Passport Palate

passport-palate-web-introwritten by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photography courtesy of HEIDI GELDHAUSER; REHAN MOHAMMED; RON CHENG; COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY

It’s no longer a secret. Atlanta boasts big-time diversity on the dining scene. The notoriety for dining options along Buford Highway’s 26-mile stretch continues to spread. It’s been hailed on national newsstands by Bon Appétit’s Deputy Editor and Atlanta-transplant Andrew Knowlton, shared as a favorite go-to from our city’s top chefs (Kevin Gillespie has often cited his affection for Pho Dai Loi #2) and even spurred a grassroots movement called We Love BuHi. South of the city, the constant commotion at Hartsfield-Jackson’s international terminal is partly to thank for the influx.

MEANWHILE ON THE NORTHSIDE, there’s been a steady increase of those willing to trade silverware for chopsticks in the name of adventure for your taste buds. The point is: a plane ticket to the other hemisphere isn’t required to get a big bite of a di erent culture for dinner and still be back home by bedtime. From South African noshes to Indian-Latin American fusion, Cantonese BBQ, Asianinspired bakeries and traditional Vietnamese soup, we’ve scouted six places nearly worthy of a passport stamp. Ready?

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NOTEWORTHY NOSHES AT YEBO BEACH HAUS

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If you want to get out of your culinary comfort zone, Yebo Beach Haus is a welcoming place to start. While the menu might suggest Ostrich Sliders for dinner, a glance around the interior offers a beachy vibe — that is, a Cape Town, South Africa-meets-the-Hamptons design mixed with California fl air and Buckhead sophistication.

“We wanted to escape the city feel and unite with 10 Degrees South’s and Cape Dutch’s atmospheres of a complete escape, as if you’re no longer in Atlanta and lounging in a beautiful beach town,” wrote established restaurateur Justin Anthony via email. Alongside his wife and interior designer Kelly, he launched this coastal concept in April 2016 as a spin-off of the former Yebo.

“It completes our lineup — we now have street food from Biltong Bar, a safari vibe at 10 Degrees South, wine country at Cape Dutch and a beach escape at Yebo Beach Haus,” he said.

Anthony is credited with introducing the city’s first South African restaurant —10 Degrees South —18 years ago. He not only has built his reputation for appealing to Atlantans’ appetites, but the Johannesburg native infuses authenticity and a worldly view into the experience.

“Wine plays a big role in all of our restaurants and Yebo Beach Haus is no different,” Anthony said. At Yebo Beach Haus, the focus is primarily on South African and Californian wines. They have a unique private dining room adjacent to the wine cellar that is decorated with wine o erings from around the world.

In case you were wondering, “yebo” means “yes” in South African, whichis also the correct answer when someone asks if you want to go.

south-africaFOR THE FIRST TIMER: Anthony suggests the Bobotie Bunny Chow — sweet ground beef curry, raisins, onions and apples in a mini bread bowl topped with a fried egg. “If guests enjoy spicy food, then anything with our signature peri-peri sauce. It’s made from the African bird’s eye chili,” he added. If you fall into the second category, get your fi ll three ways —peri-peri popcorn, peri-peri prawn tacos or peri-peri chicken skillet, the latter served with saffron risotto, diced tomatoes, sweet peppers and lime. yebobeachhaus.com

FLAVOR FUSION AT AFFAIRS

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For those familiar with Old Milton Parkway’s stretch of shopping malls, the exterior architecture of one restaurant stands out from the crowd. During the past five years, it has housed Azul Agave Mexican Bar and Grill before transitioning into Urban Spice Indian Restaurant. Now, the best from both concepts have blended to become A airs. A joint venture from the Walia Hospitality Groupand the Thakkar Group, this bold mixture of East and West promised a spiced indulgence — and delivered.

“My love for Indian cuisine is well known,” said restaurateur Ricky Walia, the man behind the successful Masti— Fun Indian Street Eats in Toco Hills as well as the recently opened Bombay Brasseriein Roswell. “But I also love foods from South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and I want to incorporate [all of those] elements into an exciting new experience, unlike anything Atlanta has ever seen or tasted.”

affairs-crispy-kale-bhajia-webCrossing the elevated threshold to enter the lush space, the suburban surroundings outside are soon forgotten. A airs’ kitchen is anchored with a traditional tandoor oven as well as a sigri, a small, open-flame stove also used in Indian cooking. At first, the extensive book of a menu may feel overwhelming, especially considering the Indian staples such as aromatic biryanis (mixed rice dishes) and rich, thick dal stews are listed among items like paneer or lamb fajitas, but staff that have remained onboard during the restaurant’s multiple renditions make for well-versed guides.

affairsFOR THE FIRST TIMER: Highlighted dishes include garlic naan, their take on Chicken 65 —marinated in a special house sauce, tossed with mustard seeds, curry leaves and fried until crispy, IndiMex spiced mussels and the eclectic flavors of the mango molwar fish. For a grand finale, we were particularly sweet on the signature dessert orange kulfi ice cream, flavored with real fruit and served in slices from its natural rind. spiceaffairatlanta.com

ART OF AUTHENTICITY AT MING’S BBQ

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Again, Buford Highway has become synonymous with international cuisine and adventurous foodies in Atlanta who aren’t turned o by a lack of lavish ambiance in lieu of good, cheap eats. However, since many of its longtime restaurant residents have opened second outposts farther outside the Perimeter, Northsiders don’t need to trek as far for the same quality foreign forage.

Take Ming’s BBQ, for example, which has been serving Cantonese barbecue since 1994 and according to Ron Cheng, Ming’s son, the cuisine has remained relatively unchanged.

korea-sidebar-web“We believe it is important to people that we prepare our food in an authentic way,” said Cheng, who worked closely through the years with his father to learn the art of BBQ before recently stepping away from the kitchen to serve as the marketing director. “That means using the same ingredients, processes and recipes passed down through generations.”

In 2009, they opened a Duluth location on Pleasant Hill Road with more modern décor, but more or less the same menu. “Through the years, Atlanta and the local area has really opened up to trying di erent ethnic cuisines,” Cheng said. “Sometimes customers come in and will be completely out of their comfort zone when they see roasted ducks and whole pigs hanging on display,” he said, but added that their perception of it completely changes once they take a bite. “It usually ends in something like, ‘I’ve never had this before, but it was so good!’”

Cheng described their type of cuisine as “cha chaan teng” style foods. In China’s Hong Kong region, these are usually restaurants that serve quality food quickly, but they have also incorporated family-style dining into the menu to accommodate the local market.

Though his favorites are many, Cheng prefers to keep it simple with the Char Siu on Rice, honey barbecue pork that has been marinated, oven roasted and finished with a honey glaze. His satisfaction from introducing people to new food is a close second.

ducknoodle chinaFOR THE FIRST TIMER: Cheng suggests the Beef Chow Fun. “Thick rice noodles wok fried with slabs of beef in a soy-sauce base, combined with the smoky taste you can only get from a wok,” he said. “We are known for our BBQ, so we definitely also recommend the roast duck — crispy oven-toasted skin on the outside and succulent on the inside.” mingsbbqatl.com

PASSION FOR PHO AT LE MEKONG

pho-at-le-mekong-webI may have driven past the modest storefront of Le Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant, tucked along a shopping center at the corner of Abbotts Bridge and Medlock Bridge Roads, a million times since their 2010 opening before finally stopping on a recent afternoon. The lunch crowd that was already seated, filling every white-clothed table in the restaurant, as well as the people waiting for one, seemed not to have made the same mistake. Manager Katie Nguyen proudly shared that 80 percent of their business is from repeat customers, which she attributes to their customer service, healthy choices and gluten-free dishes as well as reasonable prices.

Vietnamese cuisine, particularly its piping hot bowls of noodle soup known as pho (pronounced “fuh”), has become increasingly popular to the masses within recent years. To be clear, these bowls of pho are not one in the same as the ramen you and fellow co-eds consumed in vast quantities in college. With thin noodles made from rice rather than wheat, pho, as described by Nguyen, is a beef-based soup that comes with slices of beef, eye-round steak, brisket, tripe, tendon or meatball. The broth, made of beef bone and many other spices such as ginger, onion, star anise and cinnamon stick, is cooked for about 10 hours to make it one of a kind —and the most ordered item. Nguyen said some choose the chicken version for a more lean and healthy dish, while others like fatty brisket for more flavor. Each bowl is an artful presentation, standardly served with Thai basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapeños and lime for the table.

For Nguyen and co-owner Tham Huynh, the passion for pho, however, transcends trends and is rooted in tradition. Born and raised by the river delta, they never let the taste of South Vietnam escape them and decided to bring their region’s flavors to Johns Creek. With Huynh’s classic Vietnamese cooking techniques and Nguyen’s skills in management, they started Le Mekong to share a Vietnamese fine dining experience with each and every guest.

FvietnamOR THE FIRST TIMER: Nguyen recommends the Combination Vermicelli Noodle with grilled pork, shrimp and egg roll then topped with crushed peanut and mint leaves. “This dish is served with Vietnamese fish sauce, which differentiates Vietnamese food from other Southeast Asian flavors,” she said. lemekongcuisine.com

While each restauranteur has created different menus and perhaps surprises for your palate, to Anthony, Walia, Nguyen and Cheng’s father, these flavors and dining experiences take them home. For us, that means more stamps for our passports without having to venture too far from the Northside.