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Khushbu Shah

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Three Atlanta grocery stores where you can have a sit-down meal

Grocery store eats: Mediterranean Bakery
The chicken shawarma plate at Mediterranean Bakery

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

In Atlanta, It’s not easy to track down the Filipino dessert halo-halo—a multilayered mashup that can include shredded coconut, jackfruit, shaved ice, cornflakes, evaporated milk, flan, and ube (purple yam) ice cream. That is, unless you happen to be putzing around Manila Mart and know to ask. And while there are plenty of tacos to be found around town, few are better than the ones served at a counter in the back of Supermercado Chicago. Just work your way past the produce section that’s made even more vibrant by the technicolor rows of piñatas dangling above the bananas, limes, and mangos.

If you’re looking for an exceptional—and cheap and fast—sit-down meal, you might do better to skip a restaurant and hit up a grocery store. Cherians International Groceries in Decatur (with a second location in Cumming) is home to an Indian hot bar serving delicacies such as dal vada (fried lentil pastry). At Your DeKalb Farmers Market, the legendary hot bar cradles food from around the globe, from goat stew to potato samosas, jerk chicken to fried okra.

Here are three more of our favorite spots for simultaneously filling your cart and your belly.

Grocery story eats: Candler Park Market

Grocery story eats: Candler Park Market
Candler Park Market’s tater tots

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Candler Park Market
The market’s long, narrow aisles are stocked with organic produce, locally sourced meats, and plenty of other staples with which to craft a solid meal. Or you could skip all that and make a beeline for the back. There you’ll find the deli, with its handful of red stools and a new chef, Jackie McClaine, who’s whipping up burgers crafted with local, grass-fed beef (or a plant-based Impossible patty); tater tots topped with cheese, scallions, and bacon; and an Italian wedding soup that our restaurant critic adores. McClaine is also working on perfecting her fried chicken and waffles recipe. One of the great things about cooking in a grocery store: “If I run out of something,” she says, “I can always run out to the front and grab it.” 1642 McLendon Avenue, 404-373-9787

Grocery store eats: Mediterranean Bakery
Mediterranean Bakery’s shawarma

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Grocery store eats: Mediterranean Bakery
Mediterranean Bakery’s spices

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Mediterranean Bakery
Tucked in a strip mall, Mediterranean Bakery is easy to overlook—in which case you’ll be missing out on some of the finest chicken shawarma in town. The aisles are stocked with sometimes hard-to-find Middle Eastern staples such as pomegranate molasses and the spice mix za’atar, and the refrigerated cases bear gifts such as containers of stuffed grape leaves and vats of hummus. But, as the man who rings up the groceries and the lunch orders confirms, you’re here for the chicken shawarma. “Let me make you one, please,” he insists. 3362 Chamblee Tucker Road, Doraville, 770-220-0706

E. 48th Street Market
Behind the two-pound bags of Lavazza beans, the housemade sausages, and the imported olive oil, a deli counter offering Sicilian, Tuscan, and Piedmontese dishes awaits. Italian-American owners Charlie and Anita Augello met in grade school in New York City and modeled their charming market after the ones they frequented growing up. Try the Sicilian lasagna made with beef and mild Italian sausage, or choose among the whopping 26 hero sandwiches served on house-baked bread, from the Stoffato (stuffed with salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone, and special sauce) to a simple prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and olive oil. Finish your meal with a cappuccino and cannoli, then grab a pound of fresh Calabrian chilies and a bottle of red on your way out. 2462 Jett Ferry Road, Dunwoody, 770-392-1499

This article appears in our March 2019 issue.

Take a tour of Indian food in Decatur with Chai Pani’s Meherwan Irani

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Indian food in Decatur
Meherwan Irani at Amin Virani’s paan stall

Photograph by Gregory Miller

When Meherwan Irani opened Chai Pani in Asheville, North Carolina, at the height of the recession in 2009, he had four people working in the kitchen. Irani pulled all-nighters prepping for the next day’s service and flew his mom over from India to help. He says that’s the Indian way.

“My mom spent the first week showing us how to do stuff, rolling out the perfect rotis,” he recalls. “The food never tasted as good as when she cooked the first two weeks after we opened.”

In the decade since, Irani has grown that original location into an ever-expanding empire of his Indian street food restaurants Chai Pani and Botiwalla, in Atlanta and across the South. He also launched his Spicewalla business, where he blends, produces, and ships the same spices used in his kitchens. And he collaborates on Brown in the South, a roving supper series hosted by chefs of Indian descent that launched a year ago.

As his dynasty grows, so does Irani’s eagerness to explore local Indian restaurants. He frequents the small, mom-and-pop places around Decatur, near Patel Plaza. During a recent tour of his favorites, owners and managers recognize him at each stop, waving him in as he asks about their business and family.

Here are four of Irani’s top spots for that Indian family vibe—and some superb vegetarian grub.

Indian food in Decatur: Gulistan Dilpasand Fresh Pan House
Gulistan DilPasand Fresh Pan House

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Indian food in Decatur: Chai Pani
Virani rolls a sweet paan at his stall

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Gulistan DilPasand Fresh Pan House
Inside Gokul Sweets on Church Street in Decatur, Amin Virani’s paan stall occupies one corner. Paan (also called pan), a mix of nuts, fruit, and sugary syrups wrapped in a betel leaf, is a digestif as well as a breath freshener. It’s the perfect way to end a heavy meal of spicy dishes. Irani points to the sweet paan option on the board for $1.50. “You don’t even know what this stuff [inside] is, and it ends up working together perfectly,” he says. “What’s the word? Alchemy.” He grins, stuffing the paan into his mouth. 1707 Church Street, Decatur, 678-974-5656

Cherians International Groceries
Tucked behind Patel Plaza, Cherians is an Indian grocery store with a hot bar from heaven. Irani makes a beeline toward the bar’s dal vada—a fried lentil pastry that’s his favorite snack. “On my way back to Asheville, I’ll buy a dozen,” he says. “My intention is always to bring it home to the family, and I never make it.” His other must-have here is the mirchi pakora, chilis deep-fried in chickpea batter. To wash it down, he insists on chai with sugar. 751 DeKalb Industrial Way, Decatur, 404-299-0842

Zyka
When Irani started coming to Zyka, he was the new guy in town—and Zyka’s owner was suspicious. But Irani eventually won him over. “I brought my dad here, and that changed everything,” he says. “From that moment on, I was one of them.” At the counter, Irani waves away a menu. “Gobi manchurian and hyderabadi dal,” he says. Naan, too, of course. Irani has been talking up the gobi manchurian, a Indo-Chinese dish of spicy, deep-fried cauliflower, all afternoon. “They still mix all the masalas themselves here, even after all these years,” he says. 1677 Scott Boulevard, Decatur, 404-728-4444

Indian food in Decatur: Tava
Tava’s chora chaat (deep-fried black-eyed peas)

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Indian food in Decatur: Tava
Tava Indian Bistro

Photograph by Gregory Miller

Tava Indian Bistro
Irani’s friend Farhan Momin—a dental student turned MasterChef contestant—opened Tava in Patel Plaza in 2015. Momin gave Irani some insider intel on the off-menu paneer pizzas, which Irani promptly orders. The dough is sprinkled with salty paneer squares, bell peppers, and onions. He also goes for the street food snack chora chaat: deep-fried black-eyed peas mixed with onions and topped with crispy strings of chickpea batter called sev. “This is amazing,” Irani says as he scoops up seconds. 1685 Church Street, Decatur, 404-343-2710

This article appears in our January 2019 issue.

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