Photo by Matt Miller
One thing Atlantans are into is putting food into their mouths and then eating it. Sound fun? Here are a few places to give it a try.
MARY MAC’S TEA ROOM
This is where you should go to have some of that southern cooking you keep hearing about. Insanely delicious fried chicken and catfish, enormous sides, and everything’s cheap as all shit. The standard portions basically render the lunchtime all-you-can-eat special superfluous. Years ago the waitstaff was made up of sassy local queers but somewhere along the line they got phased out for chatty older ladies with their hair in buns. The sass quotient remains unchanged. 224 Ponce de Leon Ave NE.
ANN’S SNACK SHACK
Home of the Ghetto Burger, the largest, best-tasting meat sandwich in the state. Totally worth the one to two hours you’ll spend waiting outside on account of Ms. Ann’s refusal to let anybody else do the cooking. 1615 Memorial Dr SE.
Tremendous brunch overseen by one of the city’s coolest old lesbians. 421 Memorial Dr SE.
Every local rapper’s favorite breakfast establishment. If you ever make it to the front of the line you can tell us whether or not they’re right. 573 Edgewood Ave SE.
The most institutional of Atlanta’s eating institutions, this massive bus terminal of a drive-in diner is the place to load up on all your necessary greases before hitting the road. They used to have a really hectic ordering system with all sorts of secret codes and guys shouting at you, but shamefully management made them tone it down for the tourists. We recommend starting with a couple Heavy Dogs, rings, and a Frosted Orange—just make sure you’re within 15 minutes of your final destination or you will crap the van. If you’re in more of a collegiate wings mood, head across the street to JR Crickets. 61 North Ave NW.
We’re not sure why but there’s a waiting list about 20 crust punks deep to work at this place. Great jerk chicken and vegetarian stuff that will have your ass forever blowing bubbles. 600 Ponce de Leon Ave NE.
TAQUERIA DEL SOL
The only “good” reason to go into Decatur (see entry for Trackside, pg 24), the fish tacos will make you think somebody has dosed your mouth with ecstasy. The fact that they sell these buggers for $2 and change is simply ludicrous. 359 W Ponce de Leon Ave.
THAT CUBAN SANDWICH PLACE ACROSS FROM MARY MAC’S
If you come here at lunchtime it can be a hassle, but the rest of the time it’s just you, some Mexican soccer on the TV, and sandwiches the size of your forearm. They also sell cans of watermelon soda that look like product tie-ins for Bamboozled. 216 Ponce de Leon Ave NE.
Way better pizza than Fellini’s or L5P, mostly on account of the spicy tomato sauce. 484 Moreland Ave.
A vegan soul-food chain with outposts in Highlands and the West End, run by the Black Israelites. 652 N Highland Ave NE and 879 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd SW.
Cheap, greasy Mexican food on an enormous patio. The Ponce location is right above El Bar and is open late enough for you to get wasted downstairs, restore your sanity with some chile rellenos, then head back down and start the process over again. 939 Ponce de Leon Ave NE.
We’re glad these guys have survived the Starbucksification of Little Five, but they could really chill out on the whole “snooty barrista” shtick. It’s like taking a field trip to the not-so-distant 90s. 468 Moreland Ave.
A shadow of its former self. At one point this diner surpassed all in terms of both seediness and succulence and employed the members of every decent local band. Nowadays they’re more into serving expats from the Buckhead party scene and charging something like $7 for eggs and hash. Probably the city’s single greatest loss since Sherman’s March.
Photo by Tommy Chung
CHAINS TO EAT AT TOGETHER (RUNNIN’ IN THE SHADOWS)
Most of the restaurant chains in Atlanta are the same ones they’ve got everywhere, but there are a couple local numbers that are worth checking out if you’re trapped out in the suburbs for some reason or running low on cash or just don’t feel like sitting somewhere and having someone ask you if everything’s all right every ten minutes.
Hands down the best fried chicken available at a drive-thru, plus you get a free gallon of sweet tea with every bucket.
You don’t have to worry about remembering a bunch of contentious dry-rub-vs.-wet, oil-vs.-vinegar shit here like in North Carolina or wherever. BBQ in Georgia is just pulled pork in sauce and that’s all it needs to be. Go to one of these places if you can’t find some ramshackle back-lot hut with lots of smoke pouring out of it.
Newborn-size burritos and unreasonably good quesadillas. Anybody who tells you Moe’s is better can go fuck themselves.
THE FLYING BISCUIT
Ugh, I’ve got no idea how they keep opening more of these. Five-dollar egg plates, walls painted like the cancer ward of a children’s hospital, and cold biscuits. Cold. Biscuits. It’s like taking part in some sort of twisted Milgram experiment for breakfast.
Denny’s meth-addicted southern cousin. If you’ve dipped below the Mason-Dixon you may have sampled the epicurean delight of these greasy spoons and the killer selection of Waffle House-themed songs on its jukebox. The first franchise opened in the suburbs in 1955 and they’ve been metastasizing unchecked ever since. There are literally one-mile-long stretches in Atlanta that contain upward of three to four competing WaHos.
MY CHICK-FIL-A APOSTASY
I have a deep love bordering on obsession with regional fast-food chains. Despite valiant attempts by Culver’s in the upper Midwest and In-N-Out on the West Coast, Chick-fil-A is hands-down the greatest fast-food chain in America. Its standard-issue no-frills chicken sandwich—a fried boneless chicken breast, pickle, and smear of mayo on a bun—ranks somewhere between finding a crisp $100 bill in the pocket of a coat you rarely wear and getting your first blowjob. It’s that good. The waffle fries are no joke either.
But beneath its tasty veneer, Chick-fil-A is basically a front organization for a Southern Baptist recruitment drive of epic scale. The evidence is clear: The entire chain is always closed on Sundays, the company’s founder has long been aligned with outspoken hate group Focus on the Family, and the majority of its workforce is composed of spry young men and women from local youth groups, intent on getting their savior’s love into your heart by whatever means necessary.
Letting Jesus into your life is not a deal that should be entered into lightly, let alone at the coercion of a gang of angry teenagers in the service entrance of a suburban shopping mall. But it happened to me one rainy evening in the early 90s while helping a friend set up holiday carts at Southlake Mall in Morrow. As an innocuous Muzak version of Sheryl Crow was piped gently o’erhead, I found myself cornered by a mob of off-duty Chick-fil-A employees drunk on Christ and hell-bent on playing a game of Beat on the Jew With a Bag of Waffle Fries.
They asked, rather forcefully and in a way that left little question as to the ass-whooping that would follow in the event of a wrong answer, where I thought I would go when I died. I did not have a suitable answer ready. Taking stock of the situation—four or five of them, one of me, some cheap poly-cotton blended throws between us—I committed the shonda of forsaking a wholesome middle-class Jewish upbringing and accepting as my personal savior Jesus Christ, a figure whose biographical details I was only vaguely familiar with. No big deal. I mean it only violated commandments number one and two, but whatever.
Since that night, I’ve done little to nourish my relationship with Jesus—my bar mitzvah haul erased any doubt in my mind as to which path I was on. Still, anytime I’m passing through the greater Southeast and nursing the aftereffects of a jihad on my liver, I will never fail to heed the call of the Chick-fil-A drive-thru and its delicious, proselytistic sandwiches.