The Diner is a place we’ve spoken about before. If the sign is correct, they have a catfish special they are running these days.

The Diner is pure eye candy if you’ve never been, with a classic US diner style (very unlike the popular Greek-American hybrids in Atlanta).

The Diner
730 Indian Trail Road
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 923-2961

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Alpha Soda is in the same mall area as Mambo’s Cafe, a little weatherworn and sitting in its own niche. There is a history associated with this 90 year old restaurant, one someone who publishes, fast, as I do, can’t really dig into. But the name is evocative enough: just what is an Alpha Soda? Did it exist? Was it served in a soda fountain only, or did they bottle it? Was it why the restaurant was invented, or was the soda just a side effort in a town awash with Coca Cola? Trying to figure out the history and heritage of the restaurant is deserving of an Atlanta magazine article or a long essay in the Sunday magazine of the AJC. Just, in the “get a bite and get an impression” world of amateur blogging, I’m not the one with the resources to do it.

Inside, the heavy wood, the frosted glass, used to create this space evokes images of old East coast eateries, places like Bookbinders in Philadelphia. It reminds me in one sense of shopping for used furniture in the East, in the old shops where men with gnarled hands strip old hardwoods and make better-than-new heavy antiques for 20something home buyers. It reminds me of the desk on which I write these essays, so heavy two men are needed to lift it. Yes, the furniture and the glasswork evoke that kind of image.

But it has to be understood that Alpha Soda has gone through four moves and a dozen owners and the evocation is deliberate. The past is lost. The image is what remains, of an eatery with a history Alpharettans may know, buried in their bones, but the rest of us take in as “cloned Greek diner.” But its hardly that. The history, though, lies buried in news print that only exists on microfiche, or God forbid, real paper in libraries. And it will stay there, until the AJC becomes an efficient patron of its own heritage and stops losing <bleep>ing articles on the Internet every  time someone sneezes. Yes, I’ve said something similar once and I’ll say it again, the AJC’s online caretaking of their food opinions, the writing of their own journalists, is the very definition of irresponsible. And as a consequence, the reaction to Alpha Soda isn’t “WOW!”, it’s “what’s that, Mommy?”

To return to the restaurant: It’s nice inside, the redwoods, heavy and comforting. I’ve been at lunch and also around dinnertime, when a few words on the Internet led me to the gaming group that hangs out here on Thursday nights. At lunch I had their salmon entrée, a good chunk of salmon with sides, and at night I was asking for a salad and their bunless burger.

Service has been quick and efficient each time. The night time manager came by the gamers, made sure they were comfortable, was really nice. Clientèle appear to be people familiar with the place; being 90 years old has its perks.

No, I don’t expect the “in crowd” from ITP to ever come running up highway 400 to this icon of an eatery in Alpharetta. It is, at this point, a better than average diner, with good entrées, a lot of room, nice interior, and a very rich history on the cusp of being lost forever, unless people take the time to preserve it. Given the AJC’s treatment of food journalism as a disposable, don’t expect it from our mainstream media.

Verdict:  A cut above the average Atlanta diner. Worth a peek for the history alone. Highly recommended.

Alpha Soda Family Restaurant
11760 Haynes Bridge Road
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 442-3102

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Not at all like a deli, not a sign of anything Greek. The Diner in Lilburn is genuine, old fashioned, and authentic in look, feel, and menu options.




It’s long and thin inside, with a few round stools near the counter top in the middle, and booths on the edges.  Photos and images of flags, cars, NASCAR drivers, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe are on the walls. The owner’s ICSA Hall of Fame plaque rests just above the ceramic cup with his name on it. The crowd is friendly, and tends to draw you into a very amiable conversation.

Monday through Friday there are lunch specials, with a main dish (burger or sandwich), a side and a drink for $5.99. I had the cheeseburger recently. The fries were hot and tasty and burgers are all the better when they come piping hot right off the grill, as mine did. Even with simple ingredients, a hot burger, freshly made, is just delicious.


Verdict: What all diners used to be like. Simple honest food. For the true-to-life ambience, highly recommended.

The Diner
730 Indian Trail Road
Lilburn, GA 30047
(770) 923-2961

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TGI Fridays in Duluth is one of the first restaurants you will pass while exiting I-85 at Pleasant Hill and heading east. It is next to the Georgia Diner and for the most part, it tends to be a popular spot. Because of the crowds, I seldom eat there. But I don’t mind picking up food there to take home, and please understand, my review is entirely in that context.

You can order food to go at the bar, which is nice and roomy, and in my experience, the waitstaff is happy to let you order to go. This time I got a cheeseburger, a triple stacked burger, and some wings.

The wings were spicy and good, hot but not burning hot. I enjoyed the triple stacked burger, though by the end of it I wondered why I ordered so much food. It’s a loaded burger, with ham, bacon, and a couple different spicy cheeses on it. The triple stacked burger is definite culinary overkill. The regular burger was quite good, and it came with fries. The chips that came with the triple burger didn’t travel very well and partly steamed out during the trip.

If you can, get the fries with every burger you can.

Verdict: Nice burgers, nice wings. As we did take out, can’t tell you about the wait staff in a sit down experience.

TGI Fridays
1695 Pleasant Hill Rd
Duluth, GA 30096

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The Metro Cafe Diner is a good looking restaurant found on Rock Bridge Road in Stone Mountain, Georgia. There are actually two of these, the other located on 229 Peachtree Street in Atlanta. This review will focus on the Stone Mountain location, which I had a chance to visit recently. This location is essentially across from the Wall-Mart plaza, and thus is convenient to a lot of the Stone Mountain shopping along Highway 78.



Inside, there is a lot of chrome, glass, and mirrored surfaces. The restaurant has plenty of lighting, service is reasonably attentive, the waitstaff is attractive and the menu is huge, with hundreds of choices. They even have a wine list, for those who want to share a bottle.


The menu, it must be noted, had whole sections where the dinner entrees and even the pictures of those entrees were identical to the menu of Snellville Diner (I understand that Snellville Diner is now closed). I can only assume the menu was generated from some common source.

The diner had a special the day I arrived, a catfish sandwich. I asked for the sandwich and asked that it be grilled, and then almost immediately regretted it. My experience with these places, when they’re not named Marietta Diner, isn’t particularly good when I push the edges of the menu in any way. Maybe it would have been safer to just order the fish fried? As it turned out, saying anything more than “catfish sandwich” was a waste of time, as it came fried anyway.


It was a good sandwich, with good fries. The catfish filet stuck out of the bread on both sides, was mild and crispy, and was a healthy portion of food. The fries had one of these crispy coatings, and were toasty hot when they arrived at my table.

Verdict: Nice place to eat, as long as you don’t expect a perfect order. Recommended.

Metro Cafe Diner
1905 Rockbridge Rd.
Stone Mountain, GA 30087
(770) 879-0101

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The Blue Rooster Cafe and Bakery is a small restaurant on Main Street in Lilburn, a pretty building with a blue and cream color theme. The cafe itself is connected to a red colored annex called “The Hen House”, a larger structure that’s easier to see. It’s in a tiny connected ‘strip mall’ in the old section of Lilburn, not that far from the police station and city hall.





I came here with my daughter around 11:30am on a weekday, to see what the place was like. Inside, it has an old country look, with cream walls and a lot of blue trim. Paintings of roosters and ceramic roosters are everywhere. The roof is industrial, painted in blue, and in the main portion of the restaurant, there are about 4 booths and 8 tables. There are additional tables in the annex, some of them long, and suitable for families or parties. There is also outside seating, about 5 sets of black iron tables and chairs, under umbrellas.

Inside, there are bakery cabinets in an ‘L’ shape in the back of the room, and blackboards on the walls have the offerings of the day written in colored chalk.  The menu tends to breakfast items, soups and salads, sandwiches, both cold and grilled on panini bread. This day, they had a special, fried chicken with two sides for $6.95. My daughter ordered the special and I ordered a Cuban panini sandwich ($8.50).

My daughter’s meal came out almost immediately. Cutlery is plastic and sealed, and the plates are also disposables.  My sandwich took a bit longer, but pretty soon they called my name and I received a healthy sized panini, grill marks evident on the bread.

My daughter’s chicken came with macaroni and cheese and also green beans. I got a taste of all of her dishes. The chicken was tender, salt and pepper evident in the batter but not overwhelming. I found the chicken to be reasonably spiced. My daughter liked it better with some hot sauce on it. The macaroni and cheese was good, the green beans were decent. The panini was a healthy chunk of ham and pork, pickles and cheese, and it tasted really good. I’m happy I got my sandwich, to be honest.

By the time we started eating, the restaurant started filling up. They had clientele of all ages, from teens in party dresses to grey haired elders. The atmosphere was a lot like an old fashioned southern tea house, and there were a lot of people just taking their time while they ate.

One of the more exotic visitors

One of the more exotic visitors to Blue Rooster

Verdict: A slice of the old south in old downtown Lilburn. If you like to relax a little while you eat, highly recommended.

The Blue Rooster Cafe and Bakery
107 Main Street
Lilburn GA, 30047
(770) 931-2445

8am to 4pm Mon-Thurs and Saturday
8am to 8pm Friday

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The easiest way to get to the Blue Rooster Cafe, if you’re coming from Snellville and heading west down Killian Hills Road, is to look for Poplar Street on the left and exit there. Poplar will run into Main Street. Blue Rooster is about a block away on the right if you turn left onto Main.

It’s a pretty restaurant, with great hours and an almost perfect location. But it has a history of erratic health inspections, and in my hands it has a history of being good to very good one day and ordinary yet another day. I’ve eaten there at least six times. Four times were good to excellent, the other two not so good.

Like most diners in the Atlanta area, it’s almost a Greek deli in disguise. Gyros, souvlaki, baklava are all part and parcel of what they serve. The menu is enormous, with hundreds of choices, and that begs the question of how expert a chef can be when they have 200 or so different items to cook.

It’s located at the corner of highway 78 and 124, in the same mall as Sri Thai and Provino’s Italian Restaurant. Like all diners it’s heavy on the neon and like many diners, it’s open late, usually until 11pm. The last time I ate there it was after 10pm and I wanted something, anything to eat before I went to bed.

I asked for a cheeseburger, medium, with Texas fries. There were three other groups of people in the restaurant around me, a pair of young women just in back of me, a quartet of older ladies and gentlemen in front. Across the restaurant and sitting on a stool were a couple of older men. Service was good this night, and the burger came back quickly. It was a half pound burger, the meat wide and thin, and pink in the middle.  The burger was served with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and mustard on the side. The Texas fries, a huge portion, were unusual. Instead of being a quarter inch thick and maybe an inch wide, these fries were made by cutting potatoes into inch wide slices and then quartering the slices. Nonetheless, both the burger and the fries were quite good. I’ve had generally good luck at the Snellville diner with burgers and sandwiches.

Verdict: With some careful menu choices, you’re likely to get good food. But I can’t guarantee it.

Snellville Diner
2302 Main Street E
Snellville GA 30078
(770) 972-0000

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I like Ruby Tuesday, at least the one in Snellville. Unlike the now closed Ruby Tuesday in Gwinnett Place, this one is color blind and delivers the same service regardless of the color of their patrons. They have well regarded salad bar and although they switch menu items often, certain items are reliable (wings, buffalo burgers, etc). What I’m here to talk about is their new tipping suggestions (printed on their tickets), which to me are a little outrageous.

I always understood you calculated tips by multiplying the tip percentage, divided by 100, into the total for the meal (see for example, this link, or this link). Later, friends and in-laws from San Francisco told me that you do this to the total of the meal before taxes. These days, 15% is a good tip and 20% is reserved for exceptional service. In my grandfather’s generation, 10% was an exceptional tip and in my father’s generation, 15% considered exceptional.

Therefore, if you have a meal that costs 10.00, and 7% sales tax, the meal with tax is $10.70. So to calculate tips my way, at 20%, I come up with $2.14. If I calculate tips the way my friends from San Francisco do, at 20%, they come up with $2.00. What Ruby Tuesday is doing, however, is taking $10.70, multiplying by 0.8, and subtracting the difference. For a meal of $10.70, the tip that results would be $2.68, and Ruby Tuesday is calling that a 20% tip.

Simply put, what in normal parlance would be called a 25% tip, Ruby is calling a 20% tip. It’s done by a bit of sleight of hand in terms of the calculations, and people need to be aware of what is going on.

Take home: calculate your own tips, and don’t overtip because Ruby Tuesday thinks you should.

Update:  June 11, 2009 – The last time I bought food to go here, the tip suggestions had been adjusted to the more normal values.

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