13 Oldest Restaurants in Atlanta
Atlanta seems to have a new restaurant popping up every day. Thanks to the recent explosion of OTP areas, like Woodstock and Roswell, as well as the usual intown developments, our city has no shortage of hot and trendy spots.
But don’t let these shiny restaurants steal you away from some of the most legendary institutions in Atlanta. Every one of these places spans back at least fifty years. The history of Atlanta is told through these storied bricks, especially in the time-tested food these places serve up.
Here are 13 of the oldest restaurants in Atlanta, and their fascinating stories.
1. Atkins Park Restaurant & Bar
Since its genesis as The Atkins Park Delicatessen in 1927, this restaurant has been a staple of the Va-Hi community. It remains the oldest continuously-licensed tavern in ATL. Their food is the perfect marriage between classic bar food and something a bit more elevated. On one hand, you’ve got chicken tenders with honey mustard and ranch; on the other, there’s confit chicken wings slow-fried in duck fat and tossed with either sweet chili garlic sauce or buffalo.
2. Busy Bee Cafe
Busy Bee has been serving Atlanta’s finest soul food since Lucy Jackson opened its doors in 1947. Generations of Atlantans have received the sage wisdom, “go down to Busy Bee’s, Momma Lucy will feed you!” Soon after opening, it became a meeting place for countless civil rights leaders, including Andrew Young and Martin Luther King Jr. Its influence is still strong: it just won a 2022 James Beard America’s Classics Award, awarded to “locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”
3. Majestic Diner
The Majestic Diner has been serving up “food that pleases” since 1929. The food is hardly the main appeal…it’s really the diner’s late night spectacle that keeps it in the hearts of Atlantans everywhere. It’s right next door to the Plaza Theater (which has itself been around since 1939), home of the weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, so you never know when you might get flanked by an army of drunk moviegoers with large red V’s on their forehead, singing and dancing the Time Warp while you’re munching on pancakes.
4. Manuel’s Tavern
Owner Brian Maloof describes Manuel’s Tavern first and foremost as “very comfortable, like your living room.” In that regard, little has changed since his father, Manuel Maloof, opened “Atlanta’s Quintessential Neighborhood Bar” in 1956. While many love it for the service, the bar, and the eclectic aesthetic, their food is the true star. Their wings with Terry sauce are a perfectly complex and delicious treat, their ribs are perfectly charred, and the burger is simple and delectable.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian about the restaurant’s remarkable history…check it out here.
5. The White House
This Greek-owned diner is as no-frills as it gets, but its food doesn’t need to be fancy to be fantastic. It was founded in 1948 and has been in the same Buckhead location for over half a century. If you want a direct connection with thousands of happy customers from the past half fifty years, order the White House breakfast: two eggs, any way; bacon, sausage, or ham; and either pancakes or French toast. All possible iterations of this meal will have you shouting “opa!”
6. Moe’s and Joe’s
This Virginia Highland staple has been in business since the Truman Administration and not much has changed since 1947. There’s an understanding among every patron that you’re getting simple and delicious bar food with plenty of cheap and refreshing (two adjectives that don’t go together nearly enough) Pabst Blue Ribbon. Moe’s and Joe’s is known nationwide for slinging endless quantities of PBR. All first timers should get the go-to Moe’s and Joe’s order: a Mo Jo Burger and fries with a 16-oz PBR and your bill will come in under $10. No joke.
7. The Varsity
The Varsity has been owned and operated by the Gordy family since 1928. While other locations have come and gone, the original store on North Avenue remains an icon. There are few meals that are as unapologetically Atlanta as the chili dog with onion rings and a frosted orange (FO). No matter what you’re walking in to order, you can count on hearing that iconic question: “what’ll ya have?”
8. Matthews Cafeteria
Downtown Tucker has been booming over the past few years, but its heart and soul has been there since 1955. Matthews Cafeteria was established by Louise and Bill Matthews and is run today by their son-in-law and grandson, and those same family recipes are still bringing the tastiest southern food to your plate. In classic cafeteria tradition, you can grab a tray and pick your meat and veggies, which vary every day.
9. Mary Mac’s Tea Room
Mary Mac’s, or “Atlanta’s Dining Room” (at least according to a 2011 resolution filed in the Georgia House of Representatives), has been in the same spot on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta since 1945. From the day that Mary MacKenzie founded her tea room (originally called Mrs. Fuller’s Tea Room), it has been an Atlanta institution where anybody who walks through the doors is immediately embraced as family. From the iconic tomato pie to the award-winning fried chicken to the beloved bread basket, Mary Mac’s puts the “comfort” in comfort food and the welcoming staff will elevate your tasty meal into a heartwarming experience.
I did a deep dive into the history of Mary Mac’s here.
10. Athens Pizza
In 1966, Greek immigrants John and Asiemoula Papadopoulos incorporated their family cuisine into the classic pizzeria. The result is a beautiful marriage of cultures. If this is your first (or fortieth) time at Athens Pizza, get the Athens Special, piled high with feta cheese, ground beef, sausage, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, and peppers. The crust is fluffy and buttery yet still light and airy and the toppings are packed in so you get a little bit of everything in each bite.
In 1947, brothers James and Robert Paschal decided they were going to open a restaurant with fried chicken as their specialty. The rest, as its inclusion in this article probably indicates, is history. Paschal’s changed locations in 2002 but remains a vibrant meeting place for the most exciting and influential people around, who have previously included Mayor Maynard Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
12. Henri’s Bakery
It all started in 1929 when Henri Fiscus, a French immigrant, decided that Atlanta was in dire need of a gourmet bakery. The rest was history – Henri’s Bakery arrived at the iconic corner of Peachtree and 10th, and the city has been enjoying the fabulous pastries, delightful sandwiches, and those classic cakes. It’s now run by Anthony DiNardo, Henri’s great-grandson.
13. The Colonnade
One of the oldest restaurants in this city is The Colonnade, which first opened in 1927 on the corner of Lindbergh and Piedmont, before moving to its current location on Cheshire Bridge in 1962. It’s been family-owned since 1979, when Paul Jones bought it from Jack Clark, and now his daughter Jodi and her husband own and run the show. While nearly a century has passed, customers are enjoying those same chicken livers and southern fried chicken that their great grandparents enjoyed. And no meal at The Colonnade is complete without a stiff Randy Rita (a margarita named after a loyal customer).