Xi’an Gourmet House
Located at the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the ancient city of Xi’an is known not just for its terracotta army but also its Muslim Quarter, a commercial thoroughfare and dining destination where tourists, mostly Chinese, snack on street foods reflecting the varied cultures that have woven themselves through here over time: steaming bowls of mutton soup, grilled meats, spicy and supple wheat noodles. Now, though, you don’t have to go to Xi’an to sample of this bounty. You don’t even have to go to Duluth, where the owners of Xi’an Gourmet House operate a stall in the Jusgo food court. You can just go to Midtown, where they’ve given us this second location—and a reason to rejoice. The main draws are the thick, almost meaty biang biang noodles, their name an onomatopoeia for the sound they make when slapped against a countertop. In the most popular iteration here, they come mixed with mouth-tingling cumin lamb, but other, equally intriguing combinations are available: shredded pork with pickled mustard stem, minced pork with black bean and tofu, stir-fried tomato and eggs. The noodles are served dry or in broth, but in the latter category, the menu boasts another iconic Xi’an dish: pao-mo soup, a fragrant bowl in which lamb intermingles with pieces of flatbread. Cooler options include vinegary liang pi noodles, aka cold skin noodles, and an oil-slicked cucumber salad whose just-right level of heat is positively addicting. Midtown
Just a few steps off Decatur Square, proprietor Catherine Zuber’s stylish, laid-back cafe offers something for any time of the day: breakfast tacos, cafe con leche, and cinnamon rolls in the a.m., and more substantial fare later on—plus cocktails like the Oaxacan Reviver, a smoky, lemony take on the Corpse Reviver No. 2 with mezcal taking the place of gin. A native of the Atlanta area, Zuber worked for several years in restaurants in Napa Valley, bringing home an appreciation for light, farm-fresh fare—ingredients are sourced locally where possible, coffee beans are from Montgomery, Alabama–based Prevail Coffee Roasters—with vibes to match. The most prominent visual element here—besides a nice patio, overlooking the courtyard of the AMLI building—is an exuberantly floral mural by Katherine Boggs. Zuber developed the menu in collaboration with chef Ulises Martinez, whose restrained approach shines in dishes like a foraged mushroom quesadilla, barely seasoned and simply prepared—the better to highlight the sweetness of the housemade corn tortilla, the milkiness of the Oaxacan cheese, and the meatiness of the sauteed mushrooms. A weekend brunch menu features huevos rancheros, papas con chorizo, and a carnitas tostada. Decatur
Flour + Time Bakery
Between the manifold breweries, the forthcoming food hall, the already existing restaurants and cafes, and the under-construction “town green” in the middle of it all, Avondale Estates is giving downtown Decatur a run for its money in terms of walkable, enjoyable urban spaces on the east side of town. One of the sweetest additions: this little bakery window, the outgrowth of a stand at the farmers market, which opened recently on a side street behind Arepa Mia. The baker is Leah Parris, and if the products are nothing particularly nouveau, they are still entirely skillful renditions of nostalgic faves: cinnamon rolls, cheddar biscuits, pies both sweet and savory, and one exceptionally good oatmeal-raisin cookie. Croissants and pains au chocolat are notable for their crisp shells, beautifully webbed interiors, and the fact that—like everything else here—they’re vegan. Of course, great vegan pastries aren’t especially notable in this, the Year of Our Lord 2022, but the delicate architecture of laminated doughs could be an especially bedeviling task without the help of traditional butter. Parris pulls it off with panache. All these can be enjoyed on Flour + Time’s sunny patio, but don’t forget to grab a loaf of Parris’s artful sourdough bread to take home. Avondale Estates
This article appears in our October 2022 issue.