PIZZA, LIKE MANY of life’s pleasures, is based on a simple concept: a leavened crust, layered with sauce and cheese. Yet the ability to actually create a perfect pizza -one with a crisp but chewy crust, a good slathering of spicy, well-balanced tomato sauce and a very thick blanket of rich, stretchy mozzarella- seems to be an art form mastered only by those with either Italian ancestry or the utmost determination.
The percentage of persons with the background or the acquired skill to execute an excellent pizza apparently varies from region to region throughout the country. In many cities of the Northeast, for example, Italian-run pizza parlors are as ubiquitous as authentic barbecue joints are in the Southwest. Those who hail from the New York metropolitan area particularly come to regard great pizza (and its ready accessibility) as a fact of life, a comforting constant. The sight, aroma and uniquely satisfying flavor of the cherished cheese pie are so often enjoyed that pizza has assumed a permanent position within New York’s collective unconscious, causing countless residents to rouse from the depths of sleep and bolt for the nearest Nick’s. Not so, south of the Mason-Dixon line. Most Northerners who move to Texas probably haven’t even considered the possibility that good pizza, unlike God, is not everywhere.
But here in Dallas, we discovered dozens of entries under “pizza” in the Yellow Pages and decided to try a variety of places that sounded promising. Immediately excluded were all those franchised institutions whose product is indistinguishable from the cardboard box in which it comes. After a couple of successes (but many more disappointments), we began to poll friends, including some longtime Dallas-ites, for their recommendations for the best pizza in town. Our impressions of the seven most consistently recommended pizza establishments in Dallas follow. In the interest of injecting some measure of objectivity into what is essentially a subjective process, we adhered to certain ground rules: We always sampled the pizza straight from the oven, so as to give it its best advantage; we tasted the pizzas both au natural and with sausage and pep-peroni; and we never ordered extra cheese, on the theory that a good pizza should be generously laden with it in the first place (with extra cheese being reserved for only truly decadent occasions).
Al’s Pizzeria, 159 Walnut Hill Village (just across from Bachman Lake), serves the best and most authentic Neapolitan pizza we’ve had in Dallas. The crust is of ideal consistency -crisp on the bottom but with a thin doughy layer right under the sauce that gives good pizza its typically chewy texture. The sauce is well-spiced with basil and oregano, filled with fresh tomato bits and amply applied. Al lays on gobs of rich, gooey cheese-enough to stretch the full extension of your arm. One bite and you’re back in the Bronx where Al first began to practice his craft. A large pizza at Al’s is larger than most – 18 inches in diameter – and costs a relatively modest $5.95, plus $1 per extra ingredient. Pizza by the slice is also available for those who, for some inexplicable reason, don’t want any leftovers to take home. Al’s also bakes a very satisfying Sicilian pizza, although the one we sampled at Brother’s had a tad more cheese. While you’re at Al’s try (he calzone -a veritable volcano of molten mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses erupting from a crisp crust. Although Al’s is quite large and justifiably does a lot of business, it is sufficiently well-staffed that you can be digging into your flown-to-order pie within 20 minutes of your arrival – even on a weekend night. Beer and wine are available.
Brother’s Pizza, 7020 Fair Oaks, a relative newcomer on the Dallas pizza scene, also serves a consistently outstanding Neapolitan pizza, as well as the most authentic Sicilian we’ve found in town. Both varieties of Brother’s pizza are heavily endowed with cheese rich enough to produce those lovely iridescent pools of oil found atop the finest pizzas. Brother’s sauce is also quite tasty, but we wish it were more liberally applied. The well-seasoned homemade sausage and spicy pep-peroni are well worth the $1 extra that each item adds to the basic price of $5.90 for a large pie. Pizza is sold by the slice; delicious individual calzones, as well as a few standard Italian dishes, are available for about $3. Brother’s beer selection includes two unusual choices: Raffo, an Italian import, and St. Pauli-Girl, a premium German import rarely offered in pizzerias. And, in addition to its authentic East Coast-style pizza, Brother’s ethnically diverse patrons make it reminiscent of a New York pizzeria. The place is run exclusively by two very hard-working fellows and, while this clearly helps ensure the quality and consistency of the pizza, it also poses a bit of a waiting problem at busy hours. The owners of this establishment would be wise to bring another sibling into the business to help keep pace with their growing popularity.
Reggio’s, 5543 W. Lovers Lane, another popular spot, serves pizza that is not in the same league with Al’s or Brother’s, but is nevertheless considerably tastier than average. The sauce is what makes Reggio’s pizza memorable -it’s loaded with fresh basil and a combination of other spices that make it a sweeter, more piquant sauce than most. On one visit we came equipped with a jar, hoping to leave with an extra cache of the sauce, but Reggio was unwilling to part with any. The pizza’s crust is a little too thin and lacks the chewy texture we enjoyed at Al’s and Brother’s. We found the application of cheese to be inconsistent from visit to visit: Sometimes it is thick enough to cascade onto the plate after the first bite, other times it’s downright skimpy. Although Reggio’s is generally generous with the extras, the sausage has had a peculiarly unmeaty taste on at least one occasion. Other offerings include subs, calzone, lasagna and mani-cotti, plus beer and wine. By all means, order the Italian dinner salad while waiting for your pizza. It’s an excellent combination of greens, Italian meats, olives and lots of shredded cheese, tossed in Reggio’s house dressing. A large pizza at Reggio’s is $6.95, and extras add $1 each to the tab.
Galliano’s, 8106 Spring Valley Road, serves a pizza that is virtually the inverse of Reggio’s: a crust of near-perfect consistency, an exceptionally liberal layering of cheese, but a disappointingly banal sauce. If Reggio’s ever decides to sell its sauce, Galliano’s could begin using it and become an instant contender for the title of best in town. In the meantime, Galliano’s does give you lots of thick-sliced, spicy pepperoni, which helps compensate for the sauce’s blandness. Galliano’s also knows that the proper way to apply cheese is by the fistful, and doesn’t quit until the pie is totally smothered. Unfortunately, this pizzeria is in a dry area, so BYOB is the rule -a fact that has not been a boon to Galliano’s business.
Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant, 5610 E. Mockingbird, makes its appearance here solely because it received umpteen enthusiastic recommendations during our pizza poll. Yes, we know, this is Dallas’ first pizza place; it’s been around for more than 30 years; people queue up night after night to get the pizzas. But journalistic integrity compels us to report, with all due respect, that the pizza has been an enormous disappointment. In the first place, the pizza never manages to look even the least bit appetizing, despite the fact that Campisi’s is dark enough to develop photographs in. Moreover, the crust is thin to the point of brittleness and frequently burned as a result, and the use of cheese is sparing at best. We find the continuing popularity of this pizza particularly mystifying in light of the fact that Campisi’s recently received a very low score for cleanliness from the Dallas Department of Health (“Dallas’ Dirtiest Diners Revisited,” D Magazine, November 1981). Perhaps Campisi’s survival is based on the merit of the other dishes on its extensive Italian menu; if not, the place must be thriving for purely sentimental reasons.
New York Experience (formerly New York Pizza Experience), 3911 Lemmon, has recently expanded its menu to include a wide variety of Italian foods, but pizza is still the featured item. The waiters and the menus (with gushing testimonials) both unabashedly proclaim that this is the best, most authentic East Coast-style pizza in Dallas. The decor can only be described as what ex-New Yorkers think Texans perceive to be New York chic: New York license plates, photographs and subway maps. Only the ceiling fans are a nod to Texas trendiness. With our hopes so built up, we expected this pizza to outdo all the others. We found it to be very good, but not quite a New York experience. The crust, though light and crisp, was more airy than chewy, and the cheese was not overly abundant (although the waiter had tipped us off about this by confiding that he thought it advisable to order extra cheese). The sauce and extra ingredients are laid on with a heavier hand, however, so the pizza is filling on the whole. New York Experience is also noteworthy for the creative approach it takes to pizza. When the waiter suggested a special topping of fresh clams and garlic, we couldn’t resist and were glad we didn’t -it was a delicious change of pace. On the down side, the tab at New York Experience was significantly heftier than most. We ordered a large pie, one half with the clam-and-garlic topping, the other half with our usual sausage and pepperoni, and this one pie set us back $13.95. Maybe excessive prices are just another way of creating a genuine New York experience.
Olympic Pizza, 7568 Greenville, alsoclaims in its advertising that it serves NewYork-style pizza. Olympic pizza is actuallya Greek interpretation of pizza -good inits own right. Rather than making the pizzas entirely to order, Olympic keep its refrigerator filled with pans lined withdough and sauce, then adds the cheese andother toppings when you order. This refrigeration process, plus the fact that thedough seems to be rolled and then pattedinto the pan (rather than flown in thetraditional manner) yields a crust thatbakes up very light and pleasant tasting,but there’s nothing New York-style aboutit. Although generous with most ingredients, Olympic’s prices are on the steepside: its “large” pizza is 3 inches smallerthan Al’s, yet it costs almost $2 more($7.75 for a 15-inch plain round pie,$10.45 with two extras). Gyros, the Greekanswer to submarines, are also available,and so is beer.
These restaurants represent the best in Dallas and Fort Worth dining.
These listings are revised and supplemented periodically. Visits by our critics are made anonymously to avoid preferential treatment. Inclusion in this directory has nothing whatever to do with paid advertising.
The pricing symbols used are categorical, not precise. They indicate only a general price range.
$ Generally inexpensive. Usually indicates a good value.
$$ Middle ground and very general. Usually indicates a menu with a wide price range.
$$$ Expensive. You can expect to spend more than $15 for a complete meal excluding wine and cocktails.
$$$$ Very expensive.
Unless otherwise noted, all restaurants have full bar facilities.
Credit card notations: MC/MasterCard, V/Visa, AE/American Express, DC/Diners Club, CB/Carte Blanche. “All credit cards” indicates that all five are accepted.
Cafe Royal. The surroundings here are as exquisite as the Mozart played by the pianist on duty during dinner. As for the food, scallops in pepper sauce are a fine opener; a better choice than the thin, too-briny lobster soup. Classic entrees like sirloin with b坢arnaise sauce are safe bets; but the more adventurous nouvelle cuisine-inspired choices are the point here: among them, flavorful duckling supreme with mustard cream sauce, and tender, piquant veal steak with lime butter. Minor shortcomings are dull salads, limp vegetables (which, at $3.50 a la carte, should taste as good as they look) and occasionally burnt coffee. Service can be very slow. But all is forgiven with the extraordinarily refreshing strawberry bavaroise. (Plaza of the Americas, 650 N Pearl. 747-7222 Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-3; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 6:30-11. Jacket and tie required for men. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$$)
Calluaud’s. This restaurant should be in a class with some of Dallas’ more elegant continental restaurants. But on several recent visits, we found dining here to be a frustrating experience. The food is still superior, but the service has been absent-minded and downright unfriendly. On one occasion, we had to ask our waiter to take our order. Then, once we ordered, he couldn’t remember who had which entree. (For the money one can spend at Calluaud’s, it is not too much to assume that waiters come equipped with ESP) But once served, we concentrated on Calluaud’s fine continental cuisine. The delicate lobster souffle and the garlicky escargots de bourgogne topped with tiny puffed pastry are excellent openers. Those with ravenous appetites should avoid the scallops in white wine and cream sauce; they can be consumed in two bites. The artichoke hearts served with a smooth mustard and honey sauce are good, with no vinegary bite. Calluaud’s offers an extensive list of entrees including a flaky, deliciously seasoned turbot with champagne and truffles. If your tastes run more toward wild game, the restaurant also serves a notable quail and a juicy duck steak with lime. To complete the meal, ordering the hazelnut or Grand Marnier souffle is an absolute must. (2619 McKinney. 823-5380. Lunch: Tue-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6:30-9:30, Fri & Sat seatings at 7 and at 9:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. Jacket required for men. MC, V, AE. $$$$)
Francisco’s. With some fine-tuning in the kitchen, this could be a very good, reasonably priced continental restaurant. But without an investment in ambiance, the place will never rival Jean Claude or Cafe Royal. Francisco’s is small, but not intimate, with peculiar waterlily-print wallpaper in one room and a nondescript decor in the other. Photos of the owner with dubious celebrities don’t contribute to a feeling of classiness; neither do the menus, which are laminated and more suited to Denny’s than a fine restaurant. As for the food, soups are the high point. Clear mushroom soup, with mushrooms floating in consomme and topped with light pastry, was superb. Minestrone, a soup of the day, was almost as good. Entrees were more than passable, but less than perfect. Veal Norway was slightly overcooked and totally tasteless. Poulet saute a la maison (chicken scallops saut坢ed with ham and Swiss cheese) was entirely edible, but lacked pizazz. Among lunchtime entrees, the chef’s salad was commendable; avocado filled with crab meat tasted too much of oversweet mayonnaise. And desserts are not great here: Homemade chocolate cake turned out to be sliced, sodden chocolate mousse; cheesecake was heavy; and neither the peach-raspberry sauce nor the ice cream in our peach melba was what it should have been. (2917 Fair-mount. 749-0906. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-11, Fri & Sat 6-11:30(seatings at 7 & 9). Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
The French Room. Nothing short of something physical and amorous could surpass the sublime quality of this food. The decor is operatic in its opulence, almost to the point of being overplayed. Inside the French Room, you are visually and acoustically cushioned from the outside world. So secure is that feeling and so subservient is the service (most of the waiters have come over from the Mansion) that you’ll feel as though you’ve been recognized as royalty just for having the good judgment to dine here. One salient piece of advice: Order the specials recited by your waiter whenever they appeal to you, particularly when the dishes involve seafood. While we found the menu selections consistently delightful, the specials were superior. From the menu, we’ve tried the pithiviers d’escar-gots (tender slivers of escargot with garlic and parsley inside an igloo-like pastry) and the lobster sausage with sea urchins, which was light and lobstery, but not nearly as exciting as the special seafood melange with langoustinos and the sweetest, most savory scallops we’ve ever eaten. The bisque of scallops with saffron had a delicate consistency and a pretty color, and was served just hot enough to force the taking of tiny tastes. We were vaguely disenchanted with the veal entree, which came in thick steaks saut坢ed with morels and wild mushrooms, but sampling our guest’s roasted lobster with thyme and caviar sauce directed us away from the overall ordinariness of what we’d ordered. (Adolphus Hotel, 1412 Main. 742-8200, ext 191. Reservations accepted Mon-Sat from 6-10:30 pm. All credit cards. $$$$)
Jean Claude. The only bad thing about eating at Jean Claude is the demand it places on one’s short-term memory. There is no menu; instead, the waiter recites for you first the available appetizers, then the entrees and finally the desserts. Given that there are often 10 or more entree choices, you may feel exhausted by the time your drinks arrive. But once you’ve ordered, all is well, with Jean Claude himself chopping and saut坢ing in the open-air kitchen. For appetizers, we’ve enjoyed the scallops in cream and garlic sauce, the salmon mousse, and the warm crab meat and lobster salad. Only the pates have disappointed. Jean Claude is particularly successful -and imaginative-with fish entrees, among them swordfish with grapefruit sauce and poached trout wrapped in lettuce. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the intensely chocolate mousse or the fruit tarts. (2404 Cedar Springs. 653-1823. Tue-Sat seat-ings at 6 and 9. Reservations only. MC, V. AS. $$$)
L’Ambiance. This may or may not be in the ranks of the best continental cuisine in town, but it is definitely the best you’ll ever eat in a converted gas station. Inside the uninspiring exterior is a first-rate restaurant that could well be characterized as full-service. The hosts greet patrons at the door as if welcoming house guests. And although the surroundings are standard cut-glass-and-starched-linen, the atmosphere is easy. Salads are impeccable, and soups are fresh and flavorful. Of the entrees we tried, we especially liked the tender medallions of veal with mushroom puree and the pepper-sauced filet mignon flamed with cognac (an exception to our rule of avoiding flamed dishes, which tend to be long on flash and short on flavor). The pastry selection is varied and gorgeous. (2408 Cedar Springs. 748-1291. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Mon-Fri 6:30-10:30, Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $$$)
La Vieille Varsovie. The Old Warsaw is in danger of becoming a restaurant in which food no longer holds center stage. Although the waiters serve with flair and theatricality, something is wrong in the kitchen. On two visits we had a tough duckling with kiwi fruit and raspberry vinegar, a mushy filet of sole stuffed with crab, salads swimming in dressing, fresh asparagus ruined by overcooking, and green beans with far too much garlic. The fish pate was graced with a delicate lobster sauce, but the mersault had not been properly incorporated into the other sauce, giving it an alcoholic taste. The champagne sauce for the poached salmon was better, but the fish was dry. And nothing we ate merited the expense of the high-priced wine list, which began (with few exceptions) at $25 and averaged $65 a bottle, or half the price of a dinner for two. We had been advised to try the fresh lobster, the Dover sole with lemon butter and the rack of lamb-dishes that are not the test of French cooking, but are probably more manageable. Twice, we were seated beside the huge cabinets on which the waiters perform their handiwork. Surely more of this work could be done in the kitchen, where someone should be tasting and checking the food. (2610 Maple. 528-0032. Sun-Thur 6-11, Fri & Sat 6-midnight. Reservations. Jacket and tie required for men. All credit cards. $$$$)
The Mansion. One of the pleasures of the carefully calculated decor of the Mansion is its golden lighting, which enables the diner to see not only his perfect green salad, but also the contemporary nobility on the terrace-visiting movie stars and international financiers. Noble is the word for the Mansion’s peasant dish, tortilla soup. It should be exported to the restaurant’s parent company. New York’s 21 Club. But. we wouldn’t mind at all if the New Yorkers took back their bland chicken hash with Mornay sauce. In other sauces, the Mansion excels. The b坢arnaise sauce that came with the grilled red snapper was so light, smooth and tasty you could put it on cardboard and swear you’d had a good meal. The lobster sauce with chicken and the wine sauce that dressed the shrimp saute appetizer called for mopping up with a piece of French bread. And the duck served with a brown, not-too-strong garlic sauce was topped with a slice of duck liver pate that deserves a place of its own on the menu. A too-lemony veal sauce was disappointing, given the subtlety of the other sauces. Service is brisk, efficient and French, without annoying theatrics. If only the desserts were as good as they looked. The raspberry torte was a chaotic mixture of sour raspberries, brick-like chocolate and bland whipped cream. The restaurant encourages the smoking of fine cigars from its 21 collection, a problem if you are inhaling the enticing aroma of a juicy breast of pheasant with chanterelles, and your neighbor lights up. (2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 526-2121. Lunch: Mon-Sat noon-1:30; Brunch: Sun 11-2; Dinner: Sun 6-10, Mon-Thur 6-10:30, Fri & Sat 6-11: Supper: Mon-Thur 10:30-midnight, Fri and Sat 11-midnight. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC. $$$$)
Pyramid Room. With its potted, leafless trees, high, bare brown walls and bland, green, high-backed chairs, the Pyramid Room is the most austere room in Dallas. When we visited, the staff was short-handed and apologetic for delays, but despite the strain, was courteous and thorough. The Pyramid specializes in flourishes of service and display. A huge piece of fresh matzo cracker was set in a holder made of fresh banana bread, a display guaranteed to set your teeth on edge if you are made uneasy by conspicuous consumption. The name of the person who made the reservations is embossed on the books of matches on the table. The captain plucks the napkin from the table and settles it on the lap of each guest. The Italian wine steward is charming and funny. The house pate of fish and lobster with two sauces was delicate yet flavorful, as was the sauce with a 2-inch thick steak au poivre. But the mushroom hors d’oeuvre, cassoulet dordonaise, was bland and flavorless, not up to the $7 charge. Perfection, of course, is what is expected at the Pyramid Room’s prices. The veal in the pauppiette de veau Bonaparte was tender, but also coarse and grainy, although again, the sauce was successful. The asparagus had been cooked to soft, baby-food texture. For lunch we had a few fine slices of Irish smoked salmon, but the oysters Kirkpatrick were cool, and our vegetables were undercooked. The Pyramid is struggling and is sometimes very good, but the time has gone when it dominated continental dining in Dallas. (Fairmont Hotel, Ross and Akard. 748-5454. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Daily 6-11. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$$)
Bugatti. Although the interior of this North Dallas pasta place looks like somebody’s basement rec room, the food at Bugatti is the real thing: excellent Italian cooking. If the menu looks like a Xerox of the old Lombardi’s bill of tare, that’s because it almost is. The chef at Bugatti, Setimio Carrelli, and the owner, Mario Peres, are both Lombardi’s veterans. Basically, what they are doing at their new Walnut Hill restaurant is serving up exactly what you would have found at the old Lombardi’s on McKinney. And if that constitutes culinary plagiarism, so what? Bugatti has not only copied the old Lombardi’s cuisine, it has done a better job than the new Lombardi’s (La Trattoria Lombardi on Hall Street). The tortellini alla crema (called tortellini alla panna at La Trattoria Lombardi) is tastier at Bugatti and also cheaper-$6 at dinner vs. $9.50 at La Trattoria Lombardi. Saltimbocca alla romana will cost $8 at dinner vs. $13.25, and eggplant parmigiana will run you $5.95 vs. $11.95. Cost comparisons like these would be crass and useless were it not for the fact that the restaurants are offering dishes that over the broad range of the two menus taste almost identical. If you miss the crab cannelloni that seemed to disappear when the old Lombardi’s burned, rejoice; it’s back again and just as good as ever at Bugatti. (2574 Walnut Hill. 350-2470. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11:00. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $$)
La Tosca. With its black-and-white checked tile floor, expansive archways and soft lighting, La Tosca exudes stark elegance. Fortunately, the food is up to par with the lovely, understated surroundings. An excellent inclusion on La Tosca’s menu is the octopus salad, tender slices marinated in lime juice and spices. Another flavorful appetizer from the ocean is the pepata di vongole or cozze (clams with tomatoes, garlic and black pepper). La Tosca offers an extensive selection of pasta, including a spicy orecchiette all’ arrabbiata (ear-shaped macaroni with red pepper, garlic and tomato sauce). As far as veal entrees go, we relished the scaloppine al marsala-tender, buttery veal that practically melted in our mouths. The involtini nicola (veal scallop filled with prosciutto, cheese and herbs) will be appreciated by those with a taste for spicy Italian ham, which overpowered the veal. With the exceptions of the profitterol al cioccolato (a cream-filled puff pastry dribbled with chocolate) and ice cream with Strega (an Italian liqueur), desserts should be forgotten. Service can be intimidating and out of sync with the elegance of the restaurant. (7713 In-wood. 352-8373. Sun, Tue-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11. Closed Mon. All credit cards. $$$)
La Trattoria Lombardi. Sometimes success can ruin a good restaurant. Management, intoxicated by the length of the waiting line, gets overconfident. Quality plummets. Prices climb beyond what is reasonable. Recent visits convince us that, while it would be premature to conclude that La Trattoria Lombardi has been ruined by its past success, the undeniable fact is that the place is slipping. The signs of culinary complacency are beginning to manifest themselves in the pasta. It is frequently overcooked; it is universally overpriced. We recommend avoiding the maleficent manicotti and the languid linguini; instead go for the veal (the veal with lemon butter, veal marsala and saltimbocca alla romana are all excellent), the homemade soups (the minestrone is one of the best in the city) or the frit-tata (great little Italian omelets with ham, cheese, mushrooms, peppers and a tangy tomato sauce). We also recommend the sole with lemon butter, although we’ve been disappointed in some of the other fish selections, such as the mussels with marinara sauce, the clams with white wine sauce and the linguini with clam sauce. Desserts can be superior, especially the homemade ice creams (there are five to choose from). And while the food has slipped a notch, the service definitely hasn’t; it’s among the most hospitable found in Dallas. (2976 Hall. 823-6040. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $$$)
D Revisits Mario’s. Forget the pizzeria-style Mama mia down-home influence that has crept into so many Italian restaurants these days-Mario’s is strictly a first-class, elaborately elegant establishment. Smooth and purposefully low-key, Mario’s is perfect for people who enjoy the experience of dining out. But it’s literally impossible to be inconspicuous here-if you’re easily intimidated you might consider dining elsewhere. Since each table is attended by numerous waiters, diners can expect their every move to be monitored: Napkins will be placed in laps, cigarettes lighted, proper serving methods demonstrated and wine consultations provided upon request. Luckily, the food is worth all the pomposity. Although many of Mario’s appetizers are somewhat uninspired, the pasta dishes (most are available in either appetizer or main course portions) and the veal entrees are all first-rate. Our veal piccata was extremely tender and just lemony enough to soothe the palate. The saltimbocca alla Mario (scallops of veal with prosciutto and mozzarella in a white wine sauce) was equally impressive. And the fettucine alla carbonara (fettucine with ham, onion, white wine, heavy cream and fresh Parmesan) arrived piping hot-and the thin, delicate noodles were practicaly spilling over the edge of the bowl in a subtle but satisfying sauce. And for an elegantly appropriate conclusion, try one of Mario’s outstanding souffles. (135 Turtle Creek Village, Oak Lawn at Blackburn. 521-1135. Daily 6-11, Sat till midnight. Reservations. Jackets required for men. All credit cards. $$$)
Sergio’s. The remodeling of Sergio’s has transformed what was once little more than a hole in the wall in a corner of The Quadrangle into an elegant, formal dining establishment. The management is to be complimented for resisting the urge to jack up the prices in order to pay for all that new carpet and wallpaper. But if the transformation is an architectural success, it is something of a culinary failure. Sadly, the once wonderful homemade pasta is now a bit on the doughy side. Most of the chicken and veal dishes-which have always been standouts-have survived the remodeling. And Sergio’s still makes one of the better omelets available in Dallas, as well as one of the better appetizers-Sergio’s version of marinated crab claws. (Even though the crab claws are obviously only marinated for the time it takes the waiter to walk to your table after the kitchen staff has covered them with a tangy sauce, they are still excellent.) Sergio’s fine track record during the past couple of years makes us confident that the restaurant will soon get its pasta problem in order. But until then, we recommend sticking with one of the seven reliable veal selections on the menu or opting for sole saffron or chicken Florentine. (Suite 165, The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh. 742-3872. Lunch: Mon-Sat 11:30-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. All credit cards. $$)
D Revisits Caf坢 Cancun. Viva la black bean and sour cream! Cafe Cancun continues as one of our very favorite Mexican restaurants. We’ve said it before, but we see no reason to change our song: The rice and beans here are the best in town. The enchiladas mole were superb. The tacos al carbon were served with delicious guacamole and pica de gallo and plenty of tender, bite-sized tenderloin. The polio ala padilla (char-broiled chicken breasts) were also tender and good. We could continue-bragging on the nachos Cancun, served with Chihuahua cheese, black beans and other goodies of the house, or boasting the virtues of the kahlua pie -but you’ll believe only so much. So we’ll stop on a sustained positive note. (4131 Lomo Alto. 559-4011. Mon-Thur 11-10, Fri 11-11, Sat 5-11, Sun noon-10; Sun brunch: 12:30-2. All credit cards. $$)
Chiquita. With its pastel tablecloths, candles and the color-coordinated costumes of the waiters, Chiquita is out of the ordinary when compared to most Tex-Mex places in town. Therefore, it’s appropriate that Chiquita excels with its out-of-the-ordinary specialties. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the standard combination dinner offerings; it’s just that you can do as well or better elsewhere. But when it comes to dishes like carne asada tampico style (filet mignon with saut坢ed green pepper and onions) or filete de la casa (filet mignon with garlic and hot peppers), you can’t match Chiquita’s combination of top-quality beef and skillful preparation. We’ve found that chicken and seafood specialties have not lived up to the standard of the beef dishes. But don’t miss the tortilla soup-a rich, oniony tomato broth with tortilla strips and melted white cheese. (3810 Congress oft Oak Lawn. 521-0721. Mon-Thur 11:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 11:30-11. Closed Sun. MC, V, AE. $$)
Herrera. The management of this little dump of a restaurant on Maple Avenue must have a difficult time resisting the urge to become cocky. After all, it must be a great feeling to see all those gringos lined up outside, ready to sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter for an opportunity to sample some of the tasty Tex-Mex that waits inside. But despite the fact that Herrera has more customers than it can possibly serve, the food and service at the tiny restaurant have remained consistently good. Once you’ve elbowed your way to a table (expect a minimum half-hour wait at peak dining hours), we suggest you go for one of the eclectic dishes like the Jimmy’s special or the Pepe’s special, both of which are virtual Tex-Mex smorgasbords They include everything from chicken enchiladas to guacamole. Most of the mainline Mexican dinners on the menu are no-miss propositions, although we’ve had mediocre experiences with some of the fancier dishes like guizo de res and carne asada. If you like to drink beer with your meal, Herrera offers the classic good news/bad news situation. The good news is that you can bring beer and drink it in the parking lot while you wait in line; the bad news is that you’d better bring enough to drink with your meal: Herrera has no liquor license. (3902 Maple. 526-9427. Mon, Wed, Thur 9 am-8 pm, Fri-Sun till 10. Closed Tue. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
Mario & Alberto. Who among us has not known Mexican restaurants at their worst: multicolored pinatas swinging low over full-masted need-some-more-tortilla-chip-flags: waitresses in short ruffled dresses. Mario & Alberto is none of the worst-it is a completely pastel dining experience, like a meal inside a great peach petit four. The dining room, lit by clusters of votive candles (we resisted an urge to say Mass) and made cheery by paper flower arrangements and color wheel placemats, may be a tad overdone, but it’s a soothing success. Mario looks like its sister restaurant, Chiquita, but the food is much better. Strong margaritas, good chips and hot sauce, chicken nachos and flautas con crema set a fine mood for main courses chosen from a vast menu (which includes everything from standard bean and taco plates to zucchini stuffed with ground sirloin). The tenderloin filet specials were tender, and filete a la pimienta was delicious. But the carne asada tampico-style could have been more vigorously seasoned. The pescado marinero, a white fish filet rolled with spinach stuffing and topped with a more-than-generous helping of oyster sauce, was tasty for a while, but a little too much of a good thing. The alambres, a shish kabob, arrived with a tasty soft taco ranchero and a potato de la casa. Desserts were smooth and well-chosen for a pastel restaurant: cinnamon ice cream and kahlua ice cream pie. (425 Preston Valley Shopping Center, LBJ at Preston. 980-7296. Mon-Thur 11:30-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11. Drinks with $5 membership charge. MC, V, AE. $$)
D Revisits Raphael’s. We’ve been conditioned to expect the best Mexican food from only the smallest, dimmest, raunchiest little shanties that top the health department’s “Condemn Tomorrow” list. We’ve grown suspicious of civilized Mexican restaurants, guessing that their best is only fresh from the freezer. But Raphael throws a kink in this philosophy. The food is better than average, the surroundings are pleasant, the prices are comparable to our favorite dives, and our tires weren’t slit while we dined. We thought for a while that Raphael’s was slipping a bit in quality, but during this visit we had few complaints. The generous portions of enchiladas rancheras were meaty and topped with a tasty tomato sauce, but other enchiladas we ordered were served with a rather ordinary cheese topping. The pescado veracruzano, a difficult dish to prepare, was not overcooked and the sauce was well-spiced with green peppers and mushrooms. The best parts of our meal were the beginning and the end. For appetizers, try the quesadillas, especially if you are a grilled cheese fanatic at heart. The sopapillas con fresas we had for dessert were a little short on fruit, but they filled what little room we had left. (3701 McKinney. 521-9640. Mon-Fri 11:30-10:30, Sat noon-10. Closed Sun. Reservations Mon-Thur only. All credit cards. $$)
August Moon. As the lines at dinner time attest. North Dallas has an appetite for high-quality Chinese fare. Large and lavishly decorated, August Moon fills the bill with a vast menu featuring specialties of Taiwan, Young Chow, Shanghai, Peking, Szechuan, Hunan and Canton. Soups are nothing special here, but the pu pu tray of assorted appetizers makes for a good start. Mongolian barbecue (marinated sirloin, pork and lamb stir-fried with vegetables) and kung-po chicken are two of the best choices for main courses. Shredded pork in garlic sauce, Shanghai steak and diced chicken with almonds are less successful. Portions are generous, and service is extremely fast and accommodating. (15030 Preston at Belt Line. 385-7227. Mon-Thur 11-10:30, Fri 11-11, Sat noon-11. Sun noon-10:30. Reservations for eight or more. Bar by membership. AE, MC. V, DC. $$)
Fangti China 1. What’s worth mentioning about this place are the service and the hours. We’ve been by at all times of the day or night and the waitresses are always chipper and cheerful. Because Fangti is open until six in the morning on weekends, it attracts an eclectic crowd ranging in attire from sophisticated to scruffy. The issue then becomes not so much good Chinese food as available Chinese food that’s not too bad. We like the soups and fried dumplings best here. The Special Soup and the hot and sour work well at late hours after you’ve closed your neighborhood pub at 2 a.m. The entrees, however, are inconsistent. Some look as though their components were chopped by a myopic samurai swordsman. We’ve tried a couple of the beef dishes (they tasted the same) and the prawns in hot sauce, all of which were utterly unspectacular. The pao-pao (pu pu) platter is no better. And the black and gold flocked wallpaper gives Fangti a certain sort of charm. (Twin Bridge Shopping Center, 6752 Shady Brook Lane. 987-3877. Sun-Thur 11 am-4 am, Fri & Sat 11 am-6 am. AE, DC, MC, V.)
D Revisits Sakura. We were put off almost at once on both visits when the waitress left us alone for 10 minutes with a four-page drink menu illustrated with drawings of exotic coconut drinks and fruit juice concoctions. We know man cannot live by sushi alone, but we found this liquor-pushing tactic offensive, particularly because we were hungry and we had come to eat. We were atypical Sakura customers then, for the program here seems designed for local busi-nesspeople on expense accounts entertaining out-of-town businesspeople on expense accounts. There are, no doubt, numerous arguments over who’s going to pick up the tab (which is apt to be fairly hefty). There is a $15 fee for the tatami rooms, but you can sit on the floor and wear Japanese “happy robes” for free. If raw fish is what you’re interested in, skip the she-nanigins and step directly to the sushi bar. If someone on a bottomless expense account takes you to Sakura, order anything with beef and avoid dishes with lobster. The latter are rare renditions of our favorite crustacean, which, sadly, has tasted as though it’s been freezer-burned every time we’ve sampled it here. If you sit upstairs, a very dexterous man will prepare the dishes before you on a grill. Downstairs, it’s quieter in the early evening until the pianist begins to play Fats Waller tunes in the bar. And then, of course, you can always anesthetize yourself with those drinks, but be careful when you get up-it’s easy to forget that your leg has fallen asleep. (7402 Greenville near Walnut Hill. 361-9282. Sun-Thur 6-10:30. Fri & Sat till 11:30. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Siam. Siam was briefly closed for remodeling, but for the life of us, we can’t figure out what they did to the place. The decor is still comfortably shabby; the Thai food is still reliably terrific. But every time we venture away from our tried-and-true list of favorites, we’re sorry. Nothing on the menu is bad. but few entrees live up to the excellence of the handful of Thai dishes we like to order. By number on the menu, they are: 103 (marinated, broiled pork on a stick, with peanut sauce and cucumber salad), 127 (rice noodles with pork, shrimp and a panoply of aromatic ingredients) and 137 (rosy chicken curry with coconut milk, green pepper, bamboo shoots and fresh mint). The limited lunch menu changes daily. (1730 W Mockingbird near Harry Hines. 631-5482. Mon-Thur 11-10, Fri & Sat 11-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $)
Taiwan. This restaurant is dressier and a bit more expensive than a lot of Chinese places in town, but it stands head and shoulders above most’ of them when it comes to food. Owner-manager Scott Sheu is said to have brought his staff to Dallas straight from San Francisco, and there is a certain sophistication and California-like vastness to the menu. The choices, particularly in terms of appetizers and soups, are more varied here. We tried the Kuo-Teh meat dumplings and found them well worth the 15-minute wait they take to prepare. Of the seven soups, we tried the hot and sour (which was a good interpretation of its namesake), and the sizzling rice soup for two. The flaming pu pu platter is among the best we’ve had in town, and the spare ribs are unusually large and lean. The kitchen is at its best with the hot and spicy Szechuan dishes. But even our tender-mouthed friends found the unspiced entrees rather bland. We liked the Peking beef and princess shrimp and chicken. We also tried the beef sizzling iron plate and a wonderful vegetable dish of crisp snow peas, water chestnuts and peerless mushrooms. The service ranges from nerve-wrack-ingly overattentive to somewhat absent-minded. (6111 Greenville. 369-8902. Mon-Sat 11:30-3 am, Sun 10-11. Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
D Revisits The Pita Place. This Lebanese restaurant built its reputation on luncheon fare when it was located downtown-justifiably famous falafel sandwiches and hoummus. In its new North Dallas location, the owners are going after the dinner crowd with more substantial meals. The ubiquitous chickpea is still evident, but there are other, not so widely known, Lebanese offerings, too. Like tehina (ground sesame seeds with lemon, garlic and other spices), shishlik (sirloin steak bits grilled on a skewer) and saneya with tehina (a kabob made with ground, seasoned sirloin). You can sample just about everything by getting the misnamed “combination salad with falafel,” which is actually an appetizer plate with tabouli, hoummus, tehina, eggplant and vegetables, fried eggplant and falafel. A standout among the specialties is the hoummus with beef and pinolas, bits of sirloin dressed up with pine nuts. For dessert, stick to the middle Eastern offerings, rich baklava and katayif. (The Corner Shopping Center. 9820 N Central Expy at Walnut Hill. 987-3226. Tue-Thur 11-10. Fri & Sat 11-midnight, Sun 11-10. Closed Mon. AE, MC, V. DC. $)
Fausto’s. The only thing Fausto’s has going against it is that it is located in the same hotel with an expensive, bad restaurant: Antares. First-time visitors to the Hyatt Regency Hotel try Antares because of the spectacular view atop Reunion Tower and come away disappointed with the food- Hotel patrons assume that if Antares can’t serve a good meal, neither can Fausto’s. That assumption is wrong. The menu is ambitious: Tender and sweet frog legs, juicy swordfish steak, a tasty shark gumbo, poached salmon steak topped with a luscious green peppercorn sauce and an excellent version of duckling in lingonberry sauce are among the broad range of culinary triumphs. And attention is paid to the supporting cast: marbled black and rye bread toast with Parmesan cheese that arrives before the menu, homemade pear sorbet perched atop an orange half to clear your palate before the main course, fresh strawberries stuffed with chocolate mousse after the dessert, and a fine assortment of homemade soups and chowders at lunch. All this caloric decadence is served up in a darkened dining room that is one of the plushest eating areas in the city. Service is attentive but not hovering. (Hyatt Regency Hotel. 651-1234. Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-11; Fri & Sat till midnight; Sun brunch: 10:30-2:30. All credit cards. $$$$)
Seascape Inn. The owners of Old Warsaw, Les Saisons, Mario’s and Arthur’s have acquired this admirable addition to the Dallas seafood scene housed in what used to be an unfortunate place: The Baked Potato. The best place to sit for lunch is by the geranium-garnished north windows. At night, the church pew booths with lace partitions are softly lit and romantic. We’ve yet to be disappointed by a meal here, and the service is helpful to the point of being self-effacing. Our sommelier. Johana Ewing, was the best we’ve run across in a long time. Not only was the wine she recommended superb, it was also less expensive than the one we had requested. We did, on one occasion, find what seemed to be an excessive amount of crab cartilage in the crab ramequin, an appetizer made of lump crab meat and tiny mushrooms in a white sauce that otherwise seemed just fine. Other appetizers we’ve enjoyed include the seafood gumbo, New England clam chowder, baked oyster Seascape in a tomato sauce and the ceviche. The remoulade served with a generous helping of lump crab meat seemed more like a tiresome Thousand Island than what it was supposed to be, but the other sauces were all quite nice. We’ve sampled the salmon in puff pastry, saut坢ed sea trout with lemon and capers, cape scallops in lemon and butter, and a lovely fried flounder. Everything is so light here you can find room for dessert, and the homemade pies are excellent. (6306 Greenville. 692-6920. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Sun-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11:30. Reservations recommended. AE, V, MC. $$$)
S&D Oyster Company. Never mind the ever-escalating number of posh seafood restaurants in Dallas, S&D could easily survive for years just on its substantial assemblage of regulars who would much rather fight the growing crowds than switch. And understandably so; S&D consistently provides seafood cultists with uniformly superior fare. Sure, the interior isn’t quite as snazzy as many of its newer competitors, and S&D’s desserts rank right down there with the worst of the lot, but when it comes down to it. who cares? S&D has some of the best fresh seafood in Dallas. Period. The broiled whole flounder we had (which our waiter deftly carved before us) was light and fluffy and-most important -fresh. Even the fried shrimp, which was cooked in an incredibly flavorful batter, was worth coming back for again and again. The oyster loaf sandwich (fried oysters served on a buttered bun with tartar sauce and ketchup) is a good idea, but is almost too messy and complicated to be worth the hassle. And unfortunately, it doesn’t even come with S&D’s great sides: crisp coleslaw, crunchy hush puppies and french fries. (2701 McKinney. 823-6350. Mon-Thur 11-10. Fri & Sat till 11. Closed Sun. No reservations. MC, V. $$)
FORT WORTH RESTAURANTS
Angelo’s. If Chrysler could turn out autos the way Angelo’s assembles and delivers lunch-hour sandwiches, there would be no need for a bail-out. The coordinator takes your order, dabs sauce on a bun and spins the bun onto a precise spot in front of the cutter. The cutter loads the bun with juicy, tender meat, crowns it and passes it back to the coordinator, who wraps it without looking. The counter help hands you your sandwich, takes your money and yells “large.” A 12-ounce frosty mug of draft Budweiser costs 70 cents; an 18-ounce mug of the same costs 80 cents. That’s why the counter keeps yelling “large.’’ There is no better barbecued beef in Fort Worth than at Angelo’s. And there are a couple of sleepers here, too, known only to the regulars. There hasn’t been a bargain around like the $1.20 hot link sandwich with sauce, pickles and onions since the demise of the nickel Coke. And the chili (steaming in temperature but not seasoning) is the best west of Tolbert’s. (2533 White Settlement Road. (817)332-0357. Mon-Sat 11-10. Closed Sun. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
Cattlemen’s. There are ups and downs here, but the prime steak is definitely an upper. First-time visitors are excited by the rustic Texas-style setting in the heart of the old Stockyards area. The restaurant exterior with its weathered facade promises a return to the days when this was the gathering point for the journey up the Chisholm Trail. But the interior is a letdown. There’s nothing much to see except the pictures of blue-ribbon beeves displayed to document the superb quality of meat that has been devoured here. (There’s one picture of a horse that is undoubtedly displayed for some other reason.) But when the steaks arrive, all else becomes incidental. The prime cuts of rib eye and K.C. sirloin are delectable, and the 18-ounce prime boneless strip is a third-degree sin. The Saturday night service reminded us of the service on the Braniff flight to Oklahoma City: frantic and elusive. You wouldn’t miss anything if you ate nothing but steak. (2458 N Main. (817) 624-3945. Mon-Fri 11-10:30. Sat 4:30-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC, CB. $$$)
Joe T. Garcia’s. Gone are the days of the honor system at Joe T.’s, when you went to the kitchen and helped yourself to a beer and then told the cashier, as near as you could remember, how many you had. Now customers aren’t even allowed to walk through the kitchen on their way to their tables. And there is something strangely clean about the place. No, it’s not the Joe T.’s we used to know, but we will not believe fame and fortune have disfigured this Fort Worth temple to Tex-Mex. We waited in line outside on the spooky north Fort Worth street for a full hour, but not a person in our party of 13 voiced a complaint. The industrial-strength margaritas were champions and the family-style Mexican staples (You’ve got your beans, rice, tacos. enchiladas, tortillas and. if you must, nachos. No questions. No substitutions. That’s it.) make for an inherent good time. Time after time. (2201 N Commerce. (817) 626-4356. Mon-Sat 11-2:15, 5-10:30; Sun 4-10. Reservations for 20 or more. No credit cards. $$)
L’Oustau. Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth may sound like a piece of the Old West, but developer Sid Bass has seen to it that a little bit of France is tucked into the corner. L’Oustau is a pleasant, open room with lots of green appointments and skylights and waiters with French accents. They bring food in continental rather than Texas-sized portions, enabling you to make it through all the courses. We had a fine pair of small lamb chops in a delicate sauce one night, but the rock bass in crust (loup en croute) was a little oily and flat in flavor. For lunch we had a peppery vegetable soup and a subtle and also peppery pate. Ironically, the shrimp Provencal with tomato and garlic sauce was ordinary, while the coq au vin evoked memories of real country cooking in Burgundy. Delicious. The waiters will tempt you, and you might as well give in to the strawberry tart, which comes with a layer of custard and a thin crust of chocolate. Fresh raspberries were sprinkled around the plate for good measure. If you don’t have room for dessert, you will want at least one of their fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate. (300 MainStreet. (817)332-8900. Lunch:Mon-Fri 11:30-2: Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. Reservations are recommended. AE. $$$$)