It’s been four and a half years since we last set about ranking Atlanta’s top 50 restaurants. It was a different city back in August 2011. The metro unemployment rate that summer was a staggering 10.4 percent. New restaurant openings were rare as hen’s teeth, which makes sense because as the economy goes, so goes the restaurant scene. Fast-forward to today. Unemployment is half what it was back in 2011. Cranes are part of the skyline again. Ford Fry seems to be opening a new restaurant every month. I dropped by Miller Union the other night without a reservation and felt lucky to nab a seat at the bar. Then there’s Avalon, Krog Street Market, Inman Quarter. And, of course, Ponce City Market, where I initially worried there might be too many places to eat. Now it appears there may not be enough.
All of this is to say that Evan Mah, our food editor, had a daunting task ahead of him when he began work on this list months ago. Fortunately he had help: Corby Kummer, our restaurant critic, and Christiane Lauterbach, our longtime columnist, joined Evan in fanning out across the region, checking in on far more than the 50 that ultimately ended up on our list. They went beyond the city of Atlanta, of course. They went to Roswell, Norcross, Lawrenceville, Decatur, and Jonesboro. They went to Marietta, Alpharetta, Stone Mountain, and Doraville. They went to Woodstock, Johns Creek, College Park, and Smyrna. They brought back their impressions (and their receipts for reimbursement)—and then they got together and hashed it out. I suggested to Evan we film their deliberations and put it up on our website as cinéma vérité, but he politely demurred. (Look—just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you get your way all the time.)
Is this the last word on the best restaurants in Atlanta? Hardly. (Go to atlantamagazine.com/finalfork to chime in on your favorite.) Evan told me one of the toughest challenges that he, Corby, and Christiane encountered was how to rank restaurants when so many could be wildly inconsistent. One meal could be brilliant, but then our critics would return another night and the kitchen would just be off its game, or the service would be atrocious. What this exercise reminded us was how difficult it is to turn out quality food night after night and present it in a way that makes the service seem almost invisible. The Italians have a word for making the difficult appear easy: sprezzatura. As you examine our list, the places at the top may offer vastly different cuisines in utterly different settings, but they execute in a way that seems effortless.
So by all means, tip your servers and tip them well.
This article originally appeared in our January 2016 issue.