Bone’s, 3130 Piedmont Road, Atlanta. 404-237-2663, bonesrestaurant.com.
Cakes & Ale
Billy Allin occasionally emerges from his kitchen dressed in shorts, a dun-colored T-shirt and a well-loved apron. He doesn’t look at all magazine-cover or “Top Chef”-ready, and bless him for that. His pitch-perfect neighborhood bistro proves that when a chef cooks night after night in his own kitchen, uses the best local ingredients, keeps things small, and doesn’t try to respond to every trend sweeping the city, then cooking happens at a heightened level. Allin’s brief and deeply personal menu usually includes a whole roasted trout for two, smoky and crisp-skinned, and a presentation of burrata with seasonal vegetables, such as pole beans, eggplant and tomato in a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette.
Cakes & Ale, 155 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-377-7994, cakesandalerestaurant.com.
Five & Ten
You might argue that a restaurant in Athens doesn’t belong on a list of the best in Atlanta, but Hugh Acheson’s flagship is now more than ever a destination, so designate your driver and go. In mid-2013, it relocated to a creaky-gracious old house with a two-column-deep porch and a clawfoot tub still in the bathroom. You might want to have a cocktail at the zinc bar or move directly to Steven Grubbs’ honest, fair-priced wine list. Chef Jason Zygmont has a difficult balancing act to perform, satisfying the tastes of visiting parents in town for graduation while flaunting his aptitude for edgy flavor combinations and technical precision. He can crisp a fish skin like no one’s business, and get the ideal crust on a dry-aged rib-eye. Pastry chef Mike Sutton prepares some of the best desserts in the state.
Five & Ten, 1073 S. Milledge Ave., Athens. 706-546-7300, fiveandten.com.
The General Muir
Across the country, young Jewish chefs and restaurateurs have cast an appreciative eye on the dining habits of their grandparents and great grandparents, and they’ve taken it upon themselves to modernize the delicatessen (cured meats) and appetizing (cured fish) eateries of yore. We’ve got one of the country’s best examples here, where chef Todd Ginsberg pushes the genres in ways that are intelligent, unpretentious and filled with surprising pleasures. From a definitive reuben to a hamburger piled messily with gruyère cheese and crispy pastrami, he proves himself a master of the sandwich. But his vegetarian dish of curried lentils and eggplant with yogurt tastes nearly as indulgent. Head baker Robert Alexander fills a tempting pastry case and crafts the best restaurant bread in the city.
The General Muir, 1540 Avenue Place, Atlanta. 678-927-9131, thegeneralmuir.com.
Bright, noisy, chaotic, fantastic. You’ve got to go with flow — starting with the craft cocktail cart that wheels toward your table — and try to ignore the rapidly mounting bill when you dine in Kevin Gillespie’s entropic eatery. The food appears willy-nilly from the kitchen, and it tramples through Chinese, Southern and Indian flavors. Dishes pile up, and forks fly. One chef brings a composed salad arranged like the cover dish for a cookbook, then the next offers a double-double cheeseburger wrapped in paper, imploring you to pick it up, like a pound puppy. It is all so delicious, especially that cheeseburger.
Gunshow, 924 Garrett St., Atlanta. 404-380-1886, gunshowatl.com.
Holeman & Finch Public House
It was hard to imagine Holeman & Finch without cocktail guru Greg Best behind the scenes. But the drinks remain excellent, and the menu appears to have refound its mojo. Its new Whole Beast Program offers up a collection of offal-based recipes listed on a separate menu next to a picture of a serpent-tongued chimera. Starting at the head, try the veal brains swathed in delicious black butter, then move down to the crispy beef tongue served with runny goose egg and the succulent hunks of grouper cheeks. The nether regions come next in the form of fried discs of lamb’s testicle, meaty in flavor and no less pleasant on the tongue than a sweetbread.
Holeman & Finch Public House, 2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-948-1175, holeman-finch.com.
Kevin Rathbun Steak
We’ve loved both Rathbun’s and KR Steakbar, but have come around to the conclusion that Kevin Rathbun Steak is where you get the best taste of the chef’s big-flavored, big-hearted, big-ticket cooking. It’s much more than a steakhouse, with dozens of appetizers and a full selection of fish dishes. But those steaks, with as many accessorizing toppings and sides as there are background images for your smartphone, are irresistible. The bar remains one of the best places you’ll ever find for an unplanned splurge, and the new Beltline patio has been a great addition to a lovable restaurant.
Kevin Rathbun Steak, 154 Krog St., Atlanta. 404-524-5600. kevinrathbunsteak.com.
If we could give 3 1/2 stars, we would. But what makes this essential Atlanta restaurant great is also the reason it’s unpredictable: chef-owner Linton Hopkins’ restless, always inquisitive mind. Hopkins likes to tell a story through his food, and your best bet here is to attend one of his themed dinners, where you can taste his understanding of history and Southern culture. Every meal begins with a barrage of fun gifts from the kitchen, including a coddled egg with sorghum and a set of crisply fried okra pods impaled on spikes. The vegetable plate brings a grand composition of seasonal treats that hints at real passion. Juan Cortes oversees the excellent wine, which runs expensive but has some delightful surprises, such as Movia Puro, a Slovenian sparkling wine that he expertly disgorges upside down in an ice bucket to rid it of sediment. Cheers to that.
Restaurant Eugene, 2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-355-0321, restauranteugene.com.
Sushi House Hayakawa
Atlanta has no shortage of sushi bars, from the great and glamorous Umi, which attracts every movie star passing through town, to the countless counters that share a roof with Thai kitchens. Japanese Atlantans favor this Buford Highway destination, where genial chef-owner Art Hayakawa toasts his guests with glasses of Scotch and runs his restaurant like a kind of salon. He knows and introduces just about everyone who sits at his bar. Highlights include his mirin-cured salmon roe bowl and Tsukiji Market fish brushed with uni soy sauce. Don’t ignore the hot dishes, such as creamy crab croquettes and grilled squid, which go nicely with a draft beer.
Sushi House Hayakawa, 5979 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 770-986-0010, atlantasushibar.com.
This boisterous “fish camp” has two glamorous younger siblings in Buckhead, King + Duke and St. Cecilia, that share much of its DNA. From the font on the menus to the swagger of the food to the hipstery waiter’s outfits, all three have the unmistakable imprimatur of owner Ford Fry. But after visiting all three in quick succession, it becomes evident that the Optimist remains the most heartfelt. Chef Adam Evans has a clean touch. He pan roasts a fillet of porgy to that point when its seared flesh has just set, then places it over a vinegar-zinged melange of field peas, green beans and other veggies. This preparation could be so boring and one-note in the hands of a less accomplished cook. If you almost, but not quite, are over poutine, then you need a plate of his chowder fries.
The Optimist, 914 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-477-6260, theoptimistrestaurant.com.
Tomo Japanese Restaurant
When did Buckhead become sushi Valhalla? From the cozy charm of Taka Sushi & Passion to the starry glamour and beauty of Umi, there’s superlative raw fish for every taste. If we had to choose a favorite, we might have to opt for Tomo. The sushi rice here is so good, beady and seasoned to that gentle tang, and the fish selection often wows. You can revel in the sweetest uni and the most unctuous toro here. And, all things told, the prices of the nigiri sushi are reasonable enough that you get to splurge on an appetizer. The Tomo uni, fried in a shiso leaf and set over a spicy salsa, remains a must. Call ahead for a spot at Tomo Naito’s small omakase counter when you need a trip to the moon.
Tomo Japanese Restaurant, 3630 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-835-2708, tomorestaurant.com.
» Check out all of the Atlanta 50 from the AJC's fall dining guide.