by Jonathan Baker - 319 Reviews - 185 List
Dive bars have always provided sustenance for their beloved patrons--from the salty popcorn that keeps them drinking to the beer nuts whose few nutrients keep them from dying--but several of Atlanta's standout hooch-hovels are known for putting out surprisingly exceptional food. From deli sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper to thick slabs of prime rib, check these unexpected places for stellar Atlanta eats. (Photo: The Elliott Street Ultimate at Elliott's)
Updated: May 21, 2009
Stuffed next to the historic Plaza on Ponce, this dimly lit cubby hole has a puzzling menu for a dive ... especially a dive off Ponce. Hummus quesadillas? A good veggie burger? Salmon?! (Don't be scared, folks.) Their barbecue sandwich, served on two greased-up slices of Texas toast is a sauced bad-boy that tastes even better as the evening goes on. Honorable mention goes to their grilled cheese which gets a tomato and sprouts upgrade. Order the onion straws as a side and thank us later.
Rarely do high-end eats come from a dive-y locale, but VaHi's cougar-loving basement hole-in-the-wall breaks the norm. Never mentioned in the same breath as Bones or Chops, this windowless steak cellar delivers drippy slabs of prime rib and NY strips while its older wait staff makes you wonder where the hell you are. Knock back the best dirty martini in Atlanta and things will quickly begin to make sense.
Lodged in a Druid Hills shopping center, Famous Pub feels like a dumpy casino that traded its slot machines for an array of mid-90s jumbo TVs. (We should also mention the back room of this sports bar turns into a late-night dance club.) While the food is typical bar grub, their wings are perfection: hot yet flavorful, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and smaller (not freakish) in size. We think they're best scarfed with a pitcher of light beer and a ballgame on the fuzzed-out projection screen. Stay late at your own risk.
Rock 'n' roll troublemakers love this tattooed watering hole: It has air-hockey tables, allows smoking and serves food until 2am. (Hell yeah!) But despite its heavy-metal persona, The Highlander's menu is peppered with good eats. Food Network recently did a feature on their Jamaican jerk chili with jalapeno corn fritters. We're addicted to their loaded tater tots. And oxtail or rabbit specials fit just fine alongside marinated pork chops or chicken pot pie. It's good food, fools!
You enter the Vortex through the mouth of a giant skull, there are rules on the menu that profess the bar "not politically correct" and you're guaranteed to get some attitude. Could there be a more proper setting for what many feel is Atlanta's best burger? The Double Culinary (grilled cheese for buns, bacon, 2 fried eggs) is the most decadent burger on the menu, but it's easy to find a staple in their 20 crafty creations. Plus, the motorcycle gang sitting beside you just adds to the experience.
Owned by two mustachioed bike-brothers (who live upstairs), this Castleberry Hill haunt is a hidden local favorite. A shots-for-all bell and self-serve IPA keg are commonly used trinkets of coolness, but the unexpected secret lies in their tiny kitchen. Massive sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper come with Boars Head meats and imported cheeses. Dogs are slathered in kraut while creamy potato salad tastes like a loaded, baked spud. The menu is like the bar itself: simple and likable.