Jack Sobel was homesick?and a bit hungry. He'd recently left New Mexico for Atlanta, and often found himself prowling streets lined with pizzerias, taco shacks, and international restaurants, hoping to find the southwestern dishes he'd grown up on. Memories of sweet yellow Navajo corn sauce and fiery chorizo lingered at the forefront of his mind, but most potently missed were the Hatch green chiles so integral to southwestern cooking. So after searching in vain, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Agave Restaurant was born.
Every week, Jack has fresh green and red chiles shipped directly to his open-air kitchen from Hatch, New Mexico. He combines these with locally sourced ingredients to craft contemporary southwestern specialties lauded by media outlets ranging from Creative Loafing to USA Today. Pulling from his years working alongside Mexican and Navajo chefs, he whips up smoky blue-corn chicken enchiladas, tender green-chile meatloaf, and crawfish pasta showered in spicy red-chile cream, all washed down with the specialty margaritas named as some of the finest in the city by CBS Atlanta. The margaritas' secret? Freshly squeezed lime juice and 100 different varieties of tequila.
As Jack and his chefs labor in the kitchen, diners await meals out in the airy bi-level dining room, where colorful paintings, vibrant tapestries, and rustic crosses speckle the sand-colored walls. The restaurant is housed in a historically important building?the original General Store for the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, which once peddled groceries and essentials to shoppers in exchange for pennies and magic beans.
At Big Kahuna, recently named one of the "Best new restaurants of 2013" by Jezebel Magazine, the surf culture of Southern California meets the warm embrace of Southern hospitality. Retro long boards hang from the restaurant's walls, and alfresco dining—with its fresh breezes and sounds of nature—evokes soaking up a sunset from a Malibu beach house. Just as Big Kahuna's ambiance blurs the lines between cultures, so, too, does its menu. Diners can reel in all-natural burgers, steak churrasco, rice bowls with grilled veggies, baja fajitas, and fresh seafood, including ahi tuna, or imbibe beach-inspired cocktails such as surf-tinis and margaritas. Their emphasis on hospitality extends beyond the restaurant, with two hours of validated parking available during lunch and five hours during dinner, allowing guests enough parking time to eat dinner and see a show or game.
Raw, steamed, stewed, fried, grilled, or baked—at Six Feet Under, you can get your seafood prepared exactly how you like it. The raw bar serves up three types of oysters, a perfect prelude to warmer meals of steamed mussels, blackened catfish, or crispy fish and chips. Chefs fully embrace traditional Southern flavors with their oyster po’ boys and fried green tomatoes, and they also dip south of the border to whip up tacos filled with catfish, shrimp, calamari, or chicken.
At Six Feet Under, you can find your big-name standbys—Budweiser, Coors, Miller—but only by the bottle. The restaurant’s roughly two-dozen taps are reserved almost exclusively for local, domestic, and international craft beers, many available by the pitcher. This strikes a nice balance between the beer connoisseurs and the happy-hour crowds, a harmony that extends to the cocktail list's eclectic roster of margaritas, top-shelf martinis, and bawdily named oyster shooters.
Everything on the menu pairs well with views of the twinkling Atlanta skyline, which is visible from the rooftop bars at both locations. The two spots were collectively named some of America’s Best Outdoor Bars by Travel + Leisure magazine. Views of the historic Oakland Cemetery, built in 1850, might sway you towards the original Grand Park location—and clue you in to the origins of the pub’s macabre moniker.
Strings of hot-pepper-shaped lights hang over the bar at Mezcalitos Cocina & Tequila Bar's main location, where they're accented by colorful toy parrots and bullfighting posters. This lively decor helps distract from the lurking menace behind the bar: a housemade 10-pepper tequila known as Devil's Water. Adventurous sorts can gulp it straight as a shot, and more timid diners can take its spicy edge off by blending it with one of the restaurant's other signature tequilas. It's a tradition so popular that Mezcalitos has carried it over to their newly opened Grant Park location, too.
When it comes to the food, everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the hand-rolled tamales to the cilantro-infused rice and mole sauces. Chipotle-cheese grits complement grilled ribeye steak, and oranges and cinnamon add an unexpected sweetness to the slow-cooked red pork mole. Vegetarians and vegans can fill up on tofu tacos or salads piled high with pumpkin seeds, grilled zucchini, and roasted red peppers.
At first, Tin Drum Asia Café's rapid service and bright decor evoke the aromatic street stands of Hong Kong, where founder Steven Chan ate throughout his childhood. The traditional ambiance is no accident—the franchise's name also harks back to a bygone era, when a tin drummer would awaken citizens and regale them with current events as they ate the day’s first meal. The electronic kiosks dotting the café, however, plunk this traditional scene in the middle of a cyberpunk setting. They allow patrons to customize their orders based on taste preferences and nutritional content, accommodating dietary endeavors such as vegetarianism and weight-loss goals.
This merger of technology and urban convention reflects a penchant for edgy ideas that also affects the menu. Items inspired by the culinary techniques of Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand share space in the savory catalog, taking the form of street tacos, soups, and mango chicken, a take on the general tso's staple that's sweeter than a syrup-soaked army helmet. Music is the final ingredient that charges the atmosphere. Nation's Restaurant News reports that it typically plays at an energizing 120 beats per minute and was a factor in attracting the café's initial college crowds.
Loca Luna's chefs populate a menu of small plates embellished with compact Latin cuisine including tacos, tapas, ceviche, and paella. Chefs incorporate Latin ingredients such as plantains and mango into small portions of cold and hot tapas, which allows guests to order a number of small dishes to create a meal with as many permutations as a Choose Your Own Adventure story about a door factory. The lively bar keeps glasses filled until the wee hours, pouring drinks such as Loca Luna's famous original mojito, traditional South American caipirinhas, and a selection of domestic and imported beer.
Drawing loyal customers and celebrities alike, Loca Luna's spacious central dining room transports diners into a verdant, lively jungle setting with vibrant, leafy murals and tropical trees that delicately hang over tables and are known for routinely asking to sample the cuisine. The bar and lounge area serenades guests with live nightly tunes, and the restaurant's picturesque patio is perfect for practicing open-air ingestion. After dinner, customers can head to the dance floor to channel senses of Latin rhythm.