Athens, Georgia is the greatest college town on the planet.
The Classic City has everything.
Obviously, it’s near the UGA campus, home of the 2021 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs (how ’bout them Dawgs?)
It has two of the most respected breweries in the southeast: Creature Comforts and Terrapin Beer.
It also has an impeccable music scene, boasting iconic bands such as REM, The B-52s, Widespread Panic, Futurebirds, and literally hundreds of others as well as killer venues like the Georgia Theater (or just “The Theater”), 40 Watt, and countless smaller gig spots.
And let’s not forget the dozens of bars where you can experience everything from a quiet afternoon sipping on beer to a hazy night where you had one too many O-bombs.
But what separates Athens from so many other college towns is its unbelievable food scene. The restaurants run the gamut from cheap pizza to decadent desserts, so no matter what you’re craving, you’ll undoubtedly find something that will hit the spot.
Here are just a few of the finest restaurants in Athens near the UGA campus.
(Note: the hardest part of putting this list together is that, if I were truly listing my favorite restaurants in Athens, I would have included dozens of additional places. I’m sure I left off several of your favorite places and I’m fully expecting to get berated for each one, but please keep in mind that this list is a living and breathing document and I plan to continue adding to and refining it over time. Go Dawgs!)
Mama’s Boy is hands down the most popular and Instagrammed brunch spot in Athens. For most returning alumni, it’s likely on their shortlist of places to hit on their weekend visit.
My favorite dish is hands-down the Pulled Pork Bowl: hash or cheese grits topped with pulled pork, two poached eggs, and Carolina Fire BBQ sauce. It’s smokey and oozy and the biscuit on the side is a handy vessel for sopping up any and all remnants.
The cinnamon bun is approximately the size of UGA mascot Uga X and you’ll want to eat every bite. Plus, chicken biscuits are a southern staple and the one at Mama’s Boy more than satisfies.
There’s usually a pretty long wait, but it’ll just make your chicken biscuit or french toast taste that much better.
It’s a common stance that Mama’s Boy is the best place to spend your mornings in Athens. But let’s get a little bold.
Mayflower is a family-owned diner that has been “putting the south in your mouth since 1948.” It’s situated right across from the arch on the north end of campus so if you’re downtown, there’s no better location.
Everything on the menu is basic yet delicious: the bacon, the biscuits, and the cheesy grits are standout items. But if you can’t make up your mind (and how could you with these amazing options?) get their version of the Waffle House All Star Special. The Country Boy Special comes with two eggs, grits, bacon or sausage, and three pancakes (or hot cakes as they call them). It’s only $7 so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better bang for your buck.
Bear in mind that it’s cash only. Luckily, every major bank has an ATM a block or two away so you can stock up in advance of your feast.
This right here might be the most beloved restaurant in Athens.
This authentic Latin kitchen is a hit with broke college kids and celebrating families alike. The food is no-frills and delightfully fresh and unique. The quesadillas, burritos, and fish tacos are all great, but in my opinion, you have to get the Cuban sandwich. It’s only 6 bucks and really can’t be beat. I get it with chicken but you can’t go wrong with any of the meat options. Again, it’s only six bucks so why not throw on a side of fries or the fried sweet plantains (maduros)?
There’s a location on Lumpkin Street right near the UGA campus, which is cash only, and another over on the East Side that accepts credit cards. With kids riding tricycles and eccentric music acts, it always feels like an amusement park in there.
This retro diner in the heart of downtown Athens slings some of the best burgers in town.
My personal favorite is the peanut butter and bacon burger (trust me, it’s better than it sounds), but you can get all kinds of other cool ones, such as the Bacon Jam Burger topped with bacon jam, gouda, LTO, and garlic-dijon sauce or the Ring of Fire with cheddar, LTO, fresh jalapenos, and chipotle sauce. You can also always opt for the classics like a good ol’ bacon cheeseburger.
And no matter what you get, make sure you order a side of fries, Cajun tots, or beer-battered onion rings.
It’s 2:00 AM. The bars are closing, the lights have shot on, and suddenly the trajectory of your night has shifted. You walk out and a captivating scent strikes your nostrils…like Toucan Sam, you follow your nose until you’re face to face with the striking neon sign: Little Italy.
Little Italy is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s located right where the UGA campus meets downtown, the staff is surly, and the pizza is absolutely killer. The classic order is two slices: one thick-crust, one thin with a pitcher while you wait (your order can take anywhere from five minutes to 50).
While there may be about a dozen locations across Georgia and South Carolina, Amici is a cornerstone of the downtown Athens food scene.
Wing Wednesdays were the highlight of my time in college. We’d get 12 of their crispy and juicy wings (XX Hot with honey and garlic, of course) and split a few pitchers of Bud Light or Bud Heavy if we were feeling wild.
If you’re not a wing fan (and I offer you all the pity in the world), their buffalo chicken sub is immaculate. They also have a huge list of pizza options, which you can either pick from or put on your artisan hat and build your own.
The best Mexican restaurants always appear the most unassuming. Tlaloc may not look like much, but their food is absolutely awe–inspiring. In addition to the classic Mexican cuisine, they also prepare Salvadoran dishes, like pupusas, which you can get with all kinds of fillings like beans, pork, and zucchini.
While it’s always nice to try something new, it’s hard to beat their takes on your favorite Mexican food: tortas, fajitas, parrilladas, and, of course, the combinations. Can’t decide between a pupusa and a chimichanga? Two words: Combo 4.
Note: I was a college student during the entirety of my time in Athens, GA so I rarely ate at these types of places. I refer to them as “parent restaurants” for when your family would come to town and could front the bill. If you’re visiting Athens, hopefully you have a little more cash than I did at the time.
It’s hard to find a more charming restaurant than an upscale southern spot in a restored house. Enter Five and Ten. Located among the fraternity and sorority houses on Milledge Avenue, the only thing more comforting than their rustic decor is their soul-nourishing Southern dinner.
Get right into the spirit with their pimento cheese topped with bacon marmalade, or maybe the vidalia onion tart with gruyere. All of the entrees are top-notch, but look no further than the pork chop, pasta bolognese, or grilled trout. And pro tip: get an order of cast iron cornbread for the table.
Next up in the “restaurants with five in their name” series is Five Bar. Is there anything more stressful than opening up a menu and having to scan through pages and pages of options?
Five Bar’s got the solution for you, offering only five appetizers and five entrees (hence the name) and one dessert, a true demonstration of quality over quantity. The menu changes throughout the year, but the double cheeseburger with bacon relish is a classic, as well as the Uptown Shrimp appetizer with sweet and spicy Asian slaw. No matter what the dessert is (though as of this being written, it’s white chocolate bread pudding) it’s worth getting.
Of all the “parent restaurants” located downtown, this is probably the most common one people turn to. Last Resort calls their food southwestern-inspired, but it’s hard to truly describe one of Athens’ hottest restaurants.
Whether it’s weekend brunch or dinner all week, you’re going to be drooling from the time you walk in until you finish licking the remnants from your plate. The crab cakes and fried green tomatoes with vidalia bacon dressing are phenomenal appetizers and the entrees, like the short rib or 6-hour-marinated pork shoulder, simply don’t miss. While the savory dishes are incredible, the real stars are the cakes from Cecelia’s Cake Shop. Even if Last Resort isn’t your dinner plan, make sure you swing by afterward for an enormous slice of cake.
As you can see, Athens has myriad Southern restaurants, but The National incorporates that Southern cuisine into Mediterranean food. The menu is constantly changing to maximize the quality of your dish. An added benefit of this style of food is that it’s healthy, so you can stretch your horizons without stretching your waistline (not proud of that one).
One of the current stars of the menu is the Vegetable Plate: zucchini fritters, glazed baby carrots, fava beans, seared asparagus, and spring pea risotto (currently, but it may be different when you go) . Who needs meat when you have all that going on? In case you are feeling carnivorous, check out the Grilled Hanger Steak with roasted mushrooms and cauliflower or the Grilled House Lamb Sausage.
Also make sure to take advantage of the restaurant’s proximity to the premier brewery of Athens, Creature Comforts, and have your meal delivered right to you while you sip your Tropicalia.
As you’re walking down Hull Street, you may happen upon an intriguing and welcoming big red sign, saying “This is it!” Trust your instincts and walk right in because The World Famous truly is “it”.
I’ve said time and time again that there is no cuisine better than well-made bar food and The World Famous validates my hypothesis. Enjoy their Chicken and Waffle Club, where the “bread” is two waffles. You should also try their poutine, braised pork steamed buns, or killer chicken wings.
It’s open until 2:00 AM every night but Sunday (when they close at the early bird time of midnight) so you can enjoy the live music, cool vibes, and top-tier food and drinks from lunch until it’s almost breakfast time.
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Home.made’s name is quite literal — it began in chef/owner Mimi Maumus’s home in 2006, where she was a personal chef and caterer. Five years later, she opened a brick-and-mortar eatery, which has become one of the finest Southern spots in Athens.
Although the menu changes seasonally, there are some must-order items that perfectly demonstrate Home.made’s balance of creative and classic. Start off with savory options like the Tomato Pie, homemade crust stuffed with tomatoes and basil and topped with cheese and “magic” (sourcing unclear), or maybe the Proscuitto Bruschetta, sourdough coated and seared in honey butter before being topped with cheese, red peas, watermelon rind, pea shoots, and prosciutto. Or go sweeter with the complex Watermelon Salad, topped with marinated cucumbers, orange supremes, queso fresco, cilantro, hot sauce, and chili salt. Then make your next course either the Skirt Steak or Grilled Verlasso Salmon.
Don’t leave too stuffed, because right next door is Sidecar, their evening-only bar. Swing by after your meal to keep the party going with a cocktail, dessert, and game of cards.
It’s a quick five minute walk from campus and downtown and brings a cool assembly line concept to your ordering process. First you choose your meat, then your vessel (Hawaiian rolls, soft-shell tortillas, a baked potato), and two sides (one hot, one cold). So you may have pulled pork on a bun one visit and then brisket nachos the next, and the sides are always a winner. Plus, they have 9 different sauces (enough for its own webpage) and don’t sauces just make every meal more fun?
There’s a wide open patio area with games and picnic tables, so make sure you get there as early as you can so you can get a great table and snag some brisket before it sells out!
Pub food is the best food. Trappeze Pub serves pub food. Therefore, Trappeze Pub is the best.
Logic exercises aside, Trappeze demonstrates that it’s hard to beat the simplest food done right. Their turkey & swiss sandwich is about as good as it gets. Their pub burger, topped with caramelized onions and garlic aioli is fantastic as well. The Belgian fries may even be the best in town. Not only are they crispy and perfectly salted, but you can choose a dipping sauce between bleu cheese dip, raspberry ketchup, or garlic aioli. Do I even need to say that you need to get all three?
Athens is a refined Southern city, so it’s only fitting that they have refined Southern food. Look no further than a little place called…The Place.
Everything on the menu is fresh and constantly being updated to suit the best ingredients and seasonal trends. Although there’s always something new to try, it’s hard to beat the fixtures that you can always enjoy. Any Southern spot knows you have to have shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles on the menu, and The Place more than rises to the occasion. You’ll also love the Hanger Steak and Bourbon Glazed Salmon.
My personal favorite item on the menu is the Fried Veggie platter: pickles, okra, and green tomatoes all battered and fried and served with ranch. The Sunday Brunch is also a treat, offering unique twists on classics, like Stuffed French Toast and the Sawmill Benedict (on a biscuit and slathered in gravy).
If you’re a seafood fan, drop everything you’re doing and visit Seabear right this moment. It all starts with the raw oysters, which come with their loyal condiments: cocktail, mignonette, and lemon.
If oysters don’t excite you, there’s a boatload (pun intended) of other seafood options, like Tybee Island Shrimp and Grits, Scallop Fried Rice, and Smoked Fish Toast.
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ZZ & Simone’s is one of the newest joints in town, having opened in early 2022. This Italian restaurant on Lumpkin Street has quickly become an Athens staple.
The ingredients are fresh and the preparation is perfect, which yields an impeccable meal every time. Start off with the Red Snapper Crudo, bursting with flavor of all types thanks to the watermelon, capers, and jalapenos. You could also get things started with the Charred Corn and Raddichio Salad with fennel and a bright lemony yogurt dressing. Then it’s carb o’clock! The pizzas turn the very concept on its side: Spicy Sausage shines thanks with a drizzle of honey, and the Meyer Lemon (whoa!) is sour in a way you never knew your pizza needed to be. Or you can savor the fabulous Spicy Rigatoni Alla Vodka or . And we’d never sleep on a strong chicken parm, an assignment that ZZ & Simone’s nails.