In recent years, Atlanta has fallen hard for birria, a Mexican dish whose basic element is meat—usually beef or goat—stewed in a tomato and chili sauce. It’s then served in tacos (with a side of the cooking liquid, aka consomé, for dipping), as quesabirria (enfolded, with cheese, in tortillas, then griddled till reddish-gold, crispy, greasy, and glorious), or, increasingly, in some gonzo creation or another (birria ramen, birria pizza). This family-owned restaurant serves both tacos and quesabirria, but the house specialty—the reason to run, not walk, toward Duluth—is birria de borrego: lamb birria made in the style of Aguascalientes, the Mexican state where the Landeros family has roots, and where an earlier generation operated a restaurant. This heirloom recipe is nothing short of stunning. Chopped into small pieces, the dissolvingly tender meat is served on a shallow plate in a velvety, lightly spiced tomato broth, paired with the usual accoutrements—warm tortillas, onion, cilantro, and lime—and best chased down with a beer, michelada, or one of the restaurant’s housemade mango aguas frescas. My friendly young server asked if I wanted my birria with just meat, or with a little fat mixed in; even with the latter option, the lamb is so delicately cooked, and the sauce so vibrant, that I felt like I’d eaten a light, refreshing lunch. In other words, I had more than enough room for a slice of the Landeroses’ very good Mexican-style cheesecake, drizzled with dulce de leche. Also on the menu: tacos, tortas, gorditas, and (on the weekends) menudo. 2400 Satellite Boulevard, Duluth
This EAV takeout and delivery spot is named for the young son of owners Jen and Emily Chan, and there is a childlike nature to the food—though not in the quality of its preparation. More in the design of the dishes themselves, which are exuberant, irreverent, and frankly a little bit nuts. For instance, a Sichuan hot dog topped with “taco beef gravy, Asian slaw, fermented tofu sauce,” and, for good measure, a shower of Fritos and some cilantro: a drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one, though I can attest that it tastes great sober, too. (It further tastes great in a vegan version made with Beyond sausage; veg and gluten-free options are available here for most menu items.) What else? A taco modeled after Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco Supreme, though with grass-fed beef and Tillamook cheddar; a French dip filled with Mongolian beef; a bulgogi burger that does not necessarily need, but nonetheless is definitely not harmed by, a schmear of duck pâté. (Who was ever harmed by a little duck pâté? Besides ducks, of course.) The Chans, who also operate the Cabbagetown restaurant JenChan’s, have moved into the space previously occupied by Quynh Trinh’s We Suki Suki, and their food vibes well both with the cheery community atmosphere that is Trinh’s whole MO, and with the general freewheelingness prevailing out on Flat Shoals. The only drawback is that MikChan’s, at the moment, is open only till 8:30 p.m.—though late-night service, for those looking to satiate the munchies, may be in the offing. 479 Flat Shoals Avenue, East Atlanta Village
“Anything but” is a phrase you’ll see associated with this Brookwood Hills establishment—on the website, on a marquee over the bar—though I’ll leave it to you to decide whether a restaurant whose menu features cheeseburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and wedge salads with blue cheese dressing can really be said to be doing anything particularly removed from the . . . you know. Still, there’s no shame in being an easy-to-like eatery playing some recognizable hits. The guy in charge is Nick Leahy, who, during the pandemic, converted his side-by-side Brady Avenue French restaurant and wine bar—Aix and Tin Tin, respectively—into the more laid-back Nick’s Westside. The Usual, similarly, offers slightly upscale takes on dishes like the aforementioned chicken sandwich (a juicy, generously portioned piece of meat, doused in a Korean hot sauce), sliders and smoked wings, and entrees such as smoked short rib served over a pimento grits cake. A dish billed as Lowcountry seafood and dumplings—a maritime version of Southern-style chicken and dumplings—was gummy, salty, and not particularly flavorful, but I can’t recommend highly enough Leahy’s calamari, given a Vietnamese treatment with nuoc cham vinaigrette, Thai basil, and spiced peanuts, and served over a crunchy slaw, in a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Cocktails are another highlight, including the sprightly, rejuvenating Peachtree Fizz—its eye-popping purple hue comes from gin infused with butterfly pea flower—and the Usual Old-Fashioned, whose earthy, autumnal flavors are courtesy of apple, vanilla, and sorghum. 1777 Peachtree Street, Brookwood Hills
“I feel like we’re in Italy!” a happy diner said one lunch hour at Pala. I can’t testify to the veracity of this statement—and it’s hard to conjure Italy in a Buckhead strip mall—but it must have been music to the ears of Giovanni Di Palma, who’d left the kitchen and was roaming around the small shop, holding forth with customers. With this cafe, Di Palma decamps from the Home Park complex that contains the bulk of his business—Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, Antico Pizza Napoletana, et al.—for a concept launched in partnership with his son, Johnny: counter-service Roman-style pizza and gelato. Pane alla Romana is an oblong pie that the Di Palmas offer whole (four to six servings), in slices, or as a kind of mini pizza called a pinsa, in flavor combinations ranging from the simple and pristine (tomato and mozzarella) to the more dressed up (smoked salmon with dill; wild mushroom and stracciatella with truffle oil). The crust, which takes 72 hours to produce, isn’t as complexly flavored as some other long-fermented doughs, but its crumb is wonderfully creamy, with a crisp bottom that’s blackened in parts. (Pala refers to the baker’s peel used to move these babies in and out of the oven.) The father-and-son duo also offer ciabatta sandwiches, fried zucchini blossoms and salt cod fritters, and, of course, sweets. Wild cherry gelato was in fact a bit too sweet for my taste, but flaky, shell-shaped sfogliatelle is one of those pastries that dreams are made of, the memory of its cinnamon- and orange-scented ricotta filling lingering on the tongue long after the dessert has disappeared. 1264 West Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead
There’s a kind of longstanding meme—repeated by H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and others—that holds that cellar door is the most beautiful-sounding phrase in the English language. Here’s a runner-up: mozzarella bar. That, anyways, is the idea behind this buzzy new spot from chef Pat Pascarella (White Bull, Grana; pictured below), where cheese is the star player but various other veterans of the Italian table—focaccia, salumi, handmade pastas—put in solid work as well. You may as well start with the gran degustazione, literally just a cheese flight in which each item is a member of the mozz family: earthy mozzarella di bufala, messy burrata, and fatt’ a mano—a pleasingly chewy version pulled by hand at a dedicated station behind the Bastone bar. Now that you’ve eaten five different kinds of cheese, feel free to move on to lighter fare like orecchiette with bone marrow, pancetta, and bread crumbs (rich, crunchy, fabulous) or a glistening lamb tartare finished, to excellent effect, with mint-hazelnut pesto. There might be a bad dish here but, on a recent visit, I wasn’t able to find it—and though the dishes do not, in general, lean light, they’re served on fairly small plates for nibbling and sharing; other options include fritto misto, sunchoke caponata, and pastas such as lobster raviolo and bucatini with broccoli, burrata, and lemon. To drink, there’s a fulsome menu of wines by the glass, plus interesting cocktails—made with a bit of pasta water, the Ace of Clubs is like an especially subtle dirty martini, a drink not otherwise known for its subtlety—and a house pilsner brewed in collaboration with Orpheus. 887 Howell Mill Road, Westside
Restaurateur Riccardo Ullio closed his Mexican cantina Escorpión early last year, but a little of its DNA remains in the restaurant that’s taken its place: Two former employees, Luis Damian and Miguel Chavez, are now helping run the business. El Valle forgoes Tex-Mex standards in favor of something a little more interesting, with entrees including branzino and capers wrapped in hoja santa leaves, short rib in black-garlic mole, and tamarind-marinated rib-eye. Seafood is big here, especially among the smaller plates, which include fried-halibut tacos, halibut ceviche, and mussels in guajillo sauce. Collaborating on the menu, Damian and executive chef Gabriel Camargo have created dishes with powerful visual appeal: Dotted with bright-orange segments of clementine and surrounded by minutely sliced celery, their scallop crudo is flowerlike and a little hypnotic, and—speaking of which—tiny flowers decorate a very pretty sincronizada de pulpo: octopus quesadilla. Among dishes I sampled, I found the flavors a little muted. The dabs of salsa verde on top of that quesadilla, for instance, were as sparse as the floral garnish, though the octopus was fantastically tender. The restraint pays off on the dessert menu: A “deconstructed Mexican s’more” features a dense, super-rich—but just faintly sweet—chocolate mousse alongside warm churros and a dramatic swoosh of marshmallow. “Deconstructed” anything sounds like a gimmick a few years past its prime, but set that aside—and grab a spoon. Mexican and other Latin American wines are well-represented on the drinks list—many available by the glass—and the cocktail menu emphasizes tequila and mezcal. 800 Peachtree Street, Midtown
Versions of this article appear in our May and June 2022 issues.