First Look: Illegal Food, Virginia-Highland


6-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Appetizers and small bites, $5-$12; entrees and specials, $16-$80; burgers, $12-$16; fries, $5-$10; desserts, $6.

1044 Greenwood Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-254-2141,

Illegal Food made its name as an ongoing pop-up at Joystick Gamebar in the Old Fourth Ward, where chef Steven Lingenfelter earned a cult following with his hefty burgers and hand-cut fries.

Now, Lingenfelter has opened his own place in the former Bar Meatball location in Virginia-Highland. And he’s upped the ante with steaks, seafood and weekly specials that feature local and regional heritage pork, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised chicken, duck and quail.

The look: Tucked between Dark Horse Tavern and a parking lot on Greenwood Avenue, Illegal Food appears under an illuminated sign with its handcuffs logo. Inside, the cottage-like space hasn't changed much since its Meatball days, with a cozy bar, dining room and enclosed porch offering casual seating.

The scene: One recent cold and rainy weeknight, the young, burger-hungry crowd grew steadily from barely there to standing room only. But there were plenty of friendly servers, food runners and bartenders on hand to absorb the rush.

The food: Lingenfelter's most famous creation, The Hank ($12 single/$16 double), is on the menu, along with more house-ground, dry-aged, grass-fed beef burgers, plus chicken and pork varieties. The popular Japanese-style Okonomiyaki fries ($10), served with chopsticks, are there, too. A caul fat-wrapped Gum Creek Farms pork terrine ($11) with tart cherries was a recent appetizer special. Among entree specials, look for a giant herb-salted and smoked pepper-grilled bone-in ribeye, which weighs in at 40-50 ounces and is market priced at $60-$80.

The drinks: On the beverage menu, find a good selection craft beer on draft and in the bottle, and a concise wine list. Current house cocktails include When the Smoke Clears, with reposado tequila, smoked ruby red grapefruit juice, apple cider vinegar, sugar and bitters. The $25 Martini is made with Monkey 47 Gin and really costs $25.

The extras: For dessert, there's fanciful stuff like banana pudding ice cream and orange vanilla dreamsicle cheesecake ($6).