THA OF MAMA NING (2 S. Main St., Watkinsville, 706-705-1012): You wouldn’t think a Thai restaurant in Watkinsville would be good, even if the city has a few bright spots and dining options have flourished. Even Athens has only limited Asian options, whether in the east, west, north, south or center. Of course, there are plenty of places where you can get a decent curry or a simply executed stir-fry, but there isn’t a ton beyond that.
Mama Ning’s isn’t exactly not calibrated for the Western European palate, but it’s way better than it should be. Occupying the former Mirko Pasta space in the Town Center complex in downtown Watkinsville, it has a patio for outdoor dining, an acceptable if not incredible mask policy (a sign on the door asks non-vaxx masquerade, pretty good for Oconee County), and a robust online ordering platform for take-out. You can choose your spice level from mild to very hot for most dishes, and the medium level is more than enough. The best of the menu can be found under ‘Mama Ning’s Favorites’, where you’ll find catfish in a basil sauce (lightly fried and served with peppers, onions, green beans, green peppercorns, root finger food and mushrooms in a chili basil sauce; it unsurprisingly collapses in a takeout container, but still has lots of flavor), a bunch of duck dishes, Thai chicken and rice (also available in smaller portion on the kids menu and basically the Thai version of chicken soup, steamed with lots of aromatics, served with a hearty broth and comforting in many ways), and khao soi / chiang noodles may (a delicious curry dish with emphasis on coconut milk and turmeric with egg noodles, your choice of protein, onions, lime, green onions, cilantro and wonderfully good and surprising pickled mustard leaves, to top with fried wontons for a satisfying crunch). Vegetables and fish seem to be the best deals, although there is also larb, a cold minced meat salad most often made with pork but here available as chicken, shrimp or tofu, all of it. mixed with lime juice, fish sauce, onions, celery, cilantro, mint and shallots. The tofu and the chicken massaman are good but not exciting. The green papaya salad is a little wilted. The idea of ââthe Thai-style scrambled egg stuffed with veggies is a little more exciting than the real thing, resulting in a chewy pancake sprinkled with non-assertive stuff. Yet overall the place deserves credit for using fresh ingredients and not relying on sugar to transport its dishes. Even tom yum, a sweet and sour soup that is a standard in many Thai restaurants, has more panache than in most places.
The aforementioned children’s menu has several options, none of which are chicken fingers, and there’s makgeolli (Korean rice beer) among the beer and wine options, as well as a cake from Savie’s Sweetie Pie. for dessert. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, with a break between meals.
INTERNATIONAL ACHACHI MARKET (2024 S Milledge Ave., Athens, 706-850-9800): This place is not a restaurant at all, but a market. It is nevertheless worth noting, as it has been a minute since Athens had a place where Indian, Pakistani, Arab and West African shopping could be done. The store, right next to the Islamic Center on Milledge Avenue, is quite small, but has plenty of it, especially in the second room that would be easy to miss, where the coolers have frozen whole fish (pomfret, rohu, etc.), halal meats, butter made from buffalo milk, lassis, tofu, roti (cooked and uncooked) and interesting sodas. There are also fresh vegetables and gigantic bags of rice. The main room has hearty packets of various curries, inexpensive whole spices, nuts, loads of snacks (chips in a range of flavors including mint; bags of spicy fried lentils), poori, drinks with mango, soaps, heaps of pickles, Cadbury milk chocolates and much more. If you’re looking for great COVID precautions, you won’t find them here, and some things are even better found on Food Fooks, just down the block, but a fun place to browse and discover new things, and a valuable resource for the many international students who live in the area. He is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and is more than willing to make special orders for those who request it.
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