Sure, Atlanta is full of world-class dining and award-winning restaurants, but if dining the world over is what you’re truly interested in, Buford Highway is your spot. On this road, a 26-mile stretch spaning the city proper to its surrounding suburbs, exploring the vast and diverse cuisines that feed the mouths of the world is not only affordable—tacos, dim sum, and other small plates start at just $2—but easy to navigate and fun. On Buford Highway, you can drive a straight path to international cuisine so authentic you’ll feel as though you are on an epic vacation, hopping and globetrotting between continents—when, in fact, you are only a few miles from the comforts of your own home. Here are a few standout places to check out.
The Best Place for Tacos on Buford Highway: El Rey Del Taco
Atlanta has taco offerings in nearly every neighborhood, but if you want to find truly authentic tacos, with delicious homemade tortillas packed with cotija cheese, cilantro, lime, and jalapeno, head to El Rey del Taco. This spot is especially great because it’s open late (until 5 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday-Saturday) and has a fan base that is wildly diverse, from late night club kids to graveyard hour cops and paramedics. That means you’ll have just as fun people watching as you will sampling their tacos, which range from traditional favorites like carnitas and chicken to more eclectic treats like a tasty Arabes (lamb) and lengua (tongue) taco.
The Best Place for Dim Sum on Buford Highway: Canton House
Dim Sum is the Cantonese version of tapas, only instead of pan con tomate and pintxos, it’s fried dumplings and radish rice cake. At this spacious dining spot, an assortment of scrumptious small plates are carted tableside, and you pick and choose what you want. Each plate runs $2-$5, so it’s inexpensive to try a range of goods. Must-have favorites include: Shumai (ground pork dumplings in a delicate wrapper), shrimp dumplings, and the beef short ribs, sticky, bone-in pieces that are big on flavor and typically served with scallions. And while Canton House serves traditional tea with every meal, their dim sum items are perfectly washed down with one of their cold beers.
The Best Place for Soup Dumplings on Buford Highway: Northern China Eatery
Finding proper soup dumplings, a Shanghainese delicacy, in Atlanta can be a challenge. Several places have them, like Dim Sum Heaven and Chef Liu, but are generally a miss on one or two crucial components (e.g. not enough broth, wrappers that break too easily). Northern China Eatery is the exception. A simple, no-frills gem tucked away on the side of a small plaza, Northern China Eatery serves up plump soup bombs full of rich, fatty broth, salty flavor, and just the right amount of splash-splash surprise. This place is BYOB though, so if you’re looking to wash it all down with an icy cold beer, come prepared.
The Best Place for Hot Pot on Buford Highway: Little Sheep Hot Pot
There are many options for this Chinese staple, where meats, vegetables, noodles, and more are cooked in a hot metal pot of flavorful broth, on Buford Highway, but Little Sheep wins out for being both delicious and budget-friendly. While many hot pot restaurants will charge you a la carte for ingredients, Little Sheep offers an all-you-can-eat option for just $18.95 per person, so you can stock up on all the beef, pork, bamboo shoots, cabbage, and other offerings you want. A separate bar, with sauces like soy, hoisin, and chili paste, as well as toppings like pickled vegetables, diced onions, parsley, and more, lets you customize your pot to personal taste preferences. And don’t forget to bring your friends: hot pot is a dining experience that’s as interactive as it is communal, so definitely take a “more is merrier” approach to this all-you-can-eat fun.
The Best Place for Vietnamese on Buford Highway: Nam Phoung
While many of Buford Highway’s best bets are small, hole-in-the-wall joints, Nam Phuong is much easier to find. With its bright signage and spacious dining room, this casual restaurant makes it easy to spot and nab a table, even without a reservation. Once seated, you’ll find a menu with something for everyone. Of note are the super fresh papaya salad with shrimp, fish sauce wings, salt and pepper squid and the Ca Kho To, caramelized catfish prepared in a clay pot. For the more timid diners, check out the Bo Luc Lac, a Vietnamese “Shaking Beef” dish that features a sautéed flank steak with vegetables.
The Best Place for Vietnamese Banh Mi on Buford Highway: Lee’s Bakery
The majority know that if you are hungry for a Banh Mi, the Vietnamese version of a hoagie that’s stuffed with ingredients like lunchmeat, paté, Korean barbecued pork, and pickled veggies, then Lee’s Bakery is the place. The Vietnamese bakery routinely lands on best-of lists, and for good reason: Lee’s serves up a number of versions for just $3 or so and bakes its own bread—snag three rolls for just $1 if you want to try making them at home—so sandwiches always taste fresh. Those with extra appetite may want to grab two sandwiches and stuff the fillings from both into one toasty baguette—we often find that the filling in one sandwich is a bit skimpy, but for less than $5, it’s hard to complain.
The Best Place for Pho on Buford Highway: Pho 24
The cooler months scream for this slurpy, Southern Vietnamese masterpiece, and no wonder: the perfect bowl of Pho warms your bones and comforts you like an edible security blanket. Nearly every best-of list in Atlanta places Pho Dai Loi 2 at the top, but we’re partial to Pho 24, where you’ll find steaming jumbo bowls of fragrant meat broth, with various combinations of noodles, raw and roasted cuts of beef, tendon, tripe, and more, which are then topped with sprouts, peppers and herbs. This popular Vietnamese dish can be found all over Buford Highway, but but Pho 24 stands out with its speedier service and richer broth.
The Best Place for Sushi on Buford Highway: Sushi House Hayakawa
Long considered the best sushi on Buford Highway, Sushi House Hayakawa reopened earlier this year after a renovation and refresh that resulted in a renewed focus on the quality and skills chef Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa acquired while training in Sapporo, Japan (read: no more California rolls). Reservations, which can fill quickly, are now required at this small spot, which seats around 30, but the effort is absolutely worth it: the melt-in-your-mouth cuts of salmon, red snapper, fatty tuna, and other raw fish are incredibly fresh. Several of the cooked dishes on the menu, including the sliced duck and lobster tempura, are also worth a try. But for the optimal experience, splurge on the omakase: just name your price and any food restrictions, and chef Hayakawa will return a gorgeous, colorful platter of nigiri and sashimi that’s sure to delight.
The Best Place for Korean BBQ on Buford Highway: Han Il Kwan
Savory meats cooked over charcoal fire right at your table? Yes, please. While the options for Korean BBQ are plentiful in Atlanta, from Hae Woon Dae and Breakers to Iron Age, we think Han Il Kwan is the authoritative go-to for chargrilled authentic carnivorous Korean cuisine because of its wide-ranging offerings and friendly service. Combinations of beef and pork—some marinated, some raw—are brought to the table and cooked in front of your eyes by your server, and cut by scissors into bite sized pieces for the table. Banchan (small Korean side dishes such as kimchi and cucumber salad) round out the table, along with dipping sauces.
The Best Place for Kebabs on Buford Highway: 90 Kabob
There’s an iteration of meat-on-a-stick in nearly every corner of the world, and 90 Kabob does an incredible take on the ones found in Western China. At this nondescript spot in the back of a busy strip mall, you’ll find traditional Chinese flavors such as ginger and five spice infused with the flavors of their neighbors to the west, India and Afghanistan. Sticks of lamb, beef, and chicken—the chicken wing is not to be missed—are prepared with bold cumin cut with spicy peppers. There are also standout items that don’t come on a stick, such as a delicious and beautiful dish of whole eggplant, which is pounded flat and thin and spiced with mixed flavors.
The Best Place for Crawfish on Buford Highway: Crawfish Shack Seafood
This New Orleans classic takes several twists and turns on Buford Highway. At Crawfish Shack Seafood, they get a pop of Asian flavor—the owners are Vietnamese transplants from Louisiana—with ingredients such as fish sauce and lemongrass (a pound of crawfish plus two sides will run you just $10). The unassuming place, where diners often eat communal-style on picnic benches and grab their own ice for drinks from a cooler, serves up more traditional seafood fare, too, including fried shrimp po’boys and oysters.
The Best Place for Bangladeshi on Buford Highway: Panahar
Don’t let the fancier atmosphere (e.g. white-cloth napkins tucked into water glasses) fool you—the food at Panahar is anything but, and in the best way possible. This Bangladeshi restaurant serves stick-to-your-sides comfort food, from biriyanis and chutneys to curries and specialty preparations of lamb, beef, and more. The Chicken Tikka Tondoori (grilled chicken marinated in a tandoori sauce with ground herbs and spices) is a crowd favorite, but don’t miss out on the Lamb Dhaanshaag, which features lamb cooked in orange lentils served on top of rice flavored with cardamom and bay leaves. If you’re overwhelmed by the options, opt for Panahar’s spectacular lunch buffet deal, which is available Tuesday through Sunday for a mere $9.35.
The Best Place for Dessert on Buford Highway: 8° Fahrenheit
Eating the sweet, Thai-inspired ice cream rolls is just half the fun of going to this popular joint—watching your order get made is equally as fun. Heavy cream is poured onto freeze plates and then cut and mixed with your choice of ingredients, from lychee and Kit Kat bars to whip cream and marshmallows. The mixture is then tucked into several rolls for a presentation made for Instgramming. With a number of flavor combinations offered, there’s something for everyone at 8° Fahrenheit, from the Fifty Shades of Grey (chocolate ice cream mixed with banana) to the Sexy Georgia (Thai tea ice cream mixed with peach).
Runner up: Sweet Hut, where you can find sweet puffs, buns, and tarts for a couple bucks a piece. Try the Mexican Milk Cream, which has a sweet filling tucked into a coffee-flavored bun, for a post-dinner treat.