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The Priestess's Top Ten Restaurants of 2003


It’s not merely coincidence that I am the spitting image of the Venus of Willendorf. This goddess puts a lot of work into keeping her voluptuous figure! As such, I have become quite the expert on eating well. Unfortunately, palm reading doesn’t pay what it used to, so this Priestess must eat on a budget. Therefore, most of these restaurants are relatively inexpensive. Here are my top ten restaurants, including some menu suggestions:

1. Irene’s Cuisine

539 St. Philips St., New Orleans, LA.
This is a place where the “Nawlins” locals go for Italian with French-Creole flair. Translation: It’s really, really good! A bit pricey compared to the rest of this list, Irene’s is worth every penny and then some. I especially enjoyed the stuffed prawns. The presentation was lovely, and the entrée was fantastic! The pastas are also to-die-for. And top off the night with a baked Alaskan or crème brûlée. Because it’s a small restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations, you’ll want to go early or be patient waiting in the “garage” (really just a back room) or at the bar for a table.

2. Little Szechuan

Northwoods Plaza, 5091 Buford Hwy N.E., Doraville, GA.
This is the best and most authentic Szechuan food you will ever put in your mouth, outside of actually going to China. I adore the complementary pickles (usually radishes and bean sprouts) that arrive as soon as you are seated. And I haven’t ordered anything that wasn’t absolutely delicious, including green beans! And you must try the appetizer of steamed dumplings in spicy sauce. Unfortunately, rumors have been going around for about a year that the restaurant may have to close or relocate if business doesn’t pick up. So, go there NOW while you can.

3. Pho Hoa

In the Ranch 99 shopping center, also on Buford Highway in Doraville.
This is my favorite Vietnamese pho restaurant. However, my favorite meal there is not the pho, which is a rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast by Vietnamese, but rather the slightly spicy beef stew. This meal is not for the faint of heart. Personally, I don’t do tripe. But if you can get over the unusual (i.e., not American) variety of cuts of meat, you will find that this is the best cure for a sinus infection yet! Try also Viet Chateau at 254 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. From what I understand, the same folks operate this restaurant as Pho Hoa. Unfortunately, Viet Chateau doesn’t offer the wonderful beef stew. The ambience is more upscale than Pho Hoa’s cafeteria-style digs, but the food is still very reasonably priced and they’ve made the menu more user-friendly for the Decatur honkies. Of course, I notice that I get less weird looks for my pronunciation of “emperial rolls” versus “cha gio.”

4. New Perry Hotel Restaurant
  800 Main Street, Perry, GA.
This is a classic Southern restaurant in a 1925 landmark hotel. Local successful restauranteur Tom Noelke just bought the restaurant, but he’s been overseeing operations for the past year. The result is that this historic establishment is even better than its previous comfort-food perfection. The menu still includes genuine Southern favorites made just like Granny made them, but Noelke has expanded the evening menu to include seafood and steaks.
5. Ria’s Bluebird
  421 Memorial Drive across from Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA.
Ria’s is the best brunch place around. Try the brisket breakfast, a helping of slightly spicy beef brisket in tomatoey stock with two poached eggs on top and French bread on the side (to sop up the yummy broth, of course). Ria also serves up an omelet special daily, and her course-ground grits and homemade biscuits are wonderful. Lunch is also served at Ria’s Bluebird, but she’s not open for supper.
6. Nick’s
  Highway 36, Covington, GA.
This is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that you just have to know where it is. It’s a local greasy spoon decorated liberally in Hoosiers memorabilia – Nick must be from Indiana – specializing in fried catfish served family style. A typical meal consists of a cafeteria plastic platter loaded with catfish alongside plastic bowlfuls of homemade coleslaw, French fries, and hushpuppies. The décor is very basic, but you’re not going there for the ambience. It’s all about the catfish. It’s a great place to go if you can find it.
7. Mediterranean Grill
  North Decatur Plaza, Decatur, GA.
This restaurant has become a local gathering place for Arab- and Israeli-Americans and others who would like to bring peace to the Middle East. As the restaurant’s owner notes, we all like the same kind of food. I say, "make pita pockets, not war". Try the special, which comes with gyro slices, shish kabob, kufta kabob, rice pilaf, pita, and salad. (The entire meal will cost you only $5.95 as the Business Lunch Combo (including drink) or $7.95 as the Combination Feast after 3 p.m., which is still a great deal, considering the quantity and variety of foods.) The falafel is probably the best in Atlanta, and don’t be scared to try the funky pickles.
8. El Potro
  3396 Buford Highway, Atlanta, GA.
I’ve lived in metro Atlanta for 33 years now, and I have yet to find better Mexican food anywhere. Be sure to order a chile relleno, and tell Tirso I said hello!
9. The Angel
  426 W. Ponce de Leon, Decatur, GA.
OK, it’s a bar. But the Angel has two very big pluses in my book: you can smoke inside (because it’s a bar) and they have one of the best damned burgers I’ve ever had. Made with Angus beef, it’s always cooked just as you requested. It’s a shame they don’t serve onion rings, though.
10. Gritz
  On the square in McDonough, GA.
Another of my favorite comfort food places. This is a simple restaurant featuring classic Southern cooking. Now that Granny’s unable to cook and I’ve never mastered the skills, these types of places have become even more important to me. Grits is timeless, like the New Perry Hotel. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. What made it so memorable to me was the old-fashioned coleslaw with cabbage grated by hand just like Granny used to make it. Country fresh veggies and homemade deserts, too!
Related Links:
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The Priestess' 2000 list.
The Priestess' 2001 list.

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