Editor's Note: Radial Cafe and Ronaldo's Resto Bar have closed since this tour was published
Eating in College Park is an all-chill, no-frills experience. Nothing about this place is contrived. Rather, it’s a refreshing pocket of Atlanta, one filled with people who couldn’t care less about the tragically hip — and overpriced — Inman Quarter, or the glitz and glamour of Buckhead. Here, it is locals, and perhaps airport workers, just looking to fill up.
And you can fill up in College Park — be it over a plate of barbecue (Barbecue Kitchen), takeout from a crab shack (Crab Pot), a pint and loaded fries at a pub easily mistaken for a cottage (the Manchester Arms) or with daily specials and a menu board of sides at a diner (Lunch on Main Street).
College Park dates back to 1846. It was incorporated some 45 years later, but this area of southwest Atlanta has changed over the years, with farmland being replaced by a shopping center as late as the 1980s, recalled one dining partner who has lived in College Park her entire life. These days, College Park is most associated with neighboring Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and as home to prestigious Woodward Academy. When considered through a dining lens, this city of roughly 15,000 residents is seeing activity in the form of a handful of new eateries on Main Street like Greek cafe Kafenio, farm-to-table Radial Cafe, Mexican lunch spot Ronaldo’s and soon-to-open Hattie Marie’s, which promises Texas-style barbecue along with Cajun bites, plus the recently remodeled Corner Grille. Just be sure to check hours if you plan to dine in this part of town at night or on weekends.
The core of restaurant options lie on Main Street and Virginia Avenue. Both roads also transition quickly into East Point. For this story, we’re staying within College Park city limits. Look for a food tour of East Point in the coming weeks. (Find our dining tour of Hapeville, the other city in the Tri-Cities equation, here.)
Barbecue Kitchen opened in 1958. With its pitched roof reminiscent of an IHOP (founded that same year) and original wooden booths, you’d think it was still 1958. But old school is so good when you walk into a place and can smell its soul. That soul would be smoked meat. So do yourself a favor and order the barbecue platter. It can be half pork-half beef. It can be all barbecued pork. It can be ribs. It all comes with baked beans, Brunswick stew, coleslaw, a pickle and fresh, house-made bread.
About that bread: The menu tells you to choose between hot biscuits, corn muffins or Mexican corn muffins studded with rings of hot chile peppers. In truth, everyone gets a basket of all three. Love me some Barbecue Kitchen bread basket.
1437 Virginia Ave., College Park. 404-766-9906, Facebook: Barbecue Kitchen.
Bole Ethiopian Restaurant
Now going on seven years in a nondescript strip mall next to a cemetery on Virginia Avenue, Bole Ethopian is an option for diners seeking ethnic eats — and the satisfaction of eating with their hands.
The Single Order Sampler is an excellent way to taste a variety of Ethopian staples. The “bit of this, bit of that” includes portions of beef tibs (marinated beef cubes sauteed with vegetables), awaze tibs (a version that brings the heat of a red pepper paste) and mini portions of numerous vegetable and lentil preparations atop spongy injera bread that sops up stewy juices and doubles as your utensil.
Another worthy order is the Bole Special Kitfo. The dish brings a bowl of beef tartare seasoned with mitmita (a fiery hot chili powder), house-made ayib (a mild Ethiopian cheese with a texture similar to cottage cheese) and collard greens.
1650 Virginia Ave., College Park. 404-549-9111, boleethiopianrestaurantco.com.
Atlanta pines for the old, sometimes needlessly. In this case, quit pining for the old Pecan restaurant. That upscale Southern establishment was replaced this summer with Radial Cafe. As at Radial’s first location in Candler Park, it dishes up casual yet chef-y vittles for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. And Radial Cafe has done a commendable job adding its own personality to this inherited space of wood floors and brick walls.
Vegetarians, vegans and those who adhere to a gluten-free diet will all find plenty to pick from off this new Southern menu. Besides numerous clean-eating options (try the crispy tofu with tataki mushrooms, edamame and a tangle of sprouts with a Thai peanut dressing), Radial keeps locavores content by sourcing local, sustainably grown and raised food.
Don’t miss the fried green tomatoes that take Doux South’s already great pickled green tomatoes to new heights. The vegetarian biscuits and gravy is recommendable; order it with the house-made veggie sausage (that tricked my own carnivorous husband). Oh, and the cinnamon roll. Everyone needs this cinnamon roll in their life.
3725 Main St., College Park. 470-312-2954, radialcafe.com.
Ronaldo’s Resto Bar
Open just a matter of weeks, this newbie on Main Street offers a weekday, lunch-only menu of tacos, tostadas and quesadillas with your choice of beef, chicken, carnitas, shrimp or veggies.
The scratch kitchen gets a thumbs-up for its veggie taco headlined by grilled summer squash and zucchini, and shredded chicken that holds some nice smoke. Tacos come with a handful of house-made tortilla chips (fresh, but absent of the oil and salt that could make them addictive), a thin, smoky salsa and warm queso.
Whatever you order here, finish with the sopapillas. They are the crispiest, cracker-y-est, lightest version of these fried pastry puffs that I can recall tasting. Thankfully, Ronaldo’s drizzles, instead of douses, them with honey; the better to enjoy the light cinnamon-sugar coating.
Look for more sweet treats in the near future when the shop opens in the morning as Ronaldo’s Coffee Cantina to help the coffee crowd get their caffeine fix. (At night, the owners head next door to handle the dinner and drink crowd at their Duck Club Speakeasy).
3719 Main St., College Park. http://ronaldos-resto-bar.business.site.
Urban Foodie Feed Store
Once a feed store, always a feed store — even if the focus shifts from hens to humans. Urban Foodie injects bold flavor into its Southern fare. Start off right with an order of Dylan’s Chicken & Waffles. Chicken comes in the form of a half dozen wings swathed in a finger-licking lime-pepper wing sauce and swiped with ancho-chile ranch. This dish doesn’t even need the chile-bacon waffle and pitcher of syrup to succeed.
Lunch is filling, with more than a half-dozen thoughtful sandwiches, like the Main St. Clucker and Eve’s Garden Stack. The former is a chicken sandwich topped with tomato, bacon-onion jam, pepper jack cheese and avocado with thyme aioli on a pretzel bun. The latter is a change-up from the average veg sandwich: A thick slice of fried green tomato gets stuffed with goat cheese and tossed in that same zinger of a lime-pepper sauce used for the wings before it hits the fryer. They’ll ask what side you want with that sammie. The answer is Idaho fries.
3841 E. Main St., College Park. 404-209-7979, urbanfoodie-eats.com
MORE METRO ATLANTA FOOD TOURS:
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