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Good Eats 

Our critics' guide to Atlanta restaurants

Page 2 of 8

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. D $$$

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. D $$$$

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. $$$

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. $$

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. L, D $

La Grotta Ristorante Italiano, 2637 Peachtree Road, 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. D $$$$

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. D $$$$

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'Keeffe 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. L, D $$$$

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. L, D $$

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. L, D $$

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.) It's also a good place for wild and free youth to load up on carbs before bar-hopping their way through Buckhead. L, D $

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. L, D $$

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. $$

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