How to Eat Well in Atlanta
Todd Richards's top picks for cocktails, 'cue, and moreLeah Koenig
January 07, 2020
Chef Todd Richards may have grown up in Chicago, but Atlanta (his home for more than 30 years) has his heart. The James Beard Award–nominated chef and author of the acclaimed cookbook Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes dines out often, and is a vocal advocate of the city’s best culinary offerings. From the perfect French dip to unforgettable barbecued wings and a cheekily-named cocktail he likes to enjoy in multiples, here are Richards’s favorite Atlanta spots.
El Tesoro has the best tacos in the city, hands down. The tacos are always perfectly hot with a good balance of cilantro and onion. I typically do the chicken taco with spicy red sauce. The flavors are so well balanced that they don’t require a big squeeze of lime. The line can get long, so I often order a macchiato or a beer depending on the time of day, and drink that while waiting. We have our family’s order down: we get about 9 tacos, 2 tostadas, 2 tamales, rice, and beans.
For lunch I regularly go to Bread & Butterfly Cafe, which is a French bistro in the Inman Park neighborhood. I always go for their signature dish, which is a French dip with mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Gruyère. The bread is so crunchy and buttery and the sandwich is served with red wine jus that you can dip the sandwich into. It is magnificent, and the salad that comes with it is also great, with beautiful, locally grown greens and a light, lemony dressing.
Where to get barbecue is a thing of great debate in Atlanta. For wings, I go to Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q—their wings are the best in the city. They are always meaty, never dry, and perfectly spiced so that you don’t even need sauce. I get my sauce on the side and hardly ever use it. I also love B’s Cracklin’ BBQ, which recently opened inside of a rebuilt Kroger. I love the way he cooks brisket with a lot spices. It is tender and juicy with a good amount of burnt ends. Everything is done on the premises, so you get to have the whole experience inside a grocery store.
For fine dining, I go to Bacchanalia and Aria, which are two of the city’s best known restaurants. At Bacchanalia there’s a sense of what Atlanta fine dining was always supposed to be. It’s refined and delicious but not pretentious. We easily go six to seven times a year. I always get the seafood platter. Some of the freshest seafood still comes out of the Southeast, like Georgia white shrimp and clams from Sapelo Island. You really get the feeling of being in Georgia, but it is presented in such an elegant way.
And at Aria, every single item on the menu is delicious, from the foie gras and croquettes to the short ribs, which are always special there. And the pastry chef Kathryn King makes some of the best desserts Atlanta has ever seen. I’m not supposed to eat dairy, but I make an exception! The way she uses chocolate and citrus and plays with textures and flavors is magnificent.
For drinks, Ticonderoga Club is my favorite place to have a cocktail. They have this sherry-based cocktail called the Ticonderoga Cup that is served over crushed ice with mint leaves and lemon. It is just so delicious. And their sweetbread dish with avocado purée, spicy chile sauce, and these little crunchy fried onions is the best I have had in at least 10 years.
Banshee in East Atlanta also has a really great cocktail program. The restaurant is owned and managed entirely by women, and it has been great to see Atlanta support a women-run restaurant. But aside from that, they have the most delicious cocktails. My favorite is the Stately Hag, which has a great punch of tequila layered with lemon and thyme. It is one of the most complex cocktails. At first you can’t quite put your finger on why it is so delicious, so you have to drink three or four to find out! Their fry bread, which is served with pepperoni butter, is also so sick. And they make perfectly cooked salt mine potatoes, which they serve with créme fraîche and watercress.
There are a lot of modern Southern places in Atlanta, but my favorite is The Southern Gentleman. I usually go in and order a bunch of different plates from the appetizer section. The catfish bites are great and a lot of people love the black-eyed pea fritters. The chicken liver mousse is served with different gastriques made from huckleberry, blackberry, or strawberry preserves. It’s one of the best in the city.
Todd Richards’s Atlanta Dining Guide
Aria (New American)
B’s Cracklin’ BBQ (Barbecue)
Bacchanalia (New American)
Banshee (Craft Cocktails + New American)
Bread & Butterfly Cafe (French)
El Tesoro (Mexican)
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q (Barbecue)
The Southern Gentleman (Gastropub)
Ticonderoga Club (Craft Cocktails & Upscale Bar Fare)
Leah Koenig is a food writer, author of several cookbooks, including her latest, The Jewish Cookbook (Phaidon), and cooking instructor living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram at @leah.koenig.