Monday, May 10, 2010

Buford Highway Crawl

Although I sometimes lament Atlanta's food scene as compared to NYC's, there is one area in which our scene surpasses there's - authentic ethnic food. It's not that NYC doesn't have great ethnic food, it does. But much of the truly authentic stuff is outside of Manhattan - be it Greek food in Astoria, Chinese food in Flushing, or Indian in Jackson Heights. And that translates into mighty long subway journeys. Not impossible but daunting for most. Fortunately in Atlanta, a quick drive over to Buford Highway secures you any number of delicious, cheap and super authentic ethnic cuisines.

Our friends had not yet experienced the glories of Buford Highway so we decided to join them on a restaurant crawl. Instead of limiting ourselves to just one foreign delight, we selected 3 different cuisines and limited ourselves to sampling their very best dishes.

First up: Havana Restaurant. Until I started researching where to go, I hadn't realized that there was a battle royale going on as to which Havana restaurant was the legitimate heir to the burned down restaurant of the same name. We opted for Havana Restaurant, the one owned by the founder's widowed daughter-in-law. Much like every other divey Buford Highway restaurant, Havana Restaurant is low on atmosphere. I did love that it is next door to some Pirate Bar, which seemed to be populated by a  huge crowd of fifty-something Buffet fans. Classic!

We ordered chicken empanadas and a Cuban sandwich at the counter and Mr. At treated himself to a Latin soda made of some unnatural red dyes and vats of real sugar.

The empanadas were a heavenly combination of flaky crust and savory filling. I could quite honestly eat several of these by myself, but we were pacing ourselves, so I was left wanting more. These are definitely worth going back for, and since the restaurant is on the south end of Bu-Hi, it's a viable quick dinner option.

The Cuban was also particularly good. These sandwiches are ubiquitous at many a non-Cuban restaurant these days, but it was the bread that made these stand out. The delectable melding of pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard was served atop sweet Cuban bread that managed to be simultaneously crunchy and fluffy. Yum!

Next up was one of our favorite Buford Highway haunts - El Rincon Latino. We opted for a sampler of pupusas and their shrimp cocktail. We've covered these before, but let me reiterate that their shrimp cocktail is surprisingly awesome, with tons of shrimp and avocado served in an orange inflected cocktail sauce. And the pupusas were better than they were on a previous visit - chewy cheese perfection without being too greasy.

Still hungry due to diligent self-denial, we headed to our last stop - Bamboo Hot Pot, a newish Vietnamese spot we'd heard great things about. Sad to see the place empty, we were pleased to find that we still got great service. Our waitress was the most charming mix of Southern diner (all flowing hair and shirt buttons bursting at the seams) and Vietnamese. In her bizarrely adorable Southern/Vietnamese accent she gave us the scoop on all the specialties, and Mr. AT and I chose to split a beef hot pot.

This dish was what is so great about Buford Highway. Mere minutes outside of the city, I got to sample a foreign dish I had never had before. All for just $6. It was served up, not surprisingly, in a clay pot, which our waitress stirred up. The rice around the edges and bottom had gone all delightfully crunchy, so while the beef and veggies were tasty, the rice was the real standout. The contrast of hot soft rice and crispy rice was amazing. You don't get a ton of meat, but for $6 it's still good value. I will definitely be back to Bamboo Grill and Hot Pot to try more soon!

If you're heading from Atlanta, first up is
Havana Restaurant
3979 Buford Highway Northwest
Atlanta, GA 30319
(404) 633-7549

The comes Bamboo Hot Pot (we passed it and doubled back after El Rincon Latino)
Bamboo Grill and Hot Pot

4646 Shallowford NW Rd Suite R
Chamblee, GA 30341
(678) 580-1727

El Rincon Latino
5055 Buford Highway Northwest
Doraville, GA 30340-1102
(770) 936-8181

Havana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Rincon Latino on Urbanspoon

Bamboo Grill and Hot Pot on Urbanspoon



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