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Monday, January 24,2011

The Best of Athens 2011 – Dining


Photo Caption: Best of Athens Readers' Choice Awards
Best of Athens Readers' Choice Awards for the category of DINING.

Best Burrito
Big Mamma’s Burritos

The top results in this category exactly duplicate those of last year. Well, not exactly. They’re a year younger, for one thing. And the vote totals probably aren’t precisely the same. But the rankings are. First place once again goes to Big Mamma’s Burritos, followed by the Burrito Buggy in second, and Chipotle in third.

Big Mamma and the Buggy tend to slug this category out pretty intensely, with both pulling big vote totals.

Coming in just a couple of votes behind Chipotle to win an honorable mention is Casa Nueva.

Best Hamburger
The Pub

If you’re looking for cow meat ground up and grilled, slapped in the middle of two buns with your choice of toppings, the best place to turn is The Pub on North Court Street in Athens. Once again, The Pub comes in with the best burger around.

The Pub’s burger is something more than just a burger. It’s the burger of burgers. It’s the burger nonpareil, the burger number one, the burger preeminent; unrivaled, unsurpassed, first-rate, top-notch!

Second place for best burger is Larry’s Dawg House. Even though it’s technically the “Dawg” house, this place has got the beef to beat the heat. It’s got the round of the town and it’s worth checking out.

In third place is Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. Jackie O’s has a variety of delectable burger selections, not to mention some delightful brews made on-site to go with them. (The fish & chips ain’t bad either.)

Honorable mentions go to Ruby Tuesday’s and The Red Brick Sports Pub and Grill.

Best Sub
Jimmy John’s

For a second there we thought the Hocking River was somehow deep enough to be able to house submergible watercrafts, and CIA operative Jack Ryan was stalking after the typhoon-class Red October captained by Sean Connery through the waters of Dow Lake outside of Athens. Alas, instead, we’re talking sandwiches here. Submarine sandwiches. And the best around, our readers say, can be found at Jimmy John’s.

When it comes to taking deli meat, along with lettuce and condiments stuck between a sliced-in-half baguette, nobody does it quit like Jimmy John’s. Plus they’ve got all those ironic witticisms all over the walls.

Giving them a run for their money, though, is Subway in second place, where they want you to eat fresh. Meanwhile, third-place winner Quiznos just wants you to “eat up.”

Honorable mentions go to W.G. Grinders, Lucky’s Sports Bar, Mistretta’s Italian Market and Courtside Pizza.

Best Pizza
Avalanche Pizza

Winning by an avalanche of votes is – you guessed it – Avalanche Pizza on East State Street. The Food Network-certified pizza joint (“Best pizza in the U.S.” in 2006, according to the cooking professionals) is known for its wholesome ingredients, such as locally grown grain for their spelt crust – meaning your getting a tasty treat and boosting the local economy. With ingredients including artichoke hearts, spicy garlic sausage and mandarin oranges, this ain’t your average slice of pie. And if there were such a thing as a healthy pizza, this comes pretty darn close. Unless you try that Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza or The Nuge.

Nabbing second place is Goodfella’s. As any drunken student or lunchtime regular can testify, the doughy garlic crust is the perfect complement to the sheet of cheese and just-enough smathering of tomato sauce. And as expected, dipping sauce ups the ante even more. Coming up close behind is Courtside Pizza. If the line at Slice Night is any indication, this place has got quite the following.

Other pizza picks, in descending order, include Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, Hungry Howie’s, Papa John’s, Donato’s, Della Zona, Little Italy Pizza in The Plains, Abrio’s Brick Oven, Mama Renie’s, Pizza Hut, Bella Luna’s, Deputy’s Pizza and Romano’s.

Best Breakfast
Casa Nueva

For those of us who typically drink our breakfasts – hey, we’re talking about coffee, all right? – this is not a crucial category. But as sensible people know, your body is like a car, and food is like its fuel. And if you head off to work or school without first filling the old tank full of scrambled eggs and tofu sausage links, next thing you know you’ll be so weak and confused, you’ll find yourself invading a Middle Eastern country to seize control of all their breakfast-food reserves. Nobody wants that. So next time you’re thinking about skipping breakfast, hurry instead to Casa Nueva restaurant, which our brekkophagic readers (it is too a word; look it up) tell us once again is the Number One spot in town for the Number One meal of the day. Your stomach will thank you for it, which will be extremely frightening.

Second place goes once again to Bob Evans restaurant, which is so beloved by local brekkophiles (OK, that one’s not really a word) that when a glitch in the county 911 system accidentally sent out a bunch of robo-calls to citizens in the middle of the night, saying the business was on fire, hundreds of them rushed off to the parking lot in their jammies and nightgowns, bringing buckets of water and axes in case they needed to chop through the front door. Swear to God.

Third place goes to Court Street Diner, which is located on… wait a minute, let us look this up. Oh, right, it’s next to The Athens NEWS. Can’t miss it – it’s all chromey and shiny. Not the NEWS, the diner.

Best Uniquely Athens Restaurant
Casa Nueva

So Uncle Ed and Aunt Edna are swinging through town on their way out of state and you want to bring them to lunch at someplace that just screams, “I am Athens, hear me roar.” There’s only one place to go. Casa Nueva comes in as best uniquely Athens restaurant.

It makes sense, really. This is the place known as the “locavore’s solution.” It doesn’t get a lot more uniquely Athens than that. Uncle Ed and Aunt Edna’s palates can literally experience the fruits and vegetables of Athens County at the Casa. How unique. How Athens. How Casa.

Second place goes to Restaurant Salaam. When it comes to uniquely Athens places to consume sustenance, this place is the Mediterranean Mecca of eateries. It’s a delight, and when you’re there, so are you. A delight, we mean.

Third place goes to O’Betty’s Red Hot! If you’re looking at a menu of starlet names for hot dogs, there’s only one place you could possible be, and that’s in Athens reading the menu board at O’Betty’s. That’s a pretty unique experience, and we wish it on everyone.

Vegetarian Cuisine
Casa Nueva

Ever try to get a table quickly at Casa Nueva on a Friday or Saturday night? Good luck. Makes sense, then, that Casa garners the most votes for Vegetarian Cuisine. From breakfast burritos and omelets to taco salads and quesadillas, Casa’s selection of all things locally grown can’t be beat.

Also specializing in everything non-beefy but leafy is first runner-up Restaurant Salaam, with its selection of cuisine from across the Middle East and Asia. Purple Chopstix (note: NOT Chinese) nabs third place.

Other mentions getting a few votes, in order of success, include Star of India, The Village Bakery, China Panda, Lui Lui’s, O’Betty’s, Avalanche Pizza, Lam’s Garden and The Farmacy. And, oh yeah, three people voted, “N/A… meat is awesome!” Fair enough.

Best Hot Dog
O’Betty’s Red Hot

Why did the hot dog beat the hamburger in a race? Because it was the wiener. Get it? Or maybe that joke wasn’t nuanced enough for you. Left-wing elitist.

This year, the wiener in the Best Hot Dog category is O’Betty’s Red Hot, for whom the frankfurter is an icon, a cynosure, a sacred fetish, a veritable way of life. One you can eat with your choice of condiments. They even hold a contest every year to see who can stuff the most hot dogs down his or her gullet in a finite amount of time.

Second place goes to another dog-centric establishment, Larry’s Dawg House. Has anyone else ever wondered why a place known for its great hot DOGS would use the spelling DAWG, which typically refers to either an actual canine (rural southern variety), a close personal colleague (urban street variety), or a drunken, oafish Cleveland football fan (mediocre NFL franchise variety)? Maybe we’re the only ones who wonder that.

Third place goes to Mike’s Dog Shack, which oddly enough, also specializes in hot dogs. Man, these places that sell hot dogs as just one more menu item don’t stand a chance.

Best Ethnic Restaurant
Restaurant Salaam

Belly-dancing. Baba Gannouj. Hummus. Falafel. Yogurt. Curry. Restaurant Salaam, according to our good readers, is the best ethnic restaurant in Athens. When it comes to your foreign-motif-ed wining and dining pleasures, you can’t go wrong going to the Salaam.

Take a date, have a business lunch, bring your parents, go with a friend. No matter who’s gobbling delicious food across the table from you, you’re sure to enjoy the time you have at this unique eatery on West Washington Street in Athens.

Coming in second place for best ethnic restaurant is Casa Nueva, the “locavore’s solution since 1985.” This place is owned by a collaborative of its employees and boasts some of the most nutritious and delicious delicacies this side of the Hocking River. Check it yourself, before you wreck yourself.

In third place for best ethnic restaurant is Lam’s Garden. The Garden has the Chinese to make you say please. It’s got the wok to make you talk. And you won’t be disappointed.

Best Coffee
Donkey Coffee

Donkey Coffee knows best when it comes to the perfect cup of Joe – one that’s fair-trade, no less. The cozy chic coffee shop wins best coffee shop by more than 200 votes – talk about stirring the pot!

First runner up is Perks/Whits, home of the $1 coffee. Next in line is newbie Court Street Coffee.

Also garnering a few votes, in descending order, are the Starbucks in Kroger, Village Bakery, Brennen’s Coffee and Deli, Brew du Soleil, McDonald’s, Catalyst Café, Spice of Life in The Plains, Casa Nueva, Fluff, Speedway, Fullbrooks Café, Front Room/Starbucks, BP on Stimson, Restaurant Salaam and Silverbridge.

Best Chicken Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings

As befits a restaurant whose specialty, forte, and raison d’etre are, respectively, chicken wings, chicken wings and chicken wings, in that order, Buffalo Wild Wings once again soars to the top of this category on the wings of a snow-white chicken. Or perhaps that should be a snow-white buffalo. But if the white buffalo has returned, then surely the apocalypse foreseen by the ancient Mayans is at hand. Oh, heck, we’ve really stepped in it now.

Anyway. Second place goes to the Red Brick Sports Pub and Grill, where we are given to understand that they also throw a real mean toga party. A toga would be like, the perfect chicken-wing-eating apparel, wouldn’t it? Maybe a toga made out of plastic shower-curtain material, that you could just hose down when you were finished. That would be outstanding.

Third place goes to the Maplewood Inn.

Following close on the heels of the Big Three in honorable-mention land are Miller’s Chicken and Broney’s.

Best Local Restaurant/Bar
Casa Nueva/Cantina

In this new category, Casa Nueva/Casa Cantina takes the top honors as Athens’ best Restaurant/Bar.

This makes perfect sense, as the Cantina and Nueva parts of Casa are actually located in two adjoining rooms, and one (Nueva) is a restaurant where they serve you meals at your table, while the other (Cantina) is a bar where you can get nachos and stuff like that while you wait to get seated in the restaurant part. Or you can just sit over there and drink if that’s the sort of thing you enjoy. The Cantina also has a stage for musical acts and open stages and such like.

Second place goes to Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, which undoubtedly would have won first place if this category were “Best Bar/Brewery.” Third place goes to the Pub, which during the daytime is very much a lunch restaurant, then turns into more of a bar when the sun goes down.

Best Fine Dining

To really impress a date (or your parents), head to Stephen’s on North Court Street – the finest in wining and dining. Stephen’s, wherever it’s been located over the years, always seems to do well in this hoity-toity category.

Restaurant Salaam’s exotic cuisine wins second place, with Zoe’s following closely behind with its French American cuisine.

Also snatching a few votes were Cutler’s at the OU Inn, Lui Lui’s, Rhapsody Fine Dining, Casa Nueva, Purple Chopstix, Latitude 39, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, China Panda, Toscano’s, The Oak Room, and Abrio’s.


  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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Now if all the local restaurants (Casa in partiular) could overcome their lackadaisical approach to customer service.

Athens is a little economic island, evidently, and lack of competition seems to allow restaurants who serve good food to serve it lousily.

Not that I would give up my Athens residency and all of the good experiences (pluses far outweigh minuses), but go to any metropolitan area where competition reigns and notice the immediate and markedly improoved customer service difference. 

I am sure that many of you other "townies" have noticed the same thing.




I won't sit in the back section of Bob Evans.  I quit going to Ruby Tuesdays. Arby's, Capt. Ds (gone), Damons (gone), McDonalds (all of them), Pigskin, and several others.  They get Worst of Athens because of lousy service.  We've got some good restaurants with good food and good service, but I've just been staying home lately because of the exceptionally poor service.



Yes...service at Casa Nueva is horrible!!! I repeat...HORRIBLE! I refuse to eat there because of the terrible service. Not to mention the errors between menu price and what they charge, and getting my order incorrect. And the food, if it arrives correctly/at all, isn't even that much to brag about. Sorry Casa Nueva, but you didn't get my Best of Athens vote!



Best pizza section, first paragraph, third line.

'your' should be'you're'.