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Cheshire Bridge Road is an urban planning nightmare. It’s a confused strip of gas stations, storage facilities, smoke shops, adult video stores, and car washes wrapped in a tangle of Atlanta traffic. But if you are willing to fight the traffic and ignore the ‘scenery,’ you’ll find some old school restaurants that have called this strip home for decades. You won’t find any avocado toast, smoked bison, or kombucha smoothies around here. On Cheshire Bridge, the menus are huge, the decor is definitely retro and the food is familiar and delicious. It’s worth the 20-minute Uber ride from downtown to have dinner like the locals do. Even the fussiest foodie will find something to love.
If you only make one stop on Cheshire Bridge (as the locals call it), this is the stop you should make. The Colonnade is an Atlanta institution. It’s been a fixture here since 1927 and it’s been in its current location since 1962. Generations of Atlantans come here on the regular for plates of classic Southern suppers: crispy fried chicken, shrimp and grits, broiled rainbow trout, fried chicken livers, and a heap of classic sides such as macaroni and cheese, fried okra, black-eyed peas, tomato aspic, and sweet potato soufflé. Get yourself on the waiting list (there’s always a waiting list) and grab a drink in the cozy lounge packed with regulars. The large homey dining room is always filled with families, groups of friends, and a few Georgia politicos holding court at a corner table. Executive Chef Ryan Cobb says he loves cooking the classics but likes to throw a few creative and updated items into the daily specials for younger diners and others who are fried chicken and/or beef adverse. (But seriously, guys, try the chicken. Ask for hot sauce & honey on the side.) Finish off your meal with peppermint ice cream covered in The Colonnade’s homemade hot fudge sauce, which I happen to know can be brought on the side in a huge soup dish and packed up to go if there’s ever any left.
This is the old-school Chinese restaurant you see in the movies and wish you could try. Local chefs and diners in the know have been coming to this traditional in-town spot for dumplings and General Tso’s chicken for over 30 years. The walls are decorated with Chinese art, friendly waiters are happy to fetch a fresh pot of hot tea, the menu goes on for days, and the hosts always know which take-out order is yours. Weekend dim sum brunch is considered one of the city’s best with cart after cart of savory buns and dumplings rolled up to your table for tasting. (The fried sesame balls, shrimp dumplings, and red bean paste buns are my favorites.) Most diners almost always know what they want before they even get through the door, but the undecided might want to try the Singapore pan-fried noodles with shrimp, green beans in spicy garlic sauce, pan-fried pot stickers, or a bowl of noodles with roast duck and Hong Kong wanton. If you plan on celebrating Christmas Day or New Year’s Day here, charge your phone and bring a book. That’s when the joint is jumping with happy and hungry celebrants. The wait is long, but worth it.
Every Friday night, my family went to dinner at a small Italian restaurant not far from our home outside Boston. The owner’s mother was in the kitchen tending her secret recipe for meatballs and marinara sauce, the bar always had the TV tuned to ESPN, and a photo of the Pope on the register. Atlanta is a city without a large Italian population, and after I moved here, I longed for those family-style Italian restaurants that seemed to be on every corner in the Northeast. And then I discovered Nino’s.
Nino’s has been serving up authentic Italian meals to appreciative diners for 50 years in the same spot. Order a good chianti, an antipasto salad, and a plate of pasta served to you by a waiter who knows the menu as well as he knows his own name and brings a cheese grater to rain fresh Parmesan cheese down over your meal. Homesick diners from Points North will love the dark paneled walls, dim lighting, and old-school waiters in white shirts and black aprons who keep the table stocked with freshly made loaves of Italian bread and know many of their customers by name, or at least by sight. For dessert, take the cannoli. It’s stuffed with a housemade cream filled with chocolate chips and flavors that will sweep you off to another time and place.
Of all the hidden gems strewn along Cheshire Bridge Road, the International Bakery might be the most fun and the most surprising. It’s tucked into an uninspired strip mall alongside an insurance company, a Domino’s Pizza, and a popular Mexican taqueria The story goes that owner and top baker Tom Kasidakis came to Atlanta from Greece in 1972 and has been baking beautiful and delicious creations ever since.
The bakery itself is the size of a small studio apartment and is packed literally floor to ceiling with pastries and Greek grocery items: bread, candies, imported tins of sardines, olives, oils, and spices. But the main event is at the back of the store behind a wall of pastry cases that spans the width of the bite-sized shop. On weekends amd holidays you’ll have to squeeze your way past families of shoppers who can’t decide between the regular baklava or the cheesecake baklava. (Yes, cheesecake baklava is a specialty here). Give in to temptation and try some cream puffs, napoleons, fruit tarts, and maybe a bag of wedding cookies stacked high on baking trays in their own case. Don’t take too long to decide, though. Other customers are probably waiting and Tom and his staff do not suffer indecisive customers gracefully. The best advice is to stay calm and order one of everything.
Unlike the other hidden gems on Cheshire Bridge, this Thai gem really is hidden. This is probably why everyone who’s been to Little Bangkok, a Zagat-rated ‘best of,’ thinks they were the first to discover it. It’s a tiny spot wedged into an even tinier strip mall with practically no parking spaces. (But the regulars in line are happy to share their parking tips and secrets with you.) Everyone has their favorite Thai dishes and Little Bangkok will not let you down when it comes to Pad Thai or Panang Curry. For an extra special delight, bring a friend and try the Tom Ka Soup Hot Pot, a spicy blend of coconut and mushrooms brought to your table in a sterno-lit aluminium tureen. End your meal with a plate of mango sticky rice. When a restaurant this small, with almost no parking in a car-centric city, is busy for lunch and dinner, you know something truly tasty is going on inside.
Writer. Blogger. Journalist. Sometime globe-trotter. Fan of dumplings, pasta, iced coffee and green smoothies. Spotted on Roads & Kingdoms, Lonely Planet News, Paste, The Atlantic, USA Today etc.