by Jonathan Baker - 319 Reviews - 185 List
Atlanta doesn't have a Chinatown or Little Italy like NY or San Francisco, but we do have an ethnic Mecca just above the perimeter known as Buford Highway. This oft-avoided strip is not nearly as dicey as we snooty ITPers think; some of our city's culinary jewels make up this string of awesome real-deal ethnic eateries. From Atlanta's best sushi to late-night taco stands, we've outlined the best of Buford Highway.
Updated: October 20, 2010
KOREAN BARBECUE: Atlanta has a plethora of Korean barbecue joints--the ones that boast giant upside woks on the table for self-grilling--but only one uses charcoal rather than gas, Hanil Kwan. So that's how we're rolling. Pork belly, short ribs, and kimchi highlight the usual suspects but it's the charcoal that really sets this place apart. A warning: Prepare yourself to be super-full. You drinkers must try the soju, a stiff Korean cocktail that tastes like the smoothest vodka imaginable.
BANH MI SANDWICHES: If you don't travel to NY or SF, this Vietnamese street sandwich might be new to you. Let me explain. It's a housemade, crispy baguette with the right tooth and crunch, warm spice-scented grilled pork, cucumbers, pickled veggies, jalapeno and cilantro. It has a wonderful combination of spice, texture, and crunchiness. Think of it as a really tasty Asian sub sandwich. The to-go version at Lee's Bakery only costs $2.50. Eat one. Love it. Take one back to your coworkers. Save the day.
JAPANESE/SUSHI: This is true sushi paradise. Hayakawa flies in their fish from Tsukiji, the largest fish market in Tokyo, injecting authenticity that's risky but worth the shot. The shiny-skinned Japanese gizzard shad is prepared the traditional way with the skin intact, Red Snapper is torched gently and worth ordering twice, and ponzu-sauced monkfish liver tastes like the best tofu you've ever had. And the brains behind the place? Art Hayakawaya is as endearing as he is entertaining.
CHURROS: What the hell are churros? Let me explain. Churros are fried dough shaped like dynamite sticks and taste like beignets reinvented in Mexican cylinder form. Lightly dusted in sugar and served hot with a creamy dipping sauce called cajeta, they are greasy, chewy and just about perfect. The best churros are not lodged in the churros-warmer contraption, but come fresh, so ask for a hot batch. Take a gander at the self-serve display case and snag a few pastries (pan dulces) to take home.
TACOS: All you who love Taqueria Del Sol, get ready to have your mind blown. While you won't find Memphis barbecue or fried chicken tacos at this stand, El Veloz does tacos the way they were meant to be served: corn tortilla, meat, onions, cilantro, tin foil plating. The cow tongue might be a bit much, but the barbacoa or carnitas (both delicious pork versions) will make you a believer. So will the $1 price tag and the refreshing horchata beverage.
PUPUSAS: A Guatemalan staple, Pupusas have the thickness, size and shape of a pancake, but taste like if a cheese quesadilla ran head first into a corn muffin. The casing is significantly thicker than a tortilla and is stuffed with melted cheese, pork or or a pepper-like flower vegetable called loroco. They come with a slaw accompaniment that goes on top for added spice and crunch.
CHRYSANTHEMUM TEA: A tea that actually tastes like the scent of a flower? Whoever invented this is a genius! Traditional green tea usually arrives with the meal, so you'll need to make a special request for chrysanthemum version, but its well worth the required correspondence. Arriving steaming hot, slightly sweetened with flowers bobbing amid the top of the pot, it's like no tea you've ever had, but will instantly crave.
VEGETARIAN CHINESE: Everything here is vegan friendly? and everything here is awesome. Vegan or not, it's some of the best Chinese food in Atlanta. Slathered in a Hunan sauce, the ?chicken? in the spicy chicken with vegetables is so meat-like it's nearly impossible to tell a difference. The Chinese ?pizza? appetizer is like a fried version of a scallion pancake and dumplings hide a hummus-like surprise behind dough that's been made from carrots. If you're afraid, you're missing out.