Restaurants I have to visit:
Sylvia’s Pastry 6065 S. Norcross Tucker Road, #9, Norcross (nearby!) Here’s why:
(Creative Loafing): “I’ve struck culinary paydirt at Silvia’s Pastry, a teeny tiny little Mexican spot in Norcross. It’s the tortillas. The steaming hot corn tortillas made mere moments before you eat them. They’re incredible, better than any tortillas I’ve had in Atlanta, including those at the now-defunct Oh…Maria!”
“Some caveats about this place: It’s cash only, and the hours can be irregular, so be sure to call ahead to see if they’re open.”
Cafeteria La Oaxaquena, 1669-B Spring Road, Smyrna, GA (old neighborhood). Here’s why:
(Creative Loafing): “The ingredients of La Oaxaquena’s tlayudas may look familiar — refried beans, tomatoes and cheese — but they bear little resemblance to the “Mexican pizza” served at Taco Bell. Refried beans, for instance, are not a dense, globby layer but rather a light, almost invisible paste that serves to bond the meat against the huge, crispy corn tortilla that comprises the base of the tlayuda. On top, a massive pile of cool iceberg lettuce is speckled with the aforementioned quesillo. Bright tomatoes and avocados hide within the green mountain.”
Any place that serves dim sum. Why? I had it in Houston with my friend Laura, and I’d like to have it again. Here is one recommendation from Creative Loafing:
Favorites rotate as chefs and owners of restaurants change, but Canton House is currently on the top of my list … and just about everyone else’s in Atlanta. The room is not nearly as big as the others mentioned here, and the waits are longer during prime time, but it’s all worth it. The steam rolls out of the baskets and the dumplings are blazing hot. Aside from doing the classics — steamed buns, turnip cakes, rice noodles — justice, someone in the kitchen has an inventive imagination. I’ve seen cinnamon rolls Asian-style and bacon-wrapped shrimp roll through the dining room as well. Kudos to Canton House.
4825 Buford Highway, Chamblee. 770-936-9030.
Gaucho’s Grill,5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross, GA. There’s also one on Buford Highway. I’ve been to that one for pastries, but apparently there are kidneys to be eaten there! Here’s more:
(Creative Loafing): “Perhaps it was the proximity of the International Farmer’s Market or the elderly customer blowing his nose directly onto the pavement outside while an unfazed waiter chatted with him in rapid Castilian that told me that Gaucho’s Grill, an Argentinean/ Uruguayan eatery, was truly free of pretense. The restaurant is named after the archetypal Argentinean cowboy figure, paintings of whom adorn the wall. Gaucho’s is a comfortable, everyday spot that serves up traditional, no-frills South American favorites. Hyper-drive air conditioning blankets the windows with a Christmastime-like frost and fútbol flashes on the restaurant’s TVs. Large tables of celebratory families clink glasses and pose for group photos, heightening Gaucho’s cheeriness.”
“It takes repeated asking — close to wheedling, actually — to get the check. However, the staff’s exceptional graciousness, paired with the fair prices and large portions, make Gaucho’s an enjoyable choice for even the pickiest cowboy. ”
Malaysian Food! (Creative Loafing): “Thai Palate Cuisine (265 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-685-9988) has opened next to MF Sushi, in the complex that wraps itself about the temporarily closed Krispy Kreme donut shop.”
“I know that (Malaysia borders Thailand) but I’ve been to many Thai restaurants and do not recall ever going to one that chose to feature Malaysian food.”
This sounds good: “I ordered a special — not too spicy — of two fried soft-shell crabs in a green curry sauce with sugar peas, red peppers, asparagus and basil, served with rice. Every ingredient glistened and the crabs were the best I’ve had this season.”
From the same article: “La Feria (1860 Corporate Blvd., 404-728-0830) is not a gourmet restaurant but it does offer more authentic and challenging dishes than any other Mexican restaurant in town that I know. Opened by the folks who own Marisqueria 7 Mares, La Feria is located in an old Denny’s where Buford Highway intersects with Corporate Boulevard. Look for the Pink Pony. You’re there.”
Something to scare my husband: “The dinner menu is staggering. Any regular reader of this column knows that I will happily eat just about anything from any eco-system. But I’m sorry: I ain’t ordering La Feria’s bull testicles. I hope that gives you an idea of how extensive and odd this menu is. There’s also rabbit and goat, quails and Cornish hens.”
Something to make my husband happy (and an alternative to Folks?):
Greenwood’s – There’s nothing like Greeny’s when you’re hungry for soulful fare. From the pile of corn muffins slung on the table by a sassy server to the trout with lemon butter sauce, broccoli casserole and dense, cinnamony apple pie, this is stick-to-your-ribs chow with an irreverent yet patriotic heart. Leftovers for lunch the next day are all but guaranteed. 1087 Green St., Roswell, 770-992-5383.
Madras Saravana Bhavan – Located across from North DeKalb Mall in a barely renovated Folks restaurant, MSB has some of the most compelling South Indian food in town. It’s all vegetarian, but carnivorous types won’t miss the meat. The menu is huge, though a few keepers include the texturally multi-layered bhel puri, the lithe masala dosa crepe stuffed with potato and the saffron-scented shrikand for dessert. Come with a group and find your own favorites. This is food meant for sharing. 2179 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur, 404-636-4400.
Sala– Connoisseurs, welcome to your Holy Grail. Sala serves the most precisely and seductively engineered margaritas in town. Yes, the martini-esque shaker presentation is kinda pretentious, but wait until you taste. I’m perpetually jonesing for the Longhorn (their take on a Texas margarita) or the Reales, a bracing yet refreshing creation with no sweet and sour mix added. I’ll warn you: They ain’t cheap, and you can spend a small fortune here, but they’re worth every sip. And now that the restaurant has a new chef, it’s safe to move from the sleek bar into the lively dining room and stay for dinner. 1186 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-7203.
Falafel Cafe, 950 Cobb Parkway Suite 100, Marietta, GA. Here’s why:
(Creative Loafing): “There’s the standard stuff that everyone knows and may or may not love — hummus and tabbouleh and the like. But since owner Reza Gharaat bought the restaurant a few years back, his food has largely shifted to seductive, esoteric delights of Persian fare. One may wonder why he didn’t change the restaurant’s name, but given the relative obscurity of Persian food in this country, how many folks would show up at a place called Ash-e-Reshteh Cafe?”
This sounds good: “start with Kashk-o-Bademjan, a dense but silken eggplant dip drizzled with cream of whey and garnished with a clump of gooey caramelized onions. It’s served with smokin’ hot flatbread fresh from the griddle.” “If you’re with a crowd, order the herbaceous beef variation known as Gormeh Sabsi. The combination of cilantro, parsley and fenugreek in the mix is pleasantly astringent and compliments the other tastes on the table, but I wouldn’t order it alone.”
One of my Iranian students brought gormeh sabsi to our international day, and it was fabulous!
Okay, I know this is not all. In fact, I finally found Creative Loafings restaurants listing page, and here are some more:
I haven’t had pho yet, so:
Ca Dao Vietnamese Restaurant, 4166 Buford Hwy., 404-982-0700. The cold weather requires soup. My favorite ethnic soup is the Vietnamese pho. Usually made with beef stock, to which rice noodles, herbs, chilies, lime and a variety of meats are added. Buford Highway is lined with pho restaurants, including Ca Dao, which probably serves the best pho in the city. $
Pho 79, 4166 Buford Highway, 404-728-9129. Go here to find a remarkable Vietnamese soup that is not strictly pho. I’m talking about the menu designation of K-10, called mi quang. It is from central Vietnam and features beef broth with broad yellow noodles. It’s full of pork, shrimp, eggs, rice wafers and roasted peanuts that add a fascinating dimension to the usual soups. Of course, you’ll float herbs and chilies on top. It’s $5.75. What could be better? $$
Noodle, 205 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-8622. Stylish, moderately priced noodle bar features appetizers, noodle bowls, soups, rice plates and entree salads, four or five of each, all more or less Chinese, Korean, Thai or Vietnamese in derivation and presentation. Oversize crockery, decent wine-and-beer list and touchy-feely industrial decor emphasize the distance Asian-American-style restaurants have traveled — from mainland to mainstream. $$
Little Malaysia, 5150 Buford Highway, 770-458-1818. Bare-bones Buford Highway establishment serves authentic Malaysian cuisine. Beef rendang is a good measuring stick for any Malaysian restaurant — and at Little Malaysia, it’s irresistible. The slow-cooked beef with spicy brown sauce and coconut flakes melts in your mouth. Curries, soups and noodles are stellar as well. Like the environment, the service is no-frills. $$
Panahar, Northeast Plaza, 3375 Buford Highway #1060, 404-633-6655. Owner Mirza Chowdhury and his staff are all Bangladeshi, and Panahar’s menu mirrors that fact: The food is less oily, less spicy and less meat-oriented than standard Indian cuisine. There’s tons to choose from on the menu, but once you exhaust that the chef is willing to make up anything else that might tickle your fancy. Truly one of the best new Indian restaurants in town.
Salumeria Taggiasca, 209 Edgewood Ave, 404-524-0006. In the midst of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is the unassuming Salumeria Taggiasca counter, a mini Italian market that serves the best sandwiches in the city, while offering olives, cheeses, meats and an array of imported products. The hardcore Italian sandwich list may seem overwhelming with its difficult-to-pronounce names and exotic ingredients (all imported from Italy, except for the Bread Garden bread). But don’t despair — you won’t regret any of your choices. $
Casbah, 465 N. Highland Ave., 404-524-5777. A fun place to take yourself, and not just for a special occasion, this comfy, affordable North Highland harem features belly dancing, notable sweet-spicy salads, first-rate couscous and more-or-less traditional versions of Moroccan poultry pie and lamb with apricots and honey. $$$
Pangaea, 1082 Huff Road, 404-350-8787. The coolest sandwich shop we’ve encountered in years. It’s not far from Bacchanalia and Taqueria del Sol and definitely worth the drive wherever you are in the city. The menu boasts sandwiches from Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, the Middle East, Italy and America. The panino grosso — a flat-grilled Italian classic with salami, cappicola, sopressata and ham with provolone and pickled red onions — is delicious but pales beside the Vietnamese banh mi. $
Georgia French Bakery & Cafe, 3512 Satellite Blvd., Suite 5, 770-622-2682. The accents of the bakers at Georgia French Bakery & Cafe are real. And so are the wonderful breads. In addition to the baguettes, there’s a chewy pain de campagne (country French), a firm-crusted pain au levain (sourdough), pain complet (whole wheat), pain de seigle (rye with plenty of caraway seeds), sweet brioche (perfect for breakfast) and a full-flavored pain de semoule (semolina). As befits a French bakery, everything is made fresh every day, which means that sometimes, the one thing you were planning on getting will be gone. $$
Costa del Sol, 6265 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-840-6040. Central American cuisine includes Salvadoran, Honduran and Ecuadoran as well as more familiar Mexican-oriented items. No matter, the must-eat are the pupusas — a pancake-like item filled with gooey cheese and meat. $$$
Aires Latinos, 3853 Lawrenceville Highway, 770-407-4654. Aires Latinos is proof that gifted cooks are not the province solely of four- and five-star establishments. A Colombian family in Tucker is producing an array of startlingly sophisticated dishes at moderate prices. Enthusiastic menu descriptions pale in comparison to the real things. $$$
The only thing missing is a section on the Brazilian churrascarias that I want to try!