Are you trying to decide on a place to eat before going out with your friends for your 21st birthday? Maybe you’re going to see a touring Broadway show at Memorial Auditorium but need to find a place to have a quality meal beforehand? With so many wonderful places to eat in Athens, it can be hard to narrow down your choices. No need to worry; I’ve done the research for you! These five eateries, all of which can be found on or just off of Court Street, are the best places to enjoy a meal before any kind of occasion.
Casa Nueva is a classic Athens favorite, and with delicious Mexican-style food, vegan and gluten-free options, and live music, it’s no wonder why. Casa even uses ingredients like pawpaws when they’re in season for a truly unique dining experience. Friendly service, a casual ambience, and some of the best quesadillas in town make this restaurant a hit.
Perhaps you need to grab your food and run? Just across the street from Casa Nueva, O’Betty’s is a great little hole in the wall with famously delectable hot dogs. All the hot dogs on the menu are named after famous exotic and burlesque dancers, and vegetarian options are available. My personal recommendation is the Lily, which comes topped with homemade baked beans and cole slaw. Also, if you’re a cheese fan, their cheesy fries are the bomb. You can’t go wrong with O’Betty’s.
Athens is known for having a variety of exotic cuisines, and Sol is the epitome of that. This restaurant specializes in Cuban dishes along with traditional college student favorites such as loaded nachos (with cheese, black beans, lettuce, tomato, fire-roasted salsa, red onion, and sour cream – yum). Many of their dishes are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free. Try their Cuban fusion wrap, fish tacos, or maduros (slightly cartelized plantains) and enjoy the friendly staff.
The minute you step into Salaam, the atmosphere sets the stage for the meal you’re about to have. Beaded curtains, colorful tapestries, and the hospitable employees make you feel right at home and ready for some amazing Mediterranean food. Try a plate of their Mediterranean pasta (penne pasta with basil pesto, feta, and sun-dried tomato) or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, the vegan vegetable curry with tofu (fresh vegetables with fried tofu and a tomato/coconut milk curry sauce served over basmati rice with coriander chutney and papadum).
Or maybe you’re more of the Leslie Knope-type and prefer to just fill up on dessert or baked goods before going out. Although Fluff Bakery also carries entrée-type food (sandwiches, salads, and salmon, just to name a few), they’re best known for their bakery, as you may have guessed. Their cannoli, pumpkin and red velvet cupcakes, macaroons, cinnamon twists, etc., are to die for. If you’re not hungry before walking in, the smell of the kitchen will have your mouth watering in no time.
Craving something new and exciting? In walking distance of Court Street? You’ve come to the right place. Most people know of all the bars and restaurants in plain sight on Court Street, but some forget the hidden ethnic restaurants that are perfect getaways. With exotic menus and worldly atmospheres, Thai Paradise, Restaurant Salaam, Sol, Jerusalem Grill and Star of India are excellent beginnings for a global adventure.
Still not convinced? With this guide, what to expect and what to order will come with ease and, of course, a happy tummy. Court Street can be intimidating, but choosing where to eat doesn’t have to be.
Thai Paradise ($-$$)
102 W. Union St.
Thai Paradise, simply put, is an American-infused eatery with dishes like curry and stir fry. The restaurant, located west of Union Street Diner on West Union Street, features a small, warm atmosphere. It’s excellent for a quick meal or a sit-down dinner.
Although not truly authentic Thai cuisine, Bu Tont, a server at Thai Paradise since its opening this fall, said the restaurant is the best and closest to authentic Thai food as it can be.
“Thailand is very tropical and some ingredients there aren’t available here, like certain vegetables, so we adapt,” Tont said. “Thai Paradise does have an American taste.”
Tont said when ordering Thai for the first time “What’s good?” doesn’t prompt an easy answer.
“It all depends on the customer. I usually recommend the Pad Pak – colorful veggies with rice in a brown garlic sauce – or Drunken Noodles – wide flat rice noodles, bell peppers, garlic, onions, and basil leaves,” Tont said.
The Pad Pak and Drunken Noodles both begin at $6.95 for lunch and $9.95 for dinner.
My suggestion? The Hot and Sour Soup is so flavorful and for $2.50 it’s a must-try. The traditional Thai sticky rice is also a delicious take on white rice. It comes as an option for a side for most dishes.
Restaurant Salaam ($$)
21 W. Washington St.
Restaurant Salaam serves the comfiest of comfort food inside its beautifully decorated restaurant of oranges and blues. The staff is polite, the service is exquisite, and the food is out of this world.
But that’s really the point. Salaam’s menu includes cuisine from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, North Africa, Thailand, India, and Pakistan.
Chris S., from Bowling Green, Ohio, wrote this review on Yelp: “Very nice cultural decor inside. A nice menu with some items being familiar to any who enjoy Mediterranean cuisine, but also a few unique dishes to help it stand out. Turkish coffee was a nice touch, which I don’t see enough of.”
Sharmeela S., from Columbus, Ohio, craves the Salaam ambience. In a Yelp review she wrote, “Great atmosphere in Athens! I feel like I’m in a much bigger city. The aromas when you walk in the door build the anticipation of deliciously flavorful meal. The Hilarie’s Salad with goat cheese and raisins is delightful. I had the lamb kofte for dinner – lamb meatball stew.”
Hilarie’s Salad, starting at $4 for lunch and $5 for dinner, is one of my favorite dishes. I’m a sucker for soft, melt-in-your-mouth goat cheese found in this salad.
The Coconut Curry Chicken, $11, is mildly spiced and served with basmati rice, coriander chutney (a green combination of cilantro, ginger, chili, lemon juice, cumin power, and salt), cucumber raita (a yogurt mixture), and warm bread. It’s truly a delicious surprise. And don’t worry if you’re not a coconut fan. It comes on the side.
Many of the reviews on Yelp leaned toward an unfriendly, spunky staff. However, in my experience I had excellent dining service. Try for yourself to see where you stand.
When you go, try the hot sauce on the table made from fresh red peppers. It’s to die for.
Jerusalem Grill ($)
122 W. Union St.
Jerusalem Grill is another Mediterranean restaurant great for dine-in or take-out. It’s small, quaint, and has more of a diner-esque feel than an ethnic one. But what it lacks in atmosphere it makes up with cuisine.
Expect typical Mediterranean items on the menu, including falafel, hummus, and plenty of gyro (indeed, it is pronounced /’jīrō/) and kabob options. Not-so-typical items include smoothies and homemade cheesecake. I don’t exactly understand it, but I like it.
Jerusalem Grill focuses its cuisine on the lusciousness and diversity found in modern Jerusalem. Food is prepared, cooked, and served authentically to give customers a true Jerusalem experience.
The Shish Kabob and Hummus Sandwich, $5.99, is a new twist to American shish kabobs you’ve had in your backyard (skewers included). Served in a pita instead, the charbroiled beef tenderloin is topped with tomatoes, onion, sumac, and hummus. It’s a great meal for a great price.
For an entree, try the Musaka. For $9.99, this vegetarian dish includes sauteed eggplant with tomatoes, onion, marinara sauce, and a special house seasoning. Don’t knock it till you try it.
Cynthia Tackett reviewed Jerusalem Grill on its Facebook page, saying, “I find that most Mediterranean places Americanize the menu and this menu is a little more authentic. I’d love to see more food items that aren’t mainstream on the menu, but they are new and have a small staff.”
Jerusalem Grill opened in October 2013.
Some reviews note the service is subpar and some note the restaurant is usually hiring. At least they’re trying to tackle the problem.
Jerusalem Grill posts specials, deals, and general updates on their Twitter and Facebook, and a full menu on their website. Check it out before you go.
33 N. Court St.
Sol is a perfect getaway – tucked away in an alley off Court Street — for a quiet Cuban meal and to sip on Cuban coffee. It’s comfortably tiny with a small room and tall ceilings and has a few booths with outlets for students who want to escape into studies.
The menu is very vegetarian friendly, as are most of the ethnic restaurants in Athens, and their black bean burger, $8.95, is phenomenal (I know – not exactly Cuban).
Sol also has the only rum bar in Athens and has specials every day of the week. Does half-priced bottled wine on Tuesdays and bottomless mimosas during Saturday brunch sound good to you? Bottoms up.
One review of Sol on Yelp matched my experience directly. Kat S., from Athens, wrote, “One thing that I like about the restaurant is that you can order an entree that’s less than $10 if you’re on a budget (the mac & cheese topped with pulled pork [for $8.95] is decadent). However, if you’re willing and able to spend a bit more, I am really impressed with their steak. [For $18.95,] it is served with chimichurri sauce and your choice of mashed plantains or red beans & rice.”
Hearing the buzzword “budget” was enough for me. Is it for you?
Grab some Cuban coffee for $2.50 and try a Sol Salad for $8.95. It comes with a unique house made pineapple dressing (yum!). Everything on the menu is exquisite. Give it a go.
Star of India ($$)
128 W. Union St.
Star of India serves Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Like Jerusalem Grill, Star of India’s atmosphere is not as inviting as other ethnic restaurants in Athens, but it does its job in serving unique, delicious food.
It’s one of the only Indian restaurants in and around Athens so Indian lovers don’t have much of choice for where to dine out. It causes some problems for customers who want an above average dining experience — not exactly what Star of India will supply.
What it will supply, however, is quality comfort food. The Chicken Tikka Masala,$11.99, is perfect for the approaching winter months. It includes oven baked diced chicken in a tomato and cream gravy and is served with long-grain basmati rice.
For a less expensive dining experience try the Tandoori Chicken starting at $6. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices then broiled in a special charcoal clay oven called the “tandoori” oven. It is served with long-grain basmati rice.
Alexander R., from Athens, on Yelp wasn’t shy with his review. He wrote, “This place is one of my favorite Indian restaurants on earth and I have been to a few. Typical small town Athens charm, the decor won’t blow your mind. But the focus is obviously on the fundamentals.”
“I might rate this restaurant differently if you picked it up and put it in a more urban environment with more competition,” Dan D., from Athens, wrote on Yelp. Since Star of India doesn’t have any Indian competition it makes it hard for customers to gauge its authenticity. “Alas my love affair has diminished as other culinary options popped up on the scene,” Dan D. said.
Where does Star of India rank on your scale? Try it out to see what you think.
Habibi’s and Souvlaki ($)
19 S. Court St., 9 W. State St.
If you’re on the go, don’t have time for a sit down dinner, or are not quite ready for the ethnic challenge, you’re still in luck. Habibi’s, 19 S. Court St., and Souvlaki, 9 W. State St., serve the perfect, tender gyro in no time.
Habibi’s has a classic beef and lamb gyro with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, parsley and gyro sauce for $5.99. Habibi’s also serves kabobs, burgers, and sandwiches at the same menu price.
Souvlaki has “YEE-ros” listed on the menu for $4.50 among other pita wraps, including the Souvlaki, marinated pork tenderloin rolled in a pita, and the vegetarian, mozzarella and cheddar cheese wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, carrots, and green peppers. Both are $4.50.
Pita pizzas, beginning at $2.75, and pita subs, starting at $4.25, are other Souvlaki favorites.
It’s worth it to try dining for a change instead of just eating. Check out the map below for a visual on all the ethnic restaurants on your global adventure.
Emily Daffron is a junior in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is a baby whisperer as well as editor-in-chief of Her Campus Ohio U. She hopes to work for a lifestyle magazine someday – writing feature stories, helping with photo shoots, online design, and/or magazine layout.