Food Issue - Cliff's top 10 favorite ATL restaurants

10) Pura Vida is the stage for recent "Top Chef" contestant Hector Santiago to perform his avant-garde magic with tapas. No other chef in the city gets quite as successfully crazy with the form. Faves have included the duck confit with caramelized plantains and steamed coconut buns filled with pork belly, cabbage and pickled chilies.

Favorite dish: Santiago's mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty, was my absolute favorite here for years. 656 N. Highland Ave. 404-870-9797. www.puravidatapas.com.

9) Fritti remains my favorite pizzeria in town despite much hoopla over a few newcomers. Part of its appeal is the starters. The one I order most is the mushrooms fried in rice-flour batter with white truffle oil. (It may be the only place I like to smell truffle oil anymore.)

Favorite dishes: My favorite pizzas are the margherita, the speck and arugula and the Napoli with bufala, anchovies and capers. 309 N. Highland Ave., 404-880-9559. www.frittirestaurant.com.

8) Au Rendez Vous is probably the least expensive French restaurant in town. Kiet Jean-Claude Changivy is its Vietnamese, Paris-trained owner/chef. He serves simple, country-French fare in a dining room that feels makeshift but charms the hell out of you, anyway.

Favorite dishes: I love the cassoulet. Classics like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin are also quite satisfying. 1328 Windsor Parkway. 404-303-1968.

7) Spoon has blown all other Thai restaurants in Atlanta out of the water. Although its menu is a bit limited compared to others, the curry sauces have no equal for their complexity and fiery heat (unless you specify "mild"). I go to the East Atlanta location, but the original is in the Westside.

Favorite dishes: The Massaman curry, to which I add mixed seafood or chicken. The tofu steak is my favorite special. 749 Moreland Ave., 404-624-4713; 768 Marietta St., 404-522-5655. www.spoonatlanta.com.

6) The Shed at Glenwood is where I land every Wednesday night. That's when chef Lance Gummere prepares an ever-changing menu of fat, delicious sliders that cost all of $3 each. The regular menu includes the delicious novelty of pan-fried chicken hearts and a foie gras torchon with warm fig jam. Go Sunday and you get three courses for $20.

Favorite dishes: Recent favorite sliders have been wild boar with caramelized onions, and one showcasing a thick slice of fried green tomato with goat cheese. 475 Bill Kennedy Way. 404-835-4363. www.theshedatglenwood.com.

5) Co'm is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. While there are a couple of fancier spots in town, Co'm is inexpensive, informal and mainly quite healthy. Don't go without trying the house salad, made with green mango, green papaya, Fuji apples, fried onions, roasted peanuts, mint, basil and cilantro. You add the grilled seafood, meat or tofu of your choice.

Favorite dish: My default entree is usually a bún (rice vermicelli) bowl with la lot leaves stuffed with lamb. 4005-E Buford Highway. 404-320-0405. www.comgrill.com.

4) Cakes & Ale crosses my mind whenever I head to Decatur. I don't get to dine here as often as I'd like, but to me it's everything a restaurant should be: chef-driven to the point of eccentric, highlighting seasonal ingredients and giving foremost attention to flavor.

Favorite dish: The gnocchi is always reliable – great for showing off those seasonal ingredients. 254 W. Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-377-7994. www.cakesandalerestaurant.com.

3) Top Flr is the default choice when I'm able to dine out Monday night. The restaurant's special of three courses for $15 is a bargain nobody in town can beat.

Favorite dishes: Among the best on the regular menu of uncomplicated eats are the tarragon-spiked pan-roasted chicken and the crispy duck with fennel salt and vermouth honey. 674 Myrtle St. 404-685-3110. www.topflr.com.

2) Dynamic Dish is a restaurant where I would happily eat daily. Unfortunately, it's also a restaurant that is booked most evenings, so lunch is usually the most convenient option. David Sweeney's brilliant, mainly organic, mainly vegetarian cuisine has gained national kudos.

Favorite dishes: Anything Sweeney does with collards instantly attracts me, but Saturday night's organic pizzas are amazingly playful, healthy riffs on everyone's favorite unhealthy food. 427 Edgewood Ave. 404-688-4344. www.dynamicdish.net.

1) La Pietra Cucina is my favorite restaurant, and my default when I'm in the mood for fine dining. Bruce Logue's thoughtfully conceived "progressive Italian cooking" makes the restaurant chef-driven – what I find most appealing – but with a distinctive edge.

Favorite dishes: Mainly, I lunch here and the dish that most often draws my attention is the crispy fish with caponata and salsa passato. (But I never ignore the specials ... or the porchetta salad.) 1545 Peachtree St. 404-888-8709. www.lapietracucina.com.


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