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Roadside eats for families in Atlanta, Georgia

All my life, I have driven on I-75 to and from Florida once, twice or a dozen times a year. And for those of you who have done it, you know that means you see a lot — a lot — of Georgia interstate.

You also see a lot of fast-food joints and chain restaurants. But if you can wait to eat until you’re around Atlanta, there are a couple of gems just off the highway that are great for families. Here are my favorite spots for a meal along I-75 near Atlanta:

The Varsity (I-75 Exit 249D)

The Varsity has been serving up chili cheese dogs, onion rings and fried pies for 80+ years in Atlanta. The food is good, but this place is really about the experience. It’s packed at nearly any time of the day, and you’d better have your order ready when you get to the counter, because the cashier will bark “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” until you spit it out.

Kids can pick up a free paper Varsity bell-hop hat. And be sure to get them a Frosted Orange – which tastes like a creamsicle in a cup. Just being in the hustle and bustle of the Varsity is exciting, and there’s plenty to read about the history of the place, too.

One note of caution, though: If you’re road tripping during college football season, you may want to check to see if Georgia Tech is playing at home that day before planning a stop at The Varsity. On a normal day, the restaurant serves two miles of hot dogs and 2,500 pounds of potatoes. On a Georgia Tech game day, those numbers double.

Marietta Diner (I-75 Exit 263)

The Marietta Diner‘s menu could be the biggest challenge you face all day. There are literally hundreds of items to choose from. Just about anything you can think of – from pastas to pies to pork chops – is on it. In fact, on a recent visit I asked about an item and stumped the waiter – he couldn’t find it when flipping through the multi-page menu for himself.

Most of the meals include a salad AND a soup. I recommend the Greek salad made with a ton of fresh ingredients and a huge chunk of feta, and the chicken matzo ball soup. In fact, I’m full after eating those two things and the free spanakopita that is served with the bread on the table.

But then the entrees come, and they are amazingly huge, too. We’re talking two 1 1/2-inch thick pork chops on a 16-inch platter of rice and teriyaki vegetables. For one person. It’s the kind of thing I could serve my whole family and still have leftovers. So plan for that by sharing, or if you’re going to have a microwave where you’re headed, take it with you. Trust me, no one is walking out of this place without a to-go box.

Not surprisingly, there’s plenty to choose from on the kids menu, and kids will get a kick out of eating in a classic chrome diner. They’ll also need some time to ogle at the dessert case, which is filled with cakes that stand more than a foot tall.

(You’ll be too full for dessert at the end of your meal, but do yourself a favor and take a piece of cake to go to share at the hotel later.)

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  1. You spotlighted two of my very favorites!! And one note to travelers who stop at the Marietta Diner: There’s a Krispy Kreme right across the street so you can grab a dozen “Hot Doughnuts Now” for the road!

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