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Chicken and Waffles

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

Chicken and waffles is, let’s say, a unique menu item. It’s not for everyone. The appeal is the combination of the hot savory fried chicken and the sweeter waffle. Combined with syrup and honey mustard, it’s an odd pairing. Let’s compare and contrast a few of Alpharetta’s offerings.

Bantam Biddy Chicken WaffleBantam and Biddy’s chicken and waffles consists of a few freshly prepared chicken strips on top of a cheddar waffle. Served alongside is pure cane syrup and vanilla bean apple sauce. As waffles go, the cheddar waffle wasn’t all that sweet. The syrup made up for it by being sticky sweet. The chicken was tender and breaded just right. Dousing the whole thing with the syrup is the way to go. The waffle wasn’t too dense and actually complimented the chicken. It’s pricey though at $14.

Here’s where all the hate comes in. IHOP? On a foodie blog? How dare I. Hey, they’ve got chicken and waffles and I would be remiss if I skipped them. Know what? For frozen chicken strips and a waffle made from most likely a mix, it was pretty darn tasty. The waffle was sweet and the chicken tenders were a good balance with the very light waffle. The meal comes with honey mustard and of course your choice of maple syrup. If someone gave these chicken and waffles, I would not turn them down.

On the other hand, Top Golf’s chicken and waffles were a complete disaster. It’s very surprising considering how good their food is normally. It’s presented as chicken and waffle sliders instead of the normal chicken on top of the waffle configuration. Two cost $9 with no sides. They do come with maple syrup and some kind of jalapeno gravy stuff. The waffles are made in-house and were extremely dense and heavy. Take two of those as the bun combined with a rather thin piece of chicken and it’s just too much waffle. You’re chewing through tons of bread to get to a tiny morsel of chicken. Adding the syrup just makes your hands sticky. I ended up ditching the waffles altogether and dipping the chicken into the gravy which was very good. Overall it’s disappointing.

Out of the three chicken and waffles that I tried I would give the trophy to Bantam and Biddy. IHOP is a close second, and Top Golf sliced it into the woods. Take a chance, try something different and order the chicken and waffles. Tell me what you think.

Fish sandwiches in Alpharetta

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

This week marks the beginning of the season of Lent. While I personally don’t observe this Christian tradition, many do and I respect that. Often those who participate abstain from eating meat on Fridays and of course Friday is the day we write about food here on Roots. So what happens if an observant, and hungry, Catholic stumbles upon our little blog on a Friday and reads about a juicy steak or delicious smoked barbecue? I don’t want to be responsible for breaking their Lenten penance!

rosa mia seared sole panini

Seared sole panani at Rosa Mia

Strangely enough fish doesn’t count as a meat for this Friday meal. So three years ago at this time we reviewed fish tacos. This week we’ll do fish sandwiches, one of my favorite lunches. There’s only one ground rule today – no farm-raised fish. Sorry tilapia, you’re a fish out of water in this article. Here are three choices that won’t leave that observant Catholic floundering.

Wade over to Rosa Mia in Johns Creek for their seared sole panini. Their menu touts it as a number one seller and I can see why. It’s a generous helping of pan-seared fish on pressed focaccia bread. Roasted red peppers also make an appearance as does a little, almost unnoticeable smear of pesto mayo. But the flavor of this flaky fish really shines through. The downside is its construction. Hard bread doesn’t work against a delicate fish filet. About half way through the sandwich it starts to disintegrate. It can also be a tad bit greasy. But don’t let this stop you from ordering Rosa Mia’s seared sole panini as it easily makes the medal podium today.

The fish sandwich isn’t on the regular menu at Wildflour on Windward Parkway, but they have it almost every day as a lunch special. And it’s hard to cast a net over this fish as the species changes everyday. One thing is for sure, chef Michael Fields uses only the best wild-caught fish in season. Recently it has been flounder, mahi-mahi, cobia and trout. Sometimes crustaceans scurry into their sammiches including scallops, shrimp and their popular crab cakes.

Whatever swimming critter they cook, fish sandwiches at Wildflour are always a winner. Occasionally they grill the fish which imparts a wonderful smokey flavor. Topped off with jalapeno lime sauce, this sandwich is terrific. And unlike most of Wildflour’s dainty lunchtime clientele, this sandwich is large and manly.

While certainly not large and substantial, South Main Kitchen‘s fish sandwich is far more refined. Downtown Alpharetta’s newest restaurant recently hooked this mahi-mahi sandwich onto their lunch menu and it’s decent.

I liked South Main’s chili lime sauce at the base of the bun. It’s a lot like Wildflour’s but with a little less heat. I only wish there was a tad bit more of it.

What I wanted less of was the pickled cabbage slaw on top. I liked its tartness and crunch for texture, but there was so much of it that it overpowered the delicate little fish underneath. And little should be emphasized. The piece of fish offered was pretty small, especially for the $14 price tag. It would have felt more at home on a slider bun.

Strangely enough the only thing generous here was their french fries. The plate was buried with their golden brown goodness. I was seriously impressed with these spuds, but that’s for another article. We’re fishing here.

There may be plenty of other fish in the sea, but these three shouldn’t disappoint. If you know of other sandwiches that are fishing for a complement, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – February 2015

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

Figo Pasta closed signArrivederci Figo Pasta. The fast-casual Italian eatery on North Point closed their doors for good about two weeks ago, leaving this goodbye in the window. On social media the company blamed the poor location for their demise but word is that the chain is suffering. Or perhaps it’s the general concept. Mirko Pasta, a very similar competitor, recently closed in Johns Creek. We knew this one was coming as the business had been listed for sale with a restaurant broker. We suspected Figo might go as well, but we didn’t expect them both to go at almost the same time.

Replacing Mirko in Johns Creek is an Indian restaurant called Mirchi Virchi. They opened on Monday. Also in Johns Creek look for Brooklyn Cantina to open on Jones Bridge Road in the former 12 Slices location.

Someone has leased the former pretzel store space on Highway 9 in Milton near Target. We’re told the name will be Chad Thai Urban Asian Kitchen but at this point don’t know much more about the concept. There are several other Thai restaurants in the west Windward area so we’ll see how they fare. And we’re also hearing a fast food restaurant may build across the street in front of Aldi, but the scoop belongs to Eli Zandman so I’ll let him report on it.

And speaking of scoops, the folks over at Scoop OTP got one on me. They reported this week that Roswell’s Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar will open a new location in downtown Alpharetta. Look for them at 42 Milton Avenue near the 2B Whole bakery. Of course Salt Factory paved the way with expansion from Roswell a few years ago. Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen considered coming to downtown Alpharetta but pulled the plug on their plans. What other Roswell eateries could be next?

Several previously-reported restaurants have opened since last month. Tom+Chee opened two weeks ago on North Point near Chicken Salad Chick.  Vito’s Pizza-Rant has opened on Old Milton Parkway. They are the third pizza concept to open here since Mama’s left about a year and a half ago. Laguna Mexican Grill has opened in south Forsyth where BW Tavern once lived. And Smallcakes, a franchise cupcake joint, has now opened at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.

Our coming soon list has been updated. A number of these projects are stalling or otherwise progressing slowly.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. Perhaps their buildout has stalled.
Cook-Out – Their buildout has started on Haynes Bridge.
Cafe at Pharr – Their opening appears to be far out. Slow progress on Windward.
Ricco’s Italian & Tapas -  A promising new concept to open on Highway 9 in Milton from a former Zola alum.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House – Haynes Bridge

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

It’s great to finally see two of the largest empty spaces in Alpharetta become occupied. The most recent is the former Rainwater location on Haynes Bridge Road. My wife and I got married here in November of 2007. It closed soon after. The fact that it was a huge space, high priced food and an awkward location combined for Rainwater’s demise. It’s a shame.

Ruths Chris logo smallAlpharetta needed a high-end fine dining establishment, a place where new business owners can take clients, eat expensive meat and toast with high dollar wines and spirits. A real Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity kind of place, unabashed 1% all the way. It’s kind of funny to say that since Rainwater was the cheapest place in the whole area to host a wedding, by far.

Anyway, years passed and I longed for something, anything to open in that space if for no other reason than to get back inside where I got married. Chill Restaurant and Lounge opened and we had hope. Then it closed in a month.

Recently word came that national steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris was moving its Sandy Spring location to that space. My wife and I took out a loan and went last weekend to finally revisit the place we exchanged vows.

Ruth’s Chris undertook an extensive remodel to bring the place back from the Chill decor that was dominated by turquoise. It looks nice now, a lot like Rainwater used to be. The beautiful wrought iron doors are gone, as are the ultra-cool teardrop lights over the bar. The layout hasn’t changed either. The space consists of a large central room that houses the hostess stand, staircase, wine lockers and five separate dining rooms. Several rooms have fireplaces and all have high-end decor and seating. Each room seems like its own restaurant. Ruth’s Chris doesn’t seem that big when you’re housed in a dining room.

One the rooms is very unique and would be perfect for rehearsal dinners. It has one long table and the walls are lined with brick with very pricy wines on display. It also holds the entrance to the wine cellar housing hundreds of bottles of wine.

Upstairs hasn’t changed a lot at this point either. We were told that events have and will be held upstairs.  We were also told that the Governor Deal and Mayor Belle Isle were there recently to give speeches. I am very glad to see that future couples will be able to be married there.

The food or course was outstanding and insanely expensive. The menus are presented in both normal fashion and on an iPad. I wish it was either/or not both. The table got crowded.

The service was impeccable. The waiter had one of those little crumb scrapers to clean the table cloth. I love that. The steaks came out sizzling of course, but most importantly, perfectly cooked. The 1800 degree broiler does a good job. But for an average price of $40 a steak, I could get several from Woody’s Meat and Sausage Company, cook them at home and be just as happy. Sides are extra of course. Two people with drinks (local beers from Jekyll and Monday Night are available), steaks and sides can run upwards to $200. Ouch.

Ruth’s Chris has and always will cater to the 1% and those with expense accounts. The place is nice and will definitely impress clients and friends. We went at 6:00 PM on a Saturday and it was packed. Time will tell if the name recognition of Ruth’s Chris will keep this steakhouse in the game.

A downtown wish list

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

After grabbing lunch and a beer at Hop Alley recently, I took a stroll across the street to the new Alpharetta City Center. It was my first time to get an up close and personal look at what downtown will look like. It was great. I loved the large grassy area, the tree lined streets, the grand city hall, the abundance of sidewalks, and the massive in ground fountain.

downtown overlayI visited a similar development in Virginia last year. They also had a large fountain where kids could get in and get wet. It was a huge it! I don’t expect anything less down here when the temps hit 90.

As I stood in the middle of it all, my attention was drawn to the real estate on either side of the main lawn/gathering place. While we are still a ways off from spending our money here, I can’t help but envision what I would like to see there.

Retail? Meh, don’t care. Some boutique or art store or whatever. I’m talking about what downtown would NEED. Like a good sandwich shop/deli. Like a New York-style corned beef on rye handmade meatballs thousand types of sandwiches kind of place.

If the beer laws change (if) I’d love to see Jekyll Brewing have a presence downtown. I know they’ve talked about it.

I would love to see a cool little ice cream shop with old fashioned deserts and sodas. Like Scoops but better.

Most of the places could have patio dining with live music and gas lamps. Can you imagine how great it could be? I can.

The city has a chance to do something really great downtown, a chance to set Alpharetta apart from every other town in the northern arc. I hope that they think about the citizens and not about who will give them the most money or who is partnered with who. I know some of the city council members read this blog. Comment and tell them what you want to see downtown and how you envision Alpharetta’s future.

Cheap eats in Alpharetta

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

Meet James, a co-worker of mine who eats out for lunch everyday. Sounds familiar. We ought to have a lot in common yet seldom do our restaurant paths cross. But James, along with his cadre of old timers who eat together everyday, are rather set in their ways. They’re also very frugal.

One day I challenged James to break out of his routine of Subway and Speedy with beans. He returned my challenge with one of his own. Find restaurants that are close to our Windward office, offer something delicious and will cost $8 or less including drink and tip.

So James, without further adieu, here’s your list.

Pizza by the slice – Alpharetta is completely covered up in New York-style pizza. Your cheapest way to enjoy is ordering by the slice at lunch. Most joints will do two slices with toppings and a drink for around seven bucks. Top picks in this category include Verra-Zanno Pizzeria in Johns Creek along with their sister restaurant Joe’s New York Pizzeria on Mansell Road. Mama’s Pizza on North Point and Brooklyn Joe’s off Windward are also fine choices and a little closer to most cubicle dwellers.

El Trompo signAuthentic Mexican – Give Speedy Gonzalez the adios. He’s certainly cheap but you can do far better for the same pesos. Mr. Taco and our beloved El Trompo Mexican Taqueria are where you need to be. Mix and match some a la carte tacos and wash it down with a Mexican coke.  It easily fits within our $8 budget.

Mediterranean – Two words: gyro wraps. They are delicious, very filling and well within our budget in most instances. I like Grecian Gyro in Johns Creek Walk, Cafe Efendi on Main Street and Seven Seas Cafe Devore Road. And if you’re willing to approach the $10 mark, nothing beats the chicken shawarma wrap at Jerusalem Bakery on Old Milton.

Chinese – It’s certainly cheap at lunch, but it takes a lot to impress me in this category. Head down to Johns Creek for the good stuff. Liu Fu will serve the Chinese food your accustomed to for $8 at lunch. Or better yet, establish yourself as a Chinese food epicure and order the Szechwan-style hot boiled fish. It breaks our budget at $10 but is well worth it. You’ll need extra napkins to dab the sweat off your brow.

For quality Thai food at very reasonable prices hit Satay House on Alpharetta’s South Main Street. Some lunch options are priced as low as $6.25. How do they do it?

X-tudoAnd finally, for my off-the-wall budget lunch pick, head over to Old Milton’s  Coisas de Brasil and order the X-tudo. For a measly six bucks your sammich comes with hamburger, a fried egg, mozzarella cheese, ham, lettuce, tomato, corn and peas. It’s the most bizarre lunch item in Alpharetta, but it’s cheap!

Not every good restaurant in Alpharetta has to be fine dining. Guys like my friend James are never going to shell out $18 for a plate of tacos at The El Felix. You don’t have to either. Hopefully this list gives the budget-conscious gastronome a decent place to begin. If you’ve got ideas for delicious cheap eats, I’d love to hear them!

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2015

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

Ricco's coming soon signThe restaurant server community is abuzz about one of their own hanging out his shingle. Ricco’s Italian & Tapas will open on Highway 9 in Milton in the original Zola Bistro space. The restaurant’s namesake is a popular former server at Zola. Following that restaurant’s sale and relocation down the street, Ricco worked at Campania before quitting recently to work on this gig.

We like Ricco’s chances in this space. Word is that he already has a loyal clientele from his Zola days ready to follow him. They will certainly be familiar with the location and should provide Ricco’s the necessary tailwind to make it in this space.

Simply Pizza on Old Milton has been sold after a short time in business. The latest concept de jour will be called Vito’s Pizza-Rant and will be run by partners who relocated from Florida. The menu will be familiar with pizza and pasta but they’ll also offer gluten-free and vegan options as well. As for the name… the hyphen suggests this is a play on the word “restaurant” but perhaps a rant about pizza could arranged.

Milton’s Kabab & Wraps closed for a short time. They’ve made a small renovation, rebranded the place as Pepper’s Indian Cuisine and have already reopened for business.

Antico Pizza Napoletana finally opened this week at Avalon and the Italian concept Colletta has announced a February 6th opening. This should complete the initial restaurant lineup at the development.

We’re hearing word that a small shopping center and restaurant may be in the works across Old Milton from Avalon. Additional retail in this area should complement Avalon which, while very unique and popular, is currently a retail island unto itself.

200px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAnd in other shopping center news… plans are also in the works for a remodel of the former Tilted Kilt restaurant building on Windward Parkway. The plan calls for a conversion of the space into a three-tenant shopping center with better road visibility from Windward. Update: We’ve been able to confirm that Starbucks will move from their location in the adjacent shopping center into this former Tilted Kilt space. Their new digs will feature a drive-thru and patio.

My blogger friend Eli Zandman reported that stir-fry joint Real Chow Baby abruptly closed their Howell Mill Road location in Atlanta in late December. The sign on the door indicated that they are moving to Alpharetta however we’ve seen nothing to suggest that hard plans are in the works. We’ll keep them in our rumor bin until something something more substantial materializes.

Eli also sniffed out the to-be location of Burger 21 in Johns Creek. Last month in this column we suggested that they were closer to announcing something. Turns out they will be in a new shopping center called Johns Creek Promenade on Peachtree Parkway just a little above Johns Creek Walk. Construction on this large shopping center is just starting so the burgers won’t be flipping for some time.

Opening since last month is JD’s Sports Pub & Pizza in south Forsyth. And Nothing Bundt Cakes has opened their latest location at The Collection at Forsyth.

Restaurants Coming Soon

The Farmhouse – Still waiting on this coffee and crepe shop in Johns Creek.
Jay’s Mexican Grill and Taqueria – Little place on McFarland.
Tom and Chee – Grilled cheese and soup joint that should open in February on North Point.
Smallcakes - Another cake joint at 4055 Old Milton Parkway.
Cook-Out – Still no signs of life on Haynes Bridge. This location may take a while to open.
Cafe at Pharr – Another slow buildout for this sandwich chain coming to Windward.
Laguna Mexican Grill – Speedy Gonzalez coming to south Forsyth.

What changes to Georgia’s beer laws might mean to Alpharetta

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

Imagine for a minute that you and I went into business together. We had perfected a recipe for lemonade. So good was our product that we were convinced we could make millions.

We’d build a modest lemonade factory in Alpharetta and judiciously source our ingredients. We cooked up batches and sold them by the bottle to restaurants and shops. Hard work was put into distribution plans and marketing. Pretty soon business was taking off! And before long our loyal customers wanted to see the terrific operation we’d put together.

Jekyll TastingSo we started offering tours of our lemonade factory. At the end of the tour we would sell customers cases of our fabulous drink to bring home.

You know where this is going. The story is all well and good until you substitute beer for lemonade. It’s still a beverage and still crafted in small batches right here in Alpharetta. The only difference is that you can’t sell a single bottle of beer at your point of manufacture thanks to Georgia’s stupid, prohibition-era beer distribution laws.

Places like Jekyll Brewing get around the rule by offering small samples for free with the purchase a tour or perhaps a glass mug. But they can’t sell you the very product the make. And they can’t sell you a pint of the beer to drink on the premises either.

That is the crux of the problem Georgia’s craft beer industry is trying to tackle. Last year a bill was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly to make a modest change. It didn’t go far, stymied by a powerful beer distributor lobby in Atlanta.

This year the craft beer industry has regrouped and redoubled their effort. More money is being thrown into a PR, lobbying and social media effort. Branded as a way to increase jobs in Georgia, the proposed change would allow the sale of beer by the package at breweries and brew pubs. And you’d also be able to buy pints at the brewery as well.

How would this change the beer landscape in Alpharetta? Realistically it wouldn’t add a ton of jobs but certainly a few. Brewpubs like Hop Alley and 5 Seasons North could pour you a growler to take home. Perhaps they would need to make a little more beer or hire an additional person to fill those portly glass bottles.

Jekyll Brewing could do a lot with this. These guys have done amazing work in a short amount of time, expanding their product state-wide. They could get real creative if given the option to sell product in their shop.

And while breweries probably won’t see huge volumes of sales in their shops, they would however be selling at retail price. The margins of this business are through the roof compared to the puny prices they receive from distributors. It may be the financial shot in the arm that many breweries need to take things to the next level. Next comes new capital investment or new breweries entering the market. That indeed creates jobs, and better beer too.

So if my fictional lemonade factory can sell product, why not Jekyll Brewing? If anything these changes just make things fair. It’s hard to find fault with that.

For more information on the attempt to modernize Georgia’s beer laws, visit gabeerjobs.com and sign their petition.

Looking back, gazing forward

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

Every year at this time I make some predictions on what’s likely to happen in the restaurant scene in the coming year. And usually I’m completely wrong. It’s embarrassing to look on these past columns. Case in point, pizza.

Big Pie sliceLast year I thought we’d had enough pizza. The bar was set very high, especially with New York-style joints. So what happened in 2014? Crust opens and hits it out of the park. The BB’s Bagels founders boldly say the pizza here sucks and open their own joint. And we’re about to have three Neapolitan-style choices available.

So keeping my track record firmly in the back of your mind, let’s look back and consider the near future.

Downtown Alpharetta‘s restaurant scene is nearing the critical mass it needs to sustain itself. Last year at this time we knew South Main Kitchen was coming and had vague knowledge of what would become Made Kitchen. Those combined with Salt Factory, Hop Alley and the aforementioned Crust have created our own little Canton Street. It’s what we desperately needed.

So what’s next in downtown Alpharetta? I’m not aware of another deal at this time. Rumors once suggested that new restaurant space may come to the Kell Building or perhaps the abandoned gas station but neither have proven correct. Certainly new restaurant space will be available in the city center outparcels. We’ll have to see what kind of choices the property manager brings in. And what will thriving new restaurants do to rents downtown? Can the handful of older restaurants here keep up?

The Mediterranean/Greek/Persian/Middle Eastern genre has exploded over the past two years, something I certainly didn’t see coming. Chains like Zoes Kitchen expanded rapidly. Additionally some very good indy joints have opened including Noosh in Johns Creek. They complement some terrific options that we’ve already come to enjoy like Jerusalem Bakery and Baba’s in south Forysth. Expect some closures this year in this space, particularly with smaller mom-and-pop shops and franchise operators.

And finally there’s the growler store fad. Alpharetta, who had the most progressive growler law in the area, is down to only one store in their city limits. The stand-alone, pure play growler store isn’t a sound business model. Combining growlers with stores that already offer alcohol by the package is the best bet. Milton did right by allowing their sales in convenience stores. Growlers would also do well in the big box liquor stores if municipalities would allow it. I predict a few more closures in this space, particularly in Johns Creek.

What new restaurant trends do you see in 2015 and who’s not going to make it? Let me know in the comments.

El Trompo Mexican Taqueria – Johns Creek

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

At the end of the year I usually take a few weeks off from this column to spend some time with family. Today I replay my review of El Trompo in Johns Creek.

Are they the best new restaurant of 2014? I’ve toiled over that question. The answer is that I just don’t know. But let’s say this… of all the new restaurants this year, I’ve been back to El Trompo the most. If you’ve not been, go have a few al pastor tacos today for lunch. Tell ‘em Lee sent ya.

Down in Roswell you’ll find a handful of authentic Mexican restaurants in rundown digs along highway 9. They offer some cheap yet delicious eats that are often overlooked by gringos accustomed to speedy gonzalez. And I’ll admit that the menu at these places can be somewhat intimidating. Lingua? Tripe? Yikes!

El Trompo signSo I was surprised to see one of these joints open shop in affluent Johns Creek. El Trompo quietly opened back in November, flying below many new restaurant radars (including mine). And like their Roswell brothern, don’t expect fancy digs. You’ll find these guys in a small stripmall space with nary a decoration or cheesy nicknack on the wall. About the only thing to look at is a television usually tuned to soccer, in Spanish.

The menu is simple – several different kinds of meat served either as a street tacos, tortas, quesadilla or burritos. Meats include carne asada steak, chicken, carnitas (fried pork), house-made chorizo and of course the spiced pork al pastor.

Start with the street tacos on your first visit. And be forewarned, these are small. You’ll get a corn tortilla about four inches in diameter topped with the meat of your choice, onions and cilantro. Four bites and it’s history so order several. At only $1.49 each you’re not going to break the bank. Mixing and matching is encouraged.

Don’t you dare set foot in El Trompo without trying al pastor in some form. The restaurant is named for the rotating spit traditionally used to cook the spiced pork. Unfortunately theirs is hidden in the kitchen and not on display for patrons to see. The dish and technique are distantly related to sharwarma, the middle eastern delicacy you’ve hopefully tried at Alpharetta’s Jerusalem Bakery.

El Trompo’s al pastor is fabulous. It’s exploding with flavor and spice that’s somewhat tempered with the sweetness of pineapple. Drizzle a bit of salsa verde atop the taco and you’re good to go.

Or try the al pastor tortas. These are manly, two-handed sandwiches that are a bit messy yet delicious. You’ll find the pork along with lettuce, tomato and avocado strips. The bread is slightly pressed but not to the point of resembling a Cuban. I liked my torta with a wee bit of Trompo’s habanero salsa. I’m talking drops of the stuff lest you cover up every bit of flavor.

The house-made chorizo is pretty good but not as spicy as I’m accustomed to. Carne Asada also isn’t bad but plays a distant second fiddle to the pork.

Avoid the fajitas. Perhaps they’re on the menu to appease less adventurous gringos. They were uninspiring. The refried beans tasted bland, in desperate need of salt. I doused my fajitas in that habanero salsa which turned things around.

All in all, El Trompo is a winner, a hidden gem in the rough waiting to be discovered. Forget what you think about Mexican cuisine and try some of these street tacos and tortas.

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