If you haven't been paying attention, you might not know what a foodie town Atlanta has become. It's not all fried chicken, collards and grits (although you can still find these). It's pizza made with imported San Marzano tomatoes. Mexican street tacos. Korean barbecue. James Beard winning chefs opening stalls in food halls.
Atlanta offers something for everyone. So if you're coming for a visit, don't settle for the tourist traps. And don't spend hours on Yelp, wondering if you should believe that review that says the salsa tasted like it was from the grocery store.
Here is a listing of some of the best restaurants in Atlanta. These are the restaurants my boyfriend and I go to on a Tuesday night, when we have a fighting chance of getting a table.
Most, while not directly on the Atlanta BeltLine, are in surrounding neighborhoods. Some have been around for decades, some are only a few years old. And some are not only worth a visit if you come to Atlanta, they're worth making a visit to Atlanta.
And if you want to get a curated sampling of some of Atlanta's best restaurants, come on a Food and Art Tour of the Atlanta BeltLine.
1. El Tesoro
Tucked away off transitional Moreland Ave., out-of-towners would never find this taco stand on their own. And it’s a good thing for us locals because the line is long enough - but well worth the wait. At this Day-of-the-Dead themed taqueria, street tacos come with barbacoa, carnitas, beef tongue, are under $4 and filled with more meat than you think you can eat. A thick tamale will also fill you up, whether you get it with pork, chicken or beef. Don't skip their chips and salsa - try the salsa guacamole, a tangy green sauce. Since COVID, El Tesoro offers counter service only, with open air seating, on a festively decorated patio that will make you think you’ve been transported to Cancun.
2. A Mano
Neighborhood: Old Fourth Ward
This is one of Atlanta’s best kept secrets. While this city generally leans more toward BBQ, wings and seafood than Italian fare, A Mano is a restaurant that gets it right. The menu is simple and rarely changes, which means that the Bucatini alla Bolognese and Carbonara keep us coming back. The cauliflower soaked in crème fraiche will make you want to eat (all of) your veggies. Located in a former house in a residential neighborhood, the atmosphere is cozy and welcoming and perfect for date night. If it’s not too hot, eat on the vine-covered patio for a more intimate experience. Just be sure to make a reservation.
It seems that nearly everyone who has lived in Atlanta has made memories at Manuel’s. This neighborhood bar is legendary, earning a reputation as the Democratic headquarters of Atlanta – a nod to founder Manuel Maloof’s role as an elected official and the bar's embrace of liberal politics. All the Democratic presidents have passed through, from Carter to Obama. But Manuel's is also democratic with a lower "d," welcoming all types of people.
With a dark wood interior, long bar and two dining rooms, it’s as relaxed a place as you’ll find to meet friends for a drink. Artifacts covering the walls aren’t corporate décor; each one is tied to a real person and a memory made here. This bar holds on to its customers, literally, with their name plated on their favorite bar stool, and in some cases, their final ashes mounted on the wall.
During COVID quarantine, when nobody went to bars, Manuel’s started a crowdfund to keep its doors open, and people answered the call from near and far, raising $100,000+ in 24 hours. Former and current Atlantans recalled special memories made at Manuel's. A first beer. A date that led to marriage. A Klingon meetup.
In addition to a large beer selection, wine and cocktails, Manuel's serves typical bar food like nachos, tacos, burgers and sandwiches. This city is known as a chicken wings town (just look for the bones on the sidewalks), so to have a truly local experience, get wings and beer and create your own memories here.
4. Highland Tap
Atlanta has plenty of upscale steak houses in Buckhead and elsewhere that charge outrageous prices for business clientele and celebrities who come to town. This below-street-level steak house in Virginia-Highland, one of Atlanta’s most popular neighborhoods, is for the middle class, but it doesn’t lack any flavor for its lower prices. While you’ll probably need a reservation for the dining room, you can sidle up to the bar and get the same menu in a more relaxed setting. And what pairs better with steak than a martini? Theirs has been voted best in town every year since 1989. If you like your martinis dirty, this is the place for it. The green olives stuffed with bleu cheese are their own kind of meal. Not feeling like a heavy steak? They have other options, like a lobster burger, fried chicken or salads. The French Dip is also a winner. Parking tip: Valet parking is provided, with the entrance at the end of the block on N. Highland. Or find street spaces on Virginia Ave.
Neighborhood: Old Fourth Ward
Food: Latin-inspired fruit and sandwiches
You might forget that you are 3+ hours from the beach when you eat here. Lotta Frutta’s menu is Pan-Latin inspired, which means you can get food from Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America. Their fruit is as ripe and fresh as if it comes from the tropics, complete with paper parasol. It’s no wonder, as the owner seems to have fruit in her DNA. The child of Mexican immigrants, she was raised in Texas with a citrus orchard in her backyard. Her grandfather carved sculptures from fruit, and her grandmother sold frozen fruit pops (paletas) from the leftovers. While fruit is their thing, they also serve Cuban-style pressed sandwiches – ham, turkey, veggie or vegan - which come with homemade chulpe, or corn nuts. Order at the window, and relax under a straw umbrella on the sidewalk as you coincidentally gaze at an Art Deco Miami-style condo building across the street. Just know that you're on Island Time here, and your food is worth the time it takes.
In recent years, Atlanta’s pizza scene has exploded. But back when this city had few options other than delivery from the big chains, Fellini’s was already establishing itself as an alternative by selling New York slices. Its founder was a member of the alternative band The Coolies, and the location on Ponce de Leon has long had an alt/grunge vibe, with posters on the walls promoting local music. The veggie slice is a meal unto itself (with black & green olives, mushrooms, garlic, roma tomatoes, onions and peppers). And the salad, iceberg lettuce with pizza toppings, is equally as delicious as their pies. Splurge and get both. This is a place we go to regularly, whether we eat on their patio or pick it up.
Neighborhood: Westside + others
Food: Mexican-Southern fusion
While Atlanta has no shortage of Mexican restaurants, Taqueria del Sol ranks near the top for a sit-down experience at a fast food price. Their menu fuses Mexican and Southern, without settling for copycat Tex-Mex. Think tacos with Memphis BBQ and jalapeno coleslaw. Or the legendary fried chicken tacos, which left Martha Stewart begging for the recipe. Or dip into their cheesy enchiladas with brisket, carnitas, chicken or refried beans. While del Sol now has locations in Tennessee, Atlanta is where it all started, and locals continue to wait patiently in the inevitable line. It's also not much of a secret - the restaurant has been spotlighted nationally, including on CNN and in Southern Living. Tip: Try the original location on Atlanta's westside for a hip vibe.
Neighborhood: Candler Park + others
This is my favorite barbecue not just in Atlanta, but anywhere. You can tell that these people have a serious love affair with brisket and pork. The meats are lovingly and painstakingly smoked in huge smokers in the yard. And as good as the meats are, the sides may be better. From tots to Frito pie to brussels sprouts, it might be hard to pick just two. Especially because you'll want to try Fox-a-roni, their own unique blend of mac & cheese and Brunswick stew. Fox Bros. now has multiple locations, including one next to the Braves stadium, but for an authentic experience, head to their original spot in no-man's land on Dekalb Ave. Parking is extremely tight, and you may have to wait for a table, but it's worth working up an appetite.
9. Farm Burger
Neighborhood: Decatur + others
Let's not pretend that a burger is anywhere close to healthy eating. But as far as it goes, Farm Burger does it right with their farm-to-table approach. Here you can be assured your cows were given a diet of green grass and not pumped up with hormones and antibiotics. And you can taste the difference. Ordering goes something like this. Choose your burger - whether beef, chicken, pork or vegan. Get the tasty bun made by another local burger legend, Holeman & Finch. Or cut the carbs with a GF bun or lettuce wrap. Next up, the cheese. This is your chance to try something other than American cheese, since you have better choices like smoked gouda, feta, goat, bleu and pimento. Then from a long list of toppings, you can find unique ones like candied jalapenos, crispy red onions and roasted bone marrow. I recommend you skip the fries and go with the Superfood salad, chock full of tasty ingredients like kale, butternut squash and chickpeas. Try the original location in Decatur, and spend some time exploring this liberal outpost of Atlanta, with its own enticing restaurant scene.
Want to taste more Atlanta restaurants that locals go to? Get a sampling of cosmopolitan restaurants in the trendy Old Fourth Ward neighborhood - and experience the Atlanta BeltLine, this city's favorite destination - by joining a BiteLines Food and Art Tour of the Atlanta BeltLine.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder and CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking Food and Art Tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. To sample some of Atlanta's best restaurants and street art, come join us on a Food and Art Tour of the Atlanta BeltLine. Follow on TikTok and Instagram @bitelinesatl.