25 Iconic Atlanta Dishes
Atlanta flavors know no bounds with offerings spanning the tried and true Southern fare the city is best known for as well as inventive and dynamic dishes that characterize our dining renaissance. But what makes a dish “iconic?” Is it those word-of-mouth eats locals wax poetic about to their visiting friends and family? Those Instagram-worthy indulgences that garner social media stardom? It’s all of that and more. ATL’s boasting big flavor, y’all!
From free signature sides at some of the city’s most iconic restaurants to viral burgers begging for your attention, add these city-defining dishes to your culinary street cred.
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Chris Watkins is an Atlanta-based content creator with a deep love and connection to the Atlanta dining and nightlife scene. In his past life he was the Atlanta editor for Thrillist with bylines in the pages of Jezebel Magazine, Men’s Book Atlanta, and Where Atlanta Magazine. He currently operates Watkins Branding, a digital marketing and social media agency with focus on the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Lemon Pepper Wings
Gotta try it at: JR Crickets
Atlanta has a storied connection to the chicken wing, especially the lemon pepper variety. Aromatic with a savory, subtle tang, lemon pepper wings were the city’s best-kept secret until that fateful episode of Atlanta. You know, the one that made “lemon pepper wet” a part of the culinary zeitgeist. Find them at Downtown chicken-filled stronghold JR Crickets. A few suburban locations have popped up too.
Goat Cheese Balls
Gotta try it at: Ecco
Cheesesticks are well and good, and you can have your ooey-gooey cheese pulls, but have you had a ball of goat cheese fried to perfection?! This beloved treat from ATL’s modern European mainstay, Ecco, is a city stunner. It hits all the right notes in a delicate balance of assertive goat cheese, honey and cracked black pepper — a must-order before gorging on artisan flatbreads and pimped-out pasta.
Gotta try it at: Sublime Doughnuts
You can’t have a list of iconic ATL dishes without including one that honors the city in its name. The A-Town cream at celebrated doughnut shop, Sublime Doughnuts, has all the traditional Boston Cream doughnut hallmarks. While it’s covered in glistening chocolate and filled to the brim with sumptuous custard, that’s where the similarities end. The alphabet-shaped doughnut is the shop’s most recognizable offering, and the best way to rep the A is by eating an “A.”
Ode to Blondie
Gotta try it at: Tiny Lou’s
When Clermont Hotel reopened to modern glitz and glam above Atlanta’s most beloved institution, The Clermont Lounge, their French-inspired restaurant, Tiny Lou’s, decided to pay homage to one of the establishment’s most storied dancers — Blondie. Now, Blondie does this thing with a beercan that we don’t have the time to get into, but pastry chef Claudia Martinez’s Ode To Blondie dessert is a must-try on the menu. Brown butter blondie topped with white chocolate namelaka, PBR caramel and spicy pecans? That we’ll get into.
Gotta try it at: The Busy Bee Cafe & Paschal’s Restaurant
Now, you can’t come to Atlanta without having a few heaping helpings of fried chicken. It really should be the official state food with so many restaurants offering their traditional and unique takes on the Southern delicacy. While picks for favorites can get contentious, we’re stuck in a toss-up between two of Atlanta’s most iconic restaurants — Paschal’s and The Busy Bee. They both opened in 1947 and have been vying for the title of ATL’s top fried chicken ever since. Suffice to say, get some of their crispy, juicy chicken goodness in your system.
Gotta try it at: Antico
Pizza is an unlikely addition to a list of the city’s most iconic eats, but Antico bucks the Southern system with their glorious Neapolitan-style pies. An ATL favorite, Antico’s San Gennaro pizza is a worthy introduction to the beloved pizza brand. A crisp crust unites savory Italian sausage, spicy red peppers and sweet cipollini onions covered in buffalo mozzarella. Be sure to share — or not.
Gotta try it at: Holeman & Finch Public House
Chef Linton Hopkins’ H&F burger is the double stack you’ve been waiting for all this time and holds the crown as the city’s most iconic burger. A special grind patty is griddled to perfection and topped with melty American cheese, house-made pickles and slivered red onions between a buttery, toasted bun. What started as a nightly, limited-run burger at one of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants, Holeman & Finch Public House, has grown into its own phenomenon and is an essential try for anyone visiting the A.
Gotta try it at: Miller Union
James Beard Award-winning chef Steven Satterfield’s ode to farm-to-table fare, Miller Union, is easily one of the first restaurants that comes to mind when thinking of seasonally-fresh dining. The Westside restaurant’s menu is filled with nature’s bounty of farm-fresh offerings, but the standout star is the farm egg baked in celery cream. Simple in thought yet complex in flavors, rich cream is infused with celery, onion, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and shallot, poured over a cracked egg, then baked. Served with crunchy, grilled bread, this might be the most thoughtfully-prepared appetizer you’ve ever consumed.
Gotta try it at: Revolution Doughnuts
Some iconic offerings only come around once a year. And when they do, you better be sure to jump on them. Inman Park doughnut shop, Revolution Doughnuts, has one such dish — their seasonal peach sliders. Light doughnuts packed with juicy Georgia peaches and rolled in sugar, this ode to the Peach State is only available during summer in limited supplies given their popularity. So be sure to order a few dozen next time they come around.
Comfy Chicken Biscuit
Gotta try it at: Homegrown
When it comes to Atlanta breakfast destinations, Homegrown stands out as one of the best. The pride and joy of this Reynoldstown haunt is its Comfy Chicken Biscuit. Now, this isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill chicken biscuit. Stay with me here. We’re talking glorious fried chicken, splayed on a butter-drenched biscuit, and topped with pork sausage gravy. Let’s just say you’re going to need a nap after downing this popular plate of comfort.
Chocolate Sea Salt Pop
Gotta try it at: King of Pops (festivals, Ponce City Market, throughout the city)
All hail the king. Gourmet pop shop, King of Pops, has been making Atlantans happy with the icy treat since 2010. Staying true to their values and sourcing their ingredients from local farms, the little pop cart that could has grown into a mighty brand offering a plethora of flavors to enjoy seasonally and year-round. The go-to is their Chocolate Sea Salt Pop, a dreamy blend of rich dark chocolate amplified by sea salt. This is one fudgy find you should definitely try.
Gotta try it at: Bacchanalia
Bacchanalia’s storied tasting menu and courses have been long lauded as one of the city’s most essential dining experiences. While James Beard Award-winning chef Anne Quatrano’s menu changes regularly, one menu mainstay is the crab fritter. It’s fried with a hint of Thai pepper spice and complemented with citrus and avocado. It could possibly be ATL’s most essential appetizer.
Gotta try it at: Ria’s Bluebird
Ria’s Bluebird is a staple in the Grant Park neighborhood, guiding residents to morning glory with plentiful platters of pancakes. Fluffy, buttery and topped with toasted pecans or bananas, you’ve gotta try these made-from-scratch flapjacks that were celebrated by The New York Times as “the world’s best pancakes.” No fake news here. Whether you like ’em short or fat, these stacks are where it’s at!
Gotta try it at: BoccaLupo
Inman Park’s BoccaLupo has garnered a cult following for its perfectly prepared pasta offerings. Their 20-yolk tagliatelle is an Atlanta favorite. As the name says, celebrated chef Bruce Logue uses a minimum of 20 farm-raised eggs to create silky pasta ribbons and adorns it with robust mushrooms and kale kimchi for bite.
French Toast Sandwich
Gotta try it at: Le Petit Marche
Kirkwood breakfast and brunch gem, Le Petit Marche, has been a neighborhood favorite since 2008. Think daily breakfast scrambles, fluffy griddle cakes, salmon biscuits and so much more. But by far, the most popular item on their morning-centric menu is the French toast sandwich. Imagine a full breakfast spread, scrambled eggs, sausage and French toast. Ok, now imagine it all together as a sandwich soaked with syrup and topped with powdered sugar. After you pick your brain off the ceiling, dive deep into this iconic sandwich.
One Night Stand
Gotta try it at: Slutty Vegan
If you’re a meat lover, odds are you aren’t going to go out of your way to try anything vegan. But when Slutty Vegan burst on the scene offering “bangin’ plant-based” burgers, those active carnivores had to see what the fuss was about. The viral sensation on celebrity Instagram feeds, showing their “O” face after taking one bite of the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-meat burger, had the masses wanting to get “sluttified” themselves. The One Night Stand is an iconic intro with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun. It will certainly make you consider giving up meat.
Chili Cheese Dog
Gotta try it at: The Varsity
The Varsity has been serving up fabulous fast food since 1928. When one of their boisterous carhops exclaims, “What’ll ya have?” it should probably be the savory chili cheese dogs. The world’s largest drive-in restaurant is no-frills Atlanta goodness, whether on a game day or just grabbing a quick bite. Try not to get any on your shirt.
Gotta try it at: Mary Mac’s Tea Room
Southern restaurant institution, Mary Mac’s Tea Room, has served as “Atlanta’s Dining Room” since opening its doors in 1945. The down-home eats rank it high on visitors’ to-do list to explore Atlanta’s classic Southern cuisine. The most interesting and iconic part of that experience is a welcoming bowl of pot likker. You know, the liquid left behind from boiling seasoned collard greens. First-time visitors get a complimentary cup and cornbread. Now, if that isn’t Southern hospitality, I don’t know what is.
Gotta try it at: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack
You can’t just eat one rib, but we dare you to try it at Morningside mainstay, Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Slathered in savory sauce and smoked to perfection, the slabs coming out of this veteran smokehouse reach fall-off-the-bone territory well before they hit your plate. And while Atlanta has no shortage of options for balls to the wall barbecue, we’re riding with the OG that’s been a must-visit ‘cue destination for more than 20 years.
Gotta try it at: Kimball House
Most wouldn’t consider oysters to be an iconic dish specific to Atlanta, but Kimball House has garnered critical acclaim for its signature oyster happy hour that honors the briny bivalve. The Decatur craft cocktail bar curates the best oysters from across the nation, from the wilds of Maine, Massachusetts and even Georgia, to name a few. Paired with unique accouterments to amplify their flavor, get to slurpin’ at this highly-lauded oyster haven.
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