The AJC fall dining guide: 2-star restaurants

The kitchen has taken the traditional Korean shaved ice dessert and gone to town with Southern-inflected add-ons. Different versions come with peach ice cream, pear compote, salty snack crackers, homemade rice taffy and fizzy “shock rocks” — all are captivating. (1788 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 678-705-4233, sobban.com)
Caption
The kitchen has taken the traditional Korean shaved ice dessert and gone to town with Southern-inflected add-ons. Different versions come with peach ice cream, pear compote, salty snack crackers, homemade rice taffy and fizzy “shock rocks” — all are captivating. (1788 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 678-705-4233, sobban.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Antebellum

Flowery Branch has a little-known gem in Antebellum. Venture beyond your typical dinner driving radius to step back in time with this town’s refurbished 1890s home-turned-restaurant. At Antebellum, chef-owner Nicholas St. Clair presents his non-native take on Southern cuisine in a playful and refreshing way, breaking the rut that eventually marks many farm-to-table spots. Innovative combinations with a sophisticated layering of flavors and expert seasoning are the hallmarks of this chef. Revel in dishes like the creamy cabbage soup dotted with pickled mustard seeds and rich cubes of fried pork belly. So, gas up the SUV and make the trek out to Flowery Branch.

5510 Church St., Flowery Branch. 770-965-8100, antebellumrestaurant.com.

Better Half

If ever there was a restaurant not getting the attention it deserves, it’s this one. Better Half is where some of our town’s most interesting culinary happenings are going down. And it’s where you’ll find chef Zach Meloy building intricately delicate flavors by blending classic and modern techniques. It’s where you can wear your dressy jeans but still get a meal worthy of a high-end experience. You’ll marvel at the attention to each minute detail and the meticulous, artistic plating coming out of Better Half’s kitchen.

349 14th St., Atlanta. 404-695-4547, betterhalfatl.com.

Bo Bo Garden

Here’s the always reliable real-deal Cantonese restaurant that every city needs. Start with a trio of gossamer-skinned dumplings, and make sure to ask what green vegetables are in the house. You’ll need a claypot, a dark and burbly soul-warmer stuffed with eggplant, or oysters with pork belly and meaty shiitakes, or maybe slips of beef rib. Then, do you want a whole fish or a lobster? Definitely a lobster. On a cold day, get it in a massive bowl of congee, but when it warms up look for the “Mexican-style” stir fry that scorches the lips.

5181 Buford Highway, Doraville. 678-547-1881, no website.

The Butcher, the Baker

The Butcher, the Baker is a fresh voice on the Marietta square. At this farm-to-table restaurant, everyone comes by choice, not because everything else on the square was full. Chef Micah Pfister (the butcher) successfully crafts dishes of great complexity. He masterfully extracts maximum flavor from items like the trout with ham broth served over green garlic risotto and pickled fava beans. Pfister’s wife Katie (the baker) produces daily baskets of baker’s yeast buns and soft focaccia flavored with ingredients like garlic, onion and parmesan. She also wo-mans the dessert kitchen, offering sweet expressions of the season’s bounty.

23 N. Park Square, Marietta. 678-224-1599, eatlocaleatbetter.com.

Campania

There are no better Neapolitan pies in the burbs than the thin, wet pizzas dotted with blistered dough bubbles made in Campania’s imported, custom-made wood-burning oven. This is no longer Alpharetta’s best-kept secret. Word is out that Campania offers an experience beyond the bare-bones pizza-slinging shops. This customer-friendly, upscale pizza palace also offers a selection of fresh salads, charcuterie and Italian specialties like velvety San Marzano soup and tender veal meatballs. While you wait (because you will have to wait), you’ll find a comfortable place at the dark-wood-toned bar to settle in with a housemade limoncello.

800 N. Main St., Alpharetta. 770-559-4674, campaniaga.com.

Chai Pani

This Asheville transplant — bright with Bollywood movie posters and cheerful in a way that’s all too rare in Indian restaurants — serves its creative take on Indian street food. Keep in the spirit and snack your way through the menu, starting with Sev Potato Dahi Puri (SPDP), crisp golf-ball shells filled with crunchy noodles, chickpeas, onions, potato and chutneys. They’re like savory chocolate-covered cherries. Kale pakoras, a fantastic salad of fresh corn and corn flakes, and matchstick okra fries also earn plaudits. If you need a real meal, there’s a vegetarian and meat thali of the day. Added bonus: The cocktails are banging.

406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-378-4030, chaipanidecatur.com.

Chuy’s

We expect all kinds of grief for the inclusion of this kitsch chain, but let’s just get it out there: No other restaurant in Atlanta makes Tex-Mex food that’s as good. The fresh flour tortillas come hot and savory off the conveyor belt and the thin corn chips with tangy salsa prove irresistible. You can discern the char of roasting in the green chile sauce; it tastes so good on a stack of blue corn tortillas with pulled chicken and sour cream. Then there’s that tortilla soup, rich with avocado and popping with fresh corn kernels. It’s the best $8 meal in town.

118 Perimeter Center West, Atlanta. 770-351-7777, chuys.com. (A second location recently opened in Kennesaw.)

El Rey del Taco

We’re a little late to the love fest for this Buford Highway standby, but better late than never. Here’s where you go for Mexican street tacos. Spend a little more for handmade tortillas (or a little less for mini tortillas, which permit you to try more flavors). We’re partial to the chorizo (spicy sausage) and cabeza (tender beef cheek) among the dozen meats (and mushrooms). But don’t miss the flor de calabaza (zucchini flower) quesadillas, which come crisp and oozy off the grill, ringed in a halo of crisply burnt cheese. Service is so sweet and welcoming that regulars often get a hug.

5288 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-986-0032, taqueriaelreydeltaco.com.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

We can quibble about the consistency at this super-high-volume institution, and we sometimes tire of the fatso stunt food (The Lopez — a brick of tater tots smothered in chili and cheese). But whenever it’s time to show an out-of-towner Atlanta or scratch that itch for smoke, meat and good times, there’s nowhere like the brothers’ place. Luscious strips of brisket, heaps of pulled pork piled on a bun, and how about a side of macaroni and cheese. Is it fried? Bring it.

1238 DeKalb Ave., Atlanta. 404-577-4030, foxbrosbbq.com.

Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano

For a soul-satisfying meal, Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano is your place. This no-frills bill of fare starts with a bright, seasoned salad of fresh greens dressed with lemon and oil. Next come generous portions of chicken in brothy bowls accompanied by fat potato wedges and squares of focaccia to drench in the golden stock. It’s all about that glistening broth, delightful on its own, but even better with flavor accents. Try the Scarpariello, a medley of sausage, spicy peppers and sliced cipollini onions that make it all the richer. While the chicken at Gio’s is simple, with few ingredients, the flavors are anything but. These rustic Italian dishes translate into some of the most brilliant comfort foods. You won’t leave hungry.

1099 Hemphill Ave. N.W., Atlanta. 404-347-3874, littleitalia.com.

Grand Champion BBQ

Sometimes the best places are the hardest to find. Such may be the case with Grand Champion BBQ, which is hidden in a shopping strip in the far reaches of Roswell. Here, in this modest barbecue joint, you won’t meet a meat you don’t like. But, a little secret: You can get a mean smoked brisket, moist enough without either of the two sauces. Second tip: Go all in on the sides like the gently sweetened beans or the smoky, well-balanced Brunswick stew. Also, try the collards, made with smoked ham hocks, whose subtle flavors provide the perfect complement to the burst of greenness.

4401 Shallowford Road, Roswell. 770-587-4227, gcbbq.net.

Gu’s Bistro

We’re all waiting for the opening of Gu’s Dumplings, the family’s foray into Krog Street Market, where they’ll be serving their flavor-packed Szechuan cooking to an appreciative intown crowd. But that’ll never distract us from the Buford Highway original, a restaurant that can make a fan out of everyone who walks through its door. Start with the Chongqing spicy chicken — nuggets of flavor-packed bird nestled with whole chili pods in a foil-lined serving dish that collects the hot oil runoff. But don’t ignore the fat Zhong-style dumplings, the sauteed peppers with black vinegar and the Luo Jiang dried tofu, a kind of bean jerky that glistens with chili oil and prickles with the buzz of Sichuan peppercorns.

5750 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-451-8118, gusbistro.com.

Heirloom Market BBQ

Barely a restaurant anymore, Heirloom Market serves a carryout crowd. Meanwhile, chef-spouses Cody Taylor, a Tennessee native, and Jiyeon Lee, a former Korean pop star, focus much of their attention on Sobban, their “Korean Southern diner,” where their efforts at culinary fusion take a different turn. But that barbecue! It remains a destination. While we’ve got good things to say about all the meats, as well as the cast-iron hamburger, it all comes down to the pork sandwich, slow-smoked and topped with kimchi coleslaw. It’s a gift for the face.

2243 Akers Mill Road, Atlanta. 770-612-2502, heirloommarketbbq.com.

Home Grown GA

Sometimes, you just want some honest Southern cooking like your grandmother made (but better). That’s what you’ll find at Home Grown GA. This weathered, diner-esque spot serves breakfast and lunch each day with a mess of rib-sticking fare like Kevin’s breakfast, a supersized plate of cheese grits slathered with chili and topped with two fried eggs. The restaurant even grows some of its own produce in the garden out back, which is appropriate for a spot known for its veggie plate. It’s come-as-you-are and you-get-what-you-get at this humble hotspot.

968 Memorial Drive, Atlanta. 404-222-0455, homegrownga.com.

Honey Pig

We’ve had our affair with Iron Age, the hipstery all-you-can-eat pork belly house that is decked out like a North Korean labor camp. But we keep coming back to the Pig, which is great for groups, great for out-of-towners, and the inevitable choice when we head to Duluth with the goal of poking around but can’t resist. On your first visit, ask your server to give you the lowdown as he prepares the kimchi and bean sprouts on your table cooker. As the cooking aromas bloom, you’ll eagerly await the moment you can slide tiles of sam-gyup-sal (marinated Kurobuta pork belly) into the sweet marinated radish slices or sticky sheets of rice paper. Just save room for the best-in-show fried rice, made with all the drippings and stuck-on bits from your dinner.

3473 Old Norcross Road, Duluth. 770-476-9292, honeypigatl.com.

Kimball House

Recently named the best new restaurant in the South by Southern Living, this rehab of Decatur’s old train depot has been a sensation from Day One. We’ll admit to liking, rather than falling head over heels, for the edgy stylings of the menu, though you can make a meal of whatever sausage and vegetable dishes catch your eye on the ever-changing list. But the boutique oysters are unparalleled in variety and presentation. (Go before 7 p.m. on a weeknight and they’re half-price, to boot.) The cocktail bar also may be the most balanced, most beautiful and most carefully constructed in town, each one a small treasure. This restaurant makes you happy.

303 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-378-3502, kimball-house.com.

Little Bangkok

This cramped little Cheshire Bridge Road restaurant turns 20 this year, which we guess officially makes it a fixture. In a city filled with glitzy but often soulless venues for the Southeast Asian cuisine, this homey spot stands out. Regulars know to double-park their cars in the tiny lot, and they don’t mind waiting by the entrance for a table. Service doesn’t miss a beat, and the familiar Thai-Chinese dishes taste a bit more homemade than they do elsewhere. Try the fish sauce-pungent versions of nam sod — ground pork salad with roasted peanuts and needles of fresh ginger that you scoop up in cabbage cups. Curries have an appealing balance of hot, sour, salty, rich and sweet (but not overly so) flavors. The rainbow curry of duck with a panoply of colorful veggies may remind you why you once loved Thai food.

2225 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta. 404-315-1530, littlebangkokatlanta.com.

Local Republic

Ask anyone in the Lawrenceville-Gwinnett area where the foodies go and they’ll tell you Local Republic. That’s the gastropub sitting on the historic Lawrenceville square. If you live in that area, it’s where you can get craft beer and locally sourced victuals without a drive. The restaurant serves elevated pub grub with a twist. It has made a menu of its burgers, with everything from pimento cheese to fried eggs and ghost pepper salsa. Also, sample small plates like the lamb belly with a red-wine reduction or dig into mains like the tender pork cheeks with a savory cheddar-jalapeno tamale.

225 W. Crogan St., Lawrenceville. 678-205-4782, thelocalrepublic.com.

Local Three

With its fondness for kitsch art and “The Big Lebowski” references, it might be easy to dismiss Local Three as a cheerful if nonserious restaurant, more interested in getting the bourbon poured and the chatter cranked up. But chef-owner Chris Hall takes the local and seasonal credo very seriously, even as he has fun with it. We had to call the waitress over when the lamb loin we had ordered arrived as a gloppy stew set over polenta and topped with greens and onions in a creamy, garlicky dressing. She apologized profusely for the mistake, saying the kitchen insists on using up every bit of the whole animal, and the preparation is subject to change. No worries: It was the best stew we’ve eaten in forever. His brunch, during which customers go into the kitchen and help themselves, is worth knowing about, too.

3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta. 404-968-2700, localthree.com.

Lusca

OK, Lusca is a little quirky and there’s a lot going on. But the restaurant has a unique voice and thus holds an important position in our dining landscape. You’ll need to keep an open mind here and be prepared to explore unusual flavors, pairings and ingredients. The experience will be as intellectual as it is visceral. You’ll want to fully consider kitchen offerings and combinations as you jump from nigiri to forcemeats laced with little treasures like sour cherries or white wine gelée. One course may bring a metallic uni with buttery tagliatelle, and the next a simple, whole-roasted branzino. For the most part, you’ll find Lusca refreshingly playful if you can keep an open mind.

1829 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta. 678-705-1486, luscaatl.com.

Miller Union

We can’t talk about this sophisticated Southern bistro without sounding a little schizophrenic. We love the subtle, well-considered tone of a dish one time and find our meal a bit of a snooze the next. We’ve never quite gotten the love for the signature baked egg in celery cream, but then find a vegetable plate that tastes closer to market-fresh than any in town. Chef-owner Steven Satterfield makes magic with rabbit and pork cheeks, and you never leave this restaurant feeling like you’ve overindulged in hidden fat. Co-owner Neal McCarthy’s wine list is one of the best in town, if your tastes run to Old World reds that don’t cost a fortune, and wine remains a major part of dining success at this lovely restaurant.

999 Brady Ave., Atlanta. 678-733-8550, millerunion.com.

Muss & Turner’s

Muss & Turners, which opened in 2005 as a gourmet deli, has since expanded into a full-service bistro and wine-and-beer haven, with a speakeasy-style bar (Eleanor’s) attached. The Big Green Egg-outfitted kitchen turns out dishes like smoked brisket sandwiches with fried tobacco onion rings by day, and buttermilk fried quail by night. The beverage menu, with a range of beer and wine options, is made more approachable by the thoughtful descriptions. The beauty of this restaurant’s transformation over the years is that it retains its comfortable, casual roots, making it a perfect addition to Smyrna’s community.

1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna. 770-434-1114, mussandturners.com.

Nam Phuong

The smaller, more casual branch on Buford Highway of Nam Phuong serves as a destination for pho, salads and chicken wings to dream about. The Norcross original, however, is a Vietnamese restaurant with an ambition unmatched by any in town. The multi-page menu offers a virtual tour of Vietnam, with more than a little lip service given to the Chinese dishes popular in that Southeast Asia country. It can be daunting, but you won’t go wrong ordering bun hoi — a kind of DIY summer roll factory. If that’s too much work, the pho noodle soup ranks among the best in town.

4051 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 404-633-2400; 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross. 770-409-8686, namphuongatlanta.com.

One Eared Stag

People who eat out a lot and chase dining trends love this place. Chef Robert Phalen cooks with a kind of wit you never see anywhere else. He might place fried quail, guinea fowl, chicken and goose eggs on a plate, like something out of a Dr. Seuss illustration. He might top a marrow bone with smoked razor clams or roast a whole tuna collar that’s so big it wouldn’t fit on your Thanksgiving turkey platter. (Get it, if available.) A recent menu features something called Dumpster salad, which surely tastes better than it sounds. He falters, then charms, then amazes. His crab risotto, which gets seasonal garnishes, might engender its own religion.

1029 Edgewood Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-525-4479, oneearedstag.com.

Osteria Mattone

Out of all the rockin’ restaurants on Roswell’s Canton Street, Osteria Mattone has the most presence and the broadest appeal. Restaurateur Ryan Pernice has crafted such a seamless dining experience that you won’t be sure whether you most appreciated the restaurant’s understated elegance, polished service, Eurocentric wine list, nuanced Italian fare, or the well-crafted desserts. As the weather cools, the restaurant’s front patio will be the perfect place to enjoy a bowl of lentil stew with housemade sausage or one of the pastas, like the agnolotti di oxo with a buttery oxtail filling. Dare we say that the experience at Osteria Mattone belies its suburban location?

1095 Canton St., Roswell. 678-878-3378, osteriamattone.com.

Quoc Huong Banh Mi Fast Food

Vietnamese sandwiches don’t get any better than at this cash-only spot where the four or five very busy ladies who run the joint shout across the din. If you can get a seat, have a bowl of cinnamon- and star anise-heavy pho with a sandwich on the side. (We recommend going right after it opens at 11 a.m.; pho for late breakfast is not at all uncommon in Vietnam.) But you might just want a bag of sandwiches to go — some with barbecued pork or chicken, others with a combination of cold cuts and liver pate, and some with hot scrambled eggs. The bread is always warmed and crisp, the pickled veggies bright, the seasoning hinting at Maggi, and the pepper slivers hot-hot-hot. You’ll eat your first one in the parking lot.

5150 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-936-0605, no website.

Rumi’s Kitchen

Owner Ali Mesghali started with modest Persian restaurants and kept upgrading to this — a glamorous and always busy destination that draws a boisterous nightly crowd for kebabs, stews and salads under its soaring ceiling. All tables start with a basket of naan flatbreads fresh from the beehive ovens in the open kitchen and an assortment of sabzi — fresh herbs, feta cheese, butter, walnuts and radishes — to nibble on with the hot loaves. Traditional Persian dishes — from ground beef koubideh kebabs to roasted eggplant spread with whey and fried onions — are great. Stewed lamb neck and saffron chicken wings veer slightly and deliciously from the Persian restaurant playbook.

6112 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-477-2100, rumiskitchen.com.

Shoya Izakaya

The city’s best and truest izakaya (Japanese pub) serves a choice of several hundred small plates to enjoy with your beverage. Drink a fresh fruit sour for which you get a tall glass filled with a mixture of the clear distillate called shochu and soda water. On the side comes your citrus of choice — lemon, lime, pink grapefruit — in a ceramic reamer. So perfect. Then start with grilled items on sticks (kushi-yaki), including wonderfully chewy king oyster mushrooms and even more wonderful melty pork belly. There are fried lotus chips, fried chicken knees (so good!), grilled rice balls with a crackly soy-glazed crust, octopus-stuffed pancake balls called tako-yaki, and, well … lots more. If you have a large group, you can reserve one of the private Japanese rooms and sit around a low table with a well for your feet.

6035 Peachtree Road, Doraville. 770-457-5555, shoyaatlanta.com.

Sobban

Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ prepare a menu that’s one part derived from Korean home cooking, one part Southern farm-to-table, and one part rock ’n’ roll new Asian. Not all of it is great, but the good is very appealing, indeed. So much so, that you keep going back. Handmade tofu arrives with grilled corn and edamame succotash, flanked by eggplant chips. Korean trays, new to the menu since its opening, offer tastes of grilled mackerel or steak with tempura, local vegetable kimchi and rice. The bingsu desserts, our obsession, combine shaved ice, ice cream and all kinds of goodies into a kind of sweet and salty Korean sundae.

1788 Clairmont Road, Decatur. 678-705-4233, sobban.com.

South City Kitchen

We like most of the Fifth Group restaurants, from the Mediterranean Ecco (which now has an airport branch that makes a long flight-delay tolerable) to the Mexican Alma Cocina (our favorite downtown restaurant) to the always reliable La Tavola Trattoria in Virginia Highland. It’s easy enough to forget about their flagship, South City Kitchen, other than noting the comings and goings of visiting celebrities who favor it. You know what, though? This is still their best. The high-wattage energy of the Midtown location can’t be bottled, and the kitchen sources good products and cooks them with enough skill to make you look forward to returning. Go at lunch on a sunny day and have a BLT and glass of wine on the porch. You won’t be sorry.

1144 Crescent Ave., Atlanta. 404-873-7358; 1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna. 770-435-0700, southcitykitchen.com.

Star Provisions

The gourmet market fronting Bacchanalia does double duty as the city’s best sandwich shop. If you’ve had the Georgia white shimp po’boy, the fennel-and-chile-kissed porchetta or the surprisingly terrific falafel set in a warm house pita, than you know the pleasure of sitting at one of the long tables surrounded by expensive housewares and stuffing your face with total abandon. Make sure to look for seasonal specials, such as summer asparagus grilled cheese. And, since you’re in a bakery, skipping dessert isn’t an option. May we suggest a black and white cookie?

1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-365-0140, starprovisions.com.

Taqueria del Sol

There’s no resisting the lure of Taq’, as every kid in Decatur calls this completely non-Mexican Mexican restaurant. Some go for the daily specials, which might include a cheeseburger or chile relleno taco. Others know their order the second they join the line. A fish taco that’s essentially a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich in a tortilla; a brisket enchilada baked under a bubbly blanket of red chile sauce and cheese; a bowl of pork green chile stew with its creamy texture and sneaky bite; a bowl of the spicy turnip greens that provide a surprisingly good dip for the chips you didn’t manage to scarf up with your cheese dip. Everyone has their own Taq’ idiosyncrasies, their own Taq’ love.

Three area locations, taqueriadelsol.com.

Taqueria la Oaxaquena

Every time we revisit this Southside taqueria, which specializes in the cooking of Oaxaca, we fall for it all over again. There are any number of tacos, including our favorite, with lean shredded goat. Crisp, pressed torta sandwiches burst with the likes of fried chicken cutlets, tender steak, avocado and cheese. The Oaxacan-style tlayudas are like giant tostada pizzas, and are a must-try for a large group. Staying in that Southeastern Mexican region, try the banana-leaf tamales bathed in dark, spicy mole. Make as many visits as you’d like to the salsa and garnish bar, which contains free guacamole.

605 Mount Zion Road, Jonesboro. 770-960-3010, taquerialaoaxaquena.com.

Umaido

Remember this advice for those times you’re speeding down I-85 toward Atlanta during dinner time: Go to Umaido. The city’s best ramen destination has only gotten better over the years. Go for the spicy version — a rich, chile-tingly pork broth that comes with the fresh noodles you see being made as you walk in. Each bowl comes garnished with slivers of gorgeously fatty pork belly called chashu, green onions, tree ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, beni shoga (pickled red ginger) and one soy-cooked egg that looks like chocolate on the surface and gushes just slightly in the center. If you like super-fatty broth, you can now order it “rich.” You’ll also need an order of the potstickers, called gyoza.

2790 Lawrenceville Suwanee Road, Suwanee. 678-318-8568, no website.

Varasano’s

After all the ink, sweat and Lipitor that has been spent on the discussion of pizza in Atlanta, may we quietly note that the best is, in fact, at this new-pizza pioneer, which has opened a satellite at the airport and is readying another at Perimeter Mall. The crust — thin, crispy, pliable, lightly soured, well salted — tastes good whether you’re folding it to cram in your mouth, cutting it with a knife and fork or picking at the leftover bits with your fingers. These pizzas are constructed with care and that certain finesse that makes the tomato sauce taste brighter and the cheese milkier. Add in a good salad, an acceptable glass of wine and — if you’re hungry — an order of tender meatballs in terrific tomato gravy.

2171 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-352-8216, varasanos.com.

Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House

There are so many Korean restaurants in Atlanta and so many to love, from the hidden charm of Yet Tuh to the upscale elegance of Myung Ga Won. But we’ll never stop visiting this comfy little place, where everyone addresses owner Young Hui Han as “Grandma.” We’d love it if only for the terrific stone bowl bi bim bap — a one-dish meal of meat and/or vegetables placed over rice sizzling in a superheated vessel. You won’t find better nurungji (crunchy, golden rice crust) anywhere. Lately however, we’ve needed a plate of ojingeo boekkum, stir-fried squid and vegetables in thick, consciousness-altering chile sauce. Kimchi mung bean pancakes are also worth a spin.

5953 Buford Highway, Doraville. 678-530-0844, no website.

Zyka

The cooking at this counter-service restaurant is Hyderabadi from south central India. Familiar dishes, such as tandoori chicken and saag paneer will seem ramped up with spice and seasoning, a good thing. You order everything à la carte, from the fresh naan, blistered and crackly from a charcoal brazier, to the basmati rice scented with clove and curry leaf. That chicken, ragged and crimson, is a wonder, as is the Chicken 65, crisp nuggets that burst with the flavors of ginger and garlic. House kulfi (ice cream) comes in four flavors in a keepsake terra cotta flower pot. The setting, in the assembly room of a Montessori school, will make you feel like you’ve crashed a Knights of Columbus meeting.

1677 Scott Blvd., Decatur. 404-728-4444, zyka.com.

» Check out all of the Atlanta 50 from the AJC's fall dining guide.