For those of you who know me personally – I am not a very “Southern” type of person/traveler. There are many reasons for this: I hate hot/humid places, I disagree with far-right thinkers (and the use of the Confederate Flag in Southern-inspired interior design) and I prefer a more fast-paced lifestyle, among other reasons. I think this stereotype I’ve built up over the years of this region added up to why when I had a chance to travel, I tend to volunteer specifically for West Coast, East Coast or Midwestern metropolises rather than the slower yet charming South (yes, I know what you’re thinking – is the Midwest that different from the South? Yes, yes it is.)
I finally was exposed to more Southern living and lifestyle through work when I visited Atlanta, GA for the first time and Dallas, TX and now have a special place in my heart for both cities.
As I do when I normally travel, I put an ask out on Facebook to see if I had any friends who happened to have relocated to either city and/or if there were any friends I had who were willing to make any recommendations or connections to show me around. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive! I was fortunate to have found two (2) friends respond to my ask: one was a friend’s older brother, Menachem, and the other was a friend from my high school days, Christine, both of whom relocated to Atlanta for work.
Atlanta – October 8-10.
Christine described Atlanta as a “bizarre mix of city blended with a southern culture – definitely unique!” which really intrigued me to explore.
However, first things first: I made a special fast food excursion. At long last – I had my very first Chick-Fil-A experience! It was SO GOOD! It lived up to all the hype and more. No longer are the days where McChickens are acceptable – or where Subway chicken patties have a sponge-like consistency and yoga mat ingredients should be tolerated. This was freshly fried, peel-away-the-flesh delicious chicken (albeit fast food).
My life was changed.
Per a colleague’s suggestion, I got every sauce known to man at Chick-Fil-A (that Polynesian doeeee).
After I was set with work, Christine picked me up to go to famous Atlanta soul food spot for dinner called Mary Mac’s. Soul food is one of my favorite types of cuisines. It feels like putting on your favorite pair of worn jeans or hearing a song you used to love and hadn’t heard in awhile – that’s how I feel about soul food.
I about lost my mind when I saw my food, throwing any social dietary restrictions and manners out of the window. I had to order Mac & Cheese (proper Mac & Cheese – not stuff out of a cardboard box), fried chicken, okra and cornbread. I think I may have clogged my arteries, it was so rich but it was 100% worth the visit to this Southern staple.
For night life, I went to have drinks with Menachem and a friend of his in Buckhead, a very popular part of Atlanta to live for young people like myself called The Hole In The Wall. Funny because it was anything but – the place was huge! It kept going further and further back with tons of real estate – a shocker compared to NYC’s speakeasies and stacked/multi-level bars. The scene was very “college” – cheap, house booze specials, top 40 playing and stripper poles / elevated surfaces for dancing. It was a fun experience to let loose a little bit and check out the scene. On my next trip to Atlanta, this is something I definitely would like to learn more about.
One thing I will forewarn everyone about for nightlife: the Marlboro Man lives on. Guests are allowed to smoke indoors at the bar – so don’t even bother showering before you come out to the bar – you will leave smelling like the exhaust of an old Chevy whether you want to or not!
Dallas – October 16-18. Of course when I was just beginning to get a grasp of Atlanta, I hopped on a plane over to Dallas, TX. It was extremely warm but sunny and lovely – a nice contrast to the weather I had become acclimated with in New York City. Hardly ever a cloud in the sky during the time I was there.
Top of my list in Dallas: getting proper Tex Mex. I had Tex Mex for dinner the two nights I was in Dallas and each one was fantastic.
The first Tex Mex spot was ridiculously great, even for take out. Wild Salsa (located in the heart of downtown Dallas) had fantastic chicken enchiladas, refried beans and avocado rice that I ordered for lunch. My team and I also tried the Salsa Trio – a little bit of everything – and fell in love with the Grilled Pineapple Pico de Gallo. Highly recommend to anyone going to Dallas and looking for a nice lunch spot. The restaurant’s funky interior decor made it appear to be a place for a fun dinner with friends.
Photo Credit: Dallas Observer
For a Tex Mex dinner, my team and I went to another downtown restaurant called Iron Cactus. Service was unfortunately slow, but my meal was pretty good. They have insanely cheap alcohol in the South and their infamous house margaritas are a must order! I had one on the rocks and it is still to date, the best one I’ve had. I ordered Cornbread Crusted Pescado (Fish) which is a white fish with a crispy crust that is seared with a yummy cream sauce made from jalapeno and mushroom. There’s also garlic & herb broccoli with cilantro lime rice. I really liked it!
Photo Credit: New Now Next
Beyond food, something that I really enjoyed about Dallas was the number of outdoor art installations they had. Just about everywhere you turned were various parks or sculptures full of unique art. One of my favorites was the below, which is located right near Iron Cactus in Dallas’ epicenter. Veins and all.
Photo Credit: Fast Co Design
While these both were whirlwind trips, it helped open my eyes to trying new places I wouldn’t necessarily put on the “Must Visit” list. The United States is so large and vast that we have such different personalities, art, cultures, food and people in each region to take advantage of. I was reminded by these two cities to think of travel not just as an exciting international journey from Japan and China to Brazil and Argentina, but a domestic adventure too right here in our backyard.