December 2010

When it came time to review the hundred-plus entries in this year’s Best of Atlanta issue, I came to a simple conclusion: I need to get out more. I’m not sure if it’s a function of getting older, but I’m becoming more and more a creature of habit: shopping at the same stores (Off 5th at Discover Mills is a perennial favorite), eating at the same restaurants (Thumbs Up for breakfast, maybe, or Saravana Bhavan for dinner), grabbing coffee at the same shop (Inman Perk is on the way to the office). Each of these places, of course, is excellent in its own right—if you haven’t had a Heap for breakfast, you haven’t lived—but one of the joys of living in Atlanta is watching this city redefine itself. No, not watching; experiencing it firsthand.
Nowhere is this change more evident than in the dining scene. A decade ago, 10 percent of the metro area’s population was born outside the United States. Today that percentage has climbed to around 15 percent. The world has beaten a path to our door, and the newcomers have brought their recipes with them. Which means you can go to Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft (one of our best new restaurants of the year, which I finally went to last week) and order a plate of mieng kum—spinach leaves wrapped around lime, coconut, peanuts, onions, and ginger. Or sip shochu at Miso Izakaya. Or bring your friends to share some Ba Vi at Nam Phuong.
But hold on. What makes all this even better, as our longtime dining writer Christiane Lauterbach explains, is that the children of these very immigrants are opening restaurants that draw from the traditions of their parents while also incorporating the cosmopolitan influences now ubiquitous in Atlanta. For a diner with even a modestly adventurous palate, there is no better time to be here. Yes, the economy is still sputtering, and no, not enough fine-dining destinations have been opening up, but the essence of what this city is becoming—indeed, has become—is as deliciously evident as ever.
It makes the job of scouting out the best each year a challenge, but it’s a true busman’s holiday. We do it anonymously, we pay our own tab, and in this way we get the unvarnished truth. I urge you to keep this issue around for a few months and, some night when you’re looking for someplace new to go, open up to a page and see where it takes you. My hunch is you’ll be glad you did.
Contact Steve Fennessy at