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Good Eats 

Our critics' guide to Atlanta restaurants



Inside Perimeter

Buckhead/Brookhaven

Ali-Oli Restaurant & Gourmet-To-Go, 3535 Peachtree Road, 404-266-0414. Stunning interior, restrained yet sumptuously textured. A glorious setting in which to ponder the delights of garlic and olive oil. Do it with steamed fish or an array of roasted or grilled meats and vegetables enhanced by fragrant wine reductions. $$

Antica Posta, 519 E. Paces Ferry Road, 404-262-7112. At the former Riviera, French cuisine has been replaced by Tuscan specialties such as superb risottos and superior but simply prepared seafood and seasonal vegetables. Prices are down, and so is the glitz factor. Service and comforts are still first rate, making this a special-occasion destination as well as a place to enjoy the kind of Italian food served in Italy, not New York. $$$$

Aria, 490 E. Paces Ferry Road, 404-233-7673. After yet another redesign, the former Hedgerose Heights is being repositioned as a Buckhead-casual hangout for young, hot entrepreneurs and similarly questing fast-trackers. Gerry Klaskala's accomplished American cuisine -- slow-cooked chicken and beef, soups, grilled meats -- and Kathryn King's dreamy desserts more than make up for the half-baked, weirdly erotic decor by Bill Johnson Studio. $$$$

Atlanta Fish Market, 265 Pharr Road, 404-262-3165. Size does matter at Buckhead's popular seafood spot, from the giant copper fish out front to the massive but hospitable dining room, designed after a Savannah train station. Seek out the lump crab cake or pecan-crusted swordfish, but if you can't make up your mind, fall back on the kind of fried platter you might find at Red Lobster, only here prepared to perfection. $$$$

Blue Ridge Grill, 1261 W. Paces Ferry Road, 404-233-5030. Like an Adirondack hunting lodge for billionaires, Blue Ridge Grill boasts an imposing but warm dining room and mouth-watering meat dishes from the wood-burning grill. The barbecue quail, five-spice pork chops and apple-stuffed Georgia trout are all standouts, and the kitchen offers some savory variations on the omnipresent crab cake. $$$$

Bluepointe, 3455 Peachtree Road, 404-237-9070. As at Karatassos-chain sisters Nava, Chops and Veni Vidi Vici, this highly theatrical, biz-casual newcomer takes time-tested ideas and recipes, tones them down, dresses them up and attempts to reproduce the lot on what amounts to a culinary assembly line. Definitely a be-seen scene for the champagne-and-cell-phone crowd. $$$$

Bone's, 3130 Piedmont Road, 404-237-2663. The essential Buckhead spot where Atlanta's bullish businessmen carve out deals and carve up steaks with equal gusto. Carnivores will delight at any of the melt-in-your mouth cuts of beef or the massive, lip-smacking lamb chops, and hoop-sized onion rings and salt-crusted baked potatoes stand at the ready. With crisp linens, red leather chairs and unctuous service, the atmosphere is pure, unapologetic men's club. $$$$

Brasserie Le Coze, 3393 Peachtree Road, 404-266-1440. The desserts, seafood and wine list have kept the polished Parisian bistro as one of Atlanta's favorite places for a romantic (if occasionally noisy) rendezvous. Sitting on the patio with the skate with brown butter on the table and a gypsy accordionist wandering by, even the Lenox Square parking lot takes on a gentle feel. $$$

Bridgetown Grill, 3316 Piedmont Road, 404-266-1500. No restaurant is an island unto itself, but the Buckhead location is the last Bridgetown venue standing after bankruptcy has forced the three other locations of the colorful Caribbean island chain of restaurants to close. But the Piedmont Road location still serves island grub to a cheerful reggae beat. Not all the dishes are winners, and it's a bit more corporatized than the orignial, funky Bridgetown concept of yore, but a rack of tangy guava ribs is one of the city's best barbecue dishes. And the zesty jerk chicken is enhanced with raspberry coulis dipping sauce. Get it while ya still can. $$

Brio Tuscan Grille, 2964 Peachtree Road, 404-601-5555. First local unit of an Ohio-based chain, the Italian-accented dinner house feels computerized, focus group-tested and managed by HAL 2000. Conceptually, it's a Cheesecake Factory with higher ceilings and more salt. Cuisine-wise, the fried onion strings with parmesan are as comforting and appealing as it gets. $$$

Buckhead Bread Company/ Corner Cafe, 3070 Piedmont Road, 404-240-1978. Breads, muffins, pastries and service are better than ever. Sandwiches (egg salad, chicken club, portobello mushroom) are among the city's overstuffed best. Opens early for breakfast. $

Buckhead Diner, 3073 Piedmont Road, 404-262-3336. A little luster has rubbed off Buckhead's chic art deco eatery, but if it's no longer Atlanta's prime location to spot celebrities, it's still a decent place for a luxurious meal. Its signature appetizer of homemade potato chips and Maytag blue cheese is a crunchy highlight, as are the fancied-up takes on traditional roadhouse grub like the chili dog or grilled cheese sandwich. $$

Burrito Art - Buckhead, 3365 Piedmont Ave., 404-237-0095. East Atlanta is the original home for this restaurant by Ryan Aiken, a young chef who trained at Indigo and Partners. You'll find relatively inexpensive, artistic burrito creations full of beans, rice, meat or tofu, and veggies. Sides of shredded red cabbage, multi-colored tortilla chips and a fortune cookie complete the pretty picture. $

Burrito Brothers, 2469 Piedmont Road, 404-237-8689. Former Zesto restaurant is still part of the chain, but now it's serving up burritos, tacos and quesadillas for a bargain. After you're done gobbling up the tortillas you can still get a big ol' cone of soft vanilla ice cream.

Cafe de Nice, 580 Pharr Road, 404-264-1678. A small, independent, good-natured, cottage-bound bistro that operates on Mediterranean time, offering decent meals at budget prices, mostly to women and families. Soups, salads and flans are agreeable and authentic. Not a good bet for anyone in a hurry. $$$

Cafe Sunflower (Atlanta), 2140 Peachtree Road, 404-352-8859. The vegetarian spot for "normal" vegetarians and meat eaters who just may not be in the mood for flesh or are humoring their veggie partners. No live food gimmicks or macrobiotic manifestos here, just warm, woodsy ambience and good, meatless offerings. We like the steamed dumplings and spring rolls to start and always have good luck with the specials. $$

Capital Grille, 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, at Bolling Way, 404-262-1162. Business-class steakhouse chain from Longhorn features smashing penthouse views, manly boardroom ambience, professional if somewhat talky service and corn-fed Midwestern beef that is dry-aged on site. The prime, bone-in Delmonico steak is tops. So are mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Wine prices target the expense-account crowd. Valet parking, reservations. Dressy. $$$$

Chopstix, 4279 Roswell Road, 404-255-4868. You'll find no cliches of chop suey house cuisine or decor at Buckhead's impeccably appointed Chinese restaurant, which draws culinary inspiration from around the globe. Chopstix's kitchen can turn you into a lifelong fan of such sides as crispy spinach or glazed pine nuts, and an addict for seafood dishes like bird nest prawn, jumbo sea scallop or wok-fried black pepper oysters. $$$

Ciao Bella, 309 Pharr Road, 404-261-6013. Simplicity is the approach here. Order big, white bowls of perfect pastas -- with wild mushrooms or mussels and anchovies. Prices are low, the crowd is convivial and the staff is thoroughly Italian. $$$

Dining Room, Ritz Carlton, 3434 Peachtree Road, 404-240-7035. Ignore the country club adornments and prepare to be seduced by some of the city's most stellar food and service. Chef Bruno Menard's haute French aesthetic is augmented by sublime Asian touches that enliven his creations rather than confuse them. Wine pairings are subtle and sumptuous. With advance notice, vegetarians are treated exceptionally well. $$$$

Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449. Lunch features delicious sandwiches, soups and quiches; evenings offer a tapas menu that is the best in town. Little Spanish-style marinated ribs, grilled octopus, skewered prawns and luscious Manilla clams are among the offerings. $$$

Fratelli di Napoli, 2101 Bennett St., 404-351-1533. Big-deal, super-size takes on Little Italy specializing in homestyle platters serving two to four. Chicken with eggplant, spinach salad with gorgonzola dressing and tiramisu are standouts. Dinner nightly. Reservations for six or more. $$$

Goldberg's Delicatessen, 4383 Roswell Road. The original hole-in-the-wall location of the long-lived Atlanta deli boasts Broadway handbills and a bustling lunchtime business, although seating is limited. Traditional bialys and multiple bagel varieties are fresh and fragrant, but the biggest draw are the sandwiches, particularly the chewy, meaty, torpedo-shaped po'boys that require two hands to eat and may be Atlanta's finest item served on two slices of bread. $

Grand Buffet II, 2625 Piedmont Road, 404-760-9967. Grand Buffet II offers Buckhead location at Southside prices. The bountiful Chinese-American spread has notable "wow-golly" appeal. Much of the food tastes fresh. Grill cooks prepare many items in small batches just behind the serving line. Platters and trays are replenished often. $$

Harada, 3855 Peachtree Road, 404-364-0098. Tempura, teriyaki, soba and sushi, with their somewhat bland yet entirely satisfying tastes and textures, are the mainstays of the establishment. It's Japanese comfort food, a nice surprise when most diners are satisfied with teppanyaki handiwork. The bento box lunches are lovingly prepared and usually more than one person can handle in a single sitting. A great addition to the Brookhaven dining opportunities. $

Horseradish Grill, 4300 Powers Ferry Road, 404-255-7277. First-rate fried chicken, pork barbecue, mashed potatoes, savory greens, hot biscuits and traditional Southern desserts from rising-star chef Dave Berry are served in an elegant trophy room masquerading as a Chastain Park stable. Lovely outdoor tables can be requested in nice weather. $$$

Justin's, 2200 Peachtree St., 404-603-5353. Rap dinner theater in the former Sfuzzi and Coco Pazzo features big smiles, gorgeously draped staff, moderately loud musical background static, otherworldly prices and formularized soul food of the warm-and-serve persuasion. $$$$

La Fonda Latina, 2813 Peachtree Road, 404-816-8311. You can't be in a bad mood at any of La Fonda's locations, where the tropical color schemes and upbeat salsa music never fail to raise spirits. The pork chops, Cuban Reuben sandwich and big, generous quesadillas are all exquisite. If you've never been, try the paella, a mouth-watering melange of seafood, sausage, rice and more served in an iron skillet. $

La Grotta Ristorante Italiano, 2637 Peachtree Rd., 404-231-1368. An Atlanta institution for Northern Italian/continental cuisine, La Grotta's original Buckhead location has gotten a partial update but remains the ideal place to squire older relatives with reasons to celebrate. Classic dishes such as the homemade ravioli, the black and white linguini and the veal loin scallopine can leave you kissing your fingers, or the chef's. $$$$

Mellow Mushroom, 4058 Peachtree Road, 404-266-1661. More than 35 years old, the local pizzeria chain still retains some of its hippie roots, with psychedelic flourishes in the decor, but newer sites increasingly resemble sports bars. Their crust tends toward thinness, but the creative specialty pizzas usually satisfy, including the Ultimate Shroom Pie, the House Pesto and the Hawaiian. The menu includes calzones, hoagies and plenty of suds. $

Moe's Southwest Grill, 2915 Peachtree Road, 404-442-8932. A new concept from the folks behind Planet Smoothie, this Buckhead Tex-Mex joint makes tortilla stuffing a spectator sport. Have your burrito custom-built while you watch, or opt for one of the menu's many zany offerings like the I Said Posse quesadilla ($3.99) or the Ugly Naked Guy taco ($2.29). $

Monty's Stone Crab Seafood Restaurant, 3400 Woodale Drive, 404-495-9115. Local unit of Coconut Grove, Fla., original specializes in coastal cuisine, especially fresh stone crab claws flown in from Mexico. Sweet and lobster-like in flavor and price, the tender claw meat is an easily acquired taste for anyone with Bill Gates' bank account. Conch, snapper, tuna steaks, chowder and serious salads round out the worthwhile offerings. Valet parking, reservations and full bar. $$$$

Nava, 3060 Peachtree Road, 404-240-1984. Kevin Rathburn's Nava carries Southwestern chic to the nth degree, with the Hispanic, Western and Native American flourishes of the Buckhead restaurant's decor proving so fanciful as to nearly suggest a Georgia O'Keefe fever dream. Dishes such as the green chile lobster soft tacos, the iron skillet mussels in chipotle broth and the ancho chili cured lamb are intoxicating but user-friendly examples of the Southwestern fusion style. $$$$

Oh Maria!, 3167 Peachtree Road, 404-261-2032. A caliente showcase of the best of Nueva Latina cuisine that makes no concessions to the chips 'n' salsa crowd, Oh... Maria serves dishes you've never quite experienced before (the fittingly named "Ecstasy de Maria" is a ribeye steak served on a banana leaf), in the midst of lovingly elaborate surroundings that suggest a visit to the oldest and fanciest restaurant in Mexico City. $$

Pasta Vino, 2391 Peachtree Road, 404-231-0797. What could be better than inexpensive, freshly made food delivered quickly, served in normal portions that aren't drowning in sauce? Regulars -- and one gets the feeling that nearly everyone here is -- get giddy over the specialty of the house, garlic knots. There's nothing cutting edge about the pastas and entrees, but that isn't what Pasta Vino is about. It's about satisfying one's periodic need for such standards as baked ziti, spaghetti marinara, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo or linguine with clams. Cash only. $$

Portofino, 3199 Paces Ferry Place, 404-231-1136. A Buckhead port-of-call worth the modestly priced ticket, this younger sister to popular Toulouse is notable for seafood, unusually astute wine-advice and a soft-focus attitude that belies the care lavished on favored customers. The Mediterranean and American cooking has its ups (steamed mussels with lemon grass, steak with mac-and-Asiago) and downs (entree pastas, veal). Reservations honored. $$

R. Thomas, 1812 Peachtree St., 404-881-0246. With its weather vanes and garish statuary planted out front and the plenitude of greenery inside, R. Thomas offers a eccentric oasis on Peachtree Street. It's open 24 hours a day, meeting many of your dining needs: omelets and hash browns for family brunch; pasta and salads for dinner dates; or health-conscious burgers and salty snacks for the wee hours after midnight. $

Roy's, 3475 Piedmont Road #120, 404-231-3232. High-concept formularization of celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi's Pacific-fusion destinations combines enthusiastic "aloha" service, Big Island-resort decor and arrestingly presented food and drink. Packaged by Outback Steakhouse, it's a lot of fun despite the somewhat dumbed-down novelty cuisine and jacked-up prices. $$$$

Satay Ria, 1861 Peachtree Road, 404-609-9990. An Intown find. The younger, SoBuck brother to Buford Highway's Little Malaysia offers mid-scale comforts, Malaysian-Thai cuisine (chicken satay, chicken curry, acar salad) and unusually good service. $$$

Seeger's, 111 W. Paces Ferry Road, 404-846-9779. Beard Award-winning chef Guenter Seeger's 3-year-old monument features resourceful contemporary-continental cuisine, small portions, prix fixe menus with very big prices, professional service and a minimalist postmodern decorative scheme that fits the food like sauce over fish. A special-occasion stop for most, it's popular with bluebloods and high livers. Beautiful food, beautifully presented in spare, beautiful surroundings. The legendary, Mobil 5-Star winning Guenter Seeger sends forth from his kitchen one spectacular taste after another in a prix fixe parade -- either three, five or eight courses, $48, $62 and $80, respectively. Continental, Asian and regional influences converge seemingly in every dish on the daily-changing menu. The ne plus ultra of dining in Atlanta. Notable, pricey wine list. Reservations recommended. $$$

Souper Jenny, 56 E. Andrews Drive, 404-239-9023. The quaint and tasteful ambiance of mom's kitchen is in full force at Buckhead's Souper Jenny. But it's the interaction of the familiar with the adventurous that makes it worth the traffic. Pick from a list of wholesome soups, tasty sandwiches and crisp salads. The menu changes daily, but if you happen upon the artichoke and roasted tomato sandwich with a goat cheese spread, go for it. $$

Sundown Cafe, 2165 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-321-1118. The menu has narrowed a bit in recent years, but Sundown still proves a fair haven for tasty and accessible Southwestern cuisine, particularly such juicy pork dishes as the carnitas. Lunchtime features delectable soft tacos, the fresh salsa proves a tingly delight and such sides as the turnip greens and ancho mashed potatoes are surprisingly forceful. $$$$

Taco Stand, 3279 Roswell Road, 404-995-0307. A Mexican taco joint cast in a Fellini's-meets-Mellow-Mushroom mold, the Taco Stand is the place to go for families. (Hint: kids love cheese.) At the confluence of Roswell and Buckhead, it's also a good place for wild and free youth to load up on carbs before bar-hopping their way through Buckhead. Although relatively inexpensive, a growing boy or girl will probably need more than just a taco to hold them over. For the lactose intolerant: steer clear. $

Terra Garden Grill, 3974 Peachtree Road, 404-841-1032. The latest take on quick-serve, upscale, pro-health dining makes most of the right moves (low-fat meats and sides, healthy salads, delectable seafood, few sauces and desserts). Unnecessarily dry grilled red meats and cockeyed as-if-Asian dishes cut the fun along with the fat, however. Spiffy modern ambience. Wine and beer. Good for takeout. $

Thai Lanna, 2142 Johnson Ferry Road, 770-454-8889. Great testing ground for fiery food. The standards are all here with a chance to spice them up as much as you want. Pass on the pad thai and go for the curries. $$


Cabbagetown/Old 4th Ward

Agave, 242 Boulevard Ave., 404-588-0006. The restaurant takes its name from the plant from which tequila is made and for good reason. The bar is heavily stocked with rows of tequilas. The creative and eclectic Southwestern dinner menu mostly satisfies. The posole soup really delivers. $$

Carroll Street Cafe, 208 Carroll St., 404-577-2700. The soups here are to die for. Try the roasted chicken apple chowder or any other and it's doubtful to be disappointing. The imaginative sandwiches are a great pairing with the soups as is a strong weekend breakfast menu. $

The Roman Lily Cafe, 668 Highland Ave., 404-653-1155. Calavino Donati and her buzz-headed staff in overalls are serving killer contemporary American diner food and a great experience in this storefront restaurant. Meatloaf with a tequila-jalapeno gravy and scallops with baked polenta and wild mushrooms are fave dishes. But salads and sandwiches are tasty, too. Reservations are accepted (and necessary) on weekends. $$


Chamblee/Doraville

Ca Dao Vietnamese Restaurant, 4166 Buford Hwy., 404-982-0700. The cold weather requires soup. My favorite ethnic soup is the Vietnamese pho. Usually made with beef stock, to which rice noodles, herbs, chilies, lime and a variety of meats are added. Buford Highway is lined with pho restaurants, including Ca Dao, which probably serves the best pho in the city. $

Chicken World, 5150 Buford Highway, 770-458-5164. Give your honey a choice of menudo, Buffalo chicken wings or moo goo gai pan here. Chino-Mexicano. It's not the best food in town, but it is most definitely a happening. $$

China Inn, 5470 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., 770-458-6363. The restaurant is off-the-beaten path from other hard core Chinese establishments but it still serves up authentic fare in a high-gloss setting. Ask for house specialties not on the menu and be surprised with twice-cooked pork, dumplings and other treats. $$

Hae Woon Dae, 5805 Buford Highway NE, #5, 770-458-6999. Easy to miss in a drab strip mall just outside I-283, Hae Woon Dae serves some of Atlanta's most delicious and entertaining Korean cuisine, with bulgogi beef and other meat dishes charcoal-grilled in sunken cauldrons at your own table. The pickled kimchi sides come in so many colors and flavors you're bound to find one you adore. $$$

Harmony Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant, 4897 Buford Highway, 770-457-7288. Curry flavors (noodles, dumplings) and moo shu vegetable wraps are tops at this minimally decorated newcomer. Stick with greenery and skip the imitation beef and fish. $$

Kong Lang Orient Center, 4897 Buford Highway, 770-986-9168. Classy Cantonese barbecue and roast pork specialist, with seafood an added attraction, spins off (and up) from affably grungy, always reliable Ming's BBQ. Service, amenities and decor nearly match the delectable cuisine. $$

Las Americas Mexican Grill, 3652 E. Shallowford Road, 770-454-8557. Friendly atmosphere makes for a comfortable crossover joint -- fancier than a taqueria, but a bit more interesting than the standard Americanized Mexi-fare. Good place to go if you want to feel adventurous without actually being adventurous. Try the tipo pastor taco and the quesadillas. A $4.95 lunch buffet also available. $$

Little Malaysia, 5150 Buford Highway, 770-458-1818. Bare-bones Buford Highway establishment serves authentic Malaysian cuisine. Beef rendang is a good measuring stick for any Malaysian restaurant -- and at Little Malaysia, it's irresistible. The slow-cooked beef with spicy brown sauce and coconut flakes melts in your mouth. Curries, soups and noodles are stellar as well. Like the environment, the service is no-frills. $$

Little Szechuan, 5091-C Buford Highway, 770-451-0192. There's no trick to dining well at the state's best Chinese restaurant. Order almost anything unusual. Balance unfamiliar dishes with a like number of the family's favorite dishes. Figure on one platter per guest. Relax and sip your tea. Of particular interest: stir-fried mo shu vegetables, sizzling beef brisket, eggplant with garlic sauce, Szechuan cold noodles. $$

New Paradise Chinese Restaurant, 4795 Buford Highway, 770-936-0306. Located near the south end of the Chambodia business strip, this small, neat storefront offers affordable, authentic cuisine in simple surroundings. Foodies and similarly adventurous diners should order from the white Asian menu. A red tourist menu is available for those who prefer safer shopping-center fare. $$

Panahar, Northeast Plaza, 3375 Buford Highway #1060, 404-633-6655. Owner Mirza Chowdhury and his staff are all Bangladeshi, and Panahar's menu mirrors that fact: The food is less oily, less spicy and less meat-oriented than standard Indian cuisine. There's tons to choose from on the menu, but once you exhaust that the chef is willing to make up anything else that might tickle your fancy. Truly one of the best new Indian restaurants in town.

Penang Malaysian Cuisine, 4897 Buford Highway, 770-220-0308. Clever, classy take on the crossroads cuisine of Malaysia, one of Asia's sleeping tigers. Whole fish with Thai sauce, pancakes with chicken curry, satays, noodles and crisp vegetables -- all with a moderately spicy kick -- are authentic, approachable and well prepared. The setting, a bamboo summer house with all the latest conveniences, matches the upbeat, sunny ambience. $

Pho 79, 4166 Buford Highway, 404-728-9129. Go here to find a remarkable Vietnamese soup that is not strictly pho. I'm talking about the menu designation of K-10, called mi quang. It is from central Vietnam and features beef broth with broad yellow noodles. It's full of pork, shrimp, eggs, rice wafers and roasted peanuts that add a fascinating dimension to the usual soups. Of course, you'll float herbs and chilies on top. It's $5.75. What could be better? $$

Pho Hoa, 5150 Buford Highway, Asian Square, 770-455-8729. A true phoa restaurant popular with young, cruisy Asian kids and a die-hard older crowd. The smoking can get out of hand, but the noodles are always hot and tasty. $

Royal China, 3295 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, 770-216-9933. New owners have overhauled the former Honto to mostly good effect. Although the Cantonese cuisine is highly erratic, the elegant decor and new restrooms make a visit almost mandatory for old hands. On balance, try dinner rather than lunch, vegetables and seafood over meat. $$

Santo Domingo, 5310 Buford Highway, 770-452-3939. Buford Highway's no-fills restaurant of the Dominican Republic features cuisine comparable to Cuban cooking, with such staples as yucca, plantains and arroz y frilojes (beans and rice). But the specialty is the variety of delectable stews -- the goat stew particularly hits the spot. The portions are massive, although you might want to be attentive to plentiful bones and fatty cuts of meat. $$

Shingaar Palace, 3364-H Chamblee Tucker Road, 770-458-4466. Newcomer offers what may be the city's best combination of authentic Indian food, agreeable service and elegant, albeit colonial-style comforts. Appetizers, vegetables and curry sauces are particularly notable. $$$

Song Long, 4166 Buford Hwy., 404-320-9772. Bright star among a galaxy of Asian newcomers in Oriental Mall (the former Outlet Square), this Vietnamese specialist features eager-to-please staffers, budget prices, music videos and an extraordinarily complete menu. Don't miss the cha gio (Vietnamese fried spring rolls) with lettuce and herb leaf wrappers, or the various rice-noodle soups. No credit cards. $$

Violette, 2948 Clairmont Road, 404-633-3363. The unassuming structure belies the peaceful interior where you can get high quality French cuisine without breaking the bank. Dinner is just a few dollars more but where else can you get a plate of coq au vin for under eight bucks? $$$


Cheshire Bridge

Deux Plex, 1789 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-733-5900. Deux Plex has a split personality, with a spacious dance club located downstairs from the unpretentious French bistro above. If you fear the snobby reputation of French eateries, rest assured that Deux Plex features affable servers, affordable prices and a generally pleasing approach to such dishes as mussels, pork shank and the pate and charcuterie appetizer. www.deuxplex.com $$

Little Bangkok, 2225 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-315-1530. Now it can be told: Some of the best Thai food in town is at this absurdly inexpensive hole in the wall. Pay close attention to evening specials like chicken with eggplant or spicy squid. Seasonings are fiery, portions are very large and ingredients always include a few surprises. The menu also features Chinese cuisine. $$

Nino's, 1931 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-6505. Opened in 1968 by Antonio Noviello, Nino's is, according to its menu, the city's oldest Italian restaurant. The place features authentic old-style Southern Italian cooking and the menu is gigantic. There are plenty of antipasti, pastas and meat entrees to choose from. Not much to look at from the outside, this charming and surprisingly good restaurant deserves attention, especially when you're in the mood for the comfort of good pasta. $$$

Roxx, 1824 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-892-4541. On one of Intown's hottest blocks is a sassy cross between Einstein's volcanic be-seen scene and some laid-back cruise bar with a dinerteria menu. The mostly male crowd (all ages and types) has learned that it's best to stick with the simplest grill items: tasty gourmet burgers with fries; black-bean chili served in a cup or over a dog; sauteed spinach; and iceberg lettuce salad with crumbled blue cheese. Service varies. Beers and wines are properly chilled. $$

Woodfire Grill, 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-347-9055. Emphasizing locally grown, fresh seasonal ingredients, Chef Michael Tuohy's menu is a dream for a grazer. Select from inexpensive tapas-style dishes, moderately priced small plates, woodfire pizzas, entrees and platters for sharing. Service couldn't be better. $$$


College Park/East Point

The Brake Pad, 3403 Main St., 404-766-1515. Sister location to the popular Oakhurst Universal Joint, the restaurant bar is the hangout for the growingly hip crowd in College Park. The bar food choices are augmented by interesting daily specials. $

Oscar's, 3725 Main St., 404-766-9688. At the end of a funky, dilapidated strip of College Park's Main Street is one of metro Atlanta's New American treasures. Owner Oscar Morales has created a lovely, open space that manages to feel both posh and welcoming, and chef Todd Immel keeps pace with intelligently wrought seafood and meat dishes with tongue-titillating twists. $$$

Zab-E-Lee, 4837 Old National Hwy., 404-768-2705. Longtime leader in authentic Thai cooking continues to please Hartsfield-area workers, Southside regulars and everyone lucky enough to find their way to the hideaway location in a run-down stripmall. Curries, salads, seafood and rice dishes are reliably authentic (if sometimes underspiced) and delicious. $$


Decatur/Oakhurst

Adam's Garden of Eatin', 1451 Scott Blvd., 404-370-0550. This college hang-out is high on service as well as large helpings. The strombolis and "rollies" are huge as are the sandwiches and beer selection. $

BaddaBing!, 906 W. College Ave., 404-373-4500. Super-spiffy take-out joint offers upscale sandwiches, sides and tasty entrees like the the pork loin with peach salsa and goat cheese for lunch, impromptu picnics, or quick dinner fixes, $

Cafe Alsace, 121 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-373-5622. Three young French owners cook such traditional Alsatian dishes as a superb onion tart and an equally superb berry tart. In between are a trio of tender spaetzle dishes, beef Burgundy and a slew of salmon entrees, all served in a small, charming, colorful dining room. $$

Crescent Moon, 174 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-377-5623. Long noted for hearty brunch and lunch plates, platters and skillets, the no-nonsense diner sports a retro-'50s "Jetsons" look and entrees (fried catfish, beef)plus sandwiches, omelets and Benedict variations. A combination of smiling service and updated American in a booming intown suburb. $$

Hodge's BBQ, 2141 Candler Road, 404-289-1804. Offering home-style, working-class Southern cooking for a quarter century, this family style cafeteria is light on charm, big on value, convenient for takeout and friendly as a church supper. No smoking or credit cards. $

La Piccolina, 2834 Franklin St., 404-296-1624. Successful wholesale bakery, specializing in biscotti and bread sticks, also serves lunch.The lunch menu focuses on Italian-style sandwiches grilled lightly in a press. The star here is the Delizioso, thin prosciutto slices with fontina cheese and creamy artichoke pate. Non-sandwich specials offered daily. Desserts such as cannoli, rum cake, turtles and tirimisu end things on the right sweet note. $

Los Loros, 1248 Clairmont Road, 404-633-3103. A popular college kid hangout near Emory the order by number Tex-Mex combos are present as well as out of the ordinary items like flaming fajitas and a hearty chicken soup.

Mediterranean Grill, 2126 N. Decatur Road, 404-320-0101. The small storefront is a a quick-fix for falafel and gyros as well as take out. Not the fanciest establishment but solid grub. $

Mojo Neighborhood Pizzeria & Pub, 659 E. Lake Drive, 404-373-1999. A bohemian hangout that resembles a bigger and brighter Fellini's, Mojo offers a wide variety of pizza toppings, pasta dishes and beers at the bar. Distinctive touches include the kicky tomato sauce, the sesame seeds on the pizza crust and such atypical toppings as garlic shrimp, smoked bacon and BBQ pulled pork. $$

Moti Mahal, 763-C DeKalb Industrial Way, 404-294-8989. In a grungy, out-of-the-way place, but inside is good service and great Indian with an Indo-Pak influence. The lunch buffet is a bargain. $

Mr. Delicious, 1524 Church St., 404-370-0031. The Atlanta area's most visually entertaining drive-thru restaurant, purple-pink with green trim and awnings, could be a grounded Mardi Gras float. Seating is a mere pair of picnic tables in a strip mall parking lot, but the Creole cuisine is worth a visit, particularly the ample-sized fried seafood po'boys, the home-style bread pudding and the spicy jambalaya and gumbo. $$

Noodle, 205 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-8622. Stylish, moderately priced noodle bar features appetizers, noodle bowls, soups, rice plates and entree salads, four or five of each, all more or less Chinese, Korean, Thai or Vietnamese in derivation and presentation. Oversize crockery, decent wine-and-beer list and touchy-feely industrial decor emphasize the distance Asian-American-style restaurants have traveled -- from mainland to mainstream. $$

Our Way Cafe, 2831 E. College Ave., 404-292-9356. You'll find basic, good and cheap home-style food at this mellow, egalitarian hole-in-the-wall in Decatur. Vegetables, casseroles and sides are particularly appealing here; I like the black-eyed peas, greens, mashed potatoes and spicy cornbread. If you owe someone lunch, this is the place to bring 'em, whether it's your mechanic, your debutante niece or that philosophy professor you want to butter up. $

Pyng Ho, 1357 Clairmont Road, 404-634-4477. A popular and authentic Chinese restaurant outside the main Buford Highway corridor. Thus, many who find the ethnic experience intimidating will be more comfortable here. By all means, stick to the menu of evening specials. A whole fried red snapper drizzled in black bean sauce is amazing. $$

Rockin' Rob's BBQ, 1479 Scott Blvd., 404-378-6041. With 45s hanging in the foyer, issues of Rolling Stone on the wall and the servers' own CDs for sale at the register, Decatur's 'cue joint has amiable style to spare. The ample barbecue plates and sandwiches are smoked just enough to give the meat some sharpness, but not so much as to overwhelm the flavor. Especially good are the pulled pork, chicken and Brunswick Stew. $$

Sage, 121 Sycamore, 404-373-5574. With no pretensions beyond generic American-bistro food and ambience, the Courthouse Square-area baby sister to Le Giverny offers hefty portions, modest prices, decent if spotty cooking, a wide-ranging wine list and warm, welcoming service. $$$

Southern Sweets Bakery, 186 Rio Circle, 404-373-8752. This hole-in-the-wall shop serves up some of the best desserts to the public as well as providing the same products for the top restaurants in town. Also try their crafty sandwiches, soups and salads. $

Sweet Devil Moon Tapas Lounge, 350-A Mead Road, 404-371-3999. A cozy little spot in the Oakhurst community, Sweet Devil Moon offers a simple, tapas-only menu and a small array of beer, wine and liquor. Standouts include the hummus, chicken with pastry and the Peruvian seafood chowder. Weekends can get crowded, especially with live flamenco guitar on Fridays. $$

Udipi Cafe, 1850 Lawrenceville Highway, 404-325-1933. Savory rice pilafs, spicy vegetable curries and spectacular stuffed crepes and pancakes are but four reasons to seek out the city's newest South Indian vegetarian outlet. Sophisticated carrot desserts, traditional beverages and crisp breads double the pleasure. Table service is a plus. $$

Universal Joint, 906 Oakview Road, 404-373-6260. Funky former filling station serves up creative pub grub in a relaxed setting. Love their burgers, beer selection, patio and low-key attitude. $$

Watershed, 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-4900. The combination restaurant, wine bar, package store, gift shop and takeout counter holds wonders aplenty. Offerings change daily. A slice of fish, a mound of creamed potatoes, a bowl of some unusual pasta may be heaven on toast points today, history tomorrow. Luckily the salads and sandwiches (beets, shrimp, roast pork) and desserts (pecan tart, apple cake, chocolate cake, macaroons) are fairly constant in both their excellence and availability. $$$

Woodland Vegetarian Restaurant, 1080 Oaktree Road, 404-321-6005. Larger and brighter than competing self-service Indian restaurants, this newcomer near Market Square Mall specializes in stuffed, topped and sauced pancakes and crepes. An affordable lunch buffet Tues.-Sun. is another good way to jump right in. $

World Market Cafe, 3000 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-377-6400. Inexpensive, mostly good and very fresh are the hallmarks of this cafe's offerings. Set in a well-refrigerated and somewhat odiferous part of the DeKalb Farmers Market, the cafe features a changing roster of fresh veggies, a huge salad bar, daily specials and side dishes, most of which are available for $3.99 per pound. We particularly like the huge vegetable samosas, greens and desserts. Great for vegetarians.

Zyka, 1677 Scott Blvd., 404-728-4444. Housed in the front of the Emory Montessori School, you'll think you stepped into its cafeteria, but fast food Indian-style couldn't get any better than this. The Chicken 65 is the distinctive brick red signature dish, but check out the chalkboard for specials like chicken tikka masala. Mango ice cream is served in a clay pot and cools down throbbing taste buds. $$


Downtown

Ali Baba's Turkish & Mediterranean Delights, 60 Broad St., 404-681-3997. You won't mind the cheesy decor and the lack of space when you dive into one of Ali Baba's lamb pita wraps and a side of succulent grape leaves. A good selection of Mediterranean wraps and side items are a good starting point for a shady lunch on downtown's Broad Street. And when you're done with the wrap, try the baklava. $

Atlanta Grill, 181 Peachtree St., 404-221-6550. A clubby, semi-casual Southern steakhouse has replaced the once fiercely formal restaurant. Expensive grilled beef and super-size spuds are perhaps the most reliable offerings at this corporate attempt to please road warriors, conventioneers and expense-account hosts seven days a week, three meals a day. $$$

Busy Bee Cafe, 810 Martin Luther King Drive, 404-525-9212. This venerated soul-food joint dishes up some of the city's best Southern cooking at a price that's hard to beat. From corn muffins and fried chicken to field-fresh vegetables and banana pudding, these folks know their way around comfort food. $$

Calypso Cafe, 58 Walton St., 404-589-0024. Catering mostly to the downtown lunch crowd in the Fairlie-Poplar district, this authentic Jamaican eatery has a bland, spare interior but spicy, authentic entrees from the island. The sauteed garlic conch entree is worth ordering for its aroma alone. But be careful with the marinated jerk chicken, which can arrive volcanically hot. $$

Harold's Barbecue, 171 McDonough Blvd., 404-627-9268. The open coals are burning in front of you and newspaper clippings of famous diners of the past like Lewis Grizzard line the walls. This barbecue destination is the real thing in a sketchier part of town near Turner Stadium. $$

Noodle, 903 Peachtree St., 404-685-3010. The downtown location is a hipper cousin to the Decatur spot, with red walls, black, glitter-flecked tables, an ethnic mural and plenty of seating. Along with the more sophisticated look comes a better prepared menu. The yaki soba bowl with chicken is a huge heaping of buckwheat noodles and tamari sauce that also includes plenty of soybeans, carrots and other vegetables. $$

Peachcity Diner, 52 Peachtree Street, 404-681-2278. The diner's trying a little too hard to attract tourists with their peach and green decor and diner trivia, but there are passable burgers, ruebens and chicken fingers for those looking for a quickie in the mix of downtown. $$

Salumeria Taggiasca, 209 Edgewood Ave, 404-524-0006. In the midst of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is the unassuming Salumeria Taggiasca counter, a mini Italian market that serves the best sandwiches in the city, while offering olives, cheeses, meats and an array of imported products. The hardcore Italian sandwich list may seem overwhelming with its difficult-to-pronounce names and exotic ingredients (all imported from Italy, except for the Bread Garden bread). But don't despair -- you won't regret any of your choices. $

Siesta Grill, 240 Peachtree St., 404-524-9224. This Rio Bravo makeover is popular with the downtown lunch crowd and serves up the same sort of Tex-Mex: quesos, quesadillas and fajitas. But the lack of corporatization allows for more attention to service and menu selection. $$

Thelma's Kitchen, 768 Marietta St., 404-688-5855. Thelma Grundy's venerable soul-food cafeteria appears to be coasting. Lunchtime crowds are steady but the cooking -- especially the once-marvelous fried chicken -- is notably inconsistent. Worthwhile choices include fried catfish, sweet potatoes, mac-and-cheese and almost any form of beans. $

Wingleader, 250 Auburn Ave., 404-589-9393. Wingleader does wings in any size order, but not just any sauce. They're serving up Hot Mama, Jamaican Jerk and Cinnamon Love. If that reads like a dirty Harlequin novel, then get the rest of the story and ring up Wingleader. They deliver. $


Druid Hills/Emory

Burrito Art - Emory, 1451 Oxford Road, 404-627-4433. East Atlanta is the original home for this restaurant by Ryan Aiken, a young chef who trained at Indigo and Partners. You'll find relatively inexpensive, artistic burrito creations full of beans, rice, meat or tofu, and veggies. Sides of shredded red cabbage, multi-colored tortilla chips and a fortune cookie complete the pretty picture. $

Collard Green Cafe, Cafe 2955 N. Druid Hills Road, 404-634-3440. At lunch, it's meat and two; at dinner, it's meat and three. The selection is ever changing. Fried pork chops are tender, and the meatloaf has a zippy red ketchup glaze and fried catfish filets taste so good with a mess o' greens and black-eyed peas that you have to stop yourself from shouting "Amen!" But the heart of a good soul food joint is its side dishes, and they don't disappoint here. The namesake greens, traditional mac 'n' cheese, black-eyed peas and all the rest are full of flavor. $

Fellini's, 923 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-873-3088. The cheerfully scruffy pizza chain is named for the fanciful filmmaker, and the tattoos and piercings of the servers can definitely be Fellini-esque. The thick, hearty pies easily surpass any of the national chains' and their simple salads hit the spot, but the white pizza is in a class by itself, with one bite transporting you to cheese and garlic heaven. $

Five Sisters Cafe, 2743A LaVista Road, 404-636-6060. Storefront with rumpus-room decor is neighborhood hub for suave sandwiches served by smiling staffers. $

Madras Cafe, 3092 Briarcliff Road, 404-320-7120. With a redesigned space and menu, Madras reinforces its status as the place to go for great dhosas and vegetable curries. Be sure to try the zippy Samosas Chatt -- the Indian version of nachos -- that will leave you with serious fire breath. $$

Mezza: A Lebanese Bistro, 2751 LaVista Road, 404-633-8833. You can easily go overboard at Mezza ordering up lots of the appetizers for which the restaurant is named. Cold, hot, veggie and meat plates abound all of them authentic, all of them excellent. $

Mike's Hot Dog Haus, 1405 Oxford Road, 404-378-0080. Vienna Beef dogs dressed Chicago style with relish, mustard, sliced tomatoes, hot peppers, a pickle spear and a bit of celery salt are served up in this tiny Emory hotdog joint. But you don't have to treat your frank like a Yank: mix it up with slaw, kraut, chili, cheese or Brunswick stew. And if you're in a carnival mood, there are even corndogs available. $

Thai Chili, 2169 Briarcliff Road, 404-315-6750. The popular kitchen's skills are best displayed in somewhat nontraditional chef's specialties such as spicy basil lamb, masaman beef short ribs, choo chee salmon curry and wild catfish with green peppercorns. Service is brisk and correct, especially at weekday lunch. $$


East Atlanta

Burrito Art - East Atlanta, 1259 Glenwood Ave., 404-627-4433. East Atlanta is the original home for this restaurant by Ryan Aiken, a young chef who trained at Indigo and Partners. You'll find relatively inexpensive, artistic burrito creations full of beans, rice, meat or tofu, and veggies. Sides of shredded red cabbage, multi-colored tortilla chips and a fortune cookie complete the pretty picture. $

Good News Cafe, 1271 Glenwood Ave., 404-635-1611. The news theme is a little forced and makes the lunch menu get a little hard to handle. Try the place for simple breakfasts of French toast or eggs and the journalistic attempt is easier to swallow. $

Heaping Bowl and Brew, 469 Flat Shoals Road, 404-523-8030. This restaurant in East Atlanta prepares inexpensive, wholesome food with occasional outre touches. It almost always works. But dining here is enjoyable because of the convivial ambiance. Perogies, greens, beans and stew are recommended. $$

Liz's International Roti House II, 517 Flat Shoals Ave., 404-681-4461. The Caribbean equivalent of the Tex-Mex burrito is the roti, a meat and potato curry concoction wrapped in a light, flour pancake. Liz's offers a tasty, authentic variety with other items including curries and rice, fish plates and sandwiches. $


Grant Park

Eat Moore Cake, 753A Cherokee Ave., 404-622-3411. The hang out across from the Zoo in Grant Park is a cross between a college dorm room and a smalltown deli/dessert spot. Homemade deserts and simple sandwiches are a great reason for a stop-off even if the hours don't reach far into dusk. $

Nayarit, 562 Boulevard, 404-622-0999. The mix of quick-and-easy finger foods make this a true taqueria. The storefront location and and low-rent decor make it all the better. Tacos, tortas (sandwiches)and tamales dominate, with gorditas, burritos and quesadillas close behind. Grilled steak, beef tongue, adobada and chicken are the main fillings. For a specail treat, stop by on the weekend for menudo or pozole. $

Ria's Bluebird, 421 Memorial Drive, 404-521-3737. Ria's is the best thing going along the bleak strip along Memorial Drive across from Oakland Cemetery. Breakfast served all day and some creative entrees keep the locals loyal. $$

Six Feet Under, 415 Memorial Drive, 404-523-6664. The paneled Southern seafood shack decor -- wooden booths, long tables, a horseshoe bar -- works. And so does the food. Shrimp, crab cakes, oysters, crab legs, clams, scallops, mussels, catfish and po'boys are all fresh and tasty. All in all, Six Feet Under fills the gap of the disappearing inexpensive seafood shack. $$$$


Little 5 Points/Candler Park

Bang, 1126 Euclid Ave., 404-223-5039. This bistro in Little Five Points, brings the area its first serious dining in years. The restaurant looks sophisticated and is quite festive. The food can be good but needs tweaking. An otherwise delicious flank steak with frites gets overwhelmed by garlic. A bowl of noodles with organic greens is pure comfort but too much sweet tomato marmalade makes the broth cloying. Still, it's well worth visiting. $$$

El Myr, 1091 Euclid Ave., 404-588-0250. The name of this scruffy Little Five Points bar and burrito joint comes from a famous art forger, but the overstuffed, two-handed wraps are the real thing. The vegetarian green burrito, BBQ chicken burrito and surprisingly hefty fish taco prove particularly flavorful, and the wall paintings and juke box add character. $$

Flying Biscuit Cafe, 1655 McLendon Ave., 404-687-8888. No Southern breakfast is complete without biscuits, but the Flying Biscuit has made the biscuit -- cakey, oversized and with a touch of buttermilk -- the cornerstone of all its meals, even its lunch-menu items and dinner entrees. Next door to the restaurant, there's a small to-go shop that's always crowded where you can get your biscuits, sold by the dozen, to go with your morning coffee. Don't forget the apple butter -- somewhere between apple jam and applesauce. The Flying Biscuit gets the other necessary breakfast elements -- cheese grits, bacon and eggs -- right too. $$

La Fonda Latina - Little Five Points, 1159B Euclid Ave., 404-577-8317. You can't be in a bad mood at any of La Fonda's locations, where the tropical color schemes and upbeat salsa music never fail to raise spirits. The pork chops, Cuban Reuben sandwich and big, generous quesadillas are all exquisite. If you've never been, try the paella, a mouth-watering melange of seafood, sausage, rice and more served in an iron skillet. $

Olive Bistro, The, 1099 Euclid Ave., 404-582-0029. Clinging to the side of the Variety Playhouse, this bohemian hole-in-the-wall offers up great chicken, lamb, falafel sandwiches and several other chick pea incarnations including hummus. Mediterranean samplings in the display case can be picked up to go. $$

Planet Bombay, 451 Moreland Ave., 404-688-0005. L5P eatery with thick, hearty soups (Mulligatawny, fresh mushroom), notable rice pilafs and Indian breads, good curried vegetable combinations and low prices. $$

Radial, 1530 DeKalb Ave., 404-659-6594. The breakfast crowds line up on the weekends like nearby Flying Biscuit, but great lunches can be had as well with specialty sandwiches and soups. The hip clientele and even hipper waiters offer up plenty of eye candy as well. $

Savage Pizza, 484 Moreland Ave., 404-523-0500. Among the best local sources of real, hand-thrown, honest-to-Palermo pizza, this slightly bent independent in L5P is notable for fresh ingredients, homemade sauces and clever, knowing service. Wide selection of pizza toppings and calzone fillings. Good for takeout. Smokers' porch. $

Son's Place, 100 Hurt St., 404-581-0530. Lenn Story supposedly still uses the same cast-iron pans that the legendary Deacon Burton used. This meat-and-three serves up true Southern and the clientele of cops, white and black can't seem to get enough. $


Midtown

Apache Cafe, 64 Third St., 404-876-5436. Increasingly know in town for their nightly music, spoken word and art events, the food is a quick stop for many Midtown business folk. Quesadillas, tacos, burritos and tamales are easy to swallow if not as creative as the artists. $

Apres Diem, 931 Monroe Drive, 404-872-3333. Fancying itself a bonafide European coffee house, Apres Diem's strip mall location makes for something of an anomaly. Nevertheless, with a full-service bar and desserts fresh from Alon's Bakery, it provides an excellent excuse to extend a movie date. Apres Diem also serves Sunday brunch for late risers, and its full menu includes lunch and dinner, with nightly specials. $$

Baraonda, 710 Peachtree St., 404-879-9962. The Italian word for "hubbub" gives its name to this Midtown sister to Buckhead's Ciao Bella. It's a killer spot, if too dimly lit. Excellent designer pizzas, like shrimp with arugula, are available along with pasta dishes and secondi like veal marsala. $$$

Blue Trout, 554A Piedmont Ave., 404-685-9575. The latest venture from Fariba and Tommy Todd (best-known as founding partners of Metrotainment Cafes, which operates Einstein's and Cowtippers) offers good starters, lunch bargains, and consistent entrees. As the name would hint, the menu includes lots of fish dishes -- salmon, tuna, trout (of course), ceviche -- as well as burgers, chicken and the like. All to be enjoyed on the blue patio or indoors. $$

Carolyn's Gourmet Cafe, 1151 W. Peachtree Road, 404-607-8100. The mostly walk-up Midtown business-casual crowd has made this little spot a destination. Sandwiches with Successories-type monikers Motivation and Inspiration as well as personal pizzas are the main offerings here, accompanied by standard sides of coleslaw, pasta salad and the like.The positive vibes are paying off -- the place is always packed. $

Celebrity Cafe & Bakery, 903 Peachtree St., 404-870-0002. Although primarily geared toward breakfast, lunch, faxed takeout orders and catering, this modern, glass-fronted bakery also works for light business meals and early suppers. Baked goods are prepared from scratch, with cakes and quiches scoring higher than cookies. Salads are huge, sodas bottomless, the atmosphere urban and upbeat. $

Cha Gio, 132 10th St., 404-885-9387. Solicitous service with reasonably priced, family fare at a little-trafficked eatery in the heart of Midtown. The ideal place for an exit interview, or to feed the cold that hits the week after. Slurp and sup on nourishing chicken broth (the base for Cha Gio's won ton and vegetable soups), steamed summer rolls, and lean sirloin stir-fries. $$

Charlie G's 11th Street Pub, 1041 West Peachtree St., 404-724-9060. From the same folks who brought you the Bucket Shop and the Highland Pub, the same bar friendly menu shows up here. Wings, burgers, chicken sandwiches and a large selection of domestic and import beers. It's Midtown without the pretension.

Cherry, 1051 W. Peachtree St., 404-872-2020. Retro and sensual, this trippy newcomer marries visions of maraschino cherries to pieces of a Jefferson Airplane light show. The food is cross-cultural fusion with a heavy accent on Asian, including an extensive sushi menu. The weird adobo chicken eggroll is tasty, as is a bowl of Thai-style noodles. Fish seems to be a better choice than meat. $$$

Eno, 800 Peachtree St., 404-685-3191. Conceived as an extremely comfortable laboratory where food and drink pairings may be explored, Doug Strickland's and Jamie Adams' Mediterranean bistro could raise the standards of corporate Atlanta's drinking classes. Food is fashionably Cal-Italian -- lots of olives, olive oil, fruit, fresh fish and seasonal ingredients. The cooking is first rate, the crowd Midtown hot. Sidewalk tables, wine room, tastings featured. $$$

Flying Biscuit Cafe Midtown, 1001 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-8887. The Midtown menu differs little from the quirky list that helped define Candler Park's renaissance. And why should it? The original Biscuit's package of organic breakfast foods, PC animal proteins, sassy salads, homey desserts and celebrity backing is approachable yet highly distinctive. The stylish Mex-American accent with which some dishes are blessed -- fried eggs on black bean cakes with tomatillo salsa, for instance -- adds a slightly exotic note to what is otherwise a pretty standard health-food lineup. $$

F.R.O.G.S. Cantina, 931 Monroe Drive, 404-607-9967. Another outpost of tacos, burritos and other things wrapped in tortillas. The tasty fish tacos are a blend of spice and sweet fruit flavors. Other choices are of good quality for the price. A full bar begins to hop on the weekends and late nights. $$

Imperial Pint, 510 Piedmont Ave., 404-815-1188. The restaurant/bar is slowly getting squeezed by development on all sides, but it's also attracting a loyal clientele that can enjoy the Americanized Brit bar food (a killer mashers and bang) as well as other standard bar fare. $

Joe's on Juniper, 1049 Juniper St., 404-875-6634. Joe's deck provides such a cozy spot for quaffing a cold one and enjoying the view of Midtown's skyscrapers that you needn't bother checking out the ersatz roadhouse decor of the interior. The menu offers a standard line-up of bar food, with the black angus burgers proving nicely hot and juicy, in unusual varieties such as pimento cheese. $$

Las Palmeras, 368 5th St., 404-872-0846. The best Cuban restaurant for homestyle cooking absolutely remains Las Palmeras. The masitas are perfect here and the restaurant serves a killer boliche. This cafe, which has a pleasant patio, is one of the intown area's under-appreciated jewels. $

MF Sushi Bar, 265 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-815-8844. Join the glamorous crowd at Atlanta's next evolution in sushi dining, a sexy, serious room that serves mostly the raw stuff -- no tempura, no miso soup and no teriyaki. Ask the staff to explain some of the more unusual offerings, such as chutoro, a buttery cut of tuna. Exquisite cold sake is the perfect accompaniment.

Midtown Deli, 216 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-541-0809. Wings, fries and fried rice. Whether you take the stuff home to watch the game or stick around and watch the hustlers on Ponce, server Hyosun Flinn makes it fun as she tells you neighborhood gossip and dotes on you. $

Nickiemoto's Midtown, 990 Piedmont Ave., 404-253-2010. A clone of George Rohrig's Buckhead sushi bar, this fast-track watering hole is more remarkable for burnished metal decor and intown haircuts than for its Asian-American food. To dine well, keep two words in mind: fried (squid, soft-shell crab hotpot, catfish) and desserts (ginger creme brulee, Vietnamese coffee float). $$$

One Midtown Kitchen, 559 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111. With a door framed by a large purple-lit panel, you wonder if it's not actually a strip club or dirty bookstore. Inside, the dramatic interior plays host to delicious, slighty kinky American fare. $$

Orange & Scarlett's, 814 Juniper St., 404-877-0040. A must for anybody loving sweets, Lucero Martinez-Obregon cranks out original, house made ice creams with Atlanta-themed names like Piedmont Perk and Shirley Franklin Turnover. Try the Georgia Pine: roasted pine nuts, feta cheese and honey. No really, it's good. Great La Selva coffee, crepes and breakfast bagels. $

Park 75, 75 14th St., 404-881-9898. New chef Kevin Hickey brings a delicacy and subtlety to hotel cooking not seen here since the glory days of Guenter Seeger at the Buckhead Ritz. Truffles, foie gras, milk-fed veal, blue cheese, steak and lobster are treated with equal amounts of care and imagination. Ingredients are seasonal, mostly American and tip-top quality, with service and ambience almost as good. Prices hit the roof. But at this dressy, upscale venue, you actually get what you pay for. $$$$

Tierra, 1425 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-5951. The Hispanic American Empire is the base of Ticha and Dan Krinsky's cuisine at their boutique restaurant near the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Translated, that means toned-down peppers, tropical fruit, unusual spices and the kind of lovable culinary novelty that adventurous Atlantans adore. The restaurant was one of the first to feature Argentine beef on its menu. Drop by for tango nights. $$

Vinocity, 36 13th St., 404-870-8886. Cool colors, mosaic columns, a cozy downstairs wine bar with contemporary furniture and people lounging about in lots of hair gel. Chef Brian Barfield's menu is pleasant fusion cuisine, befitting a restaurant with such a heavy emphasis on wine. Excellent cheese plates (tailored to red or white wine) and wines by the glass. $$$

Vortex Bar & Grill - Midtown, 878 Peachtree St., 404-875-1667. Funky atmosphere, loud music, enormous selection of bottled beers and some of the best and biggest burgers in town. Black bean soup and homestyle pimento cheese are excellent, too. $$

Youngblood's R&B Cafe, 650 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Midtown Place, 404-249-6666. The R&B themed restaurant is drawing those looking for a little fun with their Southern cooking. There's the Sam Cook Spinach dip, Otis Redding baby back ribs. But people keep coming back for the Aretha Franklin Do Right Catfish. $$

Zocalo, 187 10th St., 404-249-7576. Midtown's former monument to mucho-Mexican mole has been mainstreamed and Americanized. The city's best stuffed peppers, the still-peppy chicken mole and a collection of 150 tequilas don't make up for greasy tacos, hard-edged service, hard-to-read menus, inappropriate music and uncomfortable chairs. Note that visitors with hotel room keys get a 10 percent discount. $$

Zoe's Mediterranean Grill, 931 Monroe Dr., 404-817-0807. It isn't often that food with so many different edges is comforting, too. But anything you chose here should make you smile. The food tastes every bit as good as it looks. Each dish comprises an array of flavors -- sometimes, an astonishing array. Nothing at Zoe's conforms to trite restaurant standards. Indulge in a culinary orgy by making multiple selections from the tastings and starters courses, which, with some additions, expand into Sunday's tapas menu. $$


Poncey-Highlands

Marco's Pita, 752 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-607-0071. A quirky, casual stop for Mediterranean sandwiches, Marco's joins Java Jive and Tortilla's along Ponce de Leon's pleasing downscale dining district. The offerings range from adequate to delicious, including standard-issue gyros, savory pitas (especially the Greek and Seafood varieties), falafels and veggie burgers. Be sure to sample the distinctive, chunky chili bowl if available. $

The Olive Bistro - Ponce, 650 Ponce de Leon Ave. The same good food you find in Little Five Points can be had at the Ponce strip mall location (though it's not open nights). Pick up something to go from the deli case or have a seat and be prepared to be amazed. The hummus is the city's best by far. The roasted eggplant is likewise flawless. The falafel, fantastic. Entrees, like skewered lamb over seasoned rice, confront you with half a dozen flavors. Best of all, it's cheap. $

Zesto, 544 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-607-1118. A good alternative to greasy fast foods, Zesto offers healthier meals, such as a perfectly cooked tuna steak. Fresh salads also distance the restaurant from other fast food joints. The popular Greek salad comes with mouth-watering feta, pepperoncini and black olives. If you want more fat in your diet, try their heavenly soft-serve ice cream or the typical fast food fare of burgers and fries. $


Toco Hills

Chai Peking, 2205 LaVista Road, 404-327-7810. As far as Chinese food goes, this is place is hit or miss, but as a Kosher Chinese establishment it's become a destination. The buffalo wings are slowly earning a reputation and the Chinese vegetable wrap (think a burrito with snow peas and bamboo shoots) was a nice variation. $

Edo Japanese Steak House, 2945 N. Druid Hills Road, 404-728-0228. A large and ambitious Japanese steak-and-sushi house in Toco Hills Shopping Center offers one-stop dining and entertainment. Tatami rooms, hibachi-grill tables, sushi bar, western-style dining room, sports TV, full bar and wine list only begins to cover the possibilities. Sushi and cooked seafood may be the best bets for culinary satisfaction.

The Spice Thai & Malaysian Cuisine, 3007 North Druid Hills Road, 404-728-0588. Malaysian and Thai cuisines are offered in a highly theatrical setting that's at once rustic and artful. Authentic if somewhat mainstreamed recipes, country inn decor, brisk service and great lighting add to the fantasy of exotic, faraway delights reserved for a precious, well-traveled few. Bar service. $$


Virginia-Highland

American Roadhouse, 842 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-2822. With a dozen years in business, and the owners working shifts, this moderately priced intown independent gets most things right. Nightly specials, kids-eat-free promotions and a six-page diner menu draw families, neighborhood artists and business-lunch types who spread out their catalogs and sales charts. They happily chow down on oversized sandwiches (cheeseburgers, catfish), blue plates (roast turkey, meatloaf, veggies) and kicky brunch combos (turkey-club omelet, red-white-and-blue waffles topped with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries). $$

Casbah, 465 N. Highland Ave., 404-524-5777. A fun place to take yourself, and not just for a special occasion, this comfy, affordable North Highland harem features belly dancing, notable sweet-spicy salads, first-rate couscous and more-or-less traditional versions of Moroccan poultry pie and lamb with apricots and honey. $$$

Dish, 870 N. Highland Ave, 404-897-3463. A Virginia-Highland gas station has been refurbished as an art deco environment with such "distressed" touches as a door-sized hole in the wall. The menu, offering appetizers, larger "tastes" and full entrees, encourages sampling such post-modern choices as potato fluff and rosemary pine-nut popcorn, dish's signature snack food. Among the most successful items are the prosciutto-wrapped pork filet and the dizzyingly rich Chocolate Dish. $$$

Floataway Cafe, 1123 Zonolite Road, 404-892-1414. Fast-forward American fusion from the creators of the peerless Bacchanalia, with exquisite, inventive dishes made from fresh, often organic ingredients. The stylishly retro decor perfectly suits the brilliantly executed, but never fussy, cuisine. At its best, this is headquarters for an instantly memorable meal in a thousand. Reservations accepted up to one month in advance. Extensive wine list, full bar. Smoking on open patio only. $$$$

Hand in Hand, 752 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-1001. With a handsomely polished interior and spacious patio, Hand in Hand's first priority is obviously to its drinking crowd. But the British-meets-East Indian menu offers plenty of successful accompaniments to the pint. $

Harvest, 853 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-8244. Matching arts-and-crafts furniture, vases, flowers, fireplaces, dramatic curtains and a comfy bar make the Craftsman-style bungalow the perfect venue for weekday lunch service. Alas, as has been true since the restaurant's debut, the contemporary American cooking is still wildly uneven. $$$$

Highland Wraps & Pizza Kitchen, 1250 Virginia Ave., 404-872-2560. A mostly takeout operation in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, this storefront charmer produces decidedly Americanized, albeit notably tasty meat and vegetarian burritos and tacos. $$

La Tavola Trattoria, 992 Virginia Ave., 404-873-5430. When this restaurant was opened by the owners of the Food Studio and South City Kitchen, its sleek decor made quite a splash, but its cuisine fell flat. Instead of the authentic Italian cuisine Atlantans crave, La Tavola oddly offered an unpleasant Italian-American blend. So we're pleased with the restaurant's willingness to re-examine itself. Last summer, it hired Joey Masi to rework the menu and retrain the kitchen staff. The results are impressive. Authenticity rules. The zuppa di pesce is a standout, as are the seared cod with polenta and the grilled pork chop. Pastas can be too oily but you can remedy that by asking for a lighter touch with the butter. $$$

Mambo Restaurante Cubano, 1402 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-2626. Certainly the city's most serious Cuban menu, ranging from peasant classics (perfect ropa vieja and masitas de puerco) to nightly Chino-Latino and seafood specials. Lunch service is notable for Cuban Sloppy Joe sandwiches (grilled Cuban loaves stuffed with picadillo and ropa vieja). The regular menu offers traditional entrees, salads and other island delights. Outdoor tables available. Mambo gets extra points for being the most attractive Cuban restaurant in town. Featuring a Carmen Miranda-esque mural and bright colors, it's perhaps more South Beach than Havana, but we love it. $$$

Murphy's, 997 Virginia Ave., 404-872-0904. Now 20 years old, Tom Murphy's neighborhood deli changes with time and demographics. Just now, it's worth visiting for moderately priced fish and meat entrees, traditional baked goods, a splendid wine list and slick, knowing service. Call-ahead seating, valet parking at night and take-out offered. $$$

Noche, 1000 Virginia Ave., 404-815-9155. The nuevo New Mexican chow at this boutique cantina, while extremely inconsistent, combines campfire flavor with comfort food accessibility. Stylishly fitted out and moderately priced with good service. $$$

Paolo's, 1025 Virginia Ave., 404-607-0055. Paolo della Zorza's riot of colors and flavors offers some of the best gelato in the city. If you don't like it in scoops he also constructs "gelato art" to look at like spaghetti, hamburgers or pizza.

Sotto Sotto, 313 N. Highland Ave., 404-523-6678. As a place to dine extremely well, see friends and plug into what people are talking about, Riccardo Ullio's Italian outpost in Inman Park hardly can be beat. Pastas, risotti and desserts are winners, as is the high-energy factor. $$$$

Surin's Thai Bowl & Sushi, 1044 Greenwood Ave., 404-892-0552. Located just a few steps from the mother location, Surin's Thai Bowl & Sushi Bar serves up hot, hearty broths and curries in a hurry. Though sushi, appetizers and hearty noodle bowls are offered, the main event here is the build-your-own bowl. Pick a broth (mushroom and ginger, chicken and lemongrass or beef and mushroom) and a noodle (Thai egg-pasta, flat rice or Thai vermicelli). Then choose up to three vegetables; the list includes snow peas, asparagus, straw mushrooms, napa cabbage, spinach and enoki mushrooms. (Extra for tofu, seafood, beef or pork.) $

Tiburon Grille, 1190 N. Highland Ave., 404-892-2393. Completely reliable purveyor of straightforward American cuisine. Entrees feature a heavy Southern accent. There's not a touch of weirdness on the menu (unless you count the ostrich) and we've never had a bad meal here. Service is always top-rate and the restaurant is convivial without raucousness. $$

What's The Scoop?, 1402 N. Highland Ave., 404-724-0444. Welcome to cloud nine and the best gelato in town. Dulce de leche, stracciatella and Heath Bar flavors are all quickly approaching cult status. Some of us, though, most love their crepes spread with Sarabeth's blood orange marmalade and topped with a simple scoop of vanilla bean-flecked gelato. If you're not up for sweets, try the stand-out dinner crepes instead. $

Wisteria, 471 N. Highland Ave., 404-523-9121. Like kudzu reaching out to an old house, this is a work in progress. Chef Jason Hill's updated Southern entrees (seared fish fillets, pork with sweet potatoes, spicy chicken with collards) are amusing, likable and comforting. Desserts are heavy-duty American. $$$


West End/Atlanta University

Bankhead Seafood, 1651 Bankhead Highway, 404-794-6904. Just from looking at the shabby restaurant, you'd never know that the unattractive building houses some of the best seafood fare in the area. For only $5, "The Feast" offers a heaping helping of the menu's highlights, including mouth-watering fried fish, chicken tenders, hushpuppies, coleslaw and more. Chow down on one of the platter dinners or the homemade sweet potato pie, and don't forget to sample the Louisiana hot sauce and mustard. $

Satterwhite's, 851 Oak St., 404-756-0963. The greasy spoon as spawned a buffet in Stone Mountain, but the original is keeping it real with its meat and three combos. Large heaps of good ol' Southern fried chicken, sweet potatoes and creamed corn with daily specials. $


Westside

Bacchanalia, 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-365-0410. The city's best restaurant has moved across town and lost not an atom of energy. At once modernist and classicist, the California-influenced cuisine of owner-chefs Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano is based on solid technique, simple presentation and fresh, first-quality ingredients. The spare industrial setting fits the food like beurre blanc on fish, while the service, wines and physical comforts leave little to be desired. Star Provisions, the team's upscale boutique, serves as a combination waiting room, culinary classroom and take-home larder. Don't miss it. $$$$

Commune, 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-609-5000. Spun off a sizzling succession of smart Manhattan concepts, this Westside newcomer is a clever compromise between industrial chic and post-Boomer nostalgia. The upscale American comfort food (chicken and forest mushroom potpie, braised short ribs, truffled mac-and-cheese) satisfies without breaking new ground. Notable wine service. $$$

Food Studio, The, 887 W. Marietta St., Studio K-102, 404-815-6677. A gourmet outpost amid the warehouses and rail yards of West Atlanta, The Food Studio has factory-chic decor and severely hip servers. The kitchen shows a fancy but fine grasp of American regional cuisine, from New York strip steaks to pan-seared striped bass, with the attention to detail extending to the two kinds of cream cheese accompanying the breadbasket. With Actor's Express playhouse as a neighbor, it's also a nice spot for drinks before or after the theater. $$$

Mondo Bakery, 1210 Howell Mill Road, 404-603-9995. With Billie Holiday crooning softly in this subdued, yet swank atmosphere, Mondo Bakery is an ideal place to meet someone for coffee and an intimate chat. Although it has a news stand, postcards, sandwiches, fresh juices, freshly baked pastries and a coffee bar with a full line of coffee and espresso drinks, Mondo's specialty is gourmet sandwiches and pastries. The dates, pesto, brie and basil sandwich on sourdough is to die for. $

Nuevo Laredo Cantina, 1495 Chattahoochee Ave., 404-352-9009. From its obscure location on Chattahoochee, Nuevo Laredo offers home-cooked Mexican food that is as sabroso (delicious) as it is sana(healthy). The food on your plate looks fresh, not as if it's sat under a heat lamp for even a second. Although somewhat crowded on weekend nights, service is quick and the food is well worth the wait. So have a beer and soak up the atmosphere of Catholic kitsch.

Pangaea, 1082 Huff Road, 404-350-8787. The coolest sandwich shop we've encountered in years. It's not far from Bacchanalia and Taqueria del Sol and definitely worth the drive wherever you are in the city. The menu boasts sandwiches from Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, the Middle East, Italy and America. The panino grosso -- a flat-grilled Italian classic with salami, cappicola, sopressata and ham with provolone and pickled red onions -- is delicious but pales beside the Vietnamese banh mi. $

Taqueria del Sol, 1200 Howell Mill Road, 404-352-5812. Spin-off of popular Sundown Cafe is long on informality and comfortingly Americanized Mexican and Southwestern fare. It's decidedly short on glitz, and guests order at the bar and carry their own drinks. Seafood specials can be really special. Old favorites -- spicy turnip greens, jalapeno slaw and carnita tacos -- are still worth saying "Ole" to as well. $$



Outside Perimeter

Dillard's BBQ, 2 Highway 23, 770-945-0703. You can order chili ($1.49). Chicken wings, too (10 for $4.95). Even a hamburger ($2.75) or a BLT ($1.75). Or the fried catfish specials ($4.99 with two sides). The real surprise: The pork barbecue isn't the best thing here -- the beef barbecue is. Its flavor is deep and dense, with a hauntingly smoky sweetness that lingers in the mouth. A twinge of this quality is present in the Brunswick stew, too, with its chunks of potato and tomato and kernels of corn. The barbecue chicken sandwich is better than any other I've ever had. $$

Five and Ten, 1653 S. Lumpkin St., 706-546-7300. Housed in a funky building in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens, celebrated chef Hugh Acheson heads the kitchen of this spirited hotspot. Inquisitive foodies make the trek from Atlanta for inspired, if occasionally uneven, seasonal fare. Meals conclude well here, so be sure not to skip the soulful cheese course and outstanding desserts. $$$

Johnny B's, 101 Meadow Drive, 770-888-5353. Red Hot Chicago Pure Beef Products, Continuing A Family Tradition Since 1893, pizza patterned after the famous thin and crispy crust served at the Home Run Inn, and the owner's homemade Italian beef. If you must, you can order a fried catfish sandwich, charbroiled burgers and chicken sandwiches. But you must have the hot dog with everything: mustard, relish, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, kosher pickle and sport peppers on a steamed bun. Can't beat it. $

The Mahogany Rose Tea Room, 135 S. Broad St., 770-267-4011. The Mahogany Rose Tea Room is not a gourmet kitchen. The menu is typical of the genre: entire tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad or chicken salad, quiche Lorraine or spinach quiche served with fresh fruit, a creamy egg salad sandwich and, for those of you who want to go the nostalgia route in a big way, a frozen cranberry salad. If you want to feel more contemporary, there's a tri-color pasta salad. $$

The Smith House, 84 S. Chestatee St., 706-867-7000. Country dinner served family-style in a comfortable down-home setting. Highlights are the fried chicken and a bounty of nicely cooked vegetables.

Wallace Bar B Que, 3035 Veterans Memorial Highway, 770-739-1686. Kicking butt since 1966, the Westside's 'cue champ does it all: pulled pork sandwiches, combination plates, rib platters, pork-stuffed baked potatoes, barbecue chicken and Olympic-gold onion rings. Pork is lean, tender, lightly smoked and delicately flavored. Service is fast and motherly. Separate takeout entrance and informal no-smoking section featured. Closed Sundays-Mondays. $


Forest Park/Morrow

Dai Loi, 4061 Jonesboro Road, 404-363-2423. Spiffy Vietnamese noodle-soup shop with traditional menu (pho, spring rolls, grilled meats on rice, iced coffee), helpful staff. Near I-285. Good for takeout. $$

Thomas Marketplace, 16 Forest Parkway, 404-361-1367. Venerable purveyor of heirloom Southern cooking, hefty portions and down-home hospitality is among the Southside's best bets for traditional breakfasts, meat-and-two lunches and corn muffins. Fried chicken livers, grilled salmon, turnip greens and corn muffins recommended. Go elsewhere for barbecue.


Gwinnett
Buford

Fireside Cafe, 4685 South Lee St., 770-945-8132. Nifty little breakfast and lunch place where most things are made to order, unusual for what is basically a meat-and-three. Especially good are the Greek specialties: herbed chicken, stuffed cabbage and vegetable lasagna.

Duluth

Breakaway Grill, 2300 Satellite Blvd. at the IceForum, 770-813-1103. A thoroughly snazzy little restaurant overlooking the Atlanta Thrashers sheet of practice ice at the IceForum in Duluth. Three-cheese ravioli, grilled salmon, filet mignon, an excellent crab and salmon chowder, and the restaurant's signature dish: crispy sweet and sour calamari, "soy and ginger reduction topped with sesame seeds." This was not hockey-puck cuisine. Even if you haven't the slightest interest in ice -- except in a drink -- you should try this place. $$

Carnegie's, 10305 Medlock Bridge Road, 770-622-1099. Wide wood blinds, fabulous natural lighting and dark wood with mahogany-red undertones imbue the atmosphere with a welcoming clubbyness. The menu is clubby, too. At dinner, you can order everything from grilled salmon and a 14-ounce Black Angus ribeye steak, to baby back ribs and meat loaf, to Portobello ravioli and smoked pork chops. The specialty of the house is crab cakes. $$$

Cedar Creek Grill, 2750 Buford Highway, 770-622-9907. Cedar Creek Grill's menu goes from the mundane to the sublime, even within categories. Appetizers include the trite chips-and-salsa entry and stone crab claws. Chef's Selections -- most heavy on the beef -- run from baby back ribs to fresh grilled lobster tail. In the Soup & Salad category, there's chili, and then there's seared pepper tuna salad. While Cedar Creek Grill is somewhat uneven, it's a credible, welcome effort. $$

Chin Chin VII, 6575 Sugarloaf Parkway, 770-813-1319. You may already be familiar with the Chin Chin restaurants. If you aren't, you should be. The corporate kitchen is not big on suffocating, artificially colored and flavored sauces. Yes, tasteful readers, the food is good. There is something different about this Chin Chin -- a sushi bar. This is not your ordinary sushi bar. Oh, you can get all the standard pieces, but unlike so many pedestrian sushi bars -- a description that pretty much covers most of them in town -- there is an artist at work behind this one. $

China Gate, 2340 Satellite Blvd., 678-473-1688. I wholeheartedly recommend to you the steamed dumplings. You'll get eight of them for the laughably low price of $4.95, and they are scrumptious. Especially with the unusual sauce, which is sweet and elusively tangy. Never believe a restaurant when they tell you a bowl of soup is small. Especially when you're in a Chinese restaurant. At China Gate, the small bowl of soup is the size of a bird bath. At $7.95, for everything that was in the Jong Bong House Noodle Soup, this is what is known as a deal. $$

Georgia French Bakery & Cafe, 3512 Satellite Blvd., Suite 5, 770-622-2682. The accents of the bakers at Georgia French Bakery & Cafe are real. And so are the wonderful breads. In addition to the baguettes, there's a chewy pain de campagne (country French), a firm-crusted pain au levain (sourdough), pain complet (whole wheat), pain de seigle (rye with plenty of caraway seeds), sweet brioche (perfect for breakfast) and a full-flavored pain de semoule (semolina). As befits a French bakery, everything is made fresh every day, which means that sometimes, the one thing you were planning on getting will be gone. $$

Pacific Asian Bistro, 2100 Pleasant Hill Road, Gwinnett Place Mall, 770-813-8836. A pan-Asian restaurant tucked into an arm of the sprawling Gwinnett Place Mall, it actually offers good Thai, Chinese and Japanese choices. The sushi is most impressive with seasoned chef Masahiro Kondo rolling the rice and sashimi. $$$

Red Garlic Thai & Seafood Grill, 1455 Pleasant Hill Road, 770-923-3010. Stick to the Thai dishes and you'll be happy. Especially if you order the crispy calamari, the spicy shrimp soup (Tom Yum Koong) and the seafood combo. $$

Lawrenceville

Atlantic Seafood, 1455 Pleasant Hill Road, 770-564-0944. Fresh fish prepared simply in colorful sea-inspired surroundings. Best bets currently are the New England clam chowder and the oyster po' boy. $$$

Watkins BBQ Pit, 3881 Lawrenceville Highway, 770-496-1980. The setting is pure country roadside stand, except for the traffic whizzing by on Lawrenceville Highway. Watkins offers three sauces. The tomato- and mustard-based sauces are good; the Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce is sensational. The only word to describe it is "tangy." Not so much that it makes you pucker and wince, but truly tangy, as in enticing and mouth-watering.

Lilburn

Evangeleen's, 4095 Lawrenceville Highway, 678-924-0333. A Caribbean outpost with authentic island cuisine, the restaurant offers excellent seafood, chicken, pork and beef dishes that will wow you with their spicy and sweet combinations. Try the tenderloin in a passion jerk glaze or stick with the tried and true jerk spices. $$

Norcross

Costa del Sol, 6265 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-840-6040. Central American cuisine includes Salvadoran, Honduran and Ecuadoran as well as more familiar Mexican-oriented items. No matter, the must-eat are the pupusas -- a pancake-like item filled with gooey cheese and meat. $$$

Costa Verde, 6200 Buford Highway, 770-449-3221. Not only are the prices incredibly low, considering the quality of the ingredients and the size of the portions, but the fare is eclectic: a mix of Peruvian and Colombian. You need to try some of each -- the hearty, earthy beef and chicken dishes of the highlands and the seafood specialties of the coastline -- to fully appreciate what Costa Verde's kitchen is doing. Everything is worth trying once but the seafood is especially nice.

Dominick's, 95 S. Peachtree St., 770-449-1611. Stick with the basics at this Norcross mega-trattoria and you'll be happy. Try the gorgonzola salad, the linguini with calamari, clams and mussels in red sauce, the penne with sausage, white beans and spinach. A lively, friendly atmosphere. Great for groups and kids. $$$

The Dutch Pot, 15 Jones St., 770-446-1426. Historic Norcross is home to a collection of quaint renovated brick buildings that house shops and restaurants. Here the Dutch Pot offers some of the best Caribbean cuisine in the metro area. Jerk chicken, jerk pork chops, oxtail and more fill the entree list. Among the dozen sides offered, you must try the fried plantains. $$

Frontera Mex-Mex Grill - Jimmy Carter Blvd., 4606 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-493-8341. Sunday brunch at two locations of the local chain features energetic ranchera music, heady fiesta atmosphere and a succession of unusual Mexican specialties. Spice levels, thought toned down, are still lively enough to tickle gringo tongues. $$

Frontera Mex-Mex Grill - Norcross, 4771 Britt Road, 770-493-8341. Sunday brunch at two locations of the local chain features energetic ranchera music, heady fiesta atmosphere and a succession of unusual Mexican specialties. Spice levels, thought toned down, are still lively enough to tickle gringo tongues. $$

Hi-Life Kitchen and Cocktails, 3380 Holcomb Bridge Road, 770-409-0101. An usual success in a crummy strip mall in Norcross, the restaurant could hold its own with any trendy Midtown crowd. Offering new American in a trendy setting, Hi-Life is living the high life. $$$$

Hot Wok, 6277 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Friday's Plaza, 770-936-8880. The Chinese restaurant has heavy Indian influences and even has a menu that flip-flops between the two. A largely Indian clientele crowds the place on some nights and is also attracting others experimenting with their tolerance for spice. $$

Palace, The, 6131 Peachtree Parkway, 770-840-7770. Some of the best Indian around, the weekend buffet brunch is a must with dosai and uthappam made to order as well as a selection of fresh curries, soups and vegetables. $$

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen - Gwinnett, 5635 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-849-0600. Who'd have thought a chain serving enormous volumes of food could be this good? Spectacular etouffee, lovingly prepared gumbos, delicately broiled seafood and mountains of fried stuff are turning out crowds that cause 90-minute waits. Go early. Real early. $$$

Pho Hien Vietnamese Noodle Shop, 4782 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 678-924-3610. Pho Hien may be simmering the best beef and shrimp pho in the metro area. The broth itself is simply beautiful, a clear but deeply-colored liquid. And fragrant? Ah ... And the meat is beautiful. The rare steak, especially, is a sight to behold. $

Song Thai, 6470 Spalding Drive, Suite B, 770-449-5515. It may be an average Thai restaurant, but that only reflects how high the average is for Atlanta-area Thai places. For a small spot in a generic strip mall, Song Thai boasts a handsome interior and artfully-presented entrees. Some of the dishes sampled tend toward sweetness, like the Jungle Curry with mussels and pineapple, but the Green Curry Catfish is fried and mixed with real finesse. $$

Veggies To Go, 3380 Holcomb Bridge Road, 678-822-2300. It's a meat and three in a decidedly slick, corporate environment, but it still has some distinctive tricks up its sleeves. The Brunswick stew is a must -- more South American than Southern. $


Peachtree City

Famous Fish Co., 300 City Circle, Suite 1520, 770-632-1880. The first American branch of this South African-based seafood chain has washed ashore in an outdoor mall complex in Peachtree City. The menu is a hodge-podge of fishy themes, anchored by the house specialty: five pans stuffed to the gills with seafood, fries and rice. Be on lookout for the "big-ass king prawns," so described by the young staff.


Stone Mountain/Tucker

Aires Latinos, 3853 Lawrenceville Highway, 770-407-4654. Aires Latinos is proof that gifted cooks are not the province solely of four- and five-star establishments. A Colombian family in Tucker is producing an array of startlingly sophisticated dishes at moderate prices. Enthusiastic menu descriptions pale in comparison to the real things. $$$

Basket Bakery & Cafe, 6655 James. B. River Drive, 770-498-0329. The best German food in our area, served in a delightful setting adjacent to Stone Mountain Village. Sauerbraten and rouladen are especially good. Enormous portions.

Blue Ribbon Grill, 4006 La Vista Road, 770-491-1570. Red meat is prominent on the menu. Blue Ribbon's steaks aren't tricked out with rock salt or wine sauces, but are simple, serviceable hunks of flesh that are juicy, adequately tender and easy to enjoy. A genuine neighborhood chophouse, Blue Ribbon Grill at lunch attracts Northlake's casual business crowd; families dominate the place at night. $$

Cafe On Main, 2382 Main St., 770-934-7178. Contemporary little cafe serving breakfast and lunch that are interesting takeoffs on traditional flair. Excellent pot roast. $$

Dragon Inn Chinese Cuisine & Seafood, 1825 Rockbridge Road, 770-498-7538. Dragon Inn's menu is modest in scope but is surprisingly long. There are far fewer seafood dishes than there are typical beef, pork, poultry and fried rice offerings. Frankly, this is just as well, since the quality of the seafood is not first rate. Shrimp, for example, has a pronounced iodine flavor. Still, Dragon Inn is a good choice for those days when you don't feel like making a big production out of eating but don't want to regret having gone out, either.

Dragon Palace, 6254 Memorial Drive, 770-498-8228. Fabulous dumplings -- the best in town -- and soups full of goodies in fragrant broths. Try U10, House Noodle Soup, an incredible value at $5.95, enough for two. Sauces and mushrooms are particularly good, no matter which dish you order. Friendly, neighborhood atmosphere. $

Frontera Mex-Mex Grill - Stone Mountain, 5074 Stone Mountain Highway, 770-972-3366. Sunday brunch at two locations of the local chain features energetic ranchera music, heady fiesta atmosphere and a succession of unusual Mexican specialties. Spice levels, thought toned down, are still lively enough to tickle gringo tongues. $$

Golden Krust, 933 N. Hairston Road, 770-879-0997. Golden Krust is the only place I know that has so many -- and so many good-tasting - varieties of patties. And the prices are a joke. Try the callaloo loaf, beef patty, coco bread, meat loaf, soya loaf or the pizza pocket or other. Almost every time you visit Golden Krust, there's a new variety to try. $

Matthew's Cafeteria, 2299 Main St., 770-491-9577. Open weekdays only. An honest-to-goodness, Main Street small-town cafeteria with delicious homey food at unbelievably low prices. The roast turkey is really roast turkey, not processed turkey roll. Breakfast begins at 4:30 a.m. $

Northlake Thai Cuisine, 3939 LaVista Road, 770-938-2223. This strip center showplace holds its own in tropical decor, Bangkok ambience and reassuring air of formality. Though the cooking shows less finesse, the cuisine, by the standards of the neighborhood, also is a standout. Starters (duck salad, fried squid, coconut-chicken soup) are worth particular attention. $$$

Roxy's Cajun Po Boy, 4825 Rockbridge Road, 678-704-0232. There are po' boys, and then there are po' boys. At Roxy's, you can order whiting fried, red snapper fried, catfish fried, shrimp fried or grilled, chicken fried or grilled, pork chop fried or grilled, and grilled turkey, ham, pastrami, roast beef, veggie or Andouille sausage. But I don't have to tell you that a real, true po' boy is fried oysters and nothing but. And I'm here to tell you that Roxy's is grilling up one fine, true po' boy.

Sangria's Mexican Cafe, 4369 Hugh Howell Road, 770-270-1777. Forget the usual Mexican fare and go for the arroz con pollo, chicken and rice soup, and the house specialty carnitas Michoacan style, marinated grilled pork tips. Add sangria and the cheesecake flan and you're all set. $$

Sycamore Grill, 5329 Mimosa Drive, 770-465-6789. Inventive cuisine in the oldest buliding in Stone Mountain, built in 1836. Ingredients are high-quality, combined in interesting ways and skillfully prepared. $$$

Taqueria Los Hermanos, 4418 Hugh Howell Road, 678-937-0660. Small family-run establishment, big flavor. Extra special: tamales made by the owners' mother (weekends only), an unbelievably moist grilled tilapia with black olives in white wine sauce, and the incredible bread pudding with tequila sauce.

Vietnam House, 4186 Buford Highway, 404-315-9979. Stylish, mid-scale Viet newcomer features traditional and Eurasian-fusion cuisine (beef seven ways, beef-and-noodle soup, excellent egg rolls) and exceptionally helpful service. As an unexpected bonus, restrooms are Chambodia's most pristine. $$

Yum Yum Thai, 3977 Lawrenceville Highway, 770-496-0307. Cheerful, family-run restaurant producing authentic Thai dishes with an astonishing array of flavors from sweet to sour to spicy and all points between. Excellent soups and traditional meat salads, but the star of the show is Basil Duck, $12.50 for half a boneless duck with crackling skin, moist meat and a hair-raising chili sauce. $$

Zaxby's, 4409 Hugh Howell Road, 770-723-1999. If you can get past the idea of eating spicy Buffalo wings in a well-lit, fast food setting, you might find Zaxby's choices of wings, chicken finger platters and generic salads to be an adequate alternative to bigger-name franchises. The different sauces for the wings proved less memorable than such fried items as the Spicy Fried Mushroom sides and the Kickin' Chicken Sandwich, which gives Chick-Fil-A a run for its money. $$


Topside
Alpharetta

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, 7291 N. Point Parkway, Suite 1700, 678-461-8410. The chain from California is beginning to set down roots in Georgia and it truly lives up to its name. The quick, fresh burritos, quesadillas and tacos are great. A taco trio of chicken, fish and steak is a great deal and plenty for a lunch or light dinner. $

Buca di Beppo, 2335 Mansell Road, 770-643-9463. Wacky family-friendly Italian eatery with ceiling-to-floor posters, paintings, statues, photos and knickknacks. The noise, the smells, the food -- it's all bright, cheery and upbeat. Great big family-sized portions of good, solid Italian fare. $$

Cabernet, 5575 Windward Parkway, 770-777-5955. At this suburban steakhouse modeled on Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Chops and such, the showy surroundings, considerable investment, trained staff and conceptual grandiosity promise much in the way of fine dining, wining and expense-account high times. The promises are mostly kept. Despite salt levels like those of the Dead Sea, prime steaks, lump crab cakes, sumptuous soups and salads are mostly worth the elevated prices asked. $$$

Di Paolo, 8560 Holcomb Bridge Road, 770-587-1051. If di Paolo were located in Buckhead, it would be the talk of the town. Small but choice seasonal menu and a warm and intimate setting. $$$

Killer Creek Chop House, 1700 Mansell Road, 770-649-0064. Killer decor, but don't let that stop you. The menu is small with straightforward entrees and funky appetizers. Blue cheese heaven. Well-trimmed steaks are cooked as asked, but stay away from the greasy rack of lamb. $$$$

Rainwater, 11655 Haynes Bridge Road, 770-777-0033. Andrew Fotos' 22,000 square foot, 500 seat, Mediterranean-style suburban villa offers semi-formal American cuisine variously influenced by New Southern recipes, fusionary notions and mildly modernist tendencies. Eclectic decorations, elaborate furnishings and willing, helpful service create a lunching and dining experience that's at once edgy, comforting and over-the-top. $$$

The Roasted Garlic, 281 S. Main St., 770-777-9855. Know that when you walk into The Roasted Garlic, you won't be leaving hungry. This Italian-Greek spot has won the devotion of the area's families with gargantuan portions and a relaxed, lively vibe. The menu is sprinkled with familiar ingredients that have become synonymous with gussied-up Italian-American cuisine: pesto cream sauces, caramelized onions, fire-roasted peppers and balsamic vinaigrette each appear in multiple dishes. Warm, efficient service and big desserts round out the scene. $$

Sweet Tomatoes, 6350 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, 770-913-0203. Pizza, spuds, soups and about half the greenery are worth their weight in calories and cholesterol at units of this San Diego, Calif.-based buffet chain aimed at families and office workers. Atmosphere is bright and upbeat, prices reasonable. $$

Austell/Powder Springs

Wallace Barbecue, 3035 Bankhead Highway, 770-739-1686. Kicking butt since 1966, the Westside's 'cue champ does it all: pulled pork sandwiches, combination plates, rib platters, pork-stuffed baked potatoes, barbecue chicken and Olympic-gold onion rings. Pork is lean, tender, lightly smoked and delicately flavored. Service is fast and motherly. Separate takeout entrance and informal no-smoking section featured. Closed Sundays-Mondays. $

Dunwoody

Arturo's Pizza & Pasta, 5486 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, 770-396-0335. My friend, whose Italian grandmother lived with his family for 20 years, says Arturo's makes food the way she did. Now that's Italian. Whatever else you get, don't fail to order the cold roasted peppers and mozzarella. $$$

Goldfish, 4400 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, 770-671-0100. Not a goldfish in sight at the new Dunwoody preen-scene with fresh seafood menu, salt-water reef tank, aquatic-theme ironwork, cocktail pianist, sushi bar and salted-fish approach to cooking. Sister restaurant to Prime and TomTom A Bistro. No reservations. Long waits possible. $$$$

Joey D's Oak Room, 1015 Crown Pointe Parkway, 770-512-7063. All you really need to know about Joey D's is that they serve corned beef made from brisket ordered directly from New York's Carnegie Deli. And the French fries may be the best in the city. $$$

Lucky China, 4524 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, 770-458-5199. While Lucky China does the usual short and speedy lunch menu, the dinner menu is available throughout the day. Not that there's anything wrong with the standard lunch. It's just that it's ... the standard lunch. The dinner menu is far more interesting, and though your meal won't appear before you in a matter of seconds, it won't take much longer. And besides, your server will rush out with little tidbits you can nibble on immediately: one egg roll and a hot chicken wing. $$

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, 600 Ashford Parkway, 770-399-9900. Lavish chain-link offers first-class seafood in a variety of preparation styles, though with an emphasis on those of the Northwest and Pacific Coast. Despite the glass domes, privacy booths, snappy linens, heavy flatware and list of 30 to 40 varieties of fresh seafood on offer daily, prices are moderate at the big-volume fish house. Valet parking. Reservations encouraged. Smoking permitted in bar only. $$$$

McKendrick's Steak House, 4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road. Steak in an atmosphere of handsome wood paneling in the darkened main dining room, muted yellow walls and heavy white tablecloths that are de-crumbed before dessert. Order steak, that's all you get. Steak. And a sprig of watercress. Side orders cost extra. McKendrick's offers good quality steak and cooks it the way you ask them to cook it. $$$$

Mi Spia, 4505 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, 770-393-1333. Stylish Northern Italian (well, sort of). Risotto, grain mustard-marinated pork chops, garlic-infused mashed potatoes and chewy honey-walnut bread you will beg to buy a loaf of to take home. And if it's toward the end of the evening, they might sell some to you. Both the food and the portions are robust. $$$$

Old Hickory House, 5490 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, 770-671-8185. Nearly 50 years old, the Hickory House once was Atlanta's proudest and most plentiful BBQ chain, with remaining locations thus retaining the status of minor local landmarks. The hickory-smoked Southern food isn't as heavenly as it used to be, but the chopped pork, beef and chicken all prove fine on platters and delicious on sandwiches. $$

P.F. Chang's, 500 Ashwood Parkway, 770-352-0500. A successful corporate blending of traditional Chinese cuisines, from Cantonese to Szechuan within an upscale American dining environment. The soothing lettuce wraps are some of the best in the city. Even better are the meaty Northern-style spare ribs ($6.25) seasoned with a dry rub. Overall, not very risky cuisine, but solid fare from super-attentive servers. $$

Thai Diner, 4729-A Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-730-9868. Plenty of safe favorites like num tok and pad Thai but try the specials of the house that change daily, especially if they include mango. $$

Wright's The Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe, 5482 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, 770-396-7060. Dunwoody denizens and Perimeter-area Dilberts find fast food the old-fashioned way at this popular lunch joint. The come for the pimento-cheese sandwich, its version of a Cuban sandwich, creative salads and superlative desserts. It also offers heat-and-serve main dishes and whole cakes and pies. $$

Kennesaw

Sorrentino's Ristorante, 800 Barrett Pakway, Cobb Place Shopping Center, 770-795-0096. This true New York style Italian joint serves up authentic pizza pies with great toppings like calamata olives, breaded eggplant, salami and capers. Or try the calazones, pastas and stromboli. $$

Marietta

Aspen Signature Steaks, 2942 Shallowford Road, 678-236-1400. Feel like you jumped to the Rockies with the cabin interior located in a typical strip mall in northeast Cobb. Part of the family of restaurants including Van Gogh's the steaks are thick and juicy and the servings big, big, big. $$$

Basil's, 1255 Johnson Ferry Road, Suite 16, 770-578-0011. American and Mediterranean cuisine heavy on pastas and seafood. Chef Sam Kahwach pays homage to the herb for which the restaurant is named in many of his dishes and appetizers. $$$

The Crazy Cuban, 1475 Terrell Mill Road, 770-226-0021. Despite the name, the atmosphere is calmly subdued and the cooking entirely sane at Marietta's classy and traditional Cuban restaurant. Anything featuring mojo-roasted, hand-pulled pork, such as the Lechon Asado, is worth savoring, and be sure to sample such sides and appetizers as boiled, garlic-enriched yucca and the papitas rellenas, which suggest biscuits stuffed with seasoned meat $$

Efes, 113 N. Park Square, 770-419-0159. The humble storefront is open during the day for a quick kebab or gyro, but at night the back room of rugs and pillowed seating is open. You can enjoy belly dancing on the weekend, but you don't need that to enjoy the authentic Mediterranean cuisine on the Square. $$

Marietta Pizza Co., 3 Whitlock Ave., 770-419-0900. Commanding a corner of the Marietta town square, the idyllic view of this new pizzeria is its proudest feature. The thick, often airy crust of its pies and Sicilian slices are unusually tasty, though its treatment of toppings and salads are yummy but unmemorable. $

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen - Topside, 2830 Windy Hill Road, 770-984-8899. Who'd have thought a chain serving enormous volumes of food could be this good? Spectacular etouffee, lovingly prepared gumbos, delicately broiled seafood and mountains of fried stuff are turning out crowds that cause 90-minute waits. Go early. Real early. $$$

Psych-a-Deli, 531 Roselane St., 770-792-1320. With kitschy appeal and sandwiches like the Proud Mary, Mamma Cass and Brown-Eyed Girl, the sit-down deli in the historic mill district near Marietta's square is a sure bet for a bite to eat. The gourmet sandwiches offer fresh fixings and homemade bread. The menu also includes a list of salads like the Karma, a chef salad with seasoned steak fries or sweet potato fries. $

Ray's On the River, 6700 Powers Ferry Road, 770-955-1187. Best-known as the brunch spot where you can take Mom on Easter, Ray's now specializes in seafood. The menu is solid but the offerings are decidedly less exotic than at its counterparts across the city. This aside, what should earn Ray's a spot on your to-be- visited list is the food. Ray's features an attractive, large menu, modern seafood house format minus the Asian/sushi bar appendages. American flavors dominate. $$$

Rib Ranch, 2063 Canton Highway, 770-422-5755. We aren't talking any old barbecue here, we're talking Texas barbecue. And that does not mean pork. Do not get the pork ribs. Everything else, however, is as wonderfully tasty and barbecue-y as it can be. Put the house specialty at the top of the list. It's Texas chili, and it is exceptional -- nothing but hunks of shredded beef and hot, hot, hot chili. The real stunner at Rib Ranch are the beef ribs. Advertised as being "almost the size of Texas," they are behemoths, indeed: bones nine and 10 inches long with meat nearly two inches thick. Now that's barbecue. $$$

Vatica, 1475 Terrell Mill Road, 770-384-0070. There is no menu at Vatica. For $8.99 at dinner and $6.99 at lunch, the restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat meal on a thali, a round metal tray upon which five or six harmonious dishes are served. This isn't the usual assortment of flabby, overcooked vegetables in creamy curry sauces found in many Indian joints. This is home-style cookin' like your mama would have made, had she been from the Gujarat in western India. The selection changes every day. $

Williamson Bros. BBQ, 1425 Roswell Road, 770-971-3201. The Northside's high-volume, high-quality purveyor of Alabama-style barbecue offers cooked-on-site pork sandwiches, ribs and slabs, 'cue combo plates, onion rings, bottled sauce, rotisserie chicken, quesadillas, burgers,T-shirts and more exotic souvenirs - pretty much everything but the squeal. Pork is tops, the sauce works, the no-nonsense service is fast and professional. Catering and takeout featured. $$

Roswell

Byblos, 10684 Alpharetta Highway, 678-352-0321. The cozy, spotless Lebanese restaurant tucked away in a strip mall in Roswell offers a menu of authentic mezza and mashawis (skewered meat kebabs). Standards like tabbouleh, hummus and baba ghanoush are present as well as more out-of-the-ordinary habra nayyeh (raw beef with garlic) and basterma (thin slices of spicy fillet). At night, try your hand at the argylee water pipe -- an exotic hookah-like gadget filled with aromatic tobacco. $$

Cheeburger Cheeburger, 2300 Holcomb Bridge Road, 770-645-4702. The name evokes an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but this cheerful 1950s-retro burger joint chain is closer to "Happy Days." Living up to its name, the cheeseburgers are hot, hearty and juicy, well accompanied by crunchy onion rings and rich shakes. $$

Dick & Harry's, 1570 Holcomb Bridge Road, Suite 810, 770-641-8757. Tucked away in a nondescript Roswell strip mall, dick and harry's proves an unexpectedly chic bistro worthy of any of Atlanta's best restaurants, with a menu featuring such delicious but unfussy choices as garlic-ginger calamari, homemade ice cream and steak-cut tuna on cilantro grits. Not everything is a homerun, but the flavorful fried sea bass sandwich proves particularly fine. $$$

Dreamland BBQ, 10730 Alpharetta Highway, 678-352-7999. Hit the road to Tuscaloosa, Georgians. The imported cultural icon features Alabama-style pork barbecue with its characteristic charred edges, subdued seasoning and slathered sauce. It's accompanied by tangy slaw, crisp fries, rich pecan pie and logo T-shirts. Salads, sandwiches and such round out the menu. Good for takeout. $$

Fishmonger Grill, 4969 Roswell Road, 404-459-9003. There isn't a single thing I've tried here that I haven't liked. The Fishmonger Stew is being billed as the bistro's signature dish. Served in a monumental soup plate, the stew is more of a soup, with mussels, clams, shrimp, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, celery, onion and the odd piece of fish in a light broth. Sop up the last bit of the broth with the excellent French bread. $$

Greenwood's on Green Street, 1087 Green St., 770-992-5383. This cozy, home-style Roswell restaurant has elements of a hippie commune; you can enjoy the kitschy '60s decor and sprawling garden while waiting for your table. The authentic Southern cooking is worth the occasional delay, particularly the sweet, honey-fried chicken, the buttery, boneless pork chops and the soul-food sides. The pies are some of the best in the Atlanta area. $$

Jersey Submarines, 4920 Roswell Road, 404-847-0576. The atmosphere of New Jersey, either ersatz or authentic, is absent in this plain Fountain Oaks eatery, but their sandwiches are a slice above the typical national franchises. The nearly three dozen to choose from include luscious hot sandwiches and indulgent cheese steaks, while the cold, deli meat sandwiches provide the ideal lunch on a hot afternoon. $$

Pastis, 936 Canton St., 770-640-3870. Like a short trip to the Mediterranean coast. Risotto, Salad Nicoise, grilled ribeye steak, deliciously crunchy fried calamari, gazpacho, lamb shanks, sea bass. Different rooms have different themes, from wine cellar to sun-dappled balcony. $$$

Rhea's, 1210 Canton St., 770-992-8638. Outside, Rhea's Take Out Foods has the sort of down-at-the-heels cinder block functionality that makes prospecting foodies perk up suddenly and swerve dangerously. Inside, busy at a small flat grill, is Jimmy the owner. He's been cooking up quick breakfasts, sandwiches and the renowned Rhea's special hamburger for 19 years. The main attraction here is the Rhea's Special. Cooked fresh to order and served with shredded lettuce, tomato, diced onion and American cheese on griddled white bread, it's a messy, all-American burger joint classic that's well worth the 30-minute drive from intown. $

Salvatore Trattoria, 292 S. Atlanta St., 770-645-9983. The setting here is so pleasant and the quality of the olive oil, olives and cheese so fine that one could sit with these and nothing more -- well, maybe a glass of red wine -- and be content. Traditional Italian family favorites served as though patrons were guests in the home. $$$

Southern Skillet, 1037 Alpharetta St., 770-933-7700. Fast, fun, friendly. The menu comprises every good old-fashioned, down-home thing you can think of: roast beef and gravy, corned beef hash, catfish, country ham, calves liver, chicken livers, rainbow trout. Plus breakfast stuff: omelets, pancakes, oatmeal and grapefruit. The Southern Skillet opens for business at the crack of dawn, which is a great time to go. But no time is a bad time. $$

Sprout Cafe, 1475 Holcomb Bridge Road, Suite 200, 770-992-9218. Sprout Cafe is a raw food -- or "living foods" -- restaurant, the next evolution in vegetarian cuisine where nothing is heated above 118 degrees, in order to preserve the food's enzymes, vitamins and minerals. There is no meat, eggs, dairy, white flour or white sugar in any of the recipes. Yet for dedicated veg-heads and open-minded diners seeking a culinary adventure, Sprout offers surprisingly accessible nourishment. Soups have astonishing depth of flavor and the guacamole burrito is light and savory. Juices, sandwiches and much more is available. $

The Swallow at the Hollow, 1072 Green St., 678-352-1975. The joint venture of Bill Greenwood and Paul and Doreen Doster is long on hefty portions and intelligent updates of country classics. From pit-cooked portobello mushrooms to traditionally flavored baby back ribs and mac-and-cheese, the cuisine has wide, if definitely Southern-style, appeal. $$

Sandy Springs

Bridgetown Grill - Sandy Springs, 7285 Roswell Road, 770-394-1575. Atlanta's polished and colorful chain of Caribbean restaurants serves low-budget island grub to a cheerful reggae beat. Not all the dishes are winners, but a rack of tangy guava ribs is one of the city's best barbecue dishes, and the zesty jerk chicken is enhanced with raspberry coulis dipping sauce. Be sure to have a bite of guava butter on pineapple bread. $$

Canton Cooks, 5984 Roswell Road, 404-252-0322. You'll be satisfied with the Americanized standards, but if you really want a great time at the restaurant, order specialties off the menu like the snow pea leaves and salt and pepper pork. A great Chinese restaurant with plenty of regulars.

Casa Blanca, 5785 Roswell Road, 404-252-3237. The menu is half Mexican, half Salvadorian, with an emphasis on shellfish, compete with the shells. The soups and stews are the reason to go. Unless you are in the mood for breakfast, in which case you will want the $6.25 plate of beans, eggs with ham, fried plantains and cheese. $

China Cooks Chinese Seafood, 215 Copeland Road, 404-252-6611. The best Cantonese around. Large menu includes Peking duck without the usual 24-hour call-ahead requirement. But as the restaurant's name suggests, seafood is the specialty of the house. Lobster and Dungeness crab are exceptional. $$

Five Seasons Brewing Company, 5600 Roswell Road, 404-255-5911. Basically a microbrewery and sports bar with food that's better and more imaginative than average. Ignore the stale beer aroma and go for the mussels a la mariniere and grilled pizzas. $$

Hong Kong Gourmet, 5920 Roswell Road, 404-255-3388. An extensive regular menu of all your favorite Chinese dishes. But for a real treat, choose one of the day's specials, especially one that involves shellfish. $$

La Fonda Latina - Topside, 4427 Roswell Road, 404-303-8201. You can't be in a bad mood at any of La Fonda's locations, where the tropical color schemes and upbeat salsa music never fail to raise spirits. The pork chops, Cuban Reuben sandwich and big, generous quesadillas are all exquisite. If you've never been, try the paella, a mouth-watering melange of seafood, sausage, rice and more served in an iron skillet. $

Mike's Chicago Dog Haus, 5948 Roswell Road, 404-252-8484. Mike's haus serves Italian sandwiches and dresses dogs in the authentic Windy City fashion, with the Maxwell Street-style polish sausage dog proving a crunchy kick. The walls come with everything, too -- especially photos and headlines of Chicago heroes -- with ketchup and mustard colors suggesting a non-stop kiddy birthday party. $$

Mirage Persian Cuisine, 6631 Roswell Road, 404-843-8300. Colorful, textural stews, kabobs and basmati rice dishes served in subtly elegant surroundings. The staff is happy to tell you all about their native cuisine if you show the slightest interest. $$

Persepolis, 6435-B Roswell Road. If Persian cuisine is unfamiliar to you, this cool and comfortable Sandy Springs restaurant provides a friendly introduction. Some flavors, like the sauteed eggplant appetizer, may be too rich for some palates, but the musto-khiar cucumber-yogurt dip is cool and refreshing, and the kebabs will mostly satisfy one's cravings for grilled beef, chicken, shrimp and particularly lamb. The complimentary flatbreads -- warm, chewy and flaky on the outside -- are a highlight.

Vinings/Smyrna

Canoe, 4199 Paces Ferry Road, 770-432-2663. Cushy yet cozy decor, riverside location, innovative menu, sort of New American/ Continental. Don't even think of going without reservations. $$$

Great American Soup Co., 4686 S. Atlanta Road, 404-792-7687. Eight soups available daily from recipes that total well over 250, you never know what you'll get. No matter what the variety, you know it'll be a pick-me-up on any cold, rainy day. $

SoHo, 4200 Paces Ferry Road, 770-801-0069. Cleverly conceived, albeit ding-dong loud, shopping center bistro with pricey fusion menu. $$$

Uncle Bud's, 725 Concord Road, 770-434-1881. Updated, corporatized catfish barn, replacing two franchise stores, serves reliable, affordable catfish meals with all the fixings, including memorably good hushpuppies and cole slaw. Swift, upbeat service and squeaky-clean (if a little too kuntry-kute) surroundings add to the family-style fun. $$

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