This is a catch-up week—blurbs of some recent meals with friends at three favorite restaurants. All are in the middle price range, at least at lunchtime.
Himalayan Spice: This restaurant is unique in Atlanta because it serves the cuisine of Nepal, as well as that of northern India, which it borders. The Nepali menu is short compared to the Indian one, and consists entirely of small plates. Probably the best-known traditional dish is the “momo”—dumplings stuffed with vegetables or chicken (the more flavorful choice) and served with a tomatoey, spicy sauce. The choila, which draws raves, features pieces of chicken or lamb marinated in mysterious spices and combined with onions, ginger, garlic and cilantro. Share with your date or no kissing afterward.
Indian standouts include the Chicken 65, sautéed with curry leaves, mustard seeds and chili peppers, garnished with coconut powder. This is a very mild version of a traditionally spicy-hot dish. Be warned, by the way, that if you ask for your food to be hot, it will be near blistering. I asked for my biryani—rice cooked with lamb, chicken and vegetables—that way. I also ordered some naan topped with hot chili paste and cilantro. My tongue survived but was rendered numb enough to make speech difficult. (2773 Clairmont Road, 404-549-7602, www.himalayanspiceatlanta.com)
Crawfish Shack: New Orleans is home to a large community of Vietnamese. Over the years, many have fanned out across the country, cooking Cajun classics with a bit of Vietnamese spice. Hieu Pham, although born and raised in Atlanta, has roots in Cajun culture, and his restaurant, the Crawfish Shack, became a huge hit about five years ago. Honestly, I don’t detect much specifically Asian taste in the food here, but like everyone else, I find the fried seafood and fish addictive, whether piled on a po’boy or served with hushpuppies and coleslaw. I think it’s definitely the Asian skill with batters—light and crispy compared to the often thick and greasy Southern stuff—that shines. There are also plenty of steamed and boiled dishes like crab legs, mussels, and shrimp. Of course, the crawfish is incomparable.
This place is usually packed, but I’ve never experienced a lengthy wait. The seating is all community picnic tables, so don’t plan to discuss your sex life here. But it can be a lot of fun to chat with strangers of all ethnicities. I have one warning: the place is in great need of remodeling. I wouldn’t call it dirty, but the floors and walls are scuffed and scratched. So this isn’t a place to impress your fiancé the interior designer, either. (4337 Buford Highway, 404-329-1610, www.crawfishshackseafood.com)
Atmosphere: So, you worked out at the LA Fitness at Ansley Mall just before lunch. Why walk to Panera for a salad when you can trek the short distance to this nearby French bistro and regain the quarter-pound you lost on the treadmill? The restaurant, quite pricy at night, offers a two-course lunch menu for $15. I go for the “petite charcuterie” starter; its serving of cured meats is not petite at all. For my entrée, I order the croque monsieur, the classic sandwich of ham and melted Swiss cheese. There’s also a daily omelet. You have the option of skipping a starter and ordering a dessert of ice cream or sorbet instead. The clientele here are older and a bit formal. You probably want to change out of your gym shorts and ripped T-shirt before going. (1620 Piedmont Ave., 678-702-1620, www.atmospherebistro.com)
A note: My favorite lunch spot, Babylon Café (2257 Lenox Road, 404-329-1007, www.babyloncafeatl.com) is now serving an amazing dessert resembling super moist carrot cake. It’s gluten-free, which means it’s also annoyance-free, because you don’t have to listen to your celiac friends whimper for an edible dessert.
(Cliff Bostock is a longtime Atlanta food critic and former psychotherapist who now offers life coaching, specializing in creativity and midlife transition. 404-518-4415.)