Where to find Haitian food around metro Atlanta

For Dave Noelsaint, the path to becoming an ambassador for the food of his native Haiti has been a roundabout one.

After moving to America as a child with his parents and five brothers, he took little interest in learning to cook the Haitian food he grew up with until trying to impress a girlfriend, who later became his wife.

“I would call my mother and say ‘I need help here,’” he said. “It helped foster my relationship with her and connect me to the culture.”

She talked him through recipes for Haitian specialties like griyo, cubed and fried marinated pork shoulder, and legume, a stew made with vegetables and beef neck bones, typically served with rice.

In 2019, after years spent working on the corporate side of the restaurant industry, Noelsaint decided to dive into his love for Haitian food by launching Lakay — which translates to “home” in English — as a catering business, and, soon after, a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

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Today, Noelsaint is proud to be one of a small but growing number of metro Atlanta restaurateurs who specialize in Haitian cuisine.

He’s quick to point out that because Haiti has missed out on some of the tourism its neighbors like Jamaica and the Bahamas have enjoyed, many aren’t familiar with its food. His goal? To “build something for the Haitian community” while also introducing the cuisine to the uninitiated.

Looking to try Haitian food in metro Atlanta? Check out one of these spots:

Credit: ILounge

Credit: ILounge

ILounge Taste the Difference. In spite of making its debut just a month before the pandemic shut down the world, ILounge has managed to build a loyal clientele who come by for traditional dishes like djon djon, black rice that gets its color from a mushroom puree, and soup joumou, a stew that includes squash and vegetables that was eaten to celebrate Haiti’s independence. ILounge owner Osse Lessage said that while most of his customers are Haitian, he’s starting to see more guests come in who are trying Haitian food for the first time. “I usually ask them what meat they like best, and I can recommend dishes to them that way,” he said.

40 Dodd St. SE, Marietta. 770-627-5288, iloungetaste.com.

Jojo Fritay. A family business through and through, Jojo Fritay is run by Francois and Edith Nau and their daughter, Jo. While there’s plenty on the restaurant’s extensive menu for fans of traditional Haitian food, Jo also points out a few dishes that serve as easy entry points for novices, including baked macaroni and cheese made with Caribbean spices, red pepper and onions, and boulet, a fried meatball that has “a flavor that can’t be compared to anything.”

1200 Ernest W. Barrett Parkway, Kennesaw. 678-540-2341, jojofritay.com.

Credit: Lakay Cuisine

Credit: Lakay Cuisine

Lakay Cuisine. When developing the menu for Lakay, owner Dave Noelsaint — who gets help from his mother in the kitchen — wanted to give young Haitian expats a taste of what they missed from home. The result is a curated menu that offers entrees like oxtails or red snapper with plantains alongside sides like akra fritters made with malanga, a root vegetable native to the tropics. The restaurant, which also has a full bar, recently started offering baked goods, including patties stuffed with chicken, beef or fish, and traditional Haitian cake.

5439 Riverdale Road, Atlanta. 678-960-8700, lakayexperience.com.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Zeke’s Kitchen & Bar. Serving “Haitian food with an American twist,” according to general manager Rudy Joseph, Zeke’s is the creation of Zeke Jean-Louis, a Queens, New York, native of Haitian descent who opened his restaurant in late 2021. The menu marries traditional Caribbean ingredients with more Americanized preparations in dishes like plantain nachos and griot tacos, while also featuring a handful of more traditional offerings like a tasso plate with a choice of goat, beef or pork served with pikliz, a Haitian condiment made with cabbage and carrots. Because Haitian food is already an amalgamation of several different kinds of food, “the Haitian crowd already understands fusions,” Joseph said. Thirsty? Try a cocktail made with Barbancourt, a Haitian-made rum.

4454 S. Cobb Drive, Smyrna. 678-293-5176, zekeskitchenandbar.com.

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