These are heady times for fans of Mexican food in Atlanta. In addition to the scores of reliably great taquerias all over the place, we’re experiencing an efflorescence of upscale, chef-driven spots carving out their own creative niches—local ingredients (Palo Santo), mezcal-friendly fare (Tortuga y Chango), Gulf coast cooking (D Boca N Boca). One of the newest entrants on the scene is this slick space on the ground floor of a Chamblee apartment building, a partnership between the owners of Lawrenceville’s Oaxaca Tacos & Tequila Bar and Midtown’s El Valle. As the name suggests, it specializes in the cuisine of Oaxaca, which chef Gabriel Salinas pays tribute to in soulful, vegetable-forward dishes like squash blossom quesadillas, mushroom tamales, and tlayudas—a kind of pizza-ish flatbread—topped with cauliflower and leek puree, roasted beets, chewy Oaxaca cheese, and fresh herbs. (A version topped with steak and salsa macha is also available; masa for tlayudas, tacos, gorditas, and the like is sourced from heirloom corn and ground in-house.) Oaxaca being a coastal state, there are also superfresh seafood dishes—hamachi crudo with serrano aguachile, shrimp burritos—as well as larger plates like wood-fired branzino, birria de res, and bone-in rib eye. The restaurant shares a pastry chef, Faye Jonah, with El Valle, which means that desserts—e.g., deconstructed corn husk meringue—are a rock-solid bet. Chamblee
Something just feels right about an old-school Southern soul place in the heart of downtown Atlanta. This one is from Bryant Williams, aka Chef Baul, aka private chef to hip-hop artists including Lil Baby and Migos, and offers a concise and well-executed menu of recognizable classics: turkey wings in gravy, baked chicken, and braised oxtails, plus daily specials like meatloaf on Thursdays and ribs on the weekends. (If mac and cheese is the measure of any decent soul food restaurant, here’s an encouraging indicator: It was plumb sold out on a recent weeknight visit.) Though there are a few chairs inside the long, narrow space, it’s mostly takeout; luckily, it’s right on top of the Five Points MARTA stop, so if you’re not picking up dinner to bring home, you can dine al fresco at the plaza outside Underground Atlanta or just up the street in Woodruff Park. (Binky’s is the first of two eateries Williams is planning right around this spot; the second will be a sit-down joint called Betty Sue’s, serving breakfast and brunch all day.) Don’t forget dessert: Highlights are, naturally, red velvet cake, lemon pound cake, and banana pudding. Downtown
Whoever warned you not to fill up on appetizers wasn’t thinking of Tal Baum’s restaurants: On visits to both Atrium, the vividly decorated place that the chef/restaurateur opened last year in Ponce City Market, and her newest spot, Carmel, my dining companions and I ended up ordering so many small plates that we never made it to the entrees. But, as it turns out, thinking small can lead to a meal that’s amply satisfying. Unlike some of the geographically specific restaurants in Baum’s stable—both Aziza and Rina focus on the cuisine of Israel, where Baum was born—Carmel is thematic, reflecting coastal cuisine from California to the Mediterranean to the Yucatán. Hence a tender roasted octopus with salsa macha, tuna tartare with ’nduja, smooth-as-silk scallop aguachile; it’s a concept that’s big enough to allow for creativity, but not so broad that it feels like pandering. (The executive chef is Luis Guevara Salgado, who himself grew up by the sea in Acapulco.) And there’s more than seafood: for instance, an earthy beef tartare served with taro chips, roast cabbage with onion fondue and anchovy, and an intriguing-looking dish of braised lentils and turnips with guajillo jus, along with other entrees (if you’re able to make it that far down the menu) like arroz negro with grilled squid and tamarind-glazed roast chicken. The cocktails, meanwhile, are beachy but not corny—the Welchman Hall Spritz, with spicy mezcal, grapefruit, and aperitivo, will go down very easy on a hot day—as is the dining room, which is a good measure swanker and more dimly lit than your typical crab shack. Buckhead
Gezzo’s Coastal Cantina
In some ways, this casual Mexican restaurant couldn’t be more different from its predecessor in this space, a Vietnamese-fusion place called Juniper Cafe that had its own bakery window and bottled its own fancy sodas. But there are meaningful similarities, starting with the family involved: This one’s run by Howard and Anita Hsu, of Sweet Auburn BBQ, who are taking it over from their brother Ron, who owned Juniper with Aaron Phillips. (The latter pair are best known for their luxe Candler Park restaurant Lazy Betty; Juniper Cafe, which closed at the end of 2022, may reopen elsewhere.) And though the fare is new, the vibes—big-hearted, easygoing, kid-friendly—are continuous. Howard and Anita Hsu initially launched Gezzo’s as a Chipotle-esque burrito counter in Locust Grove and McDonough; here the concept is a little more developed for the sit-down crowd, with fancier options like ceviche (a good ceviche, with ginger, serrano peppers, jicama, and pomegranate, served with crisp tostadas) and playful eats like “tator toks,” with spicy Korean aioli. They join a menu otherwise heavy with West Coast burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and rice bowls, incorporating plenty of locally sourced ingredients. The former bakery window is now operated by La Michoacana and serves Mexican-style ice cream—try the deeply buttery pine nut flavor. Already this place seems to be a neighborhood standby: A cute dog sat patiently next to its owners on the enclosed patio on my first visit, and on my second, a week or so later? Same damn dog. And, by extension, the same people. They must have found something to like. Bolton
In a city notorious for tearing down its historic buildings, a bit of the past survives in South Downtown: a line of beautiful brick buildings on Mitchell Street known as Hotel Row, built in the early 20th century to meet the needs of travelers at Atlanta’s Terminal Station. Signs of the area’s resurgence are mixed. One evening not long ago, a literal dumpster fire off Ted Turner Drive caught the attention of—well, at least one or two pedestrians who were out and about on the lonesome streets, as well as a police cruiser that drove unhurriedly by and then, presumably, called it in. More promising, just around the corner, was TydeTate, a family-owned Thai eatery that’s the first restaurant to open in the ongoing Hotel Row redevelopment. This isn’t a completely unfamiliar face: Siblings Sai Untachantr and Bank Bhamaraniyama already operate a stall inside Chattahoochee Food Works, but the downtown location is their first stand-alone, a sleek, bright dining room with 40 seats and a bar. Any meal ought to start with curry puffs—delicate savory bites of minced chicken and sweet potato, encased in a flaky dough and resembling little sea shells—and spicy papaya salad. The mains (pad Thai, pad see ew, and the like) aren’t unfamiliar, but it’s all homey, well-prepared, and satiating stuff: just what you want to sit down in front of after a day of work. The bar was not yet open when I visited but cocktails will incorporate fresh ingredients like tamarind, basil, and lychee. Future businesses on this street include Spiller Park Coffee and the flower shop Twelve80; let’s hope these sparks catch on. Downtown
This articles appear in our July and August 2023 issues.