Two Meals on Buford Highway

A couple of Saturdays ago, Marie and I made a long overdue trip to Doraville to finally start sampling some of the restaurants along Buford Highway. Now, I imagine that locals are probably wondering what the heck took us so long, and for that, I plead not knowing where in the world to start. Out-of-towners may not know that this is a huge and very eclectic neighborhood full of traditional cooking and restaurants that cater to Atlanta’s huge international community, from Guatemalan to Vietnamese.

I’d make the bold claim that there is no quarter given to Americanized menus here, but there’s a Monterrey smack dab in the middle of this long stretch of road. This small chain, which dates back to the early 1970s, says that it is the very first of what I’ve come to term the El-This-Los-That joints. Monterrey soon begat the local El Toro and La Fiesta chains and all of their countless imitators, and what all of us who were teens in the 1980s came to think of as “Mexican food.” The cheese dip that has made us all so fat? Their doing. Now that there are dozens of restaurants on this stretch where you can get the real thing, authentic Mexican dishes served without consideration for suburban palates, I wonder how this Monterrey continues to thrive.

El Rey Del Taco is a great place for authentic recipes. We stopped by here to get some tacos as appetizers for the next meal. I could have eaten three times as many. The meats were wonderful – I had steak, chicken and tripe – and the table sauces vibrant and full of flavor. They bring out a little thing of limes, a spicy chipotle sauce and a thick green sauce and they were all wonderful.

I absolutely loved the service here. I think that our server mistook us for somebody else, though, as when she saw the baby, she exclaimed, “He’s getting so big!” This is, on the one hand, not entirely true – he is so active, far more so than most babies, that he’s actually amazingly small for his age – and on the other, quite curious, as we’d never been before, and I’m not sure that she truly has a baseline from which to judge him! I liked how they directed all the families with small kids into one alcove. That way, all of the younguns could bellow and carry on and not disturb anybody else. We didn’t mind all the baby-admiration going on between tables, and I’m sure all the fellows in the main room who were there to watch the soccer on the gigantic TVs wouldn’t be interrupted by babbling toddlers.

That said, I really do want to go back here again very soon, so our server might have more chances to watch the baby get big, because I really enjoyed my meal. On the other hand, I also want to go back to Chef Liu’s, because I didn’t enjoy my meal very much at all and I’m anxious to give them another try.

As I’ve mostly run out of patience and interest in El-This-Los-That places, I’ve similarly lost any desire to try Golden-This-Happy-That joints. Chef Liu came highly recommended for its traditional Chinese dishes, and its dumpling specialties. The real treat here would be the pork buns.

Many of our fellow hobbyists have written about Chef Liu, most before the restaurant moved to its current location. I think they just kind of hopped from one strip mall to another, and now have a kind of bland, typical-looking interior instead of the old sliding door sun room. Marie read over as many bloggers’ reports as she could find, and settled on the recommendations that The Food Abides made. She ordered the Shanghai pork buns and beef noodle soup and really enjoyed them both. I went with the fennel pork sausage dumplings and didn’t like them at all. I had half a mind to walk back across the street and get some more tacos.

However, the soup that we shared was so wonderful, and the appetizers so tasty, that I know that the restaurant did not do a blessed thing wrong, the food just wasn’t what I wanted. Food Near Snellville photographed some sliced spicy beef that looks amazing. Marie enjoyed her selections a lot and we left knowing this was a good place. We really liked the price, too. All the food that we ordered came to under twenty dollars. With prices that low, we can afford to experiment and sample, and will certainly come back for another visit one day.

Other blog posts about Chef Liu:

Eat it, Atlanta (Mar. 9 2009)
The Food Abides (Aug. 24 2009)
The Cynical Cook (Dec. 14 2009)
Food Near Snellville (Jan. 12 2010)
Atlanta Etc. (May 25 2010)

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