Chicken oysters, Norwegian salmon and shishito peppers with moromi miso, charred quickly at 1,000 F, slide off grill sticks onto chopsticks.
Miso Yuan black cod is cooked to perfection, with crispy skin and house-picked hajikami ginger and lotus root on the side.
Best known as the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and where "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell resided, Atlanta has long been a hub of southern cooking, fried chicken and the classic "meat and three" restaurants, where diners pick one meat and three side dishes.
Yet Southern US cooking has never been that simple stereotype. Influenced by the mix of free European immigration, enslaved Africans and their descendents, and the more recent waves of Latin American, Asian, African and Middle Eastern immigration, Atlanta's food scene is bustling with choices from around the world.
"There's an ongoing reappraisal of traditional southern food, and, running on a parallel track, a deepening appreciation for the cooking of newer immigrants," says John T. Edge, executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
"Chefs are interpreting both at the same time, examining the deeper southern path that informs the city and embracing our region's multicultural future. That's what a mature town does -- grapple with the past and look to the future. "
Here are our eight picks for the greater Atlanta area's bustling dining scene.
Brush Sushi Izakaya
Liang decided to open his first restaurant in Decatur, the busy college town and foodie destination, attracted by sophisticated local eateries including Kimball House
, The Pinewood
, No. 246
and long-time resident Cakes & Ale
What Decatur didn't have was a Japanese bar. Liang offers several choices of sake, including a few on tap. With Japanese fish and rice flown in and fresh Georgia chicken and vegetables, Brush is farm-to-table cuisine with a twist.
"We wanted to create a destination restaurant, with authentic cuisine like when you eat at a high-end sushi restaurant in Tokyo, " Liang tells CNN. "People care about the food. They are not here to be seen. A lot of customers even bring their kids and teach them about the different kinds of interesting fish."
Brush Sushi Izakaya
, 316 Church Street, Decatur, GA; +1 678 949 9412
A sense of purpose and community pervades Staplehouse, Bon Appetit's pick for America's best new US restaurant of 2016.
The restaurant is run by the family and friends of the late chef Ryan Hidinger, whose community raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his living expenses when he was diagnosed with stage IV gallbladder cancer in 2013. Hidinger died in 2014.
Chef Ryan Smith cooks high-end, nose-to-tail, farm-to-table cuisine, and the restaurant is fully booked as quickly as reservations open mid-month for the next month.
All profits go to the Giving Kitchen
, a non-profit Hidinger's widow, Jen, and friends set up to support food workers in need.
"Staplehouse acts as like a lighthouse for guests who come to dine and come to feel inspired and be a part of something," Jen Hidinger tells CNN. "It's something tangible."
, 541 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta, GA; +1 404 524 5005
At Chef Steven Satterfield's highly regarded Miller Union, the influences of a multicultural city often makes their way into his seasonal menus.
"I take cues from other types of cooking because Atlanta is a multicultural city, and people are open to experiencing new food ideas," says Satterfield, who worked for longtime Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano and former Watershed chef Scott Peacock before opening his own restaurant. "I think that's how southern food evolved."
"We've dug deeper into our roots for historical context in the last 10 years to see how cultures can meld together on the plate."
The duck breast on his current dinner menu, offered with sweet potato, savoy cabbage, farro spaetzle and maple gastrique, is cooked with ginger and a little cardamom.
"It's subtle but it works and it tastes great," he says.
, 999 Brady Ave NW, Atlanta, GA; +1 678 733 8550
Spice to Table
That creativity can also be seen at Spice to Table, a low-key Indian lunch restaurant launched by chef Asha Gomez, who was born and raised in Southern India and moved to Atlanta after she married more than 20 years ago. (She also credits Quatrano for inspiration.)
Her fried chicken has been dubbed some of the best in country, with its 24-hour brine with secret spices, coconut oil, mango sauce and roasted curry leaves. (It's only available Friday and Saturdays for lunch, until they run out.)
So has her spiced carrot cake, which people drive hundreds of miles to eat. Her version uses fresh carrots, clove, cardamom and black peppercorns, and it's also in her new cook book, "My Two Souths."
"My food and what I put on plate is the sum total of my life experiences," says Gomez, who previously ran the high-end Cardamom Hill. "I love my roots and heritage, and I love this new home and southern cuisine."
Spice to Table,
659 Auburn Avenue NE Suite 506, Atlanta, GA; +1 404 220 8945
The General Muir
The General Muir near Emory University, which takes a New York Jewish deli upscale, is one of food writer Susan Puckett's favorite restaurants with a sense of place.
There's high-end seasonal cuisine, but the all-important reuben sandwich, pastrami sandwich, bagels and lox and more are generally available. So are menus for the Jewish High Holidays.
"Restaurants opening now are more connected to the community, have more of a distinct personality and are more a reflection of chefs and owners as well as their surroundings," Puckett says. "Whenever I go there, I feel this sense of community."
The General Muir
, 1540 Avenue Place Suite B-230, Atlanta, GA; +1 678 927 9131
Bacchanalia and more
An inspiration to countless other local chefs, chef Anne Quatrano and her husband Clifford Harrison first opened the high-end, organic farm-to-table Bacchanalia in 1993 and the European-influenced Floataway Café in 1998, supplying much of the produce from their farm.
Back then, companies spent millions to open flashy restaurants that were destinations, Quatrano says.
"Now it's chef-driven and awesome food is the priority, not costs, like with the big restaurant groups," Quatrano adds. "The chef is making the food decisions, so money is going into the food."
More than two decades later, Quatrano shows no signs of slowing down. She's moving Bacchanalia and her adjoining Star Provisions food store into new quarters in spring 2017.
, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA; +1 404 365 0410
Many chefs, restaurant workers and food lovers still head to Buford Highway and the outer Atlanta suburbs, where many Asian, Latin American and other mom and pop dining spots serve authentic ethnic cuisine.
"We've finally woken up to the amazing array of food along Buford Highway," says Hugh Acheson
, chef/partner of Atlanta's Empire State South and four other Georgia establishments. His current Buford favorite is Nam Phuong for excellent Vietnamese pho.
Nam Phuong, 051 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA; +1 404 633 2400
Ponce City Market
Don't want to choose? There's a way to do that at the restaurants at Krog Street Market or Ponce City Market's food hall in midtown Atlanta, which is a who's who of the city's top chefs.
A bowl of Japanese ramen at Guy Wong's Ton Ton can be followed by a Cuban sandwich at Hector Santiago's El Super Pan, followed by fresh pasta at Bellina Alimentari and Indian street food at Botiwalla.
Quatrano fans can stop by her W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, while Restaurant Eugene's Linton Hopkins has his lovely take on burgers and chicken at H&F Burger and Hop's Chicken.
Finish it all off with an espresso shot at Acheson's Spiller Park Coffee, and that's a food tour of Atlanta.
Ponce City Market
, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA; +1 404 900 7900