One might assume that a Southern city would be known for Southern cooking, but that is not the case in Atlanta. (Unless you're talking barbeque, but that's a whole other story.) The city considers itself to be cosmopolitan and international when it comes to dining. "Fusion" is the buzzword for what you'll find on many menus.

Atlanta has many world-class steak and seafood restaurants. But because the city is such a cultural melting pot, it's easy to get authentic and sumptuous of every variety -- from Ethiopian to Indian to Thai.

A crossroads of the main arteries of Piedmont, Peachtree, and Roswell roads has helped Buckhead evolve into a dining
mecca. Nevertheless, Midtown and Decatur both offer appealing alternatives with a more laidback atmosphere.

A landmark for 20 years, the Mobil One-Star Colonnade (1879 Cheshire Bridge Rd, NE ) is the epitome of Southern "a meat and three" dining. Customers are mostly local regulars, and the are, from fried chicken to grilled steak, is as close to home-cooked as you'll find.

For barbeque, the name says it all: Fat Matt's Rib Shack (1811 Piedmont Rd). It's barbeque at its most basic. Pulled pork sandwiches are divine, but go for the ribs. There are none better for miles.

The Varsity is one of Atlanta's most famous restaurants.
©2006 Atlanta CVB
If chili dogs, orange drinks, and onion rings
are your thing, a trip to The Varsity is in order.

Another landmark is the Mobil One-Star The Varsity (61 North Ave, NW). Billing itself as the World's Largest Drive-in, this monument to chili dogs and big orange drinks has the best onion rings around. Carhops greet each customer with a demanding, "What do ya have? What do ya have? What do ya have?" This may not be an elegant dining experience, but it definitely is one of the most memorable.

For endless suggestions on how to top your burger, go to The Vortex
(438 Moreland). Walk through the laughing-skull door and pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. They are as irreverent as the eatery's overall attitude. Hamburgers are half-pounders that come with every topping imaginable. You can, of course, get fries with your burger, but go for the delicious tater tots instead.

For fine dining, turn to the Mobil Three-Star Bone's
(3130 Piedmont Ave). This steakhouse consistently ranks as among the best in the United States. The steaks, lamb chops, and even lobster are unbeatable, and its decor is reminiscent of a businessman's club of the mid-1900s, with white linen table clothes and cartoon caricatures of local celebrities on the walls. Save room for dessert and try the warm pecan pie with praline sauce and vanilla ice cream.

If you wanted to be entertained while eating, the Mobil Two-Star Imperial Fez can't be topped (2285 Peachtree Rd). Sit on the floor and enjoy great Moroccan food while belly dancers entertain or entice you to join. Choose from a five-course menu of dine a la carte on honey or Cornish hens with couscous.

You can continue to treat your taste buds to international cuisine with the string of Korean, Vietnamese, and Latin American restaurants offered along Buford Highway (Route 13), which is about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Atlanta. The Havana Sandwich Shop
(2905 Buford Highway) has been dishing up Cuban meals for the last 25 years. To add some variety to your lunchtime, try the Cuban sandwich of shredded pork with a side of black beans, fried plantains, and yucca.

Another gem worth exploring is the Penang Restaurant (4897 Buford Highway, 770-220-0308), which offers a menu of Malaysian dishes with a blend of Thai, Chinese, and Indian influences. You should try the beef rendang stewed in coconut milk and the lemon grass and noodle soup. You can top it off with a peanut pancake, which is a dessert to sooth your palate after a spicy meal.

The folks at Il Localina Italian Restorante (467 Highland Ave) will welcome you like family; owners Giovanni and Gale will even let you sample daily fresh pasta creations like three-cheese ziti or linguini marinara. Stick around long enough and suddenly disco music will play, complete with a mirror ball to get you up and dancing just before Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin songs resume.

The minimum of 15% is standard tipping in most restaurants. Check your bill if you have a party of six or more because many restaurants will automatically add 18%.

Reservations are helpful in almost all cases. Reservations at mainstays like Mobil Four-Star Bacchanalia (1198 Howell Mill Rd, NE) and Mobil Three-Star Pano's & Paul's (1232 W Paces Ferry Rd) should be made well in advance. Dining early, between 5:30 and 8 pm, can usually help get you into the more popular restaurants, but expect crowds and a little waiting period for your table on Fridays and Saturdays.

Now you know about everything Atlanta has to offer -- from great food to a plethora of special events and attractions. But what are the best ways to take it all in? Go to the next section for some suggested itineraries.