KIKÈ’S KITCHEN (4272 Old Danielsville Rd., 706-612-5944): It’s been a while since there’s been a new and delightful gas station restaurant, but here’s this sweet place to answer the call, inside a Chevron near the Hull Ingles. Head out Highway 29, and you’ll eventually see a giant vertical flag that promises “birria” flapping in the breeze. The convenience store looks brand new on the inside, with some tables for seating, Keno, a Bitcoin ATM and a selection of hats, sneakers and T-shirts for sale. Head to the left, and you’ll see the counter for Kikè’s (pronounced kee-kay’s, and short for Enrique). As the flag says, birria is the name of the game, a hearty meat stew that bears some resemblance to barbacoa. Trending upward for some years in the awareness of non-Latinx folks, it’s also available at Birreria y Taqueria Jalisco in Nicholson, and at La Carreta (the food truck of Agua Linda) as quesabirrias. The latter are cheese and birria tacos served with a side of broth for dunking, sort of like a French dip. Birria by itself can get a little monotonous, but Kikè’s folds it into a number of different menu items: quesabirrias, of course, made with flour tortillas; and quesatacos, made with corn tortillas and incorporating onion and cilantro; but also ramen (served with two quesatacos—it doesn’t look like a very big package, but the fattiness and umami of the combination makes it extremely filling, possibly enough for two meals), fries (basically cheese fries, topped with meat, cheese, onion, cilantro and crema, and, again, massively hearty and filling), tortas, nachos and even a sort of pizza that, at $25, is the priciest thing on the menu. What if you’re a vegetarian? You’re not completely out of luck. Kikè’s does a pretty good veggie burrito, packed with grilled onions, mushrooms and bell peppers as well as cheese, beans and cilantro. It’s vegetarian in a way that appreciates vegetables and provides a substantial meal. There are also tacos: asada, carnitas, chorizo, al pastor, chicken, grilled fish (still not as good as a Baja-style fried fish taco but pretty tasty) and campechano (a combo of steak and chorizo). Don’t sleep on the salsa bar in the dining room, which is kept chilled in a stainless steel furnishing with a hinged lid and includes wonderful pickled jalapeños in huge chunks rather than thin slices and a container of marvelous pickled red onions. Burgers are listed under “Kikè’s favorites,” and are salty and thin and griddled in the best way, with avocado and a chipotle sauce on the side. Ignore the mound of soggy fries they sit atop. Finally, there’s ceviche, theoretically available in two different configurations (Mexican, with cucumbers and tomatoes, and “tropical,” with mango and onion), clean-tasting and served either on a tostada for a nice, refreshing side or a full order. The restaurant feels professional. It is spotless. Food arrives speedily, for the most part, although the ramen can take a minute. The staff is cheerful and helpful, steering you to things they like. You can eat in the small dining room or get your stuff to go, and there’s even a kids menu. Kikè’s is open at 11 a.m. most days for lunch and dinner, although it tends to run 4–9 p.m. on Thursdays, and it’s closed Monday. No booze. Find it on Facebook or Instagram for specials, like menudo on weekends.
GUSTO! (161 Alps Rd., 706-850-0855): The latest franchise focused on putting your food in a bowl, which obviously means it’s healthy. I kid, but gusto! actually is pretty health focused. It’s very similar to Cava, right next door, but with fewer options and, consequently, its food tends to be ready faster, although I like it slightly less. The drive-thru is an actual drive-thru and not just a place to pick up food you ordered 30 minutes ago. Its hours, too, are wider: 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Brown rice, salad greens, a combo of the two or a flatbread ready to wrap form the base, which the folks behind the counter can then top with grilled chicken (regular or spicy), grilled shrimp (not bad at all) or umami tofu, plus a bunch of veggies and a sauce (these tend to be on the sweeter side). Each bowl comes with a bag of sweet potato chips. That’s about it! It’s a simple formula, focused more on pre-set combos than on endless customization, which also probably helps expedite the line. Almost all options are vegetarian. Some are also vegan or dairy-free or gluten-free. Its virtue is backed up beyond appearance, although it still gets more of a reflexive side-eye from me than a known local entity like Maepole that is somewhat similar in its expressed ethos.
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