Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Atlanta Greats.
In a city like Atlanta where borders and limits are amorphous, great restaurants are defined through a one-of-a-kind prism consisting of longevity, records of national honors, and local street cred. Much like the kaleidoscopic restaurant scene here, which features everything from America’s oldest Asian restaurant to an iconic luncheonette with the city’s best fried chicken, what constitutes a great in Atlanta changes depending on mood, budget, occasion, and palate. Here are a collection of spots that have stood the test of time and critique—and continue to hold that weighty title today.
A manicured lawn with walking paths and a gazebo is all that separates diners from the banks of the Chattahoochee River, a setting that’s perfect for special-occasion brunch and dinner. The vibe here is unpretentious luxury, as unhurried as the nearby water. Canoe’s executive chef Matthew Basford is from Australia and brings a gourmet influence to the game selection here, which includes peppercorn-crusted kangaroo, slow-braised rabbit, maple duck breast, and meticulously sourced finfish. No matter how full you are, don’t miss the flat white, an Australian spin on tiramisu made with chiffon cake and Dulcey crémeux, or the ever-photogenic popcorn ice cream sundae, crowned with Canoe’s signature candied popcorn and chantilly cream.
Dining at the restaurant: Canoe is open for indoor dining. Try to get a seat in the lower level dining room for the best river views.
Takeout: Takeout is offered on select nights by request; call the restaurant directly to inquire.
In this “pictures or it didn’t happen” era, a meal at this cell phone-free steakhouse, founded in 1979, might have you questioning if it was all just a dream. Perhaps it’s this level of privacy that has earned it the distinction of being named the nation’s best steakhouse by Zagat. On the menu, find items such as A4 Japanese wagyu, 35-day dry- and wet-aged steaks, veal rib chops, and loin lamb chops. There’s also exceptional seafood that includes live lobsters that are brought in daily. All pair excellently with a selection from one of the largest wine lists in Atlanta. The attentive staff—which includes 40-year veterans—can guide you through with expertise.
Dining at the restaurant: Bones is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Bones doesn’t offer takeout or delivery; the dishes here are meant to be savored immediately.
Half a century is a long time by any measure, but when a restaurant hits that milestone in especially tumultuous times, there’s no mistaking its place in the hearts of its city. Tetsuko Nakato’s legacy—the oldest Asian restaurant in Atlanta—continues to thrive under the stewardship of her granddaughter Sachi Nakato Takahara. Choose between a lively hibachi experience or a more tranquil omakase meal. The fresh seafood here, which is flown in from Japan several times a week then broken down onsite by expert chefs, is one of the many reasons this restaurant continues to stand out from the crowd.
Dining at the restaurant: Enjoy indoor dining in the restaurant’s various sections, which include well-ventilated teppanyaki tables and a sushi bar.
Takeout: Place orders for curbside pick-up and delivery through third-party apps.
Nakato ‘Hibachi’ Japanese Restaurant
Nakato Sushi Bar
La Grotta (Buckhead)
Named an OpenTable Top 100 Restaurant for 2021, the best Italian restaurant in the city by Atlanta magazine for 18 consecutive years, and a AAA Four Diamond award recipient for 25 years, this Buckhead establishment became an institution under the careful stewardship of Christian Favalli and chef Antonio Abizanda, who hails from northern Italy. Don’t expect red-sauce staples here, though—instead, feast on risotto, delicate stuffed pastas such as sacchetti, and fresh pappardelle with lobster and shallots in a white wine cream sauce, all available as both appetizers and mains. As the weather warms, opt to enjoy it all in the courtyard garden, strung with charming patio lights that crisscross over white tablecloths and red umbrellas under a green canopy. The tasteful exposed brick-accented dining room is classic and romantic, but who can resist Italian al fresco?
Dining at the restaurant: Though the restaurant is open for indoor dining,as the weather warms, don’t hesitate to book a table on the enchanting patio.
Takeout: Curbside pick-up is available from Monday through Saturday during dinner service; call the restaurant directly to place your order
Nino’s – Atlanta (Midtown)
As the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in Atlanta, Nino’s has served Italian favorites since 1968 in a setting that’s just as timeless: There’s an enclosed patio with warm string lights, chandeliers and wine bottle accents, and white tablecloths under wooden beams. The food is just as inviting—specialty dishes are named for family members, such as the fettuccine alla Michela, topped with sauteed shrimp, seared scallops, and saffron cream sauce, and the scampi all Nino’s—a riff on the owner’s mother’s recipe—with stewed tomato, white wine butter sauce, and lemons that evoke the Amalfi Coast.
Dining at the restaurant: Nino’s is open for indoor dining; there’s also a fully enclosed patio.
Takeout: The restaurant offers curbside delivery and pick-up—order directly from its website.
Nan Thai Fine Dining (Midtown)
This 15-time AAA Four Diamond award-winning legend, whose accolades are as bright as the sunlight that streams into its contemporary dining room, is an Atlanta icon. Despite the recent passing of her husband and co-founder Charlie, Bangkok-born Nan Niyomkul is still at it, dishing up standbys such as pad thai, massaman curry, and fried rice, all enhanced by premium ingredients like jumbo tiger prawns, crispy lobster tail, and pan-seared sea scallops.
Dining at the restaurant: Nan Thai Fine Dining is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available via third-party apps.
no. 246 (Decatur)
This beloved Californian-Italian joint, which marked a decade in 2021, underwent a reinvention to embrace a more classic, ’70s-era identity. From the décor—dry herbs on distressed brick—to the white-on-white server uniforms, it’s clear the retro vibes are in full force. Chef Drew Belline and four-time James Beard Award-nominee chef Ford Fry have a penchant for comfort foods such as meatballs in San Marzano tomato sauce, cheesy garlic bread, house-made macaroni, and pizzas baked to true Neapolitan standards—leopard spots on a puffy crust and all. Wash it down with aperol spritzes or tiny negronis, or one of the many wines available by glass.
Dining at the restaurant: No. 246 is open for indoor dining; for more breathing room, opt for a table on the large, gravel-lined patio.
Takeout: Takeout is available via phone from 5 pm to 6 pm on weekdays but subject to change based on how busy the restaurant is.
Anis Café and Bistro (Buckhead)
Anis Café is enchanting for its transportive powers, which was the intent of owner Arnaud Michel when he first opened doors in 1994. A recreation of casual French bistros from his hometown of Montpelier, France, this charming venue whisks you to the Mediterranean coast, courtesy of an outdoor patio strewn with plants and colorful umbrellas. The menu prioritizes quality ingredients and seasonality, rich with French wines, cheeses, and meats such as saucisson and pâté. Larger plates include a classic trout meuniere and a traditional croque monsieur. The mussels are a signature favorite that directly channel Michel’s seaside memories—another example of excellent execution by chef Jeff Gomez, who has been cooking in the kitchen since the early 2000s.
Dining at the restaurant: Anis Cafe and Bistro is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: The restaurant offers pickup and delivery through its website; takeout perks include half-priced wine bottles and the ability to order a full quart of soup.
Old Vinings Inn (Vinings)
Formerly a post office, general store, and a filling station before it became a restaurant in 1990, this historic Vinings building has had more lives than a cat. However, it’s hard to imagine it as anything but its current incarnation: an elegant curtained dining room, exuding plenty of Southern charm. Executive chef Matt Olech serves comfort food with a refined twist, such as Dr. Pepper barbecued lamb ribs with a Brussels sprouts and butternut squash hash and a grilled Cheshire pork chop with mac and cheese, pot liquor collards, and ancho molasses glaze. Dinner here comes with a show: Catch live tunes from Thursday to Saturday at the popular Attic Bar upstairs.
Dining at the restaurant: Brunch, lunch, and dinner are served in the roomy dining area and the airy porch.
Takeout: The restaurant offers curbside pick-up—order directly from its website or via third-party apps.
Busy Bee Café (Downtown)
Opened in 1947, this beloved female-founded neighborhood restaurant is just as important now as it was then. A symbol of perseverance, tradition, and empowerment, it was the former haunt of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. himself; Busy Bee was also recently recognized as an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation. Now helmed by Tracy Gates, who took over from her father in 1987, Busy Bee is synonymous with daily changing blue plate specials. But the famous fried chicken is still the must-try, smothered with pan gravy and a helping of mac and cheese, cornbread dressing, or turnip greens. Even desserts here, such as a slice of red velvet cake or some cobbler, make worthy sides.
Dining at the restaurant: Busy Bee Cafe is closed for indoor dining.
Takeout: Order takeout for pick-up at the cafe’s outdoor service table or curbside directly through its website; free delivery is available to select areas via third-party apps.
Paschal’s Restaurant (Downtown)
This iconic and historic restaurant, which debuted in 1947, was the little luncheonette that could—brothers James and Robert Paschal started by taxiing in their hot food from Robert’s home and grew that into a mission to create the best fried chicken in the city. Now a grand venue around the corner from its original location, Paschal’s features industrial touches like stairs naturally lit by warehouse-style windows. What hasn’t changed, though, is the soul food that made it famous. The secret recipe for its famous fried chicken still draws crowds, and diners continue to flock here for the comfort of shrimp and grits, meatloaf, mac and cheese, and the lauded peach cobbler.
Dining at the restaurant: Paschal’s is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Call the restaurant directly to place a to-go order; delivery is available via third-party apps.
Ruby Chow’s (Old Fourth Ward)
Colorful and buzzy, this Asian fusion spot is designed to make the kind of splash its historical namesake—a Seattle-based politician and restaurateur—did. Helmed by chef and restaurateur Guy Wong, the brain behind other pan Asian Atlanta trendsetters such as Ton Ton, Ruby Chow oozes a distinct glamor. Interiors are retro Chinese, all deep reds and florals, decked with traditional lanterns. Choose from elegant small plates and fan favorites carried over from Miso Izakaya, chef Wong’s now-shuttered Japanese restaurant, such as the shoyu tamago, a soft-boiled soy sauce egg on a crispy rice cake. Newer creations include a cacio e pepe, which is given a Chinese spin through the addition of Sichuan peppercorns, and grits accompanied by braised pork belly, ensuring that the flavors here rival the vibrant decor.
Dining at the restaurant: Ruby Chow’s offers indoor and outdoor dining on a festive patio.
Takeout: Order online through the restaurant’s website for pickup; add on a t-shirt or other Ruby Chow’s merch to your order.
Atlantans can “pig” out at their choice of location at this Spanish restaurant, Buckhead or the original Decatur. Both boast the same distinctly moody and romantic atmosphere, complete with dark woods, dim lights—and lots of meat and cheese. Inspired by the fine markets of the Iberian Peninsula, menu offerings are comprised of rare jamon Iberico, real Manchego cheese, and Idiazabal, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from Navarre, among other rare delights. MVPs on the tapas lineup include lobster croquetas and pork cheek tacos, along with classics such as patatas bravas and pan con tomate. But if you want to go big, the suckling pig at the Buckhead location is a memorable way to party with 4 to 15 of your hungriest friends. So is a platter of paella, made with traditional bomba rice, chicken, shrimp, mussels, and pork tenderloin. Small or giant, these plates are primed to please.
Dining at the restaurant: Both restaurant locations are open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Delivery and carry-out are available directly through the Iberian Pig’s website, where you can also order tapas, paellas for a group, and other family meal packages.
The Iberian Pig – Buckhead
The Iberian Pig – Decatur
Murphy’s (Virginia Highland)
This oversized VaHi staple, which has been in business since 1980, is best known for its brunch, thanks to Southern-inspired dishes such as shrimp and cheddar grits with tomato pepper jam or andouille and malted waffles. But one doesn’t win OpenTable Diner’s Choice recognition for a single meal service alone. With a new pastry chef at the helm, Murphy’s is cranking out fresh spins on the sweets that put “bakery” in its name. Look for recent additions such as cinnamon bread pudding and Irish whiskey butter cake. The versatile neighborhood spot also churns out a hearty dinner, where highlights include spinach and sausage meatloaf and Carolina trout with garlic kale and brown butter vinaigrette. Come for the homey vibes and stay for the top-notch farm-to-table fare.
Dining at the restaurant: Murphy’s is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Order online for curbside service once you create an account on the restaurant’s app, or opt for delivery through their third-party partner.
Bold Monk Brewing Co (West Midtown)
Part modern brewery, part coffee house and bookstore, but most notably, a beer garden, this four-in-one spot is a sought-after events venue. While the beer is Belgian, the menu sprinkles in Southern and Californian influences. Beer’s best friend pizza makes an appearance, as do other ale companions such as mussels and sandwiches. Order the Abbot, piled high with knackwurst, pastrami, Swiss cheese, mustard, and sauerkraut, and chill out at this convivial brewpub.
Dining at the restaurant: Bold Monk Brewing Co is open for indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Order through OpenTable for convenient pick-up, which you can even schedule in advance for a specific time.
Heirloom Market BBQ (Smyrna)
The brainchild of Texas-born, Tennessee-raised chef Cody Taylor and his South Korea-born wife, former pop star Jiyeon Lee, this reimagined barbecue shack has become a sensation in the culinary world. Soul food meets Seoul food here, resulting in dishes such as gochujang-rubbed smoked pork, 12-hour brisket, kimchi slaw, and collard greens cooked with house-smoked turkey and miso broth. But what really put this spot on the map was the spicy Korean pork sandwich—a runaway hit that draws serpentine lines, no matter the weather.
Dining at the restaurant: Heirloom Market BBQ doesn’t have indoor dining but does offer multiple standing tables on a heated patio that are first come, first served.
Takeout: Online ordering makes it easy to reserve your meat before it sells out for the day. Schedule a pick-up in advance but note that daily specials rotate.
Chat Patti (Decatur)
Founded by India-born Rajnikant Gangwal in 1998 and now managed by his son Sunny, this multi-generation shop—an ode to Atlanta’s sizable South Asian community—features pan Indian finger foods, inspired by the subcontinent’s countless street markets. The result is a prolific vegetarian menu, featuring steamed chickpea flour cakes from Ahmedabad, fried potato patty sliders from Mumbai, and dosas, or fermented rice and lentil crepes, from Mysore. But you don’t have to be schooled in Indian food traditions—Chat Patti breaks it down with a helpful picture menu on the wall and displayed goodies behind glass. For the ultimate culinary adventure, order the thali platter—the quintessential curry sampler. Or just go straight for the sweets behind the counter.
Dining at the restaurant: Chat Patti is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: The beauty of counter service is that anything that’s on the restaurant menu is already optimized for takeout.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.
Su-Jit Lin is an Atlanta-based writer specializing in travel, food—including groceries, cooking, and reference guides—and their impact on bringing people together in shared joy and experience.