Best new restaurants

Our nine picks for the head of the freshman class

Dozens of restaurants opened in the past year. With 12 months under their belt, which ones are still churning on all gears? In short, what are the best new restaurants in Atlanta?

My fellow dining critics Wyatt Williams and Elizabeth Lenhard and I set out on this project with just one thing in mind: to determine the top new dining options in metro Atlanta. To us, that means a clear concept and strong, consistent execution. There was no requisite number of establishments, despite how convenient it may have been to come up with some nice, round number. Any restaurant — from highbrow to food stall — that opened in the metro area since Feb. 1, 2016, was up for consideration.

The names making the cut are the ones we believe are living up to the bill. There happen to be nine of them. We stand by each and every one.

If you haven’t eaten at these spots, make a point to check them out. Each is unique in its own way. If you have eaten there already, check back in. Every visit continues to be a new and exciting treat for us. We hope it is that way for you, too.

— LIGAYA FIGUERAS

8Arm

“I find it hard to think of two restaurateurs who have broken more of Atlanta’s rules than Angus Brown and Nhan Le.”

That’s probably my favorite line from Wyatt Williams’ December 2016 review of 8Arm. 8Arm is a place unto itself. It’s laughably appropriate that the morning-noon-night spot sits in the shadows of the beheeled Ponce City Market. This restaurant is so comfortable in its skin that it doesn’t seem to worry that the fancy food hall might do it in.

Cold mussels on warm toast with nori butter at 8Arm. Contributed by Henri Hollis

Cold mussels on warm toast with nori butter at 8Arm. Contributed by Henri Hollis

The place had character from the moment doors opened late summer last year. I brought my visiting in-laws to lunch there. Among other things, we ate a funky grain bowl topped with a poached egg as well as avocado and crab toast. The septuagenarians called it “interesting.” They also cleaned their plates.

8Arm has been adding character and pushing boundaries ever since. Until a recent menu change to more springtime fare, it had been serving cold mussels on warm, toasty house-made pain au levain with nori butter, which works, even if that cold-on-hot surprises your mouth.

The dinner menu — all of eight items — ranges from a few salads priced at $9 to a shareable plate of the creamiest burrata with cranberry beans, Vidalia onions and spicy spreadable Italian salami ‘nduja at $14 to a whole branzino at $26 then jumps to the $70 Porterhouse. Who dares to do that?

The burrata at 8ARM with cranberry beans and toast. Contributed by Henri Hollis

The burrata at 8ARM with cranberry beans and toast. Contributed by Henri Hollis

Surprising to the eyes is a wonky-looking steel cargo container welded into an outdoor bar that puts out a handful of nicely made, minimalist cocktails, and pours craft beer, wines and their fortified brethren.

The Atlanta dining scene misses 8Arm chef and co-founder Angus Brown, who passed away in January. Yet it is evident that his business partner, Nhan Le, and the 8Arm staff is pushing on. That includes chef Keith Remes, who handles the dinner load, chef Wilson Gourley, who tackles the morning and lunch rush, and baker Sarah Dodge, whose pastries and breads (the biscuits!) are getting gobbled up by the breakfast and coffee sect.

I dare to call the cuisine coming out of 8Arm “New American,” because the second that we try to label this restaurant, it’s going to change. And right now, I’m pretty content with 8Arm the way it is. Then again, we need places like 8Arm to keep us on our toes.

8Arm, 710 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 470-875-5856, www.8armatl.com.

— LIGAYA FIGUERAS

Whole branzino, carrot, tarragon, lime at 8ARM. Photo by Ligaya Figueras

Brush Sushi Izakaya

This casual sushi destination in downtown Decatur, an open, airy room of brick and glass facing Church Street, stands out because of exactly one presence: At the end of the restaurant’s sushi bar, you’ll find Jason Liang serving omakase to a handful of diners most nights. He’s easy to spot. Liang (photo contributed by Becky Stein) wears a black chef’s coat while the other men working behind the counter wear white. You’ll probably notice a kind of transfixed focus from his customers, whose eyes follow the confident strokes of his knife and the practiced movements of his hands. It is a mesmerizing show.

Brush Sushi Izakaya's Uni Hotate combines sea urchin, scallop and Maruyama nori. Contributed by Becky Stein

Brush Sushi Izakaya's Uni Hotate combines sea urchin, scallop and Maruyama nori. Contributed by Becky Stein

These long, multicourse omakase meals are, it should be said, rather expensive and available only by reservation. Sure, you can eat at the restaurant’s other tables and seats and order from the regular menu. The wide selection of options available are uneven, though they tend toward pretty good. On the other hand, Liang delivers a consistently impressive demonstration of sushi expertise for diners willing to commit and put themselves in his capable hands.

Wagyu and uni toast with quail egg, nori puree, shiso and Jacobsen salt. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Wagyu and uni toast with quail egg, nori puree, shiso and Jacobsen salt. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Invariably, the meal will begin with a handful of otsumami, the Japanese equivalent of amuse-bouche, arranged in a precious menagerie of artful ceramic dishes. This may include the delicately warmed monkfish liver or a taste of torigai, the highly seasonal Japanese clam, in a cucumber salad. What follows is an elaborate meal, each single bite of fish as carefully crafted as the last.

Brush Sushi Izakaya, 316 Church St., Decatur. 678-949-9412, brushatl.com.

— WYATT WILLIAMS

Yakatori assortment at Brush Sushi Izakaya. Contributed by Becky Stein

Chicken + Beer

Just as the name implies, the concept here is pretty much chicken and beer. They do both very well. What’s more, they serve up Southern-style comfort in the world’s busiest airport, which means the staff at Chicken + Beer contends with a time-pressed, oft weary, clientele. They manage that nicely, too.

Atlanta rapper and restaurateur Ludacris (left) with Chicken + Beer executive chef Andrew Tabb. Ludacris opened the restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson airport last fall. Contributed by Chucky Kahng

Atlanta rapper and restaurateur Ludacris (left) with Chicken + Beer executive chef Andrew Tabb. Ludacris opened the restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson airport last fall. Contributed by Chucky Kahng

Musical artist Ludacris had this concept in the works for some time. It finally launched late last fall. With the kitchen under the helm of Andrew Tabb in his first executive chef position, Chicken + Beer is turning out phenom poultry dishes. The kitchen goes through 1,400 pounds of chicken a week to dish out wings with hot sauce, a plane-portable C+B Fried Chicken Sandwich (choose the spicy Hotlanta sauce), a chicken “patty melt” flavored with collard greens pesto, and hefty plates like Luda’s Chicken + Pecan Waffles or the signature two-piece Southern Fried Chicken Plate that comes with a biscuit swiped with molasses butter and a couple of sides. (Do yourself a favor and make one of those the flavorful, colorful succotash that swaps edamame for the usual lima beans.)

The two-piece Southern Fried Chicken with a molasses biscuit, and sides of corn edamame succotash and cheddar cheese grits. Contributed by Chucky Kahng

The two-piece Southern Fried Chicken with a molasses biscuit, and sides of corn edamame succotash and cheddar cheese grits. Contributed by Chucky Kahng

The beverage menu is thoughtful, too. There is a long list of beers — mainly from here, and even a flight that brings four Georgia brews for $8 — plus a cocktail menu crafted by Atlanta cocktail king Jerry Slater. You need a Manhattan? They’ve got you with this number, served up in a fancy coupe no less, that starts with High West Double Rye whiskey.

Chicken + Beer's Manhattan cocktail. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Chicken + Beer's Manhattan cocktail. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Yet none of it would work in the casual, 90-seat haunt without a staff that can set air travelers at ease, feed gullets and get ’em to the gate on time. That’s old hat for Tabb; he clocked in for years at Hartsfield-Jackson fine dining venue One Flew South. And his line cooks are filling food tickets in six to eight minutes. This, in a scratch kitchen.

Get thee to Concourse D.

Chicken + Beer, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (near Gate D5), 6000 N. Terminal Parkway, Atlanta. 404-209-3905, ChickenandBeer.com.

— LIGAYA FIGUERAS

A plate of Luda's Chicken + Pecan Waffles with whiskey maple syrup, spinach and chicken sausage from Chicken + Beer. Contributed by Chucky Kahng

The Consulate

A trip to the Consulate is just that — a trip. I’m not just talking about the often dazzling, small-plate menu that globe-trots from Thailand to Ireland; from Denmark to Brazil.

It’s the Consulate’s whole, impossibly chic package that’s so wonderfully dizzying. You take your tasty “reconstructed” cocktail into a fabulously appointed midcentury lounge. You excuse yourself and find the powder room filled with (faux) machine guns. You dine in a violet, velvet clamshell of a booth. And finally, your suave server might, as ours did, know just when to bring your check and coats because he knows you have another “engagement” to get to.

Before you know it, you’re glowing like Don Draper’s newest girlfriend.

Don’t get me wrong. Like all international travel, the ride at the Consulate can have some bumps. The last time I went, the kitchen was between executive chefs. (Tara Mayfield has since been replaced by co-owner Mei Lin.)

The Consulate owners Mei Lin and Doug Hines.Photos by Mia Yakel

The Consulate owners Mei Lin and Doug Hines.Photos by Mia Yakel

Some dishes that night were first-class, like the poppy, savory Dry Sautéed Thai Okra. Others, particularly a clunky parfait of brownie chunks, Nutella globs and chocolate mousse, were pure puddle jumper, albeit the sort that Harrison Ford would rock in a fedora and whip.

A once-sawdusty trio of chicken coxinhas had been vastly improved by the addition of curry. But a Korean Pulled Duck Confit, a dish that’s usually a textural delight with its pillowy butternut squash, crunchy scallions and chewy crostini, was destroyed by funky duck.

 Octopus alla Griglia with mango sweet chilli sauce.

 Octopus alla Griglia with mango sweet chilli sauce.

The moral here is this: With adventure comes risk. A grilled octopus tentacle, for instance, is deliciously smoky and tender while its mango chili sauce is overpoweringly jammy. The dish is flawed but it’s still a lot of fun, especially when paired with the Consulate’s swingy music, its cinematic design, its swank bar and passionately impeccable service.

In other words, a little culinary turbulence doesn’t take the dazzle out of this restaurant’s journey.

The Consulate, 10 10th St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-835-2009, theconsulateatlanta-com.godaddysites.com.

— ELIZABETH LENHARD

A trio of cocktails from the Consulate: Casino Royale (from left), Dr. No, and Soy 65 cocktails. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar

The bourbon-cured salmon appetizer. The fresh fish preparations. The cocktail program, starting with the rum-laden house punch. All of these are as good now as when Drift opened a little over a year ago.

Bourbon Cured Salmon at Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar, with benne seed crackers, apple, jalapeño cream.  Contributed by Becky Stein

Bourbon Cured Salmon at Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar, with benne seed crackers, apple, jalapeño cream. Contributed by Becky Stein

What’s more, the raw side of things has improved, with oysters tasting fresher and better chilled. There are interesting seafood additions worth checking out, too, like a side of crab fried rice topped with a fried egg.

Chef-restaurateur Doug Turbush (photo by Jason Getz) and his team could have easily let down their guard, what with Drift now being Turbush’s third concept after Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar. That’s not the case. Bartenders are in constant motion to keep thirsty folks satiated at the packed bar even on weeknights, and the waitstaff deftly handles a full house on weekends.

Brunch cocktails from Drift Fish House. Contribued by Drift Fish House

Brunch cocktails from Drift Fish House. Contribued by Drift Fish House

Drift remains a worthy place, not just for residents of east Cobb, but for anyone in metro Atlanta in search of a destination for quality fish and seafood, capably served from start to finish by a staff that makes you feel that they genuinely appreciate your business.

Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar, 4475 Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-635-7641, driftoysterbar.com.

— LIGAYA FIGUERAS

Wood Roasted Oysters with anchovy garlic butter, breadcrumbs, parmesan, lemon. Contributed by Becky Stein

The Federal

The return of chefs Shaun Doty (photo by Jenni Girtman) and Lance Gummere to the kitchen is some of best unexpected restaurant news of the past year. After establishing their chain of rotisserie chicken restaurants, Bantam & Biddy, these two seasoned veterans of fine dining turned back to their roots and renovated a Midtown location into an alluring destination.

This Euro-centric bistro, the Federal, is a dim, romantic place. At the long, wooden bar, lit by candles and hanging bulbs, you’ll be treated well by a glass from the impressive but short wine list or a Southern 75, a subtle variation on the classic French 75. Dark walls are offset by linen-covered tables. Sharply dressed servers deliver plates from a menu structured around time-tested classics.

The Federal's Belgian-style beef tartare with fries. Contributed by Mia Yakel

The Federal's Belgian-style beef tartare with fries. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Beef tartare and fries arrive on a wooden dish with a light pile of chopped endive. A small bowl of French onion soup packs a big, beefy depth of oxtail broth, with a broiled Gruyere and crouton top that push the limits of gooey, rich decadence.

 Pork schnitzel at The Federal. Contributed by Jenni Girtman

 Pork schnitzel at The Federal. Contributed by Jenni Girtman

On the lighter side, there is a paper-thin Sardinian flatbread piled with light salad greens and shaved cheddar. The whole thing could blow away in a breeze. In general, though, this is a menu of rich, buttery, finely honed comfort foods. Order the pork schnitzel, a plate-sized, pounded-thin, golden-brown pork monument topped with a bright parsley salad. Doty has been serving that dish for years. Let’s hope he keeps serving it for years to come.

The Federal, 1050 Crescent Ave., Atlanta. 404-343-3857, thefederalatl.com.

— WYATT WILLIAMS

The Federal's Oxtail French onion soup with cave-aged gruyere cheese. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Richards’ Southern Fried

If you go to Richards’ Southern Fried more than once — and I highly recommend that you do — you’ll probably be struck by the extreme consistency of the food. Every perfect piece of fried chicken has the same delicate crunch, the same saltily, succulently brined meat, and, if you choose to go hot, the same evenhanded dousing of complexly burnished house-made hot sauce.

My favorite side, the Collard Green “Pho,” is also a mirror image of the one that came before it, with pungently complex broth populated by even rationings of tea-colored egg slices, pepper-edged bacon chunks, flavorful chicken bits and the most delicate collard leaves.

The Collard Green "Pho" is murky, earthy and the most remarkable item on Richards' brief menu. Contributed by Todd Richards

The Collard Green "Pho" is murky, earthy and the most remarkable item on Richards' brief menu. Contributed by Todd Richards

And just as always, the vinegar crunch of chow chow is beautifully paired with the creamy punch of pimento cheese on the chicken sandwich — in which the fried breast is deeply brown and the super-crunchy edges have curled and contracted in the hot oil.

Even one of the rare Richards’ items I don’t care for — a Brussels sprout slaw side — is exactly as I remember it. Its butter-colored dressing is still two notches too sweet.

“The man is a machine!” I mused of chef Todd Richards (photo contributed by Becky Stein) during my recent re-visit to his Krog Street Market stand.

Except, of course, he’s exactly the opposite of a robot. Clearly, Richards is exacting and has a finely honed kitchen staff. But what makes his food magic is one part perfect performance and two parts passion.

In every bite of his fried birds and catfish, his finely balanced pickles, his pillowy, collard-flecked waffles and his murky, mysterious “pho,” you can taste this chef’s inspiration. His God-is-in-the-details hard work. His reverence for precisely correct and high-quality ingredients. His respect, no doubt, for a skillet that’s been seasoned for years.

Richards' catfish sandwich is minimally dressed with lettuce and chow chow. Contributed by Todd Richards

Richards' catfish sandwich is minimally dressed with lettuce and chow chow. Contributed by Todd Richards

You can taste his history and you can taste his personality.

And you’ll taste it every beautifully executed time you eat at Richard’s Southern Fried.

Richards’ Southern Fried, 99 Krog St. N.E., Atlanta (Krog Street Market). 678-732-9594, richardssouthernfried.com.

— ELIZABETH LENHARD

Richards' is a hot chicken stand, but you can get exquisite, non-hot chicken on a collard-flecked waffle. Contributed by Todd Richards

Spring

Don’t be fooled by the name of this Marietta restaurant. Spring is a restaurant for every season, even if eating there this spring is a particularly good idea.

Chef Brian So serves a very short menu that changes to the season’s produce. On any given night, don’t expect more than four options for appetizers or four options for an entree. By design, that means you’ll have a hard time finding anything on the menu not worth ordering.

Brian So. Contributed by Claire Collar

Brian So. Contributed by Claire Collar

Last fall, that meant your meal could start with a salad of local apples, Belgian endive, walnuts and a bright scattering of pomegranate seeds. But this spring, you shouldn’t miss the chilled bowl of sugar snap pea soup, which is served with a cloud of airy, whipped goat cheese, a swirl of Georgia olive oil and a note of mint.

An apple and belgian endive salad is sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Contributed by Spring

An apple and belgian endive salad is sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Contributed by Spring

The impressive chicken liver pate on brioche toast with jam and pickled mustard seeds, (photo by Heidi Geldhauser) on the other hand, has stayed on the menu across seasons for good reason. It is a treat not to be missed.

The subtle but precise qualities of So’s cooking and ingredients is matched well by this room, an old brick depot so close to the train tracks that your wineglass may rattle when one passes by. On the tables, cut flowers make an impression, as does a wine list that is as short and impressively curated as the menu.

Spring, 90 Marietta Station Walk, Marietta. 678-540-2777, springmarietta.com.

— WYATT WILLIAMS

Sunchoke risotto is plated with a cornucopia of roasted, sauteed and fresh seasonal vegetables. Contributed by Spring

Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante

This basement Buckhead gem captures the spirit of a dreamy, Italian market restaurant(photo contributed by Chris Hunt). Much of the floor is devoted to a large open kitchen, where fresh-cut strands of tagliatelle, rich sugos, bright pestos, and charming ricotta-stuffed pastas are made for retail customers every day. On the other side of their treasure-packed cold cases, simple tables and a short bar offer a place to sit down and be served the best of the kitchen’s wares.

This is a welcome development. For years, owner Michael Patrick only sold his pastas retail and wholesale, meaning you needed to go somewhere else to taste his exemplary touch. Now that Storico has expanded into this Peachtree Road location, there’s a good reason to stay awhile.

Storico Fresco founder Mike Patrick. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Storico Fresco founder Mike Patrick. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Simple salads, like a plate of mixed greens topped with speck, or clever antipasti, including a recent, lovely fried semolina pocket stuffed with smoked cheese, are fine places to start, but pasta is the real main event here.

You’ll want to try the lovely pi fasacc, little envelopes of pasta stuffed with ricotta and Grana Padano, tossed with sage-kissed brown butter and spinach. A plate of passatelli noodles, made from breadcrumbs and Parmesan, pair up nicely with littleneck clams.

Storico Fresco's  Lasagna. Contributed by Chris Hunt

Storico Fresco's  Lasagna. Contributed by Chris Hunt

The kitchen offers some heavy indulgences, too. A boat of lasagna arrives steaming and swimming in a Bolognese of beef, veal and pork. A towering slice of timballo, a crisp pasta pie packed with meatballs and tortelloni, would be almost too heavy if it weren’t paired with such a bright, lively pomodoro. With a glass of Barolo, you’ll be halfway to Italy.

Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante, 3167 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-500-2181, storicofresco.com.

— WYATT WILLIAMS

Storico Fresco's timballo, a baked pie filled with pasta, cheese, meat and vegetables. Contributed by Amanda Kiza