A plate of four tacos from El Rey Del Taco, including goat barbacoa (foreground) and buche, or pig stomach (background). CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
A novelist friend of mine is fond, as some writers are, of going to a bar and having one too many. After a certain number, I always expect him to say four magic words: El Rey Del Taco (5288 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-986-0032, elreydeltacoatl.com). It doesn't matter what part of town he is in. Once he gets the idea in his head, he cannot let go of it. He dials up an Uber and heads off to El Rey Del Taco.
I’ve seen people try to reason with him. They say that an Uber ride will take too long, or that the bar he is sitting in serves food, too. The trouble is, he knows that there is no other food in Atlanta that can satisfy a craving for El Rey Del Taco. No doubt, that’s why the restaurant always is packed at that hour, serving plate upon plate of tacos with their distinctive homemade corn tortillas. At noon, there might be a reasonable argument to be had about what is the best taqueria in Atlanta. But, past midnight, there is no place that serves carnitas, al pastor, lengua and buche the way that El Rey does.
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That calculation is almost too true for Pho 24 (4646 Buford Highway, Chamblee. 770-710-0178, pho24chamblee.com). I can say definitively that there are better bowls of pho to be had in the metro area. Yet, there's something about the atmosphere of this 24-hour restaurant that has kept me coming back over the years. The crowd always seems to be an unusual mix: hospital workers coming off their late shift, teens hanging out past their curfews, a quiet couple enjoying a moment, some guy who just couldn't sleep. They all come here for a big bowl of warm, aromatic broth, beef and noodles. It's nothing fancy, but it satisfies.
Hae Woon Dae may be the oldest Korean barbecue restaurant on Buford Highway. AJC FILE
I would be remiss if I did not mention Hae Woon Dae (5805 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-458-6999, Facebook: Hae Woon Dae Korean BBQ), perhaps the oldest Korean barbecue restaurant on Buford Highway. This style of cooking has become fashionable lately, with dozens of KBBQ restaurants around town offering some gimmick or variation on the cuisine. They pump loud music, or serve up fruity cocktails, or install bizarrely complicated ventilation systems. Yet, Hae Woon Dae seems never to change. The doors stay open until 6 a.m. The tables are always spread with little bowls of banchan. The grills are always loaded up with glowing, hot red charcoal. The beef bulgogi is always sticky with thick salty-sweet sauce. The smoky cooking goes late, late into the night.