southern art in atlanta bbq

You must taste some down home Southern cooking in Atlanta. A visit to the capital of the New South isn’t complete without it.  Seriously. You won’t get as far as the Alabama border before being force-fed grits and doused with sweet tea. So, save yourself from that fate and try out one of these five spots to get authentic Southern cooking in Atlanta. Don’t worry about fitting in. Just start saying “y’all” and “bless her heart” and you’ll be fine.

5 Spots for Authentic Southern Cooking in Atlanta

Zesto Atlanta

Want to know what fast food tasted like in 1955? Visit one of the Zesto restaurants in the metro-Atlanta area. Their menu is a throwback to “Happy Days”. It’s a time when burger joints and shake shacks were both restaurants and social scenes. An Atlanta original, Zesto’s has remained a strong part of the city for the last 65 years.

authentic southern cooking in atlanta at zesto's

Photo credit Zesto’s Atlanta.

Their menu is full of non-diet friendly food, but they have added a terrific turkey burger which goes great with sweet potato fries.  Want a truly original meal? Try the Chubby Decker (two patties, mustard, ketchup, onion, pickle, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and cheese) with a piping side of french fries and a real chocolate malt made the old-fashioned way with real ice cream and malt. So good.

The Varsity

“What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” It’s both a greeting and a question at this Atlanta fast-food institution, The Varsity, which claims to be the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, has been erving Atlantans since 1928, The Varsity has hosted visitors from the White House, along with celebrities and dignitaries from around the world.  And it is as popular now as ever. On a day when nearby Georgia Tech has a home game, the downtown restaurant will serve upwards of 30,000 people! People flock to The Varsity to see the real live “car hops” who may even sing the menu to you and dance their way back to the restaurant.

does the varsity have authentic southern cooking in atlanta

Photo credit The Varsity.

And whether it’s a Heavy Weight (hotdog with extra chili), The Rings (onion rings), a Frosted Orange (frozen orange shake), or maybe just a homemade fried pie, there are sure to be some favorites to keep you coming back. Just be sure to have your “order in your mind”, because The Varsity workers will be barking “what’ll ya have” as soon as you walk in the door.

Southern Art

Tired of fast food? A drive-in not exactly the type of Southern food in Atlanta you’re looking for? Well, then, step right up to where Atlanta’s well-heeled residents get their Southern fix. Southern Art opened in 2012 by Art Smith, better known as the former chef to Oprah Winfrey. The restaurant features his best Southern dishes served in a contemporary and luxe setting within the Intercontinental Hotel Buckhead.

top spots for southern cooking in atlanta


Start your day there with authentic Georgia White Shrimp and Grits, Cornmeal Pancakes with roasted peaches and candied pecans, or Fried Chicken and Waffles. Stop in for lunch for a Southern Art Cheeseburger topped with goat pimento cheese or good old Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Come dinner, indulge in Seared Scallops with a Vidalia onion sauce or Bourbon-Glazed Pork Flank. And you must save room for the famous Twelve-Layer Red Velvet Cake. You may need to loosen your top button. Don’t worry. We won’t tell.

Mary Mac’s Tea Room

This is not the pinky-raising, little-sandwich-eating tea rooms you may have experienced elsewhere. In Atlanta, “tea rooms” were a polite way Post-WWII entrepreneurs elevated their establishments over ordinary restaurants. And Mary Mac’s has been setting the standard for these tea rooms for over 70 years.

try mary mac's tea room for southern cooking in atlanta

Photo credit Mary Mac’s Tea Room.

Every morning, Mary Mac workers shuck bushels of corn, hand-wash collard greens, and snap fresh green beans by hand. They bake their own breads and desserts on their Midtown premises. At Mary Mac’s, “Y’all” is the only proper noun and tea is always sweet. All first-time visitors should request their complimentary cup of homemade pot likker, a ham broth made with turnip greens, uniquely Southern.

Swan Coach House

This is the place to pretend you are a “Lady Who Lunches”. The Swan Coach House serves only lunch, and serves it well, six days a week. The restaurant is set in a historic building which originally functioned as carriage house for the fabled Swan House mansion. It is located on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead and also features an eclectic and elegant gift shop to pick up the perfect truly Southern souvenir.

the swan coach house in atlanta serves authentic southern cooking

Photo credit The Swan Coach House.

The restaurant serves sophisticated Southern cooking along with more traditional favorites, such as cheese straws, their secret-recipe chicken salad, and the very popular frozen fruit salad, a MUST try. Valet parking is available and dressing up as a true Southern lady or gentleman is the norm. This is the place to pull out your hats, vintage dresses, and even white gloves. Lunch at the Swan Coach House is an occasion!

Whether you are visiting Atlanta or you live in the area, these 5 restaurants cover so much fantastic food. Southern cooking in Atlanta is truly spectacular. Eat up!

Where do you enjoy southern cooking in Atlanta?