After 10 years of being in the service industry, I’ve become a snob. I admit it. I began from the bottom-barrel chain restaurants to somehow working with James Beard nominees (humble brag). At the end of the day though, my snooty ways are hushed by what my inner garbage disposal wants. Here are some of my favorites:
In my opinion, Mali is the best Thai restaurant in Atlanta, arguably one of the best restaurants in the city for its food, service, and affordability. The Spicy Garlic Beef is savory, sweet, and spicy — hence the name. Their beef is thinly sliced, then grilled similar to the Korean Bulgogi. The sauce is nectar from the Thai Gods, most likely consisting of fish sauce so be warned those with a shellfish allergy: You can’t have any, and I’m sorry. All of this is tossed with broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and cabbage to bring earthiness to the dish. I am getting chills thinking about it right now.
Hajime is the second restaurant from the owner of Umaido in Suwanee. Ramen is a tough dish to make. It takes an immense amount of time and patience. If you make a goof, ruining the recipe, then you’re more than likely to lose both. My personal favorite at Hajime is the Ultra-Spicy level two. Their Spicy and Ultra-Spicy are the same broth. They just kick up the Ultra-Spicy a notch. The broth is a pork-bone base. It’s thick, fatty, and delicious. It’s topped off with more love-handled, delicious pork. Oh yeah, and some healthy stuff like seaweed, ginger, sesame seeds, and yellow onions. This is the ultimate winter dish.
On one cold day, the line for Umaido was out the door. I shrugged my shoulders and took a peek inside of Sodeulnyk, a Korean BBQ place. Their spicy pork bulgogi is something else. The combination of their sticky rice and straight meat is as if Walt Whitman was reciting a poem in my mouth. Not to mention the thousands of small plates that the server brings out before such as kimchi, potato salad, broccoli in a heavenly sauce that I never found out the name of, and miso soup. The dish is savory and meant for two. Not for this guy.
I used to eat a ton of chicken tenders as a kid. I thought I grew up and that time had passed. That was until Henry’s Tavern Chicken Fingers brought back the kid in me. Raised in upstate New York, the food chain restaurant called Friendly’s was the jam after I strutted my stuff playing tee-ball. This hand-breaded deliciousness brings me back to celebrating a tied game because, in tee-ball, everyone’s a winner. Shoutout to Henry’s: to Henry’s. You make me feel like D’Angelo in the video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”
When you’re in the mood for American food, you want something that won’t disappoint, something that tastes like freedom. The Vortex’s bacon cheeseburgers do the job for me. Especially when the Mets lose, my cat’s mad at me about the lack of cuddling, and I made the mistake of going onto Facebook to see that stupid-ass Todd has brought in another Todd onto this planet. Simple, buttered bread, beef patty, American cheese, and pickles. I always ask them to leave the lettuce and tomato off. Just the bad stuff, please. I’m so lonely.
When my wife and I were first dating, she took me to Escorpion on Peachtree Street. She ordered fried shrimp tacos and shared one with me. I asked her to marry me right there. Nah, it was years later. But the shrimp tacos played a big part in the whole marriage. Did I mention they’re fried and dressed with chipotle mayo? I could eat Mexican food every night. We live down the street, it’s always a temptation, and I sometimes look to see if anyone is eating them from across the street.
One thing I miss about New York is the food. It’s all comfort food. Joe Amitrano, the owner of Verra-Zanno’s Pizza in John’s Creek, brought his Brooklyn pizzeria vision down to the burbs of Atlanta. Any of their pizza is my favorite, but I usually find myself taking home a plain cheese pizza with garlic knots. And their pasta is off the charts. All of this is whipped up by their head chef, Julio. You can catch him spinning dough as you walk in. You’re probably wondering, “How does this guy know everyone’s name?” I go there that much. Ask for Ariele as a server — that’s my sister.
Speaking of pizza: As a Georgia State student, I’m in love with the two-piece special at Rosa’s Pizza downtown. They’re speedy, hilarious, and genuinely seem like a family. I roll with the sliced sausage and hot pepper slices. They are killer. My favorite thing about Rosa’s is that they’re consistent with how their dough is cooked. It’s usually between crispy and soft. I’m about that life.
I found myself complaining, per usual, about how I couldn’t find a sandwich joint that I was head over heels in love with. But then my wife introduced me to Reuben’s downtown. You cannot go wrong with their Philly Cheesesteak or Cuban. Hands down the best. They use Boar’s Head meat on everything, so you already know it’s that supreme quality. I wish I could nestle in a corner, wake up, and eat their breakfast too.
Besides shrimp, I always thought I was good on the rest of what the sea had to offer. But I knew I was genetically predisposed to love seafood (I’m black). This proved true when I began working at the Castellucci family’s Cooks & Soldiers in West Midtown. Pulpo is octopus. One thing that strays most human beings away from octopus is the texture. Their Pulpo is flawless. It has a perfect texture after being sous vide. Then they char-grill it to give you a wooden smoke flavor. It’s too good, and it’s true.