by Jonathan Baker - 319 Reviews - 185 List
Among other strange titles, Atlanta has the dubious distinction of being the restaurant chain capital of the world ? seeing as Chick-Fil-A, Waffle House and Moe's are all headquartered here. (Lucky us.) So, it's not a major shock that getting real-deal global eats can be a bit of a challenge. Never fear, our editor has been on an ethnic binge of late and carved out the best choices, from banh mi off Buford to disco-dancing Italian joints. Curious diners, read on!
Updated: July 31, 2009
MEXICAN: Americanized chains dot the suburban landscape, each magically delivering the exact same ?#1 combination dinner? no matter the restaurant. Within the city limits, Mexican street fare (tacos, tortas, empanadas) have become increasingly popular among the food-obsessed. The best of both worlds and the best Mexican spot in Atlanta is Nuevo Laredo. Massive chimichangas and burritos sit next to more traditional dishes like tacos sangrado and brisket barbacoa. Go ahead and expect a wait but it is well worth it.
KOREAN: This shiny, modern OTP "pork belly house" can seem a little intimidating for first-timers, but once mastered, this Korean 'cue is a rousing and conversation-worthy experience. Dishes come out at a rapid pace and are cooked on a table-dwelling, upside-down-wok device that acts as a sort of self-monitoring hibachi grill. Succulent pork belly and beef tenderloin sizzle among the sprouts and spicy kimchi, while myriad sauces, salads and rice papers make for an endless array of self-invented combinations.
CHINESE: Besides having Atlanta's best soup (dragon soup), side (snow pea leaves) and Americanized dish (Mongolian beef), Canton Cooks throttles other Chinese restaurants with their Cantonese-style chow mein. Noodles are pan fried and we recommend you ask for them on the side to insure crispness will stay throughout the meal. The broth is near perfect and the house-style comes chocked with everything from barbecue pork to calamari. You'll win on all accounts.
JAPANESE/SUSHI: Nakato is the obvious choice here, but we give the edge to the little-known Sushi House Hayakawa. 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.
VIETNAMESE: If you don't travel to NY or SF, this Vietnamese street sandwich might be new to you. Let us 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 and texture. Think of it as a really tasty Asian sub sandwich. And the to-go version at Lee's Bakery only costs $2.50.
THAI: While the ethnic Mecca that is Buford Hwy has plenty of wonderful spots, they lack in Thai goodness. But, thankfully, Atlanta's yuppiest `hood comes to the rescue. Mali, a cozy Thai staple in Virginia Highland not only does some of the city's best Thai food (get the seafood in a clay pot), but their sushi is severely underrated.
ETHIOPIAN: Because eating with your hands is fun! This cute, quaint eatery wipes out any preconceived notions that true ethnic food has to be intimidating. Dishes are served on individual plates rather than a sharing board of injera (the spongy bread that acts as both the utensil and platter), but the food is the real deal. Zilzil tibs (think fajitas) allow diners to make mini-steak wraps, and vegetarians will do well with red-lentil spreads, sambusa and soup made from sunflower seeds.
ITALIAN: While Sotto Sotto and Il Mulino are among our favorite Italian spots, they are also more of the high-end variety. We like to think of eating Italian as a festive, happy experience. And that would be an understatement if describing Il Localino. Real-deal heavy Italian favorites are dished out at this Brooklyn-channeling shot-gun room. Go late (after 9ish) and get the discoball and dance treatment. You have to see it to believe it.