Chain restaurant substitutions in Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

We’re big believers in supporting local restaurants here on roots. It’s not just about supporting our home grown businesses either. We just prefer the food over the homogenized sameness the big corporate players serve up. That’s not to say we never eat at these places as occasionally a hankering for scattered, smothered and covered hits me.

But if you’re still eating at these chain restaurants all the time, here are some direct alternatives you should consider that are 100% local.

mugs on milton logoPour out your Starbucks latte and try Mugs on Milton. It’s a shame this area can’t support local coffee shops. But it’s a hard business and standing up to Seattle’s goliath is tough. Spend a few more minutes one morning and seek out this indy shop in downtown Alpharetta.

Replace Olive Garden for Casa Nuova Italian Restaurant in south Forsyth. Is there anything parent company Darden Restaurants does well? Certainly not Italian food. While we have some outstanding Italian restaurants, particularly in Johns Creek, Casa Nuova probably matches Olive Garden the best. It’s pretty good Italian grub that’s not so refined to keep it out of the price range. And you won’t be a stranger at this place very long.

Ditch the North Point Mall food court for Mama’s Pizza. It is a shame that mall operator General Growth Properties doesn’t try to attract better food options in the mall, although we’re hearing rumors that this might be about to change. Nevertheless, your best bet for local grub near the mall is Mama’s. They often get overlooked as Alpharetta’s pizza scene flourishes and that’s too bad. Their New York-style pie is a solid contender and a great value at lunch.

Say adios to Speedy with beans and try El Trompo Mexican Taqueria. I still can’t convince my frugal co-workers to ditch El Porton. They are seriously missing out. El Trompo’s street tacos cost almost no pesos and are packed with flavor. I won’t spill too much digital ink on these guys because we’re written about them a bunch. But please, for the love of God, don’t set foot in the Jones Bridge El Porton when El Trompo across the street.

Put the plate down and leave Golden Corral for Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. If putting on the feed bag is your only motivation here, then I guess GC gives you the best ratio of carb or protein for the buck. But it’s disgusting. Instead try Pappadeaux on Mansell Road. You’d be hard challenged to find a better all-you-can-eat buffet in Alpharetta.

And finally, scatter from Waffle House and try breakfast at Scratch Fresh. It was tough to think of a decent replacement for this Atlanta institution. The burgeoning high-end breakfast scene, with players like Egg Harbor, Another Broken Egg and First Watch, doesn’t really fit into the Waffle House genre. So we went with Scratch here for their affordable cost and super friendly staff.

18 Responses to “Chain restaurant substitutions in Alpharetta”

  1. Diego March 6, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    Great support for local businesses, awesome idea to swap. (Though Pappadeaux’s is a national chain…)

  2. Goldenboy March 6, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    I agree that Pappadeaux lunch buffet is awesome, I am not sure it meets the criteria as a local business, as I am pretty sure it is a national chain. Furthermore, I have never been a fan of Casa Nouva. The people there are very friendly and it is a charming restaurant, but I have never been overly impressed. Better than Olive Garden? Absolutely, but I will skip over this spot just as often as the former.

  3. Matt Leis March 6, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Another great replacement for Olive Garden is Zola Italian Bistro in Milton. By far my favorite place in the area.

  4. Cool Papa Bell March 6, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    I agree (lack of) quality is the reason I support indies. The business model says chains are about getting prime locations, branding, buying in bulk, etc while independent restaurants have to put out a superior product to compete.

    Darden, Joe’s Crap Shack, etc also employ real people and have regular folks who own stock etc, so I’ve never bought into the mom and pop vs. corporations false narrative. But eating at Darden is only an option after I’ve completely given up on life and happily pay more for a low-grade product. I work too hard for my money to settle for substandard slop.

    The biggest gaps are probably in pizza eminence. Why would anyone even consider “Pizza, pizza” or Dominoes when better-quality choices abound?

    Pappadeaux’s is corporate but not bad. I’d still prefer Hugo’s or Adele’s, but ala Houston’s Pap does well for a conglomerate. Support mom and pops? Eh, think it out a bit better. Support quality? I’m all in SLG.

    WaHo local alternative? How about Loren’s? That being said, Norcross based WaHo puts out a decent product for a low price.

  5. Corky March 6, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Good recommendations for chain substitutions. The only quibble I have is Pappadeux’s, which is a chain of restos out of Texas. I know I used to eat at a Pappadeux’s in Houston and Dallas, also, Pappa’s Steak, and Pappacito’s.

  6. Travis Allen March 6, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Uh, Pappadeaux is a chain…

    I’m with you on the mexican restaurants, I think they all taste the same, but I’ll stick with one of the Pure Taqueria locations in lieu of driving over to Johns Creek.

    As for Italian, there’s both Ippolito’s and Provino’s if you don’t like the tight squeeze of Casa Nuova.

    And I’ve never had a bad steak at Longhorn or Capitol Grille, Darden does some things well.

    Scratch does burgers alright, and I here their breakfast is great, but without being able to see a menu, I’ve never gone.

  7. Travis Allen March 6, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Ippolito’s and Provino’s are both locally owned too.

  8. Sewducky March 6, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Extra breakfast chains for comparison – Cracker Barrel, Ihop, Bob Evans, Perkins.

    My family visits a specific darden restaurant on a regular basis because we’ve been fans since before it was a national chain, it was started in ATL.

  9. Kate March 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Good topic. As well as the quality aspect, my other motivation for seeking out local places is I guess about supporting someone’s dream. Enormous personal effort and resources go into opening and running a restaurant as an individual owner. All jobs have value. But chains are staffed by people who just as easily can, and do, work anywhere. Talk to a local owner and you usually find their heart, soul and passion is in their business, not to mention their entire financial future. If they’re providing a good meal, I’m happy to help them succeed.

  10. Scratchy225 March 6, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    Adobo Taqueria is another fabulous one-off Mexican restaurant, and it’s right down the street from El Trompo at the far right end of the Publix strip at the corner of Jones Br and Abbotts Br roads. My husband and I discovered Adobo about five years ago, and since then we’ve really have a hard time going to any other Mexican restaurant and liking it as much as Adobo. If you want amazingly tasty, reasonably priced Mexican food, give Adobo a try. Every time we bring guests with us to Adobo, they rave about the food. You will too! (And no, they don’t know I’m writing this, so no, I’m not getting paid to say this.)

  11. Jen March 6, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    I like this article. I agree that it’s really about quality. I had a chat with chef who works downtown (and dreams of opening a European bakery) and suggested that he come to Alpharetta. He laughed and said he gets that suggestion a lot (either to open a fine dining restaurant or bakery up here). He said that people in Alpharetta are not as rich as they appear and that people don’t really know what quality food is.

    That was somewhat disappointing to hear and I hope that perception changes so that we continue to get great chefs in the area.

  12. Jen March 6, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

    Just to add a comment about northpoint mall: as a relatively new mom, I’ve noticed that northpoint is missing a big opportunity by not having a coffee shop near the play area and train stop. Moms hang out on that side a lot a we are often dying for a coffee but have a hard time dragging toddlers away from the play area to Starbucks so we either don’t bother with coffee and get a pretzel and water or we just bring our own coffee.

  13. Lionel Thompson March 8, 2015 at 9:59 pm #

    Another option for buffet, Ipanema. It’s 1/3 the cost of Fires of Brazil and for what you save you just walk up to the counter to get your meat and the salad selection is less expansive, but you don’t really go for the salad anyway.

    Also, haven’t been as it doesn’t wow me myself, but there’s also AJ’s Home Cooking at the intersection of Hayne’s Bridge and Old Milton next to Loco’s. It’s home cooking type foods, all you can eat, and fairly inexpensive, and you are helping a local team out rather than a large corporation.

  14. S Lee Guy March 10, 2015 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks for the comments guys. Took some lumps over Pappadeaux and that was fair. Was trying to think of a substitution for a chain buffet. AJ’s, while certainly locally owned, really disappointed me.

  15. Jeff March 10, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    You can never fail with Scratch or El Tromp….two of my go to standards. Great food, great price and excellent staff.

  16. Ben March 10, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

    Ipanema +1…. AJs is health food! I like it too.

  17. Elijah Snow March 14, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Great article, and all of this is well and good, but why did you bury the lead?


    My daughter drags me there all the time, and yes, there is a 5 Guys now, but come ON, out with it! I need more information from the best source in all the land.

    Please? Can haz?

  18. Kevin March 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    Agreed that the locals are great subs for the chains. Was recently looking for an alternative to the mass-produced feel of Panera Bread and was directed to Great Harvest Bread Company, just off Windward and Hwy 9 in Alpharetta. After being offered a free slice of fresh-made bread, I chatted up the counter person and learned a few things:

    All their bread is fresh made in store with no preservatives and all fresh ingredients.

    They have a sister store in Johns Creek on Medlock Bridge, near St. Ives.

    It’s a franchise operation, but locally owned and operated – the same husband and wife team own both stores.

    They offer spreads, pancake mixes, soup mixes and other goodies as well as their bread. But no cakes.

    I ordered a “Tuscan Chicken” sandwich and it was simply awesome. Better than anything I’ve ever had at Panera or Corner Bakery. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth a try.

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