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Atlanta's 'Chambodia,' a 'Burb With a Global Flavor

By Neal Becton
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 18, 1999; Page E02

The Atlanta suburb of Chamblee, once a wasteland of strip malls, pawnshops and car dealerships, has been transformed over the past 10 years by a huge influx of Asians and Latinos. With entire shopping centers full of signs in languages other than English, this--along with its neighboring community Doraville--is the epicenter of the "international Atlanta" the local chamber of commerce is always plugging. Now boasting more than 700 immigrant-owned businesses, the area along Buford Highway offers visitors to Atlanta a day trip that's very different from the Old or New South attractions on most lists.

The most obvious attraction in what is sometimes referred to as "Chambodia" (a chapter in Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full" takes the name as a title) is its restaurants, but that's just a first taste. Latin and Asian markets line both sides of the boulevard. A good one to check out is the Kim Sun Market (5038 Buford Hwy.). With more than 4,000 square feet of pig's heads, roasted duck, fried fish from Macau, dried seaweed, ginseng gum, joss paper, ceramic spoons and Asian videos, this Chambodia anchor has been serving local (and visiting) Southeast Asians, Koreans and Japanese for more than 10 years.

Just down the road is the Buford Highway Flea Market. Walk in past the Mexican missionaries near the entrance and you may feel transported to Guadalajara. Latinos work almost every stall here, with a smattering of Koreans and Africans. Need the latest Los Tigres del Norte CD? Looking for a cute dress for your niece in Oaxaca? A cowboy hat for your nephew in Nogales? Fancy a velvet Jesus for your living room wall? It's all here. Yes, a lot of it is horribly tacky, but the market is a great place to soak up atmosphere. Just double-check that the Bulova watch you are buying is authentic (or not) before you put money down.

If you're hungry you can pop over to Don Taco (4997 Buford Hwy.). It looks like a fast-food joint, but don't be fooled. It's good, authentic and cheap. My favorite touch is the salsa bar where you can pick out fresh cilantro, pico de gallo and different hot sauces to spice your food. For less than five bucks you can gorge yourself while you take in Mexican and Venezuelan soap operas on Univision (a second TV is tuned to financial news). There's a nice patio looking over Buford Highway, but beer is not allowed outside.

If Mexican food isn't your thing there's a range of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Asian places along the strip. I had a huge bowl of pho at Pho Hoa (5150 Buford Hwy.) for $4.50. The pho, a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup, was exquisite. The tile-floored dining room is nothing spectacular, but the friendly staff, low prices and delicious soup keep the seats full. Other Asian restaurants include Hae Woon Dae (5805 Buford Hwy.), for Korean barbecue. Farther down Buford is an old favorite offering other ethnic specialties: the Havana Sandwich Shop (2905 Buford Hwy.) for Cuban sandwiches and strong coffee.

Tired and full and seeking relief? Cindy's Herbs in the Pinetree Shopping Center (5209 Buford Hwy.) may be just the place to get healed. Cindy Xu was trained at the Traditional Chinese Medical School in Guangzhou, China. Working in a room stacked to the ceiling with drawers of antelope horn, sea horses, ginseng and who knows what else, Xu has been treating Atlantans for more than 15 years. Using a "special Chinese herbal scale," the staff measures out combinations of the more than 1,000 herbs and mixes concoctions to treat people for colds, backaches, cancer and numerous other ailments.

If all of this makes you hunger for an even more authentic slice of international life, you're in luck again. Just get yourself dropped off at Adame Autobuses, where direct buses to Mexico leave frequently.

For more information: www.accessatlanta .com/ajc (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's city guide) or http://winedine.cln .com/city.asp (the restaurant guide of Creative Loafing, a free Atlanta weekly). To get there from downtown: Take I-85 north to Exit 32 (Clairmont Road), take a left off the exit, go less than a mile and take a right on Buford Highway. After a mile or so you will start seeing signs in languages other than English. You're there. Both the Chamblee and Doraville subway stops are near the places listed but require a good 15- to 20-minute walk or a cab ride. DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce: 404-378-8000.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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