The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Dad’s, Alici, and La Semilla

Big dad energy in Virginia-Highland, a bustling oyster bar in Midtown, and vegan Latin fare in Reynoldstown

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Dad's, Alici, and La Semilla

Photograph by Martha Williams

Problem: Atlanta doesn’t have enough cool little neighborhood bars. Solution, or at least the beginning of one: Dad’s, which opened late last year in a beautiful corner building that was once home to Diesel Filling Station. Sometime before that, it was an actual filling station, whose roof remains, now sheltering a patio facing Highland Avenue. Indoors, the vibes are chill, the drinks are strong, the horseshoe-shaped bar is inviting, and if everybody doesn’t know your name, it might just be because you’re not hanging out there enough. Luckily there’s time to change that. Designed by the bartending team at Inman Park’s Little Spirit—whose owner, Randy Pechin, is also behind Dad’s—the cocktail menu revolves around well-executed versions of classics like old-fashioneds, dirty martinis, and gin highballs. (Some have been subject to gentle updates, such as cherry-cola vermouth in the Manhattan.) The unfussy culinary component, overseen by chef Isiah “Izzy” Grier, is similarly crowd-pleasing: fried bologna sandwiches, homemade pizza rolls, a vegetarian Philly cheesesteak with beets in place of meats, and garlicky seasoned waffle fries so tasty that they could convert even a hardened waffle-fry skeptic. Kitschy without being grating, the decor follows the theme, with a sofa for lounging, a jukebox, and various nostalgic knickknacks scattered about; the bathrooms are lined with photographs of prominent pop-culture dads, from Darth Vader to Mrs. Doubtfire to Taken-era Liam Neeson. Dads, you come to feel, truly contain multitudes. Virginia-Highland

Pat Pascarella’s got a knack—for tightly conceived, superbly executed Italian restaurants that attract a crowd. Last year: Bastone, the buzzy “mozzarella bar” on the Westside. This year: Alici, inspired by the bounty of the Italian coast. That means not just fresh oysters, fritto misto, and the like, but deeper cuts such as socca, an earthy pancake made of chickpea flour and served here with a variety of toppings: salmon with whipped ricotta and grapefruit, tuna tartare with stracciatella and a spritz of lemon. This is a restaurant that knows how a hit of acidity can really enliven a dish—see also the steelhead trout crudo, gorgeous chunks of raw fish rising from a shallow sea of buttermilk. With larger pieces of seafood, the routine is to pick a cut (tripletail, mahi, et al) and then pick a sauce (salsa verde, lemon vinaigrette), and as at Pascarella’s other spots, the housemade pasta is a must; selections run the gamut from egg yolk tagliatelle (with chili, lemon, and basil) to a deliciously spicy squid ink campanelle with shrimp, tomato, and garlicky breadcrumbs. Midtown

La Semilla
This is the first brick-and-mortar restaurant from Sophia Marchese and Reid Trapani, who built it off the back of a pop-up they’ve been operating since 2018. They’ve made the leap seamlessly—this one arrives on the scene with poise, verve, and a whole lot of good food, a combination of attributes that seems to have swiftly attracted the attention of Atlanta diners. On a couple recent visits, the place was packed. The concept centers around vegan Latin food, and what especially distinguishes the cooking is how confident it feels: no gimmicks, no pandering, just thoughtfully conceived and elegantly rendered dishes, many taking their cues from Mexican and Cuban cuisine. The house salad—arugula with vinegary compressed apples, paper-thin golden beets, and a guava vinaigrette—was lightly dressed and gorgeously balanced. (Mostly a vegetable eater myself, I think “I can’t believe it’s vegan!” is one of the hackiest things you can say about plant-based food—but have to confess that it wasn’t until I sat down to write this that it even occurred to me that the ethereal bits of queso fresco adorning the dish were made from . . . macadamia.) A not-too-sweet squash empanada, served on a pool of pasilla salsa, was comfort itself; cochinita pibil tacos, made from jackfruit and served with salsa verde, were pleasantly acidic. The restaurant offers a number of rums, mezcals, and tequilas, served neat or in cocktails (e.g., the Agricole Fashioned, with mole and Angostura bitters); a few wines, beers, and zero-proof options round out the drinks list. Reynoldstown

This article appears in our April 2023 issue.