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Mara Shalhoup

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It’s the best time to be an Atlantan. It might also be the worst.

Atlanta BeltLine
The Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail

Photograph by Ralph Daniel

It’s impossible to say exactly when Atlanta changed, because Atlanta has always been changing. I only know firsthand about the Atlanta of the past 30 years, the one that arrived on the heels of white-flight Atlanta and well after Civil Rights Atlanta. But that’s enough time to figure out that Atlanta is a place more able than most to be shaped and reshaped. It’s enough time to know that to be an Atlantan is to be at peace with its constant mutation.

For as long as I’ve known this place (and certainly longer), Atlanta has been a city with room to grow—in terms of population, but also in ways less tangible. Its identity. Its myth. In the ’90s, the city cemented its place as the capital of the “New South,” sure, but it was unclear whether Atlanta would ever be terribly relevant beyond its region—and even whether it would amount to anything more than the stagnant core to its (mostly) thriving suburbs.

The answer is obvious now. At some point in the past decade, maybe two—somewhere between OutKast’s “Hey, Ya!” and Migos’s “Versace”, the BeltLine’s first Lantern Parade and Atlanta United’s first MLS Cup—the city finally, indisputably became cool. People who’ve never lived here say “Atlanta” differently now, with respect. They’ve softened those T’s after listening to rappers burnish the city’s unsavory secrets. They’ve been tipped off to Atlanta’s complexities after watching Donald Glover’s brilliant TV show. Up until a decade ago, Atlanta was hesitant to accept all the facets of itself. There was a time when rappers got little media attention unless they landed in jail. Now, they make news for serving on the mayor’s transition team. Their music has become the city’s most significant cultural export. It’s what took Atlanta mainstream.

It’s not just hip-hop. The arrival of Hollywood increased our cultural cachet. (In recent years, more feature films were shot in Georgia than California. All of a sudden, there are studios and sound stages. Celebrity sightings have become ubiquitous.) And the urban core has bona fide communal space, thanks to the BeltLine and the neighborhoods it has transformed. Atlanta might not be walkable yet, but the BeltLine finally gives us reason to abandon our cars (temporarily, anyway) and meet each other shoulder-to-shoulder. Increasingly, people are flocking here from other, bigger cities. And more people who grew up here are deciding to stay.

However, in this majority-black city—one that has earned its prominence thanks in large part to the contributions of black Atlantans—it is still white Atlantans who are benefiting most.

Since 2000, Atlanta’s urban-core neighborhoods have increasingly lost their lowest-income, often black residents and gained higher-income, predominantly white ones. As of 2016, one in five Atlantans lived in one of those gentrifying neighborhoods. (Only D.C. had a higher percentage of people living in such neighborhoods; Atlanta’s percentage exceeded even that of fast-gentrifying L.A.) In those neighborhoods, 6,500 low-income and 8,400 black Atlantans were replaced, incredibly, by 25,900 white Atlantans between 2000 and 2016. If the demographic trends continue (and they’re showing no sign of abating), Atlanta—a city that was 67 percent black in 1990 and 54 percent black in 2010—will no longer be majority-black well before 2030.

The city’s home values hit a record high last year; an average single-family home in Inman Park surpassed $720,000. And Atlanta maintains the most extreme income disparity in the country. Nowhere is the gap between the highest-earning 20 percent and the lowest-earning 20 percent so vast.

As the character Paper Boi deadpans in Atlanta’s Robbin’ Season, in which Glover crafts the best modern-day depiction of this messy, conflicted, inspiring place: “Welcome to Atlanta, man. All you need is some money.”

A lot of money.

I didn’t know what to expect when I moved from the Northeast to Atlanta (er, Cobb County) as a preteen, but my parents did: great schools, better job opportunities, and the potential to buy a house—which they did, for $100,000 in 1990. We were part of the wave of newcomers that crested in the ’90s, when the 10 counties that make up the metro area gained a whopping 870,000 people, more than in any decade before or after. Yet during that decade, the population of the city that’s the nucleus of this region remained flat.

In the 1990s, everyone thought the Olympics would be the big event that would change the course of Atlanta’s history and make it a world-class city. I’d argue that its trajectory was more significantly altered by something that happened not in 1996 but three years earlier. That’s when 43,000 high school students became the first recipients of Georgia’s new HOPE scholarship. I graduated from high school the following year, in 1994, and decided it made no sense to attend college out of state when I could get an education here for free. Back then, there were still income restrictions on HOPE. The year I qualified, it was awarded only to students who came from households earning less than $100,000 annually (up from $66,000 the year before). The income cap was lifted the following year, which watered down the point of HOPE, changing it from a program that favored the academically gifted who weren’t financially privileged to one that favored the academically gifted, period—and wound up underserving the underprivileged.

By 2011, six times as many students received the scholarship as in its inaugural year. Each year for a quarter-century now, tens of thousands of high school graduates—disproportionately white and mid- to high-income ones, it turns out—who might have left Georgia stayed instead. And in staying, many of them, including me, came to see Atlanta not as a second-rate city but as a place to put down roots.

In an attempt to create more options for prospective Atlanta residents such as those, the Atlanta Housing Authority launched another initiative in the ’90s that aimed to create more dynamic and livable neighborhoods. Coincidentally, it was called HOPE VI. The federal program, which Atlanta piloted, helped cities reinvent their urban cores by tearing down traditional public-housing complexes and replacing them with “mixed-income” communities. Atlanta was HOPE VI’s ideal guinea pig. In 1936, the city had been the site of the country’s first public-housing complex, Techwood Homes, just south of Georgia Tech. Sixty years later, Atlanta had a higher percentage of residents living in public housing than any other city. Who better to pioneer the brave new world of subsidized housing? The timing was fortuitous, since the deteriorated state of Techwood would be an undeniable eyesore when the world’s attention would be fixed on the city for the ’96 Games. Atlanta wanted to show its best face.

The city got its first HOPE VI federal grant in 1993, the same year the first HOPE scholarships were handed out, and the demolition of the projects began soon after. By 2011, the year that the scholarship was awarded to a record 260,000 students, Atlanta had torn down the last of its 14,000 public housing units. Along the way, the housing authority used HOPE VI not just to replace the projects with safer, prettier communities boasting pools and shops but to serve as an economic catalyst that would kickstart the “revitalization” of nearby neighborhoods: Kirkwood, East Lake, the Westside, and the Memorial Drive corridor near Grant Park.

The irony of HOPE VI is that it benefited the many people who moved to the newly developed areas surrounding the demolished projects but benefited far fewer of the people who had lived in those projects—or who would need affordable housing in the future. Fewer than 20 percent of former residents returned to the new mixed-income communities. The others used vouchers to find housing—and the vast majority of them wound up in the highest-poverty pockets of the city. And without any true public housing left in Atlanta, the waitlist for vouchers—the only affordable-housing resource left—skyrocketed.

The irony of the HOPE scholarship was that it kept more students in state and ensured that more of them went to college, but it also made Georgia universities harder to get into and failed to do nearly enough to benefit black, Hispanic, and low-income students. As early as 2000, one analysis warned that HOPE “widened the gap in college attendance between blacks and whites and between those from low- and high-income families.” The two big HOPES of the ’90s gave hope to people who already had an abundance of it.

I moved to Atlanta proper in 2000, two years after graduating from UGA’s journalism school and fresh from my job as a crime reporter for the Macon Telegraph. I was in my 20s and wanted to better understand that elusive city at the heart of my formative years. I wanted to help tell its stories.

Like my parents, I also came here for a better job opportunity than I was able to land elsewhere, and for the potential to buy a house—which I did, for $200,000 in 2003. Unlike in the ’90s, this time I instantly felt like an Atlantan. I worked as a staff writer for the scrappy alternative weekly paper, Creative Loafing, a portal to the parts of Atlanta that most intrigued me: its disappearing public housing projects, its burgeoning hip-hop scene, its changing neighborhoods where worlds were colliding, and, soon, its ambitious plan to unite those neighborhoods with an idealistic-sounding idea—the BeltLine—from a Georgia Tech grad.

As a young journalist, I dug through piles of police reports in the bowels of mammoth City Hall East. I spent days interviewing soon-to-be-displaced families who lived in Capitol Homes on Memorial Drive (the next public housing project up for demolition, to be replaced by the $200 million mixed-income Capitol Gateway), and I spent nights a block away at Lenny’s, a club fashioned out of two double-wide trailers, where I saw Deerhunter and the Black Lips before they became huge.

And then, in 2011, the year that the city’s population started to rapidly increase, I moved. I didn’t leave Atlanta so much as follow a career that was calling me to Chicago, then Los Angeles.

When I returned in 2018, driving around town—and walking down the now-packed segments of the BeltLine—was like watching a time-lapse of someone aging in reverse. Atlanta was shinier. Happier. Renewed. Reclaimed. Reinvented.

Flags for a new team—a new sport!–were flapping everywhere. MARTA was flooded with fans of that team, Atlanta United, but devoid of the fans for the team I’d grown up with, the Braves. I drove down a Victorian-lined street in Kirkwood, dismayed that the houses had fallen into grave disrepair—and then happened upon a film crew; the houses had been temporarily transformed to look decrepit, for a Halloween-set shoot. Under that false veneer, they had been meticulously renovated.

The Old Fourth Ward literally was unrecognizable. The hulking, half-abandoned City Hall East building where I used to pull police reports was now Ponce City Market, home to $20 hot dogs, $70 sweatshirts, and a billion-dollar tech company. Just south of there, the site of the old Creative Loafing offices now overlooks the BeltLine-adjacent Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark.

Down on Memorial Drive, near where the Capitol Homes public housing project had been razed, a two-bedroom apartment can go for as much as $3,000 a month. A similar development deluge had hit Inman Park and Grant Park, unsurprisingly, but also was arriving in Summerhill, West End, and Westview, historically black neighborhoods that had never seen this type of investment.

If this influx of wealth were benefiting people equally, or even sort of equally, these changes would be easier to accept. And they would be easier to accept if more had been done to preserve the affordability of these intown communities as they were transforming.

Exploring all these neighborhoods, as new to me as they were familiar, I couldn’t help but feel an equal sense of excitement and of loss. Excitement for all the options right in front in me. And loss for the opportunity these neighborhoods missed: the chance to do better for everyone.

For years, one of Atlanta’s selling points was that it was a place where you could reinvent yourself—because it was cheaper to live here than in a lot of places but still offered as many paths to success. Of course, we had poverty and crime, but in many ways, it felt like Atlanta was America writ small—a city of opportunity.

Now, Atlanta feels increasingly like those other places. And it’s possible that, in the city’s constant compulsion to reinvent itself, it lost an important part of itself instead.

This article is part of What makes us Atlantans and appears in our January 2020 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: By George, MTH Pizza, Food Terminal (West)

Hugh Acheson By George Candler Hotel Atlanta
Catfish at By George

Photograph by Martha Williams

By George
By George, the new Hugh Acheson restaurant in the lobby of downtown’s historic Candler Hotel, feels less like a Hugh Acheson restaurant than like a hotel lobby restaurant. The space, whose grand bones are diminished by a needlessly drab color scheme and oddly chintzy lighting, isn’t nearly as playful or stylish as celebrity chef Acheson’s other restaurants: Empire State South in Atlanta and Five & Ten and the National in Athens. By George’s (mostly) classically French menu and the stiff cocktails are not as creative as what you’ll find at the James Beard winner’s other spots. But while this is not a great restaurant by Acheson’s standards, it is a great restaurant by downtown Atlanta’s standards. Nowhere else in the neighborhood can you find perfectly plump escargot, nestled in toast a la Toad in the Hole; blue-crab salad flecked with capers and texturally punched up not with celery but with celeriac; house-brined swordfish that’s as meaty and satisfying as mignon, paired with velvety white beans and luscious lardo; endive gratin kissed with bitterness and richened with a heart-attack level of cream. The convivial mood at the bar and the bustling energy of the dining are reason enough to convince you of downtown’s potential—and remind you of Acheson’s star power. 127 Peachtree Street, downtown, 470-851-2752

Food Terminal (West)
When the original Food Terminal opened on Buford Highway in 2017, its hip, food hall–inspired space and its menu styled after a trendy magazine brought an intown-Atlanta sensibility to BuHi. Now that a second location has opened, this time on the Westside, Food Terminal brings a bit of BuHi intown. The space is just as hip, unsurprisingly, if significantly smaller. And the menu is, for all we can tell, identical, though we didn’t compare the 100-plus, majority-Malaysian dishes on offer. We did, however, check to see whether our favorites are as good at the new location. They are. The Thai chili pan mee—a jumble of flat noodles, wood-ear mushrooms, ground pork, sauteed spinach, and fried egg, swimming in spicy chili sauce—is just as deliciously funky thanks to an abundance of chewy dried anchovies. And the Cheese ’N Cheese is just as ridiculously over the top, the sizzling skillet mounded with rice, Spam, corn, cheese, bell peppers, and onion that rest atop a layer of egg. Thanks, Food Terminal, for bringing fun and, ahem, affordable food to the Westside: You might be our favorite suburbs-to-intown transplant ever. 1000 Marietta Street, Westside, 404-500-2695

MTH Pizza

MTH Pizza
If the term “pizza a la Smyrna” induces debilitating levels of skepticism, have I got a shocker of a pie for you. Unwilling to commit to calling its pizza New York–style or Neapolitan–style, the founders of MTH Pizza—from the Muss & Turner’s team—settled on that less-than-appetizing phrase, and, as a result, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to drive out to Cobb County for a pizza a la Smyrna when Atlanta has so many solid (and even a few truly great) options. But one bite of the margherita convinced me that maybe I shouldn’t rush to conclusions. One bite of the clam pizza—the chewy bivalves mingling with near-buttery mozzarella and brightened with gremolata and a squeeze of charred lemon—had me considering relocating to Smyrna. MTH’s high-protein dough is fermented for three days and produces an undercarriage not as soft as that of a traditional Neapolitan and not as firm as a New York slice. And honestly, it’s the ideal compromise, texturally perfect and packed with flavor, as were the sauce and toppings on all three pies I sampled so far (I intend to get to the others posthaste). Yes, Atlanta has some great pizza. It turns out Smyrna has some really great pizza. 1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna, 678-424-1333

This article appears in our February 2020 issue.

The verdict on 4 new Atlanta restaurants: Supremo Taco, Forza Storico, Le Colonial, Pantry & Provisions

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Fresh on the Scene: The Pantry & Provisions

The Pantry & Provisions
Located just off the enchanting rotunda of the historic Healey Building in the Fairlie-Poplar district (give yourself a few extra minutes to stare at the ceiling), this sandwich counter is one of the best things to happen in recent years to downtown’s lunch scene. Before you even have a chance to look at the menu, you’ll likely be fed samples of the housemade aged truffle rillette (wow) and perhaps challenged to distinguish between the vegan pimiento cheese (pretty good!) and the regular one (really good!). The menu pays homage to famous meat-and-bread offerings from other cities (a Chicago dog, a New Orleans muffaletta, a New York corned beef on rye), and there are also a handful of original offerings and a half-dozen vegan ones, many of them relying on Beyond Meats to simulate their carnivorous counterparts (a banh mi, a patty melt, a sloppy joe). I’m partial to the entirely lunch-appropriate breakfast sandwich that pairs an almost-airy egg loaf with decadent brisket, Benton’s bacon, avocado, and green goddess dressing. The best part: The sandwich-maker’s rapid-fire banter is as entertaining as his sandwich-making is impressive. Give yourself a few extra minutes for that, too. 57 Forsyth Street, 404-254-4042

Supremo Taco
Restaurateur Nhan Le of 8Arm, Octopus Bar, and Soba has teamed up with former Octopus Bar chef Duane Kulers to open this minuscule in size and gigantic in flavor taco shop. “Shop” might be an overstatement: It’s a shipping container–sized structure with a walk-up counter and a tiny, standing-only patio. Go ahead and order all of the menu’s eight tacos (one is technically a tostada, a fabulous and fiery jumble of shrimp, cucumbers, and onion). Served on fragrant, housemade tortillas, the tacos range from a spicy lamb barbacoa with consommé to a rich and mellow mole poblano with chicken, pepitas, and crema to an al pastor with sizzling meat shaved straight off the trompo. Late eaters: You can pick up these beauts as late as midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. 701 Memorial Drive, 404-965-1446

Forza Storico Atlanta
One of the “SuperPope” murals at Forza Storico

Photograph by Martha Williams

Forza Storico
Along with Redbird and Aziza, Forza Storico is part of a trio of ambitious restaurants to open recently at Westside Provisions District. The second venture from the founders of beloved Buckhead Italian spot Storico Fresco, Forza Storico is similar in look and taste but occupies a bigger and more booming space, which suits its Roman bent. There is a ton of overlap between this menu and Storico Fresco’s, including the must-order cacio e pepe (perhaps the best litmus-test for a pasta-forward place; I challenge you to find a better version in town). In addition to that characteristically bold-yet-simple Roman staple, you’ll find others, including spot-on renditions of carbonara and amatriciana. Welcome to carb heaven. 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-464-8096

Le Colonial
Was it risky to name a Vietnamese-influenced restaurant perched in the glittering Shops of Buckhead after the 60 years of French colonial rule in Southeast Asia? Yeah, probably—but the diners packed into the glamorous, soaring dining room don’t seem bothered. Nor do they seem to mind that Le Colonial doesn’t deliver any memorable Vietnamese food, because it turns out that Le Colonial does a better job of being a fancy restaurant in general. There is serviceable cha gio (crispy pork and shrimp rolls with fresh herbs and chili-lime sauce) and also tuna tartare with hard-to-detect sweet chili and soy caviar that just tastes like caviar. And for the Instagram set, the $66 snapper is served whole, fried, and upright, as if with a flick of its tail it might glide off your table. 3035 Peachtree Road, 404-341-0500

This article appears in our January 2020 issue.

You could spend three days roasting a duck. Or you could go to Atlanta Chinatown mall.

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A roasted duck, rice, and green beans on a red tablecloth

Sure, you can spend three days of your life properly roasting a Peking duck. You can head over to Buford Highway and hit up its mammoth Farmers Market or any number of grocers in the area to pick out your bird. You can bring it home, remove its innards, wash it, pat it down, and rub it with Chinese five-spice powder before hanging it to dry overnight. Then, the next day, you can use a straw to blow air under its skin, which is essential if you want the skin to achieve optimal lacquered crackliness during the roasting process.

But wait! Before roasting, you’ll probably want to baste the duck with boiling-hot, oil-slickened broth, brush it with a mix of soy sauce and maltose, and hang it overnight again. Then, all you have to do is roast it for few hours at 350 degrees (preferably in a wood-fired oven)—though of course it’s best if you hang the duck from the top of the oven to allow the fat to slowly drip, drip, drip into a pan below. That’s the only real way to guarantee that the skin on the finished product turns out just the way you’d hoped.

Or you can skip all but the very beginning of the very first step: Drive up Buford Highway. Your alternate, much shorter path is to cut over on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road to New Peachtree Road, where you’ll find the Atlanta Chinatown mall and, in its food court, Hong Kong BBQ.

Pass through the bare-bones, cafeteria-style dining room hung with the red Chinese lanterns and umbrellas. There, in a window next to Hong Kong BBQ’s cash register, hang the ducks in all their perfectly roasted glory. A whole one, which you can take to go, will set you back $20.

5385 New Peachtree Road, Chamblee, 770-451-7277 (closed Wednesdays)

This article appears in our December 2019 issue.

A Buford Highway dessert for every color of the rainbow

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Buford Highway desserts of all colors laid out in a rainbow

There are more colors of desserts on BuHi than there are colors in the rainbow, but, for the purposes of this exercise, we held it to these six hues. And while most of these sweets are found in a cozy bakery or frenetic dessert shop, that majestic, purple halo-halo happens to hail from one of the highway’s best, most off-the-beaten-track markets. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced purple-yam ice cream with crushed ice, condensed milk, sweetened beans, and tropical fruit.

Photography by Wedig + Laxton

Strawberry-mousse cake

Strawberry-mousse cake
White Windmill Bakery and Cafe, 5881 Buford Highway, Doraville

 

Mango mille-crepe cake

Mango mille-crepe cake
Mango Mango, 5177 Buford Highway, Doraville

 

Mango rolled ice cream with sticky rice

Mango rolled ice cream with sticky rice
I-CE-NY, 5177 Buford Highway, Doraville

 

Green tea doughnut

Green tea doughnut
Sweet Hut Bakery & Cafe, 5150 Buford Highway, Doraville

 

Earl Grey macarons

Earl Grey macarons
Mozart Bakery, 5301 Buford Highway and 5938 Buford Highway, Doraville

 

Halo-halo vanilla shake

Halo-halo
Manila Mart, 5938 Buford Highway, Doraville

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

The joy of 1 a.m. mapo tofu

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John Song with his wife, Jennifer Song, at Bo Bo Garden
John Song with his wife, Jennifer Chung, at Bo Bo Garden

Photograph by Ben Rollins

John Song of WATS Media talks about returning—again and again, then permanently—to Buford Highway (as told to deputy editor Mara Shalhoup).

If you’re Asian and you grew up in the Atlanta area, you know what Buford Highway is. We could have different political views and go to way different high schools, but we’ll all know what restaurants are in every single plaza on Buford Highway at any given time. When I meet somebody new who’s Asian, we start talking about food. Then, it’s like, “okay, top five spots on Buford Highway”—and that’s an hour-long conversation.

I grew up in Johns Creek, but I’ve been frequenting Buford Highway since 1995 because that’s where my parents would buy groceries, at Buford Highway Farmers Market. Then, I moved away from home, and I moved to East Atlanta after college. I started just acclimating more to Atlanta culture, which is something I also love. I pretty much stayed ITP, in the proximity of Old Fourth Ward, East Atlanta, Little Five Points, and Decatur.

I got married in 2013. My wife was born in Korea, moved to San Francisco when she was three, went to school in the Bay Area, moved to L.A., and got a record deal. Then, she found an opportunity to do music in Korea with another publishing company and moved to Korea. While she was living in Korea, we connected on Instagram. We got married, and she moved to Atlanta.

She hated it. It’s diverse, but there’s not a lot of Asian people when you walk around on the streets. She felt a little lost at first. We were living in East Atlanta at the time, and I took her to get milk tea on Buford Highway, and she fell in love. We ended up coming back to Buford Highway, like, minimum, once a week. And then, we just decided, hey, why don’t we move out here? In 2018, we found a place in Chamblee. I never would’ve thought that I would be living on Buford Highway or frequenting Buford Highway again at this level. But I don’t think that I’ll ever want to live anywhere else in Georgia. It’s home now.


Bonus: John Song demystifies the soup dumpling.

I’m married, so I can’t be wilding out every night. But I do like the nightlife, and I like to grab food late at night. And that’s how I realized that Korea Garden had turned into a Chinese restaurant, Bo Bo Garden. Back in the ’90s, Korea Garden was my parents’ favorite spot to eat when they wanted to get Korean food outside of the house. I was a little bit bummed, but then, I tried the food at Bo Bo, and it was amazing.

Usually, I’ll go straight to salt-and-pepper squid and the Chinese broccoli. I’m getting the mapo tofu for sure. I am getting the deep-fried tofu. You’re going to find some drunk people, you’re going to find some hungry people, you’re going to find some families that just want to eat late. You’ll see some foodies out there late at night, you know, checking it out. Anytime you see anybody that’s not Asian, like a white person or something, it’s like, oh, okay—they’re super woke, and they’re really just about trying some authentic food from an Asian perspective. I’m not hating on it. I think it’s cool. In the ’90s, there were never any white people on Buford Highway.

For me, it’s empowering. I’m all about sharing parts of who I am and my upbringing and my unique place in it—being an Atlantan, being Asian.

5181 Buford Highway, 678-547-1881

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

Your guide to the fruits at Buford Highway Farmers Market

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Fruits laid out

You can come to BuHi just to eat at its gazillion restaurants, but it would be a waste of a trip not to make a postmeal stop at one of the specialized markets that line the highway. Or you can visit a dozen such markets under one roof at the 100,000-square-foot Buford Highway Farmers Market. Here’s a sampling of the produce department’s diverse bounty, which is almost as colorful as the kaleidoscopic snack aisles.

Sugar Apple opened and closed

Sugar apple
Tastes like cooked apple, with a custard consistency

Korean Melon opened and closed

Korean melon
A cross between a honeydew and a cantaloupe

Durian opened and closed

Durian
The odorous and ominously nicknamed “corpse fruit” tastes like divine caramel custard.

Dragon Fruit opened and closed

Dragon fruit, yellow
Sweeter (and tastier) than the white variety

Haitian Mango opened and closed

Haitian mango
Mango of the gods—more honeyed, more flesh

Red Bananas opened and closed

Red banana
As if you injected a yellow banana with some raspberry

Mamey opened and closed

Mamey
Like a cooked sweet potato, with a bit of papaya

Cherimoya opened and closed

Cherimoya
Soft, slightly springy texture and straight-up cotton candy flavor

Mangosteen opened and closed

Mangosteen
Like a green grape, but more tart (and the staff favorite)

Rambutan opened and closed

Rambutan
Lychee-like inside, mostly sweet, a little sour

Dragon Fruit opened and closed

Dragon fruit, white
Texture of a kiwi, but sweeter and with little of the tartness

Lychee opened and closed

Lychee
Like a skinned grape, with a large pit—but fragrant and floral

 

Pepino Melon opened and closed

Pepino melon
The love child of a cucumber and a honeydew

Lulo opened and closed

Lulo (naranjilla)
Super-citrusy, with a hint of pineapple and the texture of tomato

Star Fruit opened and closed

Star fruit
Mellow apple meets Asian pear

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

Where to eat breakfast on Buford Highway

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Buford Highway doesn’t have a huge breakfast scene, but it still offers destination-worthy dishes for early risers (Xelapan opens at 6 a.m., Tortas Factory and El Taco Veloz at 7). Yes, we fudged it a little with the soups; I Luv Pho and Nam Phuong don’t open until 10 a.m., which some might consider early lunch. But we stand behind soup for late breakfast—especially for late hungover breakfast.

Photography by Ben Rollins

Soups

Filet mignon pho

Filet mignon pho
I Luv Pho
Vietnamese

Chicken and ginger congee

Chicken and ginger congee
One of our 75 Best Restaurants
Nam Phuong
Vietnamese

Egg noodle soup with crispy pork

Egg noodle soup with crispy pork
Ming’s BBQ
Cantonese

Sandwiches

Banh mi #7

Banh mi #7
Lee’s Bakery
Vietnamese

Breakfast egg, ham, and beans torta

Breakfast egg, ham, and beans torta
Tortas Factory Del D.F.
Mexican

Egg banh mi

Egg banh mi
Quoc Hong Banh Mi Fast Food
Vietnamese

Platters

Huevos al gusto egg and beans platter

Huevos al gusto egg and beans platter
Xelapan Cafeteria
Guatemalan

Calento breakfast platter

Calento breakfast platter
Las Delicias de la Abuela
Colombian

Mexican-style eggs

Mexican-style eggs
El Taco Veloz
Mexican

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Cold Beer, Aziza, Vietvana

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Cold Beer's shrimp pancake
Shrimp pancake with bitter lettuces, herbs, and flowers

Photograph by Cori Carter

Cold Beer

Don’t be fooled by the name—a good ol’ boy–friendly joint this ain’t. Of course, the moniker makes more sense when you take into account that this is a Kevin Gillespie creation; the celebrity chef has another restaurant, uniquely innovative and decidedly un-Southern, called Gunshow, after all. As at Gunshow, you’ll find globally inspired small plates and some of the city’s most creative cocktails. Some drinkers might turn up their nose at a frozen avocado margarita, in which case they’ll be missing out on the concoction’s gloriously silky richness. Equally surprising (in a good way) is the multi-layered mezcal ice cube, caked with basil seeds, that steals the show in another of bartender extraordinaire Mercedes O’Brien’s marvelous compositions. When attempting to prioritize among the dozen or so small plates on offer, don’t skip the revelatory raw scallop with lemon verbena ice and salted buttermilk, or the shrimp pancake buried under bitter lettuces, herbs, and flowers. But be warned: The BeltLine is literally at the restaurant’s doorstep (making the front patio prime real estate)—and even if you only order the recommended three dishes per person, your bill might approach the cost of said real estate. 670 DeKalb Avenue, 404-254-1032

Aziza

The wave of modern-Israeli restaurants that dramatically crashed in recent years in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles has now arrived in Atlanta, more gently lapping the surface of the cuisine. Aziza, located in Westside Provisions District just down from Room & Board, is the brainchild of Israeli-born Tal Baum, who previously opened the Italian restaurant and market Bellina Alimentari in Ponce City Market. Baum might not have created a boundary-pushing Israeli restaurant, but what Aziza lacks in daringness it makes up for in pure comfort. This is a beautiful and worthy destination for unwinding over Middle Eastern–inflected cocktails (the captivating Fields of Flora mixes pisco, brandy, citrus, rose, orange flower, and yogurt) and generously sized shared plates (tender octopus mingles with roasted sunchokes atop squid-ink tahini, and the must-order eggplant is glamorized with subtly funky pickled egg, charred tahina, and peach amba, a smooth sauce typically made with pickled mangoes). The velvety hummus, the benchmark of any Israeli restaurant, was in dire need of a squeeze of lemon to offset its muddiness, and the charred padron peppers and okra over a luxurious pool of creamy labneh would have been a stunner if only for a sprinkle of coarse or flaky salt. But these are quibbles, which were forgotten upon the arrival of the entree-sized prawns, cleverly served atop falafel “toast” (exactly what it sounds like and absurdly good) that sops up the richly spiced, tomatoey sauce. Be sure to linger over Turkish coffee; you’ll want to plant yourself as long as possible in the warmly lit, Mid East–chic dining room. 1170 Howell Mill Road, 404-968-9437

Vietvana

In a sleepy Avondale Estates strip mall, in the space that formerly housed the longtime meat-and-three Our Way Café (RIP), a fun and ambitious Vietnamese joint has set up shop—one that makes its own baguettes for the banh mis and its own noodles for the pho. Welcome to the new New South. A spicy lychee soju slushie sets the mood for a parade of well-executed Vietnamese dishes—say, brightly acidic papaya salad, spicy-peppery clay-pot catfish, soul-warming crab and egg soup, a petite banh mi that’s a perfect extra bite for the table to share, and pho that’s simultaneously light and hearty, meaty and vegetal. But the parade, unfortunately, is a bit all over the place as far as pacing goes—a soup or appetizer might appear with or even after the entrees, and those entrees might arrive 10 or more minutes apart from each other. Until those kinks in service are worked out, order another slushie and chill. 2831 East College Avenue, Avondale Estates, 404-963-2757

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.

Find the perfect tlayuda (Mexican pizza) at this gas station restaurant

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Floating anatomy of a Taquería Oaxaqueña de la Guelaguetza tlayuda

If you happen to be driving away from Tucker toward Lilburn on Lawrenceville Highway—or even if you’re not, even if you’re doing something else entirely on the other side of town—you should be headed for the Chevron station just past the Checkers, the one with the coin laundry next to the Express Mart behind the pumps. That’s the easiest way to locate one of the finest incarnations of a hard-to-pronounce delicacy most commonly found 1,961 miles away, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

On the other side of the Express Mart is a sign far smaller than the one advertising the laundromat, onto which most of an improbably long name is crammed: Taqueria Oaxaqueña de la Guelaguetza. Inside, you’ll find about as many square feet as letters in the restaurant’s name. “I’d like to open something bigger—but not too big,” says Alfredo Aveja, co-owner of the nine-year-old, five-table gem. “I think you lose quality in a bigger restaurant.” The menu, up on the wall above the cash register, promises tacos and gorditas, tortas and tamales, huaraches and sopes. But that’s not why you’re here. You might not even know what it is or how to say it, but you’re here for the tlayudas. (Try this: tla-U-duh.)

To the uninitiated, a tlayuda is sort of a cross between a pizza, a flatbread, and—I mean this with reverence—a seven-layer dip. It starts with a crackly, ethereally thin yet freakishly sturdy corn tortilla that’s bigger than a vinyl record. That tortilla cloud somehow holds up to the challenge of the many layers that follow: an earthy paste of mashed pinto beans, smoky meat (I favor the pastor), lettuce, tomatoes, roasted jalapeños, avocado, radish, and an extra-milky blend of queso fresco and quesillo. Before the tlayuda descends onto your table, raid the salsa bar (the peanut salsa will blow your mind). After it arrives, dig in by breaking off a piece with the help of a spoon.

Then, order another to take home—because as much as you won’t want to drive back to Tucker the next day, you will want another tlayuda. But hey, if you do make the trek two days running, at least you can fill up on gas right out front.

6310 Lawrenceville Highway, Tucker, 770-940-2284 (erratic hours; call first)

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

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