First Impressions

Rico’s World Kitchen comes up on your left as you travel north on South Lee Street, a converted garage (what isn’t these days) much larger than the four table spot Rico used to have near the Mall of Georgia. Parking is a mess. We found a spot between a sign and a van and squeezed in, and were glad for the bit of luck. It was a chilly evening and one where we were glad to be inside.

The staff was, well, surprisingly Caucasian for a place where I expected a bit of an ethnic influence. In fact, you could have dropped it all into Decatur and no one would have known the difference. When we asked about the lumpia – my wife is Chamorro, and lumpia, Filipino eggrolls, have become a big part of the fiesta culture of Guam – we were told that Rico and his mom were gone. So, no lumpia, and not even a chance to ask if they ever have pancit on special.

I wasn’t sure what I could eat from the entrees at Rico’s, so I ordered an appetizer as an entree, their New Orleans shrimp and mussels. My daughter had a habanero chicken sandwich. My wife had the shrimp po boy. We also ordered one large salad.

This was good, but not mind blowing food. The best of the meal was the po boy, well cooked and flavored shrimp on chewy tender bread. The fried green tomatoes were fine sides, and often shared. The habanero chicken had no spice to speak of, my daughter thought. She ate it quickly, so it was still pretty good. Her hash brown casserole was deliciously cheesy to my taste. The shrimp and mussels were decent. The mussels were a smaller variety, and to be honest I thought there was better flavor in my bite of the po boy. It was hard to add bulk to the menu as presented (no grilled vegetables, for example), and my wife eventually had us get her buffalo wings after we dined here. Rico’s is far better suited to a lunch crowd.

Rico’s left us with mixed emotions, ones that might have been less mixed had Rico and his mom been there. It had taken an age to get my family here, and I’m not sure if wanting to roll the dice and find this owner is going to be worth it. As the small owner run shops become successful, the owners turn their attention to different things. Rico’s has an excellent reputation, but if it loses those elements that make it unique, it just becomes a sandwich shop on the way to the Mall of Georgia. A couple other spots, such as Gourmandises, can also fill that role.

Verdict: Light menu, well suited to lunch, perhaps losing its ethnic touch. Recommended.

Rico’s World Kitchen
306 West Main Street
Buford, GA 30518
(678) 765-7518

Rico's World Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Parma Tavern. Drive north on I-85 and exit towards Mall of  Georgia. Keep going past the first couple mall entrances. In a nondescript strip mall on the left lies this eatery. Though a decent sized establishment, it is impossible to see from the road. You’ll need to watch signs carefully to find it.

Inside, pretty and graceful. A functional bar anchors the eatery on the right as you enter. That’s where I sat. The beer selection is smaller but well thought out. Everything from stock American beers to good draft beers to craft brews can be had. Food? Smaller selection, but with an emphasis on quality.

The people who put  this place together also did Hearth Pizza Tavern, so it’s a group that knows how to present food. Of the two, I like this place better. More down to earth, not as large, more intimate and homey. Perhaps it was just the bartender, who was talkative that day. No, some of the appeal has to be written off as intangibles, just things that aren’t quantifiable that I liked. Frosted glass windows, does that count?

Parma Tavern
3350 Buford Drive #200
Buford, GA 30519
(678) 541-0908

Parma Tavern on Urbanspoon

Isabella’s Cafe has been slowly creeping up UrbanSpoon’s 10 hottest list, in part due to excellent reviews by Bob Townsend of the AJC, and Amy of Amy on Food, but also in part to a well rounded, diverse menu. The choices were interesting enough that my wife was asking me whether we should go some days ago, and only various misadventures kept us from arriving at this cafe until recently.

I was ravenous when I arrived, a product of missing a couple meals on the day we arrived. Both my wife and my daughter seemed to be looking forward to eating here. The restaurant is very roomy once you arrive, with an exceptionally high ceiling. Tables are spaced far apart, and there is some (though not a lot of) outdoor seating.

There are some good looking appetizers here, and an equally tantalizing collection of salads. One virtue of Isabellas is consistently high quality greens. Food issues such as mine leave me eating a lot of vegetables instead of pastas and other starches. Isabella’s salads are a nice way to avoid the starches that often fill dinner entrées.

This is not, however, a diabetic friendly restaurant (though it does have the potential to be one). The salad dressings are invariably sweet and sugary. Things like a balsamic vinaigrette  are nowhere to be seen. Desserts are all home made, sound wonderful, and are loaded with sweet calories.  All entrées come with plenty of starches, and many of the appetizers are breaded.  Salads and sandwiches make the restaurant bearable, and there are just enough options in the sides and vegetable plates to make it useful.

Ambiance, especially after a hard week, is pretty fantastic. The photos on the walls are appealing, the small descriptions worth a read. The music is a nice accompaniment to the casual atmosphere, and the way the sun filters into the cafe leaves everything bathed in very natural lighting.

In terms of individual plates, the grilled veggie salad was perhaps our favorite, really excellent.  My daughter really liked her Swahili shrimp curry with mango and the samosas we tried went over really well.  My shrimp and andouille sausage sandwich was good and the grilled jerk chicken sandwich pretty good. The spinach was, compared to the other, more spicy alternatives, a bit pale and mild to my tastes. Breads overall were of very high quality.

Wait staff are good, if a little too helpful at times. That salad I ordered was large, but please, step back and realize that some people order a lot of greens for a reason!

Verdict: Deserving of its accolades, with good food and a good staff. A bit too sweet and starchy, but good breads and greens. Highly Recommended.

Isabella’s Cafe
910 West College Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 373-7177

Isabella's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Gary’s Bistro is a restaurant that has been opening for a while now, setting up in the space occupied by Urban Flats previously. The owner is Gary Martin Hays, he of the workman’s compensation law firm, and the unforgettable refrigerator magnets. Gary, along with executive chef Tess Sanek, is trying to fill a void created when Urban Flats left: that of a casual but upscale place to eat in the Snellville area.

The bistro does look nice, with a lot of glass, plenty of space, plenty of natural lighting, nice tables, booths and chairs. The eatery appears to seat about a dozen tables of 4 and perhaps 15 tables of two inside, with options for outside seating as well. Staff dress in black soft shirts and jeans, with green aprons. There are plenty of staff here: perhaps six wait staff, a bartender, a manager, and a lady who may well have been Tess acting as traffic cop near the grill area. I didn’t sneak over to see if the fine pizza oven was still there, but I suspect that it is. Pizzas they call pizzettas are on the menu (lunch menu here, dinner menu here).  The wine bar has been largely retained as well, another feature I’m really glad to see.

The  lunch menu is reasonable. Dinner salads run around 8 to  9 dollars, sandwiches 9 to 11 dollars, pizzettas around 12 to 13 dollars. I had the bistro’s filet mignon sliders, which were smaller bits of food, but  the Mahi BLT I ordered for my daughter was certainly large enough, and on excellent bread.  The Georgia caviar (boiled peanuts in a spiral wire container) seems to me to be both homage and a bit of fun with Georgia’s roots.

Roasted red pepper and gouda soup

The country salad I liked a great deal. I’ve had more than my share of meals in school, where what I ate was a big chunk of pumpernickel, a chunk of Stilton or Roquefort (whatever I could get from the local cheese chops), and as much Shiner Bock as $1 or $2 could get me (a quarter a glass at the grad student bar). The good blue cheese, the toasted pecans pretty well transported back to those moments.

There was very little to complain about in this meal. I would have preferred a chewier bread with the sliders, but a chewier bread would have made them something else, right? The raspberry vinaigrette with the country salad was too sweet for me, but I’m pretty sure I could have asked for a balsamic vinegar if I wanted. Service overall was attentive, constant, terrific. As this was at best a first impression, I’m tempted to follow up on Mike Stock’s offer to meet him here sometime, perhaps for dinner. They serve lamb here, and I’m a sucker for good lamb.

Verdict: An anticipated and welcome addition to the Snellville/Lawrenceville dining scene. Good food, great service. Highly recommended.

Gary’s Bistro
1250 Scenic Highway, Suite 1240
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 978-1800

Gary's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Euro Gourmet Grill is on the corner of Gwinnett Drive and Scenic Highway, just about where 124 merges into Lawrenceville and Lawrenceville starts turning nice. It’s a section of the city with a lot of food really. This portion of Gwinnett Drive has at least three European themed stores, and this eatery. I had seen this restaurant before, while trying to find Two Brothers Barbecue (which I still can’t locate), and on a day when nothing in Snellville appealed, other eateries in Lawrenceville were packed, we ended up here, and ravenous.

Given the name, I  had expected it to be pretentious and overpriced, and Euro Gourmet Grill is anything but. It’s full of Balkan comfort foods, a few Greek favorites, fish, coffee, and desserts. It has inside and outside seating and it has food choices I’d not have expected even in Lawrenceville. Take Euro’s cevapcici, for example:

It’s a plate full of bread stuffed with sausages about three inches long. They’re tasty and juicy, but a little mild. For a spicier take on Euro’s glavna jela, you can try their sudzukice, a spicier sausage. They have a broad variety of stews, pies, salads, and desserts. And they have a dedicated clientèle: every time I’ve passed you can see people outside, on the porch.

I had a grilled trout this day, and my wife a gyro. Her gyro was excellent, easily one of the best I’ve tried in this town. The trout was quite good, as were the vegetables and the gljive, or mushrooms.

Service was quite good, even though it seemed as if there was only one active staffer this day.

I’m thrilled with what we’ve found. Will I be going back? You can count on it.

Verdict: Shockingly good, shockingly inexpensive. Highly recommended.

Euro Gourmet Grill
488 Gwinnett Drive
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 513-7788

Euro Gourmet Grill on Urbanspoon

There is a triangle of roads, bordered on one side by Ronald Reagan Boulevard, on another by the end of Pleasant Hill Road, and on the third by Highway 29, and in this triangle is an amazing array of ethic foods, from Argentinian to Dominican to (at one time) Polish to Venezuelan. Places there, such as Mango’s Latin Grill, are hardly discussed and explored, but it never stops leaving me with a major curiousity streak. I know I’ll not win any awards for being hip or trendy by hanging out here. Like every other foodie who has been hooked through the nose by the powers that be, I should only review restaurants on Howell Mill Road, correct?

Mango’s Latin Grill, a Venezuelan joint, lives in the corner of the ‘L’ shaped Five Oaks Shopping Center, and the one other time I tried to eat there, it was closing as I arrived. It’s small, no bigger than a typical taqueria or mom n’ pop Jamaican eatery. And the ambience of the place is that of a mom n’ pop eatery, as if mothers, fathers, sons, cousins and uncles are all getting together to serve food to guests. The inside is small, simple, pretty, with deft use of colors, and the kinds of food they serve shown in large photos along the walls of the eatery.

I had a Jaimito sandwich that day. I’ve had arepas before, and I was trying to avoid starch. The sandwich was decent. Not very good, or wow, but decent.  I brought a pair of Mango’s empanadas home to my wife, who enjoyed them a great deal. In my opinion, it’s a place to try a new cuisine, if you’re in the area.

Verdict: Promising, if you’re in an experimental mood, or like this cuisine.

Mango’s Latin Cuisine
3870 Lawrenceville Highway
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 381-8831

Mango's Latin Grill on Urbanspoon

Seo Ra Beol is a 24 hour Korean BBQ restaurant on a stretch of Steve Reynolds so close to Pleasant Hill that the restaurant could be said to be on both roads. I became familiar with it because of its sign on Pleasant Hill, pretty near “What the Pho?”. I was also curious if I could even eat this kind of food anymore. One of the big issues with diabetes and barbecue are sugars in the sauces, particularly brown sugar. But I didn’t recall bulgogi as being overwhelmingly sweet. So in I went, seeking my bulgogi fix.

The interior of Seo Ra Beol is quite nice. The tables are heavy and wooden. There are prints everywhere, some long and thin, others huge and framed. The separators between tables are often on rollers, so they can be moved. Some of the seating has burners, and most of those have large metal venting overhead. Fan blades were carved into the shape of tree leaves. It was a busy place. Staff scurried about constantly.

As Chef Invisible has noted, the staff look as if they are flight attendants. It’s not a bad look; they’re very neat, if at this stage a little disorganized. After ordering bulgogi, it took about 4 trips before everything arrived, the bulgogi arriving first. I rather like it when the banchan arrives first and the main entree last.

Bulgogi and some banchan. More banchan arrived later.

I found the staff easy to talk to. The banchan were being refilled regularly once they arrived and I was concentrating on the kimchi and the pickled daikon when I could. The bulgogi was good. I ate perhaps 2/3 of it, saving the rest for my daughter. Of the starches and sweets, I ate perhaps a tablespoon or two of the rice, and one bite of the orange slice they gave me after the meal was ended.

I went home, and exercised afterwards. Blood sugars ended up in a safe, normal range. Next time I’ll eat a few more bites of rice. Evidently I can afford to.

Verdict: Nice looking restaurant with good food, pretty interior and responsive staff. Recommended.

Seo Ra Beol
3040 Steve Reynolds Blvd.
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 497-1155

Seo Ra Beol on Urbanspoon

Teela Taqueria is buried off a side street in Sandy Springs, in a mall mixed in with supermarkets and a post office. It has a well placed sign, so if you can get into the general area of this restaurant, it turns out to be easy to find. Take Hilderbrand west from Roswell Road, and then head south on the first available street, Bluestone Road. When the street ends, the mall begins, and as you go deeper into the mall, Teela Taqueria will be on your right.


It has a modern breezy look inside, the kind of place that Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta would dub a “designer taco” joint. The tables are painted bright colors, and utensils and napkins are housed in paint cans that sit on your table. The roof, if I recall, is industrial and the bar takes up a lot of the available space.


I ordered three tacos that day, a fajita taco, a carnitas taco and a fish taco. All three were good, the fajita flavors – beef, onion, peppers – coming through just fine on the fajita taco and the fish taco having a mild fish flavor and a very satisfying crunch. The fajita taco had a condiment on it that looked like Thousand Island dressing and tasted more like a chipotle mayonnaise. In all honesty the fajita taco would have been better without it. I felt the same for the mayonnaise on the fish taco as well. The basic ingredients were good, why fool with such a good thing?



That said, it would have been easy enough to order tacos without the mayo and it was good enough my waitress talked me into a dessert. Teela has a good flan, and that was a nice end to a very pleasant lunch.

Verdict: Fine “boutique” style taco emporium. Highly Recommended.

Teela Taqueria
227 Sandy Springs Place NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 459-0477

Teela Taqueria on Urbanspoon

I’m sitting in the Three Dollar Cafe, an eatery on Roswell Road that looks good and is favored by the early afternoon staff of 680 the Fan, among others. So I’ve stopped there to eat and call Comcast, and see what we can do about getting my mother-in-law TV Japan.


I’ve been unable to get to a human being 2-3 times while trying to call Comcast. It’s not that I’m trying to get a problem fixed even (gory details below). I’m just trying to order new service. Finally, I decide that they’re going south on me because I’m refusing to take their service interview. So I say “yes” this time, and hope for the best.

The Three Dollar Cafe is good looking inside, and this place could easily call itself a diner or a sports bar, or a bar and grill. There are plenty of televisions and a lot of good solid wooden seating. The menu is roughly that of a place that deals in beer, sports, and food. There are a lot of sandwiches, wings are prominently featured, a Yuengling ad covers a big chunk of wall space and I count 6 taps near my table.


My food finally arrives. It’s a grilled grouper sandwich. The bun is toasted and the fish has a bit of crunch to it where the fish was thin. If I ask for a drink, I rapidly get a drink. Service is good. Staff is polite. Waitstaff wear black clothes, usually a black tee with the “Three Dollar Cafe” logo on the shirt.

I try to resist the fries, as in theory I’m on a diet. They’re thick, in the Texas style and meaty. It’s no use, I’m just too hungry. They are good, the Three Dollar fries, or maybe it’s that I’m just too mad to care.

As I hang up, once again, when there is no sound and no reply and no way to figure out what happened to my call, I get this callback. Comcast wants to know how the call went. Oh, that’s easy. Too bad they don’t have a zero on their one to five scale.

Verdict: Three Dollar Cafe is a nice place to get a burger or sandwich, a beer and watch a little TV. Highly recommended in that context.

Three Dollar Cafe
8595 Roswell Rd
Atlanta, GA 30350
(770) 992-5011

Three Dollar Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Gory Details

In General: Comcast’s service is horrible. No other word for it, but horrible. If you manage to get someone and get a service call set up, they don’t show up at all about half the time, and on a first service call, they almost never show up. On a second call, they’re usually embarrassed and they show up about half the time, but are almost invariably late. There is a take home lesson to this, which is never to use personal leave for a Comcast service call. If you do, they’ll waste your leave. The second lesson is to never schedule an afternoon appointment, as the later the appointment the more likely it is they will never show up.

In Specific: Since about December 2007, I’ve been losing TV channels, largely HD channels. It started with Fox and Turner (804 and 807). By now I have less than half the HD channels I’m supposed to have.  Over time I’m losing more and more channels, and not just HD channels. The Military Channel (220) is also gone now. One or two channels a quarter disappear, and every new HD channel they’ve added in the last six months is a “no go” on my service. It took a couple calls to get people to actually check this, back in December 2008 (first time no one showed, second time the tech ran late), and I was told it was a problem outside. When the tech directly connected my service to the wire, there simply wasn’t any signal on 804, HD Fox. Our tech worked hard, called his boss, and the next day they worked on it all day. It was outside, I was told. I was also told that on day three it would be fixed. And on day three we received an early morning call to check on us and after that Comcast no longer said or did a thing. We could see no change to the problem at all.

I called the middle of the next week and got the kind of help desk “professional” I would have preferred to avoid. Not only did he have no record of the previous work, in order to get this issue fixed I was going to have to pay a fee to get a technician out to my house – again. In short, Comcast not only completely forgot about the repair work they had already done, but they also were demanding payment to start the repair from scratch. And would they give us a discount for one year of less-than-stellar signal? You could forget about that.

I have dealt with Comcast on a “only if no other choice” circumstance since. And if my neighbor didn’t have trees blocking my southern view, I’d probably have switched to satellite long ago.

Let me point out, this failure by Comcast isn’t a technical issue. It’s a failure at the management layer.  A service tech out in the field can’t make a call center remember what repairs have already done. The people who manage the problems have to do that. They have no one a customer can point to who will manage a problem end to end. I’ve come to believe that’s by design. With a couple rare exceptions, the people running Comcast really don’t want to fix anything.

Update 10-06-2009

Finally got a voice on the phone. Donnie checked the line, checked the box. To get TV Japan, we have to have a working “On Demand” and “Premium”, and my daughter tells me we lost “On Demand” after a storm. Donnie scheduled someone to show in the morning on Thursday, so I have my fingers crossed. Give me 2 to 3 more people of the caliber of Donnie and these issues may be resolved. Further updates will be in the comments section.

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.


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.



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.


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

Next Page »