Latin American


Yes, we’ve been here, and this restaurant has been reviewed at least twice (see here and here and here). But there have been some changes since. The habanero salsa is gone, the corn cobs are now corn chunks. The menu was subdued, reduced in size because of the holiday. That said, we found a few things to nibble on.

squid quesadilla.

Tacos.

Roasted corn.

Beans and rice.

Two words: grilled meats. That’s what Fuego Mundo does, and does it well. It’s a pretty restaurant, perhaps a little confusing if you have never been there. I stood for a while, and I eventually asked if I were going to be seated. Turns out the drill is: order first, then sit. They’ll hand you a card you use to ID that you’re waiting for your order.

They have interesting meat choices: things like skirt steak (churassco), lamb chops, and various tapas choices abound. A few of the choices drift to a bit too much sugar for my comfort. I’d really like a couple more grilled vegetables and a way to avoid starches on their “side plates.” That said, meat skewers and nicely grilled asparagus fit well within my dietary plan, and they’re good looking enough I ordered 2 skewers instead of 1 after looking at their setup.

Fuego Mundo is neither expensive nor cheap. Tres Tapas is $10, $11 if you choose a steak skewer. A chicken skewer with side runs about  $7.75. The most expensive single entrée ran around $16 (There are meals for 2 in the 25 dollar range). Flavors are rich. I liked my chicken skewer more than the steak, and I’m not really a big fan of chicken. I’m not sure if they marinated the chicken, or if I caught a bland first chunk of steak. The steak ended well, with a very tender and flavorful square of meat.

Staff tend to keep their heads down and work. They’re good looking. They wear black outfits with a lot of red bandannas. The restaurant has a modern look, with a lot of steel, glass and wood.  Music is constant and festive.

Fuego Mundo
5590 Roswell Road, Suite 120
Sandy Springs, GA 30342

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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

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Mambo’s Cafe is a popular Cuban-Peruvian eatery, well liked by its patrons. I came here for lunch recently, liked it, and came back with my family the next day. Lunchtime is crowded. It took 5 minutes until the rush grew slow enough that staff even made eye contact with me, much less offer a word or a table. Once two tables cleared, a waitress then smiled, pointed, and I was seated.

This eatery is located on Haynes Bridge Road, just before the intersection with Old Minton Road. It’s on the left as you’re heading north, in a shopping center whose supermarket has abandoned the complex. There is no sign visible from the street and the eatery itself is almost impossible to see until you’re in the parking lot. I guessed, based on the map Urban Spoon provided and a feeling I was at the right intersection.

Once inside, there aren’t very many seats, over a dozen but not by much. There is a small bar in the back and a screen covers the opening into the kitchen. Once seated, staff will supply a basket of a very good garlic bread, and what Chow Down Atlanta has called an aji sauce. First time I was served this, I made enough room in my diet for a chunk of the bread and some sauce. Very much worth it.

For lunch I had the pan con bistec. It’s a sandwich with grilled palomilla steak, onions, greens, potato sticks and mayonnaise. I scraped off the sticks – there were plenty of those – and ate about half the bread. Serving sizes in this restaurant are large, and for their size, lunch sandwiches are pretty cheap. Rather than fries, Mambo’s let me substitute salad greens. That was certainly welcome.

picante de camarones

Yellow rice, and plantains.

At dinner I knew my family was going to go for the paella, and I wanted one of the Peruvian dishes that Mambo’s offered. I ended up choosing the picante de camarones, and since the paella takes at least 30 minutes, we started with ceviche mixto.

ceviche mixto

The ceviche was quite good, a mix of seafoods and fish in a good citrus base. I spent my time digging out bits of red onion and lettuce and soaking them in the sauce. My daughter rummaged through the dish looking for bits of octopus; she especially liked the short bits of tentacle. The picante de camarones was also good. The shrimp are cooked in a yellow pepper sauce. There may have been a hint of sweet in the sauce, but not enough to make a difference.

paella. The pan is about 13-14" across, and pretty deep.

The paella was the star of the meal, coming out in a large metal pan, the serving size so large that both my wife and my daughter were eating from it and they left about half of it to be doggie bagged. It’s a huge serving, given the price. That’s typical of Mambo’s, to provide a lot of value for the dollar.

The sides were good. My wife spent a good deal of time looking for the toastier plantains and eating them. She doggie bagged the ones less cooked. Service, once you catch staff’s eye, is pleasant, thoughtful, and good. My wife described our waitress as “very sweet”.

Verdict: Good to excellent food, exceptional value. Very Highly Recommended.

Mambo’s Cafe
11770 Haynes Bridge Road, Suite 601
Alpharetta GA, 30009
(770)-753-4352

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Mitra was a recommendation by Mike Miller of Benny’s Bar and Grill. He told me, “The restaurateurs know of this eatery, but it would be good for your readers to discover it.” So I spent some time checking it out. The site was interesting (though they seriously need to turn their online menu into a PDF file), and was just intriguing enough to bite. We decided to go on a weekend, as the drive is otherwise a problem during the week.

With the exception of the very nice waterfall motif on entering the restaurant, it’s very unassuming on the outside.

mit_sign

The inside, however, is one of the best looking, most romantic places I’ve seen.  In terms of a date restaurant, among places I’ve reviewed, only Varasano’s Pizzeria comes close. The lights are low, the music is good, appropriate, and contemporary. I caught my daughter singing along at points, when otherwise she’s usually plugged into an iPod. There is inside and outside seating; outside is under fans if I recall correctly.

Service was good throughout. We were tag teamed all the time, two waitstaff watching the table generally. Our main waitress was just excellent. We really liked her. We ordered drinks, and very soon bread came to the table. Along with the bread was a bit of light pink cream cheese. The bread was excellent.

mit_bread

The bread was soon followed by the two appetizers we ordered, ceviche and calamari.

mit_ceviche

Ceviche on the left, calamari on the right.

I had a particular interest in the ceviche because in my wife’s culture, they have the very closely related dish named kelaguen. And it was a confusing dish at first, because we kept wondering where it was. It turns out they want you to use the banana chips as a kind of ad hoc spoon.

mit_ceviche_on_banana

The ceviche was good. The calamari was good as well, thin rings and crispy. The sauce was kind of lost to us; we would have preferred the calamari plain.

In terms of entrees, we ended up ordering Mitra’s paella, their grilled salmon, and their jalapeno lime sea scallops. The paella and the grilled salmon arrived first.

mit_paella

mit_salmon

The paella was the favorite dish of the meal. The yellow rice especially was pleasing, as it acquired a roasted flavor from being cooked with all the other ingredients. It was bold, it was rich, it was delicious. The salmon, though a perfectly fine dish, wasn’t successful for a couple reasons. The first is my wife is a well done eater and this salmon was undercooked for her. The second was that she was expecting the plain quinoa to have the same taste as Holy Taco’s quinoa salad. It didn’t. It was perfectly fine quinoa too. My wife told me that if we come back, she’s getting the paella next time. And I ended up eating what was left of her dish.

The scallops came out a little later, and I had ordered this dish not because of the entree, but because the sides looked fantastic.

mit_scallops

And that’s pretty much how this dish was for me. This is not to say the scallops weren’t good. They were very nicely done, and prepared it seemed with a lot of verve and skill. But to be honest, if Mitra had a “sides” plate, akin to Watershed‘s vegetable plate, I probably would have ordered that, hoped for some chips, and been one happy camper. The salsa was excellent. The green tomatillo sauce had only one flaw:  there wasn’t enough of it. The yellow rice was good, but since the yellow rice in the paella was superb, it was getting short shrift by the table.

Verdict: Good entrees, great appetizers and sides. Highly recommended in general, exceptional if you’re on a date.

Mitra
818 Juniper Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 875-5515

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Because of construction, Mitra is tricky to get to these days. It might be best to call ahead for instructions on how to get there. Valet parking is nearby, cheap ($3.00), and recommended.

It was a comment by a chef at Fox Brothers that led us to Holy Taco. He said he enjoyed eating at Holy Taco with his wife, that he liked the kind of food they made. That was enough of a hint to track this place down and take an online peek. What I saw was quite appealing. The menu is broad and interesting. There were clear signs  of Central American, Cuban, and Spanish influence in the offerings.  There was a solid review by Bob Townsend of the AJC. The tacos were cheap and they had a lot more than just tacos. A myriad of sauces, sandwiches, and entrees made trying the place a priority.

Holy Taco is on Glenwood Avenue, a couple minutes from exit 61B on I-20, and has chest high rectangular lights outside that make it easy to spot. Otherwise it’s a low lying building built of cinder blocks and painted a dark green outside. There is parking behind the restaurant. There is a ton of outdoor seating and plenty of indoor seating as well. Inside, the walls are a light green, the tables and chairs are of burnished metal, and the lighting .. plenty of it and dropping from the ceiling .. looks as if the shades were constructed from 3 quart metal mixing bowls. The metalwork on the walls, Christian crosses and all, there is no way I’m doing it justice with mere words. A blogger with a camera phone really needs to stalk this place.

We ordered a lot of food by the time we were done. We ordered chicken, chicken heart, beef tongue and fish tacos. We ordered the stock salsa (Equadorian), their habanero salsa and their salsa verde. I ordered a quinoa salad. My wife ordered plantains and my daughter ordered their paella. We also ordered a side of their saffron rice.

The chips, when they arrived, were obviously bread (perhaps a pita bread) fried on site, brown and crisp. They tended to be a little greasy. In that respect they remind me of the old Lady Bird Johnson recipe for “noche specials”:

In the 60's, if you wanted chips, you had to make them.

In the 60's, if you wanted chips, you had to make them.

If you want dry chips, this isn’t your place, to be sure. The salsas were good. The Equadorian is a decent staple salsa. The salsa verde is very mild, with actually a sour flavor and no heat that I can detect. Their habanero sauce was good and hot but not exceptionally fiery. I saw my wife pour about a third of the steel cup we received of the habanero sauce onto one taco. The habanero was the salsa we liked the best.

The tacos were smallish, maybe 3-4 bites of food each. You could get them in corn or flour tortillas. The chicken was good, with plenty of marinated meat and full of flavor. My wife finished hers entirely. I liked my fish taco, though my memory of it by now is a little vague. The chicken heart taco turned out to have more crust than I would have liked, but still earthy and good. The star of the evening was the lengua (beef tongue) taco. The meat was so soft, creamy, and tasty, mixed with a bit of cilantro, that it blew away every other taco I tried. To me, the lengua taco was a home run.

The quinoa salad was excellent. It had a red quinoa as the base, with slivers of cooked garlic, green bits of herb, and slivers of white vegetable on an oval plate. My wife loved the taste of it, and she’s been hesitant about quinoa in the past. The dressing .. I could taste lime juice and perhaps another sour component (vinegar?), and some oil.  When I asked our waiter to ask the chef what was in the dressing, we were later told “garlic, olive oil and parsley”.

The plantains were flattened into something the size and shape of silver dollar pancakes and fried. They were crunchy and good to my taste, but my wife didn’t care for them. I don’t think they looked the way she wanted them to. The saffron rice was cooked with too much water and ended up a little gummy. It also was a little salty.

My daughter gave a thumbs up to her paella. We avoided the rice, but the shrimp (grilled tasting and excellent), the mussels (really good), and the chicken (also full of flavor) were worth it.  We took some of the paella home.

Service was quite good. My daughter declared that our waiter was “cute”, and the waitstaff in general were informally dressed, attractive, and attentive.

Verdict: Not for someone who needs everything on the menu to be perfect. Holy Taco, however, is full of original food that is pleasing to the eye and tongue, and very highly recommended for the adventurous.

Holy Taco
1314 Glenwood Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30316

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To get to Holy Taco from Snellville, take 78 South to 285, 285 South to I-20 West, I-20 West to exit 61B (turn left onto Glenwood). In about 3 minutes, Holy Taco will appear on your right.