From authentic Asian cuisine to farm-to-table fare, plan a visit around Metro Atlanta Eateries
Just 30 minutes northeast of downtown Atlanta on I-85, Gwinnett County offers visitors the diversity of cuisine, attractions and amenities of a metropolis within accessible and beautiful small towns built around culture, food, arts and music. In Duluth, Peachtree Corners, Norcross, Lawrenceville and Buford, cafes, bistros, gastropubs and trending restaurants are waiting to be discovered. Nearby galleries, boutiques and antique stores in parkland town centers, live music and outdoor art provide a colorful, energetic yet relaxing backdrop for dining even late into the night. Professional theatre, major sports and entertainment venues offer even more reasons to visit and build a stay around cuisine.
Here are just a handful of the outstanding restaurants in the hip and historic towns of Gwinnett County. To set the stage, let’s start with celebrity chef and star power.
Willie Degel, proprietor of Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Duluth, hosted The Food Network’s “Restaurant Stakeout,” so be assured that attention to detail is evident and surprises to the palate are plentiful for the adventurous. Degel has twined his Queens, NY steakhouse roots with Southern palate-pleasers. The result is a congenial combination that satisfies visitors from all over. Natural, organic and sustainable ingredients are on the mission statement. Must-try: thick slabs of Applewood Smoked Bacon with peanut butter and chipotle maple glaze. Not your mom’s fat-ribboned fry pan bacon. The 35-day Dry Aged Rib Chop AKA Fred Flinstone is just one of many delectable steaks here. (6590 Sugarloaf Pkwy suite 201, Duluth, GA 30097; www.unclejacksmeathouse.com)
A master chef from Northern China, Chef Rui Liu of Masterpiece was named a semi-finalist for James Beard 2018 Best Chef: Southeast. With a a no-frills ambience and decidedly off the beaten track, the adventurous foodie will find authentic Chinese food with a strong emphasis on spicy Szechuan flavors here. (3940 Buford Hwy, B103, Duluth, GA 30096; facebook.com/Masterpiece%E5%90%8D%E5%8E%A8%E5%A0%82-658304740912215).
For authentic Korean cuisine and culture, there’s no need for a passport and a 16-hour flight. Gwinnett boasts easily the largest collection of authentic Korean restaurants, markets, shops and entertainment outside of Southern California, New York and New Jersey.
Bae gopayo? Where to eat (the other Seoul food)? For a genuine Korean culture and cuisine experience, Seoul of the South™ food tours bring together newbies and fanatics in a convivial atmosphere hosted by an expert guide. Guests ride a trolley to dine and taste at four locations while seeing points of interest and learning about Korean culture from a native Korean host.
One of the popular stops on ExploreGwinnett’s tour, 9292 Korean BBQ gives you a true taste of South Korea. The all-you-can-eat option is a chance to sample several grilled meats along with a number of traditional Korean side dishes. Cast iron stomach not required. (3360 Satellite Blvd #8, Duluth, GA 30096; www.facebook.com/9292KBBQ)
Noble Fin successfully brought city dining to Peachtree Corners. Since its inception it has been owned by local restaurateur and Peachtree Corners resident, Cliff Bramble, who is also co-owner of Rathbun’s, Krog Bar, Kevin Rathbun Steak and KR SteakBar. Noble Fin has been named one of Atlanta Magazine’s top 40 restaurants, is highly praised by Zagat and named one of the best seafood restaurants in Atlanta by Thrillist. You really can’t go wrong with any dish here. Though if you’re having trouble deciding, the seared diver scallops are to die for. Oh, wait, then there’s the crab cakes… (5260 Peachtree Pkwy, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092; www.noblefinrestaurant.com).
Centered around a charming National Historic Register downtown and two lush parks designed for strolling and listening to music, Norcross is an art, antiques and food-lovers’ oasis.
Luis Fernandez, chef/owner of Mojitos Cuban-American Bistro loves the ambiance of the town as much as locals and visitors love the warm feel and authentic food of his establishment. Try the Paella and the sampler of ham croquettes, beef empanadas, yucca fries and stuffed plantains, with a lime and mint Mojito, of course. Outdoor dining and live music on weekends and select weekdays and Sundays. 35 S. Peachtree St., Norcross; mojitosbistro.com).
Housed in the historic Norcross train depot, The Crossing offers fine dining in a casual setting. An extensive menu of steaks, seafood, pork, lamb, chicken and salads will make it difficult but fun to decide. Enjoy fresh pineapple or pureed strawberry martinis and margaritas as the trains pass by. (40 S Peachtree St, Norcross, GA 30071; www.thecrossingofnorcross.com).
In centrally-located and lively Lawrenceville, plan a dining trip around a tour of the exquisite Romanesque-style Gwinnett Historic Courthouse with its turrets, lavish balconies and clock tower. Rotating art exhibits are housed in the National Register building, as well as the Gwinnett Veteran’s War Memorial Museum. Don’t miss comedy night or a professionally-produced play at The Aurora Theatre.
Recognized by eater.com, Zagat, Creative Loafing, Atlanta magazine and many more, Local Republic is a hip and trendy industrial-design space full of local art. This popular gastropub serves a fusion of southern and international dishes using seasonal ingredients paired with quality wine, craft beer and occasional live music. (139 N Perry St, Lawrenceville, GA 30046; www.thelocalrepublic.com).
Nostalgia fills the streets of downtown Buford, where turn-of-the-century buildings have taken on new lives as art galleries, studios, shops and restaurants.
“Regional and World Comfort Cuisine” is the term owner/chef Rico Cunnington uses to describe the menu at Rico’s World Kitchen-Fried Green Tomato Salad, served with house-smoked Applewood bacon, crispy Chicharrones, and pork-seasoned chicken Filipino-style Eggrolls are just a few of the flavors and textures here. 306 W Main St, Buford, GA 30518; www.ricosworldkitchen.com).
Chef Dontrell Ham showcases his Southern roots and love of Mediterranean, French, and Creole flavors at Aqua Terra, an eclectic American-style bistro. Both dining rooms are decorated by local artists, conveying bohemian charm. An extensive and accessible wine, beer and spirits list including $5 martinis. (55 E Main St, Buford, GA 30518; www.aquaterrabistro.com).
Special Mention: Drive-ins, Pizza and ‘Que
Expat Atlantans would declare that no trip to metro Atlanta is complete without a stop at The Varsity, the original Southern fast food drive-in established in the 1920s. Thankfully, there’s an easily-accessible, authentic location in Norcross. “What’ll Ya Have?” (6045 Dawson Blvd, Norcross, GA 30071; www.thevarsity.com).
Pizza: Yes, genuine New Jersey-style pizza is a Big Thing; reviewers and foodies can’t stop raving about it. O4W Pizza was recently named one of the top 50 restaurants by Atlanta Magazine. The Grandma Pie was recently featured in Bon Appétit Magazine. (3117 Main St, Duluth, GA 30096; www.o4wpizza.com)
Cue: A category that deserves its own guidebook, “best barbecue” can stir up a fiery debate. Fortunately, Gwinnett County offers nearly every variety fiercely loved in the Southeast, Midwest–and Asia. Praise the Lard BBQ would certainly win in the Unabashed Moniker category alone; the meat is the point here and sauces are served on the side. (1350 Buford Hwy NE, Ste 109, Buford, GA 30518; http://praisethelardbbq.com/Home_Page.html).
That’s just a sampling of the delicious dining that awaits in Gwinnett County. To do justice to the cuisine scene, plan a weekday or weekend stay. www.exploregwinnett.org/directory/hotels Next day, take in the towns and enjoy a sumptuous brunch. Here are 10 ideas: