September 2009


Sangrias is a subtle restaurant, easy to underestimate if you don’t pay attention. There is a slightly subversive element in how they prepare and present their Mexican favorites, trying to be about 95% traditional and 5% creative.  They serve up dishes: pork ranchero and carnitas michoachan style and they look normal, as if they could have come out of any Atlanta chain. Then you try their tomatillo sauce and whoa.. hardly Atlanta Tex Mex.

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pork rancheros.

carnitas

carnitas

It’s a game they play throughout the menu, of trying to appear the way customers would want their food and then adding just a twist to keep people from going, “same old same old”. And of course it’s just about impossible to understand unless you show up on Tuesday nights, when the owner begins to show off his Puerto Rican roots and pulls out Puerto Rican dishes. I recently had their biftec encebollado, a thin marinated steak served with a lot of red beans and white rice. This leads to a story that one of my coworkers once told me:

I go on Tuesday nights and I get their camarones a la criolla and I mix it with everything: the white rice, the red beans, everything. I really like it. The owner walks by and asks me, surprised, “What are you doing to my dish?” And I reply, “It’s good – want to try  some?”

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Perhaps the best dish my family has had their recently is their tacos asada, which can be steak, chicken or pork served “asada style”. It’s a new dish on the menu, and close in character to the tacos you can get at the mom n’ pop taquerias. Yes, Sangrias pays attention to trends.

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Service here is good, but depending on where you sit, it can sometimes be slow. There is a bar area, with televisions and such, and it tends to be understaffed. The people watching at the bar, though, is great. Thin men in brown tanned skin, ponytails, and cowboy gear sit next to pale IT pros in kahkis and blues. The ethnic mix of customers is a spectrum of colors.

Also noteworthy, the cheesecake flan of Sangria’s has a well deserved reputation.

In short, this isn’t a place where it pays to be too traditional or formal with the menu. You need to explore, because Sangrias, to use a musical analogy, isn’t playing classical from sheet music. This is a jazz joint, ad libbing on the edges of more formal music, and it’s in the specials, the Tuesday nights, the new dishes, where you can hear this restaurant really belt one.

Verdict: Classic Mexican and border favorites with a subversive twist here and there. Highly recommended.

Sangria’s Mexican Cafe
4369 Hugh Howell Road
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 270-1777

Sangria's Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

Notes: Sangria’s is in a strip mall dominated by an abandoned Ace Hardware store, roughly opposite the Publix shopping center. It doesn’t face the Hugh Howell side, and facing the empty Ace building, is actually on the left hand side. You should see a bunch of cars parked there. Yes, they’re all going to Sangria’s.

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Agave is a restaurant in the Cabbagetown district of Atlanta, near the Oakland Cemetary, with a solid fan base and a fistful of “best of Atlanta” awards. We went there recently, on a weekend, as people in online forums tend to just really like their experiences there. This being the rainy season, the moment we got onto Interstate 20 we were caught in a huge downpour. That said, it’s not that hard to get to Agave.  Just find the exit on I-20 that leads to Memorial Drive and exit north. Agave will soon be on your right.

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Once inside, there is a bar with a downstairs and upstairs. To the right is a dining area. It’s roomy enough, though it somehow felt cramped to me, and it was amazingly loud. This is the loudest restaurant I’ve been in since Bonefish Grill, and so uncomfortably loud my wife and daughter left at the first available moment.

The food, however, is quite good.  They serve an excellent salsa and bowl of chips as a starter. We had the Agave salad, a decent plate of greens. We also had their leg of lamb, the stuffed mountain trout tomatillo, and their santa fe blue corn chicken enchiladas.

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My daughter was the one who ordered the leg of lamb and she liked it a great deal, nibbling on the bones after she was done with the meat. I had a small piece of the lamb. The lamb was crusted in spice and had excellent flavor. My wife stole most of my daughter’s asparagus. She liked it a great deal.

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The trout wasn’t bad at all, a huge plate of fish stuffed with seafood and with some reasonable spicing.

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My wife was indifferent to her enchiladas, and said she should have ordered the cayenne fried chicken instead. What I could try of the enchiladas tasted fine to me.

In all we liked the experience and we’d probably go again. This is more a party restaurant than many we go to. The bar atmosphere extends into the dining area. My wife ran into a coworker while we ate, so she was able to touch base, and chat.

Service was very good. The parking is complimentary valet and recommended.

Verdict: Good Southwestern food in a festive party atmosphere. Can be loud. Highly recommended.

Agave
242 Boulevard SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 588-0006

Agave on Urbanspoon

Spiced Right is a small Atlanta chain, with the original location in Lilburn and a newer location in Roswell. They’re small restaurants, with a hole in the wall feel. I went to the Roswell location recently, and was impressed enough to trek back to the original location, and see if things had changed from the days when the original owner ran the place.

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The Lilburn location.

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Spiced Right's sign in Roswell

Entrance to Roswell location.

Entrance to Roswell location.

It definitely had changed. Gone is the pulled pork buffet. These days they have dinner plates (2 meats, 2 sides) and a pared down menu. Gone are the array of hot sauces. In Lilburn they have 3, and in Roswell they have one, in Coke bottles. Personally I miss not having “Lilburner” around, but Spiced Right’s “Hot” is still one of the best sauces in the Atlanta area.

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We stopped going to the original Spiced Right when they started having trouble with their ribs. This came within months of the ownership change, while they still had the buffet. My wife over time had become a rib eater and we can’t go to a restaurant that can’t smoke ribs. In both the Roswell and Lilburn locations the ribs come out smoked. You can smell it in the meat, taste it when you eat it, and the smell lingers on your fingers. These are good barbecued ribs.

half rack of ribs in Roswell

Half rack of ribs in Roswell.

Dinner plate (turkey, pulled pork) in Lilburn.

Dinner plate (turkey, pulled pork) in Lilburn.

Dinner plate (ribs, pulled pork) in Lilburn

Dinner plate (ribs, pulled pork) in Lilburn.

Table extras are kept in six pack boxes.

Table extras are kept in six pack boxes.

The sides are good. One of the better aspects of the old Spiced Right were the array of sides that just tasted good. The new owner has taken those and kept the flavor and character of the sides. You’re not losing anything by ordering Spiced Right’s baked beans or cole slaw. The potato salad has a hint of mustard in it and the french fries are hand cut and good. Just, if you get the fries in a basket, transfer them to something else quickly, because the hot meat will steam them into softness quickly.

These are good restaurants, good enough to go to if you’re in the area. The ribs I had in Lilburn location were better, chewier, richer in flavor than the ribs I had in Roswell. That could just be the luck of the draw. Every meat was smoked, all of them had a smoke ring if you looked. And as the Lilburn location is one of the closest locations to Snellville to provide a genuine smoked ‘cue, I do wish them well. We need more restaurants like these two, not fewer.

Verdict: Good smoked meats, good sauces, good sides. Pared down menu from times past. Highly recommended.

Spiced Right Ribhouse BBQ
635 Atlanta Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(678) 352-9633

Spiced Right Ribhouse BBQ on Urbanspoon

Spiced Right Smokehouse BBQ
5364 Lawrenceville Highway
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 564-0355

Spiced Right Smokehouse Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Mike’s Hot Dogs (sometimes referred to as Mike’s Chicago Dog Haus) is a small hot dog eatery found almost exactly at the corner of the Whole Foods shopping center on Hammond and Roswell Road, a minute’s walk from Canton Cooks and Hearth Pizza Tavern. You can’t see it from Roswell Road, so if you see the Whole Foods, just turn. Once you’re near it, it can be partly obscured by trees, so just keep heading towards the corner of the ‘L’, you’ll get there.

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Inside, there are booths, and lots of posters and Chicago memorabilia on the walls, and a small counter where you can order food. A regular Chicago dog runs about 2.49, so I ended up ordering a Polish combo and a dog to go for a friend.

Now, I have very little Chicago experience in dogs. I’ve been to the Windy City, but mostly to see the sights, get into Chicago’s excellent museums, take a gander from the Sears Tower, and eat pizza. I don’t have any preconceived notions of what a Chicago dog is supposed to be, and any “Yankee Dog” experiences I’ve had have come from the street carts of Philadelphia.

Soon after ordering, though, one Polish dog was delivered to my table.

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delicious!

Nice.  Carmelized onions, mustard, a spear of pickle, and peppers along with a decent looking tube of meat. Mike’s web site emphasizes their use of Vienna Beef sausage and Gonella bread in their dogs. They order most of their ingredients from Chicago, in order to get the taste and feel down right. In the blogging community, Manda Panda has a review of Mike’s Dogs. There is also a fine review by Wayne Wolf.

My impression? Well, I’m a sucker for peppers on meat. When I’d order cheese steaks in Philadelphia, I’d always get the fiery hot cherry peppers with my steaks when I could. This was a delicious dog, hot and tasty. The onions added a nice dose of flavor and the Polish dog brought back memories of freezing in front of a silver cart on a cloudy March day. Thankfully in Mike’s, freezing isn’t required.

Verdict: A bit of Chicago in Atlanta. Tasty, inexpensive dogs. Highly Recommended.

Mike’s Hot Dogs
5948 Roswell Road
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 252-8484

Mike's Chicago Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

It’s a small mom n’ pop taqueria one step away from the corner of Highpoint Road and Scenic Highway. It’s near where I live and heading down to places like Stonecrest Mall I pass it routinely. I decided to step in recently, to see what the food was about, on a day when I had about 10 dollars in my pocket and a need to eat cheaply. It was worth a try.

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Inside, there are a few chairs and tables; the menu is all on a board above the half open kitchen area. No prices though, you’ll have to ask for those. It was $1.50 for a taco and $3.50 for a quesadilla. I ordered a lengua and carnitas taco and then ordered an asada quesadilla. They came relatively quickly.

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Everything was good, though the quesadilla tortilla wasn’t as wonderfully crisp as the one I had at Taqueria 2 de Oros. Still, the whole meal, including drink, was less than 10 dollars and the food was cooked for me, as opposed to being heated in advance with a lamp.

Verdict: Classic small taqueria, with good eats. Recommended, especially for those on a budget.

2585-B Highpoint Road
Snellville, GA 30078
(678) 978-7702

Taqueria El May on Urbanspoon

Peter’s is a well respected restaurant on Chamblee Dunwoody, close enough to the Shops of Dunwoody to share a connected parking space with them. I had been interested in this restaurant for a while, but when I checked this place out in August, they didn’t have any lunch hours yet. They did, however, have a sign indicating that they were going to have lunch hours in September. So I came back recently, to once again check this place out.

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The inside is pretty. Nice wooden tables and booths dot the place. There are plenty of windows and between the windows are photos. Background music is big band jazz and the occasional Dixieland number. At lunch Peter’s has a single page menu, with salads and burgers and sandwiches.  Prices are mostly below 10 dollars, with a couple items around 12 dollars. Staff cooperates in handling their guests, efficiently tag teaming their patrons. As I was examining the menu the owner showed, and was talking to people on the other side of the room. There are some nice touches on the tables, such as the craft paper used to cover all the table tops, and this combined vinegar and oil container.

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It wasn’t long before my food arrived. I thought the beer battered sole with Italian slaw was going to be a plated filet of fish, but instead it was a sandwich (served with polenta fries, in this instance).

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The fish was mild and had a bit of crunch due to the cooking. The slaw added tart, the remoulade was noticeable but not overwhelming. The bread was good, adding a crunch and resistance when I’d eat. Good fish, good sides, good bread, great balance in the sandwich overall, the best sandwich I’ve had in a very long while.

Wow.

This was also the first polenta I’ve had in any form, and the light yellow fries with the soft interior made an interesting contrast to the crunch of the Italian bread in the sandwich.

Hopefully this new venture by Peter’s will draw a crowd, because the sandwich was excellent and my general service experience was every blogger’s dream in terms of a actively owned and actively, cooperatively staffed restaurant.

As I left, the owner dropped by for a couple words, apologizing for the sticky front door and the mess of starting up during all the rain. I don’t think, given the circumstances, he has very much to apologize for. If people find out about this place, the value for the money, crowds will come.

Verdict: I can’t speak for dinner yet, but excellent value given the quality of food at lunch. Very Highly Recommended.

Peter’s
5592 Chamblee Dunwoody Rd
Dunwoody, GA 30338
(770) 394-9401

Peter's on Urbanspoon

Notes: Peter’s had a excellent web site, but they appear to have not renewed the domain, so currently the site is down.

Nothing but Noodles is on Roswell Road, between Hildebrand and Hammond Roads. It’s a two story building, tall and easy to see from the road. Friends had been asking me if I had tried it, wondering what it was like. I was wondering too, so I came one day and tried it.

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It’s a chain, Nothing but Noodles, and it’s already found in several states.  Once inside there is a board with lunch combinations and a menu, with prices painted over. From these, you can select what you want to eat, order at a counter. The counter has menus with actual prices. They give you a number and a receipt and you find a place to sit. People behind the cashier then cook your noodles for you.

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My dish came soon enough, what they called spicy Japanese noodles. The noodles in this instance were udon, a bit darker than I recall, so fried in some kind of spicy sauce. My dish was vegetarian as far as I could see, but checking later on the Internet, it wasn’t very low in calories. I liked the spice – I asked it be made extra spicy – which was present but hardly overwhelming. The noodles were good, appetizing and thick.

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Verdict: It’s not a bad place for a quick meal. Calories may be an issue. Recommended.

Nothing But Noodles
6080 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 943-0091

Nothing But Noodles on Urbanspoon

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