The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: Palo Santo, Mambo Zombi, and the Bite of Korea

A modern Mexican restaurant with style to spare, a funky Edgewood Avenue cocktail lounge, and Korean street food in Tucker

128

 

Palo Santo
Palo Santo

Photograph by Martha Williams

Palo Santo
Palo santo (the wood from the tree, burned for fragrance) wafts through the dining room of Palo Santo (the new, upscale modern-Mexican restaurant on Marietta Street), where ice cubes in the cocktails are stamped with PALO SANTO: This feels like a capital-p Production, from the moment you hand your keys to the valet (the only parking option) and enter through the rear of the building. Attention to detail is evident across chef Santiago Gomez’s menu, with every dish precisely and often gorgeously plated (tostadas, including a hamachi tostada with charred serrano-yuzu mayo and burnt avocado, are served atop a bed of dried corn kernels) and sometimes—as in a starter of papas bravas: crisp potatoes in chile de arbol mayo—finished tableside. (This last, where the server basically tossed the potatoes with their sauce like you would a salad, felt a bit extraneous. On the other hand, maybe some flair helps distract from the fact that you’re paying $18 for a bowl of potatoes and mayonnaise. A good bowl of potatoes and mayo—with black truffle shavings—but still.) A veteran chef who’s worked with such luminaries as Daniel Boulud, Gomez sources ingredients from regional producers as well as small farms in Mexico and has assembled a pleasingly eclectic assortment of dishes. Meat lovers can be sated by entrees like carne asada with turnip-jalapeño puree, but seafood abounds (e.g., wood-fired branzino marinated in citrus and guajillo), as do vegetable options like a winter squash tetela: a griddled masa cake with mushrooms and shiitake mole. Reservations are available for two spaces: the main dining room and a rooftop lounge serving a smaller, snackier selection. Westside

Mambo Zombi
Far above the hustle and bustle of Edgewood Avenue, a groovy respite: this new bar from the owners of Joystick Gamebar and Georgia Beer Garden, whose top floor this spot inhabits. At the apex of an exterior staircase, the door to Mambo Zombi opens into a coffin-shaped aperture that glows pink—Freud would have a field day. But that’s just the beginning of the eye-catching decor, which combines a Day of the Dead motif (e.g., plastic skulls on candelabras) with Afro-Caribbean and other visual elements, hanging plants, and casual furniture like you might find in a friend’s apartment. One of the partners is Kysha Cyrus, a veteran Atlanta bartender whose drinks here lean tiki-ish and rum-forward, incorporating ingredients as far-flung as the decorations: Curry leaf, for instance, perfumes a cocktail called the Rum Ting Ting, and Cyrus’s Elote mixes Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti with housemade corn milk and sweetened condensed milk. The menu also includes several nonalcoholic options (including what the menu describes as a “pre–Incan Empire Andean drink” with purple corn, pineapple husk, piloncillo sugar, fruit, and warming spices), a hemisphere-spanning beer list (Costa Rica’s Imperial, Brazil’s Xingu Black), and various insouciant jokes (under “Snacks,” the only item listed on a recent visit was “YOUR DAD,” though it sounded like other options are in the offing); the bathrooms, meanwhile, are decorated with stuffed animals with vulgar phrases written on them. In short, this place is perfect. Old Fourth Ward

The Bite of Korea
BOK for short—the word means “fortune” in Korean—the Bite of Korea will already be familiar to many Atlanta diners; the business launched two years ago as a pop-up and has been a steady presence around town since then, including at a weekly Sunday outing in the parking lot of A Mano. Now, proprietors Gavin Lee and Chloe Jung have landed permanent digs at the same time as they’ve laid claim to being the only Korean restaurant in Tucker. The menu includes proven hits like BOK’s signature bulgogi quesadilla, which is . . . well, it’s just about as good as the phrase “bulgogi quesadilla” sounds, rich and gooey meat enclosed in a cracklingly crisp tortilla and served with sour cream and spicy aioli. Not-too-serious street food is a focus here—see also BOK’s sodduk skewers (fried rice cakes with pork sausage, gochujang, and honey mustard) and corn cheese (an unctuous Korean fave, and a truly melodious combination of ingredients)—as well as more substantial bowls of bibimbap and gochujang chicken, all of which come with an assortment of very fresh-tasting banchan. Sporting a casual, spacious dining room, the restaurant shares a parking lot with a Publix as well as another area newcomer: the latest outpost of Giovanni Di Palma’s Antico Pizza. Tucker

This article appears in our December 2022 issue.

Advertisement