By Wendell Brock
10 Degrees South
After 15 years on the scene, this Roswell Road establishment is a highly original destination where food and wine from the tip of the Southern Hemisphere are celebrated with flair. Before we could pose the server with a query on the peri-peri, we got the hard sell on South African reds—particularly the Rupert & Rothschild 2009 “Classique.” The big, full-bodied R&R was the perfect match for the luscious, spicy food that followed. I may not be an expert on South African cuisine, but I’ll wager that nobody makes bobotie (the national dish) like 10 Degrees South. The dish consists of tantalizingly sweet curried ground beef topped with a custardy crust. It’s time to get your head out of the sand and indulge in the kind of stuff our parents enjoyed when “Continental” cuisine was in vogue.
After two meals at this North Indian restaurant, I’ve come to admire the flavorful, long-simmered, aromatic home cooking. The Samosa Chat was a wonderful smash-up of potato-and-pea samosas topped with tamarind and mint chutneys and cool yogurt. As for the entrées, I really loved the intensely flavored goat curry and wanted to sop up every drop of the gravy with rice. This second location of Archna Becker’s beloved Decatur restaurant is an appealing minimalist space, and it’s easy to get in and out and have a solid and affordable meal. We are delighted that it’s finally here.
Tapas and appetizers: $3.95-$8.95
Entrées and thalis: $11.95-$17.95
In a town that’s burger-crazed and churrascaria-packed, chef-owners Lin and Edward Sun’s casual, mid-priced kitchen is an anomaly: a veggie haunt that samples freely from world cuisine with mainstream diners in mind. Here,
patrons take delight in consistently delicious salads and soups; soy-based replicas of everyday grub like burgers and ravioli; and a stellar lineup of original dishes. The food is freshly prepared, beautifully presented and accessible to
both hardcore vegans and omnivores.
Lunch entrées: $9-$12
Dinner entrées: $12-$18
Hal’s “The Steakhouse”
Looking on the outside like a high-end strip joint topped with a Bourbon Street balcony, Hal’s has built its cachet around its loyal clientele, old-school style, impeccable service and terrific food. Owner Hal Nowak is a New Orleans native, and in his eponymous enterprise—with its shrimp rémoulade, oysters bordelaise and booze-soaked bread pudding—he has good, created Atlanta’s answer to Galatoire’s. This may be your grandparents’ favorite restaurant, but in an age where everything old is new again, it also boasts a youthful clientele that appreciates its straightforward food, strong drinks and speakeasy atmosphere.
Appetizers and salads: $8.95-$23.95
Entrées and steaks: $23.95-$49.95
After nearly three decades, Jalisco remains a giddy, guilty pleasure trip through a tunnel of cheese. This Tex-Mex institution at Peachtree Battle is better than an El Paso taco kit but not exactly a showcase of the sophisticated techniques and ingredients of the Mexican larder. Without apology, Jalisco is what it is, a place with consistently good, standard-issue burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and even a “Hamburguesa Mexicana.” (It’s topped with nacho cheese.) This is not a place where the kitchen thrives on change and creativity. For the most part, the menu is
the same as it has been since Jalisco opened in 1978.
Lunch specials: $5.45-8.50
Every Sunday at sunrise, Joy Austin Beber goes to her Buckhead café and makes a whopping pile of her great-grandmother’s biscuits. After church, she serves a hallelujah chorus of a brunch: fluffy buttermilk pancakes; eggs Benedict; and those famous biscuits topped with gravy, sausage and scrambled eggs. I arrived at the 3 p.m. cutoff for the breakfast-y brunch items, and enjoyed a terrific cobb salad with loads of blue cheese, bacon, avocado, boiled egg and grilled chicken. The Joy’s pièce de résistance, though, is the Crack Pie, with its oatmeal-cookie crust and gooey interior … Joy got a kick out of hearing that I am wack for her crack. This self-taught chef keeps it simple and fresh.
Little Bangkok is a decidedly humble hole-in-the-wall, yet many Atlanta ethnic-foodies insist that it is their favorite go-to joint for casual Thai. Not the fussy business of intricately carved radishes and gilded bowls. Not the throwaway curries and stir-fries of last-chance airport concessions and mall food courts. Little Bangkok is that happy place somewhere in the middle—a spot where the spring rolls are always crispy and the pad thai always a plate of tangy-sweet comfort, and where adventuresome diners can savor the green-peppercorn bite of spicy catfish and the sweet, Rice-Krispie weirdness of mee krob. At its best, Little Bangkok is like a brief, belly-pleasing adventure to the Land of Smiles.
Just as I send diners to Bone’s for the definitive steakhouse experience, I suggest OK Café as a classic diner with a strong Southern twang. The offerings here are anchored in time and tradition: Root beer floats and cherry lemonade are called Black Cows and Pink Ladies. Meatand-twos and veggie plates laden with silken collards and exquisite mac and cheese are meant to be washed down with sweet iced tea and sopped up with a perfect corn muffin. Fat slices of meatloaf encrusted with tomato sauce; roast turkey with cornbread dressing and gravy; chicken pot pie with an adorable little “OK” stamped onto its puff-pastry blanket—this stuff draws a crowd. If you don’t want to play the waiting game, you’d better arrive before 11 a.m. or between the lunch and dinner rush. After a quarter-century, OK Café never goes out of style.
Burgers and sandwiches: $3.99-$12.99
You can surely find trendier pizza parlors or posher places to eat Italian in Atlanta. But if you are looking for old-fashioned linguini with clam sauce or chicken Florentine in a relaxed and inviting atmosphere with a loyal following, this Buckhead favorite has got you covered. The restaurant is beloved by many for its home-style cooking, casual ambiance, reasonable prices and a staff of servers who have acquired faithful customers of their own. Owner Nancy Powell treasures her crew, most of whom have been on the job for more than 10 years. Given the refined state of Italian dining in America today, Pasta Vino is not likely to win any awards for innovation or inspiration. But it remains a perfectly fine, frequently delicious, middle-of-the-road trattoria.
Starters and salads: $2-$10
Co-owner Jim Graddy tells me he learned the art of the pit on his granddaddy’s pig farm in Manchester, Ga. Graddy remembers cooking whole hogs all night long over hot coals, and when I tear into his pulled-pork sandwich—a delicious pile of pink, smoke-tinged meat between two thick slabs of white bread—I believe him. Graddy has proudly transported his family’s traditions to his casual Southern ’cue counter. Man, is the food good. The fresh-tasting coleslaw (with just a little mayo) and excellent new potato salad are just the things to cut the richness of the succulent pork. Some other tasty go-withs are fried okra, long-cooked collards, mac and cheese and Brunswick stew. I’m sated. I’m sauce-splashed. I need a moist towelette and a nap.
Starfish—which can look just a little lost on the block that houses Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch—is exactly the kind of sushi joint I have been trolling for. In a city where Japanese cuisine can be hit-or-miss and ometimes not the freshest, chef-owner Seung K. “Sam” Park’s reticent little pearl is a superior catch—cute and compact as a bento box but with just a hint of luxury. At dinner, we were delighted to see how the kitchen plays around with untraditional ingredients like truffle oil and balsamic vinegar, slicing fish as thin as carpaccio and arranging it in dazzling presentations. When our flounder sashimi arrived, the server told us to place a dab of the ponzu jelly spiked with cilantro, jalapeño and lime on a strip of the fish and roll it up. Exquisite. Starfish isn’t the kind of place that announces itself with screaming klieg lights or red carpets. But in this culture of excess, sometimes being a little bit underthe-radar can be very seductive.
Lunch Entrées: $7-$16;
Dinner Entrées: $12-$30
Simply Buckhead is an upscale lifestyle magazine focused on the best and brightest individuals, businesses and events in Buckhead, Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Chamblee. With a commitment to journalistic excellence, the magazine serves as the authority on who to know, what to do and where to go in the community, and its surroundings.