(Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee)

Atlanta’s Culinary Evolution: Unveiling Michelin Guide’s Love for the City

Atlanta has been on the culinary map for a long time. Now, with the launch of the MICHELIN Guide Atlanta, the city finally has received well-deserved attention as a world culinary destination. 

The city’s first restaurant on record was a small establishment owned by Frenchman Toney Maquino, serving ham, eggs and oysters when the city was still known as Marthasville. After the Civil War, R.G. Thompson opened Atlanta’s first fine dining restaurant, Thompson’s. The restaurant served a high-end fare with steaks and oysters,” according to Akila Sankar McConnell, author of “A Culinary History of Atlanta.” During Reconstruction, Henry R. Durand became the most prominent restaurateur in Atlanta. 

During the Civil Rights Movement, Evelyn J. Frazier played a pivotal role in the fight for racial equality through food. In the 1930s, she and her sister opened Evelyn Jones Cafe, which she later expanded with her husband. It became Frazier Cafe, the first interracial restaurant on Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) during Jim Crow. Frazier Cafe was one of the few restaurants in Atlanta willing to challenge the social taboo of Blacks and whites dining together under the same roof.  

From Southern Comfort to Global Flavors

Busy Bee Cafe, a MICHELIN-Guide-recommended restaurant, offers outstanding Southern cusine in Atlanta.

Atlanta is commonly linked with Southern cuisine, and, of course, it’s easy to find fried chicken and Soul food here. What is less known about the city is that Atlanta restaurants serve a variety of global flavors.  

“Atlanta is only vaguely a fried chicken town,” said Kim Severson in his New York Times article, “Atlanta Serves Sophisticated Southern.”

“Certainly, delicious fried chicken is not hard to find, but suggest to an Atlantan that the city is a place of biscuits and chicken and, well, you’ll discover just how thin the skin gets here in the Southern sun,” said Severson, who admits to falling for the misconception before moving to Atlanta. 

Communities and chefs from around the world have made Atlanta home, bringing their flavors and cooking techniques to the kitchen and also finding influence from each other. 

A Chef’s Dream: Fresh Produce

Freedom Farmers Market is only one of many local farmers markets offering fresh produce from farms around Atlanta.

Chefs – such as Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillip from one-MICHELIN-star Lazy Betty – left New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other metropolitan cities to open their restaurant in Atlanta, where authentic flavors and inspirations are on the menu. 

One of the biggest draws that attracts chefs to Atlanta is the accessibility to local farms and fresh produce year-round, and the weather that even allows some to grow their own.

Atlanta was a farm-to-table city before this concept was a thing. 

“The South had a farm-to-table culture before those upstarts on the West Coast even planted their first crop of organic mesclun greens,” Severson noted back in 2011. 

It’s no secret that traditional Southern dishes are based on vegetables. But it’s not just Southern cuisine that benefits from the local harvest. Any cuisine is enhanced by local resources, allowing chefs to take their recipes to another level. 

Chefs like Anne Quatrano, owner of one-MICHELIN-star Bacchanalia, don’t have to reach too far to get fresh and local ingredients to create award-winning dishes. In fact, she gets many of the organic ingredients she uses from her own farm. 

THE CHASTAIN takes farm-to-table to another level, growing some of its produce in the restaurant’s yard. (Photo by Laura Charon)

Like Quatrano, with mild year-round weather in Atlanta, some chefs grow their produce. Chef Christopher Grossman, owner of the MICHELIN-recommended restaurant THE CHASTAIN, has an in-house farmer who grows some of THE CHASTAIN’s produce in the restaurant’s backyard. He sources what he cannot grow there from local farmers.

“It’s all year round,” says Italian chef and restaurateur Pat Pascarella, owner of several restaurants, including his MICHELIN- recommended restaurant, The White Bull. Each of his restaurants in Atlanta sources the majority of its ingredients from farms and local businesses within a 90-mile radius. In Connecticut and New York, where he previously worked in the culinary industry, that wasn’t possible. 

“That’s the Italian way of cooking. You use what grows near you,” Pascarella says. 

Diversity in People and Flavors

Hayakawa is a one-star MICHELIN restaurant offering Japanese cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Hayakawa)

MICHELIN inspectors found 25 types of cuisine during their 2023 review for the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Atlanta. On the list, of course, was Southern cuisine, along with Japanese, Thai, Filipino, Middle Eastern, European, Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and many more. 

The food scene is a tangible representation of Atlanta’s culinary history and the city’s diversity. 

Pop-Up Restaurants: Critical to Atlanta’s Food Culture

Chef Molli Voraotsady runs So So Fed, an Atlanta pop-up offering Laotian food.

Gastronomy in Atlanta extends beyond the four walls of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Inventive flavors also are found in the streets of Atlanta where new and seasoned chefs find space to explore their flavors and develop dishes that reflect their identity. The city’s openness and willingness to taste, learn and appreciate new flavors has been the impetus to the explosion of pop-ups in the city

Chef Collaborations

Diners in Atlanta often experience something that sets our culinary scene apart – chef collaborations. The food industry is very tight-knit here, and it is common for chefs to nurture and incubate other chefs who go on to pursue their dreams, find their niche and succeed. 

Chef Joey Ward, owner of MICHELIN-recommended restaurants Georgia Boy and Southern Belle, previously was a chef at chef Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow, another MICHELIN-recommended restaurant. 

Chefs Parnass Savang and Jarrett Stieber were cooking at a pop-up just a few years ago when Gato, a brick-and-mortar restaurant now closed, allowed them to use space to create a pop-up and share their flavors with the community. Today, chef Savang co-owns Talat Market and chef Stieber owns Little Bear, both recognized in the MICHELIN Guide Atlanta.  

Food Halls

Krog Street Market is a local favorite near the Atlanta Beltline.

Food halls are another form of culinary expression in Atlanta, with each reflecting the history, vibe and people of the neighborhood it serves. 

Diners can dive into history at food halls such as Sweet Auburn Curb Market and Ponce City Market. At Citizens Market, diners enjoy an upscale experience. Food Halls such as Chattahoochee Food Works and Politan Row at Colony Square are an important part of the industry that invites diners to expand their palates. 

Earlier in 2023, Eater reported more than 150 restaurants and bars were expected to open in Atlanta between 2023 and 2024. The list continues to grow, and the record continues to be broken. 

MICHELIN Guide lands in Atlanta 

The MICHELIN Guide Atlanta 2023 was revealed on Oct. 24. (Photo courtesy of

It’s no surprise that the MICHELIN Guide saw potential in Atlanta. 

As early as 2019, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau set out to elevate Atlanta’s culinary scene and had the idea to approach MICHELIN. The MICHELIN Guide already had eyes on Atlanta. Conversations started in the fall of 2019, but the pandemic tabled the discussion. In 2022, talks resumed, and in 2023, the arrival of the MICHELIN Guide Atlanta was announced.   

MICHELIN Guide Atlanta matters 

Atlanta has long been overlooked and underappreciated as a culinary destination. A vibrant culinary scene is vital to marketing the city for meetings and conventions.

Among frequent travelers, 76% think of the MICHELIN Guide as the most trustworthy reference for restaurant recommendations. It influences destination choice as two in every three frequent travelers say they would choose a MICHELIN Guide destination over an otherwise comparable city. More than that, travelers with their eye on MICHELIN are more likely to stay longer and spend more in the city.

In short, MICHELIN Guide elevates the culinary scene in the city, attracting more tourism, stimulating economic growth and giving Atlanta the place it deserves as a city that is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. See what the famous MICHELIN inspectors had to say about the MICHELIN Guide Atlanta selections.

Welcome to the global culinary spotlight, Atlanta

Born and raised in Mexico, Daniela is a bilingual journalist living in Atlanta. She is passionate about telling stories that highlight the diversity and the blooming gastronomic scene in Atlanta.

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