I don't really trash a joint in this column. This really ticks off my critics, who believe criticism should be based on personal taste and limited to some sort of foie gras and unicorn dream that a perfect meal waits around every corner.
Sadly, not so.
What does exist is a lot of good food from plenty of mom-and-pop restaurant owners who struggle to keep their doors open for an increasingly fickle public. With my little piece of real estate in this publication, I don't feel compelled to point you toward bad food, but to spotlight an experience - note I said experience - that will be pleasing, perhaps entertaining, and that represents good value.
Where are those places? Let's look back into a waning 2011 for some eats that deserve your attention.
La Xalapena: I can't seem to get in enough drum beating for Ernestina and her able team at this Skidaway Road cantina. Yeah, it's fairly austere, there's no alcohol and you may be the only diner that night, but the food is fresh, made to order and comes from a spotless kitchen. Forgo a margarita for once and give it a try. The green sauce will light you up!
Rancho Alegre: Lots of you remain unenlightened about this Cuban-inspired eatery on MLK. The food is great, the wine list fairly priced and a real Latin world tour of vineyards - and the recent addition of more frequent live music - creates an atmosphere like none other in the city. The roasted chicken, yeah, it's a unicorn moment.
Henry's Restaurant: There has been plenty of whining about downtown breakfast for cheap. Henry's, now about three months old, fills the bill in a bright, lively setting at Drayton and Congress streets. A giant salad bar soothes grazing office workers, and a rib-sticking, all-day good breakfast can be scored, with coffee, for under $10 - with tip.
La Comarca: Road trip south on Ogeechee Road and just before Buckhalter look left for this Mexican buffet. This one gets an A+ for authenticity. Don't know how to eat the mysterious dishes on the buffet? Don't be afraid to ask and you will be able to sample a bowl of pork skin stew and will get a condiment treatment that turns it from bland to bodacious - a carnivale of flavors, textures and color. Like the banner out front says: No Tex-Mex!
Saigon Flavors: This little Vietnamese eatery and an adult novelty store anchor this the shopping center at Stephenson and Waters. Clean, austere and too bright - all the better to see my pho or banh mi. Eat. Here. Now.
The owners of these ethnic gems epitomize the food service industry - they work long days without many days off.
They are the crucial cog of much larger economy that keeps us rolling - and our bellies full. Happy New Year to them, and their peers - and you! Here's to many great meals in 2012!