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International Atlanta   Minimize

Your Guide to the City’s Cultural Neighborhoods

By Suzanne Wright

Atlanta is a global metropolis—the threads of its rich tapestry tightly woven across a 28-county region deepened by demographic diversity.

Atlantans can sample mouthwatering pastries from a French-Korean bakery on Buford Highway, share a beer with rugby-cheering South Africans at a bar on Roswell Road or swap recipes with the employees at Your DeKalb Farmers Market, the world’s largest indoor market.

You can worship at Sweet Auburn’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King was once pastor, buy glatt kosher meats at a chain grocery store on Druid Hills Road, practice your Farsi while enjoying a Persian meal in Sandy Springs, celebrate the Day of the Dead with local Mexican-Americans, ring in the Tibetan New Year at Emory University and singe your lips on Jamaican jerk chicken cooked up on Atlanta’s southside.

Though Atlanta may not have tightly defined communities like San Francisco’s Chinatown, Boston’s Little Italy or Chicago’s Greek Town, this Southern city offers a staggering range of international opportunities for the culturally curious. Read on to find out more about these unique pockets of international flair.

Buford Highway: Atlanta’s International Corridor
Traversing Buford Highway—six lanes stretching from the shadows of Midtown skyscrapers to Gwinnett County—is like hop-scotching the globe without a passport or the accompanying jet lag. This busy road connects dozens of ethnic communities where immigrants live, work, shop and play together.

In fact, Buford Highway has the highest concentration of ethnic-owned businesses—mostly mom-and-pop shops—in the Southeast, thanks in large part to MARTA rail and bus proximity. Signs are in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese; Hispanic cooks often work in Taiwanese kitchens.

The strip shopping centers may have names like Pinetree Plaza and Northeast Plaza, but look closely: That’s an Ethiopian restaurant, there’s an acupuncture clinic, that store rents only Spanish-language DVDs. Multi-cultural Buford Highway attracts the adventurous and the inquisitive, and is especially beloved by foodies.

You can try tongue tacos at an authentic tacqueria; sample dim sum from rolling carts at a Chinese restaurant; slurp pho at a Vietnamese noodle house; dip roti into aromatic curry sauce at a Malaysian eatery; tackle a plate of Peruvian purple potatoes; and tuck into a messy Cuban sandwich. This poly-glot stretch of asphalt is also home to the city’s largest collection of specialized food markets, from Hoa Binh Seafood to Plaza Fiesta, and from 99 Ranch Market to Mercado Del Pueblo and the International Farmers Market.

Druid Hills: The City’s Jewish Epicenter
Population estimates reveal that more than 100,000 Jewish residents are scattered across metro Atlanta. Driving down the two-lane ribbon of Briarcliff Road in northeast Atlanta, it’s a familiar sight to see many Jewish families wearing yarmulkes and walking to synagogue together. Congregation Beth Jacob is an Orthodox synagogue in the heart of a large, diverse and dynamic Jewish community in Druid Hills. Congregation Ner Hamizrach and Young Israel of Toco Hills, both on LaVista Road, are also thriving synagogues.

Though Toco Hills Shopping Center has long been the center of the Jewish community in DeKalb—with locally owned butchers, bakeries and delis catering to Orthodox requirements—numerous Kroger and Publix groceries in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Marietta also boast well-stocked kosher sections. Several websites devoted to kosher eating in Atlanta exist; one lists a Krispy Kreme in Roswell as a place to go for kosher donuts. For a break from chain bagel shops, seek out Bagel Palace for matzo ball soup, lox and bagels. And don’t be surprised to hear the Hebrew greeting of “shalom” or a child’s Yiddish reference to her “bubbee” (grandmother) as you gobble a potato latke.

India in Our Backyard
Atlanta’s Asian-Indian community is robust and widespread. A quick Google search of cultural groups turns up the Bengali Association of Greater Atlanta, the Georgia Tamil Indian Club and the Atlanta Hindu Society. One compact area is the so-called “Little India,” a length of Lawrenceville Highway/Scott Boulevard in Decatur. Here, you’ll find stores selling opulent fabrics that can be sewn into saris and grocery stores selling fragrant spices. Some restaurants specialize in South Indian food, others focus on vegetarian fare served on Styrofoam plates in cafeteria-like settings, and several offer buffets where Indian families predominate. But arguably the most eye-popping contributions of Atlanta’s Indian citizens are the Hindu Temples scattered throughout DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale offers weekend pujas (religious rituals) that non-Hindus are welcome to participate in. But it’s Lilburn’s ornate, 27,243-square-foot Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Lawrenceville Highway and Rockbridge Road that has drawn pilgrims from across the Southeast.

Unsuspecting motorists are said to routinely swerve as they pass the bewitching structure, which is dazzlingly illuminated at night. Artisans from three continents helped construct the temple, the fifth largest Swaminarayan outside of India. Evoking a wedding cake, the traditional design features custom-carved stonework, a wraparound veranda, prominent pinnacles reminiscent of the Himalayan hills and embellished domes. Giant stairs mimic the climb worshippers make to mountainside temples.

Our Muslim Neighbors
From vantage points in Midtown’s Atlantic Station, you can see the Al-Farooq Masjid Mosque with its gold dome, one of 35 mosques in the metro area. Established in 1980, this religious institution promotes goodwill and understanding about Islam. Atlanta attracts some 75,000 Muslims from more than 50 countries—many seeking education in our colleges and universities.

Clarkston is home to a largely refugee population, many of whom can be seen clutching their children’s hands as they stroll to Masjid Al-MoMineen Mosque. According to Andrea Jones at the International Refugee Committee, Atlanta has been a haven for refugees from around the world for more than 30 years. “Their indomitable spirit is inspiring. People from countries like Kosovo and Somalia, Kurdistan and Burma, Bangladesh and Iraq live together safely and in harmony. That’s unique,” she says.

The sight of kids—many who don’t yet share a common language—kicking a soccer ball or playing tag at apartments off Indian Creek Road buttresses her observation. This cohesive, vibrant community has given rise to shopkeepers who stock 25-pound bags of rice next to jarred red peppers and halal meats. “Many of our earlier refugees are now citizens,” adds Jones. “Once they were displaced and now they are thriving.”

Sweet Auburn: Atlanta’s Historic African American District
John Wesley Dobbs coined the phrase “Sweet Auburn” to refer to what was once the “richest Negro street in the world.” Concentrated along a mile and a half of Auburn Avenue, the Sweet Auburn Historic District reflects the history, heritage and achievements of Atlanta’s African Americans during the early 20th century. During its heyday, it was home to jazz clubs, businesses, congregations, social organizations and the city’s first black-owned daily newspaper, founded in 1928.

Sweet Auburn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, but it fell victim, like many inner-city neighborhoods across the nation, to lack of investment, crime and abandonment. In 1992, the National Trust for Historic Preservation deemed it one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and the Historic District Development Corporation was formed to reverse the trend, starting with houses surrounding the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thanks to renewal efforts, affordable housing has been constructed without pricing lower-income residents out of the neighborhood.

Today, there are tours of the district, along with a Springfest street celebration that brings attendees from across the city and the Southeast. But perhaps the best introduction to the area is at the stalls of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. From chitterlings to sweet potato pie, collard greens to catfish, you’ll savor the unparalleled taste of revival.

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