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Best Restaurants in AtlantaOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

Chili dogs, onion rings and frozen orange drinks are but a few of the favorites you'll find at The Varsity, an Atlanta institution. Expect shouts of “What'll you have?” from the staff at this retro drive-in, and don't approach the counter until you know exactly what you do want to order, or that persistent question will continue. You'll learn the lingo in no time: A “naked dog” is a plain hot dog on a bun. A “heavyweight” is a hot dog with extra chili. “Ring one” is an order of onion rings, “strings” an order of fries. “Sideways” means onions on the side. If you can't make it to the original downtown landmark, you can patronize any of the branches in convenient locations nearby, plus two at the airport (at gates C and F).

Looking for a place that bakes its own artisan bread, puts together super sandwiches and has a reputation for yummy desserts? Alon's Bakery & Market is that place. This very popular Virginia-Highland lunch spot offers a creative spin on the same old same old. The sandwiches are killer: Asian barbecued salmon with cucumbers and sprouts on rosemary focaccia and the Tunisian tuna sandwich with capers, lemon juice, olive oil, potatoes and hard-boiled egg on a baguette are just two of the tempting choices. And the chocolate chunk pecan bite cookies—sold by the pound—are to die for. Business here is primarily takeout; it's the place to go if you want to put together the fixings for a picnic.

Foodie locals and travelers alike gather at Ponce City Market . The Central Food Hall features culinary delights from bakeries to vegetarian fare to seafood. The revamped industrial space in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood also houses shops.

A Taste of the South

Mary Mac's Tea Room serves up home-style classics that will take you back to a bygone era when sweet tea reigned supreme. A meal at Mary Mac's is akin to being invited to dinner in a genteel old boarding house and waiting expectantly until the hostess appears in the doorway to the dining room and announces with a flourish, “Supper's on the table.” The menu covers the spectrum of Southern cooking, from crispy fried chicken and fried green tomatoes to pork barbecue, turnip greens and hoppin' john (field peas and rice). Rich desserts are not for the faint-hearted, and the servers are as sweet as the tea. One of the city's fun places to go for a true Southern experience, this restaurant might cause you to waddle out the door after a meal here.

The bold and energetic Gunshow , Chef Kevin Gillespi's flagship restaurant, offers the culinary adventurous an interactive dining experience. Chefs present their individual dishes at the table. Diners choose if they want to accept the dish or wait for another. The ever-changing menu features innovative Southern-style fare.

Comfort Food, Authentic Mexican Dishes

Technically it is a diner, and it's also in upscale Buckhead, so the Buckhead Diner is sort of a hybrid—a place that serves comfort food with flair in an atmosphere more elegant than most diners offer (we're talking lots of shiny chrome, potted palms, linen tablecloths and a smartly attired waitstaff). The house-made potato chips with warm Maytag blue cheese make a suitably indulgent appetizer. Sandwiches include a chicken breast club with applewood smoked bacon, served on pretzel bread. And main dish classics are given a fancy touch (veal and wild mushroom meatloaf with a creamy veal jus, for instance). Do not resist dessert, specifically the white chocolate banana cream pie.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina has won local “best Mexican food” awards since its 1992 opening, and that's reason enough to give it a try if you're looking for a little something south of the border. The authentic décor—including metal and wood crucifixes handmade in Mexico—is only part of this restaurant's charm; it's the authentic preparation of Mexican standards that brings in the customers. Among the “los especiales de la casa” are Nuevo Laredo-style barbecued brisket, steak tampiqueña (a lean cut of beef marinated and charbroiled) and chicken mole done Puebla style with a sauce informed by chiles and chocolate. And the tequila margarita is—in a word—potent.

Places to Eat Steak

Have an appetite for a big, juicy steak? Many of Atlanta's business movers and shakers consider Bones Restaurant the city's best steakhouse. Peruse the cuts of meat on display in the club-like dining room, hand-pick your selection and then relax and anticipate while enjoying a shrimp cocktail or a spinach salad. The New York strip will satisfy most appetites, while heartier eaters can opt for the 24-ounce porterhouse. Sides run to the usual (steamed broccoli, fresh asparagus), the decadent (truffle butter mashed potatoes) and the unusual (grit fritters). If you're not in the mood for a steak there are plenty of other choices, from crab cakes to lemon chicken with capers and mushrooms. An award-winning wine list offers numerous choices to accompany your meal.

More meaty options await diners at the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao . The main dining room is dominated by an impressive wall of wine bottles and the kitchen's signature piece of equipment, a churrasqueira grill that cooks various cuts of meat to juicy perfection. Each diner receives a two-sided card. Turn it green side and gaucho chefs will come over and slice fire-roasted meats at your table, including top sirloin, filet mignon, linguica (sausage) and lombo (pork loin with a Parmesan cheese coating). Side dishes include pão de queijo (warm cheese bread) and caramelized bananas, and the salad bar is a feast of cheeses, cured meats and prepared salads. If you're able to save room for dessert, make it papaya cream.

Seafood and American Cuisine

If it swims in the ocean, then you'll probably find it on your plate at the famous Atlanta Fish Market, one of the best places to eat seafood. The enormous, bustling eatery boasts a can't-miss, three-story-tall copper fish sculpture out front. The brick building is meant to architecturally recall a 1920s-era Savannah train station, and the details are evocative right down to the antique wooden revolving door, plank hardwood floors, 1950s lighting fixtures and funky mermaid and tropical fish wallpaper. Consult the “today's catch” section of the menu and consider trying one of the less obvious seafood selections, like Colombian tilapia or Cape Cod skate wing. Sushi rolls, whole Maine lobster and Alaskan king crab legs are options, too. Be forewarned; long waits are the norm at peak hours.

Bacchanalia —the name says it all. This California-style contemporary restaurant is a popular upscale dining destination. The seasonal menu is derived entirely from organic ingredients, many sourced from the chef/owner's farm. A five-course prix fixe menu allows diners to sample the kitchen's culinary talent, choosing from entrées like wood-grilled lamb loin chops with summer ratatouille or wild mushroom ravioli and house-made ricotta. Suggested wine pairings are offered for each dish. Bacchanalia's smooth, professional service is as notable as the food. There's always a high demand for seats, so reservations are advised. And leave your flip-flops at home; dressy casual attire is recommended, and men will want to bring a jacket just in case.

Enjoy Fresh-Grown Ingredients

The Chattahoochee River is not only a favorite outdoor recreation destination for Atlantans; it also provides a lush riverside setting for an intimate dinner at Canoe. The interior is inviting—warm wood and brick, hand-forged iron vines, big comfy booths. The menu focuses on contemporary American dishes that take advantage of seasonal and local ingredients, whether it's spring asparagus soup, slow-roasted Carolina rabbit with Swiss chard and bacon ravioli or rainbow trout with lobster succotash. If you come for brunch, be sure to order a basket of freshly baked Georgia pecan sticky buns. A stroll along the landscaped waterfront is the perfect post-meal activity and one of the top things for couples to do here. It's sure to be a highlight of your vacation to Atlanta.

Fine Dining and Down-home Restaurants

When the occasion calls for fine dining you can't do much better than Nikolai's Roof , ensconced on the 30th floor of the Hilton Atlanta. The dining room exudes elegance, with the setting enhanced by spectacular views of downtown Atlanta. Under the direction of chef Olivier De Busschere, French and Russian-inspired dishes are prepared with equal attention to taste and presentation. Entrées include Norwegian halibut with Maine lobster beignets and champagne foam and marinated venison tenderloin accompanied by blue foot mushrooms and foie gras. For dessert, try the Grand Marnier soufflé. Two dozen varieties among the extensive selection of more than 1,100 wines are available by the glass.

More down home is Holeman and Finch Public House . From the arrangement of the tables to the convivial atmosphere, this is a restaurant that encourages the concept of dining as a community gathering. The menu ranges from simple, comforting appetizers (griddled bratwurst and glazed turnips) to sophisticated pub dishes like citrus-glazed veal sweetbreads. Holeman & Finch's calling card, however, is its burger: a classic double-patty cheeseburger on a house-made bun, with hand-cut fries and homemade ketchup and mustard on the side. Now served on the regular menu, Chef Linton Hopkins previously prepared exactly 24 a night, served precisely at 10 p.m. Sure, it was a gimmick, but it was flavorful enough that the Food Network decreed this burger one of the country's best. If you don't have a reservation, get there early while supply lasts.

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Atlanta, GA

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Travel Information

City Population

420,003

Elevation

1,050 ft.

Sales Tax

The sales tax in the Atlanta metro area is 8.9 percent. An additional 7 percent is levied on hotel rooms, bringing the total tax on hotel stays to 15 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(404) 614-6544

Time and Temperature

(770) 455-7141

Hospitals

Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, (404) 265-4000; Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital, (678) 843-7001; Emory University Hospital, (404) 712-2000; Grady Memorial Hospital, (404) 616-1000; Northside Hospital, (404) 851-8000; Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, (404) 605-5000.

Visitor Information

233 Peachtree St. N.E. Suite 1400 Atlanta, GA 30303. Phone:(404)521-6600 or (800)285-2682

Air Travel

Atlanta is served by

Rental Cars

Hertz, with offices downtown and at the airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (404) 530-2925 or (800) 654-3080. For listings of other agencies check the telephone directory.

Rail Service

Amtrak train service is provided out of Southern Railway's Peachtree Station, known locally as Brookwood Station, at 1688 Peachtree St. N.W.; phone (800) 872-7245. Atlanta is a major stop on Amtrak's route known as “The Crescent,” which connects New York City with New Orleans.

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc., 232 Forsyth St. S.W., is the major bus line serving Atlanta; phone (404) 584-1728 for recorded information or (800) 231-2222. There is a location at the airport at 6000 N. Terminal Dr.; phone (404) 765-9598.

Taxis

Cab companies include Checker Cab, (404) 351-1111; and Yellow, (404) 521-0200. Taxis are metered. Base fare for Checker Cab and Yellow is $2.50, $2 for each additional one-eighth mile and $2 for each additional passenger. A fuel surcharge may apply. Other taxi companies are listed in the telephone directory.

Public Transportation

Atlanta's public transportation consists of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority's (MARTA) bus, rail and subway systems. See Public Transportation for details.

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