Empire State South. Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson is no stranger to love from the James Beard Foundation -- he won an award for Best Cookbook in American Cooking and tied with Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins in the Best Chef: Southeast category in 2010 after having been nominated several times before. Acheson started out in Athens with the acclaimed Five & Ten and The National before expanding to Atlanta with Empire State South in 2010. The AJC gave it four stars, and the restaurant has become a mainstay in Midtown fine dining with dishes such as tilefish with farro grano arso, dashi, kohlrabi and charred cabbage and pork with turkey craw beans, artichoke, leek and kale. The restaurant's beverage manager Kellie Thorn has also been recognized nationally. Acheson is also a co-owner of Spiller Park Coffee, which has locations in Ponce City Market and Toco Hill, and serves up an elevated coffeehouse menu.
999 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-541-1105, empirestatesouth.com/
The Grey. Take a road trip to Savannah to try food from Mashama Bailey, who is in the running again for Best Chef: Southeast. Bailey, a disciple of famed southern chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis, serves up a menu that draws from dishes in categories including Pantry, Water, Dirt, and Pasture such as beef tartar with pickled turmeric, quail egg and sourdough tuile and whole-grilled fish with salsa verde and charred lemon.
109 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Savannah. 912-662-5999, thegreyrestaurant.com/
Credit: angela hansberger
Credit: angela hansberger
Kimball House. Decatur's Kimball House has been popular with both critics and diners since opening in 2013. The restaurant was the lone Atlanta Beard finalist in 2018, also for Outstanding Beverage Program, and the team behind the eatery opened another successful concept, Watchman's Seafood & Spirits in Krog Street Market last year. In addition to its stunning drinks including the Afternoon Delight made with absinthe, lime, pineapple, passionfruit, fines herbs and cava, Kimball House is known for its oyster happy hour, its private dining space Bonanza and a menu that serves up dishes such as pork belly with melted leek, ginger, chile, fennel and little gem and trout with fermented child grits, coppa, leek, fennel, turnip and kale.
303 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-378-3502, kimball-house.com/
Credit: Courtesy of Sean Spalding
Credit: Courtesy of Sean Spalding
Miller Union. The West Midtown restaurant has been a finalist in the Outstanding Wine Program before, and chef and owner Steven Satterfield received the Best Chef: Southeast award in 2017 (after having been a finalist in the category multiple times). General manager and co-owner Neal McCarthy, a certified sommelier, can take credit for the restaurant's expansive wine list, which boasts offerings from small producers that focus on organic practices. Highlights from the restaurant's menu include the farm egg baked in celery cream and served with grilled bread, the rotating season veggie plate and the chicken served with Carolina Gold rice coconut, peanut and house chutney. And while its the wine list that gets recognition, Miller Union's cocktail list is nothing to turn your glass away from.
999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 678-733-8550, millerunion.com
Staplehouse. The Giving Kitchen, the non-profit arm of Staplehouse, is already a big winner this year with a James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award. Smith, who was a finalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2017, makes an appearance in the category again this year, while the restaurant was a finalist in the Best New Restaurant category in 2016. Check out the eatery's tasting menu, which changes often but usually features items including the popular Grandma Lillian's potato bread and the chicken liver tart. After you're finished with your meal, head upstairs to the restaurant's Paper Crane Lounge for a swanky cocktail.
541 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-524-5005, staplehouse.com/
Ticonderoga Club. This Colonial Era-inspired bar is a Beard nominee for the first time this year, but has gotten buzz for its cocktails from Greg Best and Paul Calvert and food since it opened in Krog Street Market in 2015. Look for dishes including the Ipswich clam roll and Burgundy-braised short rib, and the julep-inspired Ticonderoga Cup, which is considered the punchlike "cup of the house." There's also a selection of booze-free cocktails including the Sho-Nuff made with Citurs Cordial, lime, tonic and grenadine float.
99 Krog St. NE Atlanta. 404-458-4534, ticonderogaclub.com
This year's finalists join a list of longtime Atlanta restaurants and chefs that have been recognized as James Beard Award finalists and winners:
Design firm Meyer Davis won an award in 2017 in the Outstanding Restaurant Design category for its work on St. Cecilia.
Linton Hopkins, who owns Holeman & Finch, H&F Burger, Hop's Chicken, C.Ellet's and Restaurant Eugene, tied Hugh Acheson to win Best Chef: Southeast in 2010 and was recognized as a finalist in the category before that. Holeman & Finch was also named a finalist for Outstanding Bar Program in 2013.
Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, who own Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Floataway Cafe and W.H. Stiles Fish Camp won Best Chef: Southeast in 2003 and both were nominated in the category before that.
Weaver D's in Athens was recognized in the American Classics category in 2007, while Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah was recognized in 2000.
Kevin Gillespie, chef and owner at Revival and Gunshow, was named a finalist in the Best Chef: Southeast category in 2016.
Scott Peacock, formerly of Watershed, won Best Chef: Southeast in 2007 and was nominated in the category before that.
Guenter Seeger won Best Chef: Southeast in 1996 while he was at The Dining Room in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, and was a finalist before that. Arnaud Berthelier was named a finalist in the same category in 2007 and 2008. The Dining Room was also nominated for Outstanding Service in 2002.
Canoe was a finalist for Best New Restaurant in 1996.
In 2005, chef Joel Antunes won Best Chef: Southeast for his now-shuttered restaurant Joel and was nominated in the category before that.
Elizabeth Terry won Best Chef: Southeast for her Savannah restaurant Elizabeth's on 37th in 1995.
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