There’s plenty you can eat in Atlanta for less than $13. Off the top of my head: Cheeseburgers at Little’s Food Store, banh mi at We Suki Suki, fried catfish at Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar, and a burrito at Bell Street Burritos. But what about a plate of food, a real meat and three that covers more levels of the food pyramid?
I was thinking about this the other day at Gaja, a lofty concrete hangout in East Atlanta Village pushing a small Korean menu with hip favorites like lettuce wraps, fried chicken, marinated short ribs, and bone marrow. I walked in on a schedule, with almost no time to eat and wearing sweaty gym clothes. But then, unexpectedly, a series of plates brought everything to a halt.
Where has chef Allen Suh’s scallion pancake ($6) been all my life? Suh fries buttery leeks battered with Hite beer into a crunchy, wide disc and dusts the top with both sugar and onion powder. It’s onion-ring salvation in pancake form. Then came the plates, one with double-fried chicken thighs ($12.50) and another with panko-breaded pork chops ($13). I couldn’t pick a favorite. If you’re into heat, get the chicken, which is tossed in gochujang (a pungent, chili pepper-based condiment) and covered in a soothing “ranch” dressing made with tofu. Not into funk or tang? Get the pork chop, coated in a brittle panko crust and served with a sweet and savory, barbecue-like brown sauce (a riff off “bull dog sauce,” according to the restaurant). Each entree arrived on a metal tray, accompanied with rice, kimchi, and two banchans (sea beans and mung beans when I visited). Both were plenty filling and plenty satisfying for a single diner.
So, the next time you’re in the area, check out Gaja. Tell me what you think of Suh’s fried chicken or his pork chops. If there’s a better $13 plate of food in Atlanta that shows as much technique and care, I’m all ears—and appetite.