HENDERSHOT’S (237 Prince Ave., 706-353-3050): Y’all, it’s been hard to get excited about restaurants over the past two years. Any momentary joy in tasting something wonderful was usually quickly undercut by the arrival of another variant or an insurrection or some other form of interesting times. So when I went to Hendershot’s on an unrelated matter, I didn’t expect to be surprised by its new menu. I expected sandwiches, maybe a fried egg, the kind of thing the longtime coffee shop/bar/music venue has tried before. I didn’t expect a fun little list of dishes with a strong East Asian bent, but that’s what this is, and it’s nice. The Hendy noodle bowl features beef (optional; the dish is vegan without it), kimchi, bok choy, peanuts, house chili oil and a toasted sesame sauce over wide noodles. It has surprises. The Szechuan pepper gradually numbs your lips. The kimchi adds some pickle. The bok choy provides subtle vegetal sweetness. Everything is pretty well balanced.
Not particularly East Asian but nicely done is the house smashburger: two squashed-down patties with American cheese, good pickles and “fun sauce.” The fries, which can have garlic parmesan, lemon pepper or Szechuan pepper added, are unremarkable and not that flavorful. The staff may try to steer you away from the Italian grilled cheese and tomato soup toward the all-day burrito, but they’re wrong. The latter is just a burrito (it’s totally fine, but it definitely needs its small side of salsa), whereas the former is a creamy, flavorful tomato-basil soup and not a grilled cheese sandwich but two crunchy, panko-breaded, deep-fried triangles of cheese. If you’re faced with this choice, get the dang soup.
Here’s something else good—the red salad, which features a Korean chili vinaigrette with lots of sesame seeds and nori to jazz up its cukes and tomatoes. And the Hong Kong French toast, while not exactly my thing (too sweet), is nonetheless a worthy addition: fat pieces of bread stuffed with pepper jelly (yum!), jalapeno pineapple jam or apple butter, battered and fried until they puff up like square doughnuts. No syrup needed. There’s even a simple and decent bowl of miso soup accompanied by a scallion pancake that is not the equal of a truly good one, but is a dish in short supply in Athens. Put more chili in the chili oil, please. A couple more promising items on the menu (a mapo chili dog and “kollard greens” cooked with salt pork, chili paste and fried shallots) have been permanently 86ed.
Hendershot’s still has all the other stuff you’re used to (coffee drinks, cocktails, beer, wine, bagels from The Café on Lumpkin, Independent pastries), but this lunch, which runs Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. is a good new feature, with the freewheeling spirit of a pop-up but a bit more reliability. Not looking to get breathed on? You can get it delivered through Uber Eats, order takeout or sit outside on the patio.
IGUANA’S MEXICAN GRILL (2024 S. Milledge Ave., 706-850-5324): This Mexican restaurant in the former space of Athens Pizza, next to Achachi International Market, has a sunny and pleasant interior with the menu on a huge chalkboard and a bunch of brightly painted chairs. It keeps a foot in the world of Mexican-American cuisine and a foot, or maybe a toe, in the world of traditional Mexican dishes—although it’s hard to say whether one is done better.
The bland bread used for the tortas undermines the fillings in the cubana, which comes with a huge amount of fries. The burrito loco (presumably named for its enormous size) ends up being mostly meat. But the tacos aren’t bad. Available as either Mexican (corn tortilla, cilantro, onion, lime on the side) or American (flour tortilla, lettuce, cheese, tomato), they acquit themselves decently. The carnitas are too crisp, and the al pastor is OK. I’ve been coming around again to the virtues of a classic ground beef American taco, and the one at Iguana’s is tasty. Even better is its rajas taco, a combo of roasted green peppers and cheese that is a rare find in Athens. Order a few of those and a side of the esquites (grilled corn cut off the cob and combined in a cup with cotija cheese, mayo, lime and Taijin), and you’ll be pretty happy.
Iguana’s also has its burritos available as bowls, does a bunch of entrees, has kids meals and provides a lot of veggie-centric options. It has zero outside seating but does both takeout and delivery through Cosmic. It’s open 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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