The Christiane Chronicles: Food halls are a loss for urbanism

Plus, five places doing dim sum right

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

No Street Cred
My idea of a city involves attractive streets jam-packed with restaurants. Atlanta’s gorgeous residential neighborhoods and awful clumps of commercial development clash in a way that disturbs me.

The trend of concentrating restaurants in places such as Krog Street Market, Ponce City Market, Inman Quarter, Buckhead Atlanta, and Emory Point may be helpful in a city just beginning to embrace pedestrian arteries. But these food halls and mini-malls turn their backs to our streets, hoarding their treasures inside.

I understand how great it is to have so many choices under one roof­—and the element of surprise that goes along with that. But what a loss in terms of urbanism. Edgewood Avenue is one of the few places where restaurants understand their place in the general landscape of the city. And I’ll take the Buford Highway corridor model over almost any form of development.

Photograph by Greg Dupree

Dim Sum Delights
I miss dim sum, the Cantonese midday meal of endless small plates of dumplings, tiny savories, and sweets. It’s the original brunch, typically enjoyed on the weekend over pots of tea with friends and family who understand that cheap gluttony isn’t the point. And I’m rarely organized enough to arrange such a gathering.

Among Chinese, the social aspect of dim sum is at least as important as the freshness of the dumplings. Good dim sum restaurants are giant, noisy places where servers crisscross the room with metal carts, barking the names of what they’re peddling. Everything is shared.

Unlike Hong Kong, San Francisco, the San Gabriel Valley, or Toronto, Atlanta isn’t a hotbed for dim sum. But five places do it right: Royal China, Golden House, East Pearl, Happy Valley, and Oriental Pearl.

Royal China may not look as fancy as some of the others, but the offerings are more varied: plump pork and shrimp dumplings topped with dried shrimp, unusual fried sticky rice with Chinese sausage, bean curd filled with shrimp, and (my favorite) pan-fried fishcakes. Plus, the golden egg custard tarts are the best and the freshest.

Field notes

  • Grab the special menu at Sri Thai Kitchen & Sushi Bar in Duluth’s crazy-looking Paragon plaza for the best selection of authentic Thai small plates in the Atlanta area.
  • Sunday lunch at Staplehouse on Edgewood Avenue puts chef Ryan Smith in a playful mood, riffing off the best dishes from his dinner menu.
  • Betty Hsu, who? The owners of Makan in Decatur are creating Betty Hsu’s Baos in Krog Street Market—not to be confused with the Betty Hsu bao at Sweet Auburn Barbecue in Poncey-Highland, named for the owner’s mother.