Illegal Food @ Joystick – Atlanta, GA

20140525-203346-74026778.jpgOn Monday night , driving home from dropping something off in town, I noticed Joystick Gamebar on Edgewood, for the first time.  It’s on a stretch of road I don’t often drive, but the name stuck in my mind.  Then on Tuesday, Business Insider wrote this article about the best burgers in each state.  They named Illegal Food as THE PLACE for a burger in Georgia.  I knew I’d have to visit, soon, even before out-of-state friends sent me links to the article, asking what I thought of it.   

Joystick finished it’s funding on Kickstarter a little less than two years ago, opening in August of 2012.  Part of their plan was to serve as an incubator for pop up restaurants – that’s where Illegal Food (the brainchild of Chef Steven Lingenfelter and his wife/business partner, Laurie Dominguez) got their start, as a one-time weekend pop-up.  But the food and the fit was so good that they asked them to stay around.  A little over a year ago, they formalized the partnership and turned the kitchen over to Illegal Food full time.  The food concept is simple – quality foods with fresh ingredients, locally sourced when possible.

20140525-202218-73338271.jpgJoystick is, at heart, a gameroom / bar, that also serves food.  They are stocked with console video games from the early 1980s, that still take actual quarters.  How long has it been since you played Donkey Kong or Space Invaders on a full- sized machine, for a quarter?  About two hours for me (when I started writing this).  To the left is a photo that Jo shot from the bar of me, failing miserably at Space Invaders.  Apparently, those skills did not come back (like riding a bike is supposed to).  On second thought, I wasn’t really good at those games back in the 80s…

We arrived around 5:00 and took two seats at the end of the bar, nearest the door.  Note that the on the back wall is a blackboard with the high scores and names for each of the sixteen games.  All food is ordered from the bar, and there is seating at the bar and at tables and sofas throughout the two rooms.  Their menus, which appear to be about two weeks old based on a post on their Facebook page, are divided into potatoes, burgers, sammiches, sides and extras.  20140525-202223-73343386.jpg

Jo ordered the Fungus Among Us, a beef burger, with a blend of wild mushrooms, Swiss cheese, rocket, red onion, cracked black pepper and a truffle aioli, on a Holeman & Finch bun.


This was a huge burger.  All of the beef is from Brasstown, Meyer or Vande Rose, all grass-fed and hormone-free, and blended in house from several cuts.  It was good, by word of mouth, and messy, by view of the seating area <g>.  We split an order of house-made sriracha and honey fries, with sesame seeds and spring onions on top.


The fries are hand-cut, soaked, then double-fried, before being topped.  An order is more than enough to share and these were fantastic – no dipping sauce needed.  They are emphatic, on the menu, that ketchup is only for fries and they won’t serve it on a burger. 

I ordered the Double Hank – a beef burger, with iceberg lettuce, American cheese, pickles, sweet onion and special sauce, on a H & F bun.   If Jo’s burger was huge, then my burger was massive.


This burger was five inches tall (if it was an inch) and I was looking at crushing it down before being able to take a bite.  I removed the pickle and the onion and some of the lettuce, cut it in half, squeezed the buns and took the first bite.  This was one of the best burgers that I’ve had in a long time – the patty was juicy with a crisp crust and the “special” sauce was a perfect complement.  It was more of a two-step bite process, starting a bite from the top, then finishing from the bottom.  I ate every bit, savoring every bite (and I may have made happy eating sounds while chewing). 

I read Todd Brock’s review on Serious Eats and he said “it’s the only burger I’ve ever had that actually makes those squelchy crunch noises that fast-food places dub into their commercials“.  I quote him because I don’t know that I could write a better word picture. 

The people at Business Insider may have it right about Georgia – this was an excellent burger.  While Winstead’s, their Kansas choice (I ate at the original location in Missouri) seems weak, Rotier’s (Tennesee) was a good call and the burger at Grape (Texas – review forthcoming) was excellent.  And they absolutely nailed their New York choice with the Black Label burger at the Minetta Tavern, which may be the best burger I’ve ever eaten.  Forty-six more opportunities added to the list.

Joystick Gamebar on Urbanspoon


  1. […] a meal (or three or four) at Illegal Food back in 2014 and 2015 when they were a popup kitchen at Joystick, but we had not been to their actual location.  Today, when we were in town on a Saturday […]

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! Glad I wasn’t the only one who fell a little head over heels for Hank…

    1. Todd – it is a grand burger. I can’t wait to try some of their other dishes. I’ll also keep a lookout for your reviews on Serious Eats.

  3. Laurie Dominguez · · Reply

    It’s actually just Illegal Food- no “s”. Thanks for mention!

    1. I will correct it. Thanks!

  4. Steven · · Reply

    Thank you so much!!!!! Come back anytime.

    1. We will definitely return.

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