Atlanta Orders In: Local Expedition excels at smoked foods, sides and sauces

Danny Kim’s restaurant experience has been all over the map.

Back in California, where he grew up, he started a hot dog stand in a corner of his parents’ Santa Monica convenience store while in his early 20s. His toasted buns, snappy links and spicy chili were so memorable that they received a favorable review in the Los Angeles Times.

After moving to Atlanta 15 years ago, Kim and his wife, Diana, ran a franchised pizza parlor. Once they sold it, they decided to focus on their successful catering business, never thinking they’d care to own a restaurant again.

Yet, the Kims found that, once people tried their smoked chicken, healthy sides and Mediterranean fare, they were hooked. They wanted to know where they could find more. That prompted the couple to open their globally eclectic Local Expedition Wood-Fired Grill in Alpharetta in 2016, followed by a second store, in Sandy Springs, in early 2020.

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Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

In the early days, Local Expedition was slow to gain traction, Kim said in an interview. He thinks the name was confusing — people walked in expecting pizza. Because the Kims are Asian, some customers assumed their restaurant was Chinese, he said. (Danny, 50, and Diana, 46, both were born in South Korea, immigrating with their parents to the U.S. when they were young.)

Yet, over time, their approachable, fast-casual, health-conscious fare started to catch on. Customers loved the numerous choices and the friendly price point — $10.49 will buy you a plate with a protein (grilled chicken, pulled pork, wings, falafel, grilled baby bellas); a side (Brussels sprouts, beets, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and Gruyere mac and cheese, among many others); rice; pita triangles; and a delightful abundance of sauces.

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Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“A family will come in and say, ‘We love this place! Nobody complains in our family,’” Kim said. “‘We have a vegan person. We have somebody who only eats French fries and chicken. We have another person that’s healthy.’“

He believes that ability to please even the toughest customer is the secret sauce of Local Expedition — though I suspect the tangy cilantro and spicy barbecue probably haven’t hurt. Nor has the fact that Yelp has awarded Local Expedition a number of accolades over the years. (It currently holds the No. 3 spot on the website’s Top 100 Places to Eat for 2021.)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Strolling into the Sandy Springs store for the first time, I would have assumed the place was part of a lucrative national chain, instead of a locally owned mom-and-pop. Danny Kim joked that the second restaurant has all the things that customers asked for at the first: ample covered parking, a bigger dining room and an outdoor space.

Indeed, the room boasts an inviting industrial decor and an open kitchen. Alas, thanks to the pandemic, Local Expedition’s creature comforts have been under-utilized. The restaurant is surrounded by office buildings, which have been severely underpopulated over the past year.

Like many in the hospitality industry, the Kims have had to deal with rising food costs; shortages (ask Kim what it was like to try to buy wings during Super Bowl season); and a diminished labor pool. A plan to open a third location was scrapped after the reality of the pandemic set in.

But, rather than lose hope, the Kims have paid it forward, by giving back to the community and serving meals to hospitals. Their culinary vision may be global, but their heart belongs to their adopted hometown.

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Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock


Menu: eclectic global cuisine

Alcohol: yes (Sandy Springs only)

What I ordered: pulled pork plate with Mexican corn and potato salad; grilled chicken and “local” fries (topped with cilantro and lemon-garlic sauce, cotija cheese, parsley, and sumac); hummus; falafel; 12 wings; all the sauces. I really liked the hummus, chicken, wings, fries and potato salad. The falafel and corn didn’t travel as well. Overall, however, it was a very polished fast-casual experience, and a terrific value.

Service options: dine-in; takeout; in-house delivery (Sandy Springs only)

Outdoor dining: yes

Mask policy: employees, always; requested of guests

Address, phone: 5315 Windward Parkway, Alpharetta. 470-448-1249; 1110 Hammond Drive, Sandy Springs. 770- 837-9904

Hours: Alpharetta, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; Sandy Springs, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays


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