The most frequent description folks give me when seeking a restaurant recommendation goes something like this: "Well, I'm in the mood for a place has really good food, and it doesn't have to be dirt cheap, but I really don't want to fork over my credit card knowing I could buy a wide screen TV for the cost of the meal either."
Fair enough request -- albeit a challenging one. The oddest quirk about Atlanta's dining scene is the dearth of true middle-of-the-road restaurants. The following five, which are some of my personal favorites for casual dining, fit the bill:
Au Rendez Vous
This eccentric little French joint in a lonely corner of Brookhaven serves traditional bistro fare like you'd find in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood in Paris. The eclectic crowd -- locals with kids, older folks reliving their European vacations, first dates -- makes for absorbing people-watching. It's BYOW, so bring along a wine that marries well with coq au vin. 1328 Windsor Parkway, 404-303-1968.
My biggest complaint about Atlanta is its lack of decent pizza. At least we have Fritti, Sotto Sotto's little sister in Inman Park. The Roman-style pies have thin, crispy crusts and posh ingredients (try the pancetta and caramelized onion combo). Begin the meal with plates of fried seafood or crispy, rosemary-scented mushrooms. Similar pizza places have popped up around town, but Fritti remains the best. 309 N. Highland Ave., 404-880-9559.
There's nothing like Greeny's when you're hungry for soulful fare. From the pile of corn muffins slung on the table by a sassy server to the trout with lemon butter sauce, broccoli casserole and dense, cinnamony apple pie, this is stick-to-your-ribs chow with an irreverent yet patriotic heart. Leftovers for lunch the next day are all but guaranteed. 1087 Green St., Roswell, 770-992-5383.
Madras Saravana Bhavan
Located across from North DeKalb Mall in a barely renovated Folks restaurant, MSB has some of the most compelling South Indian food in town. It's all vegetarian, but carnivorous types won't miss the meat. The menu is huge, though a few keepers include the texturally multi-layered bhel puri, the lithe masala dosa crepe stuffed with potato and the saffron-scented shrikand for dessert. Come with a group and find your own favorites. This is food meant for sharing. 2179 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur, 404-636-4400.
The brick red cantina down a quiet stretch of Chattahoochee is proof positive Atlantans will go out of their way to find solidly tasty food that feels like a bargain. I've eaten my way through the Tex-Mex menu here several times over, but I always come back to the vegetarian chili rellenos, the shrimp enchiladas and the lobster tacos. Arrive by 7:30 p.m. or you'll be in for a long wait most nights. 1496 Chattahoochee Ave., 404-352-9009.
Any middle-of-the-road restaurants to recommend? E-mail bill.addison@ creativealoafing.com.