Word of Mouth 

Our critics' guide to Atlanta restaurants


Alon's , 1394 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-6000. The bakery/gourmet grocery carries fresh baked goods and a number of prepared foods, which are mainly Mediterranean in nature. The shop's selection of fresh breads, pastry desserts and tasty sandwiches steals the show, but as far as prepared foods go, the cous cous is outstanding. -- SL

American Roadhouse, 842 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-2822. With a dozen years in business, and the owners working shifts, this moderately priced intown independent gets most things right. Nightly specials, kids-eat-free promotions and a six-page diner menu draw families, neighborhood artists and business-lunch types who spread out their catalogs and sales charts. They happily chow down on oversize sandwiches (cheeseburgers, catfish), blue plates (roast turkey, meatloaf, veggies) and kicky brunch combos (turkey-club omelet; red-white-and-blue waffles topped with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries). Wine and beer. --EM..

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


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