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Beyond the hotspots: Dining suggestions for Buford Highway enthusiasts

As is the case with any food phenomenon, not all restaurants share the spotlight equally. Attention is repeatedly pulled to the same few places. Some offer a truly special experience. A good example from Buford Highway is Sushi Hayakawa, where chef Art Hayakawa has won universal acclaim for his skill and meticulous ingredient sourcing.

Other times, a lucky restaurant may get swept up in the constant culinary news media churn: a burst of notice followed by good word-of-mouth and popularity that feeds on itself.

Buford Highway, subject of our most recent Fall Dining Guide, has suffered no lack of coverage. And despite the depth of our guide on an area lined with diverse and delicious global restaurants, it’s nearly impossible to cover every eatery that deserves attention. However, the true mark of a genuine culinary destination is not made by the superstars.

It’s the layers beneath that top, most visible one that make certain locations into food meccas. When you get the sense that any restaurant you visit might have something unique and wonderful to offer, you know you’ve arrived at a dining “destination.”

So let’s head back to Buford Highway and try out some different places. When you visit these overlooked restaurants, you might be surprised by how familiar they feel.

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The Ma Po Tofu at Xin’s Chinese Cuisine is a classic that’s executed very well. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS (For the AJC)

If you love: Masterpiece

Don’t overlook: Xin’s Chinese Cuisine

Masterpiece is commonly acknowledged to be one of the best restaurants in town — no modifiers necessary. And while the praise is deserved, it would be a mistake to look past another very similar restaurant located in the same strip mall on Buford Highway: Xin’s Chinese Cuisine. Though Xin’s is smaller than Masterpiece, the understated decor and outrageous Szechuan flavors bear a strong resemblance to its more famous next-door neighbor. The Ma Po Tofu at Xin’s, a good measuring stick dish for Szechuan joints, buzzes with the region’s famous peppercorns and is shot through with pleasant flavors of citrus. It’s an excellent take on a Chinese classic that stands apart from other versions around town.

Xin’s Chinese Cuisine, 3940 Buford Highway, Duluth. 770-418-1382.

The fish spicy pot at Xin’s Chinese Cuisine, which includes crispy fried fish, wood ear mushrooms, lotus root, peanuts and a secret chile oil blend, is the most popular item on the menu. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS (For the AJC)

If you love: Plaza Fiesta

Don’t overlook: Norcross Village Shopping Center

You can’t miss Plaza Fiesta: It’s big, bright, historic and it is regularly the site of traveling fairs and their illuminated thrill rides and tents. Known as a bastion for Latin American restaurants, not to mention a solid Ethiopian place called Cafe Arbol, Plaza Fiesta is a culinary destination in its own right. But farther north on Buford Highway is smaller version with a somewhat less celebratory name: Norcross Village Shopping Center. It’s home to D’Cuban Cafe, an excellent little restaurant serving a long list of Cuban-style sandwiches and cafes con leche, as well as the underappreciated Sabores del Plata, home to meat-centric Uruguayan cuisine. Next door, get your Peruvian seafood fix at Costa Verde, or visit Super Mercado Jalisco to buy some authentic Latin American ingredients so you can try your hand at Hispanic cooking at home.

Norcross Village Shopping Center, 6200 Buford Highway, Norcross.

Cakes and confections behind the glass at White Windmill bakery on Buford Highway. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS (For the AJC)

If you love: Sweet Hut

Don’t overlook: White Windmill

Buford Highway is home to a modern bakery with a full selection of coffee drinks, jewel-like pastries glittering in glass cases and a large, attractive dining room filled with chatting customers. This could easily describe Sweet Hut, the popular Asian bakery chain that’s expanded across Atlanta, but we’re actually at White Windmill, a relative newcomer to Buford Highway. One wonderful aspect of White Windmill is the generous baskets of samples they put among their pastries, which allow you to taste some items that might be unfamiliar before committing to a full purchase. Grab an espresso and nibble at a few samples while you browse the array of gorgeously decorated cakes, and you’ll feel more like you’re at an art gallery than a bakery.

White Windmill Bakery, 5881 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-234-0914, wwindmill.com.

Iced matcha tea with a milk cap from Kung Fu Tea. This type of drink is also called cheese tea. CONTRIBUTED BY DANNY KIM / KUNG FU TEA (For the AJC)

If you love: Bubble tea

Don’t overlook: Cheese tea

Yes, cheese tea has a different name — it can also be called milk cap tea, but that doesn’t sound as weird or fun. And while milk cap tea is likely to sell a lot better than cheese tea, the takeaway here is that the two names refer to the same thing. A mixture of milk, cream and a version of cream cheese is beaten or shaken to create a frothy foam that is spooned on top of a tea drink, sort of like a cappuccino. For those seeking a change from bubble tea, cheese tea provides a drinking experience with varied textures without the pearlescent bubbles. This drink is available at a variety of cafes, but a fun place to order it is Kung Fu Tea. At this hip tea shop, a special machine shakes the living daylights out of your drink to create the milk cap. It’s fun to watch, listen to and drink, all for the price of a coffee shop espresso.

Kung Fu Tea, 5280 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-8585, kungfutea.com.

If you love: American fast food

Don’t overlook: Baldino’s and Martin’s

If you find yourself on Buford Highway with a hankering for something quick, there are a couple of small American fast-food chains worth a stop. Baldino’s Giant Jersey Subs makes huge, classic sandwiches with fresh, cut-to-order deli meat. When you walk through the door, it feels like you’ve passed from Buford Highway onto a Jersey beach boardwalk. A similar throwback feel is on hand down the street at Martin’s, a classic hamburger chain that recalls the Midwestern Culver’s, a much larger chain that’s been making its way south. The play at Martin’s is breakfast, which is centered around biscuits. The scratch-made biscuits can be dressed up with a variety of breakfast meats, including old-school options like smoked sausage and pork tenderloin. Even when it comes to classic Americana, Buford Highway restaurants don’t disappoint.

Baldino’s Giant Jersey Subs, 5697 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-8570, baldinos.us.

Martin’s, 6350 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross. 770-448-4148, martinsrestaurants.com.

Read the 2018 AJC Fall Dining Guide: Dining on Buford Highway 

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