Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened spots, as well as some of your favorites, and under the radar soon-to-be favorites.
In this edition, we turn to Lazy Betty, a near-hidden Atlanta gem that opened in 2019 but spent a lot of 2020 doing limited takeout. Owned by chef Ron Hsu and partner Aaron Phillips, it’s named for chef Hsu’s late mother, Betty Hsu — who, for the record, was anything but lazy — the proprietor of Hunan Village’s various locations in the city and an Atlanta food icon. Fittingly, the restaurant dedicated to her has been racking up the accolades since its debut, including a 2020 James Beard Best New Restaurant nomination. It’s now fully open for dining, offering both six-course and eight-course tasting menus, with optional beverage pairings. Here are five things you need to know while you’re waiting to score this super-hot reservation.
1. Food is important, but people are the focus at Lazy Betty. That means personalized service for the guests and service charges instead of tipping.
Hsu and Phillips continually stress the idea of community and care, both for guests and team members. It’s a mantra repeated in company culture and provides the backbone for Lazy Betty’s service approach. Management puts their money where their mouths are, too — they removed the traditional tipping structure and instead instituted a federal minimum wage and a service charge for each guest experience. This is in contrast, of course, to the $2.13/hour + tips structure still used by the majority of American restaurants, and it’s made Lazy Betty an outspoken industry leader in pay inequity discussions.
“The service fee guarantees that our team has consistent pay, more equitable pay, and it also empowers our staff to provide and maintain good service at a high level,” Hsu explains. “And we can also give some of that service charge to the back of the house.”
2. It’s located off the beaten path.
While Lazy Betty does have a sign alerting the restaurant’s presence, its location in the nondescript Candler Park Connection business complex off DeKalb Avenue doesn’t really give off “hottest restaurant in Atlanta” vibes. But the partners like their unassuming restaurant location, sandwiched between an insurance company and a chiropractor. “We have a great working relationship with the other people in the businesses here,” Phillips says.
Hsu agrees. “We never felt like we wanted to be so mainstream, so this fits us. We wanted to make a connection with the community, and we’re able to do that here in a position that is a little more nondescript. We consider ourselves very craft so at the heart of what we do are personalized experiences for the guests.” And that begins when they walk in the door.
3. The food mixes high-end technique with surprising creative touches.
Hsu and Phillips met at Le Bernardin — Hsu was the creative director there for a period of time -— so prepare yourself for food prepared and served at the upper echelon. At Lazy Betty, classic dishes are reinterpreted in surprising ways through a personal creative lens of high-level training, various cultural influences, and seasonal ingredients. “You’re really eating food from a unique individual perspective of our influences,” Hsu says.
What does that mean on the plate? Every dish has an intellectual component, something to surprise and delight, from texture to temperature to composition and plating. It’s all meant to be delicious and make you think, yet still while providing comfort and satisfaction when it comes to taste. Depending on the day, that may manifest as chilled tuna tartare on a squid ink cracker, squab with puffed sorghum and foie-infused jus, or lemon sorbet with crystallized basil.
“My goal is: I want to change your life with a meal in some way,” says Phillips. “This is not just about sustenance, but about inspiration.”
4. Pairing is a pleasure.
“The value of the wine is in the pairing,” Phillips explains. That means you won’t see high rollers like Ace of Spades or Cristal on the bubbles list, since the beverage focus is about the combination of story, craft and how it pairs with what’s coming out of the kitchen more than a specific wine for a specific occasion. Instead, Lazy Betty gets creative, from featuring all female winemakers on one list to focusing on lesser known producers or the best from emerging regions on others.
Cocktails are a team effort helmed by general manager Carl Gilbert, along with bar manager Shannon Dunlap and other team members. They are fun, creative, and meant to get diners in “the spirit of things” at the beginning of the meal, from the palate-prepping Busy Betty made with Wheatley Vodka, celery, and lime to the Purple Rain, mixed with highly flavorful Monkey 47 gin, lavender, and peach. The list rotates seasonally like the rest of the menu, but its spirit-forward pairing with fresh ingredients remains constant.
5. The vibe is “like dining at a favorite uncle’s house.”
The energy at Lazy Betty is palpable when diners walk through the door, and it emanates from the open kitchen that acts as sort of a command center for the restaurant because cocktails and wine come through the same pass. The dining room is a flurry of activity, and since each cocktail and each plate requires numerous touches, there’s always someone moving.
Decor and the restaurant’s layout create a relaxed, upscale style with some post-industrial details and design from local design firm Praxis 3. Exposed wiring, corrugated metal ceilings, and stainless steel and brick contrast with plush blankets for guest comfort when the air conditioning is cranked down, as well as comfortable service that is highly attentive and welcoming, a vibe that seems similar to a neighborhood watering hole.
Sounds from the kitchen and fellow diners having a good time are the dominant soundtrack, but there is music curated by a DJ friend of the restaurant too, though nothing too loud or harsh. Overall, Hsu stresses that the goal is “like dining at a favorite uncle’s house who happens to employ a world-trained chef.” Sounds like our new favorite uncle.