Expert recommendations for the best places to eat in four price ranges: budget ($), moderate ($$), expensive ($$$), and luxury ($$$$)

$

Varsity

This is the world’s largest drive-in, a microcosm of the city and the perfect place to sin with onion rings, a greasy burger, and one of their famous chili dogs.”—Christiane Lauterbach, editor, Knife & Fork: The Insider’s Guide to Atlanta Restaurants. Since 1928, the paper-hat counter folks have been screaming out “What’ll it be?” to locals who come for an injection of onion rings, Frosted Orange drinks, and good times. 61 North Avenue; tel. +1 404 881 1706. www.thevarsity.com

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack

“Super satisfying, finger-licking, authentic roadside, blues ‘n BBQ’ joint.”—Agnes Baddoo, author, eat.shop.atlanta: The Indispensable Guide to Inspired, Locally Owned Eating and Shopping Establishments. Casual hole-in-the-wall near Piedmont Park; plastic baskets filled with a slab of ribs and creamy coleslaw; blues bands play nightly. 1811 Piedmont Avenue; tel. +1 404 607 1622. www.fatmattsribshack.com

Busy Bee Cafe

“Go early for lunch, or you may end up standing in line for this busy soul food, like fried chicken, collard greens, and fried okra.”—Meridith Ford, dining critic, Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Celebrity photos color the walls; downtown and popular with students and politicos who come for the authentic meat-n-two (meat with two sides). 810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive; tel. +1 404 525 9212. www.thebusybeecafe.com

The Flying Biscuit Cafe

Non-stop breakfast menu (try the signature chicken sausage and the black bean and cornmeal “love cakes”) makes this cheerful, Candler Park eatery a popular brunch spot. Expect long lines; friendly, homegrown service makes you feel like a local. 1655 McLendon Avenue; tel. +1 404 687 8888. www.flyingbiscuit.com

Vortex Bar & Grill

"Add a little funk to your punk and head to the Vortex for the best burger in Atlanta.”—Meridith Ford. Look for the giant skull entryway in Little Five Points; walls are covered with old license plates, motorcycle gear, and tattoo-inspired artwork; lots of attitude; must be 18 to enter. 438 Moreland Avenue; tel. +1 404 688 1828. www.thevortexbarandgrill.com

Pura Vida

Latin American tapas in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood; romantic, candlelit interior; Friday nights, a DJ spins music and diners can salsa on the tiny dance floor. Dinner only. 656 N. Highland Avenue; tel. +1 404 870 9797. www.puravidatapas.com

$$$

Beleza

The Brazilian juice bar-inspired cocktails alone are worth going, all made with fresh organic fruit. Clean, pure flavor combinations like raw tuna with baby beets or quinoa with raw coco and avocado take health food to a delicious place.”—Besha Rodell, food editor, Creative Loafing. Brazilian small-plates menu features dishes made without refined sugar or dairy; small trendy Midtown space gets full quickly. Dinner only. 905 Juniper Street; tel. +1 678 904 4582. www.frittirestaurant.com

Lobby at Twelve

On the ground floor of the Twelve Hotel at Atlantic Station; a stylish and hopping after-work bar scene; open kitchen but intimate for dinner or private power lunch; American bistro using in-season local ingredients; burgers, steaks, and wood-oven pizzas. 361 17th Street; tel. +1 404 961 7370. www.lobbyattwelve.com

Rathbun’s

In an industrial-chic converted potbellied stove factory in Inman Park; sheet-metal chandeliers and painted brick walls; menu filled with influences from Southeast, Southwest, and chef Kevin Rathbun’s native Kansas City. Dinner only; closed Sundays. 112 Krog Street; tel. +1 404 524 8280. www.rathbunsrestaurant.com

Watershed

“Classic up-market Southern cooking in a sophisticated wine bar setting. Ethereal vegetable plates, okra pancakes, and specials like buttermilk-marinated iron-skillet fried chicken (on Tuesdays).”—Jonathan Lerner features editor, Atlanta Peach. Co-owned by Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers; chef Scott Peacock voted 2007 James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the Southeast; industrial setting in an old garage. 406 West Ponce De Leon Avenue (Decatur); tel. +1 404 378 4900. www.watershedrestaurant.com

$$$$

Bacchanalia

Highly acclaimed chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s award-winning bistro where reservations are a must; menu changes according to what’s in season—in winter, expect savory root vegetables and luring spices; in summer fresh herbs and heirloom salads; try the four-course prix fixe menu with wine pairings. 1198 Howell Mill Road; tel. +1 404 365 0410. www.starprovisions.com

Bones

“[Guests come for] the testosterone-charged atmosphere, prime steaks, the innate timing of the seasoned wait staff, and the old-school attitude of the kitchen.” —Meridith Ford. Dark wood and brass furnishings, oil paintings on the walls; tuxedoed waiters; fat juicy steaks done to perfection; a staple in the Buckhead power circuit since 1979. 3130 Piedmont Road NE; tel. +1 404 237 2663. www.bonesrestaurant.com

Joël

“Rustic elegance and unparalleled desserts draw the gourmets to a Michelin-worthy dining room backed by an enormous kitchen many like to tour.”—Christiane Lauterbach. Creative French cuisine in an intimate bistro; extensive wine list with sommeliers on each shift. Closed Sunday. 3290 Northside Parkway NW; tel. +1 404 233 3500. www.joelrestaurant.com

Trois

“Chef Jeremy Lieb’s obvious passion for French food is backed by real talent; take a look at the glam bar, but climb the stairs to the main restaurant for a menu a Parisian would endorse.”—Christiane Lauterbach. Floor-to-ceiling windows and gallery-worthy artwork; menu features contemporary twists on classic French brasserie cuisine; extensive and accessible wine list. Lunch on weekdays, dinner daily. 1180 Peachtree Street; tel. +1 404 815 3337.

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