Before Southern cities like Richmond, Charleston, and Nashville blossomed into culinary strongholds, there was Atlanta, with its alluring mix of upscale Buckhead steakhouses and cozy, chef-owned joints in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Inman Park and Little Five Points.

With pioneering restaurateurs including Kevin Rathbun and Bob Amick laying the foundation for a vibrant, sophisticated dining culture, Atlanta has plunged ahead, forging a contemporary blend of Southern cuisine and bold ethnic touches. Often in the shadow of these stylish restaurants cranking out the likes of pickled shrimp and corned pork tongue, is Buford Highway, teeming with authentic Asian specialties. Gems, of course, are also found in the city’s vast network of suburbs.

It’s no surprise, then, that when chefs are off-duty, these are the locales you are most likely to find them at. From salt-steamed food court chicken to a hefty pork banh mi, eight of Atlanta’s finest toques find comfort in these favorite away-from-the-fray establishments.

Ford Fry

Chef/Owner, Jct. Kitchen, No. 246, the Optimist, King + Duke, St. Cecilia, Superica, and the El Felix


Favorite under-the-radar spot: El Rey Del Taco (5288 Buford Highway NE, Doraville, 770-986-0032,

Fry says: “It’s a true Mexican taqueria—messy, greasy (pork fat!), fresh-made corn tortillas. I stick with trying all kinds of tacos, but I crave the carnitas.” (Photos: Emily Schultz, Robert T./Yelp)

Angus Brown

Chef/Co-Owner, Lusca and Octopus Bar


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Big Wong BBQ (5495 Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross, 770-582-6800,

Brown says: “Big Wong is in a small food court in the HongKong Market. It’s unassuming, one of those places that you might overlook if you don’t give it a shot. You will be happy if you do. It has a small menu, but everything is so good and different that it’s sometimes hard to order. The soy sauce chicken and roast duck are always on point, as well as the roasted whole pig and roasted pork loin. My favorite order, though, is the ga di bo, one of the best dishes in the city. They take a whole, high-quality chicken and salt and steam it with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, lime leaves, and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The chicken has a ton of flavor and is perfectly tender. You have to order it whole, but the butcher will cut the bird into manageable pieces. No matter what you order, they always give you a small bowl of pork broth with cilantro and ginger.” (Photos: Sarah Dodge, Tony N./Yelp)

Steven Satterfield

Chef/Co-Owner, Miller Union


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Little’s Food Store (198 Carroll Street SE, 404-963-7012,

Satterfield says: “It’s close to the restaurant in a great little market. Why I go is directly tied to what I order there: the grass-fed burger. It’s delicious and one of, if not Atlanta’s best.” (Photos: Miller Union, Benjamin G./Yelp)

Kevin Gillespie

Chef/Owner, Gunshow


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Quoc Huong Banh Mi Fast Food (5150 Buford Highway NE, Doraville, 770-936-0605)

Gillespie says: “The food is extremely good. I’m actually convinced I’m in Vietnam for a short time. You have to get the BBQ pork banh mi. It’s cheaper the more you get—it might even be free if you order enough.” (Photo: Hue T./Yelp)

Linton Hopkins

Executive Chef/Owner Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch Public House, H&F Bread Co., and H&F Bottle Shop


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Busy Bee Café (810 M.L.K. Jr. Drive NW, 404-525-9212,

Hopkins says: “It’s run by the nicest people, and you can see the pride they take in their food and every aspect of the business. They deliver great hospitality—even guests waiting in line are happy—making it a pleasant place to be. Order the fried chicken and cornbread dressing. The dressing hits all the right buttons. It’s rich, flavorful, and moist, almost like a spoonbread. It’s so good.” (Photo: Paul T./Yelp)

Robert Phalen

Chef/Owner, One Eared Stag


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Local (758 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE, 404-873-5002)

Phalen says: “There is a cool crowd and specials on weekdays—on Monday there is karaoke and cheap drinks—which is basically my weekend. It has mouthwatering hot dogs and the tater tots are to die for.” (Photo: Ivan S./Yelp)

Landon Thompson

Executive Chef, Cooks & Soldiers


Favorite under-the-radar spot: We Suki Suki (479-B Flat Shoals Avenue SE, 404-430-7613)

Thompson says: “The owner, Q, is wonderfully quirky and engaging. We always have great and extremely random conversations. If I’m able to dine in (tough with this lifestyle), I definitely order the pho. I think it ranks among the top in Atlanta, with the quality of beef—something often overlooked—reigning supreme for its deep steak flavor and tenderness. If I can’t hang around, though, I always grab (sometimes multiple) a banh mi. The dac biet and grilled BBQ pork versions are top-notch and very traditional examples of one of the world’s foremost sandwiches. Freaking yum.” (Photos: Heidi Geldhauser, Karla P./Yelp)

Zach Meloy

Chef/Co-Owner, Better Half


Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Carreta (1252 Roswell Road, Marietta, 770-579-2963,

Meloy says: “I love this place because it’s the closest you can get to a Costa Rican Sunday dinner. It’s packed on the weekends, filled with Latin families having late lunch together. They offer a bunch of Mexican options, but I always stick to the Colombian choices: ajiaco, the famous chicken soup, served with rice, capers, and sour cream, is amazing.” (Photo: Nikki G./Yelp)