After spending two years in DC, I had the chance to move either home to California or up to New York City. But, I decided to move to Atlanta instead — a decision that baffled most of my family and friends. The South has a reputation of being a little backwards and a little different from the rest of the country. A reputation so strong that my parents shipped a large bag of rice with my luggage for fear I would not be able to buy rice there.
So is it really that different? Well for starters, they definitely do have rice.
Myth: The South might have big cities, but they’re different.
Atlanta is the biggest city in the South (not counting Florida, which is practically its own region), yet somehow people don’t group it with SF, LA, and NYC. While Atlanta definitely has its Southern charm, it has many similarities to the other larger cities of America. Atlanta is home to Turner Broadcasting, Delta Airlines, and Coca-Cola. MARTA (the metro system of Atlanta) is convenient, albeit limited, and I regularly take MARTA to the airport. We have our own version of Central Park — Piedmont Park, located in Midtown. Downtown, Midtown, Decatur, Little 5 Points, and other neighborhoods are surprisingly walkable. Living in Midtown, I am just steps away from restaurants, bars, music venues, the Fox Theater, museums, MARTA, and Piedmont Park.
Myth: There are only White and Black people in the South.
It is true that the South is predominantly White and Black. However, ethnic groups certainly exist. All the evidence you’ll need is at Buford Highway — a beacon of everything ethnic. Ask anyone in the city where you can find the best Korean BBQ, decent Indian food, an authentic taqueria, or a real Chinese market and the answer is likely Buford Highway. If you go outside the perimeter of Atlanta marked by Highway 285, you can find real Asian gems in Suwanee and Duluth.
Myth: Southern food is basically soul food and Paula Deen.
Atlanta has a huge food scene, as many Top Chef fans will know. It may not be New York, but it’s definitely a huge part of the culture here and with that comes variety and depth that breaks stereotypes. Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles, Mary Mac’s Tea Room, and The Varsity are practically institutions in Atlanta, but equally popular places include Antico Pizza, Miso Izakaya, and Cakes & Ale. Southern food is indeed a component of life in Atlanta, but the food scene here is certainly not limited to deep fried goods. Although, stereotypes be damned — Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, GA is on my to do list!
Myth: The South is scary, ghetto, or poor.
Like all urban centers, it’s a mixture. In Atlanta it’s a bit more evident than other cities — a beautiful restaurant can share a block with a dilapidated house. But this varies quite a bit, especially neighborhood to neighborhood. The neighborhoods vary from the ritzy Buckhead and old-money North Druid Hills to the more “ghetto” Old Fourth Ward and actually-scary Home Park. The perfect example of luxury in a “ghetto” area is Woodfire Grill — located in Morningside in the midst of sex shops and strip clubs. Woodfire Grill is owned by Kevin Gillepsie of Top Chef Las Vegas. The tasting menu runs from $70 for 5-courses to $90 for 7-courses.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little urban ghetto — it gives a neighborhood character. A popular city favorite is Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand. Located in East Atlanta, this small roadside eatery sells “slingers” and “cake shakes.” As you chow down on a delicious sausage on a fresh hoagie roll, you’ll almost forget that you’re next to a freeway on-ramp.
So how different is the South? It’s different, but not scary and Atlanta could be considered a soft landing. Atlanta has the familiarity of other big cities — full of the hustle and bustle of workers during the day, terrible commuting times, and lots of people migrating through the city. But Atlanta’s real character is found in its diverse neighborhoods and Southern charm. So sit back and enjoy some sweet tea.