A growing storm, just as we’re heading to Miller Union complicates our plans to visit all of the places artist Fabian Williams wants to visit for a restaurant tour of westside Atlanta, but raindrops don’t diminish his mood.
Instead, Williams stands out in the drizzle, posing for photos at 14th Street and Howell Mill Road. Commuters rubberneck, understandably. It’s kinda hard not to notice a guy in a bright pink and green sweater, extra-stone-washed blue jeans, a white comic-strip-inspired bucket hat, and yellow fluorescent Adidas — especially when he’s moonwalking down the sidewalk, in a storm, holding a vanilla latte.
Sure, that warm cup of Brash coffee may be adding an energy boost, but Williams definitely brings the vibes on an otherwise dreary day in West Midtown.
You’ve seen Williams’ work. If you’ve ever walked past Studioplex on Auburn Avenue (perhaps on your way to nearby Kevin Rathbun Steak or Nina & Rafi), you couldn’t miss that five-story image of a space-floating Hosea Williams pointing at you, as if to say: the world is yours, and is your responsibility. Along Tennelle Street in Cabbagetown there’s a similar mural, which Williams calls “Wake Up.” It’s a gigantic, intergalactic version of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, levitating and emitting starfire while hovering barefoot above the astral plane.
All around Atlanta, from building walls to power transformers, Williams — sometimes using the moniker “Occasional Superstar” — has been putting paint where it ain’t for decades, reimagining modern and historic heroes in ways that push the imagination. And just like the inspirational figures who appear in his often-towering Atlanta murals, Williams’ passion for connecting people to a greater communal good is as evident as his art, and personality, are colorful.
Williams, 47, has garnered national attention for his creations, and creative activism, in Atlanta. In 2017, The New York Times covered a lawsuit he and other artists filed against the City of Atlanta over an attempt to regulate murals painted on private property (the city eventually settled with the group). In 2019, one of Williams’ murals — a depiction of Colin Kaepernick wearing Mike Vick’s #7 football jersey, standing next to a rendition of Muhammad Ali dressed as Marvel’s Black Panther character — was destroyed due to a building demolition just two days before Super Bowl LIII.
Williams’ response: convene a group of artists to put several new Kaepernick murals up around Atlanta in 48 hours, in time for the big game’s kickoff.
His art excels at provoking thoughtful societal critique while celebrating Black accomplishment. He believes in changing how we see everything, especially many of history’s biggest heroes, who he often interprets with modernized personal style from hairstyle to fashion, often using fluorescent paint. The results give his subjects a sort of glowing timelessness to match their cultural impact, and offers an imaginative view of our collective future through the blueprint of those who helped bend the arc of justice along the way.
Williams similarly finds inspiration in culinary art, which is perhaps a creative way to say he loves to eat around Atlanta, on the westside and beyond. He’s a fan of Boccalupo, whose “diversity of flavors” continue to surprise him. He counts Lazy Betty as his “absolute favorite” place for coursed dining in the city.
It’s this epicuriousity that keeps him engaged with a city he loves.
Williams has concentrated a large portion of his street art in and around Atlanta’s westside, so Resy invited him to give us a tour of his favorite places to eat in the neighborhood. During our daylong adventure, he explains why he’s fond of the area: The sense of community is strong, and has created a deep sense of prismatic culture — “you can get it all in one place,” he says — that inspires him to paint both indoors and out.
Also, he remains a fan of a certain famous chef whose televised culinary journeys encouraged millions to open their minds and mouths.
“I’m trying to live my life like Anthony Bourdain,” Williams says. “And I just want to learn. I’m super-curious. I’ve got questions.”
The answers are surely out there on the westside. As we visit some of his favorites, conversation wanders from food to far broader topics, such as Egyptian mythology, and how math is intertwined with art. The conversation is as eclectic as his taste.
If Williams has his way, these sentiments surely be shared in the form of more murals. After all, even when it rains all day on the westside, somebody’s gotta bring the energy that makes this part of Atlanta special.
1. Javavino Coffee at Westview Corner Grocery
He frequently kickstarts his mornings in the Westview neighborhood, often with a cup of the locally roasted coffee brewed daily at this independent natural foods market on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard (RDA), just at the edge of West End near the Atlanta Beltline. The store also stocks some of Williams’ favorite munchies, such as Wilde chicken skin chips.
2. Turkey Burger at Augie’s Cafe
Slutty Vegan, the nationally famous plant-based burger restaurant, is just down the block, but since the wait in line can be excessively long, Williams likes the turkey burger at next door Augie’s Cafe, where photos of superstar musicians from Luther Vandross to Wham! line the walls. Further east on RDA, at the corner of Peeples Street and RDA, where Westview meets West End, Williams painted a huge horizontal mural of Dr. King.
3. Mangos Caribbean Restaurant
Williams painted “Black to the Future,” a mural highlighting notable alumni of Morehouse College, on a long wall on the campus of Morehouse College. It includes the faces of Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Edwin Moses, and others. Lee Street flows from Morehouse, the all-male HBCU, into the heart of West End. Take it just a few blocks south of the campus, and at the intersection of RDA you’ll find a mural of Bob Marley, wearing a freshly faded haircut with shorter dreadlocks, smiling in the direction of next-door restaurant Mangos Caribbean. Williams painted it, and says the restaurant has some of the best oxtails in Atlanta. “At least the best in West End, from my perspective.” He says they also have great turkey wings, which he orders with cabbage and collard greens on the side. “Maybe with an extra piece of cornbread,” he adds.
4. Build-Your-Own Pizza at Slim + Husky’s
At a stop here, Williams turns Slim + Husky’s ovular crust into his own creative canvas, opting to make his own pie rather than go with one of the Black-owned pizza chain’s specialties. He orders spicy red sauce and mozzarella, and adds spinach, red onion, banana peppers, pepperoni, chicken, and the restaurant’s signature “X-sauce.” The sweet and sour flavor of the banana peppers gives pizza a yin and yang, Williams said, before taking a selfie with his pizza and going in for the chew. “It’s a good time,” he offers between bites.
5. Oysters at Chattahoochee Food Works
Off to Chattahoochie Food Works, the westside’s key food hall. Specifically to Smoked Pearl Seafood & Champagne Bar, which also serves mighty lobster rolls, gumbo, and shrimp and grits, Williams went for a half-dozen raw oysters, split between the briny, slightly sweet Irish Point and citrusy Savage Blond. He gives a generous pour of hot sauce, a spoonful of cocktail sauce, and a dollop of horseradish to each half-shelled bite, then skips away smiling to chat with other stall owners.
6. Vanilla Latte at Brash Coffee
Not that Williams seems to need a pick-me-up, but a quick stop here as we wait for Aziza to open for dinner makes an already beaming smile even bigger, and inspires some amazing dance maneuvers as drivers enduring Howell Mill Road traffic watch. The Robot and a few breakdancing tricks feature in his improvised sidewalk choreography.
7. Fried Oyster Tacos at Bartaco
“I recently acquired a taste for oysters. I like them grilled; fried was my least favorite until I had Bartaco’s rendition. Now it’s what I order the most; they have really good fried oyster tacos. Bartaco is a favorite when I’m working on a project but don’t wanna leave the study for too long, or I wanna eat good in my studio.”
8. Southern Fried Chicken at Twisted Soul Cookhouse + Pours
“It’s legit, quality fried chicken. The skin is seasoned well, and it’s crispy, but the inside is super-tender despite having a nice savory shell.” Williams uses the accompanying hot sauce as a dip, clears his plate of the collard greens and macaroni and cheese, then enjoys a slice of creme brûlée cheesecake and Twisted Soul’s pecan old fashioned. “I’m probably going to have to steal that and use it in my recipe. It gave it a sweetness, but a pecan sweetness.”
One topic that comes up repeatedly is alien life forms. At Aziza, Williams shares his belief that they’ve long been visiting Earth. He’s less concerned over any possible threat than how we measure up. Studying their successes and failures, he believes, could benefit humanity. “Where are we going wrong? Did they have the same issues we have? How long have they been coming? Who have they been talking to, and what do they think of us?” he asks aloud as he enjoyed the pull-apart kubaneh rolls. “The bread is like a croissant. Nice and crispy.” He also approves of the savory clams with sausage and praises the duck: “It’s a sweet dark meat, but it tastes like a light steak. It’s very good.”
10. The Reserve Burger at Marcel
One more thing … When asked what makes a good burger, Williams says the beef has to be juicy, with “good and salty” flavor, and a buttery bun. A 50-50 mix of dry-aged brisket and dry-aged chuck, Marcel’s 10-ounce Reserve burger comes covered in bone-marrow aioli, three-day demiglace and caramelized onions, with a sesame seed bun. It’s just under $40, and it often sells out. Williams digs it, especially the aioli. “It’s similar to cheese, but richer, creamier, and more savory, with a hint of beef flavor. It definitely complements TF out of this burger.”
Mike Jordan is Resy’s Southeast editor, and a longtime Atlanta-based multimedia journalist. His byline can be frequently found at The Wall Street Journal, Southern Living, Atlanta Magazine, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Eater Atlanta, and Thrillist, where he served as the founding Atlanta editor. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.
Fabian Williams’ Westside Picks
1. Westview Corner Grocery
1562 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd SW; Westview.
2. Augie’s Cafe
1540 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd; Westview.
3. Mangos Caribbean Restaurant
806 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd; West End.
4. Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria
1016 Howell Mill Rd; West Midtown
5. Chattahoochee Food Works
1235 Chattahoochee Ave NW; Blandtown.
6. Brash Coffee
1168 Howell Mill Rd, #0516, Westside Provisions District.
969 Marietta St NW; Westside.
8. Twisted Soul Cookhouse + Pours
1133 Huff RD NW Suite D, West Midtown.
1170 Howell Mill Rd. NW, Suite P10B, Westside Provisions District.
1170 Howell Mill Rd., Westside Provisions District.