Farewell Atlanta 1: Rhea’s Take-Out Foods

People in north Fulton County know that one of the area’s very best burgers can be found, served with a side order of attitude, at this great little three-store chain.

As we began to pack everything up to move away from Atlanta, I knew that I wanted to publish a week’s worth of goodbye posts, but was stumped as to what I should cover.

Should it be a week of posts about our favorite restaurants? No, we’ve done most of those at least once and sometimes twice.

Should it be the consensus best in town, like Gunshow? No, and that’s what got me thinking. Every blogger in town tries to visit and document the really big names in Atlanta’s great restaurants, the Gunshows, the Bacchanalias, the ninety-eleven ones that Ford Fry started, and they have plenty of amateur press. That’s what I wanted to do: I wanted to visit four Atlanta restaurants that I enjoy that don’t get very much hobbyist press at all, the sort of fun, ultra-regional places that really only Atlantans know about. I wanted to write about the sort of places that, if Marie and I had been based in some other city all this time, we’d come to Atlanta on our road trips to sample alongside its barbecue.

So, next week, we’ll have a little wrap-up post featuring several of our favorite places, the ones which we’ll miss the most. This week, we’re going to show off four under-the-radar places that we’d really love to see get a little more attention from our hobbyist buddies. The first of these is a small chain of three little joints in Roswell that serve up one of the metro area’s very best burgers.

We actually had not been back by a Rhea’s in four years! Wow, time flies when you’re almost never in Roswell or Alpharetta. Jimmy Smith bought Rhea’s, which had sold groceries when it first opened, in 1983, and immediately started serving up burgers with attitude. Friendly but firm, Jimmy coined the phrase that’s now on the staff’s T-shirts: “If you don’t like my burgers, there’s the door.”

More than a decade after Smith took over the first Rhea’s, he opened a second several miles further north up GA-120. A third followed on Crossville Road, leaving town on the way to Woodstock, in the 2000s. These have much more convenient hours than the original, which closes on Sundays and holidays and after lunch. There was also another on the south end of Roswell, near Sandy Springs, for a few years, but that was a lousy location with no street visibility. The others have really faithful crowds. They may not always be packed, but whenever you visit, at least one of the other guests is a regular.

I’ve become, over time, one of those weirdos who doesn’t put ketchup on burgers very often, but Jimmy’s Special is a neat exception. It has lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, and ketchup on toast and it is really delicious. Marie always orders one as well, but without the mustard. For any picky five year-olds in your party, they also have all-beef hot dogs.

Would I say this is the best burger in the metro area? No, it might squeak into the top ten, just, but it’s certainly my favorite in north Fulton, and it’s served up in a great no-frills little greasy spoon that has resisted any attempts to freshen up for the cameras in its strip mall location. If you have a blog, you should check out Rhea’s and spread the word!


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