As the only restaurant in Atlanta to make New York Times’ Top 50 Restaurants in 2021, Lyla Lila guarantees itself a place on my list. Yes, part of it is because it’s the New York Times, but also because elite restaurants sometimes don’t live up to the hype yet still are worth trying (I’m looking at you, Gordon Ramsey’s London restaurant).
Luckily, Lyla Lila is worth it — but only for splurge-worthy moments, like an anniversary, a birthday or a coveted job promotion. It’s situated on a street corner in Midtown not too far from campus. The ambiance is romantic, complete with white tablecloths, vested waitstaff and faux candles, so make sure to dress at least business casual. Like any fine dining establishment, you’ll need to reserve your table ahead of time.
The restaurant is famous for its pastas, with ingredients sourced close to Georgia’s Sapelo Island. I tried the squid ink spaghetti and the tiramisu, both flavorful and well-seasoned. Their pasta is hand-made and they offer lots of varieties, including pappardelle, ravioli and lasagna. Beyond pasta, the menu boasts a couple of main plates, such as lamb, scallops and steak. Though the website claims to be vegetarian-friendly, not many of its dishes are meat-free. However, the servers are more than happy to adjust for dietary restrictions.
Budget well here, as nothing is cheap. The portions may look small, but they will fill you up more than you expect.
Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall
As someone who once wrote an impassioned diss about the word “brunch,” I can’t believe I’m reviewing yet another brunch restaurant. I came here for the first time for a friend’s birthday. The gravel path leading up might be a little confusing to navigate, but trust the map and you’ll find it at the end of the road.
From the outside, the wooden extension of patio seating gives Teen Beach vibes, with the string of lights hanging from bent telephone poles. Being across the street from the Beltline is an added bonus if you’d like to pet some dogs as you enjoy your meal. The general ambiance is definitely meant for large groups of family or friend gatherings.
I ordered the fried chicken biscuit and a black coffee. Though I was slightly disappointed by the coffee, the biscuit came out still sizzling in a mini cast iron pan. From the texture to the taste, everything was delicious and well cooked. The whole restaurant embodies Southern hospitality at its finest and is a must-try for anyone from out of town looking for a hefty, well-priced meal.
One of my all-time favorites—and the certifiable best first date meal—is sushi. If you’re tired of Wagaya in the Village or want to impress someone and take them out for the first time, try Nakato, not too far from Campus Crossings.
In front of the restaurant, the neatly trimmed greenery and stone steps leading up to the round archway are reminiscent of kanso and traditional Japanese architecture. Inside, the tables are intricately placed and separated by unfolding paper screens. The sushi bar in the far corner is constantly busy, and the paper cranes hanging from the ceiling reminded me of my grandmother and the string of orgami cranes I made for her before she passed.
The overall energy of Nakato is homey and peaceful, almost like walking into a completely different world, but it has a more formal dress code, so ditch the hoodie and t-shirt. Its history goes back 50 years in Atlanta, as a family business that continues to maintain the high standards of Japanese hospitality.
All of the ingredients from Nakato are imported off the coast of Japan, evident by the freshness of the sushi rolls that I tried. Overall, the restaurant is really quiet and tranquil. You even get a hot towel to wash your hands before eating.
Ten Seconds Yunnan Rice Noodles
Yes, I am back at it with the noodles because I staunchly believe noodles are one of the most versatile foods to exist—behind eggs, maybe. This restaurant is next to another great sushi place, Kura Revolving Sushi, as well as the biggest H-mart somewhat near Emory’s campus. It is also home to a number of karaoke bars, boba stores and a whole Asian strip mall.
The restaurant is rather square and large, with very classic Chinese noodle shop vibes. The kitchen is in the back, and the smoke from the woks is visible even from the front of the store. Prices are rather reasonable, especially given the amount of food available.
Besides the regular appetizers, customers have a list of different types of noodles to choose from, ranging from very spicy to mild. Each dish comes with an assortment of vegetables and add-ins, the hot soup base, and the raw noodles for you to cook in front of you. Effectively, it’s like an individual mini noodle hot pot. I had far too much fun dumping things into hot water, and the waitresses were patient in explaining how to cook the noodles as well. The best part? Everything is customizable.