The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Leftie Lee’s, Southern National, and Planta

Internationally influenced sandwiches in Avondale Estates, soulful Southern in Summerhill, and chic vegan at Krog Street Market

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Leftie Lee's, Southern National, and Planta
Leftie Lee’s

Photograph by Martha Williams

Leftie Lee’s
Spreading like wildfire is beginning to seem a bit too real, as far as similes go—but how else to characterize the rapid growth of sandwich culture in Atlanta? One of the latest sparks has recently drifted over to the new Olive and Pine complex in Avondale Estates, though it’s been smoldering for a while: Vivian Lee has been in the baking biz for over a decade, operating a pop-up called Foodcation Forever before rebranding as Leftie Lee’s. At this cute, colorful stall—one of the first in the growing food hall, just a couple blocks away from Avondale’s new Town Green—Lee serves a brisk menu of internationally influenced sandwiches: Korean braised beef with shaved scallions and perilla ranch, Moroccan chicken salad, shawarma-fied mushroom on ciabatta. The fact that it’s all on great housemade bread is one thing that distinguishes Leftie’s from the competition; so does the daily-changing pastry case, with fun, often Asian-inspired sweets like pandan Rice Krispie treats and earthy, gooey black sesame blondies. Breakfast options include avocado toast and egg toast, and on weekends a slightly more elaborate brunch menu features kimchi biscuits and gravy and French toast made from Lee’s ethereal milk bread and sweetened condensed milk. A coffee and tea shop called Wonderful World is in the next stall over; soon they’ll be joined by a pizza shop and cocktail bar. Avondale Estates

Southern National
This one marks a return, of sorts, for chef Duane Nutter and restaurateur Reggie Washington, who helped open One Flew South at Hartsfield-Jackson airport back in 2008. The nature of this return: undoubtedly triumphant. In the intervening years the pair launched Southern National in Mobile, Alabama, before deciding to bring the business back to Summerhill, where it joins a growing murderers row of eateries along Georgia Avenue. Southern National’s value proposition is upscale Southern, rooted in regional ingredients and fine dining technique. Truth be told, a lot of restaurants these days use words like that to describe themselves, but few chefs pull it off with as much self-assuredness as Nutter, who combines beloved flavors with global influences in a way that never feels like pandering or overreach—see, for instance, his soulful herb butter–broiled redfish with field peas, smoked turkey, and cherry-miso sauce; berbere-spiced fried chicken with coconut milk and jalapeño maque choux; and buttery New York strip with asparagus, peas, crawfish, and mustard green chimichurri. (Brassicas also make a beautiful appearance in a starter of mussels, served with collards, shiitakes, bacon, and grape tomatoes.) Nutter and Washington recruited local all-stars Greg Best and Paul Calvert, of Ticonderoga Club, to design the drink menu, which explains its caliber. The cocktails, like the food, are grown-up and serious without being stuffy: for instance, a 15-year Armagnac Old-Fashioned with sorghum, and a bitter, boozy Toronto. Summerhill

A dining companion expressed some trepidation as we approached the front door: What could possibly take the place of Watchman’s, the much beloved cocktail and oyster bar that once inhabited this corner of Krog Street Market? But here’s a worthy contender, and it probably helps that it’s a very different concept. Originating in Florida, Planta is an entirely plant-based restaurant with 10 locations in North America. And while the menu has a kind of promiscuity that usually signals a lack of focus—vegan “sushi” with ingredients like eggplant and watermelon, brick-oven pizzas, burgers with truffle fries, Thai lettuce wraps—it somehow hangs together, and quite deliciously. We ended up hewing toward the Asian-ish side of the menu, where there wasn’t a dud in sight. Those lettuce wraps, built around shiitake mushrooms and tofu and served with a nuoc cham–style dipping sauce, were richly flavored; bang bang broccoli had all the addictively greasy, salty-sweet properties of great takeout; beet-avocado tartare, dressed with citrus and soy and served with taro chips, was creamy and refreshing. The cocktail list is another thing that looked questionable on paper—fruit all over the place!—but was excellent in practice, everything sharply flavored and fresh as could be, nothing too cloying. Check out, for instance, the Herb Your Enthusiasm, which leans herby rather than fruity, with chili-infused tequila, lime, pineapple, mint, and Thai basil. Like Reynoldstown’s new La Semilla, Planta seems to be feeding a hunger for fantastic vegan food in Atlanta; on a recent Tuesday night, the place was packed with stylish young people with great skin. Inman Park

This article appears in our September 2023 issue.