130th Annual Meeting

Southern Cuisine, Meet the World: A Foodie’s Guide to Atlanta

Craig S. Pascoe | Dec 1, 2015

When people from outside the South are asked to describe its cooking, they quickly list fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas, fried okra, sweet tea, barbecue, peach cobbler, grits, and lots of butter and Crisco to fry anything that isn’t mobile. Those dishes have certainly been mainstays on southern tables for decades, but tastes are more diverse today. With the changes of the 20th century, southern food has evolved to include new ingredients and cooking styles. Some lament that southern culture, including its cuisine, is disappearing. But as sociologist John Shelton Reed recently argued, southerners “keep inventing new ways to be different.”1

Let’s start with the traditional, though—after all, we’re historians. At Paschal’s Restaurant, you’ll not only enjoy a great traditional southern meal, you’ll also bask in the history of the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rev. Joseph E. Lowery are just a few of the movement leaders who frequented the restaurant (at its former location). Another Atlanta mainstay is Mary Mac’s Tea Room, operating on Ponce de Leon Avenue since 1945. The fried chicken comes with a choice of over 35 sides. For an entirely different experience, the Swan Coach Hous), located on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center, will let you lunch in a time warp. It’s mostly frequented by Atlanta’s society matrons, who dress up for a leisurely brunch that has changed little in the past 50 years.

At the Varsity, be ready to order when the counter person asks, “What’ll ya have?!” Credit: Scott Ehardt via Wikimedia Commons.Many visitors to the South’s distinct regions want to know where to get the best local barbecue. Fortunately, you can sample different barbecue styles from all over the South in Atlanta, at places ranging from decades-old neighborhood BBQ joints to trendy new establishments. The truly serious may want to take a drive: the Swallow at the Hollow in Roswell has great BBQ, as well as vegetarian options like pit-smoked portobello mushrooms. Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt claims, “We ain’t pretty but we’re good,” which says it all. If you want BBQ but others in your group don’t, try the Pig and the Pearl , where the catfish tacos and tuna sashimi rival the pulled-pork sandwiches, St. Louis–style ribs, and smoked country-fried lamb.

Atlanta is a mecca for a growing number of chefs who build on the region’s distinctive ingredients and techniques to appeal to the diverse tastes of new residents. Locally sourced ingredients often inspire amazing dishes. Chef Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow, for example, caters to both old and new Atlantans by modernizing southern favorites. Outstanding local chefs with similar philosophies include Josh Hopkins and Hugh Acheson at Empire State South; Linton Hop­kins at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House; Anne Quaitrano at Bacchanalia; and Steve Samson and Zach Pollack at Sotto Sotto.

Two unique venues are located relatively close to the conference hotels. One is the Krog Street Market Food Hall, at 99 Krog Street , a restaurant collection that includes The Cockentrice, specializing in charcuterie; Craft Izakaya, a sushi and Japanese restaurant; Fred’s Meat and Bread, which offers burgers, banh mi, and po’ boys; G.C. BBQ; Gu’s Dumplings, for Szechuan food; The Luminary, an American brasserie; Superica, a Tex-Mex restaurant; and Yalla, with contemporary Middle Eastern fare. For reasonably priced lunch options, consider the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, where you can sample the wares of Afrodish (Caribbean and African dishes like curry and jerk chicken and curry goat), Arepa Mia (empanadas), Bell Street Burritos, Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Panbury’s Double Crust Pies (try the Cajun chicken gumbo pie), Metro Deli & Soul Food, Yum Diggity (hot dogs), and Tilapia (try the po’ boys).

Atlanta’s vibrant and growing ethnic communities have brought their own foodways to the pot of southern offerings. Chai Pani features traditional Indian street food, but it also can be very innovative; try the kale pakora or the sloppy jai (a version of kheema pav, a popular street food in Mumbai). Babylon Café specializes in Iraqi cuisine. Order the qurma sabzi stew or chicken biryani. Great Asian fare can also be found along Buford Highway at Chef Liu (Chinese, 770-936-0532), Canton House (dim sum), Panang (Malaysian), and Hae Woo Dae (Korean BBQ, 770-458-6999).

There are many choices for the cash-strapped. Every visitor to Atlanta has to make the trek to The Varsity. Be ready to order when the counter person asks, “What’ll ya have?!” or order from the carhops at the drive-in (with room for 600 cars). If you’re seeking a great hamburger, one of the most interesting options is the Vortex, with two locations. The original, at 438 Moreland Avenue NE, has an entrance in the shape of a giant skull. For great Mexican fare, go to Taqueria del Sol or Mi Barrio Restaurante MexicanoHoly Taco also offers Peruvian and Colombian dishes. Try Nick’s Food to Go for inexpensive sandwiches and dishes like souvlaki. Dua Vietnamese Noodle Soup, Doc Chey’s, and Ah-Ma’s Taiwanese Kitchen (404-549-9848) offer wonderful Asian food. Eats on Ponce de Leon is a place for meat and vegetable plate lunches. And Noni’s serves reasonably priced Italian deli sandwiches or even a plate of risotto.

We Atlantans are looking forward to welcoming you to our city—and to winning you over with fantastic food.

Craig S. Pascoe is professor of history at Georgia College in Milledgeville. He is guest curator of BBQ Nation, a forthcoming exhibit at the Atlanta History Center.


1. John Shelton Reed, “If I’d Just Waked Up from a Thirty-Six-Year Sleep,” Southern Cultures 7, no. 1 (spring 2001): 102–108.

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