13 Iconic Restaurants in Atlanta

From Mary Mac's and Nikolai's Roof to The Varsity, Busy Bee Cafe and more, get a taste of Atlanta at one of these iconic restaurants.
  • The Varsity is an Atlanta classic. (📷 James Duckworth, AtlantaPhotos.com)
    The Varsity is an Atlanta classic. (📷 James Duckworth, AtlantaPhotos.com)

Atlanta is a foodie city. We have world-famous chefs who offer a variety of culinary delights-everything from Asian fusion to barbecue. (Learn more about Atlanta's dining scene here.) We also have our longstanding restaurants-iconic ones, really. Over the decades, these restaurants have been the sites where weddings, proposals, graduations and family reunions took place as well as just gathering places for friends to enjoy a great meal.

Here are some of Atlanta’s most iconic restaurants:

1. Mary Mac’s Tea Room

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Now that's a Southern meal. Mary Mac's Tea Room has been serving Southern fare for decades.

For more than 70 years Mary Mac’s has set the standard for Southern cooking in Atlanta. It is the last of the 16 tea rooms that once dotted in-town Atlanta. Not surprisingly, you will find a varied crowd at Mary Mac’s-everyone from politicians and students to church goers and sports figures. On your first visit you get a complimentary cup of pot likker. Other standards are the fried chicken, sweet tea, fried green tomatoes, deep-fried mud bugs and chicken livers.

Where: Midtown, 224 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 30308

2. Nikolai’s Roof

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Located in the Hilton Atlanta, Nikolai’s Roof was one of the first restaurants to introduce sophisticated European dining to the city. When it opened in 1965, Atlantans, for perhaps the first time, experienced such exotic items as piroshki, borscht and foie gras. Nikolai’s Roof also boasts more than 900 wines. The cuisine is overseen by chef Stephanie Alderete.

Where: Downtown, 255 Courtland St., Atlanta, Ga. 30303

3. Pittypat’s Porch

Book and movie lovers know that that when Scarlett O'Hara visited Atlanta, she stayed with her Aunt Pittypat. Today guests can visit Pittypat’s Porch, located Downtown, and enjoy Southern delicacies such as crayfish dip, catfish and peach cobbler.

Where: Downtown, 25 Andrew Young International Blvd., Atlanta, Ga. 30303

4. Polaris

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When Polaris at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta opened its doors in 1967, Atlantans and visitors alike were excited about having a meal in a rotating restaurant. Today, the sentiment remains. The Polaris offers a variety of handcrafted cocktails that celebrate the Golden Age of spirits and libations. It is the only restaurant in Atlanta with its own bee garden where more than 60,000 honey bees buzz about in hives kept under the roof of the Polaris. The honey is used daily in drinks and dishes. The rooftop garden also grows tomatoes, beans, herbs, flowers and other produce.

Where: Downtown, 265 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Ga. 30303

5. Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar and View

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Perched atop the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the rotating restaurant serves brunch as well as lunch and dinner. There is an exquisite dessert and drink menu.

Where: Downtown, 210 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Ga. 30303

6. Paschal’s

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Paschal's earned its place in Civil Rights history. (📷 James Duckworth, AtlantaPhotos.com)

Paschal’s is known as much for its place in civil rights history as its food. James and Robert Paschal opened a 30-seat luncheonette in 1947 but they didn’t have a stove. They cooked the food at Robert’s home and then taxied it to the restaurant. During the 1960s the brothers became active in the civil rights movement, and leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his key strategists as well as the city’s white leadership would meet at Paschal’s to solve the problems of the day.

Where: Downtown, 180 Northside Drive, Atlanta, Ga. 30313

7. The Varsity

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Your ATL visit is incomplete without a visit to the Varsity. (📷 Gene Phillips, AtlantaPhotos.com)

“What’ll ya have?” is the language at the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. The Varsity, across from Georgia Tech in Midtown, has been serving customers since 1928 with its hot dogs (naked dogs), fried pies and onion rings. The restaurant can accommodate 600 cars and more than 800 people. During Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets home football games, more than 30,000 people grab a bite at The Varsity.

Where: Midtown, 61 North Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 30308

8. Silver Skillet

The Silver Skillet has long  been a favorite of Atlantans for a hearty breakfast and an old-fashioned “meat and three.”  But it’s also a favorite of Hollywood. Because of its 1950s' look, the restaurant has been seen in “Traveling Man,” “Remember the Titans" and “I’ll Fly Away” plus many more movies, TV shows and music videos. It’s been featured on the Food Channel's “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives" and, most recently, ”The Chew.”

Where: Westside, 200 14th St., Atlanta, Ga. 30318

9. Busy Bee Cafe

Busy Bee Cafe was started by Lucy Jackson in 1947. Located in the West End of the city, the Busy Bee has daily specials including meatloaf, baked chicken with cornbread dressing, fried chicken and chitlins.

Where: Downtown, 810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Ga. 30314

10. Bones

Bones has been providing the finest service, steak and seafood since 1979, and that’s just one reason why it’s known for its business lunches and dinners. The Buckhead restaurant is frequently found on various lists of best steak houses in the country.

Where: Buckhead, 312 Piedmont Road. Atlanta, Ga. 30305

11. Colonnade Restaurant

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The Colonnade is a long-time favorite for family dinners. Its banana cream pie is delicious.

Atlantans have been dining at the Colonnade Restaurant, located on Cheshire Bridge Road, for decades. And, if they don’t dine in, they carry out some of their favorite foods, such as coconut cream pie, fried chicken and cheese squash casserole. The portions are large and so is the hospitality.

Where: Midtown, 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, Ga. 30324

12. Majestic Diner

Located in the Poncy-Highland area on Ponce de Leon Avenue, the Majestic has been serving “food that pleases” since 1929. Open 24 hours, the diner is a big late-night hit but also serves a “pleasing” breakfast and lunch.

Where: Eastside, 1031 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 30306

13. Manuel’s Tavern

Manuel’s is as much a political and literati hangout as it is a place to dine. The de facto meeting spot for journalists, politicians (mostly left-leaning), neighborhood folks and the literary crowd, Manuel’s is the place to have a beer, talk politics and watch a Braves game. President Carter, whose Carter Center is around the block, used to be a frequent visitor. President Obama visited in 2016.

Where: Eastside, 602 North Highland Ave., Atlanta, Ga. 30307.

What kind of food suits your mood? From bakeries to brunch to barbecue, Atlanta's dining scene is superb.

Journalist Mary Welch writes business and lifestyle stories for national and local publications.

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