The Beacon Atlanta — a cluster of six repurposed industrial buildings fortuitously situated south of Grant Park and north of the evolving Beltline — has shaped up to be a pocket of hidden treasures and varied food-and-drink experiences.
Open for business since the summer of 2018, the Beacon (1039 Grant St. SE, Atlanta) may not boast a restaurant run by a celebrity chef, but it’s a beacon of multiculturalism, a place where one can find Brazilian coffee bars, Jamaican jerk joints, ramen rooms and couture cookies. Not to mention one of the coolest cocktail bars in town.
To get there via Grant Street, you will pass an immaculately maintained and cantilevered urban garden; the stable where the Atlanta Police Department keeps its equine officers (heed the sign that says, “Please don’t feed the horses”); and Eventide Brewery, which has a lively pop-up scene as well as good beer. (Just recently, Eventide hosted food pop-ups by OK Yaki, Illegal Food and Adobo ATL.)
As for the Beacon proper, I recently spent a good many hours prowling around the development, looking for undiscovered good eats and checking out places where I hadn’t dined previously. Here, then, is my annotated checklist of the best of the Beacon.
As you approach the dead end of Grant Street, you’ll know you’ve found the Beacon, and Buteco, when you spy the enormous pylon with a giant letter “B.” Under that big initial sits Buteco, a Brazilian coffee-and-cocktail bar that opens at 8 a.m. daily and hosts weekend dance parties fueled by cachaça drinks and snacks cooked in a food truck that never leaves.
I love the steamy energy of this place on Saturday nights. But I’m not sure what to make of a Brazilian bar that hasn’t mastered the caipirinha, the national drink of the samba-loving South American nation. (I’ve tried it twice.) The Dourado Sour (made with cachaça instead of pisco) is a better choice.
On quiet mornings and afternoons, Buteco is a winning place to plug in the laptop and sip an Americano. Should you get hungry, my favorite of the various fried croquetas and bolinhos is the coxinha, a little pear-shaped, cheesy ball stuffed with chicken. A cup of black-bean soup, with bacon, croutons and parsley, is also wonderful. I found the hanger steak skewers drizzled with chimichurri sauce a little ho-hum and not terribly tender, but the tapioca tots — gooey-crispy squares with a side of sweet pepper-jelly dipping sauce — redeemed.
Buteco is where I’ll take my Miami friends for late-night snacks and drinks. And really, that little food truck is just the cutest. 404-963-2929, butecoatlanta.com.
Marguerite’s Jerk Bistro
Jamaican native Charlene Marguerite Diaz recently opened her orange-and-yellow cafe inside the building across from Buteco, and her $10 jerk-chicken bowl is becoming my go-to lunch. Several pieces of “jerked to the bone” bird, a scoop of crunchy slaw and several slices of textbook fried plantains are perched atop a bowl of coconut-scented rice and red peas and drizzled with gently prickly hot sauce. Marguerite’s does jerk every which way: turkey meatballs, shrimp, fish. But her piece de resistance is her achingly tender, long-braised oxtails. They are cooked with sweet baby carrots; the curry chicken — another delicious specialty — with potatoes.
If you want a more elaborate repast, the fried salt-cod balls are a good starter. Drizzled with a ginger sauce that evokes the sweet heat of the islands, they look like crabcakes and taste fishy, but in a good way. 404-941-9663, margueritesjerkbistro.com.
Hotto Hotto Ramen & Teppanyaki
I’ll say one thing for this Beacon newcomer from chef Alice Wong and her co-owner and husband, Angelo: It has an amazing patio situation, with front windows that open up to give direct access to the bar.
But after a couple of visits, I’m not quite sold on the kitchen. Tonkotsu ramen, with braised pork belly, minced chicken, a soft-boiled egg, garlic-butter corn and other toppings, sure looked pretty, but the broth was barely warm, and the noodles were thin, tight and starchy, precisely the wrong texture for absorbing the flavor of the soup. Grilled chicken pot stickers were just fine, but not all that different from the packaged ones from Trader Joe’s.
Brunch may be a safer bet. Hotto Hotto gets credit for being veg inclusive, and its waffle-like vegan okonomiyaki with a side of fries was satisfying, though my bloody mary lacked oomph; even garnishes of olives and celery stick looked a little sad. Chicken katsu with curry gravy and “steamed sushi rice” was uninspired, with thin sauce and starchy, not all that flavorful rice. All that said, on a sunny day, that open-air bar couldn’t be a more inviting spot for having a beer. 404-963-2937, hottohottoatlanta.com.
Give me a bowl of gooey cheese dip and a solid margarita, and I won’t complain. Give me crispy-tender carnitas and I’ll love you forever.
After the owners of the real-deal El Mexicano on Moreland closed and opened in fancier digs at the Beacon, a lot of El Mexicano fans expressed their disappointment or said they found the food to be uneven and a bit overpriced. So I avoided it. After a couple of recent visits, I think Patria Cocina deserves consideration.
Order the cheese dip (with chopped jalapenos if you want a little heat), a bowl of the excellent guacamole, and a $9 house margarita. I thought the Skinny Margarita meant the Casa Noble silver tequila, lime and agave was low-cal; after slurping one down, I think “skinny” refers to the svelte Collins glass. That marg was gone in a minute.
The fried fish taco has promise, but I would much prefer spicy tartar rather than the sweet fruity salsa. Neither the al pastor nor the chorizo street taco met the standards of the old El Mexicano days. The dish that blew my mind was the carnitas, a whopping pile of perfectly cooked pork, served fajitas style on a sizzling platter with onions, jalapenos, sweet red peppers — plus, on a separate plate, beans and rice and guacamole. (Not sure why they put the pico on the scorching platter.) It’s enough for two and seriously good. 404-622-3501, patriacocinaatl.com.
Third Street Goods/Cardinal
Buteco is not the only Beacon tenant with a quirky business model. Third Street Goods is a progressive neighborhood bodega that stocks fruits and veggies; beer, wine and vermouth; and foodstuffs that are largely local and often crafted by women and minorities. At night, Third Street owners Kathryn DiMenichi and Holli Medley offer dinner and drinks at their sister establishment, Cardinal, a hidden lair with a separate entrance.
The kitchen started out by serving clever little snacks — smoked sardines, cheese plates, olives and feta, and tasty mortadella sandwiches on potato rolls. Slowly, it’s rolled out more ambitious fare: roast chicken, eggplant in red clam sauce over sourdough, and a heavenly warm cabbage salad with tomato, anchovy, lime, tamari and breadcrumbs.
Devotees of martinis and vespers will approve of the signature Cardinal cocktail: A hint of muscadine wine and honey adds a soft, floral note to gin and dry vermouth. Another keeper is the Slick Ricky (mezcal, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper), which even my straight-whiskey-loving amigo declared a most excellent sipper.
Who needs another destination restaurant? Beacon’s got a marvelous spot for nibbles and nightcaps. It’s worth seeking out. 470-419-5839, thirdstreetgoods.com/cardinal.
More food and beverage options at The Beacon:
Dine & Design
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