Atlanta's 50 Best Restaurants: Fall Dining Guide

Credit: John Kessler

Credit: John Kessler

Hey, hey, hey. It's time for the fall dining guide!

The last time we compiled the Atlanta 50 — our list of the metro area's don't-miss restaurants — was back in spring of 2013. That may be a mere 18 months ago, but it counts as a small eternity in restaurant time.

So much has changed for the better in Atlanta. Yet, we’re not going to say, as we have in years past, that the city has grown up. Much to the contrary, the city’s dining world has gotten younger, broader in scope, more nimble, more ambitious, friendlier and a whole lot more fun.

Credit: John Kessler

Credit: John Kessler

So, we thought it would be good to shake things up on the Atlanta 50 and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s restaurant reviews as well. We’ve got some news:

Starting Friday, we are changing our rating system. The five-star system, which we’ve long used, has ceased to make much sense in this age of aggregate online reader reviews, such as those compiled by Yelp. To most people’s way of thinking, the five stars define a bell curve: one star means slam city, five means OMG with extra exclamation points; the sweet spot lies somewhere between three and four. We understand that here in daily journalism world, so we’re abdicating the fifth star.

From now on, we will use a four-star system. Here’s how it will work:

  • 1 Star: Good. This is your basic "hits and misses" restaurant, the one that you may want to check out if you're curious and nearby, but probably won't want to make the Alpharetta-Decatur drive for.
  • 2 Stars: Very Good. Here's where you'll find the solid neighborhood spots, the mom-and-pop finds that serve great food but are short on service and comfort, and a few huge-deal places that don't hit all their marks despite the millions spent.
  • 3 Stars: Excellent. Now we're in pride and joy territory. These are the restaurants that make Atlanta a great eating town. They're the ones we're going to recommend when you email us and ask where to find the best 'x' or where to go for your birthday.
  • 4 Stars: Extraordinary. These are the restaurants that play on a national stage for their cuisine, service and overall experience, and they rarely disappoint. OK, well … the restaurant, singular. After a lot of deliberation, we've decided that there's only one Atlanta place that will get our four-star rating for the time being. We would love nothing more than to see a few others join this list.

Credit: John Kessler

Credit: John Kessler

Now, here’s a little more news:

A number of famous, well regarded restaurants have come off the Atlanta 50. It’s not that they’ve all suddenly gone downhill, but after revisiting the majority of these places we find that many need a full re-review conducted after multiple visits. Some have done their thing for a decade or longer with little attempt to modernize or acknowledge the premium that today’s diners place on local and seasonal product. Others have had so many shake-ups in staffing that they have begun to feel like well-built concepts rather than chef-driven enterprises.

We also are attempting to create the broadest possible picture of excellent dining in Atlanta. To that end, we’ve spread our picks over as broad a geographic, ethnic and stylistic range as possible. That has made for some hard choices. We have omitted favorites from restaurant groups that seem built from the same DNA. If we love two soul-warming Italian restaurants in Inman Park or two beautiful sushi destinations in Buckhead, we picked only one.

So, please, take a look and let us know what you think. Even if you disagree with our choices, we hope this guide to the Atlanta 50 starts some discussion and perhaps introduces you to a restaurant or two that will make the top of your list.

Here's a tool that lets you search the Atlanta 50 by cuisine, neighborhood and number of stars.

If you would like to submit your own photos of Atlanta restaurants that you think deserve four stars, please email it or post it on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #ajcwheretoeat.