Azotea Cantina

Over a decade ago, Atlantic Station opened with such promise. Converting a brownfield from an old steel plant into one of the South's first live-work-play developments, the sky was the limit. But after a myriad of bad design and leasing choices, dozens of restaurant and retail failures plus a surge in crime, the bloom sadly fell off the rose rather quickly. But like the legend of the Phoenix, Atlantic Station is ready to rise from the ashes and perhaps it all starts with the all-new Mexico City-themed Azotea Cantina.

Azotea translates as "rooftop terrace" (thank you Google Translate) and as you'd imagine, that's a lovely place to enjoy the vibrant menu and cocktails. Having not been in Atlantic Station in a couple of years I was stunned by the transformation; the central park area has been revamped with new buildings (the old Rosa Mexicana and Strip buildings were totally torn down!), new views and an overall new vibe.

Chef Kevin Maxey, who consulted the project, mentored under famed chef/operators Tom Colicchio (Gramercy Tavern, Craft) and Ford Fry (Superica, St. Cecilia, Optimist) so it's a fantastic start-to-finish experience as you'd expect from someone with such amazing pedigree. The building is literally a stand-alone, like a cool, cubist cactus shooting up in the desert. The downstairs dining room floods with natural light, colorful tiles, soothing woods and lots of floral arrangements give it soothing aesthetics mixed with vibrant, organic energy. Walk up the steps (adults only) to the "Azotea" and feel like you have traveled to some other cosmopolitan mecca (who knew Atlanta was so stylish) where you are above it all. Skyscrapers surround the scene and down below kids play on the astroturf park.

The menu is fresh and delicious: dip fresh, crunchy blue-corn chips into Maxey's guacamole, a silky, umami delight. Add pork belly or pomegranate/pineapple to either amp up the savory or the sweetness. The tacos are true Maxey units--beautiful to look at but explosively flavorful. I'm usually a flour-tortilla guy but these corn-tortillas are special, sourced from a Buford Highway bakery. They are subtle and not as grainy as many corn tortillas--perfect vessels to allow the fillings to shine. Tempura cod, slow-cooked brisket and grilled shrimp are among the choices for tacos, they are served in 3's so mix-n-match till your heart's content. I also tried the tuna tostadas (sushi-grade tuna with aioli) and redfish (blackened redfish with grilled citrus mojo)--these are sophisticated but approachable dishes that are almost #tooprettytoeat. For those who only know "Mexican food" as Tex-Mex, this is something different, more creative and more satisfying to the palate. Influences from throughout the country find their way into the mix but everything will feel familiar. Wash it down with a hand-crafted cocktail (the "Sally from the Valley" with cognac, rum and pineapple is like a vacation in a glass) and you will feel like you have left the "404" for a fiesta south of the border.

I am rooting for Atlantic Station. The potential has always been and maybe now it's finally aligned with a vision that will work for everyone. Azotea is a great start to the comeback. It's modern, sexy and you can party down or just gorge on great food. It just feels good to be there. If the security piece get solved, expect folks to venture back and start to enjoy one of the ATL's OG mixed-use developments.

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