The road to Taqueria del Sol—the beloved Atlanta taco joint that celebrates its 20th anniversary on February 2—began in 1967 when owner Mike Klank moved to Atlanta to study engineering at Georgia Tech. He worked at different restaurants, including Manuel’s, off-and-on to support himself in graduate school. In 1987, he was working at El Azteca when a long-haired, earring-clad drummer named Eddie Hernandez walked in, looking for a job as a waiter.
Hernandez’s life had led him from his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston, where he’d tried unsuccessfully to land a recording contract, then to Waco and finally Atlanta. “I wanted to be a musician,” Hernandez says. “It didn’t work out very well, but cooking did.” The duo began what would become a lifelong partnership when they opened Azteca Grill. They combined Hernandez’s Mexican cooking style, learned from his grandmother, with a New Mexican influence Klank brought from time spent living there. Then, they added some Southern flair. This mashup of cuisines became Hernandez’s signature style, leading to future popular Taqueria del Sol dishes such as the spicy Southern greens and fried chicken taco.
In 1991, the partners opened Sun Down Cafe in Atlanta on Cheshire Bridge, a more upscale Southwestern restaurant that was open only for dinner. After about a year, Klank says, customers begged them to open for lunch, but Klank knew lunch service needed to be fast and economical. He wasn’t sure it would work with the restaurant as it was. Hernandez and Klank had always shared a love of street food and began to throw out ideas for a burrito wagon or taco stall that would just serve dishes inside Sun Down’s brick-and-mortar building. Starting in 1992, Sun Down became “Taqueria Sun Down” at lunchtime. The restaurant’s manager ran the counter, and they hired one extra person to run the food. The menu was straightforward, with one taco and one blue plate. No starters. No enchiladas. What started as only three lunch services a week quickly became five. Customers loved it.
Klank and Hernandez decided to fully commit to the Taqueria concept in 2000 and opened the first Taqueria del Sol on Atlanta’s Westside. The restaurant was one of Atlanta’s first fast-casual restaurants, and Hernandez recalls a lot of resistance to the concept. “They’d never seen it before,” he says. Customers expected to be waited on and didn’t want to wait in a line, Klank remembers.
“People got really mad at us,” Klank says. “We had this one guy who came in and said, ‘You know, if your food weren’t so good nobody would come here.’ And he added, ‘I’m never coming back.’ But he still comes to this day.”
Others were also converted once they realized their food would still arrive hot and quickly, even if they did have to wait in line and find their own table. Klank and Hernandez’s flow of service, along with flavorful, affordable food, was a hit.
After 20 years, countless accolades including numerous James Beard nominations, and a cookbook from Hernandez, Taqueria del Sol’s core menu hasn’t changed much. Certain tacos and blue plate specials rotate weekly to keep things fresh and allow the chefs room to experiment. The variety keeps the menu interesting enough that some customers are known to eat there two or three times a week. “They can come one day and get enchiladas and come another day and get tacos and some sides,” Klank says. “Then they can come another day and get the seafood special. They would have three totally different meals, but all of them fresh, good quality products at a price they can afford.”
Today, Taqueria del Sol continues to be one of Atlanta’s most popular restaurants with four locations in metro Atlanta, one in Athens, and one franchise group in Nashville that operates two restaurants. And while there are no special celebrations planned this weekend to commemorate the anniversary, the lines will likely still be out the door, as they often are. Personally, I plan to use it as an excuse to celebrate with some cheese dip, a fish taco, and those spicy greens.
When Jonathan and Justin Fox started Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in 2004 out of their tiny Brookhaven house, the Atlanta barbecue landscape was very different. Small batch craft barbecue wasn’t as much of a thing as it is today. After the Fox Bros. opened their DeKalb Avenue restaurant on Labor Day weekend 2007, they became a neighborhood fixture and a destination. Accolades, national food show appearances, a partnership with the Atlanta Falcons, a booming catering business with a commissary kitchen, the Que-osk, and tons of giving back to the community followed.
With the popularity came growing pains and the need to expand. Fox Bros. only seats 140 diners, the parking is limited, and they now make all of their sides at the commissary because the restaurant kitchen can’t keep up with the demand. After looking for a new space for four years, they’ve finally found the right spot for a second Fox Bros. in Selig Enterprises development The Works, which is on the Upper Westside. “The Works works,” says Jonathan. “This one felt right. It’s an Atlanta family-based development crew, and they’re all about their family, just like we’re all about our employees and family.”
Expected to open in June 2020, the official second Fox Bros. location on Chattahoochee Avenue will be a big one—just under 10,000 square feet—enabling the brothers to do things they couldn’t at the DeKalb Avenue restaurant, which is 3,800 square feet. The new location near “The Spur” (a new BeltLine-esque path) will seat 300 people, have a to-go counter, a prepared foods section, merchandise area, a large bar with an expanded bar menu, and an open-air covered patio. Unlike the DeKalb Avenue location, the new Fox Bros. will have ample parking with parking decks and surface parking, in addition to valet and ride-share locations. “DeKalb gets so busy that people eat and go,” says Jonathan Fox. He hopes the new space will allow people to relax and vibe a little more, especially with Scofflaw Brewing and the food hall that Andrew Zimmern is set to curate located next door.
Most importantly, Fox Bros. 2.0 will have a larger kitchen, so they can roll out the dishes they’ve been working on in their commissary over the years. The heart of the menu, however, will be core barbecue items you know and love, which have remained unchanged for 12 years. The brothers maintain they are still Texas boys making Texas-style brisket and they are not changing a thing. “I don’t want to step outside of the box and change who we are,” Jonathan says. “We got here by offering the best products we can serve. As long as we don’t get wrapped up in what’s trending and check ourselves, we’ll just go with what we know and be who we are.”
Given all they’ve done, this new endeavor doesn’t seem all that intimidating. “We’ve been gearing up for this moment for quite some time,” says Jonathan. I know I can speak for Atlanta here and say, we have all been waiting, too.
When I moved back to Atlanta from San Francisco in the mid-2000s, one thing I never understood was how weird our dim sum scene was. No place seemed to stay good for very long, and there were a lot of flash-in-the-pans that never gained enough of a foothold to dominate. I always fell back on Royal China in Chamblee. If you were a regular, you know Royal China’s decor had seen better days. The restaurant’s interior was kind of a grimy, reddish pink and so worn out, I started to avoid it, despite the still delicious dishes on the menu.
But then Royal China closed its Chamblee Dunwoody Road restaurant this past April and reopened 18 miles north in a former sporting goods store near the Costco off of Venture Drive in Duluth. Entering though the new doors, I may have let out some oohs and ahhs. It’s not only fancier than the previous location, but so much more beautiful than most of what is out there, with high ceilings and gold and sparkling accents everywhere you look. There are three separate rooms, two of which shimmer with chandeliers that resemble pixelated flowers, and a one side room off the bar. There’s also an enormous screen and what looks like all the AV equipment you could possibly need for any event from bar mitzvah to wedding banquet.
Royal China serves all the classic dim sum dishes such as har gow (shrimp dumplings), sticky rice, congee, clams in black bean sauce, and chicken feet. If you get there early, the carts come often and hot. It doesn’t seem too difficult to accommodate a group, and larger parties make it easier to order a range of classic Cantonese dishes—dry-fried beef chow fun, salt and pepper calamari, lobster stir-fried with scallion and ginger, and chow mein with vegetables and soy sauce—from the encyclopedia-like menu.
The Peking duck is a showstopper; a waiter brings the duck on a rolling cart and carves it, leaving nothing but the crisp skin. Soft, pillowy buns are served alongside hoisin sauce, shaved green onions, and batons of cucumber meant to lighten the richness of your sandwich.
Fillings are flavorful and abundant in dumplings like the har gow, where chopped chunks of shrimp nearly burst out of the rice paper wrapper, which is sometimes over-steamed.
Most of my favorite things are fried. Think golden shrimp spring rolls or a “lollipop” of breaded shrimp paste formed around a short stick of sugarcane. Both are especially good when swiped through a little dish of red chili and soy sauce.
Between the over-the-top decor, the abundance of dishes, and the thick menu with helpful pictures for the uninitiated, Royal China is a gem. It makes the drive from Atlanta to Duluth worth it—so worth it, in fact, that I returned three weekends in a row, each time bringing more people with me. And if the waits—they can reach upwards to an hour on the weekends if you arrive during prime time—are any indication, it’s already a success. If the wait is too long, you can always pop over to the Costco next door and knock out some errands. 3960 Venture Drive, Duluth, 770-216-9933
Miller Union chef Steven Satterfield and general manager Neal McCarthy have helped reimagine what it means to be a “Southern restaurant” since opening the doors to their Westside restaurant in 2009. Satterfield was one of only two Atlanta chefs in the past decade to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. McCarthy, also the restaurant’s sommelier, has been nominated twice for his wine program. (This year, they also earned the top slot for the first time in our annual Best Restaurants list.) Through Miller Union, the pair have changed how Atlantans think about Southern food, in part by elevating the role of vegetables and reconceiving traditional recipes—but also by reflecting the modern and multicultural South.
For their 10-year anniversary, the duo is celebrating not just their accomplishments but the evolution of Southern cooking more broadly. “One of my ideas was to involve other chefs from the South that I’ve become good friends with, which also takes a little bit of burden off of us in terms of preparation,” Satterfield says. “This way, we can have a little more time to interface with our customers and raise a glass with them.”
At the anniversary party, on November 10 at the Westside Warehouse, Satterfield will cook side-by-side with guest chefs including Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville, Joe Kindred of Kindred in Davidson, North Carolina, and Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer of Enjoy A|M Restaurant Group in Memphis. Kimball House and Ticonderoga Club will provide drinks, as will Savannah’s Service Brewing Co. The party also will function as a fundraiser for Wholesome Wave, which is dedicated to strengthening local food communities.
We spoke with Satterfield and McCarthy about the restaurant’s first decade, as well as what’s next for Miller Union.
You opened your restaurant in the middle of the recession. Did that worry you?
Steven Satterfield: We were pretty freaked out. All of our friends were like, You’re crazy. This is a terrible time. Don’t do it! But we had already started the ball rolling. We couldn’t reverse it, so we moved forward. But we were scared shitless.
Neal McCarthy: We’d both worked hard for a long time, and to [finally] do something for ourselves and have the economy turn the way it did was one of those things that we would have never seen coming. But looking back, it was probably such a great time to open, because I think there were a lot of people that needed something new and exciting, and we filled that void for some people. It was exciting.
When Miller Union opened, it was labeled as a Southern restaurant. Is it still a Southern restaurant today, or has it become something different?
McCarthy: Steven had come from working for a great Southern chef, Scott Peacock at Watershed, so he was automatically labeled as a Southern chef. When we first opened, there was this moment of Southern food becoming culturally significant, but we never put that label on ourselves. What Steven and I always talked about was our mission was to serve the best ingredients that we can buy. And those have to come from Georgia, from North Carolina, from our local farms. That’s something we’ve never budged on; we’ve stood by it regardless of the financial implications.
Satterfield: I think there are always going to be elements of the menu that feel significantly Southern, but I think we’re also in an international city and a cosmopolitan place. More and more we start to borrow from other cultures for inspiration, while still using the Southern ingredients. It’s exciting to be able to use these ingredients in different ways. When you think about organizations such as the Southern Foodways Alliance and their recent explorations of what it means to be Southern and how multicultural that can be, it helps redefine [Southern food], especially in a city like Atlanta, where there are so many different of cultures. We can explore a little more and not be tied to grandma’s recipe list.
How has Miller Union changed, and how is Atlanta’s restaurant scene different from what it was a decade ago?
Satterfield: We’ve evolved, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that Neal and I still work in the restaurant every day. One thing I’m particularly proud of in Atlanta is how much interfacing there is between chefs and growers, all the farms that we have here, and how much our farmers market scene [has grown]. In 2009, it was still kind of burgeoning, but now we have so many [now].
When I go out to eat at other restaurants, I see the same ingredients, but the way the chefs interpret them is what makes [the chefs] stand apart. It’s exciting to see chefs embracing seasonality and making it part of their routine. It didn’t use to be that way, and I’d like to think that maybe Miller Union can take some credit for starting that as a local trend. I don’t think it should be a trend, though, it should be the way we cook.
McCarthy: This restaurant has created a wine program that is, in my opinion, the best in the city. And I’m still as active now as I ever have been about trying to always keep the wine list fresh and vibrant. But [our program] has also enabled a lot more wine programs in the past 10 years to know that they can push the boundaries of what has been expected. Ten years ago, there weren’t very many independent wine shops that were open. Now, we have a good culture of drinking wine.
After you were diagnosed with cancer [in 2012], I remember hearing you talk about the healing power of food. Did cancer change your approach as a chef?
Satterfield: Not necessarily. We’ve always pushed to have a lot of produce on the plate no matter what the dish is. I embraced it for myself more so than ever during and after that healing process, thinking a lot about what vegetables and fruits have to offer as sources of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. These are things that our bodies crave and need so much. It’s better to go that route than to take a pill.
What are some of your favorite moments looking back?
McCarthy: I think the James Beard [Award] celebration was a collection of everything for us. We’ve had [a lot of] talented people come through the restaurant and work with us. From my wife, our bookkeeper, to Steven’s husband, Ben, who enables Steven and I to be able to do all the things that we do to make the restaurant work. Our management staff; Julie [Steele]’s been here for eight years. Vince, my bartender, has been here since the day we opened. We had a dishwasher that was with us from the day we opened, for nine years until he moved back to Mexico. Winning that award was for all of them. We felt like [the award] was great for Atlanta, too. I was born in England, but I tell people that I am from Atlanta; this is my home. My wife is a native Atlantan. Steven has been here 30 years. I feel like we bring a lot to the city, and we’ve been able to do that with one small restaurant in a part of town that we didn’t know was going to explode into the neighborhood that it is today.
Satterfield: I’ve spent a lot of time doing events both locally and out of town. And my goal as the chef has always been to be a sort of ambassador for the restaurant. When people think of Atlanta, we want them to think of us first. Oh, we’ve got to book a table at Miller Union. I feel like we’ve succeeded in that. The proof of it is when we’re stowing people’s luggage in our office on a nightly basis. It’s a blessing and a curse. Every convention that comes to town, we get slammed. We’ve exceeded that goal of being a place that people visit when they come here.
When you open a restaurant, you don’t know what the life span of it will be. It’s pretty amazing to make it to the 10-year mark because not many restaurants do. Now when I think about Miller Union’s lifespan, it’s big question mark. Who knows how long this place will last? I look at restaurants like Chez Panisse in California, which has always inspired me. They just celebrated  years. I don’t know if I’ll still be alive then. But we are very, very lucky and feel very blessed to have such great support from our community and beyond. We only get busier every year. There was a time where I was concerned, maybe year three or four, where I thought, Okay, people are going to stop coming because we’re no longer new. That happens with new places; it can be a flash in the pan and all of a sudden people stop going. We’re lucky that we’ve never fallen out of favor with Atlanta, and we are very appreciative of all of our diners.
Are there any plans to open a second restaurant?
McCarthy: After you publish this article, then maybe somebody will give us some money.
Satterfield: Every year we talk about ideas that we have, and we have some good ones, but we’ve never felt the timing was entirely right. Maybe on the horizon, who knows?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If you go: Miller Union’s 10th anniversary party will be at Westside Warehouse (996 Huff Road Northwest) on Sunday, November 10 from 3-6 p.m. Tickets are $100 and available here.
The best Sichuan restaurants in the metro area have always been outside the Perimeter. There’s the trusty standby Good Luck Gourmet on Buford Highway; the O.G. “ma la” palace Tasty China in Marietta; and the aptly named Masterpiece way out in Duluth. Now come two new Sichuan options more proximate to intowners, which means many of us can more conveniently satiate our hot and numbing Sichuan desires.
The chefs/owners at both Urban Wu in Buckhead and Hai Authentic Chinese in Decatur claim similar bragging rights: They each worked with Peter Chang, the enigmatic former (and founding) Tasty China chef whose nationwide fanbase makes him a touchstone when it comes to Sichuan food. But these two Chang proteges aren’t ripping off the master; their takes on Sichuan feel all their own. Their restaurants have similar menus with long lists of traditional options, but dishes at each are differently and interestingly executed.
Located in the “Disco Kroger” shopping center, Urban Wu is notable for its restrained yet masterful use of Sichuan peppercorns. Dry-fried eggplant is a good litmus-test dish for Sichuan cooking, and Wu’s version is light and less oily than most, making the French fry–like batons crunch just so. The fish in red-hot chili oil is a showstopper that arrives in an enormous, stainless-steel mixing bowl, the slick and gurgling broth teeming with cilantro, dried chilies, and Napa cabbage. You’ll find a milder table fellow in the chicken with three types of mushrooms, a tender and earthy jumble that’s robed in a light and silky sauce.
Compared to Urban Wu, Hai Chinese is more salty and fiery, but it still puts out beautifully balanced food. Chef Hai Wang, who previously worked his way up to chef/partner at Chang’s Maryland restaurant, runs the restaurant with his wife, who’s responsible for the supple Sichuan dumplings that are a proper start to the meal. Noodles abound at Hai, and the dan dan noodles are peerless in Atlanta. When tossed, each noodle gets coated in the salty and umami-heavy sauce flecked with chewy bits of tofu and imbued with Sichuan cuisine’s signature, hot and numbing (aka “ma la”) flavors. Hai’s garlic cucumber salad differs from other versions—the sauce is a bright green puree (practically a pesto) of potent garlic that will knock any flavor out of your mouth. The dish is a fitting companion to the Sichuan chili chicken, whose dangerous-looking chili paste makes it one of the spiciest dishes on the menu.
If asked to choose between Urban Wu and Hai, I’d give the former a slight edge, given the precision of the execution. But since I can get to either in about 15 minutes, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t hit up Urban Wu one week and Hai the next.
The words “convenience” and “cocktails” don’t typically appear in close proximity. In an effort to change that, Atlanta-based brands Post Meridiem Spirit Company and Tip Top Proper Cocktails have taken on the daunting task of capturing the magic of a craft cocktail in a can. Post Meridiem’s canned cocktails currently are stocked in stores across the city, and Tip Top’s are set to drop at the end of 2019.
We enlisted Kendall Dreyer, lead bartender at Poor Hendrix, to taste-test a few of each brand’s cocktails and speculate on their place in cocktail culture. She’s resolute on one thing in particular: “I can never imagine them in a bar.”
Old Fashioned Post Meridiem
“I could totally drink this. They are using demerara [sugar] here, which typically [produces] a richer simple syrup. It’s dark, heavy, and rich and adds body. It has kind of a sunscreen thing with a rummy note to it—tropical coconut, Banana Boat.”
Old Fashioned Tip Top
“This has it all. You get the bitter, you get the citrus, you get the body from the sugar, you get the caramel-ness. I definitely prefer this one.”
Negroni Tip Top
“I’m not getting much Campari, really. I mean, on the back end a little bit. But there’s not that sweet-but-bitter orange thing that I’m looking for. It’s kinda flat and candied. It’s really sweet.”
Margarita Post Meridiem
“It’s not awful. The lime’s coming through for me. It’s the tequila that doesn’t come through as much as I wish it would. I really appreciate agave spirits and want that vegetal, green, peppery thing.”
Manhattan Tip Top “I like this one the best. You can definitely have a Manhattan on the rocks, but ideally, this would be refrigerated, and you would just pour it into a coupe.”
“If I were hosting some sort of big party, I like the idea of having the ice bin stocked with beer and these guys—if you can’t afford to have a bartender or you don’t have the time to stock a bar or you’re worried people are going to make a mess.”
Atlanta is synonymous with Southern food, but our sandwich game deserves just as much attention. You can find a good version of nearly every type of sandwich somewhere in the metro area, from bahn mi to po’boys to fried chicken to Philly cheesesteaks. There’s a artistic process to sandwich construction, and the following five have that down perfectly. Whether you want something spicy, crisp, cool, or gooey, these are just a few of my favorites that are guaranteed to satisfy. Go ahead, try to resist them.
1. The Italian Grinder at Fred’s
Chef Todd Ginsberg’s version of this classic at Fred’s Meat & Bread uses housebaked Cuban rolls to cradle paper-thin folds of provolone, mortadella, salami, and roasted pork shoulder. The meat is topped with tangy and incredibly spicy chopped peppers and a mound of shredded iceberg lettuce dressed in olive oil and red-wine vinegar. The blend of flavors is so classically Italian American, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a grinder shop somewhere in New England. 99 Krog Street, 404-688-3733; 75 5th Street
2. Cheesesteak at Mad Italian
Along a nondescript access road, you’ll find this stalwart serving one of the most perfect cheesesteaks around. Griddled onions and gooey, white, melted, American cheese smother thin slices of tender steak. All of it is stuffed inside an airy but strong “proper roll”—bread so important that it has its own page on the Mad Italian website. 2089 Savoy Drive, Chamblee, 770-451-8048
3. The Roasted Lamb at Alon’s
The success of this sandwich starts with the country French bread made in-house at the Dunwoody location (the original Alon’s is in Morningside). Between the bread, perfectly rosy slices of lamb redolent of garlic couple beautifully with sweet red-onion marmalade—a flavor combination that should be as classic as lamb and mint jelly. 1394 North Highland Avenue, 404-872-6000; 4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road, 678-397-1781
4. Just Veggin’ at LottaFrutta
The Just Veggin’ is further proof that meat is hardly a prerequisite for sandwich perfection. The shop’s Latin-style, grilled “sanduches” are served on soft, sweet, toasted bread, and this particular variant is composed of avocado, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, and warm, creamy Havarti cheese. It’s hearty, healthy, and totally dreamy. 590 Auburn Avenue, 404-588-0857
5. The Cuban at Buena Gente
No other Cuban sandwich comes close to this version from peripatetic food truck Buena Gente, whose daily stops are announced weekly on Instagram. A boneless shoulder pork marinates overnight in homemade mojo and roasts for four hours. The pork then joins ham, Swiss, mustard, and pickles on crusty bread slathered with salted butter, and the whole thing is compacted on a sandwich press weighted down with foil-wrapped bricks. The result is a crackly exterior like creme brulee that gives way to the salty, porky filling. buenagenteatl.com
Back in the early 2000s, Atlanta had meager options for those who use “brunch” as a verb. Sure, there were places to go eat breakfast on the weekend: Flying Biscuit, Thumbs Up Diner, Java Jive, Goldbergs. But they didn’t exhibit the same reverence for morning cuisine as the brunch specialists who’ve arrived in recent years.
And now we have Pancake Social, which slings bougie brunch options such as avocado toast with soft-cooked egg and a Dutch baby pancake with apple and Gruyère—not just at weekend brunch but all day every day.
That isn’t to say that Pancake Social, located on the southeastern edge of Ponce City Market, is breakfast perfection. With an all-star team stacked with Anne Quatrano (Bacchanalia), Tony Riffel (Octane), Dan Jacobson (Chick-fil-A), and Steven Chan (Tin Drum), the restaurant should be operating much more smoothly. One Saturday morning bottleneck was so maddening I found myself coaching the overwhelmed hostess on how to handle the crowd.
Once you finally get to eat, you’ll find that executive chef Evelyn Ling (sous chef at Bacchanalia) knows how to push breakfast boundaries while still hitting the sweet spot. The menu features 11 types of pancakes, crafted from, say, buckwheat or gluten-free ancient grain. The buttermilk pancakes are as good as they must be for a place that has “pancake” in its name; they’re fluffy and just sweet enough to keep from being cloying once dressed with syrup. The kitchen keeps said syrup hot in an electric warmer on the pass, ready to be poured into a ramekin. It’s a nice touch. And bread nerds will appreciate that the sourdough waffle batter uses a starter created more than 20 years ago at Bacchanalia, the fine-dining bastion.
You’re probably here for one pancake variation or another, but the best dish on the menu is the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a homemade English muffin. It might be the most sublime breakfast sandwich in town, with gorgeous, thick-cut Cheshire bacon, American cheese, and a meticulously folded egg (although you can get it sunny-side up, too) served on a near-pillowy English muffin that almost resembles a griddle cake. Amid a table groaning under the weight of the dishes we ordered—including middling beignets—I endured a battle of the bites with a seven-year-old over that sandwich. (She ultimately won.)
Every few weeks, we offer our “B Review,” a short take on restaurants that are (sometimes) casual and (typically) not too pricey—and occasionally neither.
Sandy Springs used to be a culinary wasteland. But in recent years, restaurateurs eager to capitalize on the city’s many well-heeled residents have opened places that are finally kind of exciting. (See: Peter Kaiser and Kevin Rathbun’s Kaiser’s Chophouse, L.A.-based Jinya Ramen Bar, and il Giallo from the Veni Vidi Vici team.) To that list, you can add sushi and omakase spot District M.
Located in the slick Modera complex, District M was a smart move by chef Jackie Chang, who previously worked at high-style, minimalist Umi in Buckhead and dramatic, crowd-pleasing O-Ku on the Westside. Chang has replicated a little of each of those vibes at his new, industrial-ish restaurant.
The 16-seat sushi bar surrounding an expansive, open kitchen offers a front-row view of the small staff that turns out the ambitious menu. It’s not common in Atlanta to see Edomae-style sushi (a precise preparation served within 45 seconds) and uni tastings featuring three varietals (which could be from California, Japan, and Maine). A beautiful serving of Otoro tartare is packed into a bamboo box, artfully arranged on a bowl of ice alongside vessels of black caviar, wasabi, creme fraiche, puffed rice, toasted sliced white bread, and truffle yuzu sauce.
The fish is flown in daily from Japan and elsewhere, and if you’re looking to lay down some serious cash, a single piece of nigiri (live scallop, for instance) can go for $15. You can also take the omakase route, starting at $60 for a four-course meal, $90 for six courses or for 14 pieces of nigiri, and upwards of $120 for the Benzaiten (“chef’s freestyle”) feast.
It’s clear Chang hopes to capture some of the sushi fanatics who frequent Umi. The difference in the quality of the actual sushi is negligible, although Umi gets the edge on design and service (the tempo of District M’s service can be clunky). Still, for northsiders looking to avoid the Buckhead throngs, District M is a destination sushi restaurant in a part of town that’s no longer a culinary snooze.