Visitors to Atlanta may be surprised to learn there’s more to the Big Peach than just fried chicken and burgers. Atlanta’s dining scene is rife with up-and-coming star chefs and restaurants gaining national attention, but it’s also home to the international dining mecca known as Buford Highway.
Luring adventurous diners away from the central parts of the city, Buford Highway (BuHi) is a busy thoroughfare that spans three counties in Metro Atlanta. What it lacks in curb appeal, it makes up for with its variety of cultures; Vietnamese, Korean, Cuban and other cuisines are all represented. Here are six excellent places to start.
Begin your culinary journey at Panahar, which specializes in Bangladeshi food. Sitting on the Bay of Bengal just east of India, Bangladesh is known for staples that include fish, shingaras (triangular pastries with shredded coconut, potatoes, peas and Bengali five-spice) and biryanis. Panahar’s goat korma is on point, with chunks of on-the-bone goat meat cooked in a cream sauce with turmeric and served over cardamom rice. But for a true Bangladeshi speciality, order the signature dishes: tilapia dopiaza, a grilled tilapia fillet seasoned with turmeric, black mustard and cumin, then topped with grilled onions.
2. Lee’s Bakery
Bop over to Lee’s Bakery for the best banh mi in Atlanta. Throngs of people wait in line, and if you’re patient, you’ll soon be rewarded with a fresh baguette, baked in-house, layered high with grilled pork, mayo, pickled vegetables, cilantro and jalapeños. Nab a sandwich for $5, or splurge and get the pho and a half banh mi combo for under $10. Feeling the burn from the jalapeños? Quell the heat with an avocado smoothie, made with fresh avocados and milk.
3. Havana Sandwich Shop
Vietnam and Cuba are nearly 10,000 miles apart, but Havana Restaurant is only one block south of Lee’s. The Atlanta staple has been serving picadillo, empanadas and mojo pork since 1976. The must-order item, though, is the Cuban sandwich. Thick with ham, pork, cheese, mustard and a pickle, the mouthwatering sammy is served hot off the press and pairs wonderfully with a café Cubano, espresso sweetened with sugar as the shot is being pulled, giving it a syrupy consistency.
Throughout Malaysia, a mamak is a type of street-food stall; in Atlanta, Mamak is a restaurant that pays tribute to those street stalls. You can’t go wrong with any of the noodle or porridge dishes, but make sure you include an order of the sambal okra. The vibrant green vegetable, coated in a spicy chile sauce, tingles the taste buds in the best possible way and underscores the unique amalgam of influences—including Chinese, Malay and Indian—that contribute to Malaysian cuisine.
5. Woo Nam Jeong (Stone Bowl House)
Head two miles north up BuHi for stellar Korean food at Woo Nam Jeong (Stone Bowl House). The star is pork kimchi dolsot bibimbap: a combo of pork, kimchi and rice served in a piping-hot bowl and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. Pop the yolk and mix it into the rice, taking pains to coat the bottommost contents of the bowl. Don’t forget to top off your bibimbap with homemade banchan, small dishes like kimchi, fish cakes and pickles meant to complement your meal with an extra punch of flavor and texture.
6. Boba Bee
With your salt tooth sated, now it’s time to address that sweet tooth. Just across the parking lot from Mamak, is Boba Bee, an area newcomer that’s already gaining steam with locals. Aside from the bubble teas and coffees, the treat truly worth seeking out is the bulbous egg waffle, a Hong Kong import that’s loaded with ice cream, toppings and sauces.
This article first appeared on May 2, 2017 on Tasting Table