If you haven’t visited downtown Alpharetta in a while, you won’t recognize it.
After years of planning and construction, 26 acres in the heart of the northern suburb have been transformed into bustling living, working and gathering spaces.
Known as Alpharetta City Center, the redevelopment encompasses six city blocks south of Academy Street and east of South Main Street. Initial phases saw the rise of a new City Hall and a Fulton County library branch. That was followed by shops and restaurants, executive office spaces, residential apartments and homes, a garage (with free parking) and lots of green space.
The restaurant lineup, in particular, is what’s attracting more than just nearby residents. Developer Morris & Fellows secured a diverse blend of a dozen eateries and watering holes.
“We wanted to create a mix that brought everything from fine dining and special occasions to an easy lunch for downtown workers and our shoppers,” Morris & Fellows President Cheri Morris said.
Four establishments focus on fine dining. Another four are nighttime destinations with a softer price point. The remaining are quick-service spots with counter ordering. Not all of them are open, but they should be by October.
In the meantime, mom and dad can chill out in Adirondack chairs, availing themselves of the district’s open-container law, as the kids splash in the water fountain and play on the Town Green while enjoying ice cream from nearby Kilwins.
Restaurant Holmes was the first to open last July. Situated in the historic Jones House on Main Street, this is the spot for farm-to-table fans. The latest bounty from local growers is featured, primarily in shareable plates created by Executive Chef and co-owner Taylor Neary. The Roswell native, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, cut his teeth at such restaurants as Roux on Canton, Little Alley Steak, Opulent, St. Cecilia and Marcel.
Enjoy whichever vegetable-forward dishes make the menu this month. They’ll make you feel better about your other must-order: the cheeseburger.
Like many restaurants in Alpharetta City Center, Holmes offers fabulous al fresco dining. You can take advantage of the covered porch whenever soaring summer temperatures don’t force you indoors.
Last fall saw the debuts of superfood chain Vitality Bowls as well as Citizen Soul and Chiringa. Citizen Soul is from Phillip Cooper, owner of Roswell wine bar and bistro Vin25. It dubs itself a “West Coast-style tavern,” but, with tall windows, high ceilings, cushy pillows on banquette seats and a glass-enclosed wine cellar, this place is way too clean, breezy and sophisticated to be called a “tavern.” It is, however, a fine place to meet friends and share a bunch of starters and sides over a glass or two of vino.
The short rib piquillo peppers should make the short list, as well as a few hefty slices of toast smeared with pureed kabocha squash and topped with a sweet-salty mix of braised bacon, caramelized onions and currants. Calories are kept in check with batterless, fried (but not deep fried) okra sprinkled with the Japanese seasoning blend furikake.
Chiringa is one of two restaurants that occupy the rectangular, white jewel box buildings that flank either side of Alpharetta City Center’s Town Green. Here, you’ll find beach cuisine inspired by chiringuitos, open-air restaurants and bars that dot coastal beaches in Spain. Chiringa comes from Andy McKowski, a former Tin Lizzy’s Cantina partner, who felt the call of the beach and moved to Florida’s panhandle, opening a casual restaurant on Grayton Beach called Chiringo.
This sister restaurant offers a few “handhelds” — a fish sandwich and Baja tacos, among them. But the price tag can reach upward of $20 for blackened grouper on a bun with a side of fries, fried sweet plantains, yellow rice, quinoa or a salad. If all you want at this counter-service joint is a nosh, stick with a dip. Chiringa’s chunky guac is stellar. You can get it with thick-cut fried corn tortilla chips or fried plantain chips. Better yet, get both when you say “half and half.” There’s a full-service bar here, too.
Occupying the jewel box on the opposite side of the green is Botiwalla. Open less than two weeks, this is the Alpharetta outpost for the Indian stall that debuted at Ponce City Market in 2016, and comes from James Beard-nominated chef-owner Meherwan Irani, who also operates popular Chai Pani in Decatur.
Botiwalla couples the feel of an Irani cafe with Parsi street food. The menu is nearly identical to that at the Ponce food hall, but here is where you’ll find bhelpuri, a crunchy salad with puffed rice, broken pieces of fried puris bread and deep-fried chickpea noodles tossed in tamarind and chutneys. A variety of chargrilled proteins come stuffed inside warm naan bread. The crispy fish roll is special to Alpharetta, but the desi slaw serves the paneer tikka roll much better. Drink up, Indian-style, with the limeade slushie nimbu pani, or the healthful, tonic-like pineapple turmeric soda.
While Chiringa will have you in a sandy beach state of mind, the sailing ropes and a dining room flooded with natural light at Lapeer Seafood Market evoke the feel of a harbor town pier. It’s the third concept from the team behind Alpharetta restaurants South Main Kitchen and Butcher & Brew.
Among the cold starters, snapper crudo is the best bet, especially when the thin slivers of cured fish are stirred into an oily mix that combines tart lemon, bracing horseradish and the heat of chile. While the upscale restaurant gets fancy and seasonal with most of its hot fish and seafood plates, that staple of staples — fish and chips — is reliable here; filets of fresh cod are nicely battered and notably flaky.
Save room for the fish stix, a playful sweet take on the frozen fish sticks that children of the ’70s grew up on. A pair of rectangular blocks of coconut ice cream are encased in a white chocolate shell, then rolled in toasted coconut. The dessert is served with a side of melted white chocolate flecked with mint — aka, the “tartar sauce.”
Adjacent to Lapeer is Shade Street Food and Bar, from Mikka Orrick, co-owner of Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar, located just a block away on Milton Avenue.
In this narrow space, with an industrial feel punctuated by a graffiti print along a brick wall, Shade puts its own spin on greatest culinary hits from around the globe. Although the menu is reductionist at times, a few items stand out. Vietnamese goi cuon is reimagined from spring roll to a summery cold salad of rice noodles, shredded cabbage, carrots, cucumber, basil, shrimp and sprouts, with a peanut dressing. Pargo rojo frito brings outstanding pan-fried redfish. When you order the falafel pita, appreciate how the addition of lemon brightens the pickled veggie mix on a sizable spread that also includes tabouli, hummus and tahini.
But, wait, there’s more!
Later this month, breakfast and lunch spot Never Enough Thyme will unlock its doors, having relocated from its McGinnis Ferry location to Main Street. In July, both Jinya Ramen Bar and Central City Tavern will open.
The beer crowd can look forward to the October opening of Jekyll Brewing. Besides brewing on-site, it will have a tasting room, full-service restaurant and rooftop deck.
October is also when Carson Kitchen is slated to open in the Old Courthouse building. It marks the return to Georgia of Cory Harwell, who grew up in Woodstock and started his culinary career at the now-closed 1904 House before opening his Southern-inspired Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas five years ago.
You haven’t been to Alpharetta lately? Come hungry.
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