8Arm with its gorgeous produce—allowing many of them to make as much money selling to the public as they would have to the restaurant. Vega also arranged for a portion of the proceeds from each CSA box to fund additional boxes for undocumented people who’d lost their incomes. The CSA program currently is on seasonal hiatus; look for its return in the spring.

Deborah VanTrece

Courtesy of A Different Kind of Chick

Deborah VanTrece (Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours)
While in-person dining at her restaurant was on pause in the spring, VanTrece used the opportunity to do two things: offer pay-what-you-can takeout meals to those hit with layoffs or financial setbacks, and speak loudly about racial inequity in the restaurant industry itself. (It’s no coincidence that her restaurant reopened on Juneteenth.) VanTrece spoke with us early in the pandemic about her fears that minority-owned businesses would suffer the most. “It was that way before, and it’s multiplied now,” she said. “I would like people to pay attention. Do not dismiss us. Know that we’re still here. And fight for us, too.”

Best of Atlanta Reader's Choice

Best restaurant
South of Heaven, Carrollton

Best new restaurant
Carson Kitchen Atlanta, Alpharetta

Best OTP restaurant
Seed Kitchen & Bar, Marietta

Best affordable restaurant
Delbar, Inman Park

Best restaurant for a splurge (tie)
Marcel, West Midtown
Tiny Lou’s, Poncey-Highland


Best brunch spot
Woodward & Park, Grant Park

Best chef
Craig Richards

Best local brewery
Second Self Beer Co., Logan Circle

Best locally brewed beer
Thai Wheat from Second Self

Best wine shop
3 Parks Wine Shop, Glenwood Park

Best Georgia winery
Chateau Elan Winery & Resort, Braselton

This article appears in our December 2020 issue.