It’s a classic Chinese eatery, Little Szechuan is, one of those forgotten places that Gene Lee once spoke of, once high on foodie’s lists but too old, too familiar to consider hot anymore. These days they proudly post that they are one of America’s top 100 Chinese restaurants as chosen by Chinese Restaurant Review, over a 5 year span by Yan of Yan Can Cook (is he the new hottie on the Food Network?), and older AJC articles praising their string beans have yellowed and faded away.

I guess I really should be reviewing Bocado or Yeah! Burger, but Howell Mill Road just isn’t that close to Snellville, and I’m still recovering from relatives.

What Little Szechuan is, is a place whose clientele is still far more Asian than Causasian, whose servings are simply enormous, a place that understands how to make foods spicy and good in a town allergic to well spiced food. Yes, the staff sometimes are more enthusiastic than pretty, and they don’t understand English particularly well. Maybe people prefer the well bred young male staff you can find in “What the Pho?” or the graceful elegance of, oh, Sushi Nami, but in sheer quantity and quality of food Little Szechuan delivers.

It’s also one of my wife’s favorite restaurants and she gave me grief for not calling her when I was there. Yes, it clearly was a mistake. I have no excuses, other than I’ve been getting off work hungry these days.

Once seated the staff placed a starter on my table. Sprouts, carrots, daikon, but I ate them eagerly. The egg rolls that followed I split open and pulled out the good cabbage inside. I can’t get enough of cooked vegetables these days. The side of rice was enormous, and of course I could have about two spoonfuls of that. My entrée was steamed mussels in black bean sauce. The mussels were large, the largest serving of seafood that’s been placed in front of me since I was hospitalized. I ate all of it, with gusto.

I had skipped lunch this day, so it didn’t interfere at all with my diet, and purine rich or no, after having lost 4 stones 2 pounds since February, I just don’t seem as sensitive to high purine foods as I once was. 3 ounces of mussels, I understand, have 700 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, and this is a bit more than 3 ounces of meat. I think I counted 15 mussels in the batch. I may have skipped one or two.

Orange slices to end the meal.

In summary, not a hot restaurant anymore, but still a good food value. Entrées here still can feed two, or one exceptionally hungry salary man.

Verdict: The old warhorse is still going strong. Highly recommended, perhaps very highly recommended.

Little Szechuan
5091-C Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 451-0192

Little Szechuan on Urbanspoon

Note: Amy on Food has a nice review of Little Szechuan. And my wife made me pick up food from here the day after this review was written.

It’s one of these disappearing Atlanta places, Baldino’s is. It’s roughly across the road from Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, and used to be a favorite of a 6′ 2″ Korean coworker whose build and athleticism eliminated any notion of Asians as small and spectacled; amazing that he’d find a Jersey sub place among a center of Korean eating. It’s pretty ordinary from the outside.

Inside, there are a host of records, album covers, trophies, and memorabilia of all kinds. That someone put Smokey Robinson on the wall spoke of someone knowing something of the past. What’s not so ancient and forgotten are Baldino’s subs, which come in more ethnic, heavier cuts of meat and cheese than the typical sub place. They’re also bigger. This photo is of a half sized Baldino’s special.

Biting into the sandwich, I end up with nearly a half inch of meaty layers in the middle, a bit of cheese to add fat and flavor, and just enough mustard to please. The bread is hard to ignore, even on my diet. I like this place, have been surprised that no one has ever bothered to write about it. Like so many good eateries just not cool enough for the cutting edge, it gets ignored by the foodie generation. This is one place that shouldn’t be.

Verdict: Excellent, inexpensive subs. Highly recommended.

Baldino’s Giant Jersey Subs
5697 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 455-8570

Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs on Urbanspoon

Other location:

80 Powers Ferry Road
Marietta, GA 30067
(770) 321-1177

Baldinos Giant Jersey Subs on Urbanspoon

It was a picture of a bowl of soup that led me to Han Il Kwan. More specifically, it was the picture by Sean on Take Thou Food that led me to Han Il Kwan. It looked good, and Korean soups are easy on my diet. So when I had time around noon one day, I picked up my daughter and we headed down to Buford Highway and to this restaurant.

It’s roomy and bright, and they use a lot of natural wood, in framing, tables, doors. I like that look, and in general like the appearance of Han Il Kwan inside. Since we were at lunch, we got a lunch menu. They had bento boxes of various kinds, and then a variety of soups. There was soon dubu, and Sean’s yuk gae jang (which I think I had at Royal Tofu house), and there were some others. I wanted something spicy, so I tried the mae woon galbi tang. Regular galbi tang isn’t spicy.

My daughter had the galbi bento box.

The funny thing about the box is that the only identifiably Korean item in the box was the galbi itself. Neither the tempura nor the sushi were ethnically Korean. Fried rice is as much Chinese as anything else. The noodles? Perhaps the noodles are Korean, but noodles are everywhere in Asia. Still, my daughter liked her food.

I really enjoyed the soup. Meats, rich with fats and cartilage I usually don’t get on my diet were combined with vegetables, pepper oils, scallions and some transparent noodles into a simple earthy bliss. I would have happily eaten a second bowl of the stuff but for the diet I am on. Instead we emptied bowls of banchan while enjoying our entrées, and had our waitress coming back and forth for a while.

Verdict: Good looking, roomy, and to my palate, good food. Highly recommended.

Han Il Kwan
5458 Buford Hwy
Doraville, GA 30340-1126
(770) 457-3217

Hanil Kwan on Urbanspoon

Chef Liu was once a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Buford Highway. Recently, it became a much bigger restaurant on Buford Highway by moving into a larger location on the north side of the same mall area. I know that Jennifer Zyman had been talking about the upcoming move for some time. When other foodies said it was a reality, and when my family headed in eight directions at once, I decided to drop in.

It’s a decent looking restaurant, with glass covered table tops, a few round tables with circular glass carousels, and some fancier enclosed places to sit off to one side. On the wall, near the cash register, is a black strip, covered with photos and names of dishes the restaurant serves. On square tables, there are also pictures of food with names, and almost every dish presented was something I’d never seen before. Or maybe I had in a dim-sum place, but couldn’t name it off the bat.

The leek pie tempted me the most, but it’s hard to do a review on just a leek pie. So I also ordered a cold dish, the sliced spicy beef, and also ordered lamb noodle soup,  because I’m fond of lamb.

My favorite dish was the cold beef. Though gelatinous at times, the spicing was very nice, with decent heat and a lingering flavor. I enjoyed the leek pie, bits of egg mixed in with transparent noodles and leek. The lamb noodle soup was decent. I liked the meat and the white noodles were chewy and delicious, but the broth was thin and tasteless until near the very end. Then, you could stir up bits of meat and fragments of noodle and they gave the broth the flavor it never had in the beginning.

Verdict: Good, interesting, inexpensive food. Recommended.

Chef Liu
5283 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 936-0532

Chef Liu on Urbanspoon

Mirak Korean Restaurant is a brand new restaurant found on Buford Highway, in the same strip mall as Bakery Cafe Maum. It is so new that after I ate there, there was almost no information about it on the Internet. To be able to provide address and telephone information, I went back to the eatery and filched one of their two remaining business cards.

I don’t claim a great, or even passing knowledge of Korean cuisine. My wife likes kimchi, and routinely buys it. I like most pickles they serve, and in a pinch, I order bulgogi. Bulgogi is a beef based barbecue,  popular across cultures. For example, in Ryu Murakami’s novel, “In the Miso Soup“, the protagonist describes his job as being affluent enough to take his girlfriend to “Korean barbecue once in a while”. Thus it’s a safe order, in much the same way teriyaki steak is at a Japanese restaurant. If you want more specifics, Gene Lee’s site has a great article on bulgogi.

In any event, I really just wanted something to eat before I went to the bakery, so I wasn’t picky or trying to stretch my culinary limits. Never having been there before though, I pulled out my trusty camera and started taking photos at the appropriate moments.

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Mirak is pretty inside, with wooden tables stained a dark brown, and with some tables fitted with metal plates and overhead ducting to carry away the smoke of on table cooking. Tables are in rows, with some rows separated by a chin high wooden wall, and other rows separated by walls with spaced openings. I though upon entering they were private booths, but I think whole rows of tables are actually connected through a common space.

There is more on their menu than bulgogi. I recall bibimaps for about 6 dollars, and galbi as well (and that hardly scratches the surface of what they serve). But I stuck with the safe order and soon after pickles arrived.

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The green beans are nibbled on by the time this picture was taken.

The pickles were tasty by my standards. Then the bulgogi arrived. It tasted really good, tender and with a lot of flavor. Afterwards they gave me a bowl of a dessert punch. It was tasty, spicy, with distinct cinnamon notes, and reminiscent of a spiced apple cider. I suspect it’s sujunggwa, but I’m not one to be confirming that.

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Bulgogi - looks a bit like a fajita plate.

dessert punch, delicious and half finished

dessert punch, delicious and half finished

Afterwards I dropped over by Bakery Cafe Maum. This location looks like the turret of a castle, a bit formidable at first glance. Inside, it’s as much place to sit and chat as it is a place to buy food, with tables and stuffed chairs to sit in, and free wifi. I ordered just a few sweets, small rolls flavored with pumpkin, chocolate, and coffee. I also bought a roll that was stuffed (in part) with red bean curd. That’s what my wife really wants at a bakery of this kind, the bean curd desserts.

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chocolate left, pumpkin middle, coffee right. The large roll behind has bean curd, among other fillings.

I tried one of the coffee rolls. It was filled with a white paste, a bean paste I suspect, and if you let it linger on your tongue, a rich coffee flavor will fill your mouth. Delicious!

Verdict: Both Mirak and Bakery Cafe Maum are worth your time and trouble, excellent places to eat and to buy food. Highly Recommended.

Mirak Korean Restaurant
7130 Buford Highway Suite B-150
Doraville GA 30340
(770) 807-7249

Mirak Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bakery Cafe Maum
7130 Buford Highway Suite A-180
Doraville GA, 30340
(770) 263-7447

Bakery Cafe Maum on Urbanspoon

Update: The Wikipedia has a good article on Korean cuisine, and one good enough to point out that what I’ve been calling pickles – many of those dishes are pickles, and seemed similar to Japanese tsukemono – are more aptly called banchan, or side dishes.

Delicious Kabob is a modest restaurant on Shallowford Road, just a bit north and west of the Buford Highway-Shallowford Road intersection. This eatery has been on the hit list of a number of food bloggers this year, including Jennifer Zyman, Jimmy of Eat It Atlanta,  Amy of Amy on Food, and certainly not least, BuHi of Eat Buford Highway. My wife was complaining she didn’t hadn’t had any good Chinese in recent days, and I suggested this place, because it seemed it would be a little different and perhaps we’d find some new (and spicy) food.

For some reason I thought it would be closer to the intersection than it was, and heading up Shallowford from the intersection placed Delicious Kabob on our left once we found it. It’s in a strip mall, and parking is plentiful there.

Once inside, we knew we were going to get kabobs, and so we got the squid kabobs (on Buhi’s recommendation) and we also got chicken kabobs. My wife ordered a chicken lo mein dish, and my daughter their lamb stir fry. I ordered (based on Jennifer Zyman’s recommendations) the Szechuan crispy fried beef with chili and peppercorns.

The squid kabobs arrived first, and then the crispy fried beef, and then the chicken kabobs. I snapped off one shot of the crispy fried beef before my wife stared me down in that “don’t take any more” look. But it’s a terrific looking dish:

The crispy fried beef was the hit of the meal.

The crispy fried beef was the hit of the meal.

The squid kabobs were excellent and spicy, nicely seasoned and a lot of fun to eat, as they were perfectly cooked. The chicken kabobs, by contrast, were a little undercooked, perhaps rushed. The lo mein was a decent dish, but paled in comparison with everything else. The lamb stir fry was pretty good. The crispy fried beef was by far the hit of the meal, a total home run so far as the family was concerned. Despite the huge size of the servings — diet busting in size, to be sure — there wasn’t any beef left by the end of the meal. My wife said to our server, “That’s what I’m getting the next time we come here.”

The cost of the meal, given the serving size, has to be regarded as inexpensive. Each of the entrees could have fed two people easily. That some things worked and some things didn’t is manageable. Trying to get both squid (must be cooked quickly) and chicken (should be allowed to cook thoroughly) kabobs is a mistake we simply won’t repeat. The things that did work were so good we’ll be coming back sometime.

The service was good for the most part. At the end our server seemed to forget we were there and we were left hanging waiting for a ticket. We eventually did get one, but on the owner’s initiative, not our servers.

Verdict: Good Chinese food served in diet busting portions. Decent service. Highly recommended.

Delicious Kabob
3640 Shallowford Road
Doraville GA 30340
(770) 457-4948

Delicious Kabob on Urbanspoon

Shoya Izakaya is currently the sole occupant of a shopping center that soon will be the home of a large Super H Mart, and as I drove up to it early in the evening, there were, I estimate, perhaps 40 to 50 cars in front of the eatery. There were so many I tried to get a photo (I didn’t get them all, I needed a wider angle lens). And after I watched 2 more people walk into the eatery I thought I had better join them, because it looked to be getting packed.

parking_for_shoya

I was, it turns out, lucky. It’s a beautiful restaurant inside, but it’s a little small for the crowds they’re now getting, a little cramped. There was space at the sushi bar, and they seated me there. Though crowded, it was quite amiable, and staff were doing their best to manage the crowd.

After a bit of time, I was able to talk to a waitress, and I ordered 4 items to begin: oshinko (pickles), ankimo (monk fish liver), ikura oroshi (I wasn’t 100% sure of what this was initially, but I wanted to try it — ikura sounded familiar), and yakitori (chicken kebabs), cooked in sea salt. Later I ordered bbq eel (unagi kabayaki), and beef ponzu ae.

An izakaya is a bar, a place to drink, but in America, they’re becoming more akin to tapas bars. Shoya is an example of this style. The menu covers six pages in English and Japanese, and the menu is perhaps two and a half feet long (longer than my forearm – I checked). There are a dizzying array of choices, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the offerings of the sushi bar.  The menu items are, for the most part, inexpensive. The serving size is small. The idea is to let the customer try many different things, rather than settle on just one thing and eat that. I have to admit it’s a totally seductive proposition, and in the process, I forgot the one thing that would have centered the meal, and that is a bowl of rice. Unfortunately, that’s something I’ll have to fix on another visit.

The first thing I received was the ankimo, and in many respects it was the most surprising thing I had. It’s not at all like the liver of a land animal, and the product was creamy, molded into a oval shape. The ankimo was delicious, one of the best things I had that day. The ikura oroshi came next, and I liked it quite a bit. Basically it’s salmon roe over a bed of shaved daikon, and I really like salmon roe. Oshinko came next, with pickled carrot, daikon, cucumber, mushrooms, beans, and bits of pickled ginger. It was quite good, but would have been better with rice.

The yakitori arrived a few minutes later. It was lighter in color than the yakitori I’ve been having, and the salt added tastes I hadn’t had before. It was very good. The BBQ eel arrived next. I’ve always liked unagi, and this was no exception. I found it a bit hard to cut with chopsticks, and gave up finally,  and used other means to bring it into edible size. The last dish, perhaps the biggest dish I had all night, was the beef ponzu ae. It’s been noted in other blog reports that it is really good, cool thin strips of beef mixed with a light brown sauce and full of perfect green leaves.  I’d say it was among the best dishes I had that day.

Service was good, all things considered. The restaurant had people waiting almost from the time I was seated until I left. People remarked that they could have used more staff, and I suspect that’s true. All in all though, I had a great time. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Verdict: If Japanese tapas appeals to you, then this place is very highly recommended.

Shoya Izakaya
6035 Peachtree Road
Doraville, GA 30341
(770) 457-5555

Shoya Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Notes: There exist previews and reviews by John Kessler, Gene Lee of Eat Drink Man, and Foodie Buddha. Chow Down Atlanta has also weighed in on this eatery. Last, but never least, Amy on Food has an elegant report on the food of Shoya Izakaya.

Quoc Huong is a restaurant that Eat Buford Highway and Blissful Glutton have pointed out as having good banh mi, a kind of Vietnamese sandwich with some French influence. Anyway, I was hungry, heading home, had just a few dollars, and stopped here for a quick bite. I’d never had the sandwich before and really wasn’t sure if the prices quoted could be correct.

Physically, this restaurant is on Buford Highway, in Asian Square, and close to Pho Hoa. I had no idea where to buy anything, but a waitress came out to me, as I was standing, and took an order.

All I can say is, yes, they’re $2.50 each, they’re very good. I had one sandwich, the barbecue, and it was delicious. The bread is crusty, really tasty and the filling had enough flavor and spice to please. Next time I’ll make sure I have $10 in my pocket.

Verdict: recommended. The banh mi is good and cheap.

Quoc Huong
5150 Buford Hwy NE
Doraville, GA 30340

Quoc Huong on Urbanspoon

Update: John Kessler’s Buford Highway tour also has a review of Quoc Huong. The commentary on Mr. Kessler’s AJC article is also well worth reading.

Back in the day when the word ‘pho’ elicited the response ‘huh?’, the best pho in Atlanta was found in Pho Hoa. The restaurant is in Asian Square along Buford Highway, just a little ways south of the bridal boutique. The square itself is dominated by 99 Ranch Market, which was an important place back in the day before the International Markets and Super H began to own the ethnic food scene.

I came here more to see if the old restaurant had changed, perhaps had learned some new tricks. And no, it doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. The seating inside are long rows of tables. Every table has a selection of spicy sauces, chopsticks, and spoons within reach. The clientele is largely Asian. Walls are mirrored, and there was one loud TV playing behind me. There was one person waiting tables, a nice older lady.

Although I was seated quickly, it took a while before I was asked what I wanted. This is a restaurant whose service has never been snappy. If you want attentive service, What the Pho? is a better choice. I ended up ordering a summer roll, their #5 pho, and a soursop smoothie.

Pho, in this restaurant, are organized in terms of how ‘adventurous’ they are. In more explicit terms, fattier meats, cuts with more cartilage, things like tripe appear in the dish as you proceed from simple phos to adventuresome products. In this respect it’s no different from the sushi restaurants who label flying fish roe sushis and eel sushis as ‘challenging’. The pho can be purchased in small, medium and large bowls. Medium bowls are about $5.95 and large bowls are $6.50 or so.

The summer rolls weren’t bad, shrimp and vegetables visible inside a translucent wrapper. The pho was actually quite good. The broth was dark, and the meat was tender, falling apart tender, which I didn’t expect. The collection of mints, sprouts, and slices of pepper was a little smaller than I’m used to, but to be fair, I’m used to eating pho with a party, not alone. The soursop smoothie was really good, hints of the fruit’s flavor shining through.

Verdict:  Recommended. Good inexpensive food. Service is a bit slow. Pho Hoa is perhaps still the best place in town for a pho beginner.

Pho Hoa
5150 Buford Highway,
Doraville GA, 30340-1153
(770) 455-8729

Pho Hoa on Urbanspoon

Notes: The New York Times has been following pho for ages, from this article (seen in abstract) about the migration of pho from North to South, to this article, an eater’s guide to the phos of North and South Vietnam. The latter is my favorite pho article of all time. One thing that did surprise me while researching this article is that Pho Hoa is a chain. There are locations of this chain on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and others in six other countries.

Don’t let the outside of Buford Highway Farmer’s Market fool you. I have avoided this place for the longest time because it’s a little tricky to get into and the parking lot, on weekends, always looks like a crazy mess. The building is older and I was just shy of the place. But a coworker of mine, Veronica, told me she does all her meat shopping there, and that it was inexpensive. I had nothing to lose, so I stopped by there today.

It was surprisingly neat and clean. The classic farmer’s market in town is a little cramped, with produce fighting for space with other produce, with boxes stacked here and there. Not here. Except for the older floors, the cleanliness approached a suburban supermarket. Produce was cheap and cleanly labeled. Aisles were not cramped, they were spacious and wide.

In the produce section, I bought some garlic, some beautiful red cherry peppers (triangular shaped though), a couple peppers called a long hot pepper, some green onions, and some tomatillos, so perhaps we can try Innocent Primate’s salsa verde sometime.

Tomatillos, cheery peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

Tomatillos, cherry peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

In the back there was a bakery (with freshly wrapped stacks of tortillas) and a butcher shop. Prices were lower than the equivalent supermarket items. There were a lot more organ meats than you would find in a typical store – beef hearts and pork hearts, pigs feet and other organ meats. There were fish swimming in tanks, ready to be sold (or filleted). Fish already packaged was clearly labeled with the place it came from. But I wasn’t here for fish, for the most part. I was looking at legumes and grains.

This is an international market, and in this instance, the origin of the groceries was divided on an aisle by aisle basis and clearly labeled. I’ll note that you can get red lentils in the Hispanic aisle, along with various sizes of green lentils. In the American aisle, there were at least four different brands of beans. And unlike Publix, the N. K. Hurst products here (we have spoken of N. K. Hurst before) are competitively priced with all the other vendors.

Most interesting to me was the Indian foods aisle. This is the closest place I’ve found for bulk Indian dals and bulk Indian spices (most supplied by a Houston company, Spicy World of USA, Inc). In this section they have standard green lentils, brown lentils (masoor dal whole), and black lentils (urad or urid dals). Others dals include moong dals (mung bean based), chana dals (chick peas), kala chana (black chickpeas), and mahdi toor dals. They have garam masala in bulk, along with a variety of other spices. They have a version of sambar powder, which if I recall correctly was prized back in my school days for cooking vegetables.

Buford Highway Farmer's Market on Urbanspoon

After shopping here, I headed north up the street to a placed called the White Windmill Bakery and Cafe. I had been wanting to stop there because the place just looks fantastic from the outside. So I managed to pull over this time and took a peek inside. It’s a Korean bakery, by Koreans and largely for Koreans.  The store has a counter with sweets, rows of breads, and several tables to sit. In terms of foods, I saw fancy coffee and tea,  quality chocolates, exquisite tarts (but around $5.00 each), beautiful small cakes. My wife likes bean curd sweets, so I found a red bean curd bun for my wife and then got a cream bun for my daughter. I’ll have to tell you later what they thought of them.

White Windmill Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon