La Mei Zi
There are far too few Taiwanese restaurants in Atlanta, so the opening of this ambitious new kitchen in the back of crowded Asian Square is grounds for celebration. Sichuan-style spicy hot pot, minced pork over rice, braised beef and scallion rolls, and bitter melon with baby anchovies (above) are but a few of the specialties at this casual, friendly restaurant that also prepares a lavish lunch buffet on weekends. Feeling bold? Order the fried “stinky tofu.” 5150 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-676-0225
Arguably the most anticipated opening of 2015, Staplehouse is the realized dream of the late chef Ryan Hidinger and his wife, Jen. This for-profit extension of the Giving Kitchen, which assists restaurant workers in crisis, offers a five-course seasonal menu that you can buy tickets for online (or take your chances at the bar). A separate kitchen prepares a more casual menu for the first-come, first-served covered patio. Those who remember Ryan Smith’s glory days at Empire State South will be thrilled with his return to the kitchen. His creative, decidedly whimsical approach is on full display in dishes like raw snapper with oyster cream, kale, and aji dulce pepper; gourmet funions with “fun powder”; and a chicken liver tart served like a thin slice of pie. 541 Edgewood Avenue, 404-524-5005
The house specialty at this two-room restaurant in one of Gwinnett County’s many anonymous strip malls is the rarely seen bun mam, a gumbo-like soup made with shrimp, squid, fish, and roast pork in a broth flavored with fermented fish paste. As any of the Vietnamese customers will tell you, it’s about as authentic as you can get. There’s more, too: tapioca (aka “silkworm”) noodles with coconut cream and pork, savory rice crepes (known as banh cuon, shown above), and exceptional rice plates served with grilled meats. 1455 Pleasant Hill Road, Lawrenceville, 770-564-2292
At first glance, this may not scream “serious restaurant” (what with the nightly live music and Ghostbusters-themed cocktails), but chef Nick Melvin and cocktail whiz Bradford Tolleson are sure trying their hardest. “Naked-fried” okra with fish sauce caramel and tender Georgia clams with fried boudin balls sound strange, but they work. Fried chicken (pictured) or butter lettuce cups with dehydrated porcini “bacon” further build confidence. Drinks are just as quirky and fun: Try the Ecto Cooler slushy, a mix of vodka and Hi-C, or a beer capped with Chartreuse meringue. 740 Ralph McGill Boulevard, 470-225-6162
This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue.