Weekend Eats Atlanta: Restaurants to Put on Your Radar

2-where-to-eat-in-atlantatellthemheidisentyouAtlanta has a lot of great restaurants  – and, not to pick sides this close to the Superbowl, one pretty good football team.   And its just a three to four hour drive from the Queen City – in fact, many say its faster to drive to Atlanta than it is to fly down, once you consider negotiating the parking and TSA wait time. Can you say Three Day Weekend? 

fox-theatre-altantaLots of reasons to head south and visit this bustling city, football not withstanding of course. Plan to check out the High Art Museum, The Fox Theatre, Centennial Park, and the World of Coca-Cola. Tour CNN headquarters, stroll through the Atlanta Botanical gardens and visit the historic birthplace of Martin Luther King.

And then, there are  all the places to eat. Impossible to cover them all in a weekend or just one blog post. Tom and I made a quick 3 day jaunt down a week or so ago with friends  to check out what’s new at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and Gift Show and made it a point to go in search of some good eats.  The result? This quick little restaurant round up of several great places to eat in Atlanta, places you simply should not miss.   

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Heidi Billotto and Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte,  Charleston and Atlanta

Of course there is 5 Church. Atlanta was the group’s third home away from home and executive chef Chef Jamie Lynch, now of Top Chef fame, oversees the operation in Atlanta as he does in Charleston and Charlotte. But honestly, if you are going to eat at 5 Church – and you should – go in Charlotte to the  first and original location in Uptown at the corner of Church and Tryon, where we have bragging rites and  can say, we knew  him first.  Enjoy the great bar – even better food and open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

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Butternut Squash Agnolotti from 5 Church Charlotte

 

 

 

On the dinner menu, we love the Autumn salad, the charred octopus and the tuna poke to start – or combine several for a dinner of apps. Favorite entrees include the butternut squash agnolotti, the lamb burger and the herb and citrus encrusted whole fish.  In Charlotte  you’ll find all the detes and reservation info at  5 Church at 5churchcharlotte.com; and just in case, in Atlanta, look them up at 5churchatlanta.com.

Now back to Atlanta, First and foremost you must stop for drinks in the  bar in the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Its warm and charming and the service is spot on. With a recent buy-out, things may change but I am hoping not.  Word has it the hotel is undergoing a 5 million dollar upgrade to the bar area and putting in a cafe as well. Only time will tell, but for now its one of our go-to’s to unwind from the day and start the evening off, for sure.

img_8279Also in Buckhead, a stone’s throw from the Ritz, don’t miss St. Cecilia. Enter the lobby for the Pinnacle Building and you’ll be greeting by a beautiful glass Chihuly sculpture hanging in the lobby. The restaurant is the anchor tenant just off the lobby and its massive dining room is  gorgeous. Despite the size and the oh, so high ceilings, the restaurant has a warmth that makes you feel welcome. Look for wonderful Italian fare, an excellent wine list and if you are in town for the weekend, be sure to book reservations for Sunday Brunch.

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Cauliflower Soup at St Cecelia

Our favorites: Well, we couldn’t resist starting with an order of Crispy Punched Potatoes for the table to share – dressed with a cacio e pepe aioli and fresh grated parmigiano cheese it was the perfect pairing with the Italian red wine. We were so intrigued by the starters and pasta, that we didn’t get to the fish and beef entrees this time, but will most certainly come back for more of Chef Craig Richards fine food on the next trip. For now, the cobia tartar with salt & vinegar chips, lemon  puree and trout roe was a great way to start the evening as was the Cauliflower soup; ditto for the wood grilled octopus with brown butter, pickled onions and a hint of citrus. The cacio e pepe – homemade pasta with pepper and parmigiano was every bite as good as we remember from a trip to Italy several years ago and we loved the gnudi bathed in hazelnut brown butter as well. For more info, check it all out on their website at stceciliaatl.com

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Cheers to Centro Storico, Atlanta’s own Little Italia

Next , more Italian but this time a bit more – well, a lot more laid back, bring your own wine and enjoy Antico-Pizza Napoletana . This is the best pizza around and when the dough is gone, they are done for the night and there is no making a reservation,  so plan to go by early in the evening. All pizzas come well done and slightly charred and therein lies their beauty. The restaurant with its tiny counter and large dining room with family style tables is  smack dab in the middle of its own 4 building little Italia called Centro Storico on Hemphill Avenue –  for dessert check out the gelato and coffee across the street, at Cafe Antico Gelateria and Pasticceria;  in season the open air Bar Amalfi  and don’t miss  the Maccheroni Naoletani or the chicken dishes right next door at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano as well!  

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Spicy Maccheroni Arrabbiata at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano

Gio’s may win the award for the most for less – pasta and salad and bread for two – with enough to share or take home for lunch the next day was just $14 per person for the maccheroni or $17 per person for the chicken. Fantastico! The one website, highlight in this paragraph include info on all the restaurants and bars I mentioned.

 

For some of the best vegan/Asian food yu might ever have – don’t miss Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen located at 565 Peachtree St. NE in Midtown.  

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Steamed Buns at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

The restaurant is huge with several private rooms upstairs and an adjacent bar and lounge. The menu all looked so good when we went for lunch, that we relied on our server’s suggestions and ,as she promised when she said, “Just trust me”, she didn’t steer us wrong.  Tom and I ordered several dishes and shared and it was the way to eat here – after all its always much more fun when you get to taste a bit of everything, don’t you think?  

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Sticky Rice with Shiitakes at Herban Fix Vegan Kitchen

We’re talking  a creamy rich Organic White Bean, Root Vegetable and Pumpkin Bouillon;  Sweet Pea Ravioli inCurry Jus with Leeks & Assorted Mushrooms; Crispy Purple Yam Cakes; Steamed Buns with crispy Soy Duck, Cucumber & Cilantro; Sticky Rice fused with Shiitake Mushrooms and Taro; Sesame Ginger Soy Chicken & Shiitake Kebabs; and Aburaage (the same flat fried tofu used to wrap inari sushi) stuffed with radish, cucumber, tomato and seaweed noodles.  I cannot begin to desrcibe the deliciousness. For anyone who thinks vegan means uninteresting or lacking in flavor, add Atlanta’s Herban Vegan Fix Kitchen to your Must-Eat-Here list and allow the chefs here to prove you wrong.

 

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Warm chips and Salsa – a great way to start the evening

Mexican seems to be a hard find in Atlanta. We asked several locals, Uber drivers and the people at our hotel for suggestions and everyone seemed to come up “sin pan ni pedazo” (a Spanish expression which means empty-handed.) Finally we did as any good tourist would do and turned to the magazine in the hotel, it was an advertisement but it seemed worth a shot – winner of the “Best of Atlanta” Awards since 1992  and promising the “Salsa that ends your search” we decided to give Nuevo Laredo Cantina a try.  Located at 1495 Chattahoochee Avenue NW, it is definitely off the beaten path and as we had expectations of margarita’s and cerveza with our tacos and tamales, we opted to Uber.

img_8326Nuevo Laredo is a charming cantina pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The place is hustling and bustling and again no reservations, so you can sometimes expect to wait. We went early in the evening and were seated within a few minutes and immediately presented with warm chips ( yes!) and salsas that did not disappoint. My plan was to order the Chile Relleno, that was until I saw this: Holy Tacos or Tacos Sagrado, served 2 to a platter, these are white corn tortillas stuffed with mashed potatoes, white cheese, onion and cabbage and topped with a green sauce. The menu says these are “as sold on the corner of Igelsia del Santo Nino, Ocampo y Victoria, Nuevo Lareda, Tamps, Mexico”

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Holy Tacos at Nuevo Laredo Cantina

How could we not? What the steaming hot platter lacked in color – white potatoes, white cheese, white flour tortillas – you get it; the dish more than made up for in flavor. If a mashed potato taco isn’t your bag, there are  about 100 other offerings including chicken, beef  and seafood specials, and the expected assortment of enchiladas, faijtas, tacos and tortillas all of which we will try on our next road trip down – I’ve since read the lobster tacos are life changing… I’ll keep you posted, until then suffice to say, the menu offerings are authentic, simply prepared and worth the drive. For more information visit nuevolaredocantina.com


img_7806Feeling Hungry?
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Don’t Miss my great new series of Cooking Classes !! If you’d rather cook yourself than eat out – check out my all new list of 2017 February and March cooking classes – now on the home page of this blog and under the Cooking Class tab as well. Registration is easy – just email me with the class or classes you’d like to attend and I’ll email you right back to secure payment and confirm your reservations. 

Five Favorites for August

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

August 2013 – With so much happening this month and in the months ahead on the Charlotte restaurant scene look for lots of new and exciting news to come. Meanwhile, lots of new dining choices all around town. To kick off the month, here are Five of my favorite new restaurants in and around the Queen City, Charlotte NC.  As it turns out all of these establishments offer family friendly dining, casual attire and are  all family owned and run operations – tell them Heidi sent you and enjoy!

On South Blvd. – Doan Vietnamese -5937 South Blvd. Charlotte NC 28217. 704-733-9077. Delicious, authentic Vietnamese fare. Family owned – delicious food – broths and sauces all homemade. Very reasonable priced. My Top Picks – to start – crispy fried quail and springrolls; for entrees the hot pot service, Pho, Vietnamese pancake, and tofu with lemongrass. Hours – Monday- Thursday – 11 am – 9:30 pm; Friday and Saturday 11 am – 10 pm Sunday 11 am – 8:30 pm Doan's Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Like them on Facebook at Doan Restaurant – they also have a website, but it is written in Vietnamese!

On Albemarle Rd. – Cocina Latina – 5135 Albemarle Rd. Charlotte NC 28210. 704-531-5757 – delicious homemade Mexican fare… from scratch tortillas and therefore fresh hot tortilla chips- all kinds of homemade salsas and sauces – my favorite dish is the Chili Poblano and this wonderful dish is also available in a single serving as a take and bake entrée in the NC foods section at Seventh Street market. On the weekends don’t miss the Barbacoa de Borrego – Mexican BBQ – delish! Hours: Monday – Friday -8:30am – 9 pm; Sat and Sun. 8:30 am – 3 pm.  Blog post updated January 2014 – So sorry to say that this restaurant is now closed.
Like them on Facebook at Cocina Latina

Persis Biryani Indian Grill – in Ballantyne at 14027 Conlan Cir, Charlotte, NC 28277. 704- 817-8198 – across from the resort the only Indian restaurant of its kind in Charlotte. Authentic Indian cocktails and foods team up with some of the best service in town! Lunchtime Buffet – order from the menu in the evenings. Regulars here travel far and wide and with good reason. My Top picks – to start – Chole Batura – A giant white puffed bread with chole masala; and the salt and pepper mushrooms. For entrees – the Biryani; or Aloo Gobhi – cauliflower and potatoes cooked in a blend of tomato & cumin flavor curry sauce – scrumptious – take your waiters advice on the heat level of each dish. Fine Indian food is about flavor not heat, and the waitstaff really knows what they are talking about – so don’t over estimate the level you are able to tolerate. Reservations suggested – and be prompt as they will only hold your table for 10 minutes. Hours – Mon-Thurs: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm; 5:30 -9:30 pm;
Fri-Sun: 11:30 am – 3pm; 5:30 pm -10:30 pm. Persis Biryani Indian Grill on Urbanspoon
Like them on Facebook at Persis Charlotte; or visit http://www.persisrestaurant.com

American Cafe & Lounge in the Clarion Hotel at Carowinds – 3695 Foothills Way, Ft. Mill SC 29708. 803- 548-1158. Truly remarkable American bistro fare in this standard unbelievably in descript hotel restaurant –  not surprising as this hotel restaurant is owned by Luca and Jessica Annunziata of Passion 8 Bistro fame! Everything except the low-fat ranch dressing is made from scratch by Chef Luca and Chef Dan Steel – for lunch try the meatball sub with Luca’s fresh made in house Mozzarella, and homemade marinara and the best meatballs in town! For brunch don’t miss the chicken and waffles with homemade queso – incredible! Brunch on Sundays starts at 8 am and the make-your-own Bloody Mary bar opens at 10 am! Hours: Mon. – Sun. – 8 am – 10 pm; lounge is open late on weekends. American Cafe & Lounge on Urbanspoon
Like them on Facebook at American Café & Lounge

Kabab Je Rotisserie and Grill – 2233 Matthews Township Pkwy. Matthews Nc 28105. 704-845-0707. I received a text on a Saturday night – “obscenely good middle eastern restaurant opened in Matthews 3 weeks ago – Feeding frenzy in progress! How can I ignore that? – My husband Tom and I went to check it all out the next evening and LOVED it all – real Lebanese food made from scratch, by – surprise – an old friend, Yasser Sedak, formally ( years ago ) of Hemingway’s on Monroe Road and Primo in the Eastover neighborhood. Kabab Je is on Hwy 51 in Matthews – in the Costco shopping center adjacent to Starbucks – only open for three weeks – so be patient with the wait staff as they are still ironing out the kinks, but put it on your must try list for sure – everything is fabulous from Hummus and stuffed grape leaves to the grilled lamb and chicken shawarma. Don’t miss the Za’taar “pizza”, the falafel and the chick pea and broad bean appetizer called Ful Mudammas. With a host of baklavas for desert, the tiny cup of Lebanese coffee made with cardamom is the perfect finish. Hours: 11 am – 9:30, 7 days. Kabab-Je Rotisserie and Grille on Urbanspoon
Visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KababJeRotisserieGrille.

That’s all for now – more eating to be done and more posts to come – in the meantime – what are some of you favorite new places in town?