Word of Mouth 

Our critics' guide to Atlanta restaurants


Aria, 490 E. Paces Ferry Road, 404-233-5208. After yet another redesign, the former Hedgerose Heights is being repositioned as a Buckhead-casual hangout for young, hot entrepreneurs and similarly questing fast-trackers. Gerry Klaskala's accomplished American cuisine -- slow-cooked chicken and beef, soups, grilled meats -- and Kathryn King's dreamy desserts more than make up for the half-baked, weirdly erotic decor by Bill Johnson Studio. --EM

Atlanta's Best Chicken and Fish, 216 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-875-1942. Next door to Mary Mac's Tea Room, there's a sizzling deep-fry basket recessed in a little hole-in-the-wall under the misnomer of Atlanta's Best Chicken and Fish. Serving the city's best double dose of all-beef patties, layered with bacon, Swiss, mushrooms and grilled onions, it should add Best Burger to the title. Practically everything at Atlanta's Best Chicken & Fish is fried: fried chicken, fried fish and, of course, French fries, which come with every thing. Don't forget to order yo'self a heap of the peach cobbler; it'll make a Southerner out of you. Cash only. --KL

Atlantic Star, Ice House Lofts, 105 Sycamore Place, Decatur, 404-377-8384. A great place for hanging out at odd hours, this American brasserie is stronger on looks and atmosphere than proper French cuisine. Young intowners may not care. Warm and attractive, the spiffy watering hole on a newly gentrified block is yet another example of the restaurant renaissance taking place in DeKalb's county seat. --EM. Bacchanalia, 1198 Howell Mill Road, at Huff Road, 404-365-0410. The city's best restaurant has moved across town and lost not an atom of energy. At once modernist and classicist, the California-influenced cuisine of owner-chefs Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano is based on solid technique, simple presentation and fresh, first-quality ingredients. The spare industrial setting fits the food like beurre blanc on fish, while the service, wines and physical comforts leave little to be desired. Star Provisions, the team's upscale boutique, serves as a combination waiting room, culinary classroom and take-home larder. Don't miss it. --EM.

Breadgarden, 549-5 Amsterdam Ave., 404-875-1166. A quiet bakery with a lot of great combine-it-yourself sandwiches and a few mediocre ones too (look for sog potential). Try the foccacia pizza loaded up with roasted vegetables and plenty of garlic. One of the best chocolate tortes in town can be found here too. --SL

Cabernet, 5575 Windward Parkway, at Ga. 400, Alpharetta 770-777-5955. At this suburban steakhouse modeled on Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Chops and such, the showy surroundings, considerable investment, trained staff and conceptual grandiosity promise much in the way of fine dining, wining and expense-account high times. The promises are mostly kept. Despite salt levels like those of the Dead Sea, prime steaks, lump crab cakes, sumptuous soups and salads are mostly worth the elevated prices asked. --EM.

Canoe, 4199 Paces Ferry Road NW, 770-432-2663. Oh, to be up a creek without a paddle here! Cozying up to the banks of the Chattahoochee, Canoe is one of the loveliest restaurants in town, and Chef Gary Mennie's New American fare is top-notch. Be sure to make reservations -- this showboat's popular. -- SSS

City Grill, 50 Hurt Plaza, 404-524-2489. Located in the historic Hurt building, this is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the city. The New American fare at this most elegant Peasant Group restaurant has been up and down over the years. You could get lucky. -- SSS

Corner Cafe, Buckhead Bread Co., 3070 Piedmont Road NE, 404-240-1978. Breads, muffins, pastries and service are better than ever. Sandwiches (egg salad, chicken club, portobello mushroom) are among the city's overstuffed best. Opens early for breakfast. -- EM

The Earl, 488 Flat Shoals Road, East Atlanta, 404-522-3950. This menu offers the traditional bar food assemblage, plus healthier alternatives including four vegetarian sandwiches. Burgers are big 'n' beefy and the steak sandwich can't be beat. All sandwiches come with a choice of house salad, red beans and rice, baked potato, fries, pasta salad or beer-battered onion rings. Try the addictive skinny fries. -- SL

Five Sisters Cafe, 2743 LaVista Road, 404-636-6060. Storefront with rumpus-room decor is neighborhood hub for suave sandwiches served by smiling staffers. -- EM

Floataway Cafe, 1123 Zonolite Road NE, 404-892-1414. A Southern Chez Panisse from the creators of super popular Bacchanalia with exquisite, inventive dishes made from fresh, often organic ingredients. The stylishly retro decor fits the former-factory setting too well. -- E.M.

The Flying Biscuit Cafe, 1655 McLendon Ave., 404-687-8888. This Candler Park restaurant, offering affordable, highly uneven cuisine, had an enormous impact on the city's dining scene when it opened a few years ago. It is still one of the best values in town. The cuisine is New American with just the right touch of levity. -- CBB

Harvest, 853 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-8244. Matching arts-and-crafts furniture, vases, flowers, fireplaces, dramatic curtains and a comfy bar make the Craftsman-style bungalow the perfect venue for chef Justin Ward's weekday lunch service. Alas, as has been true since the restaurant's January 1996 debut, the contemporary American cooking is still wildly uneven. -- EM

Heaping Bowl and Brew, 469 Flat Shoals Ave., 404-523-8030. This restaurant in East Atlanta prepares inexpensive, wholesome food with occasional outre touches. It almost always works. But dining here is enjoyable because of the convivial ambiance. Perogies, greens, beans and stew are recommended. -- CBB

Highland Wraps & Pizza Kitchen, 1250 Virginia Ave., 404-872-2562. A mostly takeout operation in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, this storefront charmer produces decidedly Americanized, albeit notably tasty meat and vegetarian burritos and tacos. -- EM

In the Shade Cafe, inside the Wish-Fulfilling Tree Bookstore, 2329 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-634-7411. Juices, sandwiches and light noshes are all fresh and delicious. Plus you get your spiritual high from sniffing the nearby incense. -- CBB

Java Jive, 790 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-876-6161. "The Cup That Pleases" definitely lives up to its name. The rich, faintly nutty cups of coffee accompany from-scratch biscuits, pecan or gingerbread waffles and well-stuffed omelets and veggie scrambles. Service is personable, reliable and unobtrusive. -- SL

Mondo Bakery, 1210 Howell Mill Road. 404-603-9995. With Billie Holiday crooning softly in this subdued, yet swank atmosphere, Mondo Bakery is an ideal place to meet someone for coffee and an intimate chat. Although it has a news stand, postcards, sandwiches, fresh juices, freshly baked pastries and a coffee bar with a full line of coffee and espresso drinks, Mondo's specialty is gourmet sandwiches and pastries. The dates, pesto, brie and basil sandwich on sourdough is to die for. -- KL

Mumbo Jumbo, 89 Park Place, 404-523-0330. Located in a treasure of a building, this bar/lounge/restaurant is a visual feast. And the New American cuisine, as interpreted by Chef Shaun Doty, ain't bad either. Globally and seasonally influenced, the menu always changes often. You also can rely on an interesting crowd, from oh-so-chic to far-out. -- SSS

Murphy's, 997 Virginia Ave. at N. Highland Ave., 404-872-0904. Now 20 years old, Tom Murphy's neighborhood deli changes with time and demographics. Just now, it's worth visiting for moderately priced fish and meat entrees, traditional baked goods, a splendid wine list and slick, knowing service. Call-ahead seating, valet parking at night and take-out offered. --EM.

North Highland Pub, 469 N. Highland Ave., 404-522-4600. This Poncey-Highland joint features an impressively large menu, imported and on-tap beer and a plethora of tunes on the jukebox. Of note is the Bacon Swiss Guacamole Burger, cooked to a perfect medium and served on a sesame seed bun. Onion rings, beating out the fries, are a delicious companion. Sizable salads are worth a whirl, too. -- SL

The Palm, 3391 Peachtree Road NE, 404-814-1955. Steak and lobster are the name of the game at this expense-account eatery in Buckhead's Swissôtel. Clubby attire is enhanced by the restaurant group's schtick -- caricatures of famous faces peering down on those who go to see and be seen. -- SSS

Park 75, Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, 75 14th St. NE, 404-881-9898. Rich, well-constructed New American cuisine in a luxury setting with prices to match. Initial menus from executive chef Brooke Vosika -- transplanted from the extraordinary Four Seasons Olympic Hotel in Seattle -- are particularly strong on soups and seafood. -- EM

Portabella's Pantry, 9 S. Main Street, Alpharetta, 770-751-6464. Humming mom-and-pop storefront with order counter, serve-yourself beverage dispensers and flea-market furniture draws office workers and families with unusual, first-rate sandwiches and cookies. All baking done on premises. Good for takeout. --EM.

The Roman Lily Cafe, 688 Highland Ave., 404-653-1155. Calavino Donati and her buzz-headed staff in overalls are serving killer contemporary American diner food and a great experience in this storefront restaurant. Meatloaf with a tequila-jalape-o gravy and scallops with baked polenta and wild mushrooms are fave dishes. But salads and sandwiches are tasty, too. Reservations are accepted (and necessary) on weekends. -- CBB

Sage, 121 Sycamore St., Decatur, 404-373-5574. With no pretensions beyond generic American-bistro food and ambience, the Courthouse Square-area baby sister to Le Giverny offers hefty portions, modest prices, decent if spotty cooking, wide-ranging wine list and warm, welcoming service by a mostly female staff. -- EM

San Francisco Wraps, 8725 Roswell Road, Dunwoody, 770-993-3999; 2160 N. Decatur Road, Decatur, 404-320-9111. Best local effort since Tortillas on Ponce (and, arguably, Great Western Burrito Co.) to produce a variety of burrito-style wraps with plenty of flavor and minimal attitude. -- EM

Stoney River, 10524 Alpharetta Highway, at Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell, 678-461-7900. The mainstream runs through this steaks-and-sushi dinner house from the creators of Brookwood Grill. The wilderness lodge decor, upbeat service and decent sushi bar are much superior to the salty, overseasoned American food. No reservations. Expect long waits at prime hours. -- EM

Sweet Tomatoes, 6350 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, 770-913-0203; 1125 Barrett Parkway, Kennesaw, 770-429-5522; 3505 Mall Blvd., Duluth, 770-418-1148. Pizza, spuds, soups and about half the greenery are worth their weight in calories and cholesterol at units of this San Diego, Calif.-based buffet chain aimed at families and office workers. Atmosphere is bright and upbeat, prices reasonable. -- EM

Urban Cannibals, 307-B East College Ave., Decatur, 404-371-8700. Shoestring diner near Agnes Scott is notable for appealing sandwiches (mushroom Philly, grilled caponata, fried tilapia, burgers) and sides. Atmosphere runs from plastic forks and handmade banners to self service and a lot of friendly chatter from the grill cook - who's right out there in the room. Credit cards are accepted. Smoking is not permitted. The rehabbed space is less than perfectly wheelchair-friendly. --EM

Vortex Bar and Grill, 438 Moreland Ave., L5P, 404-688-1828; and 878 Peachtree St., 404-875-1667. Funky atmosphere, loud music, enormous selection of bottled beers and some of the best and biggest burgers in town. Black bean soup and homestyle pimento cheese are excellent, too. -- EM

Watershed, 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-378-4900. The combination restaurant, wine bar, package store, gift shop and takeout counter holds wonders aplenty. Offerings change daily. A slice of fish, a mound of creamed potatoes, a bowl of some unusual pasta may be heaven on toast points today, history tomorrow. Luckily the salads and sandwiches (beets, shrimp, roast pork) and desserts (pecan tart, apple cake, chocolate cake, macaroons) are fairly constant in both their excellence and availability. -- EM

Wingleader, 250 Auburn Ave., 404-589-9393. On historic Auburn Ave., Wingleader does wings any size order, but not just any sauce. They're serving up Hot Mama, Jamaican Jerk and Cinnamon Love. If that reads like a dirty Harlequin novel, then get the rest of the story and ring up Wingleader. They deliver. -- KL

Dreamland Bar-B-Que, 10730 Alpharetta Highway at Mansell Road, Roswell, 678-352-7999. Hit the road to Tuscaloosa, Georgians. The imported cultural icon features Alabama-style pork barbecue with its characteristic charred edges, subdued seasoning and slathered sauce. It's accompanied by tangy slaw, crisp fries, rich pecan pie and logo T-shirts. Salads, sandwiches and such round out the menu. Good for takeout. -- EM

Hodge's Bar-B-Que, 2141 Candler Road, Decatur, 404-289-1804.Offering home-style, working-class Southern cooking for a quarter century, this family style cafeteria is light on charm, big on value, convenient for takeout and friendly as a church supper. No smoking or credit cards. --EM.

The Swallow at the Hollow, 1072 Green St., Roswell, 678-352-1975. The joint venture of Bill Greenwood and Paul and Doreen Doster is long on hefty portions and intelligent updates of country classics. From pit-cooked portobello mushrooms to traditionally flavored baby back ribs and mac-and-cheese, the cuisine has wide, if definitely Southern-style, appeal. -- EM

Gumbo A Go-Go, 1405 Oxford Road, 404-687-0031; 736 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-874-8620; 3256 Cobb Parkway, Marietta, 770-303-9970; and 11770 Haynes Bridge Road, Alpharetta, 770-777-1441. Head to the Emory Village location for a rough jewel where students wolf down dirt-cheap portions of the best jambalaya around. The second location on Ponce (by Tortilla's) offers the same Cajun-Creole dishes, like Big Chief Crazy Gumbo and, when it's in season, crawfish etouffee. -- CBB

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, 2830 Windy Hill Road, Marietta, 770-984-8899 and other metro locations. Who'd have thought a chain serving enormous volumes of food could be this good? Spectacular etouffee, lovingly prepared gumbos, delicately broiled seafood and mountains of fried stuff are turning out crowds that cause 90-minute waits. Go early. Real early. -- CBB

Somber Reptile's Cajun Kitchen, 842 Marietta St., 404-881-9701. Snackery in a quirky music hall (walls black, smoking encouraged, no coffee) is westside headquarters for shrimp, oyster and andouille sausage po' boy sandwiches, fried okra and cold suds. Sonny bubbas in uniform and men in suits hit it hard at lunchtime on weekdays. -- EM

Ya Ya's Cajun Cuisine, 426 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-373-9292. David and Leslie Lester have hit the big time in Decatur. Lunch offers the best po' boys in town and dinner means very good (roux-less) etouffees and gumbos. Try the grilled boudin and "snapper courtbouillion." -- CBB

Chicken World, 5150 Buford Highway, 770-458-5164. Give your honey a choice of menudo, Buffalo chicken wings or moo goo gai pan here. Chino-Mexicano. It's not the best food in town, but it is most definitely a happening. -- CBB

Chopstix, 4279 Roswell Road, 404-255-4868. One of the most popular Asian-style restaurants in Atlanta, where elegant Chinese fare is served by candlelight to a rather upscale audience. Gourmet classics from shrimp to lobster to sweetbreads are prepared Hong Kong style -- everything's top-notch. -- SSS

Chung Ha Chinese-Korean Buffet, 5979 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-455-7370. Foodies with a taste for experimentation will appreciate the extensive display of Asian foods as well as a helpful, informative staff. Highlights include Korean barbecued meats and hors d'oeuvres, nuggets of marinated chicken, unusual soups and noodles. Very affordable. Sunday brunch draws after-church mobs. -- EM

Doc Chey's Noodle House, 1424 N. Highland Ave., 404-888-0777; 1556 N. Decatur Road, 404-378-8188. A pan-Asian noodle house for yuppies. Great sense of humor, great style, great appetizers. -- CBB

Grand Buffet II (Chinese), Buckhead Crossing, 2625 Piedmont Road at Sidney Marcus Boulevard, 404-760-9967. Grand Buffet II offers Buckhead location at Southside prices. The bountiful Chinese-American spread has notable "wow-golly" appeal. Much of the food tastes fresh. Grill cooks prepare many items in small batches just behind the serving line. Platters and trays are replenished often. -- EM

Harmony Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant, 4897 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 770-457-7288. Curry flavors (noodles, dumplings) and moo shu vegetable wraps are tops at this minimally decorated newcomer. Stick with greenery and skip the imitation beef and fish. -- EM

Kong Lang, Orient Center, 4897 Buford Highway, Suite 125, Chamblee, 770-986-9168. Classy Cantonese barbecue and roast pork specialist, with seafood an added attraction, spins off (and up) from affably grungy, always reliable Ming's BarB.Q. Restaurant nearby. Service, amenities and decor nearly match the delectable cuisine. -- EM

Little Szechuan, Northwood Plaza, 5091-C Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-451-0192. There's no trick to dining well at the state's best Chinese restaurant. Order almost anything unusual. Balance unfamiliar dishes with a like number of the family's favorite dishes. Figure on one platter per guest. Relax and sip your tea. Of particular interest: stir-fried mo shu vegetables, sizzling beef brisket, eggplant with garlic sauce, Szechuan cold noodles. -- EM

New Paradise Chinese Restaurant, 4795 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 770-936-0306. Located near the south end of the Chambodia business strip, this small, neat storefront offers affordable, authentic cuisine in simple surroundings. Foodies and similarly adventurous diners should order from the white Asian menu. A red tourist menu is available for those who prefer safer shopping-center fare. -- EM

Noodle, 205 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-378-8622. Stylish, moderately priced noodle bar features appetizers, noodle bowls, soups, rice plates and entree salads, four or five of each, all more or less Chinese, Korean, Thai or Vietnamese in derivation and presentation. Oversize crockery, decent wine-and-beer list and touchy-feely industrial decor emphasize the distance Asian-American-style restaurants have traveled -- from mainland to mainstream. --EM.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 500 Ashwood Parkway, off Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-352-0500. An only partially successful attempt to mate Chinese cookery with the American casual-chain concept, this is essentially a Bennigan's with egg rolls. Service and cuisine are thoroughly Americanized. Evocations of China consist almost entirely of Asian-style decorations. Orange peel shrimp is a safe choice. -- EM

Pyng Ho, 1357 Clairmont Road, 404-634-4477. This is a popular and authentic Chinese restaurant outside the main Buford Highway corridor. Thus, many who find the ethnic experience intimidating will be more comfortable here. By all means, stick to the menu of evening specials. A whole fried red snapper drizzled in black bean sauce is amazing. -- CBB

Royal China, 3295 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Chamblee, 770-216-9933. New owners have overhauled the former Honto to mostly good effect. Although the Cantonese cuisine is highly erratic, the elegant decor and new restrooms make a visit almost mandatory for old hands. On balance, try dinner rather than lunch, vegetables and seafood over meat. -- EM

Apres Diem International Coffee House and Bistro, 931 Monroe Drive. 404-872-3333. Fancying itself a bonafide European coffee house, Apre<\#142>s Diem's strip mall location makes for something of an anomaly. Nevertheless, with a full-service bar and desserts fresh from Alon's Bakery, it provides an excellent excuse to extend a movie date. Apr<\#142>s Diem also serves Sunday brunch for late risers, and its full menu includes lunch and dinner, with nightly specials. -- KL

Babette's Cafe, 471 N. Highland Ave., 404-523-9121. Situated between Inman Park and Virginia-Highland, this lovely cafe escapes both glib trendiness and Martha Stewartness. The dining room is romantic and homey. Herb-crusted lamb chops, risotto specials, fried oysters atop a dill biscuit are recommended. Desserts are killer. -- CBB

Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449. Paul Luna and James Ehrlich have created one of the most pleasant dining rooms in town. Lunch features delicious sandwiches, soups and quiches; evenings offer a tapas menu that is the best in town. Little Spanish-style marinated ribs, grilled octopus, skewered prawns and luscious Manilla clams are among the offerings. -- CBB

Seeger's, 111 W. Paces Ferry Road NW, 404-846-9779. Beard Award-winning chef Guenter Seeger's new stand features resourceful contemporary-continental cuisine, small portions, prix fixe menus with big prices, elegant service and a minimalist postmodern decorative scheme that fits the food like sauce over fish. Reservations recommended on weekends. -- EM

Havana Sandwich Shop, 2905 Buford Highway NE (at the corner of North Druid Hills and Buford Highway), 404-636-4094. This modest restaurant's delicious yellow rice is studded with green peas and covered with savory-sweet stewed tomatoes and onions (white rice is available as well), and its black bean "soup" with prominent onions and garlic, can easily make a meal. The mojo-marinated Cuban, served with pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, is delicious. There also are plenty of savory vegetarian dishes and Jumex juices (try the mango), plus a variety of unusual sodas (try the Coco Rico). Also don't miss out on the fabulous flan. -- SL

Kool Korners grocery, 349 14th St. NW, 404-892-4424. Known for its Cuban Classic sandwich, this grocery/sandwich shop has been a source of food-induced euphoria for 13 years. Sandwich choices include ham, turkey, roast beef and pastrami with all the fixings, including jalape-o peppers. Press-grilled sandwiches have a crispy exterior where inside, the flavors emerge, mingle and melt together. -- SL

Las Palmeras, 368 Fifth St. NE, 404-872-0846. Cuban neighborhood cafe is noted for black beans and rice, fried plantains, authentic entrees, friendly welcomes and faster service than might be expected. A smokers' deck is pleasant in nice weather. Purchase beer and wine at the grocery next door or BYOB. -- EM

Mambo Restaurante Cubano, 1402 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-2626. Lunch service is notable for Cuban Sloppy Joe sandwiches (grilled Cuban loaves stuffed with picadillo and ropa vieja). The regular menu offers traditional entrees, salads and other island delights. Outdoor tables available. -- EM

Bistros, 1529 Piedmont Ave., at Monroe, 404-879-1090. Up-to-date French and American specialties in elegant surroundings, and at moderate prices, make this a great venue for menu experimentation. At its best (spinach salad with chicken livers, chanterelle risotto), Rhoads Fearn's unfussy cuisine is stylish, wholesome and handsome to behold. --EM.

Brasserie Le Coze, 3393 Peachtree Road (in Lenox Square), 404-266-1440. The desserts, seafood and wine list have kept the polished Parisian bistro as one of Atlanta's favorite places for a romantic (if occasionally noisy) rendezvous. Sitting on the patio with the skate with brown butter on the table and a gypsy accordionist wandering by, even the Lenox Square parking lot takes on a gentle sheen. -- CH

Le Saint Amour, 1620 Piedmont Ave., 404-881-0300. New chef, traditional country French cooking. Blanquette de veau, rabbit páte, souffles, that kind of thing. -- EM

Cafe de Nice, 580 Pharr Road, 404-264-1678. A small, independent, good-natured, cottage-bound, wine-less bistro that operates on Mediterranean time, offering decent meals at budget prices, mostly to women and families. Soups, salads and flans are agreeable and authentic. Not a good bet for wheelchairs or anyone in a hurry. BYOB. --EM.

SoHo, 4200 Paces Ferry Road, 770-801-0069. Cleverly conceived, albeit ding-dong loud, shopping center bistro with pricey fusion menu. -- EM

Basket Bakery and Cafe at The Village Corner, 6655 James B. Rivers Drive, 770-498-0329. The best German food in our area, served in a delightful setting adjacent to Stone Mountain Village. Sauerbraten and rouladen are especially good. Enormous portions. -- CBB

Planet Bombay, 451 Moreland Ave., 404-688-0005. L5P newcomer with thick, hearty soups (Mulligatawny, fresh mushroom), notable rice pilafs and Indian breads, good curried vegetable combinations and low prices. -- E.M.

Shingaar Palace, North Hill Plaza, 3364-H Chamblee-Tucker Road, Chamblee, 770-458-4466. Newcomer offers what may be the city's best combination of authentic Indian food, agreeable service and elegant, albeit colonial-style comforts. Appetizers, vegetables and curry sauces are particularly notable. --EM.

Udipi Cafe, 1850 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur, 404-325-1933. Savory rice pilafs, spicy vegetable curries and spectacular stuffed crepes and pancakes are but four reasons to seek out the city's newest South Indian vegetarian outlet. Sophisticated carrot desserts, traditional beverages and crisp breads double the pleasure. Table service is a plus. -- EM

Antica Posta, 519 E. Paces Ferry Road, 404-262-7112. At the former Riviera, French cuisine has been replaced by Tuscan specialties such as superb risottos and superior but simply prepared seafood and seasonal vegetables. Prices are down, and so is the glitz factor. Service and comforts are still first rate, making this a special-occasion destination as well as a place to enjoy the kind of Italian food served in Italy, not New York. -- EM

Aromi, 1025 Virginia Ave. NE, 404-607-0220. With a brightly lit neon store front just a few doors east of the Virginia-Highland intersection, Aromi has sweets, coffee, gelato crepes and panini. Gelato flavors include peach, raspberry, lemon, banana, chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate chip and more. Lightly press-grilled panini are served on foccacia and come with chips. And as if all this weren't enough lure -- the coffee's great, too. -- SL

Ciao Bella, 309 Pharr Road, 404-261-6013. Simplicity is the approach here. Order big, white bowls of perfect pastas -- with wild mushrooms or mussels and anchovies. Prices are low, the crowd is convivial and the staff is thoroughly Italian. -- CBB

Eno, 800 Peachtree St. at Fifth, 404-685-3191. Conceived as an extremely comfortable laboratory where food and drink pairings may be explored, Doug Strickland's and Jamie Adams' Mediterranean bistro could raise the standards of corporate Atlanta's drinking classes. Food is fashionably Cal-Italian -- lots of olives, olive oil, fruit, fresh fish and seasonal ingredients. The cooking is first rate, the crowd Midtown hot. Sidewalk tables, wine room, tastings featured. -- EM

Fratelli di Napoli, 2101 Bennett St., 404-351-1533; 928 Canton St., Roswell, 770-642-9917. Big-deal, super-size takes on Little Italy specializing in homestyle platters serving two to four. Chicken with eggplant, spinach salad with gorgonzola dressing and tiramisu are standouts. Dinner nightly. Reservations for six or more. -- EM

Fritti, 311 N. Highland Ave., 404-880-9559. Riccardo Ullio's younger, hipper sibling to next-door Sotto Sotto offers hits and few big misses in such departments as authentic Italian croquettes, bracing salads, fried seafood and thin-crusted, rustic pizzas with exotic toppings. Atmosphere, service and wine list are notable as well. --EM.

Grappa, 3097 Maple Drive, 404-262-9749. Soups and salads are best bets at this Tuscanized Buckhead bungalow inhabited by co-chefs Lynne Gigliotti (Gigliotti Culinary Concepts, Grapevine Cafe, Azio) and Christophe Vessaire (Resto des Amis, French Embassy, Washington, D.C.). Dinner only. -- EM

Grant Central West, 451 Cherokee Ave., 404-523-8900. Not to be confused with its stepbrother, Grant Central Pizza & Pasta in East Atlanta, Grant Central in Grant Park is a relaxing neighborhood bar and accommodating family pizza parlor. You'll have trouble deciding whether you prefer their thin crust pizza, cheesy calzones, fettuccine alfredo or eggplant parmigiana. -- KL

Il Fornaio, 700 Ashwood Parkway, 678-579-0000. Italian bakery-chain link with a complete line of surprisingly authentic ciao-chow. Unusual pastas, pizzas, superior salads and grilled meats and seafood are mostly worth their moderate prices. Full bar, professional team service, reservations accepted. Good for takeout, especially at breakfast. --EM.

La Grotta, 2637 Peachtree Road, 404-231-1368. This is one of Atlanta's longest-running fine dining experiences, evidenced by the '70s decor and Italian cuisine. Try the tuna carpaccio and the roasted quail stuffed with sausage. -- SSS

La Tavola, 992 Virginia Ave., at N. Highland Avenue, 404-873-5430. When this restaurant was opened by the owners of the Food Studio and South City Kitchen, its sleek decor made quite a splash, but its cuisine fell flat. Instead of the authentic Italian cuisine Atlantans crave, La Tavola oddly offered an unpleasant Italian-American blend. So we're pleased with the restaurant's willingness to re-examine itself. Last summer, it hired Joey Masi to rework the menu and retrain the kitchen staff. The results are impressive. Authenticity rules. The zuppa di pesce is a standout, as are the seared cod with polenta and the grilled pork chop. Pastas can be too oily but you can remedy that by asking for a lighter touch with the butter. - CBB

Luna Si, 1931 Peachtree Road, 404-355-5993. Who'd think that "old faithful" and "cutting-edge" honestly could belong together? That's exactly so in this remarkably affordable restaurant with a strong contemporary Italian influence. Convivial and quirky themselves, the Luna brothers have created one of the city's most reliable choices. -- CBB

Pastificio Cameli, 1263 Glenwood Ave. SE, 404-622-9926. Retro pasta parlor in East Atlanta gentrification zone offers delectable fresh pastas, salads and soups in stripped-back, contemporary surroundings. Deck and sidewalk tables offered in nice weather. Dinner only. -- EM

The Patio, 1029 Edgewood Ave. (across from the Inman Park MARTA station), 404-584-8945. A killer redo of the old Deacon Burton spot, with an especially wonderful patio. Pastas and pizzas are the main fare. Inexpensive. -- CBB

Savage Pizza, 484 Moreland Ave., 404-523-0500. Among the best local sources of real, hand-thrown, honest-to-Palermo pizza, this slightly bent independent in L5P is notable for fresh ingredients, homemade sauces and clever, knowing service. Wide selection of pizza toppings and calzone fillings. Good for takeout. Smokers' porch. -- EM

Sotto Sotto, 313 N. Highland Ave., 404-523-6678. As a place to dine extremely well, see friends and plug into what people are talking about, Riccardo Ullio's Italian outpost in Inman Park hardly can be beat. Pastas, risotti and desserts are winners, as is the high-energy factor. -- EM

Nickiemoto's Midtown, Piedmont at 10th Street, 404- 253-2010. A clone of George Rohrig's Buckhead sushi bar, this fast-track watering hole is more remarkable for burnished metal decor and intown haircuts than for its Asian-American food. To dine well, keep two words in mind: fried (squid, soft-shell crab hotpot, catfish) and desserts (ginger creme brulee, Vietnamese coffee float). -- EM

Stoney River, 10524 Alpharetta Highway at Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell, 678-461-7900. The mainstream runs through this steaks-and-sushi dinner house from the creators of Brookwood Grill. The wilderness lodge decor, upbeat service and decent sushi bar are much superior to the salty, overseasoned American food. No reservations. Expect long waits at prime hours. -- EM

Yokohama, 2221 Peachtree Road NE, 404-603-5282. Reconstituted neighborhood sushi parlor with all-purpose Japanese-American menu (noodles, tonkatsu, teriyaki steak, ice cream) fills an independent niche on a busy intown strip. Tender tempura squid is a tasty treasure. -- EM

Malaya, 857 Collier Road, 404-609-9991. A tiny room in a modest storefront belies the wondrous repertoire of traditional Malaysian dishes available. For an introduction to this spicy crossroads cuisine, don't miss coconut soup laced with shrimp and chicken, acar (pickled salad with peanuts), rendang (an aromatic beef stew), curried salmon with okra, and spinach sauteed with okra. Chinese menu also available. Good for takeout. Now serving beer and wine. -- EM

Penang Malaysian Cuisine, Orient Center, 4897 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 770-220-0308. Clever, classy take on the crossroads cuisine of Malaysia, one of Asia's sleeping tigers. Whole fish with Thai sauce, pancakes with chicken curry, satays, noodles and crisp vegetables -- all with a moderately spicy kick -- are authentic, approachable and well prepared. The setting, a bamboo summer house with all the latest conveniences, matches the upbeat, sunny ambience. -- EM

Burrito Art, 1259 Glenwood Ave., 404-627-4433; Tower Walk, 3365 Piedmont Road, 404-237-0095; and 1451 Oxford Road, 404-377-7786. East Atlanta is the original home for this restaurant by Ryan Aiken, a young chef who trained at Indigo and Partners and developed the extraordinary opening menu at Terra Cotta. Now, the boy's cooking burritos! But these are amazing creations that feature the likes of barbecue chicken, roast pork and chile relleno. -- CBB

Frontera Mex-Mex Grill, 4606 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-493-8341; and 5070 Stone Mountain Highway, 770-972-3366. Sunday brunch at two locations of the local chain features energetic ranchera music, heady fiesta atmosphere and a succession of unusual Mexican specialties. Spice levels, thought toned down, are still lively enough to tickle gringo tongues. -- EM

La Coste-a, 2164 Briarcliff Rd. 404-329-0084. Though this new restaurant is stuffy and drab, the unusual combination of Nicaraguan and Jamaican cuisine is worth a whirl. Tender pork, beef and chicken dishes are laden with piles of rice, beans and plantains. Not everything listed on the menu is actually available, so flexibility is a must. -- SL

Noche, 1000 Virginia Ave., 404-815-9155. The nuevo New Mexican chow at this boutique cantina, while extremely inconsistent, combines campfire flavor with comfort food accessibility. Stylishly fitted out and moderately priced, with good service, it may be considered a flashier alternative to Sundown Cafe. -- EM

Nuevo Laredo Cantina, 1495 Chattahoochee Ave. 404-352-9009. From its obscure location on Chattahoochee, Nuevo Laredo offers home-cooked Mexican food that is as sabroso (delicious) as it is sana(healthy). The food on your plate looks fresh, not as if it's sat under a heat lamp for even a second. Although somewhat crowded on weekend nights, service is quick and the food is well worth the wait. So have a beer and soak up the atmosphere of Catholic kitsch. - KL

Taqueria del Sol, 1200-B Howell Mill Road at Huff Road, 404-352-5811. Spin-off of popular Sundown Cafe is long on informality and comfortingly Americanized Mexican and Southwestern fare. It's decidedly short on glitz, and guests order at the bar and carry their own drinks. Seafood specials can be really special. Old favorites -- spicy turnip greens, jalape-o slaw and carnita tacos -- are still worth saying "Ole" to as well. -- EM

Tortillas, 774 Ponce de Leon, 404-892-0193. So many burrito shops have opened in town that we tend to forget the original and, in many ways, still the best. Nobody's pinto beans come close to Tortillas. You don't have to endure oniony seasonings, you get flawless guac and green sauce, and you still get plenty of bad attitude and crummy ambiance. -- CBB

Zocalo, 187 10th St., 404-249-7576. Midtown's former monument to mucho-Mexican mole has been mainstreamed and Americanized. The city's best stuffed peppers, the still-peppy chicken mole and a collection of 150 tequilas don't make up for greasy tacos, hard-edged service, hard-to-read menus, inappropriate music and uncomfortable chairs. Note that visitors with hotel room keys get a 10 percent discount. -- EM

Casbah, 465 N. Highland Ave. NE, 404-524-5777.A fun place to take yourself, and not just for a special occasion, this comfy, affordable North Highland harem features belly dancing, notable sweet-spicy salads, first-rate couscous and more-or-less traditional versions of Moroccan poultry pie and lamb with apricots and honey. -- EM

Imperial Fez, 2285 Peachtree Road, 404-351-0870. Atlanta's most luxurious interpretation of the Casbah, this carpet-lined, pillow-strewn hideaway serves authentic prix fixe Moroccan in a five-course ceremony complete with hand-washing and belly dancing. Take your shoes off and stay awhile. -- SSS

Coast 92, 625 Crossville Road, Roswell, 770-649-6739. The second shopping-center venture for Dick and Harold Marmulstein (Dick and Harry's) features solidly prepared fresh-seafood platters, steamed crabs, sushi and all the trimmings in a visually bizarre, not to say amusing, underwater setting. Keep your eyes shut, your mouth wide open and enjoy superlative specialties such as the jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp crunch rolls, fried shrimp and Key lime pie. Moderate prices. No reservations. --EM.

Indigo Coastal Grill, 1397 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-0676. Reopened after yet another makeover, the restaurant's once funky decor has been smoothed to a near-corporate sheen. Fried seafood, big salads, comforting side dishes (couscous, cheese grits, shoestring fries) and gooey desserts are still tops. Service by a clean-cut, knowledgeable staff who's textbook sharp. -- EM

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, 600 Ashwood Parkway, 770-399-9900. Lavish chain-link offers first-class seafood in a variety of preparation styles, though with an emphasis on those of the Northwest and Pacific Coast. Despite the glass domes, privacy booths, snappy linens, heavy flatware and list of 30 to 40 varieties of fresh seafood on offer daily, prices are moderate at the big-volume fish house. Valet parking. Reservations encouraged. Smoking permitted in bar only. --EM.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, 2830 Windy Hill Road, Marietta, 770-984-8899 and other locations. Who'd have thought a chain serving enormous volumes of food could be this good? Spectacular etouffee, lovingly prepared gumbos, delicately broiled seafood and mountains of fried stuff are turning out crowds that cause 90-minute waits. Go early. Real early. -- CBB

Uncle Bud's, 725 Concord Road, west of South Cobb Drive, Smyrna, 770-434-1881. Updated, corporatized catfish barn, replacing two franchise stores, serves reliable, affordable catfish meals with all the fixings, including memorably good hushpuppies and cole slaw. Swift, upbeat service and squeaky-clean (if a little too kuntry-kute) surroundings add to the family-style fun. -- EM

Atlanta Grill, the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta, 181 Peachtree St., 404-221-6550. A clubby, semi-casual Southern steakhouse has replaced the once fiercely formal restaurant. Expensive grilled beef and super-size spuds are perhaps the most reliable offerings at this corporate attempt to please road warriors, conventioneers and expense-account hosts seven days a week, three meals a day. -- EM

Blue Ridge Grill, 1261 W. Paces Ferry Road, 404-233-5030. Southern haute cuisine is served in a Ralph Lauren-ish mountain lodge setting; fresh-picked organic vegetables are family-style, and the Iron Skillet Georgia Trout and steaks are sublime. Take note, though: Organic ain't cheap. -- SSS

Horseradish Grill, 4320 Powers Ferry Road NW, 404-255-7277. First-rate fried chicken, pork barbecue, mashed potatoes, savory greens, hot biscuits and traditional Southern desserts from rising-star chef Dave Berry are served in an elegant trophy room masquerading as a Chastain Park stable. Lovely outdoor tables can be requested in nice weather. -- EM

Justin's, 2200 Peachtree St. NW, 404-603-5353. Rap dinner theater in the former Sfuzzi and Coco Pazzo features big smiles, gorgeously draped staff, moderately loud musical background static, otherworldly prices and formularized soul food of the warm-and-serve persuasion. -- EM

Thelma's Kitchen, 764 Marietta St. NW, 404-688-5855. Thelma Grundy's venerable soul-food cafeteria appears to be coasting. After three years at the new stand, the lunchtime crowds are steady but the cooking -- especially the once-marvelous fried chicken -- is notably inconsistent. Worthwhile choices include fried catfish, sweet potatoes, mac-and-cheese and almost any form of beans. --EM

Thomas Marketplace, State Farmers Market, 16 Forest Parkway, Forest Park, 404-361-1367. Venerable purveyor of heirloom Southern cooking, hefty portions and down-home hospitality is among the Southside's best bets for traditional breakfasts, meat-and-two lunches and corn muffins. Fried chicken livers, grilled salmon, turnip greens and corn muffins recommended. Go elsewhere for barbecue. -- EM

Little Bangkok, 2225 Cheshire Bridge Road near Lenox Road, 404-315-1530. Now it can be told: Some of the best Thai food in town is at this absurdly inexpensive hole in the wall. Pay close attention to evening specials like chicken with eggplant or spicy squid. Seasonings are fiery, portions are very large and ingredients always include a few surprises. The menu also features Chinese cuisine. -- CBB

Northlake Thai Cuisine, 3939 LaVista Road, at Montreal Road, Tucker, 770-938-2223. A slightly less glamorous cousin to Midtown's spectacular Tamarind, the strip center showplace holds its own in tropical decor, Bangkok ambience and reassuring air of formality. Though the cooking shows less finesse, the cuisine, by the standards of the neighborhood, also is a standout. Starters (duck salad, fried squid, coconut-chicken soup) are worth particular attention. -- EM

Satay Ria, 1861 Peachtree Road NE, 404-609-9990. An Intown find. The younger, SoBuck brother to Buford Highway's Little Malaysia offers mid-scale comforts, Malaysian-Thai cuisine (chicken satay, chicken curry, acar salad) and unusually good service. -- EM

Broadway Cafe, 2168 Briarcliff Road NE, 404-329-0888. Vegetarian fare, much of it kosher, can be inventive and quite tasty in this Druid Hills strip mall spot; who knew faux sausage could taste so good? -- SSS

Harmony Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant, 4897 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 770-457-7288. Curry flavors (noodles, dumplings) and moo shu vegetable wraps are tops at this minimally decorated newcomer. Stick with greenery and skip the imitation beef and fish. -- EM

Woodland Vegetarian Restaurant, 1080 Oaktree Road, Decatur, 404-321-6005. Larger and brighter than competing self-service Indian restaurants, this newcomer near Market Square Mall specializes in stuffed, topped and sauced pancakes and crepes. An affordable lunch buffet Tues.-Sun. is another good way to jump right in. -- EM


Cha Gio, 132 10th St., 404-885-9387. Solicitous service with reasonably priced, family fare at a little-trafficked eatery in the heart of Midtown. The ideal place for an exit interview, or to feed the cold that hits the week after. Slurp and sup on nourishing chicken broth (the base for Cha Gio's won ton and vegetable soups), steamed summer rolls, and lean sirloin stir fries or Vietnamese crepe omelettes. --KL

Song Long, 4166 Buford Highway, 404-320-9772. Bright star among a galaxy of Asian newcomers in Oriental Mall (the former Outlet Square), this Vietnamese specialist features eager-to-please staffers, budget prices, music videos and an extraordinarily complete menu. Don't miss the cha gio (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) with lettuce and herb leaf wrappers, or the various rice-noodle soups. No credit cards. -- EM u

CBB is Cliff Bostock, EM is Elliott Mackle, SSS is Shelley Skiles Sawyer, SL is Shelley Lawrence, KL is Kate Lueker.


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