Atlanta is known for many things – its sprawling suburbs, horrific traffic and never ending construction among them. Even if you hate sitting on the Downtown Connector at rush hour, there is no denying that this city has a certain charm and appeal. It is still the economic engine for the entire South. It has a thriving music, arts and food scene. Atlanta has beautiful, leafy, historic intown neighborhoods that attract more new residents each year. But, not known to many people outside the city, there is one part of Atlanta where the flood of new immigrants has quietly come and changed the dynamic of the food scene profoundly – Buford Highway.
The daughter and I went on a food adventure last week and so, as we always do, we headed to Buford Highway. Among the many, many immigrant populations that you will find represented along Atlanta’s melting pot is Korean. Up and down Buford Highway, you can find many places that have typical Korean cuisine – bbq, noodle dishes, soups and rice bowls. So many to choose from but we ended up at Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House, a Korean restaurant that is known for its version of bibimbap.
Since we’re spending Spring Break this year in Atlanta, we’re trying to compensate for our lack of beach action by doing fun “staycation” adventures in town. Part of being a tourist in your own town means hitting up your restaurant wish list, which for us means heading to Buford Highway.
I’d read a review of a Salvadoran restaurant in Doraville called Rincon Latino. I didn’t really know much about Salvadoran food, so it seemed like a good place for a food adventure. Rincon Latino is known for it’s pupusas, a specialty of El Salvador. Like a Mexican torta, a pupusa is a thick masa flatbread filled with different kinds of meat and cheese, then cooked on a griddle.
Okay, maybe it’s not really an obsession, but there is not much else that will make me drive 10 miles of crosstown Atlanta traffic for lunch. Bánh mì is the Vietnamese equivalent of a sub sandwich. Owing to the French Colonial influence in Indochina, the Vietnamese quickly adapted the baguette to deliver some very local flavors – grilled pork or chicken, pork pate, pickled daikon radish and carrots, mayo, fresh basil, fresh mint, cilantro and chili peppers. If you’ve had one, you know that a bánh mì is like an amazing salad sitting on top of a grilled meat-filled sub roll. The taste is so fresh and delicious … and they’re only a couple of bucks each!
My friends know that I love these sandwiches and will seek them out in strip malls all up and down Buford Highway, the center of our culinary and cultural melting pot here in Atlanta. I often get texts in the middle of the day from friends asking “Where was that Vietnamese sandwich place you were talking about again?” There are a lot of little places where you can get great bánh mì, but my two favorites are Lee’s Bakery and Quoc Huong Banh Mi. You can do a sit-down lunch at either of these places, with more selections of traditional Vietnamese food such as pho noodle bowls, but they are great for take-out. I just wish that they were a little closer to my house.
Maybe because most weeks I’m too lazy to drive over to Buford Highway, I’ve started making bánh mi at home. Once you gather the ingredients, they’re actually quite easy to make. The key is getting the fresh veg and a good crusty baguette as your sandwich base. A quick trip to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market works for both.