8 restaurants that prove Atlanta is totally underrated

Photo: neeel

Photo: neeel

The first time I went to Atlanta was in July. If you’ve ever been in the city over the summer, you’d know exactly why people refer to it by the charming, misery-evoking name of “Hotlanta.” My game plan was simple – soothe the temperature discomfort by having lots of great food. Check out the 8 spots that completely made my trip a success.

You can check all of these spots out on Matador Network’s travelstoke® app and add them to your own trip planning lists.

1. Southern Art and Bourbon Bar

 Southern Art and Bourbon BarAtlanta, United States70 types of bourbon. You read that right, seventy. How about this fun fact: Art Smith, SABB’s chef, used to work for Oprah for 10 years. Pretty cool, but what I was most impressed by was the battery park cheese melt, the rosemary dijon cornish hen and the twelve layer red velvet cake. (Needless to say, I had to be carried out after eating all this, so make sure you go with someone who won’t leave you sleeping at the table. If they do, just order another burbon upon waking up & repeat.) #southern #fine-dining

2. Desta Ethiopian Kitchen

 Desta Ethiopian KitchenAtlanta, United StatesIf you had asked me what I knew about Ethiopian cuisine before going to Desta, I would have said a big, fat zero. Not that I learned any specifics or anything after the giant plate of lamb fir fir, but I know Ethiopian cuisine is da bomb. Go for a “very brave” KITFO if you wanna do it right. If you’re on the timid side, choose the lamb tips with injera. (The menu has a small dictionary section on the left side, so you can communicate in a far-from-perfect-but-I-tried Ethiopian). #ethiopian

3. ECCO

 ECCOAtlanta, United StatesTrendy spot with delicious European food. As American as I’ve become living in the US for the past 7 years, the continental soul in me slips into automatic bliss as soon as the waiter brings out the duck leg confit and I quickly go into a Cinderella-type nap after a piece of Ecco’s opera cake. Oh, don’t forget – you’ve got to start the whole odyssey with a plate of meats and cheeses to share! #fine-dining

4. Nicola’s Restaurant

 Nicola’s RestaurantAtlanta, United StatesTalk about dinner with a show! Come to Nicola’s on Saturdays between 8pm and 10:30 to see the fabulous belly dancing performance. If you’ve never had Lebanese cuisine before, that’s cool. Order some falafel to start with (obviously!) and grape leaves with yogurt. Chase it with a dancer’s plate (available for vegetarians). If you’re with the fam, go for the family style platter for a no-brainier choice of traditional goodies. #dinnerwithashow #lebanese #cheap-eats

5. Vortex Bar & Grill

 Vortex Bar & GrillAtlanta, United StatesLow-key burger bar with good whiskey. Good music and an excellent option when you crave nachos (holaaaa, borracho nachos!), tater tots (I’ll have 2 orders of the Dixie wrecked taters ASAP pronto, please!) and obviously a good burger. I like the Black & Blue (Cajun all day, baby). If you’re feeling ambitious, order the Zombie Apocalypse. You’ll need lots of napkins and luck for that one. Probably a whiskey, too. #burger #cheap-eats

6. Cooks & Soldiers

 Cooks & SoldiersAtlanta, United StatesBasque cuisine in Atlanta, what-whaat?! Having lived in Spain previously and tasted the original, I can tell you Cooks & Soldiers is goood. The pinxos are an absolute must-have. I ordered the caña klasikoa, barbakoa vaska (beef braised with kalimotxo, I’m sold) and the tortilla de chorizo. For main, I went with the pescado (local fish grilled with mojo rojo and fried garlic). Enjoy! #spanish #fine-dining

7. Ray’s In The City

 Ray’s In the CityAtlanta, United StatesRay’s is a small chain of upscale seafood restaurants. When I was in town for a trade show, I went to Ray’s in the City and enjoyed it thoroughly (like, scraping off the leftovers from my family’s plates, that’s how much). In the summer, there’s a special type of salmon that’s local to the region and the chef prepares in a special recipe. Get it if they have it, it’s worth it. If it’s off season, I recommend starting with the crispy point Judith calamari, followed by either the crispy shrimp and grits or the horseradish encrusted black grouper. Ray’s has different “blue plates” for each day of the week, so check them out as well. #fine-dining #seafood

8. Alma Cocina

 Alma CocinaAtlanta, United StatesGreat Mexican food. The ceviche collection keeps me coming back. My personal favorite is the himachi (jicama, serrano, green onion, celery, sesame, apple aguachile) which I follow with pan roasted scallops. I’m seriously considering booking a flight to Atlanta from Barcelona as I wrote this…tip: #mexican see if seating outdoors is available. #fine-dining

The definitive matchup: Los Angeles versus Seattle

Seattle photo: Tiffany Von Arnim. Los Angeles photo: aepg

Seattle photo: Tiffany Von Arnim. Los Angeles photo: aepg

I’ve had the good fortune and immense pleasure of living in Washington for decades and California for half a decade. As a whole they’re remarkably similar. Both have super varied environments – from deserts to old growth to epic Pacific coastlines. Both have strong traditions of farming, tech, military.

But the distinctions become laughably sharp when we look at their biggest cities, Seattle and Los Angeles. These cities are opposites and awesomely so.

Weather

LA too damn hot and sunny for its own good. This is a blessing, of course, but as the sun beats down and dries out everything under the blazing blue dome of the sky the moisture is sapped from the sparse thirsty soil and creates an evil layer of dust that fornicates with car exhaust and broken dreams to form a ubiquitous black grime that settles on every surface far and wide.

329 days of sunshine is pretty nice though…but eventually you miss weather and the fluffy texture that clouds bring to the sky.

In SEA it doesn’t rain as much as you might think, but it’s overcast and dreary and drizzly and rainy for a solid 5 months a year with periodic lapses of sunshine when the population scurries outside squinting like mole people and try to warm their soggy skin before the grey curtains of clouds close back in.

BUT when late spring rolls around (and it always does my friends, it always does) a green paradise matriculated with swollen rivers and perfect blue bird afternoons emerges from the gloom. The Summer/Fall is in the PNW is epic. All that water that was falling from the sky is now lakes, bays, creeks and trees and oh snap, it’s 80° and the sun doesn’t set until 10pm!

Geography

WA / CA  both have deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, volcanos, coastline and old growth. WA has the distinction of having a rain forest (fitting huh?) and CA is home to Death Valley, the hottest place on earth (134° at Furnace Creek, recorded in 1913). The vastness of LA is hedged by desert, ocean and sun blasted mountains and the small footprint of SEA is hedged by forests, bays and rain drenched mountains. They are opposites.

City

SEA is smaller than you think. LA is bigger than you thought.

SEA’s downtown is a prominent feature of the city, fringing the shore of Elliot Bay.

LA’s downtown is usually viewed from several miles away as a tiny island of high rise buildings obscured by haze and swallowed up by a sea of urban sprawl. Traversing LA is a herculean feat and after an hour or two of driving I feel physically drained and I develop a terrible vampiric jonesing for In-N-Out Burger.

The sheer number of cars on the road piloted by frantic, frustrated, stressed out, tired, high, deranged and delirious drivers is staggering. Try not to dwell on the fact that you are in constant competition with at least a half million people at any time, like a rat running a maze of filthly concrete towards some distant slice of discarded pizza. SEA has a population 1/6th than that of LA and as far as major US cities go it’s actually quite small, and more importantly, it feels small. The neighboring communities make the whole footprint considerably larger but the city of SEA is only 84 sq. miles.

Compare that to LA’s 469 and the city of angeles dwarfs the city of emeralds.

Culture

LA is unlike any place I’ve ever been in that people are flocking here from all corners of the multiverse. LA is a nexus of dreamers and seekers, arriving to make it big or just make a better life. The Latino influence obviously can’t be understated – there is no LA without Mexico and Latino culture. More Spanish is spoken in LA than English, or so I’m told. I’ve lived in Hollywood – West and East – and the culture in this neck of the city is a bit strange but it’s also very cool. I know only living in the Hollywood area limits my experience and understanding of LA considerably but I try to make up for it by exploring the wider city when I can. Ultimately, if feel like if you can handle the heat and the traffic and the trash and the crime and the humans then LA is a pretty awesome place. You just have to find your niche, the neighborhood that you love and can barely afford. There is a surplus of distractions and art and collaborators and schemes, you just have to find yours.

The Pacific Northwest has a distinct vibe… if you’re imagining a Seahawks fan decked out in nauseating neon green and blue 12th man gortex paddling in a kayak next to Orca you’d be pretty close. But if you imagine a hipster millennial slurping a Rainier listening to some OK band in a dive bar or a tech start-up CEO working from a Starbucks, or an University of WA student or a longshore worker lining up at the Union Hall …you get the idea. SEA’s culture is a consequence of nature, history and (more and more),art and tech. Seattle has been generating music and art and rebellion since its early days and nothing has changed. There is a small riot or insurrection every couple of years.

I think the fact that the sun goes to sleep around 4 in the afternoon all winter and it doesn’t matter because it was raining anyways has been a tremendous generator of art and food and culture. In the months when you’re not frolicking in the green splendor of the summer you have to do something. SEA’s is a product of PNW ethos and the psychic and physical pressure of the surrounding environments.

WA and CA share the undeniable West Coast spirit that celebrates relaxation, good vibes, personal freedom and a love for life.

Food

LA perfected the food truck and tacos are what the fuck is up.

SEA is where you go to eat salmon when you’re not in Alaska.

Style

SEA: black, layers, North Face, rain resistant, fashion forward in a dapper or hipster sort of way. It drizzles half of the year and nobody but tourists carry an umbrella.

LA: light, shorts & flip-flops, sun’s out gun’s out, fashion forward…or not. The styles of these cities are predicated on the weather and the culture. LA is either hot or warm. On a sunny day in SEA it could rain three times. The culture in LA is hard to pin down, there is no one culture…it really depends on which corner of the colossal city you’re observing. SEA’s style is easier to conceptualize and seems to fall into several archetypes; the casual PNW native in a flannel or t-shirt and blue jeans, the nature freak decked out in REI, the hipster (skinny jeans, beanie, jean jacket blah blah blah), the 12th man, the business/tech pro, the frumpy yokel, the boho artist, the leftover Occupy protester/panhandler.

If you live in Seattle then according to this asshole your style probably falls into one of these categories.

What pisses me off most

CA – My food while driving through the Central Valley.

WA – Conservative yokels that I went to high school with.

LA – The crazy drivers who want you dead, constant cacophony.

SEA – Rental prices, the Bertha fiasco.

Fave place outdoors

CA – Redwood National Park + Joshua Tree.

WA – Olympic National Park + Mt. Rainier.

LA – Any beach when the surf is good. Topanga State Park.

SEA – Volunteer Park, Burke Gilman bike path

Socializing

In LA it is notoriously difficult to get people to commit and actually attend an event or party. FOMO in a city like LA is constant menace; what if there is a better/cooler/closer party with better music and cooler people and more drugs and, and, and…let me check Waze… fuck! the traffic is terrible! You’ll have 500 people ‘interested’ on your FB event page and 5 show up…You can’t blame people…the thing you were interested in on Wednesday is a cross-city migration against impossible odds and almost certain death on Friday.

In SEA…it may not take an hour and half to cross the city…but people act like it does. That said, people are not nearly as unintentionally flakey as they are in LA. BUT overall, it’s easier to meet people and make friends in LA.

Firstly, there are waaaay more people in LA, so the odds of finding a kindred spirit are high (getting them to drive across town to meet you are however not high). It’s a very social city and people are generally open, if not opportunistically so. I’ve heard SEA can seem to have a cold shoulder, the ‘Seattle Chill’’, I haven’t experience the chill but I’ll concede Seattleites are not as warm as Angelenos and I would chalk it up to weather.