Editor’s Note: Our dining essayist Sara Delgado is flying the Atlanta coop for new culinary adventures in New York City. This is part one of a five-part series as she looks back at her favorite dining moments in The A.
I’ve never been one for saying goodbye. It doesn’t matter if it’s a party or a long-term relationship, I’m usually the last to go home or the one that gets broken up with. Rejection doesn’t scare me—I feel fortunate enough to have lived a life filled with more beginnings than endings—but it’s this complacency that’s made Atlanta very hard to leave. The city that changes too quickly yet too slowly at the same time, where I attended college, launched my career, and found my voice has become what I always feared it would—comfortable. To me, Atlanta is more than just east versus west, ‘OTP’ versus ‘ITP’, it dramatically changes shades as you move from neighborhood to neighborhood, and the main roads run like bloodlines through a congested, gridless collection of flesh and bones. We all live in our own version of this city, and much like owning a car, it’s requisite that you carve out your own.
Moving from San Francisco as a child, the culture shock was instant. The only places I felt at ease were restaurants, and in the days before Yelp and food media as we know it today, restaurant acclaim (to me) was the framed write-ups that furnished the walls at Five Guys. My parents always claim they knew from an early age that I loved to eat, so much so that my mom often laments about how I resisted ordering from the kids’ menu, and that not soon after I learned how to chew, I wanted to eat “like an adult”. The only thing that got me through a long Sunday mass was knowing the dim sum brunch that would follow; and year after year, I sold the most Girl Scout cookies in my troop because I was able to passionately discuss the flavor profiles of each cookie with any passerby outside our local Safeway.
Come to think of it, I’ve been making recommendations on where to eat and what to order for as long as I can remember. Dining out is my favorite ritual. If decisively ordering for a table of 12 was an Olympic sport, I know I’d make gold. Routine and recreation aside, there’s no more romantic act in my eyes than showing someone a restaurant you love.
A rational person moving away from Atlanta might be worried about leaving their community or being priced out of a once-affordable city, yet I am inordinately attached to my favorite restaurants. When I told my close friends that I’d be moving to New York City, I was mostly met with excitement, glee, and some version of, “Oh, I can totally see you in New York. There’s so much good food, you’re going to thrive.” But I don’t see it that way. I feel a sense of impending remorse, almost like I’m leaving the party a little too early. I’ll regularly have nightmares about seeing one my favorite restaurants in the dreaded Eater roundup of recent closures while I’m hundreds of miles away to do or say anything about it.
So here I am vexed by the dilemma of needing to flee the nest that’s kept me warm and fed, all while yearning for a past that’s not quite behind me. And while moving to a new city isn’t permanent, there’s a finality I can’t ignore. Atlanta lost so many great restaurants to COVID, and as aggressive real estate development continues to turn over every last available corner of the city, I feel the need to take inventory of my favorite places in a way that allows others to eat and drink where I can’t. Behind every “you should eat here” or “you have to try this”, there’s a memory stored away in the recess of my mind waiting to be unpacked. For me, nostalgia is like a preservative, carefully packaging memories of my favorite meals so that they can be unwrapped for later use.
In this series, I will take readers on a guided tour of Atlanta, recalling my most unforgettable dining experiences (past and present) and share the tiny details that make them special to me in the hopes that it nudges others to recreate and maintain the best of what I believe this city has to offer. Over the last few months, I’ve been revisiting my favorite haunts and going down memory lane, refreshing my palate around the dishes that have defined my career as a diner and observer. Learn why you should love Buckhead for what it is, which American Deli’s reign superior, why your seat in a restaurant matters, and follow me on a verbal double-decker tour down Buford Highway. In the words of a dear friend of mine, “I’m already sentimental for this.”
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