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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Rico’s World Kitchen restaurant review, Buford

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Mama said, “Whatever you do, don’t get into the restaurant business.”

Rico Cunnington, chef and owner of Rico’s World Kitchen in Buford, didn’t listen to Mama, a 20-year veteran of the professional kitchen. It’s the age-old story of restaurant families: Mama sends child off to college to pursue other options, child works in restaurants while going to school, child circles back to the restaurant industry.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

Rico’s World Kitchen, which serves international comfort cuisine, began as a modest four-table restaurant on Mall of Georgia Boulevard. Two years ago, Rico’s moved into its current space in downtown Buford, more than tripling its seating.

The Pure-gas-station-turned-restaurant still retains the garage doors, now raised to reveal screened windows and a charming screened door leading to the side patio. And much like overflow parking for a garage, guests trying to score a table angle cars into every spare inch of space on the corner lot.

And this is right where you’ll find Mama, alongside son Rico, who disregarded her advice. Cunnington says it all started with her. While other kids had chores like cutting the grass, he had to help his mom by rolling 200 lumpia, small Filipino-style egg rolls.

Nett's Lumpia- Filipino style egg-rolls with beef, pork, and chicken and house made sweet and sour. (BECKY STEIN/Special)

Nett's Lumpia- Filipino style egg-rolls with beef, pork, and chicken and house made sweet and sour. (BECKY STEIN/Special)

The egg rolls, Nett’s Lumpia ($4), made the menu at Rico’s World Kitchen. Mama Nett still makes the fillings — finely ground sausage-esque mixture of peppery beef and pork or smoky chicken.

Cunnington says, “It’s my mother’s recipe. She makes the meat and it’s still my responsibility to roll them.” He admits the paper-thin wrappers “are a beast to roll.” But, oh, those wrappers … golden brown with a crispy exterior and an interior that’s soft and mushy in just the right way, much like — and this Atlanta-born girl means this as a compliment — the revered onion ring batter at the Varsity.

Other childhood experiences shaped the menu at Rico’s. Growing up in Buford, which Cunnington says has always been ethnically diverse, he delighted in the fare served at friends’ homes from Southern and Hispanic to Lebanese and American Indian. These influences are reflected in the many sandwiches, heartier daily specials and the beer list with low-priced choices from around the globe. Rico has “cherry-picked [his] favorite flavors and put a twist on them.”

In doing so, he has found his niche and a talent for combining ingredients and crafting bold flavors. Take the mojo pork sandwich ($7.50) — you’ll thank me. The pork, like all house meats, is smoked out on the patio, where you can dine in hickory-smoked splendor. The drippingly juicy and smoky pork, which is marinated in a lime-based mojo sauce, pairs well with the sweet and spicy guava barbecue sauce. The potato bun disintegrates from all the liquid love, but never you mind. Just snag a fork and go after it.

Mojo Pork sandwich

Mojo Pork sandwich

Tempted as you may be to order the mojo forevermore, don’t. The chicken Cuban ($7.75) proves that Rico’s isn’t a one-hit wonder. House-smoked chicken, which I dare say rivals that found in many popular Atlanta barbecue joints, and baby Swiss melt into perfectly grilled and pressed bread with a lovely slick and crunchy crust. Trust Cunnington’s palate and slosh it in the thin mojo sauce, so acidic and garlicky.

As you continue to jump around the reasonably priced menu, you’ll notice Cunnington’s signature bold flavors in many of the dishes, like the Royal Rooster sandwich ($7) with moist and spicy habanero fried chicken or the paper cone filled with still-crackling chicharrones ($3.75) liberally dusted with the house blackening seasoning.

While up-front flavors dominate, subtler ones can be found in a simple fried shrimp po-boy ($9) or in the house-made potato chips, which are a little thick and could do with a shake of salt. Swap those for the transparently thin and completely crisp sweet potato chips. Or try the fried green tomatoes ($4). The delicate flavor and texture of the cornmeal batter wins this Southern heart, as it leaves the tart green tomato to make its own statement.

Chef Rico Cunnington has a knack for combining ingredients and extracting maximum flavor. Be glad he didn’t listen to Mama and instead followed in her footsteps. As author Robert Fulghum, who wrote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Rico’s World Kitchen
306 W. Main St., Buford, 678-765-7518
3stars5Food: International comfort cuisine with many sandwiches, salads and appetizers
Service: Friendly and casual
Best dishes: Nett’s Lumpia, mojo pork sandwich, chicken Cuban
Vegetarian selections: Salads, fried green tomato and portobello mushroom sandwich
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays
Children: Perfectly fine
Parking: Yes
Reservations: No
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
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14 comments Add your comment

Bob from Accounttemps

May 3rd, 2012
5:51 pm

Herein lies your readers’ frustration with your rating system and how inconsistently you rate eateries. So I’m clear, this place, in essence a sandwich shop in plain looking space with what looks like furniture repurposed from a Chinese restaurant rates higher than No. 246 in Decatur which is in the top 10 on Zagat’s new release? In the words of Seth & Amy, RRRRREALLLY?!?!?!? Come on folks.

ihorizon

May 3rd, 2012
7:23 pm

As a regular at Rico’s, I know Rico and his Mom and Kate (wife) deserves more than three stars but never mind the garage!!! And to Bob from Accounttemps, it is more than a sandwich shop. Rico and his mom also make the best cakes and pies too!!! Each visit brings a different choice – banana pudding cake, watermelon cake, Kentucky bourbon pecan pie, coconut cake and so many other flavors that cannot be found at a grocery store let alone a bakery!!!! And don’t forget to try the Hawaiian Po-Boy tuna sandwich with seaweed and pineapple toppings!!!! The lumpia’s are the best!!!

Wendy Day

May 3rd, 2012
9:15 pm

I eat at Rico’s almost everyday and can’t recall the last time I ordered from the menu instead of choosing one of the incredibly delicious specials. As a fussy NYer, and a foodie, finding outstanding food in a small town like Buford, is an amazing find!! The food is world class and very affordable. The selfish side of me is thankful you only gave him 3 stars because it can get crowded on weekends, already! But the honest side of me knows it’s worth 4 or 5 stars…but you keep your stars, AJC….I vote with my wallet 4 or 5 times a week. Rico’s is amazing! My favorite restaurant anywhere in the Atlanta area. This place kicks food butt!!

Buford Boy

May 4th, 2012
11:31 am

Your rating system blows. The place has the best food around and is affordable!

Lucky star

May 4th, 2012
12:31 pm

Rico’s deserves a minimum 4 starts. My favorite special is the pan seared tuna po’boy. You definitely can’t get that at just a “sandwich shop”–which is the last thing I would label Rico’s as. I am also a lover and regular eater of the fried green tomato salad—delish! And don’t forget his famous banana pudding….incredible!

Grace

May 4th, 2012
12:54 pm

The food at Rico’s is superb. Much more than a sandwich shop. Blackened prime rib is to die for, great boutique wine offerings are very nice.

Rap Coalition

May 4th, 2012
2:36 pm

Food and service at Rico’s is impeccable! Staff bend over backwards to make sure you’re happy. The food is four star, not three. Ask ANYONE in Buford what the best restaurant is, and you’ll always hear “Rico’s.”. Calling it a sandwhich shop is like calling the Pyramids a pile of stacked stones.

James

May 4th, 2012
4:22 pm

To the folks complaining that 3 stars is too low, you need to re-read the ratings guide and take a look at some other ajc reviews. 3 stars is quite an honor – there are no (as in nada, zip, zero) restaurants in the entire metro Atlanta area that have been given 5, and only a tiny handful have received 4. Rico’s is now in elite company

OTP

May 5th, 2012
1:39 pm

Then it probably should get 4 stars. I think people see 3 out of 5 and think of it as a grade of 60%. The system is bad, if interpreted that way.

Jared G

May 5th, 2012
6:06 pm

I remember Rico form high school, he is a local who returned home, and he was always extremely friendly and had excellent character. I’m sure he give excellent service, and the food looks outstanding, I’ve heard from so many friends that his place is outstanding, and just moved back to the area recently, I’m going to try it immediately and say hello to an old friend. Thanks for helping me find it. The food sure looks 4 star to me, and at the prices you show above it looks like a tremendous value!

Rick

May 5th, 2012
6:06 pm

Rico’s is fabulous! The wait staff is some of the best in town. Mama and Katie are sweethearts.The pentagasas fish is amazing as well as the fried eggplant. My wife tells to quit telling people about it because it is getting to be so crowded but i can’t stop. Great place.

OTP

May 5th, 2012
6:13 pm

Well, we tried to eat there today, but were not allowed to. Arriving at around 3:45, and hoping to miss a big lunch or dinner crowd, we had the door shut in our faces by a rude, portly gentleman, pointing to a chalkboard stating that they would be closed for a catering event from 4-5 PM. We may try it again some time, but we will surely call first. I know this is a small place; but, perhaps they should make a decision to run a restaurant or a catering business, and not both.

RichardW

May 5th, 2012
7:30 pm

Best restaurant around. Period.

bcf_75

May 7th, 2012
3:31 pm

If this place was in Midtown, it would be attracting all the foodies. The food is great, the menu is short and diverse. People in Atl owe it to themselves to travel to Rico’s