You could see it from a block away, a giant, inflatable lizard bobbing benignly on the roof of Ria's Bluebird. His lizardy red tongue poked comically through puffy fangs.
As we pulled up, we could see that the diner's front windows had been painted with scenes of hellfire and damnation. Pitchfork-wielding devils menaced the sleepy-eyed crowd sipping coffee and waiting for a table. They obviously love Halloween at Ria's.
It was 11 a.m. on a Sunday -- breakfast rush hour -- but after about five minutes, a frazzled-looking hostess ushered us to a table on the patio. Ria's patio looks like a tiny enclosed garden, with vines creeping up weathered stone walls and a lovely wrought-iron gate at one end. The inside dining room is an even tighter squeeze than the patio. Just a handful of booths and a breakfast counter accommodate the hordes. Wood paneling and vintage chairs give the space a homey, retro vibe. When it gets cold out, they wrap the patio in plastic and fire up space heaters to keep it warm. It's a good thing. You'd be waiting for a table well into Monday, otherwise.
Ria's all-day breakfast menu is short and sweet; chef/owner Ria Pell knows what works, and she sticks to it. The restaurant's claim to fame is huevos, a funky take on the traditional Mexican breakfast of tortillas, eggs and salsa. Blue corn tortillas cradle two fried eggs and a mess of tomatillo salsa, beans and sour cream. I'm partial to pintos, but black beans are available, too. This is one of those breakfasts that'll keep you full until dinnertime.
A breakfast burrito contains most of the same elements -- eggs, beans, salsa -- but throws in home fries and wraps it all up in a flour tortilla. It's gargantuan. I'm more of a huevos girl, but this burrito's pretty satisfying, too. The chunky, tangy tomatillo salsa gives both dishes punch.
The omelet special changes every day, and on this particular morning it's cream cheese and cilantro pesto. It's an inspired combination -- flecks of cilantro add brightness, and the cream cheese melts to an oozy, luscious consistency. Here's hoping this one makes it into regular rotation.
Pancakes are pancakes, and Ria's buttermilk flapjacks are as good as any. Add caramelized bananas, though, and they're heavenly.
I haven't explored the lunch menu with as much vigor as the breakfast offerings, though everything I've tried has had offbeat appeal. Topped with roasted tomatoes, chickpeas, corn, hazelnuts and shallot vinaigrette, the Grande Salad manages to be both virtuous and tasty. A pepper turkey melt adds in avocado with the turkey and Swiss, and the whole thing is squished between slices of grilled marble rye. A quesadilla stuffed with spinach, corn and potato probably would've been better sans the bland, starchy potato.
Who are we kidding? With the to-die-for huevos and omelets available all day, lunch is an afterthought. Breakfast rules at Ria's, plain and simple.
Joe's on Juniper is getting its trick-or-treat on Fri.-Mon., Oct. 28-Oct. 31, from 8-10 p.m. nightly. Throw on a costume and shimmy down to Midtown for spooky drink specials and a DJ spinning terrifying tunes. There's a costume contest Halloween night -- first place wins $200, and second place wins $100. No cover charge. 1049 Juniper St. 404-875-6634. www.metrocafes.com.
Imperial Fez is hosting a night of festivities with Moroccan flair on Halloween night. The party kicks off at 7 p.m. (reservations required). There will be a costume contest for adults and kids with prizes. A special a la carte menu will be available, with prices ranging from $2.50 to $28, plus tax and gratuity. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. www.imperialfez.com.
Pay a visit to any local Chipotle dressed as your favorite burrito on Halloween and receive a free burrito for the effort. Multiple locations around town. www.chipotle.com.
Sala in Virginia-Highland is offering a three-course "Day of the Dead" menu from Fri.-Wed., Oct. 28-Nov. 2. It will be offered alongside the regular menu. The cost is $29.95 plus tax and gratuity. Featured dishes include roasted pumpkin soup with red chiles, pork carnitas served in a roasted pumpkin, lamb T-bone chops grilled in ancho adobo, pan roasted duck breast in green mole, and chocolate-chile bread pudding. 1186 N. Highland Ave. 404-872-7203. www.fifthgroup.com.
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