Christmas comes but once a year—and thank God for that. I’ve long advocated that Christmas become a centennial holiday, but that would wreck the economy and reduce the annual incidence of family fights, bouts of depression, and music from Hell. We can’t have that.
And then there’s the meal, which often reprises Thanksgiving’s turkey. Does anyone really want two turkeys within a month of each other? Happily, there are alternatives to turkey and home dining. This year a huge number of restaurants open for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so you can pretty much eat wherever and whatever you’d like. Me? As a lapsed Christian, for many years I’ve joined Jewish people and headed to a favorite Chinese restaurant.
Here are a few of the best tried-and-true authentic Chinese restaurants in town. (I do recommend you call these restaurants before heading out.)
Chef Liu. This restaurant has drawn raves since the year it started business in a trailer in a parking lot. The big draw is the dumplings—particularly the soup dumplings. No, they are not dumplings floating in soup. They are delicate clumps of dough filled with seasoned pork and an amazingly rich pork broth. There are 20-odd varieties of dumplings, and that’s pretty much all I eat here, but you’ll find plenty else, like a leek pancake. Warning: I’m not very fond of the noodle dishes. 5283 Buford Hwy., 770-936 0532.
Tasty China. This restaurant has undergone one drama after another in recent years, but its hot-and-spicy Szechuan cuisine keeps it on top. If you’re unfamiliar with Szechuan cooking, it employs hot and numbing chilies. The heat burns but is cut off by the numbing. You’ll eat and eat. Favorites: mapo tofu, fried eggplant, dan dan noodles … anything else. 585 Franklin Rd., Marietta, 770-419-9849, www.tastychina.net.
Canton House. Arguably, this restaurant still retains the title of best dim sum in the city. Besides the constantly rolling carts of often mysterious but almost always delicious dishes, there’s a regular menu of mainly familiar dishes. I recently had a fantastic lobster cooked with ginger and scallions here for only $20. Canton House is certainly the most “vanilla” of the restaurants listed here. 4825 Buford Hwy., 770-936-9030, www.cantonhouserestaurant.com
Masterpiece. I wrote about this restaurant a few months back. It is still garnering raves and many regard it the best Chinese restaurant in the city now. So, yeah, it’s worth the drive, but absolutely call ahead. Much of the food here is Szechuan, like Tasty China’s, but much milder than the usual. I’m still craving the blocks of pork belly in rice-wine sauce and the best Kung Pao chicken I’ve ever tasted. But you can’t go wrong here—unless you’re looking for elegant ambiance. The dining room is minimalist. Like, there’s nothing there. 3490 Buford Hwy., Duluth, 770-622-1191.
Harmony Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant. It’s true that a vegetarian can eat well at almost any Chinese restaurant. But Harmony does more than just serve veggies straight up in a sauce. Instead, it cooks traditional meat dishes with various texturized meat substitutes. So you can get all your favorites, like fake eel with broccoli. Yeah, really. Honestly, I’m not a big fan, but lots of people love the place. I can for sure recommend the mysterious curry pockets, a wonderful starter. Then you can move on to the faux chicken, lamb, fish and pork. 4897 Buford Hwy., 770-457-7288, www.harmonyvegetarian.com.