7 Places Health Fanatics Need to Try in Atlanta
Every time I go to Atlanta, I can’t help but think it’s a baby Los Angeles. Terrible traffic—even Sunday mornings—sprawling layout with no discernible center, and strip malls galore. The differences (yes, there are many) don’t quite work in Atlanta’s favor: LA has the beach, heavenly weather, and one of the most health-forward food scenes in the world. As Joy the Baker remarked of her hometown years ago, “We don’t meet for soy lattes anymore, we meet for spin class and expensive bottled juices. It feels equal parts obnoxious and healthful.”
Atlanta has foothills, kill-your-hair humidity, and a fetish for fried food. In short, it’s not the ideal destination if you’re even a slight health nut.
So what, if any, redeeming qualities does ATL have to offer a healthy-food lover? More than you might imagine. Urban sprawl is a pain in terms of getting from one side of the city to the other, but it also fosters strong neighborhood identities. Just as LA has the Hills, Hollywood, Venice, and Bel-Air, Atlanta has Midtown, Decatur, Buckhead, Kirkwood, and a dozen other boroughs that are forging unique identities—and collecting their own assortment of better-for-you eateries.
Don’t get me wrong: As a southerner, I have a reverence for biscuits, barbecue (vinegar only, please), fatback-simmered collards, and banana pudding. Plus, Southern cuisine has thankfully been swept up in the foodie renaissance. Chefs like Mashama Bailey of Savannah’s The Grey, Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, and Atlanta’s very own Linton Hopkins are breaking the fried-drumstick-and-gravy mold with outlandish flair. Sweetbreads with truffle batons, anyone?
I will not pretend to be an expert on anything Atlanta, but during my half a dozen visits in so many years, a few concepts have stood out, whether it’s for their quality, inventiveness, or blissful inclusion of salads on the menu.
Make your sojourn to Bojangles’ and Cook Out (my California-transplanted friend cried tears of joy when she opened her Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits Box), but then check out these spots when you’ve reached fried-food capacity.
This sandwich shop has all the trappings of an upscale diner meets biker bar. Bright young things with artsy tattoos tend the counter and ample bar—the drink menu gets as much real estate as the food. The sandwiches are fun-size (hence the $4—$5 price point) and should be paired with a snack, salad, or side. Go for the Hambo (prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, apple, and reduced balsamic vinegar) with a side of Root Bear Baked Beans. Just be warned: Unlike the sandwiches, the homemade popcorn is not a petite portion.
Decatur claims the very first location of this better-burger chain that was ahead of many in the fast casual 2.0 arena. It’s long-bench seating, so prepare to cozy up to your neighbor and ogle at their meals. My friends opted for grass-fed beef burgers with pimento cheese and onion rings, as well as add-ons of bone marrow and oxtail marmalade. Or you could be like me and go for a Superfood kale salad topped with a chicken patty and still have room for dessert. [Look for Farm Burger in QSR’s Ones to Watch column in May.]
French cuisine and Southern food have something in common. They both love butter and heavy animal proteins. The “Little Market,” keeps things on the lighter side but with no shortage of flavor. Inspired by a trip to France, founder Marchet Sparks opened Le Petit Marché in 2008 just as the recession was rearing its ugly head. The quaint counter-service restaurant survived—and even thrived—with a breakfast and lunch menu served all day, everyday. It has house-made wild salmon croquettes for the healthy-ish and a French toast sandwich for the rest.
Yes, there are vegans in Atlanta, and they have nothing but love for this sandwich-and-sweets spot. Skip the savories and even the baked goods, and instead go for the raw “cheesecake.” Bright layers of kiwi, passionfruit, and berries rest on a nutty crust. It’s got all the fluffiness of bona-fide cheesecake but without the heft. It’s gluten, dairy, and added sugar–free, meaning there’s no guilt in having real ice cream later on …
Ice cream rolled into little batons, topped with mochi, and stuffed into a cup? Shut the front door. This Thai take on ice cream is making the rounds in New York City, but I-CE-NY opened an Atlanta outpost last August in Doraville, an area filled with unassuming—but decidedly authentic—international restaurants. You can play it safe with Cookie Spree (vanilla ice cream, brownie, Oreo, and chocolate sauce), but I recommend the Matcha Mania with green tea ice cream, Oreo, mocha, red bean paste, and sweetened condensed milk.
Tucked away in an unremarkable strip mall in Duluth, Jeju Sauna is a dream detox-destination. Based on traditional Korean spas, the center boasts nine saunas (from the shiny Gold & Silver room to the mosaic Jewel hut) for sweating out any overindulgence. The cherry on top is Jeju’s food court–style restaurant serving up restorative Korean soups, bibimbap, bowls, and more. It even garnered a visit from none other than Andrew Zimmern.
Buckhead is sort of the Beverly Hills of Atlanta so it’s no surprise that this health-first concept would find itself a welcome addition. The brainchild of restaurateur Sam Fox and holistic health guru Andrew Weil has no shortage of vegetables, from kale guacamole and charred cauliflower with harissa tahini to spaghetti squash casserole and teriyaki quinoa, but grass-fed steak, albacore, and poultry do make appearances. The most swoon-worthy part? The beverage menu. Go for the Matcha Horchata and the Health-Ade Kombucha.
Nicole Duncan is the senior editor of Food News Media. She has mixed feelings about Atlanta but loves its matcha ice cream. Contact her at Nicole@foodnewsmedia.com.