Atlanta’s Best New Restaurants 2021

From regional Thai to neighborhood barbecue, these are our favorite spots from the last year (or two)

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When Talat Market opened in April 2020, it was doing takeout only—and selling out every night.
When Talat Market opened in April 2020, it was doing takeout only—and selling out every
night.

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Talat Market

Summerhill

What began as a Thai pop-up with a fervent fan base is now one of the city’s can’t-miss dining destinations. Decorated with a lavish mural, lush green walls, and ceiling-hung flower pots, Talat Market stays on its toes and keeps diners on theirs with a daily-changing menu based on a winning concept: Thai technique, Georgia ingredients. In practice, that means dishes like yum phonlamai, a salad built around whatever fruit is in season (peach, melon, blueberries) dressed with a savory, funky mix of lemongrass, mint, cilantro, scallop floss, and fish sauce; yum khao tod, a crispy rice salad with housemade red chili jam; the meat salad laab, featuring ingredients as disparate as duck heart and sunchokes; crispy mussel pancakes; and much, much more. The drinks are as thoughtfully prepared (and as gorgeous) as the plates. When Parnass Savang and Rod Lassiter finally opened this brick-and-mortar space in the inauspicious month of April 2020, they were doing curbside service only, finding themselves selling out every night. Clearly, there’s a hunger for what they’re cooking—and it shows no signs of abating. 112 Ormond Street, 404-257-6255, talatmarketatl.com

Don’t leave without snagging a slice of cake and a cocktail or two.
Don’t leave without snagging a slice of cake and a cocktail or two.

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Wonderkid's Bird's the Word drink illustration
Wondrous drinks: The neon-colored Bird’s the Word contains gin, Manzanilla sherry, green chartreuse, lime, nutmeg, and pineapple soft-serve.

Illustration by Damien Weighill

Wonderkid

Reynoldstown

The American diner is a form that can hardly be improved upon—but if it could? It might look something like this spot in the Atlanta Dairies complex, which eschews retro kitsch in favor of a riotous aesthetic mashup: This is a diner with groovy wallpaper, ’70s lighting, and pictures of Prince on the wall, plus a bartender behind a curved counter slinging potent cocktails. (Come to think of it, maybe there was something the old-fashioned diner was lacking.) It sprang from a partnership between Big Citizen (the group behind Bon Ton and the Lawrence) and King of Pops, whose soft-serve is available here on its own or blended into boozy drinks. Bar manager Jac Campbell is responsible for those tipples and others, while Sarah Hagamaker makes the gorgeous layer cakes that greet customers as they walk in. Like the restaurant’s designers, opening chef Justin Dixon—who has recently moved on to other pastures—was refreshingly unfaithful to the diner concept: His often brilliant interpretations cover not just the classics (English breakfast, meatloaf melt with pimento cheese and bacon jam) but also wonderful mushroom empanadas and chicken wings prepared “Buford Highway style,” with chili oil, peanuts, and lime. 777 Memorial Drive, 404-331-0909, wonderkidatl.com

Tum Pok Pok
Clockwise from top left: larb gai (minced chicken with lime and chili), crab omelet, and Isan sausage

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Tum Pok Pok

Chamblee

Buford Highway has long lacked much of a Thai scene—so when Tum Pok Pok opened up in the same blessed BuHi shopping plaza as Food Terminal and Saigon Tofu, it was a welcome addition to our city’s most international corridor. This isn’t just an Atlanta Thai restaurant, though—it’s easily one of the city’s best. Proprietor Adidsara Weerasin focuses on the food of Thailand’s northeastern Isan region, which shares not just a border with Laos but some culinary commonalities: heat, funk, and lots of salads, including the minced-meat salad known as larb. Weerasin’s larb—pork or chicken, seasoned with lime juice and tiny chilis, ginger, peanuts, and scallions, and served with sticky rice and cabbage leaves—offers a world of bracing flavor. So do her various iterations of som tum, a fiery and funky salad made from shredded raw green papaya. Weerasin herself is from the south of Thailand and has been rolling out nightly specials that reflect that region, like a crab omelet and kua kling: a perilously hot but tasty dish of ground pork with red curry paste and shaved makrut lime leaves. 5000 Buford Highway, 404-990-4688, tumpokpok.com

Lucian Books and Wine

Photograph by Martha Williams

Lucian Books and Wine

Buckhead

Opening over the summer, this Buckhead wine bar felt like an answer to the many long and lonesome months that came before. Or maybe it just felt like a sigh of relief: What sweeter pleasure than to share a plate and a bottle with an old friend—or a new fancy—in this chic but inviting dining room on a busy Buckhead corner? A fan of the painter Lucian Freud, co-owner Katie Barringer is responsible for the handsome array of arty books lining one wall of the restaurant (Peruse! They’re for sale) while her partner, Jordan Smelt (formerly of Cakes & Ale and Bread & Butterfly), is the one amiably guiding customers through the voluminous wine list. The cellar may be spacious, but the larder ain’t: Chef Brian Hendrickson’s tightly focused, finely executed menu features a handful of small plates, a few entrees, and a bowl of french fries worth ordering for the lemony sorrel mayo alone. Dishes change seasonally, but expect fare like buttery raw hamachi and thinly sliced black radish, doused tableside with a vinegar-spiked buttermilk dressing, and ricotta gnudi with truffle and maitake mushroom and a luscious beurre monté. Butter sauce, strip streak, roast duck—there’s some rich stuff here, but it is nowhere overwhelming; Hendrickson knows how much pleasure resides in a light touch. 3005 Peachtree Road, 404-549-2655, lucianbooksandwine.com

Lake & Oak
Ribs, collard fried rice, and smoked mac and cheese at Lake & Oak

Photograph by Martha Williams

Lake and Oak Neighborhood BBQ

East Lake

The “neighborhood” in the name isn’t just a gimmick: This place has become a legitimate hang for those lucky enough to live near the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Hosea L. Williams, as well as for ’cue devotees who know it’s worth the trip. (The name nods, too, at this restaurant’s location at the junction between the East Lake and Oakhurst neighborhoods.) Fans flock here (SORRY) for the chicken, brined for a day to enhance its tenderness and slathered in a collard pesto; for the coffee- and pepper-rubbed brisket; for the rib slabs and the cider-vinegar pulled pork; and for creative sides like collard green fried rice. Opening in July 2020, Richards and partner Joshua Lee took the pandemic in stride, inviting diners to hit up the takeout window and keep their social distance on a convivial streetside patio. That happy al fresco scene (and the smells wafting from the Big Green Egg smoker out front) beckons passersby into an instant top-tier player in a city that doesn’t lack for barbecue joints. 2358 Hosea L. Williams Drive, 404-205-5913, lakeandoakbbq.com

Best of Atlanta 2020 Little Bear

Photograph by Martha Williams

Little Bear illustration
The restaurant’s mascot and namesake: a conspicuously little bear–like Great Pyrenees named Fernando

Illustration by Damien Weighill

Little Bear

Summerhill

Jarrett Stieber has proved time after time that he’s one of Atlanta’s most original talents. After making his name with the pop-up series Eat Me Speak Me, Stieber finally made the move to brick-and-mortar with Little Bear, which opened in Summerhill in February 2020. Luckily, everything went really great, and Stieber immediately found the success he deserved. Haha jk! Actually, everything was a total disaster almost right away. But Stieber, pivoting to a takeout-only model, endured through the pandemic, finally welcoming diners this past May to sit down in Little Bear’s bright, modern dining room and enjoy his weird, iconoclastic, Jewish-ish/Sichuan-ish cooking. The engagingly written menu changes with the seasons, with temporary treasures (one night recently: Georgia shrimp with fig sweet-and-sour sauce and shishito peppers; eggplant with peaches, whey sauce, chili paste, and “herbs out the ass”) joining a few repeat faves, like chicken thighs with dan dan yogurt and Manischewitz vinegar and a striking black and white torte. The cocktail program and wine list are as thoughtful—and irreverent—as the food. 71 Georgia Avenue, 404-500-5396, littlebearatl.com

The Chastain’s patio is open all day, with fare transitioning from beautiful morning pastries to comforting evening entrees.
The Chastain’s patio is open all day, with fare transitioning from beautiful morning pastries to comforting evening entrees.

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

The Chastain

Buckhead

Both the Chastain and its opening chef have serious pedigrees: Once called the Red Barn Inn and a longtime hangout for Buckhead nabobs, the building became the Horseradish Grill in 1994 under Scott Peacock, a key figure in the modern Southern culinary renaissance. The guy in charge now, Christopher Grossman, has worked at the French Laundry, Aria, and Atlas, but part of the wonderful surprise of the menu he’s put in place here is how approachable it feels—particularly to anyone who’s fond of comfort food and thought they’d tasted it all. It works because it’s uncomplicated: turkey wings, flawless cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, warm chocolate chip cookies under a melting cap of ice cream. What makes a difference is Grossman’s thoughtful, elevated technique, the restaurant’s superb wine and cocktail program, and the centrality of ingredients procured both from local farms and from a handsome on-site garden. (Parts of the building’s original stonework are now used for storing those homegrown veggies.) Dinner isn’t the only game here, either: The Chastain’s shady patio makes for a lovely breakfast and lunch spot, with fabulous pastries made in-house by Grossman’s fellow Atlas alum Christian Castillo. Who said simplicity was boring? 4320 Powers Ferry Road, 404-257-6416, thechastainatl.com

Plates for sharing at Nur Kitchen. Enough said?
Plates for sharing at Nur Kitchen. Enough said?

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Nur Kitchen

Buford Highway

Driving out on Buford Highway toward Norcross, you’ll hear the siren songs of about a thousand incredible restaurants before you even make it to Nur Kitchen’s parking lot—but if it’s some of the metro’s best mezze you’re after, it’s best to put your hands over your ears, keep your eyes on the road, and arrive here hungry. This Middle Eastern spot opened in a splashy, Korean-owned shopping center in 2019, but it took the advent of Shay Lavi in 2021 to put it on the culinary map. A spectacular talent whose range continues to reveal itself, Lavi gained fans through his catering business Let’s Eat and in the kitchen of the delicious but short-lived downtown restaurant Rozina Bakehouse. He’s a magician with classics like hummus and baba ghanoush, and his eclectic background—Lavi was born in Israel, of Turkish and Libyan descent—informs the wide Eastern Mediterranean scope of this restaurant, whose pantry of inspirations stretches “from Turkey to Jaffa Port.” That means fantastic menu mainstays like schnitzel, shakshuka, and a mussel sandwich with garlic sauce that’s a staple of the Turkish seaside. 7130 Buford Highway, 678-691-3821, nurkitchenusa.com

The Betty Atlanta
The Betty’s grilled Cornish rock hen and Retropolitan cocktail

Photograph by Martha Williams

The Betty

Buckhead

The glamorous design, boozy cocktails, and ambitious menu—created by chef Brandon Chavannes, formerly of St. Cecilia and King + Duke—have conspired to create an occasional stampede in the direction of the madly attractive new Kimpton Sylvan hotel, which this restaurant anchors. The concept is “midcentury supper club,” but put your mind off of soggy shrimp cocktail: Here, that classic app gets a beautiful makeover, served head-on with cocktail sauce spiked with fermented lime and warming Indian spices. An Atlanta native born to Norwegian and Jamaican immigrants, Chavannes flavors his food with a deft hand and a global reach: Broiled lobster with sake lees, delicate celery ceviche with serrano ham and pecorino cheese, and well-prepared prestige steak are all potent sources of pleasure, but one of the restaurant’s secret weapons is its fabulous pasta selection (e.g., spaghetti with lobster, Calabrian chili, basil, and heirloom squash). Some may prefer a calm lunch on the terrace over dinner in a noisy dining room, but the Kimpton’s got other five-o’clock-somewhere options: the verdant Willow Bar and the rooftop lounge St. Julep, both of which Chavannes also oversees. 374 East Paces Ferry Road, 470-531-8902, thebettyatl.com

Chef Winnie’s Kitchen

Photograph by Bailey Garrot

Chef Winnie’s Kitchen

Clarkston

Humble even by Clarkston standards, this minuscule spot from Woinshet Legesse Emory—aka Chef Winnie—is an international wonder with an Ethiopian heart. Born in Addis Ababa, the personable chef worked in a series of hotel restaurants in the U.S. before striking out on her own. When it comes to the tried and true, her renditions are exquisite: Emory’s combo kitfo (ground beef seasoned with the brightly colored chili blend mitmita and sauteed in purified butter) and fitfit (torn injera soaked in spicy sauce) is one of the best dishes we ate all year, and her many vegan or vegetarian entrees easily compete in the big leagues. (It’s not just all vegetables and legumes, either: Fans of the au courant plant-based proteins, like jackfruit and vegan beef and chicken products, will find them here.) And that’s just the half of it: Chef Winnie is equally adept with curries, fish tacos, Philly cheesesteaks, and bespoke creations like an Ethiopian-spiced quesadilla stuffed with chicken and veggies. There may not be much of a view, but her outdoor tables are as much in demand as the tiny dining room she rules. There are no strangers at Chef Winnie’s. 4238 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, 404-228-9152, chefwinnieskitchen.com

Supremo Taco gummies illustration
If they’re available, do NOT fail to pick up a pack or two of Supremo’s gummies, doused in sweet-tart-spicy chamoy.

Illustration by Damien Weighill

Supremo Taco

Grant Park

The entire world will stop for an exceptional taco or three. Supremo built its rep as a taco truck doing late-night test runs at 8Arm, which is co-owned by Supremo partner Nhan Le. It eventually landed a spot on Memorial Drive, though the counter-service, takeout-only model means it retains some streetside vibes—and helped it weather the pandemic, when Supremo was more impervious than most to lockdowns and mandates, and when its legions of fans found great comfort enfolded in its astonishing handmade tortillas. Supremo sold out often during the pandemic and still does: particularly, crowd-pleasers like lamb barbacoa with chili de arbol, chicken mole poblano, black bean with squash and tomato, aguachile tostadas, fried quesadillas . . . actually, you know what, better get here early just to be on the safe side. Chef Duane Kulers’s reverence for traditional SoCal-Mexican food trucks, and the depth of flavor the kitchen coaxes from its meats, veggies, and miraculous sauces, certainly reward repeat visits. 701 Memorial Drive, 404-965-1446, supremotaco.com

Pho Ga Tony Tony

Norcross

Originally, pho was made with beef. In 1939, though, government restrictions on the sale of meat in Vietnam led to the popularization of pho ga, a version of the complex Vietnamese soup made with chicken instead. “Things got heated,” writes Andrea Nguyen in The Pho Cookbook, as purists decried what they considered an illegitimate version. But poultry persisted, and luckily so—chicken brings a completely different level of sophistication to a cooking process that involves charring aromatics (onion, ginger) and simmering them slowly with star anise and other spices, until what was once a mere broth becomes a magical elixir. In Philadelphia, a Vietnamese couple made a name for themselves—and their chicken soup—with Cafe Pho Ga Thanh Thanh; their son, Tony Le, expanded the family legacy by opening this sweet little cafe in a Norcross shopping center. You know what to order. Expect a fragrant bowl of boiled white or dark meat, golden broth, and your choice of noodles (some of them homemade), served alongside a plate piled with bean sprouts, pepper slices, lime wedges, and herbs. Happily, the chicken tradition continues to spread: Le and business partner Vinh Nguyen have added a second location in Duluth, with a third in the works in—if you happen to be in the neighborhood—Las Vegas, Nevada. 5495 Jimmy Carter Boulevard, suite A2, 678-691-0503, phogatonytony.com

5 Favorite Sandwiches in Atlanta: Buena Gente Cuban
Buena Gente’s Cuban

Photograph courtesy of Buena Gente

Buena Gente food truck
Buena Gente food truck

Illustration by Damien Weighill

Buena Gente Cuban Bakery

Decatur

Anyone unsure about the Cubano—a sandwich that, in unpracticed hands, can be salty, greasy, heavy—needs to make haste to a proper Cuban bakery, and do we ever have a suggestion for you. The good people behind this cute-as-a-button operation, Manny Rodriguez and Stacie Antich, first opened their food truck in 2016, making the leap in 2020 to a narrow storefront in a busy Decatur strip mall. They overlook no detail in the construction of the iconic Cuban sandwich: The bolo ham is delicious, the mustard is sharp, the mojo-roasted pork carries an enchanting hint of the citrus it was marinated in, and the melty Swiss cheese and pressed, crunchy bread elevate this creation to near-pizza levels of perfection. (Pizza comparisons are not something we undertake lightly around here, by the way.) Cubanos and other sandwiches (medianoche, pan con bistec) aren’t the only items Buena Gente has aced: The glass dessert case is packed with perfectly rendered pastries from chicken empanadas to guava-filled pastelitos, arroz con leche to tres leches cake. It’s masterful Cuban baking that reminds us today and tomorrow can be as good as we make it. 1365 Clairmont Road, 678-744-5638, buenagenteatl.com

This article appears in our October 2021 issue.

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