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Highway to heaven 

A primer to the city's principal treasure trove of ethnic eats

Page 2 of 3

-- CW
5805 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-458-6999.

Havana Sandwich Shop

I first ate at this cinderblock cafe in a former Christmas tree lot literally a few days after it opened in February 1976. A five-year marriage to a Cuban woman -- I should say to a Cuban family -- gave me an intense love of that culture's cooking ... and nobody to cook it for me after the divorce. So, I've been ignoring the funky ambiance and eating the delicious home-style cooking here more than 25 years. I still like the classic Cuban sandwich (pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles) with a side of mellow black beans best. (And, with the beans, I prefer the white rice over the fancy yellow rice.) Also good are plates of boliche (Cuban pot roast), picadillo and sides of yuca and fried sweet bananas.

-- Cliff Bostock
2905 Buford Highway, 404-636-4094.

La Churreria

Finally given up on all that high-protein hoo-ha? Then take a celebratory trek to La Churreria for some Columbian baked goods. Glossy, yeasty treats beckon from cooling racks and shelves. The real finds here, though, are the caliente items displayed in the case at the counter. Nary a word of English is spoken here, so come armed with a choice list of vocabulary words. Pan de bono is the South American cousin to France's gougere: a hot puff of satiny, cheesy bread. Sublime empanadas, golden and crispy, are stuffed with a cumin-tinged mixture of beef and potato. And don't miss the bakery's namesake: churros rellenos -- warm, braided doughnuts slicked with melty glaze. Carbs rule.

-- BA
5730 Buford Highway, Norcross, 678-646-0421.

Las Palmas

"Your brain will not work," says the hand-lettered anti-smoking sign at this cheerful Nicaraguan restaurant. But your taste buds will be humming when you sample fare like the nacatamal, a cornmeal tamal cooked for hours with a filling of pork marinated in achiote, garlic and citric flavors. Another good starter is sauteed, spicy red beans with crema, served with sticky fried bananas. The standout entree may be the churrasco, grilled skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce of parsley, garlic and olive oil. We normally associate the dish with Argentina, but it actually originated in Nicaragua. Weekends, there are esoteric specials like mondongo (tripe soup) and chicken soup with meatballs, potato stew and salpicòn -- minced meat with green peppers and onions.

-- CB
4005 Buford Highway, 404-634-0589.

Little Szechuan

Little Szechuan might be a bit worse for the wear -- it's windowless and home to a staff whose conduct varies between brusque and hostile -- but there is no better place for Chinese food inside the Perimeter. The menu boasts more than 250 items, ranging from crowd-pleasing white meat chicken with broccoli to the sizzling pork intestines for the adventurous. Buck up and abandon your food phobias here -- trying some of the odder-sounding dishes has its gustatory awards. Have a go at the fresh, toothsome jellyfish salad; the outrageously dark, rich and tender beef tendons; or the nutty, pungent, stir-fried string beans.

-- CW
5091-C Buford Highway, Doraville,770-451-0192.

Mozart Cafe and Bakery

Inveterate explorers of Buford Highway know this Korean bakery as its former name, Boulangerie. Under new owners, the moniker's accent may have switched from French to Austrian, but it's still the same quirky tea-parlor-meets-Twilight-Zone speakeasy filled with rows of Asian sweets. Bonus: The labels on the packages now have English as well. Peruse shiny buns filled with sweet potato, coffee bean cream and red bean paste. Nibble on vanilla sponge cake, walnut-chocolate squares and sweet green bean pastries. What's this? Opium cookies? Don't get your hopes up: It's shortbread covered in poppy seeds. Giggling, hopelessly friendly cashiers ring you up, ensuring you walk out the door with your own lopsided grin.

-- BA
5301 Buford Highway, Doraville,770-936-8726.

New Paradise

First things first: The moment you sit down at this under-appreciated Cantonese spot wedged between two auto centers, ask for the Chinese menu, the portal leading beyond the standard Kung Pao and moo shu dishes. (Don't worry -- the Chinese menu is translated in English as well.) At a recent meal, our kindly server with an obvious passion for food directed us to greens in a gentle oyster sauce; Singapore rice noodles sparked with curry; and steaming, carefully crafted siu mai and har gow dumplings. If Dungeness crab is listed as a special, do not hesitate to order one. Your hard work with a nutcracker and tiny fork will be rewarded with gorgeous lumps of sweet, silky meat.

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