Barberitos is a smallish chain which started in Athens and grew. They deal in border cuisine, and are the kind of restaurant that insists they’re not a fast food chain. They call themselves quick to serve instead.

There is some basis for making this kind of distinction. They prep their foods every morning, and rather than using only generic ground meats in their preparations, they do grill steak, and you can get grilled chicken as well. The cheese they use is the Mexican white you’ll see at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, not a big wheel of Longhorn cheddar. Salsas are fresh. Their chipotle hot sauce has a bite to it.

When I arrived, a little after 11 on a Saturday, they were still preparing the meats of the day, apologizing for their slowness – they had done a large catering event the night before, or were explaining what they put in their cheese dip. In a word, it seemed as if everyone knew what they were doing and were ready to explain it to anyone who showed. This is not ordinary in a fast food quick to serve restaurant.

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The items served here are, unless you’re selective, heavy on rice and beans. The quesadillas are not. They have a salad that’s acceptable if you’re avoiding carbs.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

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Anyway, the salsa were enjoyable, the cheeses went over well with me. I thought I had a good, decent quesadilla here. Not blow you away but good enough. I probably liked the atmosphere here most of all, of a new restaurant starting its day, and how engaged the staff was and proud of the work they did. At this restaurant, it came shining through.

Barberitos
5610 Roswell Rd., Suite 110
Sandy Springs, GA 30342
(404) 943-1000

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Bahama Breeze surprised me a little. I thought it was a singles bar, but turns out to be a casual food concept, with a lot of space, wicker furniture, reasonable if not ambitious eats. It affects a bit of island influence, but is hardly that. Food similar to what they serve here can be found in Cheeseburger in Paradise, Frontera’s, and some of the simpler dishes from Red Lobster.

The lack of ambition is heralded up front when the chef’s special the night I came was wood grilled fish. In fact, that’s what I had when I came here, a beer and their wood grilled salmon. Understand, wood grilled fish isn’t the special on most seafood places, it’s a central part of the repertoire. I can get a decent cedar plank salmon at Shucks in Loganville and theirs comes served on the plank of wood. Not so at Bahama Breeze.

Wood grilled salmon.

Wood grilled salmon.

That said, it was a good plate of fish. The salmon had a lemony balm, the vegetables were decent, the service was very good to excellent. The bar, where I sat, had wry understated staff, very likable. It’s a perfectly good restaurant as long as your expectations aren’t exceptional and you avoid any really ambitious dishes. Otherwise, your dining experience could end up like Chloe’s, here.

Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how the driving habits of Bahama Breeze patrons affected everyone for some years. It was typical for Bahama Breeze patrons to stop in a no stop zone at the corner of I-85 and Pleasant Hill, waiting for enough traffic to clear so they could cut across three lanes of Pleasant Hill Road traffic in about 100 yards. Why they didn’t just continue on to the light, turn right and then do a quick 180 off a local lane, I never understood. But it happened so often and so frequently, it was easy to hate this restaurant. The recent redesign of the bridge and all the intersections nearby has eliminated a lot of these issues.

Bahama Breeze
3590 Breckinridge Blvd
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 935-6509

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It’s an older chain and probably one a little under appreciated, given the existence of newer, fancier sushi joints. But sushi isn’t the reason I eat Japanese. I eat for the whole of the cuisine. And yes, if you’re the kind of eater who only eats sushi, and who needs his sushi served from gold bowls and only using the flesh of endangered species jetted in, then you and I have serious differences of opinion.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had was inari sushi, served hot and steaming, made fresh and seasoned just minutes before. It’s not all about the expense of the product. Rice is a modest grain, but it can be grand if handled with skill. The question is, which eaters can distinguish between pomp and circumstance and real skill?

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

Calamari. I'd have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don't serve it here anymore.

Calamari. I’d have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don’t serve it here anymore.

Mixed sashimi.

Mixed sashimi.

The one thing that has impressed me about the Snellville edition of this small chain is its authenticity and the ability to still eat a Japanese meal despite the heavy sushi (and sushi roll) emphasis. You see that breadth at the original as well. Things like noodles of various kinds (nabeyaki udon), donburi bowls, tempura and teriyaki, tonakatsu, agedashi tofu, Japanese pickles all are options at this chain. The foods they provide are not exhaustive, in the manner of a Haru Ichiban or a Shoya Izakaya, but they pass my mother-in-law test, meaning I could take my 100% Japanese mother-in-law to the eatery, and she’d leave happy. The average American can come here and know they won’t get a narrow, limited culinary experience.

All that said, I do prefer the Snellville location. The staff in Snellville are almost all Japanese. That wasn’t true on Ponce. I know the Snellville menu, and we have years of them in drawers in my house. When I ask for things that used to be on the menu in Snellville, I usually get them, rather than getting a “what planet did you come from” look from a Hispanic staffer.

Irony is, the newest member of this small chain is, in my opinion, more authentic than the original. That said, the original is still pretty darned good.

Sushi Avenue
308 W Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-8448

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PS: I’ll mention this again: for those food bloggers aspiring to talk intelligently about the Japanese meal, you simply must have Shizuo Tsuji’s book, discussed here.

The dish is called, modestly, mejillones, Spanish for “mussels”. But it isn’t just mussels. They toss in Spanish sausage, and bathe it in a tomato beer creole sauce. The sauce is chunky and a little spicy. It is delivered in a cast iron skillet, piping hot. Alongside the dish are strips of bread, to take this goodness and scoop. The result is one of the best servings of mussels – well, food of any kind – that I’ve had in the city.

Mejillones. Really excellent.

Mejillones. Really excellent.

Armando’s Caribe is a restaurant that serves largely two cuisines, Mexican and Cuban. There are hints of other cuisines here and there, a jerk chicken wing, but it’s mostly Mexican and Cuban, aiming for a tropical atmosphere. The staff are clearly Latin, and the restaurant collectively gives you the feeling that it’s the real deal.

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I also had the ropa vieja that day, a Cuban dish. Good, but not the mind blowing delight of their mussels. In any event, a restaurant that can put out a great dish and otherwise some good ones is worth keeping on the radar (for example, the old Checkered Parrot’s nachos). And with the mejillones at Armando’s, it absolutely qualifies.

Armando’s Caribe
3170 Peachtree Industrial
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 232-9848

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Morocco Grill is a newcomer to the Duluth area, a small eatery whose menu is on a whiteboard behind a counter top. It is clean, the look inside rather pretty. The smells on entering are wonderful. The meats are delicious.

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Grilled lamb plate. Very tasty meats.

Grilled lamb plate. Very tasty meats.

I spoke a little with the man behind the counter afterwards. There isn’t much Mediterranean on the north side outside of Roswell Road and the Sandy Springs area. The one I remember is Dalia’s on Peachtree Parkway. There may be an eatery or two on Pleasant Hill Road up around St Johns as well. But there are not many, and this one is convenient to those of us who have easy access to the Duluth area.

I have not tried, but want to try their rotisserie chicken. It comes in a porcelain container with a conical lid. I saw it served from a distance and it looked good.

I have to admit a certain delight at having this kind of eating (and this authentic) so close to where I live. The smell, the music, the ambiance, the flavors. No, it’s not a fancy eatery. A lot of their business is going to be catering and take out, but convenience does count when you’re hungry.

Morocco Grill
3083 Breckinridge Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 381-3615

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This place is an original, a Caribbean-Southern fusion buffet with food good enough to talk about. It has bits and pieces of other cuisines as well. They had a General Tso’s chicken that day, and some dishes with Italian roots. It’s the Caribbean and Southern foods, however, that will keep folks coming back.

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The curries here – chicken and goat, are respectable. They’re flavorful and relatively mild. They have jerk chicken too, a good looking dish, but it doesn’t hold up to the steam the way the curries do. They have southern style vegetables and dishes. I tried collards, green beans and fried chicken. I liked the fried chicken, liked the collards, felt the green beans to be a little watery and lacking flavor.

Curried chicken, curried goat, fried chicken.

Curried chicken, curried goat, fried chicken.

Still for as much curry as you can eat, for 9 dollars including drinks, for decent Southern vegetables and a bite or two of fried chicken, it should probably attract more attention than it does. It’s a relatively new restaurant and concept, so we’ll see.

Fusion 78
5150 Stone Mountain Highway
Stone Mountain, GA 30087
(678) 344-5497

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Max Mc Gee’s is an Irish pub on Sycamore Street, the “Wall of Restaurants” just south of the Marta Station in Decatur. It is a pretty upscale affair, with a good beer selection, pleasant staff, and it turns out, more than decent pub grub.

In terms of an “Irishness scale”, this pub is no more or less Irish than the others in this city inhabiting this genre. About 80% of the food could be found in any nice pub. Perhaps a fifth of the dishes have an English or Irish cast to them. Various pies, sausages, and other tidbits speak of the Islands, but probably not to the extent to transport anyone to a virtual Dublin.

Mussels, quite good. Tasty broth.

Mussels, quite good. Tasty broth.

Fish and chips.

Fish and chips.

Very good corned beef in this sandwich.

Very good corned beef in this sandwich.

But speaking of what we tried, the mussels were in a good tasting broth, worth dipping. The breaded fish in the fish and chips was dry, and tasty. The serving was large. My daughter perhaps ate a third of it. The corned beef in the sandwich we had was tender and fatty, a bit reminiscent of the brisket at Heirloom BBQ on a good day. The meats we touched were impressive, worth savoring.

In terms of location, the restaurant is to the far side of the Square Pub and can be missed.

Max Mc Gee’s
111 Sycamore Street
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 377-8050

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Shandiz is a Middle Eastern eatery, in a location that used to house one named Baba’s Gyro and Kabab. The menu is very close to the previous restaurant, with many of the same items the old one served. This is, in my opinion, a good thing, as I liked Baba’s. I also like this restaurant as well.

Shandiz replaces Baba's

Shandiz replaces Baba’s

There is an impressive selection of various meats in Shandiz’s kababs, from ground chicken to lamb and Cornish game hen. In a meal, you’ll get a single kabab, often off the skewer (if you need huge meat servings, go somewhere else). The meats are flavorful and juicy, salads excellent. We liked the hummus and we also liked the dinner atmosphere. Baba’s at lunch could be cramped. This place at dinner was relaxing.

Good, creamy hummus can be had at Shandiz.

Good, creamy hummus can be had at Shandiz.

I don’t have pictures of the kababs. Blame me. But it is worth a try, especially at lunch, if you’re around the area.

Shandiz House of Kababs
5270 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(678) 966-9994

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The Square Pub is along what I call the Decatur “Wall of Restaurants”, a row of eateries just south of the Marta Station near Church Street. It’s a pretty pub with a good beer selection, and an emphasis on the use of (New Mexican) green chiles. You can find them in quesos, on burgers, and in enchiladas.

Turkey Burger with side.

Turkey Burger with side.

green chile chicken enchiladas.

green chile chicken enchiladas.

It is an easy place to get into, with plenty of casual pub fare. In the couple times I’ve dropped by here, staff have been really good. Since many of the highly regarded pubs in this area have lines out the door, being able to stretch a little and talk to a neighbor in less than a shout might appeal.

The Square Pub
115 Sycamore Street
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 844-4010

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The neatest thing about a Victory sandwich is its size. They’re perhaps 3 to 4 inches around, small, perhaps two being a typical lunch portion for a male. One would be fine for someone watching their weight, or in general, a perfect starter for someone going out to a party or dancing. And that’s what I see about Victory that fits. You have a date, you need something, but not too much of anything. A drink might help too. In those circumstances, Victory Sandwich Bar would be perfect.

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Castro sandwich  on the left, Hambo on the right.

Castro sandwich on the left, Hambo on the right.

The bar itself is on Church Street, maybe half a block or so south of the Row of Restaurants in Decatur, the spots that parallel the MARTA station. It’s more bar with some food than a gastronomically focused spot.

Of the nine sandwiches available that day, we tried the Castro (smoked pork and ham) and the Hambo (prosciutto and mozzarella) sandwiches. We liked both, but of the two we liked the Castro best. There was just more meat in the Castro, and in a small sandwich, that matters.

Victory Sandwich Bar
340 Church St.
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 377-9300

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