Gays of a certain age suffer a common disease: nostalgia. Every location we pass in Midtown evokes memories—places we lived, places we told five different tricks we were virgins, places we dined with friends. I suffered a major episode recently when I dined at the new La Hacienda (900 Monroe Drive, 404-941-7890, www.la haciendamidtown.com).
The restaurant is located where the Silver Grill operated for decades. Unless you’re over 40, you probably don’t remember the original place. It was an iconic blue-collar diner whose clientele became largely gay as rural refugees immigrated to the “Gay Capital of the South” during the ’70s. A matronly staff toted classic Southern cooking to the table (including canned vegetables), evoking bittersweet memories of Macon mamas. It closed in 2006, after nearly 60 years, and was reincarnated for a while, with a somewhat different name. That didn’t work and the building sat empty for what seemed like a few years. (If you’re truly nostalgic, Google Diamond Lil’s song “Silver Grill Blues.”)
The owners of La Hacienda, who operate two other restaurants in Newnan and Fayetteville, demolished the Silver Grill building and created what is fundamentally a carbon copy of a zillion other terra-cotta-colored Mexican restaurants. That’s not to say it’s ugly. In fact it’s got a quite pleasant dining room—yay for the portrait of Frida Kahlo!—and one feature that may put Zocalo and Frogs, across the street, at risk: a rooftop patio. Inclement weather kept me from checking it out, but everyone knows that guzzling margaritas on a roof is more fun than a keg party at a frat house.
The menu is kind of campy—leather- bound and stitched with a cover that looks like it was lettered with a wood burner (sort of like the wallets we constructed in crafts class in elementary school). Inside is the typical endless list of dishes and I’m in no position to make a judgment after one visit. The restaurant is significantly Tex-Mex, but it does have far more authentic Mexican influence than most restaurants in town.
For example, I ordered shredded pork in a decent mole sauce, juicy with the requisite shot of chocolate. Moles are becoming more popular, but it’s still difficult to find a really good one outside Rosa Mexicano, Zocalo and Nuevo Laredo Cantina. I folded the pork into flour tortillas with (inevitable) refried beans and some pico. A friend ordered carnitas—chunks of pork—cooked in a green sauce. The carnitas aren’t really carnitas, but I’ve given up looking for those in our city. They are too labor-intensive, I presume. The pork chunks are supposed to be slowly fried in a pan until they are crispy. These weren’t but the restaurant gets props for a good green sauce.
Another friend ordered three carne asada tacos—not my favorite. The grilled steak was highly seasoned with that odd blend of pointed spices, usually shaken from a jar, that I used to eat in Houston but never encountered during my year in Mexico. But most people do seem to dig the stuff.
There are plenty of other examples of clearly authentic dishes—try the tacos de lengua (beef tongue) or al pastor—but you can pig out on your favorite Tex-Mex fajitas. Just visit La Hacienda’s website for a view of the full menu. Note that the restaurant is open for lunch as well as dinner. Lunch specials will give you a low-cost chance to check out the food.
Finally, the service is terrific. The young staff, mainly Latino, won’t call you “sweetie” like the ladies at the Silver Grill did. Nor, thank God, will they call you “papi.” And oh- happy-day, I didn’t encounter a mariachi band. I don’t drink, so I never find it much fun when a band blares trumpets tableside until I give them $5 to go away.
Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a longtime Atlanta dining critic and former therapist who now specializes in life coaching.