advertisement

The down economy thinned Atlanta's restaurant offerings a bit, but like that famous phoenix that is the symbol of this southern city, things have risen once again. Unfortunately, some longtime favorites are among the deceased, including City Grill, the Dining Room at Ritz-Carlton, and Pano's & Paul's -- all high-end eateries. But where some culinary efforts have fallen, others have moved in to offer the latest in dining crazes such as gourmet burgers, street vendor foods, and that still-strong farm-to-table movement.

Atlanta's contributions to gastronomy were once mostly limited to Coca-Cola and Varsity hot dogs. Not so today. In the last decade, the dining scene has exploded, and Atlanta has emerged as a sophisticated restaurant town, where establishments have veered away from uninventive American fare and inauthentic down-home southern cooking (happily, there are still lots of places to feast on authentic down-home southern cooking).

Innovative chefs, who once left Atlanta for the great food capitals, have brought their expertise and ideas back to the New South. As a result, there's now a little bit of everything available -- from all around the world. You can munch on pierogi in East Atlanta, nibble fragrant Thai basil rolls in Virginia-Highland, dig into osso buco in Buckhead, and so on. There's French cuisine as authentic as any you'll find on the Left Bank, and Italian pasta that tastes like it came from Naples.

The Colonnade and Mary Mac's Tea Room, two bastions of tradition, still turn out some of the best southern food you'll ever put in your mouth, but the current trend in many kitchens is to take heirloom southern recipes and give them a contemporary twist. So, pork chops might be stuffed with eggplant and andouille sausage, collard greens sautéed and seasoned with balsamic vinegar, and comfy, familiar grits spiked with Stilton cheese.

The audience for all these culinary concoctions is huge. Atlantans love to eat out, spending half their annual food budget on dining away from home. The debut of a new restaurant is more eagerly awaited than the opening of a new play, and Atlantans avidly peruse the local newspapers to find out about the hottest names in the food game.

Restaurants listed by price, using the following guide: Very Expensive: more than $30 per dinner main course; Expensive: $20 to $30 per dinner main course; Moderate: $10 to $20 per dinner main course; Inexpensive: less than $10 per dinner main course.

Valet parking is listed where applicable.

Downtown -- Your restaurant choices in downtown Atlanta range from the fabulous French American Brasserie to the world's largest drive-in, the Varsity.

Midtown -- Midtown is an increasing hot spot, with new businesses, apartments, and restaurants springing up constantly. This is the theater district, and several restaurants in this part of town are good pretheater choices.

Buckhead -- Buckhead is home to most of Atlanta's posh restaurants. Keep in mind that this is the area to dine, so plan in advance and make reservations as soon as you know where you want to go.

Virginia-Highland & Inman Park -- A meal in this charming district can be an occasion to see a nontouristy part of Atlanta. Come a little early so you can browse the area's great little shops and galleries.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.