Chefs, bakers, and butchers are on a perpetual mission to keep things fresh in the multicultural melting pot that is Atlanta. The result stretches beyond the dishes they serve, shaping service philosophies, restaurant design, and even the way they do business.
An acclaimed tasting-menu restaurant in Candler Park turns heads for an innovative service model. In Buckhead, a beloved Venetian spot is led by a restaurateur who doubles as an eco-warrior. A 50-year-old Japanese mainstay in Midtown remains relevant by crafting exquisite sushi cakes.
In a city with a voracious appetite for the next new thing, here are some of the most pioneering restaurants. Book a table at one of these 6 spots, blazing inspiring trails through the City in the Forest.
Storico Vino – Buckhead Village (Buckhead)
It’s not always easy being green, but this trendy, aperitivo-centric restaurant believes it’s worth the work. Pressure from his daughter moved co-owner Pietro Gianni to reduce waste in 2020. Since then, Storico Vino has steadily ascended the sustainability ladder in Atlanta. The restaurant traded out bottled water for its own purified water and started sourcing greens from a dedicated greenhouse on a local family farm. Storico’s sells its used frying oil to Southern Green Industries (a local company specializing in oil recycling services) for a second life as fuel. And not only are all its to-go containers plant-based and biodegradable, but as an eco-conscious standard-setter, the restaurant also requires vendors to deliver products in reusable containers.
The Consulate (Midtown)
The Consulate, a mid-century modern lair with a serious art collection, places all the power in the customer’s hands: Every three months, a lucky diner spins the restaurant’s globe to pick the country that will inspire the Visa section of the global menu. Chef and owner Mei Lin then dives deep into that nation’s cuisine and fashions a cocktail menu to complement it. The Consulate, an OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award recipient, most recently showcased plates from Cambodia, including street-cart style corn cobs, slow-cooked Khmer barbecue ribs, and Mekong mussels, flavored with lemongrass and kaffir lime. To add to the wow factor, Lin tackles the globetrotting menu without any formal culinary training (though the native New Yorker was raised in a family of restaurant owners). Up next on The Consulate’s itinerary: Korea.
Lazy Betty (Candler Park)
Chef-owner Ron Hsu’s acclaimed restaurant, a James Beard Award finalist, is a changemaker in many ways: it’s made waves with its unique, multi-course tasting menus, which blend Hsu’s Chinese Malaysian heritage and the French techniques he honed at Le Bernardin in New York City. But what gives Lazy Betty true cutting-edge status is Hsu’s service model. He builds gratuities directly into the bill, taking on the tax burden of a higher “sale” so that the front and back of house are paid more equitably. The innovative method is one Hsu is passionate about; he’s been vocal about back- and front-of-house pay disparity and the racist roots of today’s tipping system. Most importantly, Hsu continues to lead by example, uplifting restaurant workers through his practices and philosophy.
Reverence, in the Epicurean Hotel, is part of a rare lodging brand centered around food. Executive chef Henry Tapia helms the open kitchen and delivers true sourcing transparency: a QR code on the menu brings to a list of the local farmers, fishers, and artisans whose work fuels dishes such as pan-seared Georgian trout and truffled mushroom pappardelle. The list of producers leads to the purveyors’ webpages, so diners can delve into the details of the ingredients (and sometimes, ethics) of their dishes. The result is a one-of-a-kind crash course, plus a great meal.
It’s not often you can call a restaurant 50 years young, but this family-owned and operated mainstay, Atlanta’s oldest Japanese restaurant, is exactly that. Though the dining rooms here exude tradition with a blend of tatami (straw mat) rooms and teppanyaki dens, the menu evolves with the times. Only at Nakato can one order a sushi cake, a tiered tower made with fish that’s overnighted from Japan, then crafted by executive sushi chef Yoshi Kinjo. For $100, diners can feast on the chef’s choice of ten different fish, ringed with avocado and tuna rolls; the larger version, priced at $160, offers a premium selection wreathed by kaleidoscopic specialty rolls.
Palo Santo (West Midtown)
With Mexico City as his muse—but Georgia still very much on his mind—chef Santiago Gomez’s Atlanta debut is a sexy, supper club-style restaurant. Gomez spent nearly 20 years cooking at South Florida fine-dining spots including Nobu. He now brings a passion for heirloom produce (a love he traces to a childhood spent harvesting avocados with his grandfather in Mexico) to this avant-garde spot, offering Mexican dishes crafted with bounty and ingredients from local Georgian farms. But one of the restaurant’s other distinguishing features is the roving agave cocktail cart, the only one of its kind in Atlanta, serving small pours of rare tequila, mezcal, and sotol with unexpected bites. Standouts include the chapulines (dried roasted grasshoppers), a common cantina snack in Mexico. Sip and crunch in the cavernous dining room; you’re in for an intriguing evening.
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.
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