When people think of restaurants is Athens, the term "ethnic" cuisine is not the first thing to come to mind. But I beg to differ. In fact, I've had arguably some of the best international food in my entire life right here in Athens.
As someone whose parents exposed me and my sister to a plethora of cuisines growing up, I'm never one to shy away from learning about new foods from different cultures. So I thought I'd share some of my favorite ethnic restaurants in Athens.
1. Vietnamese: Mother Phô
This place should come with a warning label, because it is so mother pho-cking good that you will get addicted. In fact, I know people who don't even like Asian food who try it for the first time and instantly become a fan.
Prior to two years ago, I'd never stepped foot into a Vietnamese restaurant without one of my Vietnamese friends present to help navigate me through a menu full of unfamiliar dishes. So I was slightly intimidated to venture out and try Mother Phô on my own.
I'm so glad I took that leap of faith. From their banh mi heo to their pho ga saté, they sure knock it far out of the park. Resisting the urge to come here after class on North Campus is the ultimate struggle bus.
2. Multicultural: Pouch Pies
Although this restaurant (really a mini gastropub) may seem slightly controversial to be categorized as "ethnic," trust me when I say they're right on the money.
Owned by a family originally from South Africa, Pouch Pies has managed to capture the essence of flavors from all around the world into the most adorable, savory pies ever consumed.
Other shameless plugs include their Hot Chick pie, which is addictive AF if you're into spicy foods. And their beer-battered Sidewinder fries are absolutely to die for.
3. Mexican: Taqueria La Parrilla
Don't let the fact that it's a local franchise fool you. After eating here, I finally get what Guy Fieri refers to as a "driving the bus to Flavor Town." When I asked my server for hot sauce, she gave me more than one option to choose from — a rare commodity at Mexican restaurants.
Need I mention the relatively cheap cocktails, budget-friendly plates of freshly-made food, and endless chips and salsa? What more could you possibly ask for?
4. Indian: Taste of India
As an Indian native myself, I can vouch for this place as pretty culturally accurate. Albeit slightly overpriced, the food is not only authentic but pleasing to the masses.
My personal favorites are the chana papri chaat appetizer and the chicken chilly entree. I swear that every time I've been there around dinnertime there's a minimum wait, so you know they're doing something right.
5. Uruguayan: Panadería Tacuari
While I include a bakery in a litany of ethnic restaurants, this place is worthy of a spot on this list. One of my best friends and Athens native introduced me to this Uruguayan bakery when it first opened Spring 2015 and man-oh-man has it come a long way since then.
What makes Panadería Tacuari so one-of-a-kind is their cost-to-quality ration. The pastries are budget-friendly and generously proportioned.
And if you've never tried Uruguayan cuisine, what better way to dip your toes in than by trying a few tasty treats?
6. Salvadorean: Tlaloc
To clarify, Tlaloc is not a Salvadoran restaurant. They are branded as a traditional Mexican-style restaurant with a sliver of their menu dedicated to Salvadoran-style pupusas, a personal favorite of Top Chef's Hugh Acheson's. Personally, I thought the enchiladas and rice I ordered were severely under-salted, but for this article, I wanted to focus specifically on the Salvadoran portion of the menu.
I brought along a good friend (who happens to be Salvadoran) on my foodie adventure. She verified the pupusas on their menu as being not quite like her mama's, but definitely legit.
7. Thai: Siri Thai
Siri Thai does not disappoint. Fair warning, most of the entrees on their menu end up being a little over $10 per dish, but the flavor is definitely there. Nothing is more satisfying than diving into a steamy bowl of tom ka or tom yum on a rainy day in Athens. And you certainly don't have to be wasted to appreciate a plate of their pad kee mao (commonly referred to as drunken noodles).
I like to call Thai food the "new Chinese food" because it has become increasingly popular as a takeout/carryout option. Probably because Thai food is not as greasy as other pan-Asian cuisines (I'm just taking this moment to blatantly call out American-Chinese food) yet still your stomach is totally satisfied at the end of your meal.
8. Japanese: Shokitini
Sushi + Karaoke = What's not to like? But really how can one go wrong with high-quality sushi and an intimate atmosphere, perfect for entertaining both a handful of your friends or just a best bud?
Although, speaking of sushi, beware that the crab roll might be spicier than you expect. But hey, look at the bright side, the spicy crab roll will give you an excuse to get their fried Oreos for dessert.
9. Middle Eastern: The Sultan
I like to describe this place as a hole-in-the-wall with hole-in-one food. If you're ever driving down Baxter Street, you know that this joint is a quintessential blink-and-you'll-miss-it. But their chicken shawarma is worth driving down a busy street. Some days call for a steamy plate of their melt-in-your-mouth tender chicken on a bed of perfectly cooked rice.
10. Latin American: Cali-N-Tito's
This listicle wouldn't be complete without including the local fan favorite. With two locations on both sides of town, this fine Athens establishment is known for its funky decor and authentic Latin American cuisine. Whenever you're in town, definitely swing by for their fish tacos or Cuban sandwiches.
#Spoontip: For a $2 fee, you can BYOB!
11. Korean BBQ: Iron Factory
I tried Korean BBQ for the very first time in Atlanta about six months ago and was not really impressed. I loved the self-cooking aspect but expected spicier food. For me, Gochu-Jang just didn't cut it (in the defense of Gochu-Jang, I prefer chilies starting at a base of 12,000/15,000 Scoville heat units).
But I'm so glad I gave Korean BBQ a second shot in Athens because it totally hit the spot. That evening, I learned that not only is Iron Factory the perfect accommodation for a low-key-yet-upbeat Girls' Night Out, but also that grilled kimchi tastes spicier then raw kimchi. So I have officially turned into a grilled kimchi fiend. Iron Factory boasts a pretty bomb menu and even better ambiance nestled right in the west corner of Washington Street.
12. Mediterranean: Taziki's
Mediterranean cuisine was not a love-at-first-sight situation for me. I always felt like the flavor profile was blander than the other bolder, more flavorful cuisines (like Tex-Mex, Indian, Vietnamese, or Thai) that I usually gravitate towards. But after two or three visits to Taziki's, now I'm a believer... and I couldn't leave here if I tried.
So what was the million dollar dish that changed my mind? Why their herb-roasted pork loin, of course. It's arguably the best pork dish I have ever eaten in my life, mostly due to it's tender and juicy nature (it cuts like butter).
I also regularly dream about their famous tomato chutney aioli so often that I have seriously considered calling the manager recipe, because that ish will awaken your taste buds in the most delightful way possible.