While NBAA is drawing thousands of visitors to Atlanta, the city has a thriving culinary scene that befits its status as “the capitol of the south.” World-class restaurants offer an astounding variety of cuisines, sure to please any palate, from eclectic seafood houses, to classic wood-paneled shrines to slabs of beef, to cozy eateries serving up the finest southern-style food. After a long day in the exhibit halls or at the static display, Atlanta’s restaurateurs will make sure you don’t go to bed hungry.
3455 Peachtree Rd.
This is one of Atlanta’s quintessential see-and-be-seen restaurants. Located in the architecturally unique Pinnacle Building in the heart of Buckhead, its sweeping décor stands up to its sophisticated fusion menu, which features a sushi and raw bar as well as lots of contemporary seafood dishes with Asian twists. You’ll want to spend a few moments in the glossy bar area, sipping something glamorous while searching for celebrity guests mingling with Atlanta’s power players. When it’s time to eat you’ll discover that even the signature Bluepointe salad, dressed in a port wine reduction and lemon oil, has panache. Entrées like caramel garlic loin of lamb with mint vegetables, soy-seasoned sea bass over sesame-infused rice or braised beef short ribs with Asian greens take diners on a journey of flavor and texture. Signature dishes include the charred rare tuna steak on a somen noodle cake with citrus soy glaze and the peanut-crusted grouper in Masaman curry with bok choy. Steaks, like the salt-crusted prime rib for two, are big and beautiful.
A 15- or 20-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. Valet parking.
50 Hurt Plaza S.E.
One of the most elegant eateries in downtown Atlanta, this business-lunch stalwart is housed in a historic building gleaming with original splendor. The soaring marble entrance and posh interior are impressive and the menu is as accessible as the service is warm and accommodating. The lunch menu features daily fish and pasta specials and grown-up sandwiches like a salmon wrap or hearty Angus beef burger. At night the City Grill cheese plate is a unique start to your meal as is the barbecue chicken bruschetta, while appetizer favorites include the flash-fried oysters, seared foie gras or crab bisque. Entrées like the crab cake, bone-in rib eye, duck breast and pork loin will greet you like familiar friends, but the dessert menu offers a few surprises, including a margarita tartini. A special delight is the lemonade, freshly made daily sure to refresh this time of year. Private dining space is available, and the striking view, both inside and looking out over Atlanta, especially at night, enhances the visit.
A short drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. Validated parking in the Hurt Plaza garage at lunch, valet at dinner.
870 N. Highland Ave N.E.
There’s something about munching on rosemary-pine-nut popcorn while sipping a drink called the Peach Drop that says, “Welcome to Atlanta.” Dropping in on this Virginia Highland haunt with chef Sheri Davis presiding, you’ll feel like an in-the-know native. The décor is modern but the welcoming service shouts Southern hospitality. That delicious popcorn, salty and robust, is served with your drink in the modern-chic bar (the Peach Drop, by the way, features Absolut peach vodka and cranberry juice in a sugar-rimmed glass). Consider starter favorites like the crispy calamari salad, steamed mussels in bacon-corn chowder broth or even smaller bites such as the duck tacos or ginger shrimp and tuna lollipops. Standouts among entrées include the lobster lasagna with shrimp and scallops, the boneless beef short rib and grilled lamb tenderloin. Dessert is a must here, especially the signature “chocolate dish.” If the heat has let up, Dish has one of the nicest patio dining spaces in Atlanta.
A 10- or 15-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center, depending on traffic. On-site or street parking.
F.A.B. (French American Brasserie)
30 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd.
Atlanta mourned the closing of Brasserie Le Coze, a stylish French eatery in Buckhead’s Lenox Square mall. Now the Brasserie has been reborn in a much larger location downtown. The soaring ceiling and joyous tumble of conversation gives F.A.B. an energetic, vibrant feel, and the menu features the favorites Atlanta and its visitors have come to love. The iconic dish here is the sautéed skate wing, served with spinach, new potatoes, capers and a savory brown butter sauce you may be tempted to mop with the crusty French bread that accompanies every meal. Other seafood options include pan-roasted monkfish or halibut, lemongrass-glazed scallops or seared salmon. The menu’s stylish standards include coq au vin, served with pearl onions, baby carrots and egg noodles; and duck confit, served with haricot verts, glazed baby carrots, pearl onions and garlic frites in a roasted garlic juice. Customize your meal of steak or chops with a stylish sauce like the Bordeaux demi glace, béarnaise or black truffle and Madeira sauce.
A short drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. Valet parking.
1123 Zonolite Rd.
Atlanta’s symbol is the Phoenix, rising from the ashes–evoking its post-Civil War resurrection and representing the city’s ever-evolving nature. Culinary gems like Floataway embody that spirit of positive, forward-looking change. Located in a converted warehouse, this contemporary spot boasts lots of modern touches and natural lighting. The menu changes regularly to feature the freshest ingredients; its French, Italian and Mediterranean influences combine for a unique dining experience. Wood grilling is the kitchen’s forte here, from the chicken livers on rosemary skewers with red onion jam, to oven-fired margarita or house-cured pepperoni pizzas, to Hawaiian ahi tuna with a medley of local vegetables and a wood-grilled hanger steak with pommes frites. But sometimes exquisitely fresh ingredients need little in the way of fire, when an artful blending will do. This is especially true when the menu features dishes like the local melon salad with sheep’s-milk feta, the house-cured salmon crêpe or juicy tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil.
A 20- to 25-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. On-site parking.
Luckie Food Lounge
375 Luckie St.
The newest restaurant on our list, Luckie Food is conveniently located near the Georgia Aquarium. It’s the place for upscale comfort-food dining in a fun, hip environment. Wood-fired pizzas are an early hit here. Try the barbecue chicken with smoked gouda and applewood bacon for a truly different plate. The filet, prime rib or New York strip fit the bill for diners in search of a business-meal classic, while those interested in a quiet meal that reminds one of home might like to try the four-cheese ravioli or slow-cooked baby back ribs. Desserts like the white chocolate bread pudding or strawberry rhubarb pot pie are worth saving room for.
Charm, the on-site sundry shop, is bound to please Atlanta’s out-of-town guests. It stocks essentials such as cold medicine, toothbrushes, eye drops and so on that a busy traveler might need on the road. Enjoy free Internet access while picking up cookies, muffins and sandwiches to go.
A short drive or invigorating walk from the Georgia World Congress Center. Parking garage nearby.
McCormick & Schmick’s
190 Marietta St.
The menu is as fresh as the fare at this business-casual seafood restaurant in CNN Center, just across the street from Centennial Olympic Park. Daily specials run the gamut from Atlantic salmon to Georges Bank scallops to Carolina blue crab. On any given day the menu might feature signature dishes such as seared yellow-fin tuna or pepper-parmesan crusted snapper, along with favorites like crab cakes and oysters on the half shell. If you’re in the mood for turf rather than surf, the menu offers a New York strip, grilled chicken and stick-to-your-ribs roast garlic meatloaf. The steak salad is tossed in a kicky ginger dressing. Meeting for an after-hours round? The bar, with its glossy hardwood booths, is an ideal spot for drinks and primo nibbles like oyster shooters, fish tacos or steamed mussels. In the main dining room, booths toward the back, with retractable curtains, offer premium privacy for working lunches or dinners, while the main dining space affords a nice view of the park and busy Marietta Street.
It’s an easy walk from the Georgia World Congress Center. Parking is available at lots surrounding CNN Center.
Oceanaire Seafood Room
1100 Peachtree St.
Walking into this glossy, retro seafood palace on bustling Peachtree Street, diners might get a sense of what it was like to travel first-class on the Titanic or Lusitania. Luckily, in this case, you’re in for a happy ending. The raw bar gleams like a jewelers’ case, and despite its largely swimming menu, Oceanaire boasts the powerful swagger of a top-end steakhouse. The fresh catch varies by day and might include striped sea bass, king salmon, grouper or tuna. Often the best choices here are the most simple, as a beautiful piece of fish needs little in the way of adornment to satisfy. Entrées of crab legs or lobster are big, muscular things and even appetizers like the meaty crab cakes are substantial. The shellfish platter fairly groans with oysters, lobster, shrimp, mussels and crab heaped on chipped ice. Dialing down the brawn a bit, a fun and quirky side item is the order of hash-brown potatoes, a crispy, salty haystack of starchy goodness. Available private dining space and exquisite service put extra polish on a meal here. For a final flourish, consider the baked Alaska, set ablaze tableside.
A 10- to 15-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center, depending on traffic. Valet parking.
111 W. Paces Ferry Rd.
Seeger’s, the restaurant that formerly occupied this space, earned robust national acclaim but just didn’t click locally; apparently not enough Atlantans went in for chilly service and stratospheric prices. The spot in the city’s most exclusive neighborhood (the governor lives a few doors down) has undergone changes in ownership and ambience, and it’s caught on. Posh lives up to its name from the start of your meal with elegant appetizers such as chilled golden beet soup, vanilla poached shrimp or foie gras with fig mousse. The kitchen flexes its artistic muscle with entrées of tea-smoked duck breast, porcini-dusted scallops or a red-wine braised beef short rib. Diners seeking the classics will want to consider the pepper-crusted beef tenderloin, poached Maine lobster or roasted lamb loin. Looking for a lighter option? The steamed lemon sole will leave plenty of room for chocolate mousse with orange sauce, or the cheese tasting plate, for your final course.
A 15- to 20-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center, depending on traffic. Valet parking.
Prime Meridian Restaurant
100 CNN Center
By day, Prime Meridian offers business professionals a quick alternative for working lunches with its bountiful, internationally themed buffet, featuring a different cuisine each day during the week (Italian, Caribbean/Creole, Latin American, Southern Seafood and Pan Asian). Lunchtime diners may also order salads, burgers or pasta dishes. At night, entrées include black Angus tenderloin or rib eye cuts, herb-roasted chicken in a Jack Daniels/rosemary sauce, a potato-crusted salmon filet, a lamb T-bone or a bone-in pork chop. Some of the menu’s most interesting features appear on the appetizer menu–the roasted rosemary potato bites with white truffle oil is a tempting start to your meal. Southern-style crab cakes or the fried green tomato salute the region’s cuisine. At night, the bar area in particular offers a pretty view of Centennial Olympic Park.
Located in the Omni Hotel, it’s an easy walk from the Georgia World Congress Center, and parking is available at lots surrounding the CNN Center.
Quinones at Bacchanalia
1198 Howell Mill Rd.
Bacchanalia is widely acknowledged to offer the finest culinary experience in Atlanta. However, the skills of James Beard Award-winning chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison are in such demand that unless you already have a reservation, you are likely out of luck. Quinones at Baccanalia, with chef de cuisine David Carson at the helm, is a brighter possibility (but go ahead and call as soon as you can for a reservation). The prix fixe chef’s tasting menu here features, like its parent restaurant, the freshest ingredients with a focus on local fare, presented in elegant perfection. Recent menu offerings have included cured North Georgia rainbow trout, homemade potato dumplings with roasted oyster mushrooms, Maine halibut with Louisiana crawfish, Moulard duck breast with seared foie gras and aged prime New York strip with porcini mushrooms. The setting is elegant yet intimate, and the service is superb.
A short drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. On-site parking.
112 Krog St. N.E.
Kevin Rathbun is sort of like Atlanta’s Emeril Legasse, as personable as he is talented. And this gregarious chef is cultivating something of a gustatory empire in Inman Park, a historic neighborhood just a short distance from downtown. Rathbun honed his culinary chops in some of Atlanta’s finest kitchens (and put in a stint under Chef Emeril in New Orleans). His style emphasizes flair and flavor without fuss, and what’s really appealing is his genuine respect for food–not to mention his sense of humor. For starters, eggplant frites get a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. A lump crab tart is served with sweet pepper ketchup. Entrées such as crispy duck breast with risotto, Carolina mountain trout with stir-fry broccoli and pan-seared halibut with artichoke frites meet up with a few surprises. How about scallop Benedict with country ham grits? For generous expense-account dining, take a look at Rathbun’s puckishly named “second mortgage plates,” featuring Australian lamb chops, Maine lobster or a 20-ounce, bone-in rib eye. Just outside the restaurant is Krog Bar, a dark, almost mysterious little haunt where diners can enjoy tapas bites paired with an extensive wine list before dinner or afterward.
A 10- to 15-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center, depending on traffic. Valet parking.
Kevin Rathbun Steak
154 Krog St. N.E.
Driving around Atlanta, you’ll probably notice the quirky Chick-fil-A billboards adorned with life-sized cows pleading their famous corporate slogan, “Eat Mor Chikin.” Sorry guys, our friend Kevin Rathbun has another idea at his steak house, a third of a mile north of Rathburn’s/Krog Bar on Krog St. The latest in Rathbun’s burgeoning culinary collection is proof that steak is still king here in Atlanta. The menu offers a wide array of cuts, sizes and preparations. Top off your protein plate with a choice of accompaniment, including black truffle butter, peppercorn sauce, Stilton bleu cheese or the house hollandaise or bearnaise steak sauces. Powerhouse seafood offerings include the charbroiled lobster tail, slabs of tuna, halibut or salmon or diver scallop Rockefeller. Or choose duck breast, lamb or veal. As you might expect, portions of everything, including starters such as fried oysters and okra, shellfish tamale, Kobe beef meatballs or lobster fritters, are beyond generous. Kevin Rathbun Steak is exceptionally attuned to the needs of the out-of-town business diner. The Web site, for example, lists directions from various hotels.
South City Kitchen
1144 Crescent Ave.
This casual-elegant spot in a renovated midtown bungalow beckons “Cheers, y’all!” The menu pays homage to the South but respects sophisticated palates. While it changes regularly, it consistently showcases New South dining. Your venture into Southern cuisine might begin with the fried green tomato appetizer, served with creamy goat cheese, sweet red pepper coulis and crisp dandelion greens. The seared scallops dish is infused with the earthy flavor of truffle cream, while tangy Cajun barbecue shrimp will disappear in a hurry. Regularly featured entrées range from the signature buttermilk fried chicken to grilled salmon and marinated rib eye. The pan-roasted Georgia trout with buttermilk mashed potatoes and sorghum-glazed pork tenderloin with roasted Yukon potatoes and jalapeno crème frâiche are some of the best examples of New South dining Atlanta has to offer. If you’ve never had grits, now’s the time. South City’s delectable parmesan grits come as a side, as does the truffled mac and cheese.
A five- or 10-minute drive from the Georgia World Congress Center. A pay-in-advance parking lot is located across the street from the restaurant.
101 Marietta St.
Take a cool, modern interior, add warm hospitality and a menu that accommodates a diner looking for a casual lunch or an elegant dinner, and this restaurant’s name explains itself. In a downtown that stays busy with workers and visitors alike, it’s indeed bound to thrive. The bar, with its luxe banquettes and comfortable seating area, is a gorgeous spot to sip a cocktail or glass of wine and nibble dressy appetizers like portabella bruschetta, sweet crab and artichoke fondue or red curry roasted mussels. The main dining room features a clean, airy décor and menu that’s aimed to please any palate. Try the grilled grouper over a sushi rice cake, or the cheddar-bacon burger. Or savor the candied lamb chops with couscous, shaved fennel and mint vinaigrette or the grilled chicken sandwich. The grilled Alaskan halibut over cilantro rice, or the Cobb salad with asparagus, avocado, bacon and blue cheese crumbles are bound to please. Or order off the sushi menu. Whichever direction your appetite takes you, the service will be friendly and gracious.
It’s a short walk from the Georgia World Congress Center, and valet parking is available at night.