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Bacchanalia, 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-365-0410. 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. L, D $$$$
Food Studio, The, 887 W. Marietta St., Studio K-102, 404-815-6677. A gourmet outpost amid the warehouses and rail yards of West Atlanta, The Food Studio has factory-chic decor and severely hip servers. The kitchen shows a fancy but fine grasp of American regional cuisine, from New York strip steaks to pan-seared striped bass, with the attention to detail extending to the two kinds of cream cheese accompanying the breadbasket. With Actor's Express playhouse as a neighbor, it's also a nice spot for drinks before or after the theater. D $$$
Mondo Bakery, 750 Huff 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. B, L $
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. $$
Costa del Sol, 6265 Jimmy Carter Blvd., 770-840-6040. Central American cuisine includes Salvadoran, Honduran and Ecuadoran as well as more familiar Mexican-oriented items. No matter, the must-eat are the pupusas -- a pancake-like item filled with gooey cheese and meat. $$$
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.
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. $$$$
Song Thai, 6470 Spalding Drive, Suite B, 770-449-5515. It may be an average Thai restaurant, but that only reflects how high the average is for Atlanta-area Thai places. For a small spot in a generic strip mall, Song Thai boasts a handsome interior and artfully-presented entrees. Some of the dishes sampled tend toward sweetness, like the Jungle Curry with mussels and pineapple, but the Green Curry Catfish is fried and mixed with real finesse. $$
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. L, D $$