Best of Atlanta 2022: Eat

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Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Belle & Lily’s Caribbean Brunch House

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Caribbean: Belle & Lily’s Caribbean Brunch House

Some of the folks behind Apt. 4B and Ms. Icey’s Kitchen & Bar partnered to bring us this sweet little storefront restaurant, specializing in hearty Caribbean-style brunch: mango French toast, whole fried snapper with plantains, and a dish called Big Batty Gyal (jerk chicken with pancakes and ginger-hibiscus syrup)—plus mimosas, of course, in flavors like hibiscus and passionfruit. Embry Hills

Neighborhood Expansion: Deborah VanTrece in Cascade Heights

Building on the success of her funky Blandtown eatery, Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, chef Deborah VanTrece made moves this year into Cascade Heights, first opening Oreatha’s at the Point (where executive chef Christian “Lucke” Bell cooks dishes inspired by global recipes that former flight attendant VanTrece picked up during her years of travel: Thai-style catfish, Parisian steak frites, and so forth) and most recently the Latin soul food restaurant Serenidad. They join the Beautiful, Buzz Coffee and Winehouse, and other preexisting neighborhood faves at the corner of Cascade, Mays, and Beecher—an eclectic, burgeoning restaurant district.

Brazil-Style Pizza: Brasiliana Pizza

After New York, residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil, consume more pizza than anyone else in the world, owing to the city’s robust number of inhabitants of Italian descent. In 2021, Thiago Machado and Nicollie Conovalow launched this pizzeria to offer the elaborately topped pies of their home country, which feature ingredients like the soft Brazilian cheese Catupiry, olives, tuna, hard-boiled eggs—and much more, including joyful dessert pizzas showered in chocolate sprinkles. Takeout and delivery only. Berkeley Park

Detroit-Style Pizza: Emmy Squared

Launching Emmy Squared in Brooklyn in 2016, Emily and Matthew Hyland have since expanded across the country, including two Atlanta locations. Their Detroit-style pies—fluffy, focaccia-esque dough with irresistibly crisp edges—include the Colony Squared, with pepperoni, pickled jalapeños, and a drizzle of honey. Another perk: better salads than you’re likely to find in just about any other pizza joint. Glenwood Park and Westside

Omakase: Mujo

Restaurateur Federico Castellucci didn’t want to open just another place to sit down and eat: He wanted to “bring back fine dining,” combining impeccable service, a beautiful dining room, and world-class sushi from world-class sushi chef J. Trent Harris. See our review on page 50 for more. Westside

Omakase but Slightly More Affordable: NoriFish

The Japanese style of omakase typically involves many small courses, many hours of dining time, and not a little money. At this sleek, Perimeter-adjacent restaurant, chef Sean Park (Okiboru Tsukemen & Ramen) makes the affair a bit more accessible and affordable: All the food comes in two courses and can be ordered a la carte. Park incorporates some heterodox ingredients (lime zest, truffle salt) but they never obscure the clarion flavors of the fresh fish, flown in twice weekly from Japan. Sandy Springs

Buzzing Dining District: Highland Avenue south of Ponce

This year, Atlanta diners bemoaned the closing of Babette’s Cafe, but there’s plenty of tasty consolation on Highland Avenue—and venerable Manuel’s Tavern is just the beginning. In a few short blocks, you’ll also find the peerless bottle shop Elemental Spirits, Asian-influenced Sweet Auburn BBQ, a second location of Soul Vegetarian, and two restaurants that were immediate destinations upon launching in 2022: Fishmonger and Tio Lucho’s. (See below.) There’s also a new location of East Pole Coffee that will soon add an evening wine bar, Sea Legs; a new location of Jinya Ramen Bar; and, last but not least, a forthcoming bakery by one of Atlanta’s finest flour artists, Sarah Dodge. Called Colette, it’s set to open in the building formerly known as the Highland Inn.

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Fishmonger’s blackened grouper sandwich

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Fish (Between Bread): Fishmonger’s blackened grouper sandwich

You may think you’ve had a blackened grouper sandwich, but we’ll venture to say you haven’t had one as good as what they’re slinging at this fish market/raw bar—an insanely juicy, piping hot, ardently spiced piece of fish topped with pickled peppers, Florida sauce, tomato, and herb salad. Run, don’t walk. Poncey-Highland (a second location opened recently in Kirkwood)

Fish (and Everything Else): Tio Lucho’s

Since he launched his pop-up, La Chingana, some of Arnaldo Castillo’s signature dishes have been his ultrafresh ceviches: raw fish marinated in spicy, citrusy leche de tigre and served with crunchy cancha corn, sweet potatoes, and other texturally captivating ingredients. The good news is that these dishes and the rest of Castillo’s Peruvian coastal cooking now have a permanent home at Tio Lucho’s—one of our favorite restaurants to open this year, where the fish is fantastic but everything else (salads, cocktails, meat dishes) is easily as good. Poncey-Highland

Fish (in Tins): Boho115

No shade to the talented chefs in the kitchen at this breezy Latin/Iberian eatery, but some of the finest options on the menu aren’t even made in-house: They’re conservas, the tinned seafood treasures of Spain and Portugal. Spicy baby sardines, razor clams, briny Basque anchovies: Served straight out of the package here with grilled lemon, crackers, and hot sauce, they make a marvelous appetizer—or meal in themselves, provided you order enough. In either case, wash them down with a Fernet and Coke. Decatur

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Atrium

Photograph by Tim Lens

Restaurant Design: Atrium

The latest from chef-restaurateur Tal Baum is tucked into a corner of perpetually mobbed Ponce City Market—but once you’re inside, surrounded by whimsical hand-painted murals, hanging plants, and boldly colored banquettes, you could easily trick yourself into believing you’re someplace way chiller and more tropical. If you come for the scenery, stay for the extensive cocktail list and lively, seasonally driven menu. Old Fourth Ward

Cheese (Casual, Retail): Capella

To the extent “celebrity cheesemonger” can be a thing, Raymond Hook is it: He helped open Anne Quatrano’s Star Provisions before leaving Atlanta for a spell, and his return—and the opening of this gourmet cheese shop—has been long awaited indeed. The shop stocks artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and bread, some of which make their way onto fresh sandwiches available for purchase. Armour Yards

Cheese (Sit-Down, Buzzy): Bastone

The purest expression of what chef Pat Pascarella is up to at this “mozzarella bar” here is definitely the mozz flight: a handful of varieties laid out on a board, including one prepared in house, to demonstrate the range of flavors and textures that a true artisan can create out of a little bit of milk. But that’s just the beginning—other draws here include the charcuterie, antipasti, and Pascarella’s excellent housemade pastas, plus a solid cocktail program. Westside

Cheese (Pimento, Suburban): Suga’s Cheese Shoppe and Cafe

Explore the possibilities of pimento cheese at this cafe from chef Stacey West, aka Chef Suga, who’s been selling her products at stores and farmers markets since 2017; here, the South’s favorite spread makes its way into everything from smoked-gouda mac and cheese balls to a garden salad (with roasted poblano pimento cheese croutons) to shrimp scampi with pesto and feta pimento. For dessert? There’s only one answer: pimento cheesecake. Powder Springs

Pop-Up, Pastries: Choux Maker

In restaurant kitchens, “shoemaker” isn’t a term of endearment: It means your food tastes like leather. Paul Westin, formerly the executive pastry chef for Kevin Rathbun’s restaurants, reclaims the phrase at this pop-up, which he launched with his wife, Amanda, during the pandemic; the pair focus on pâte a choux, the French pastry dough behind treats like eclairs and cream puffs. Their products are both gorgeous and endlessly creative, featuring flavors like raspberry-rose, honey-fig, pistachio, and matcha.

Chicken (Sandwich Division): How Crispy Express

Southern-style fried chicken sandwiches are a dime a dozen in Atlanta restaurants these days, but few are as distinguished as what they’re slinging at this cheerful counter-service joint: With a thick piece of juicy thigh meat, an herby spread, and bread-and-butter pickles, this might be the platonic ideal of the form. But there are other options if you feel like branching out, including a lemon pepper wet sandwich and a crunchy veggie patty made out of chickpeas. Summerhill

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Pollo Primo

Photograph by Martha Williams

Chicken (the Whole Thing): Pollo Primo

The duo behind Supremo Taco (currently on hiatus as it moves into a new space), Nhan Le and Duane Kulers, teamed up for this fowl brand extension, where the pollo asado is prepared in the style of roadside stands in Sinaloa: marinated in citrus, chilis, and spices, cooked over live flames, and served (in wholes, halves, and quarters) with fantastically chewy housemade flour tortillas, rice and beans, and pico de gallo. It travels well, but frozen margaritas provide a pretty good reason for dining in. East Atlanta

Pop-Up, Vietnamese: Ba + Me

A paramedic by day, Lisa Bi launched this highly convivial pop-up to focus on the comforting, home-style Vietnamese cuisine she grew up eating: superfresh, often pungent dishes like banana blossom salad, chao ga hot vit bac thao (chicken porridge with century egg), and banh xeo—a savory turmeric crepe filled with shrimp and pork (or mushrooms) and served with a small garden’s worth of herbs.

Cakes with the Usual Number of Layers: At Heart Panadería

Follow baker Teresa Finney on Instagram (her handle is @at_heartpanaderia) for any number of reasons: You can find out where she’ll be popping up next with her beautiful conchas and other Mexican pan dulce. You could learn about her Patreon, where she shares weekly recipes for things like spiced pear fritters and arroz poblano. And/or you can ogle her stunning, flower-bedecked layer cakes (representative sample: sweet potato chiffon with apple butter filling and chai-spiced brown-sugar buttercream)—and then order one for yourself.

Cakes with a More-than-Usual Number of Layers: Cake Culture

Pastry chef Sujith Ratnayake was born in Sri Lanka, trained in Japan and Singapore, worked in South Korea, and can now be found at a stall in Ponce City Market serving slices of mille crepe cake—a French preparation alternating 20 layers of crepe with an ethereal pastry cream filling. Flavors include chocolate, matcha, and a “classic” with almond and Kirsch; all are beautifully light and barely sweet—a perfectly refined dessert. Old Fourth Ward

Light Fare: Daily Chew

By their nature, fast-casual restaurants tend to be of middling quality, emphasizing convenience over artistry. With her sunny daytime cafe, though, Julia Kesler Imerman cheerfully breaks the mold, offering light, extremely flavorful—and both fast and casual—dishes like smoked salmon pitas, chickpea crepes, lemon-ricotta hotcakes, and rotisserie chicken with hummus, Calabrian aioli, and other assorted goodies. Piedmont/Morningside

Pop-Up Evolution: Mighty Hans

Fu-Mao Sun gained a devoted following serving Taiwanese American brunch (umami-rich dishes like fan tuan—sticky rice rolls stuffed with egg, pork floss, etc.—and bacon, egg, and cheese scallion pancakes) once a week at the former Gato in Candler Park. But circumstances have changed—for the better. Gato has new ownership and a new name (see below), and Sun has switched to a weekly Thursday-night dinner situation, branching out into entrees like shrimp toast and five-spice pork belly pastrami. Brunch, blessedly, is still on the menu; it’s just moved over to Full Commission in Grant Park on Sundays.

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Gigi’s Italian Kitchen

Photograph by Martha Williams

Italian: Gigi’s Italian Kitchen

This year, Candler Park residents bid a fond farewell to homey neighborhood fave Gato but welcomed a replacement sure to be just as beloved: Gigi’s, where two unpretentious young chefs, Eric Brooks and Jacob Armando, marry old-school nostalgia with modern technique in dishes like polenta cake with creme fraiche and caviar, chicken marsala, and spaghetti alla chittara.

Chinese: Xi’an Gourmet House

A reason to rejoice: This noodle counter, specializing in the hand-pulled wheat noods of the Chinese city of Xi’an, expanded from a stall at the Jusgo supermarket in Duluth to a little storefront in Atlanta proper. The main draws include hearty biang biang noodles (with mouth-tingling cumin lamb among the available toppings), vinegary cold-skin noodles, and pao-mo soup, a fragrant bowl in which tender lamb intermingles with pieces of flatbread. Midtown

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
One Flew South

Photograph by Martha Williams

Airport-Themed Restaurant, The Sequel: One Flew South

Todd Richards’s James Beard–nominated restaurant is one of the top airport dining destinations in the country, but it’s always suffered from a substantial drawback: It’s at the airport. Happily, Richards now oversees a second location of OFS on the Eastside BeltLine, still specializing in the Asian-fusion dishes (collard green ramen, poke tacos) that drew ’em in at Hartsfield-Jackson, while reuniting with Allen Suh—one of the city’s most talented sushi chefs, who once worked at the original location. Old Fourth Ward

Constantly Evolving Community Space: Qommunity

Few spaces in Atlanta embody their neighborhood as perfectly as what Quynh “Q” Trinh has been building for over a decade on Flat Shoals Avenue. Recently, her restaurant incubator Global Grub Collective morphed into a similar thing with a different name—Qommunity—and a similarly eclectic array of food stalls: at present, Ethiopian (Ruki’s Kitchen), Japanese (Lifting Noodles Ramen), and Caribbean-Creole fusion (BPW), in addition to the playful fast-food ripoffs on the menu at MikChan’s (“chicken Mik-nuggets,” Taco Bell–style Mexican pizza, and so on). The “dining room,” as it were, is unpretentious, unfancy, even a bit ramshackle—a true EAV-style food hall. East Atlanta Village

Persian: Rumi’s Kitchen

At the latest Rumi’s outpost in Colony Square, chef Ali Mesghali places special emphasis on sumptuous veggie-centric Persian dishes—corn ribs with black seed dukkah, chermoula eggplant—in addition to mighty meat kabobs, comforting braises, and creative hummuses topped with things like lamb merguez and smoked salmon. Midtown

OTP Mexican: Birrieria Landeros

The main attraction at this family-run restaurant, and what an attraction it is: birria de borrego, an incredibly tender lamb preparation served in a velvety tomato sauce with tortillas on the side—the recipe dates back to an earlier generation of Landeroses who served it at a restaurant in the Mexican state of Aguascalientes. Duluth

Best of Atlanta 2022: What to Eat
Le Bon Nosh

Photograph by Martha Williams

French: Le Bon Nosh

Steps off Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead Village, chef Forough Vakili’s elegantly appointed Parisian cafe succeeds from morning till night—starting with picture-perfect pastries, Belgian waffles, and shakshuka; providing midday sustenance in the form of hearty lunch salads, sandwiches, and beautiful tartines and galettes; and ending with wine and lush entrees like confit duck leg and wood-grilled rib-eye. Buckhead

Low-Key Neighborhood Joint: The Usual

[Editor’s note: The Usual closed on November 12, after this issue went to press. We’ve left the listing online to honor their Best of Atlanta recognition.]

Located on the ground floor of the Arya apartment building, chef Nick Leahy’s latest bills itself as a “modern-day tavern”—and achieves just the kind of easygoing vibe that phrase suggests, with creative starters and entrees (try the calamari fritti with nuoc cham vinaigrette) and signature cocktails (a cool-weather recommendation: the Usual Old-Fashioned, a sorghum-sweetened tipple with apple- and vanilla-infused bourbon). Brookwood Hills

ITP Mexican: El Valle

This chic, modern Mexican restaurant offers artfully composed, carefully prepared plates—branzino wrapped in hoja santa leaf, braised short rib in black-garlic mole—in laid-back digs; of particular note are the desserts (try the deconstructed Mexican s’more, a dense chocolate mousse with churro puffs) and the list of rarely seen Mexican wines from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja. Midtown

Dinner + Theater

At recently opened Palo Santo, servers deliver your Santo Carajillo with pizzazz: A riff on the espresso martini incorporating rum and corn and citrus liqueurs, the cocktail is shaken tableside in a Moka pot—an Italian stovetop coffee maker—before being poured with a flourish into a Nick and Nora glass. It’s sweet and strong, and all the more memorable for its presentation. Tableside experiences are nothing new—they hearken to the glitzy supper clubs of the 1970s, where flambé carts reigned supreme—but they’re making a postpandemic comeback.

At chef Pat Pascarella’s Porchetta Group restaurants (Grana, Bastone, et al.), such experiences come in the form of polenta parties, which involve a pot of polenta spread over a (parchment-lined) table, then topped with various Italian delectables: meats, veggies, cheeses, and sauce. “Whenever you see me walking through the dining room with a huge pot of piping-hot polenta, literally everybody just stops and starts looking,” Pascarella says. The communal feasts were offered before the pandemic, but they’re especially popular now.

Dramatically presented drinks particularly shine in this, the Dining Is Back era. At Atrium, a seasonal martini is shaken tableside, while the Call Me Old-Fashioned is smoked tableside (with hickory wood chips) at Continent on Buford Highway. Cooks & Soldiers offers wine decanted into a porrón, a Spanish drinking vessel with a pointed spout. It can be shared among 10 people, no stemware—and no contact—involved: Just aim it toward your mouth, tip, and sip. Then, pass it to your neighbor. —Lia Picard

This article appears in our December 2022 issue.

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