The Best Food and Drink in Georgia for 2019
December 20, 2018
The Peach State’s best food and drink is more than just its signature fruit
The Best Food and Drink in Georgia
We know the first food item that might pop in to your mind for Georgia: peaches. But there’s more to the Empire State of the South than those stone fruits. Although many of the top picks are in the capital, don’t overlook Savannah, Augusta, and Athens as a foodie destination. The heart of the Coastal Empire is giving Atlanta a culinary run for its money. Find out the details in our first-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Southern food has seen its reach extend far past the Mason-Dixon Line over the last decade. Fried chicken and barbecue has spread far beyond their roots to across the country. Trying to pick a single restaurant from the state to represent these crowded categories was quite a challenge. Hopefully you’ll see your favorites here (or at least the start of a very good debate).
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual galleries celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Georgia gallery ahead.
Best 24-Hour Diner: The Majestic Diner (Atlanta)
Boasting some of Atlanta’s finest chrome and neon, The Majestic has been a local standby since it opened in 1929. The expansive menu includes breakfast items like homemade biscuits, eggs a la Mexicana, French toast, burgers, and hot dogs, pork chops, and quesadillas, and a visit is essential for anyone who wants to call him- or herself an Atlantan.
Best Airport Restaurant: One Flew South (Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport)
One Flew South is an oft-lauded airport restaurant located in Terminal E of Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Self-described as “the first upscale dining experience at the world’s busiest airport,” One Flew South calls its travel-inspired cuisine “Southernational,” and the interior is impressive, with an 18-foot marble-backed bar and 30-foot pine and marble sushi bar in its dining room. An international wine list and extensive cocktail list accompany a menu that features sushi, sandwiches, soups, salads, and entrées such as thyme-roasted pork belly, Springer Mountain chicken, and pan-roasted New York strip.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Nori Nori (Atlanta)
This super-popular Sandy Springs spot boasts an absolutely massive assortment of all-you-can eat sushi and other Japanese and fusion dishes. Along with more than 20 varieties of nigiri sushi and more than 30 creative rolls, diners can treat themselves to a spread of dishes including Asian black noodle salad, shrimp cocktail, barbecue pork, blue crab in sesame sauce, beef ribeye, lobster and clam cakes, oysters Rockefeller, tempura shrimp and vegetables, udon noodles, and a huge assortment of desserts ranging from Oreo cheesecake to green tea ice cream. It ranges in price from $18.25 to $33.95, and is worth every penny.
Best Bar: Holeman & Finch Public House, Atlanta
Holeman and Finch Public House was at the forefront of the burgeoning craft cocktail movement in Atlanta back when it opened in 2008, and it remains a leader in the industry. To keep things exciting, head bartender Kaleb Cribb rotates the cocktail offerings seasonally; each new cocktail menu has a thematic continuity. There are six beers on tap, plus a rotating bottle and can list of a dozen or so brews; a carefully curated 50-bottle wine list; and the cocktail list, which has 10 original creations and six specially highlighted classic cocktails. The Atlanta establishment originally had only 24 burgers that were served nightly, but the burgers were so popular that they are now offered on the daily menu and at H&F Burger locations across the city.
Best Beach Restaurant: North Beach Bar and Grill (Tybee Island)
The easternmost point in Georgia, Tybee Island is a beautiful locale where you’ll find North Beach Bar and Grill, a delicious restaurant serving soul food full of seafood. Order some mouthwatering jerk chicken that’s been marinated in rum, lime, green onions, and plenty of spices or have a delicious sandwich, burger, or crab cakes. While enjoying your flavorful lunch or dinner, you may also get the chance to enjoy some live music as you kick back amongst the ocean scenery.
Best Beer: Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, Terrapin Beer Co. (Athens)
Wake-n-Bake, formerly known just as W-n-B, is definitely worth getting out of bed for… not that we recommend day drinking. (Just kidding, we totally do!) This imperial stout from Athens’ Terrapin Beer Co. is made with a collaboration between the brewery and Jittery Joe’s Coffee, a local café chain and coffee roaster. So with a base that good (and local), the resulting beer has to be similarly amazing. It’s got plenty of rich coffee flavor with just enough chocolate and caramel flavor to mimic the taste of a perfect morning beverage.
Best Brunch: Buttermilk Kitchen (Atlanta)
At Buttermilk Kitchen, chef/owner Suzanne Vizethann prides herself on making just about everything on her Southern-inspired menu from scratch, and guests at her weekend brunch are the lucky beneficiaries. Bagels with house-cured salmon, buttermilk pancakes, Southern white bread French toast with pure maple syrup, biscuits and gravy fried chicken biscuit, red pepper jelly and pimento cheese grits, fried chicken and waffles, short rib hash, and a lobster omelettes are just a few of the absolutely mouthwatering dishes on offer. They don’t take reservations, so make sure to get there early, and whatever you do, make sure you order some banana pudding for dessert.
Best Burger: Holeman & Finch Public House (Atlanta)
Only 24 burgers used to be served nightly at Holeman & Finch Public House, but thankfully for us they’ve now been made a permanent menu item. Each double-patty burger of fresh-ground grass-fed chuck and brisket comes topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, and homemade ketchup, and is served on a toasted house-baked bun alongside fresh-cut fries. Chef Linton Hopkins (who developed this burger while he was battling cancer, as it’s the only food he didn’t lose his taste for) chose to offer it on such a limited basis in order to let the other items on his menu get their due, but you can save those for the second visit.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Oriental Pearl (Chamblee)
Atlanta has no shortage of great Chinese restaurants, but this Cantonese institution has been going strong for more than 25 years and is the best in town. Along with the usual Chinese-American favorites, you’ll also find authentic Chinese fare including Dungeness crab in hot pot, Cantonese-style filet mignon, salted baked chicken, Cantonese roast duck, whole steamed fish, and ma po tofu. The dim sum specialties are also the city’s best.
Best Chocolate Shop: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate Micro-Factory (Atlanta)
Xocolati Small Batch Chocolate/Yelp
You’ll find the best chocolate shop in Georgia at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Xocolatl makes single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates that are presented in beautiful, simple paper. Inside, you’ll find some insanely delicious gourmet chocolates infused with apple pie spice, jerk spices, and vanilla, alongside simpler single-origin offerings.
Best Coffee Shop: Condesa Coffee (Atlanta)
Serving coffee brews from Counter Culture Coffee and organic teas from Rishi Tea, Condesa Coffee ensures high-quality drinks along with a cozy vibe. Their handcrafted cocktails are worth checking out, as is their food menu which includes items such as crispy liège waffles and adult grilled cheese sandwiches.
Best Craft Brewery: SweetWater Brewing Company (Atlanta)
SweetWater was founded in 1997. Because its beers are all unpasteurized, distribution is limited to a few nearby states. This didn't stop the brewery from taking home the gold medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup for The Creeper, from their Dank Tank series. It also “keeps it green” by repurposing spent grain as cattle feed instead of sending it to a landfill, and use post-recycled content for all its cardboard packaging.
Best Dive Bar: Clermont Lounge (Atlanta)
Is it a dive bar? Is it a strip club? Why not both! At the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta, women dance on the stage while patrons chow down on chicken wings and sip on some ice cold PBR. What could be more divey than that? How about the bar that’s only held together by years and years of duct tape. Yeah, that’s pretty divey.
Best Doughnut: Sublime Doughnuts (Atlanta)
Sublime Doughnuts dominates Atlanta’s doughnut scene, and when you step inside and see the huge doughnuts in the variety of fantastic flavors, it’s not hard to see why. From dulce de leche to red velvet cake to Reese’s peanut butter cup, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one from the stunning selection. But if you’re there early enough, make sure you try the most popular creation: A powdered doughnut cut open and stuffed full of fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
Best Farmers Market: Atlanta Farmers Market (Atlanta)
Best Food Truck: Yumbii (Atlanta)
After years of success on the Atlanta food truck circuit, this Asian-inspired taco truck branched out and opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2017. Thankfully, their food truck continues to pump out innovative taco combinations like Asian rib-eye beef tacos, stir-fried tofu burritos, and their “Yumbii Sliders” which come with spicy pulled pork, mayo, shredded cheese, and cucumber kimchee. Although their tacos and burritos are top notch, the Yumbii truck is most famous for their sesame fries, which according to their menu, were named the best fries in the USA. What makes them so special? The fries are sprinkled with sesame oil, salt, and chile flakes and can be served with a side of sriracha-queso dipping sauce.
Best French Fries: The Varsity (Atlanta)
The Varsity has seven locations in and around Atlanta, and the one downtown serves an average of 2,500 pounds of fries daily. Its potatoes are grown just for the chain by Eagle Eye Produce in Idaho, cut fresh every morning, and soaked for a short time in water before being fried in rice bran oil and lightly salted.
Best Fried Chicken: Mary Mac's Tea Room (Atlanta)
Mary Mac’s Tea Room is an Atlanta institution that has been making diners happy since 1945. The fried chicken is one of the best dishes there, and it’s easy to see why. Mary Mac’s Tea Room makes a double-battered fried chicken that comes as a four-piece set with the legs, breast, thigh, and wing, or as a fried chicken plate of three wings or one chicken breast. Did we mention that upon your visit to Mary Mac’s you’re entitled to a complimentary cup of pot likker (the juice left in a pot after collards cook) and a piece of cornbread?
Best Hot Dog: The Varsity, Atlanta
The Varsity is not included on this list because it claims to be the world’s largest drive-in, or because it’s one of the few restaurants in America that still employs carhops. Neither is it The Varsity’s staying power (founder Frank Gordy launched it with a $2,000 nest egg and "million dollar taste buds" in 1928) and its expansion to six locations in the greater Atlanta and Athens areas (with two in the airport). It’s because it sells some truly stellar hot dogs, delivered daily along with the ground beef used to make their legendary chili (which you can also buy by the can). Learn the lingo before ordering, but if in doubt, opt for the “Heavy Dog,” topped with chili and a thin stripe of mustard.
Best Hotel Restaurant: Southern Art (Atlanta)
Two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Art Smith’s swanky restaurant and bourbon bar Southern Art calls the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta home. His ingredients are sourced locally and go into a menu that’s full of traditional Southern classics that have been given a high-end twist. Don’t miss the fried green tomatoes with local herb goat cheese and cherry tomato jam; Addie Mae’s chicken and dumplings; pimento cheese with bacon jam; legendary fried chicken; and coastal Georgia shrimp and grits with Spanish chorizo, soy beans, okra, and basil shrimp broth.
Best Ice Cream Stand: Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (Atlanta)
Best Indian Restaurant: Zyka (Decatur)
Zyka is a South Asian restaurant that specializes in Hyderabadi cuisine, with their most notable dishes being their Hyderabadi mutton biryani and chicken kalimirch (a chicken curry that features freshly-cracked peppercorn gravy). Their most popular dish, however, originates from Tamil Nadu: chicken 65, a dish in which boneless chicken is marinated in ginger, garlic, and spices, before being battered and fried to make some of the most perfect fried chicken ever.
Best Irish Pub: Kevin Barry’s Pub (Savannah)
Boston, New York, and Chicago traditionally get all the attention for their Irish heritage, but let’s not forget that Savannah has the country’s largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It only makes sense that one of the country’s most historic Irish pubs is in Savannah. In a town where it’s okay to drink on the street, Kevin Barry’s is home not only to a good pint and good music, but also to the Hall of Heroes, an upstairs room devoted to military memorabilia.
Best Italian Restaurant: Varasano’s (Atlanta)
Bronx-born software engineer Jeff Varasano found a passion for pizza that led him down a saucy, bubbly road to pizza stardom. Atlanta has been the lucky beneficiary. Varasano's serves two traditional pies: Margherita di Bufala and "Nana's," which is the house special: mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce with a “secret blend of herbs” (sweet roasted red peppers are suggested, too). There are 12 specialty pies with a variety of toppings (including interesting ones like Emmenthaler, a pinch of lemon zest, and spiced olives) that come standard, but menu notations suggest extras. Speaking of which, if you want to build your own or add to menu options, there are 17 toppings (including handmade meatballs). They also serve a wide variety of traditional Italian fare, like family-recipe meatballs and Sunday gravy, penne with sausage and arugula, and spectacular fresh-made doughnuts.
Best Jewish Deli: The General Muir (Atlanta)
James Camp Photography/Yelp
The General Muir is a deli unlike any you’ve seen before. Chef Todd Ginsberg’s modern and upscale restaurant is subway-tiled and decidedly gourmet, but all the classics are still there. Corned beef, pastrami, matzo ball soup, bagels, and lox are all made in-house, and while the breakfast and lunch menus resemble what you’ll find at a standard Jewish deli, the big guns come out at dinner, when entrées like hanger steak with blackened winter radish and purple turnip, shaved baby celery, saffron and rutabaga puree, and beef jus; braised short rib with poppy spätzle, glazed carrot, roasted apple, baby mustard greens, and red wine jus; and charred octopus with riso di nero polenta, charred lacinato kale, Sea Island red peas, pickled red peppers, lemon, and chile oil come out to play.
Best Lobster Roll: JCT Kitchen & Bar (Atlanta)
Chef Ford Fry is slowly taking over the Atlanta dining scene, with ten restaurants in the city and environs, but the lobster roll that’s served at his JCT Kitchen during lunchtime service is a true piece de resistance. It’s an entire lobster, cut up as minimally as possible, tossed with a little mayo and chives, served on a bun baked at the venerable restaurant Holeman & Finch. Served with a mound of fries and an apple slaw, it’s a true thing of beauty.
Best Mexican Restaurant: El Rey Del Taco (Doraville)
Great Mexican food often comes down to the quality of ingredients, namely, handmade tortillas. That’s a selling point of El Rey Del Taco on the Buford Highway, site of many of America’s most underrated culinary gems. Prepare to load up on (what else?) tacos, most notably the beef cheeks (cabeza) and goat (chivo), washed down by a cool glass of horchata.
Most Expensive Restaurant: Bacchanalia (Atlanta)
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Quadruple Coronary Bypass Burger, The Vortex Bar & Grill (Atlanta)
If the name didn't make it clear, this is a dish with which you should proceed with caution. Known for its burgers, Vortex serves a Quadruple Coronoray Bypass made with four 4-ounce griddled sirloin patties, two 8-ounce flame-grilled sirloin patties, eight slices of Texas toast, four fried eggs, 27 strips of bacon, and 28 slices of American cheese, and topped with grilled onions, mayonnaise, and relish. If that somehow isn't enough for your appetite, it also comes with 20 ounces of fries and tater tots covered in melted cheese and bacon bits. The Coronary Bypass Burger is available as a Double or Triple as well, but all three have limited availability; you can order a Single any time, however.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Canoe (Atlanta)
Canoe is nestled in a manicured garden along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, and a peaceful stroll through the grounds is a perfect preamble to a very romantic dinner there. The interior is rustic, warm, and elegant, with plenty of comfortable booths. Once seated, you can enjoy chef Matthew Basford’s seasonal farm-to-table menu of entrées including veal ribeye au poivre with baby turnip, smoked shank, rapini, and black pepper sauce; brioche crusted cod with creamed sunchoke risotto and oven-dried tomato pesto; and hand-rolled pappardelle with crimini mushroom, pecorino, braised beef belly, and sherry-mustard cream. Make sure you try the Candy Bar (caramel, marshmallow, almonds, and cocoa nibs) for dessert.
Best Pancakes: Clary’s Café (Savannah)
A classic Southern-style diner, Clary’s is a colorful, homey Savannah destination serving spot-on versions of Southern breakfast staples. The waffles and sticky buns are legendary, but don’t miss the griddle cakes – two big buttermilk pancakes served with butter and your choice of pure maple syrup or Georgia cane syrup—filled with your choice of blueberries, chocolate chips, or Georgia pecans.
Best Pasta Dish: Squid Ink Spaghetti, La Tavola (Atlanta)
This neighborhood Italian spot is cozy and unassuming, but the locals know that it’s the best place for homemade pasta in Atlanta. Chef Brian Moll’s finest offering in the pasta department is his squid ink spaghetti, which is tossed with calamari, Calabrian chiles, garlic, and a light pesto made with Thai basil. Start with his renowned veal meatballs, and follow them up with this.
Best Pizza: O4W Pizza (Duluth)
Anthony Spina made waves in 2015 when he opened O4WP in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, and even though he recently moved the operation about 35 minutes out of town to Duluth, the “Jersey-style” pizzas is just as good.
Jersey-style generally refers to a Trenton-style tomato pizza where the cheese goes down first and is then topped by a sauce heavy on tomato flavor, sometimes even topped by hand-crushed tomatoes. At O4WP, it means hand-stretched dough made fresh daily and topped with housemade sauce and hand-pulled mozzarella cooked Sicilian-style, wood-fired in a gas deck oven. But the move is the award-winning Grandma Pie cooked in cast-iron. O4WP even calls itself “Home of the Grandma Pie.” And while you have to raise an eyebrow and have a little chuckle about a Georgia pizzeria doing Jersey-style pizzas and being known for a pizza that originated in Long Island, New York, there’s nothing funny about how good this pizza tastes. They’re guaranteed to impress even the most prideful New Yorker.
Best Restaurant: Miller Union (Atlanta)
Simple, farmstead-inspired cooking is the name of the game at chef Steven Satterfield’s down-home, unpretentious Atlanta eatery, and it’s earned him multiple James Beard Award nominations. An active member of Slow Food Atlanta and a regular denizen of the city’s farmers markets, Satterfield transforms fresh seasonal ingredients into refined yet accessible plays on regional classics. Grit fritters with country ham and Thomasville tomme; chicken liver mousse with apple scrap jelly and kale crackers; red snapper fillet with parsnip, new Vidalia onions, fennel, and blood orange; cream-and-Dijon-braised rabbit with bitter greens and roasted cauliflower; and grilled pork loin with butternut squash, apple, turnip, mushrooms, pancetta, and dandelion are just a few examples of what you might find on the constantly changing menu.
Best Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere: Fortify Kitchen and Bar (Clayton)
Fortify Kitchen and Bar/Yelp
If we described a restaurant that won a statewide “Silver Spoons” award for best restaurant in 2015, a certificate of excellence in the same year from TripAdvisor, a Best Chefs America award for the past three years, and a diners’ choice award from OpenTable, you probably wouldn’t guess it’s located in the small town of Clayton, Georgia — probably because you’ve never even heard of Clayton, Georgia. Yet this is the case for Fortify Kitchen and Bar, which co-owner/chef Jamie Allred has put on the map with offerings like gouda fritters, Buffalo pork belly bites, a chicken and shrimp grit bowl, local pork loin chops, and cracker-crusted blue crab cakes. Prices might seem high for a restaurant in a random Georgia border town, but then again, so is the quality.
Best Ribs: Smoke Ring (Atlanta)
Jordan Wakefield, the head chef at this upscale barbecue spot, comes from a diverse background. Originally trained as a pastry chef, he once ran the kitchen at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market; Wakefield has now settled into the barbecue groove. Only recently opened, this spot quickly ran up the rankings in the barbecue-dense South.
Best Sandwich: 'Burger,' Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q (Atlanta)
Texas-born pitmasters (and identical twins) Justin and Jonathan Fox opened Fox Bros. in 2007, and since then it’s rightfully gone down as one of the top barbecue spots in Georgia with two locations, a brisk catering business, and a retail line of rubs and sauces. Their sandwiches are things of beauty, especially their unique “Burger”: chopped brisket topped with bacon, tomato, red onion, pickles, melted pimento cheese and jalapeño mayo on a buttered and toasted brioche bun. Who needs a real burger when you can have one of these?
Best Seafood Shack: The Crab Shack (Tybee Island)
The Crab Shack is known as the local joint “where the elite eat in their bare feet.” It holds a reputation for serving excellent seafood by many local and national media outlets. Lucky for you, it is open year-round, so you can enjoy the famous steamed seafood and seafood platters any time you visit the idyllic Southern city of Savannah, which is a short drive away from Tybee Island.
Best Soup: Brunswick Stew, Sandfly Barbecue (Savannah)
Georgia is the home base of the legendary Brunswick stew, and ask any Savannah local where to find the best and they’ll point you in the direction of Sandfly. Formulated by owner and former fine dining chef Keith Latture, it starts with chicken, beef, and pork that he’s smoked in house, and it’s rounded out with local corn, beans, onions, and diced tomatoes. It’s so thick that a spoon will stand up straight in it, and it’s absolutely stellar.
Best Sports Bar: Stats Brewpub (Atlanta)
What makes Stats stand out from the others? Nearly 16,000 square feet means you won’t rub shoulders with your rivals, plus there's a whopping 70 HDTVs in the bar so everyone can have a great view. And as if that wasn’t enough, wait until you see the beer tap system set up throughout the bar, so patrons can pour their own beer during a particularly intense inning — and that’s on top of the five bars. This mecca of sports also serves classic American bar food, with a long list of draft beers.
Best Steakhouse: Kevin Rathbun Steak (Atlanta)
Located in a former Clorox factory in up-and-coming Inman Park, Kevin Rathbun’s steakhouse is part of an empire that also includes Rathbun’s and Krog Bar, all located on the same street. At his spacious, whimsically appointed steakhouse, Rathbun serves steakhouse classics like escargots, seafood towers, dry-aged porterhouse for two and three, a 22-ounce cowboy ribeye, and 16-ounce New York strips; but there’s also a wide selection of items that you don’t see on most steakhouse menus like Coca-Cola baby back pork ribs, eggplant fries, lobster fritters, ahi tuna poke, and Asian-style meatballs. If you go twice, order whatever you like. But if you go once, get the steak; we’d recommend that cowboy ribeye.
Best Sushi: Tomo (Atlanta)
Tomo is the brainchild of Tokyo-born Tomo Naito — who honed his eye for quality while working as a seafood buyer and his sushi skills at the omakase station at Las Vegas’ Nobu — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for sushi in Atlanta. The room is sleek, as befits its location in ritzy Buckhead, and the skills of Naito are on full display, not only in the quality of the fish but in the creative ingenuity behind his dishes like usuzukuri, thinly sliced fluke dotted with hot sauce and ponzu jelly. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.