Copper Tank Brewing Company. Copper Tank’s micro-brewed beers might be winning all kinds of awards, but the food served here deserves some serious attention, too. These hefty portions of he-man food demonstrate that there’s someone in the kitchen who cares, from the burger’s homemade-tasting bun to the perfectly grilled chicken to the scrumptious pizza crust and sprightly marinara sauce. Don’t miss the onion rings with their zesty apple-horseradish dipping sauce, one of the best appetizers In town, and save room for a decadent bite of the homemade chocolate Grand Marnier torte. 2600 Main St., 214-744-2739. Inexpensive.
Hubcap Brewery & Kitchen. 1701 N. Market St.. 214-651-0808. Moderate.
The Rock Bottom Brewery. Generous appetizers could make their own meal, especially the asiago cheese dip or signature green pork chili. Pizzas arrive lava-hot on cracker-thin crust; try the bourbon beef (with homemade steak sauce) or double-smoked bacon (with spinach, goat cheese and roasted garlic). Smoked chicken enchiladas were some of the best we’ve tried-really. How’s the beer? Thought you’d never ask. Six regular brews range from ultra-light (Coyote Western Ale and Palomino Pale Ale) to deep and roasty (Pelican Brown Ale and our fave, Roadrunner Stout). Falcon Red is a nice compromise. 4050 Belt Line Rd.. 972-404-7456. Moderate.
Routh Street Brewery and Grill. 3011 Routh St, 214-922-8835. Moderate.
Two Rows Restaurant & Brewery. According to the menu, the breed of barley best suited to suds is of the two rows variety. So does this brew-eatery live up to its name? Yes and no. While there are some standouts-the full flavored Black Forest Lager and the sturdy, robust Barking Fish Porter-many taste like they were brewed in a sudsy tank of Lemon Fresh Joy. But don’t let that keep you away. Two Rows is a crisp, cozy place with a friendly, energetic staff and a menu that is as informative (healthful items include fat-gram counts) as it is fun to read (one of its ales is dubbed Central Expressway Jack Hammer Red]. The food is simple (soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, brick-oven fired pizza), fresh and cleanly presented. Look for two more Two Rows to pop up in the near future. 5500 Greenville Ave.. Suite 1300. 214-696-BREW.
Yegua Creek Brewing Co. Recently snatching a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival (the second time in three years) for its Scotch Ale, Yegua Creek continues to brew stellar suds along with a few ho-hum heads. Tops on our list is O’Brien’s Texas Stout, a rich, balanced brew with carmel-coffee-chocolate undertones, and the White Rock Red, a crisp amber ale with a subtle hop-sizzle. The Tucker’s Golden Wheat (a best-seller), however, was about as exciting as weak herbal tea. The food? Admirably adventurous for a suds house, it sometimes loses its gastro-footing. The Texas-sized Tower O’Rings (onion) were hearty and sweet, but far too greasy. The Tortilla-Encrusted Catfish with Roasted Tomatillo Lime Butter almost worked except the fish had an off taste. Half-price menu Sunday evenings is a treat. 2920 N. Henderson Ave., 214-824-BREW. Moderate.
Chip’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers. 4501 Cole Ave., 214-526-1092. Inexpensive.
Dave & Buster’s. The Prime Directive here has always been to serve fun, fun, fun with food on the side. But, the friendly and competent waiters and the prettily appointed dining room deserve better support from the kitchen. A cheeseburger was grilled perfection, a Philly chicken cheesesteak decent if overpriced and the polio grande-a whopping, undercooked chicken breast drenched with enchilada sauce and accompanied by tasteless julienne vegetables- was no fun at all. Stick with the burgers and a cold one from a great beer list, which includes the excellent Pilsner Urquell. Walnut Hill Lane at North Central Expressway (In the Comer Shopping Center). 214-361-5553; 10727 Composite Dr.. 214-353-0620. Inexpensive.
Empire Baking Company. 264 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-526-3223. Inexpensive.
Granada Movie Grill. 3524 Greenville Ave.. 214-823-9640. Inexpensive.
The Ozona Westex Grill and Bar. Set back amid a tangle of trees, this popular gathering spot provides a surprisingly cool, green, countrified retreat in the city. There are no real surprises, and although there are grilled options like salmon salad and a chicken dinner, a bit too heavy reliance on deep frying may well dismay cholesterol counters. A bottle of domestic beer starts at $2.75. there are abundant lunch specials and the portions are very generous, so order conservatively on your first visit. 4615 Greenville Ave., 214-265-9105. Inexpensive to moderate.
Snuffer’s. The menu’s limited, but it’s hard to go wrong with burgers, the chicken sandwich or the chicken Caesar salad. Go early on weekend nights; the crowds build quickly. 3526 Greenville Ave.. 214-826-6850; 14910 Midway Rd., Addison, 972-991-8811. Inexpensive.
Copland’s of New Orleans. Consistently good Cajun food isn’t exactly the easiest thing to find once you stray from the bayou. Copeland’s is largely up to the task: the food makes up in quality and seasoning what it might lack in over-the-top gusto. The extensive menu includes the predictable Cajun staples complemented by an array of creative appetizers and entrées.The fried offerings were perfect-crispy and virtually void of grease-and the blackened redfish was nicely done if a bit tame. What’s more, every staff member from the manager on down was friendly and polite. Sure, the restaurant design is a frightening morph of a Vegas showroom and Denny’s, but if you use your imagination, the look sort of grows on you. While a tad on the pricey side, we’ll be back as long as the Tabasco stays complimentary. 5353 Belt Line Rd., 972-661-1883. Moderate.
Crescent City Cafe. 2615 Commerce St., 214-745-1900. Inexpensive.
LuLu’s Bait Shack. Cajun cuisine with regional nuances ranging from hot to hotter. Buffalo shrimp are hotsy-totsies nicely balanced with a blue cheese dip, and jambalaya carries a major kick. For tamer tongues, try the Chicken Rockafella with oysters, cheese and spinach. Homey mashed Mardi Gras pasta is a mixture of fresh vegetables with capers and sun-dried tomatoes, while a lunch trip’s oyster po-boy proved a solid marriage of cornmeal-battered oysters with tomato, lettuce and mayo. 2621 McKinney Ave., 214-969-1927. Inexpensive to moderate.
Arc-En-Ciel. The menu here offers more than 300 Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, some authentic, some Americanized. Dim sum is also available. Classic Vietnamese spring rolls, with their transparent wrappers displaying their well-packed interiors of shrimp, vermicelli, mint, pork and garlic chives, taste every bit as good as they look, especially when dipped in the sneakily hot peanut sauce. Tender little shark’s fin dumplings, charcoal-broiled pork over vermicelli and crispy duck disappear fast, but the fresh crab dishes require too much work (and create too much of a mess) to get the meat out of the shell. 3555 W. Walnut St.. Garland. 972-272-2188. Inexpensive.
Cafe Panda. The personnel here make you feel at home from the get-go, and meticulous attention to detail guar-entees return visits. Start with quail curl, minced and seasoned perfectly, and watch as a team of servers perform a near-ballet in bringing it to your table. Tangerine beef was exceptional; delicate beef strips cooked to a sizzle, blended in a delightful sauce with fruity, chewy tangerine shreds. General Tao’s chicken is offered elsewhere but rarely done as well; spicy, honest-to-goodness chicken breast that’s hot but not hellishly so. with no nuggety, gristly pieces. Order coffee and enjoy the Jules Verne-tan brewing device brought to your table. 7979 Inwood Rd., Ste. 121, 214-902-9500. Inexpensive to moderate.
Cathy’s Pacific. 5950-A Royal Ln.. 214-739-3378. Inexpensive to moderate.
Jasmine. Ersatz nightclub ambience collides with hustle-bustle service, but freshly prepared cuisine fortunately transcends both. Exquisite Ming chicken, redolent with spices and served in a crispy cold iceberg lettuce shell, was almost a meal in itself. Some like it hot. opting for Hunan and Szechwan beef-tender, generous helpings and prodigious heat rewarded the palates of even the most jaded jalapeno fans. The ubiquitous general chicken featured tender chunks of meat and fiery peppers; try champagne chicken for a cooler, if somewhat bland, warm-weather treat. We had just one gripe; Overly attentive tea and water re-fillers tended to hover like pesky mosquitoes. 4002 Belt Line Rd.. Addison, 972-991-6867. Inexpensive to moderate.
May Dragon. Moo shi rolls strike the right balance between sweet (plum sauce), crunchy (bamboo shoots and cabbage) and savory (shredded beef). Lemon chicken transcends the sticky-sweet stuff served in most places. This version’s lemony bite toned down the sugar, but the fried white-meat chicken strips retained not a bit of the grease. However, a house specialty, five-flavor shrimp, has a neon red sauce sweet enough to make your teeth ache, and the fried rice served with entrees (you can opt for plain white or brown rice) needs some rethinking, as it’s pretty much white rice with a few peas and carrots. 4848 Belt Line Rd., 972-392-9998. Moderate.
New Big Wong. If you’re up for a quick and tasty lunch, this place delivers large portions of fare in fast-food time. If a more leisurely dinner is the object, the complex menu rewards experimentation. 2121 S. Greenville Ave.. 214-821-4198. Inexpensive.
Royal China. We waited in anticipation for our general chicken and green pepper beef. And waited. And waited. And watched everybody else eat. When we asked our harried waiter to check on our order, he snapped, “Coming now!” Sure enough, two minutes later, the chicken arrived. Three minutes after that, so did the beef. Verdict? Good. A bit on the bland side, with rather small portions, but on the positive side, prices were right-just not worth the wait. Maybe we caught a new waiter with bad manners? We never received an explanation for the delay, but the check was Johnny-on-the-spot. 201 Preston Royal Village, 214-361-1771. Inexpensive.
Szechwan Pavilion. 8411 Preston Rd.. 214368-4303. Inexpensive.
Taiwan Restaurant This upstairs restaurant provides a comfortable and quiet setting to study the extensive menu: it can be mind-boggling but guarantees you’ll find something you crave. Lunch specials are a steal, ranging from S5.95 to $9.45 for spicy Szechuan lobster, and are served with soup, egg roll and rice. The wonton soup is flavorful, with crisp bits of lettuce and scallion; the rice was perfectly sticky. Mongolian beef had just the right amount of spice, served with crunchy. colorful veggies. Service was a bit slow and confusing, but it was almost closing time. 4980 Belt Line Rd., Ste. 200. Addison, 972-387-2333. Moderate.
Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan, After a hard day of shopping the mall, it sure feels good to plop down in a comfortable chair and nosh on the sweet, crunchy walnuts while waiting for the solicitous staff to bring you Uncle Tai’s hot and spicy cuisine. They’re very obliging about toning down the heat when you ask, without removing all the dish’s flavor. The food is good enough that you’ll want to take some home, but schlepping garlic-laden Chinese through the mall does tend to curtail further shopping. In the Galleria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy. at LBJ. 972-934-9998. Moderate.
Doll News. This New York-style deli is dark and uninviting with rudely inattentive service (perhaps a stab at regional authenticity?) that’s slower than a fat slug In mid-fall. The chicken barley soup-a “specialty”-was dull, limp and gooed with overcooked bow-tie pasta. The Greek salad was fresh and crisp, if unexciting, while the BIT had little else to offer besides its thick, chewy bacon. Our consolation was the authentic bagels: fresh, light and thoroughly satisfying. Crescent Court. Maple Avenue at Cedar Springs Road, 214-922-3354. Inexpensive to moderate.
Gilbert’s. The classic deli menu doesn’t disappoint, from the finest grilled Reuben in town to overstuffed sandwiches on good rye. The club sandwich is the classic version, with plenty of house-roasted, thinly sliced turkey, preceded by a choice of deli salads (great slaw) and a bowl of chubby pickles. You can order from an extensive breakfast menu all day long, where the plate-size pancakes and the hearty omelets make decisions difficult. Gilbert’s good corned beef stars in the hash, but the orange-y home fries need work. Chug down a Dr. Brown’s soda or a chocolate egg cream and contemplate visiting the take-out section next to get a few sandwiches for later. 11661 Preston Rd., 214-373-3333. Inexpensive.
Street’s Famous Sandwiches. How many times can you name a turkey sandwich? Just ask Street’s co-owner Gene Street Jr. The “Famous Sandwiches” section of the menu alone lists six new takes on turkey, including the “Love Song.” We were impressed by the creative combos of meats, cheeses and vegetables, but somewhat disappointed with the final products. The pastrami tasted over-nuked-we couldn’t eat it. “Gene’s Favorite” was ours, too–grilled chicken and onions with melted provolone and spicy Dijon. Grilled portobello mushrooms, onions, bell pepper and tomatoes on French bread was soggy but tasty- and runny. Sides included a cheese tortellini salad with walnuts (a winner) and zesty Chinese sesame noodles. Potato salad and coleslaw were nothing special. Fresh-baked desserts we sampled included a spongy carrot cake and a “choc-a-holic brownie” unworthy of its calories. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-526-2505. Inexpensive.
Athenée Cafe. Wonderful Veal Athénée features tender, fresh medallions topped with provolone in a delightful brandy mushroom sauce, with delicious spicy cabbage and flaky rice pilaf. Stuffed Mountain Cabbage is a fabulous signature dish-meatball-sized beef rolls oven-roasted in delicate cabbage leaves with a red wine sauce, just like grandma in Transylvania used to make. Other highlights include Rumanian sausage, hand-packed daily, and veal chop, finished in the pan with dill and mushrooms in white wine sauce. Forget the house salad-try the silky tomato-based spicy vegetable soup instead. Garlic bread is bland but forgivable, the wine list adequate, the service attentive and caring. 5365 Spring Valley Rd., Ste. 150, 972-239-8060. Moderate.
Bread Winners. The menu here reflects a never-boring mélange of influences, from homey (a simple garden salad of lettuces, spinach, mushrooms, carrots and cabbage bathed in creamy fresh vinaigrette) to refined Asian (a starter of Thai shrimp scampi mounts great spicy curls of shrimp on crisp cilantro noodles). Main courses include a center-cut mustard-grilled pork chop that comes thick, juicy and perfectly partnered with scalloped sweet potatoes and pan gravy; and a grilled tuna steak, rosy and near-rare, that wears a tropical salsa of spiced diced fruit. Try it with a side of lemon whipped potatoes, the citrus accent a delightful presence alongside the plate’s crisp tortilla salad. Desserts here are outstanding, too-Key lime pie holds a paper-thin curl of lime atop its tart cream Ailing; Banana Jazz features fantasy swirls of chocolate mousse and whipped cream layered with sliced bananas on a dark chocolate crust. 3301 McKinney Ave., 214-754-4940. Inexpensive to moderate.
Deep Ellum Cale. 2706 Elm St., 214-741-9012. Inexpensive to moderate.
East Side Grill. Chef Tony Knight, whose Aransas Pass restaurant formerly occupied this space, offers down-home dishes endowed with kicky accents that lift them above common bar food. Notable examples: Chicken-fried steak came with terrific twice-baked mashed potatoes and a healthy stir-fry of vegetables. An Aransas burger was a pat-tie of broiled sirloin with roasted poblanos and onions and jack cheese. The homemade salsa that accompanies the chicken quesadillas can make your eyes water from 4 feet away, and fried pickles were surprisingly delicious. 2916 N. Henderson Ave., 214-828-2801. Inexpensive.
8.0 Restaurant and Bar. Get to this hip spot early or risk missing out on imaginative blue- and green-plate specials, such as black bean tamales In a tomatillo sauce or spicy pasta specialties. Not that the regular menu is a dud: burgers, grilled dishes and sandwiches are hearty, fresh and satisfying. Waitresses are uniformly young, attitude-enhanced and efficient. Stay the hell away on Thursday nights unless you like to watch the beautiful people booze and schmooze shoulder-to-shoulder until the wee hours. In the Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St. 214-979-0880. Inexpensive to moderate.
Gershwin’s. The ambitious menu walks many fine lines with a presumptive air and succeeds more often than not, but don’t expect a true gourmet experience-seasonings are either too strong, as with overpowering, too-salty pasta sauces, or bland and hotel food-like, such as grilled tilapia on warm orzo salad. Best bets are the more traditional ones-steaks, pizzas, salads and sandwiches, all generous, tasty and satisfying. 8442 Walnut Hill Ln. at Greenville Avenue, 214-373-7171. Moderate.
The Grape. 2808 Greenville Ave., 214-828-1981. Moderate to expensive.
The Green Room. Without pretension or hype this ’90s bistro continues to dish out some of the most original and inventive cuisine to be found between New York and L.A. The food influences are Asian, Mediterranean and Southwestern, while the decor’s decidedly rock ’n’ roll. A perfect starter is the oyster stew with morsels of andouille sausage, crawfish and crisp diced tomatoes, all swimming in a fragrant, herbed cream broth. The seared yellowfin tuna, presented on a bed of shiitake mushrooms and corn-size couscous, is a stellar main course. Considerate waiters in constant motion offer knowledgeable advice on ordering from the menu and on pairing selections from the extensive but very reasonably priced wine list. The desserts are rich and delicious. Try the fixed-price, four-course. “Feed Me” menu ($34). the best deal in town. 2715 Elm St., 214-748-ROOM. Moderate.
The Joint. This upscale pool hall has a global menu with an Asian influence. It includes a wide variety of choices from Tasmanian lobster to tuna melts and tater tots. The lobster was super-tender chunks came in a large bowl with shredded scallions on top of a tasty potato/fen ne I hash brown. Corn-crusted chicken arrived juicy and crispy, accompanied by nicely cooked vegetables, and a special of rib-eye steak was eclipsed by blue cheese-laced scalloped potatoes. Service is great, and the place stays open until 2 a.m. for late-night dining. 2727 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-754-0101. Inexpensive to moderate.
Margaux’s. Cafe Margaux owner Kay Agnew has reopened yet again, in a much smaller space wearing a suitably shorter name and with a mealtime menu that includes lunch weekdays and dinner Thursay only. The best-loved dishes are still here-shrimp and sausage gumbo is the real thing, and com meal-crusted oysters are crisp-skinned delights. An appetizer of baked brie with peach chutney is rather too hearty for a first course, but would be a scrumptious lunch entree paired house salad of mixed greens. A lunch entrée of smoked trout fettucini was a magical mating of tender fish bites with toothsome pasta; a dinner special of orange roughy with roasted tomato and crawfish curls was nicely sided with fresh green beans and garlic grits. The caramel-sauced warm apple bread pudding, a perennial favorite, was as wonderful as ever. 2404 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-7401985. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mel Hollen’s Bar and Fine Dining.. Mel Hollen, who has designed and opened a number of well-loved Dallas eateries, finally has opened a place of his own. Appetizers included Baked Oysters Bingo-six tasty Blue Points on the half-shell over a bed of creamed spinach, shallots, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese-which retained their lightly salted ocean flavor in contrast to the bed of creamy greens. The day’s seafood special, swordfish stuffed with shrimp on risotto, a beautiful inch-thick cut of swordfish with a dozen small shrimp sandwiched inside it. had unfortunately spent too much time under the heat lamp. However, the pepper steak arrived exactly as requested, medium rare. The fist-size filet, encrusted with cracked black peppercorns, was tender yet lean and chewy, full of flavor. But the accompanying cognac sauce lacked definition. For dessert, we shared angelica Frangelica, slivers of angel food cake soaked in Frangelica liqueur, topped with sliced strawberries. If only the cake had spent a bit more time in the liqueur. 15175 Quorum Dr., Addison, 972-233-6357. Moderate to expensive.
Sipango. Chef Matthew Antonovich’s menu sets out an array of selections various enough to allow for grazing or snacking as well as course-by-course dining. An appetizer of tuna seared rare, for example, made a perfect starter for a light supper; a small-plate dish of mushroom-fortified risotto, deep-flavored and zipped with mellow Reggiano parmesan, completed a satisfying meal. On the more substantial side, an entrée of veal marsala covered its plate with classically sauced, thin slices draped on a cushion of polenta, accented with wild mushrooms and Texas goat cheese. Richer desserts can be had, but we found the house-made sorbettos captivating-fresh watermelon won out over a more exotic red papaya sampled. Service was amiable, with some timing lapses; live music was a treat, once the too-loud cocktail pianist made way for a combo; people-watching was its own entertainment. 4513 Travis St. 214-522-2411. Moderate.
St. Pete’s Dancing Martin. 2730 Commerce St., 214-698-1511. Inexpensive.
Tarazza. This menu borrows ideas from all over the world- a Japanese version of Italian risotto, a French duck confit salad, a thai soup-adds its own spin, and leaves taste buds dancing in its wake. The appetizers rank as the strongest part of the menu; the desserts are its weakest. Crab cakes are teamed with a sprightly coriander mayonnaise, and although the menu offers plenty of options like tender roast duckling or sautéed pork tenderloin enlivened with ginger, scallions and coconut, it’s the seafood-such as cashew-crusted snapper or Norwegian salmon-that really shines. The sole dessert we tried, a very odd pancake-type affair topped with coconut ginger ice cream, scared us away from the dessert list on other visits, but the dark, inviting bar area might be a better end to your meal. 4514 Travis St., 214-521-2175. Moderate.
The Thomas Avenue Beverage Company. Chef Mark Jensen chalks up new, inventive fare on the menu board every Thursday. Steamed mussels were sweet, delicate and smartly seasoned. Well-soaked in lime-garlic-butter-white wine sauce, grilled sea bass was fresh, succulent and bristling with crisp, tightly focused flavors. The wine list, a crinkled laser print-out with edits scribbled in blue ink (“cause we’re working out the kinks”) was void of those obese mark-ups that draw cold sweat from the wallets of all but the most hardened, expense-accounted diners. And this place has history; It was a liquor store/pool hall in the *30sand Jack Ruby’s favorite spot for morning eggs in the 50s. 2901 Thomas Ave.. 214-97&0452. Inexpensive to moderate.
Yvette. The menu here suits the regal setting-dark wood, etched glass and brass softened by red velvet curtains and hand-painted murals-with all the appetizers you’d expect; Oysters Rockefeller, escargot and carpaccio, but their average cost of more than $9 seems high. Yvette, part owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Barry Switzer, does score some absolute touchdowns, like a perfect Caesar salad and a Dover sole so tender and nicely seasoned it’s gone before you had time to appreciate it. The wine list needs expansion, and the side dishes would benefit from a dash of creativity, but the service the entire night couldn’t have been better. End with the smooth, rich but not too sweet chocolate terrine, and you’ll emerge a winner. 14775 Midway Rd., Addison, 972-503-9777. Moderate to expensive.
Addison Cafe. Here, there are contradictions-our pan-seared snapper melted like butter, but the smoked salmon topping was somewhat dry and chewy. Sautéed sea bass arrived crispy, perfectly moist and flaky, yet bread rolls tasted store-bought. And because service is studiously languorous, we were never quite sure who our waiter was. 5290 Belt Line Rd. at Montfort Drive, Addison. 972-991-8824. Moderate to expensive.
Arthur’s. This restaurant’s reputation as a prime steak place is deserved but too limiting. The kitchen’s ways with seafood, veal, fowl and even pasta are winners, too, and the appetizer list includes shrimp cocktail, escargot and steak tartare, proudly prepared with old-world pomp at tableside. Fresh sea scallops sautéed and sauced with a kiss of Dijon mustard and a whisper of lemon and capers struck an exquisite balance. Rack of lamb’s rosy chops were fork-tender and appropriately sided with a tomato rose and vegetables carved in the presentation-conscious French fashion. Seduced by ceremony, we forewent dessert souffles to share bananas Foster, not on the menu, but lovingly prepared, flamed and served by our waiter as we watched. Cherries jubilee is another unlisted indulgence; we’ll save those for the restaurant’s upcoming 50th anniversary. Vive les classiques! 8350 N. Central Expwy. (in Campbell Center), 214-361-8833. Expensive.
Chez Gerard. 4444 McKinney Ave.. 214-522-6865. Moderate.
The French Room. Perfection is not a word to be tossed lightly into restaurant reviews, but this Adolphus Hotel crown jewel came close on our last visit. One entrée plate presented rounds of roasted duck breast on half moons of lemon thyme polenta in ruby port wine sauce; the other held succulent roasted veal tenderloin with Brie cheese and pear gratin on truffled opal basil risotto and a haunting rosemary thyme sauce. One dessert was a light sin- a mélange of fresh berries bedded on pastry with warm caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream; the other, a dark one-hot chocolate cake, rich and crusty around a molten center, ice-cream topped on Amaretto crème Anglaise. The French Room’s by-the-glass wine selection offers a nicer variety than we’ve seen elsewhere. In the Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200. Expensive.
Jennivine. 3605 McKinney Ave., 214-528-6010. Moderate to expensive.
Lavendou. This new bistro offers an ethereal French onion soup with a souffle-like crown of cheese, zesty mussels steamed to perfection in white wine, tender gravlax and house-smoked salmon. Each entree we tried was memorable, especially the filets of salmon in basil cream sauce and the swordfish with tomato confit. All of these dishes are served with classic French touches like trimmed toasts, turned lemons and peeled tomatoes. Meals are preceded by vinaigrette-dressed salads and so many vegetables that it’s sometimes necessary to have a second plate to hold them all. For dessert, the profiteroles win. A thoroughly French though unpretentious place, it has a cozy blue, yellow and lavender decor and a softly lit patio area, and paintings by the chef’s mother hang on the walls. 19009 Preston Rd.. 972-248-1911. Moderate to expensive,
Old Warsaw. Hanging on to a reputation as one of Dallas’ elite restaurants is tough business, indeed. Unfortunately, the Old Warsaw, for many years one of the city’s standard bearers, seems sadly to be losing its grip. Make no mistake-you must make a conscious effort to find much fault with the excellent food. From appetizers to dessert, our latest meal was a treat. The problem: When you shell out the money required for Old Warsaw’s fare, you expect a flawless total experience. Our servers were acceptably pleas-1 ant, but we were never quite sure exactly who our waiter , was. Perhaps they weren’t sure either, because we never received the vegetables we ordered, an oversight that proved frustrating as we tried to determine whether we were charged. An attentive maitre’d could have smoothed some of these rough edges, but ours was too busy fawning over a single table of his favorite regulars. Like an aging heavyweight champ hoping to win close fights on the basis of reputation rather than performance. The Old Warsaw might well be the old warhorse of Dallas, a disappointing reminder that in this town, it’s tough at the top. 2610 Maple Ave., 214-528-0032. Expensive.
The Pyramid Room. That vastly overused word, opulence, has to be hauled out yet again here-the Fairmont Hotel’s flagship restaurant demands it: here is service and ambience that beggar less extravagant description. The food, too, on our visit, also deserved superlatives. Grilled quail halves were pretty little things on Marsala-glazed arugula leaves, cream of turnip soup with toasted pumpkin seeds was too subtle (read: bland) to stir excitement, but grilled snapper with shiitake mushrooms in lobster butter sauce was satisfying. Macadamia nut torte was a dense disappointment, particularly compared with a companion’s a la carte dessert indulgence-a gooey dome of warm chocolate polenta filled with caramel on bourbon-laced sauce with vanilla ice cream. The courses preceding that sin were stellar, too-duck confit was tenderness itself in a wine-poached pear: lobster bisque was satin-rich and cognac-kissed. The companion’s tab passed the $50 mark, but you could hardly ask for more cosseting at any price than that provided by this serenely cosmopolitan restaurant. Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N. Akard St., 214-720-5249. Expensive.
D REVISITS St. Martin’s. Innocents who, in the past, were mistakenly persuaded to label this bistro’s former tunnel-like darkness “most romantic” need to visit it again-now that it has been tastefully redecorated, the place finally deserves the rating. Rich paneling, soft-lit paintings and touches of muted gold create the setting: live music shapes the proper evening mood. And chef Rich Hollister’s food delivered sophisticated fulfillment on our visit, from the first velvety spoonful of champagne Brie soup, to the blackened halibut fillet. Peach cobbler was less exciting, but the by-the-glass wine selection was admirably broad and service struck exactly the correct happy balance of attentive discretion. 3020 Greenville Ave., 214-826-0940. Moderate to expensive.
Tramontana. Where to start? Try the marinated goat cheese, peppered and nestled on top of herbed greens. Those same greens shone in a mesclun salad strewn with chunks of walnuts and tart goat cheese. We also savored the soups: Deep-flavored French onion was topped with fine Gruyère cheese, and the haricots vert have a strong, fresh presence in the creamed green bean potage. Entrées exceeded our expectations. Pan-seared salmon was bathed in a tart caper sauce and served with grilled polenta and steamed spinach. Other winning entrées were the ravioli stuffed with spinach and mushrooms and the super-plump filet mignon sauced with Cabernet, served with a side of crunchy green beans and rosemary potatoes. The desserts are made in-house. Preston Center’s got itself a winner. 8220B Westchester Dr., 214-368-4188. Inexpensive to moderate.
Watel’s. 1923 McKinney Ave., 214-7200323. Moderate.
What Else. The prime full-course feast on our visit started with chive-sauced sweetbreads, tender in a paper-crisp batter shell, moved on to a napoleon of rich lobster meat in mushroom sauce between puff pastry sheets, and ended with flawless country tarte latin, chunky apples in cinnamon syrup on a tender crust. The wine list here is reasonable, too, and gratifying varied for the price-bottles for $22. $4.50 per glass, with some reserve selections available. 1915 Greenville Ave., 214-874-WHAT. Inexpensive to moderate.
Gourmet to Go
City Cafe To Go. Forget the usual take-home options and get dinner here. Soup scores high marks, from the famous sprightly tomato soup to the buttery, bacony clam chowder. Sandwiches also score major points for creativity, with many inspired combinations. Two of the several salads were excellent: one with big. tender shrimp and fat asparagus spears; another with couscous and artichokes. Other dazzling salads include a Chinese version laced with sesame seeds and one with a peppery chicken in a cream sauce. Desserts are even better, from a thoroughly decadent Blum cake, with its cascades of sugary crisps to a simple dish of berries. One question: Where’s the bread? Besides bread, two visits-including one involving a hefty $125 tab-left us with no butter, utensils, napkins, plates or even a stray toothpick in our take-home pack. 5757 N. Lovers Ln., 214-351-3366. Moderate.
Eatzi’s. If you haven’t been here yet, shame on you-Eatzi’s is one of those places that definitely lives up to its hype. You can waltz in here and cruise the store looking for just the right entrée, loaf of bread, salad and dessert, and walk out with the already cooked makings of a gourmet dinner-down to the imported beer and the fresh flowers. The selection also includes salad and sandwiches made to order and chicken roasted in your choice of several ways. In the course of the year since it’s been open, the food’s quality hasn’t diminished. The selection of beer and wine is slim, considering the food it’s accompanying. And yes. Eatzi’s is crowded, and there still isn’t much room at the checkout. But you’ll be enjoying that food for much longer than you had to fight the crowd to get it, and for many that’s the attraction of Eatzi’s. 3403 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-526-1515. Inexpensive to moderate.
La Spiga. You may have to track down La Spiga, tucked away in a warehouse area, but it’s well worth the effort. Customers line up to buy these rustic, crusty loaves of preservative-free bread served at many of the finest restaurants in town. But there’s plenty more being dished up here, including tureens of homemade soup (excellent cream of mushroom) and sandwiches on big. soft pillows of panini rolls. Mini-quiches and fruit plates fill the bill for anytime snacks, focaccia comes pizza-style and Caesar salads are a garlicky hit. 4203 Lindberg Dr., Addison, 972-9345730. Inexpensive.
Marty’s Cafe TuGogh. Although it’s still a bit of a circuitous puzzle determining where to go for what, Marty’s has ironed out some of the more shrill kinks we experienced from earlier visits with a friendlier, more helpful staff and hot entrées. Among the entrées were a marinated salmon sandwich with caramelized onions, a beef tenderloin Caesar salad and a tangy hearts of palm salad-all standouts. It’s astounding, though, how nonchalantly Marty’s seems to be marrying Cafe TuGogh with its greatest asset: wine. Marty’s is now a true wine bar with weekly wine-by-the-glass selections featuring some of the most distinctive pours from the world’s major wine regions-and at jaw-droppingly reasonable prices ($4-$10). Yet there is no suggestive selling or effective cross-merchandising. We find that Marty’s, as a Dallas institution, has a lot more soul and a refined culinary ear that consistently discovers and creates wine and food virtuosity. So why is there no joy here? 3316 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-4070. Inexpensive to moderate.
Ziziki’s. The gleaming wooden bar may be one of the places to be seen in Dallas, but it’s the food that reigns supreme. An order or two of Ziziki bread (homemade pita bread broiled with two cheeses and herbs) teams well with any of the carefully crafted salads. Lamb and shrimp star (the lamb souvlaki, skewered lamb ready to be popped into homemade pita bread, makes a can’t-be-beat sandwich), and the homemade Italian cream cake ends meals on a sweet note. The wines, from all over the globe, demonstrate the owners’ never-ending quest for the best. You’ll want to visit the coffee bar/take-out shop for some of your Ziziki favorites (like their mouthwatering sauces). 4514 Travis St., Ste. 122, 214-521-2233. Moderate to expensive.
Barbec’s. What becomes a legend? In this case, it’s mystique, that warm, fuzzy something that wraps the loved ; familiar in romance regardless of performance. Which is fine with Barbec’s regulars-they’ve got their tabloid newsprint menu, their hearty, what-can-l-get-you-Hon? waitresses, their awesome any-time breakfasts White Rockers and friends have been queuing for on weekends for God knows Mow long. Never mind that somebody’s mom’s down-home cooking-a bewilderment of pinto beans, meat loaf, fried fish, Mexican plates, you name it-runs to from-scratch chicken-fried steak blanketed in unseasoned library paste, baked potatoes steamed in foil, and overboiled broccoli. But hey- it’s all cheap, and they’ve always got those legendary beer biscuits, sweet and high and truly loved by all. Great meringue pies, too. Really. 8949 Garland Road. 214-321-5597. Inexpensive.
D REVISITS Casa Linda Cafeteria. The hail alive and well in Casa Linda, behind the virtually endless serving counter at this culinary heir to the Highland Park Cafeteria. We are always amazed at the quantity of food selections here-a dozen salads, 30 entrées. 20 sides, 10 types of bread, a dozen desserts. Unfortunately, we are also amazed at how uniformly institutional everything tastes. A recent visit included a good sampling of dishes from every category-just as a test, you understand. The only stand-out we discovered was the inventive chopped spinach salad (with shredded egg and cheese and a dab of horseradish), one of HPC’s signature dishes. There’s a to-go section full of salads, soups and baked potato fixings for those in a hurry. 300 Casa Linda Plaza; 214 324-5000. Inexpensive.
Celebration. Leave your pretense at home, but bring your appetite to this long-time mecca for Dallas home-cooking purists. In this rambling former residence are several cozy dining areas housing a few tables each, a luxury that keeps noise to a minimum and complements a congenial, if somewhat unhurried, staff |be prepared to flag down your server on occasion). Meals begin with baskets of wonderful homemade breads and one of Dallas’ freshest salads. Entrées run the gamut from broiled fresh fish to pot roast (you’ll swear Mom made it) to fried chicken, all accompanied by an endless supply of vegetables. Don’t worry if your entrée seems small-you can reorder as often as you wish and even sample other entrées. Desserts are always worth the wait, but you’ll have to make a conscious effort to save room for them. All this and reasonable prices, too-no mystery why this is a favorite locale for no-holds-barred, to-hell-with-the-diet indulgence. Parking and table space go fast during peak dinner hours. 4503 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-5681. Inexpensive.
Mecca. 10422 Harry Hines Blvd., 214-352-0051, Inexpensive
Bombay Cricket Club. Though we’re easily fooled about the nuances of cricket (the game), the food here is definitely cricket with us, especially the incendiary chicken ven-daloo. the soothing saag paneer (chunks of homemade cheese in creamed spinach) and the curry-kissed aloo bengan, which combines eggplant, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. Having heard raves about the leg of lamb from the tandoor, we’re saving it for the next round, or inning, or chukker, or whatever they call it. 2508 Maple Ave.. 214-871-1333. Inexpensive to moderate.
India Palace. Delicate spices imbue truly fine Indian cuisine with attributes similar to a fine perfume-too much creates an assault on the senses; too little, and there’s no magic. India Palace has maintained that proper balance for nearly a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Complimentary, crispy papad (lentil wafers) make a fine segue to appetizers like fried vegetable pakora or fragrant mulligatawny soup, a hearty broth of lentils, rice and chicken. Entrées include moist, flavorful and low-fat Tandoori chicken, exceptionally silky paneer masala (tofu in a creamy tomato sauce) and our perennial fave, saag paneer (spinach and tofu). Crank up the heat with vendaloo or curry, with your choice of beef, chicken or lamb. Whatever you do, don’t miss the killer breads: onion kulcha, nan or roti, served straight from the tandoor. hot as lava. 12817 Preston Rd.,Ste. 105,972-392-0190. Inexpensive to mod-
Alessio’s. This cozy strip-center fixture boasts a loyal fol-towing of regulars, but our last trip didn’t quite place us solidly in their camp. After noticing the alarmingly over-priced wine selections, we ordered the cheapest red available-an understandably popular choice. Our polite and competent waiter substituted a more expensive bottle at the lower price when our selection proved out of stock. We grazed on complimentary bruschetta and fresh vegetables while reviewing the pricey menu and a difficult-to-read chalkboard describing the even pricier evening specials. An appetizer of mild Italian sausage, onions and peppers under a blanket of melted mozarella cheese was excellent, but the dinner salad that followed was woefully plain. Inconsistency marred the main course as well-the grilled lamb was superb, but our pasta selection got mixed reviews, and the bland vegetables failed to interest us beyond the first tasting. We left feeting slightly underwhelmed and more than slightly overcharged. 4117 Lomo Alto Dr., 214-521-3585. Expensive.
Alfonso’s. 718 N. Buckner Blvd.. Ste. 222, 214-327-7777. Inexpensive to moderate.
Angelo’s Italian Grill. When you think of classic Italian favorites, what triggers your Pavlovian response? Lasagna? Spaghetti? Scampi? Chicken parmesan? Pizza? This place has it all, and the experience starts in the parking lot as you inhale the delicious aromas wafting through the air. At a recent all-out occasion, we partook of one weekend special that erased our craving for seafood: eight crab-stuffed shrimp atop a pile of angel-hair pasta tossed with sautéed shrimp. We also shared clams marinara and a huge helping of fettucini alfredo. All meals come with a substantial Ceasar salad and out-of-the-oven garlic rolls with marinara sauce for dipping. The wine list is extensive, even by the glass. And check out the colorful murals of Italy. 6341 La Vista Dr., 214-823-5566. Inexpensive.
D REVISITS Campisi’s Egyptian. Dallas is full of fancy Italian restaurants. But when tastes turn to the simple, the classic, the delicious, folks head for this cozy (often crowded) gastronomic institution. The menu is a patchwork quilt of favorite dishes-lasagna, scampi, chicken parmigiana. spaghetti and meatballs, the famous pizzas. We couldn’t resist starting with an order of Joe’s garlic toast, like the standard fare but more so: it went fast. Salads followed, then came the entrées, presented garnish-free on bare, beige Dallas Ware plastic plates. Who cares about presentation when the food is so good? Veal piccata with fettucine alfredo was quickly inhaled. So was linguini with clams in red sauce, my companion’s barometer Italian dish. We tried to linger over our drinks, picking out the famous faces on the wall of commemorative photos, but we were done and gone in less than an hour. Cash or check only. 5610 E. Mockingbird Ln., 214-827-0355. Inexpensive to moderate.
Isola Gozo. This new NorthPark Center eatery is intended to clone the cuisine and decor of its predecessor, Piccola Cu-cina. The food and service are coming along, although the grilled portobello mushrooms seem to establish a theme of too tentative seasoning; the mushroom strips and the baby greens on which they nested were beautiful, but the faint drizzle of vinaigrette failed to reach an underlying bed of undercooked and tasteless white beans. Similarly, orange zest that was supposed to flavor a salad’s baby beets was undetectable, although an accompanying tangle of endive and greens with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts was quite nice. The lunch menu is more varied. The panino held a lush layering of zucchini, roasted pepper, tomato and arugula with a mozzarella melt on its perfectly grilled chicken slices. The fettucine was a mélange of fresh tomato and basil seasoned with olive oil. garlic and the right amount of crushed red pepper. In Barney’s New fork. NorthPark Center. Northwest Highway and North Central Expressway, 214-691-0488. Moderate.
Joey’s. 4217 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-0074. Moderate to expensive.
Mi Piaci. During the day. sunlight drenches Mi Piaci, shadows play off the twisted columns, drawing eyes up to the skylights way above. At night, the rooms are cloaked in soft, romantic darkness. At all times, these sparingly decorated, hipper-than-hip rooms are filled with people who look like they just stepped off the fashion pages. The menu focuses on classic Tuscan cuisine, with homemade pasta, made-to-order risotto and superb breads. But Mi Piaci also serves up massive juicy pork chops teamed with roast garlic mashed potatoes, and you’ll always see waiters expertly deboning the meltingly tender Dover sole for savvy diners. Our only complaint: The noise level can get pretty high. 14854 Montfort Dr., 972-934-8424. Moderate.
MoMo’s Italian Specialties. 9191 Forest Ln., 972-234-6800. Inexpensive to moderate.
Nicola’s. From its tony Tuscan al fresco decor to the woody perfume of grilled meats, Nicola’s exudes a breezy confidence beyond typical mall restaurants. But the more ambitious menu selections fall short of their lofty aspirations. On one visit, crackling-hot. delicious pizzas, generous salads and service were all exemplary. On another, our pasta carbonara looked rewarmed, the chicken focaccia sandwich oozed a gooey, plastery cheese and service was perfunctory. So. roll the dice. For a light meal, glass of wine and view of Dallas shoppers at their trendy best, the place is hard to beat-just don’t set your culinary expectations too high. In the Galleria. 13350 Dallas Pkwy., 972-788-1177, Inexpensive to moderate.
Pomodoro. Cedar Springs Road is a far cry from the rolling Tuscan hillside evoked by Pomodoro’s alfresco seating, but even after a decade, the place still exudes its own trendy, noisy charm. Besides, where else could you toast the downtown YMCA joggers tromping past during lunch? Plenty of indoor seating in the tiled dining room, too, but if you’re a nonsmoker, ask to sit far, far away from the smoking section. Gently melted buffalo mozzarella wrapped in grilled rugola makes for a nice start; so does the carpaccio with capers and lemon, Polio Pizzaiola is tender and tasty, if a mite salty; clever pasta dishes, like fettuccine with lobster or pappardelle with sausage, are fun and feisty but could be more substantial for the price. Speaking of which, is it just us, or do the specials seem high? Service is uniformly excellent-Pomodoro still bends over backwards to please, and it shows. 2520 Cedar Springs Rd.. 214-871-1924. Moderate.
Ruggeri’s. 5348 Belt Line Rd., 972-726-9555. Moderate.
Terilli’s. 2815 Greenville Ave., 214-827-3993. Moderate.
Deep Sushi. Tuna and fresh salmon were kindergarten starters any sushi novice could love. Sea eel and sea urchin were sweeter and less substantial, but with textured tenderness. Surf clam was an artistic high point-the rice oblong topped with a cut of geoduck, shading from satin white to a chewy scarlet tip, belted with seaweed. The Dragon Lady Roll is a long combination of tuna, avocado and rice flashed with incendiary wasabi, red pepper sauce and Japanese yellow mustard wrapped in seaweed and sliced. One shared dessert was pleasant petals of banana, tempura-fried and honey-drizzled, ringing a mound of barely sweet green tea ice cream. The plum wine sorbet was outstanding, its mauve smoothness laced with tart little bits of the fruit. 2624 Elm St.. 214-651-1177. Moderate to expensive.
Hana. 14865 Inwood Rd.. 972-991-8322. Moderate.
Mr. Sushi. 4860 Belt Line Rd.. 972-38&0168. Moderate.
Sushi at the Stoneleigh. Every bite we sampled was delectable, from the basic raw tuna, yellowtail and salmon cuts to a more exotic spider roll of crunchy-cooked, soft-shell crab wrapped in seaweed and rice. Chef’s-special baked mussels were divine, warmly blanketed in the half-shell by a lush blend of mayonnaise and golden smelt eggs. The salmon roe on seaweed-wrapped rice burst voluptuously on the tongue. Don’t forget appetizers: The miso soup, with hidden cubes of silken tofu and gently pickled emerald seaweed, was delightful. 2927 Maple Ave., 214-871-7111. Inexpensive to moderate.
Sushi Sake. Sushi Sake is half-hidden in a Fleetwood Square strip in Richardson that we’d call hard to find if so many aficionados weren’t finding it. Many are admirers from chef-owner Takashi Soda’s former days as sushi chef of Nakamoto in Piano. Our first dinner favored the familiar and we found every one immaculate and fresh. A second visit’s bolder exploration blew us away. Important to note is that even the most everyday classics from the sushi bar wore some extra touch of delicate garnish that reflects the attention Soda and staff lavish even on small details. Unfortunately, though, Sushi Sake cuts you precious little slack on the language front. Such problems, though, tend to underscore the positives here: a warmly upbeat ambience, willing attendance to every need, an arresting selection of sakes. hot and cold-and of course, the food. 220 W. Campbell Rd., 972-470-0722. Moderate.
Adelmo’s. 4537 Cole Ave.. 214-559-0325. Moderate to expensive.
The Bistro. No longer must one’s choice be narrowed here to a single starter, one entrée and dessert to make up a meal. That option’s still on the menu, but so is the opportunity to sample hot and cold teasers of every addictive sort, from soups to salads, from a listing of more than 30, and the daily specials. Start, say, with gazpacho-a thick, smooth, piquant version-or a small Caesar salad traditionally dressed and tossed with croutons and Parmesan. Proceed to cigars of fried goat cheese spiked with garlic, paprika and cilantro; ravioli of wild mushrooms; or garlic shrimp vivaciously seasoned with red chili pepper. Along the way, succumb to fresh foie gras sauteed with raisins and port sauce or lobster soufflé, meltingly airy and splendidly sauced. Our only disappointment was the steak tartare that was so strongly endowed with horseradish and capers, the beef flavor struggled to come through. 5405 W. Lovers Ln., 214-352-1997. Inexpensive to moderate.
Cafe Express. This restaurant serves up quick meals that are fresh, health-conscious and budget-friendly. The wholesome emphasis can be found in the salads, sandwiches, chicken and pastas. But beware: There are a bevy of burgers-like the blue cheese and bacon Burger-and a bountiful display of desserts-like chocolate pot de creme-to tempt the weak. The most delightful feature is the Oasis, a bar that is laden with goodies like olives, pickles, freshly grated cheese, mustards, oils and other condiments you’ll need to improve some of the menu’s blander offerings. Four-cheese fettuccine, for example, needed a sprinkle of that Parmesan, and the greens under a salad trio of Tuscany tuna, chicken and pasta pesto needed a sharp shot of oil and vinegar to bring them to life. 3230 McKinney Ave., 214-999-9444. Inexpensive.
D REVISITS Cafe Instanbul. Hiding unpretentious-|y in an easily overlooked recess, Cafe Istanbul stands out as a notable exception to justifiable shopping-center food apprehensions. The tiny kitchen over-achieves on most of its Turkish dishes, especially if your tastes lean to the grilled and spicy. The sausage appetizer gets better with every visit, and the entrées-though hard to pronounce-are consistently good. The dining room gets cozy at night thanks to the ubiquitous candles, but those who tolerate some early evening daylight are rewarded with a benevolent happy hour. Solid service tops off an excellent all-around experience currently luring more and more regulars. We’ll be back. 5450 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 222,214-902-0919. Inexpensive to moderate.
PoPoLo’s. 707 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 214-692-5497. Moderate to expensive.
Sambuca. Both of Sambuca’s locations (Deep Ellum and Addison) are wonderfully vibrant restaurants featuring innovative Mediterranean cuisine for those who enjoy their meals with jazz. Each location presents well-known groups ranging from quartets to big bands seven nights a week, but unfortunately the decibel level prohibits any casual dinner conversation during performances. The food is tasty and satisfying, utilizing lots of spices, garlic and herbs. Try the roasted bell peppers with capers in olive oil or the spicy beef couscous with mushrooms. Good pasta dishes include spinach tomato linguine with smoked chicken and penne tossed with smoked salmon. The reasonably-priced wine list is half California, half European. Classic desserts are well prepared, especially the rich tiramisu. Good bar scene, too. 15207 Addison Rd., Addison, 972-385-8455: 2618 Elm St.. 214-744-0820. Moderate.
Toscans. Although we found a few small flaws-a starter of yellow-corn polenta that should have been crispy was soggy on arrival in a basil-tomato-red wine vinegar sauce- we found more to praise, from lusty sourdough bread served with pesto-herbed olive oil to a nibble of portobel-lo mushroom in orange grappa sauce on creamy polenta. And a pizza we tried played pancetta’s salty crunch and assertive gorgonzola against sweet ribbons of caramelized onions in an arugula chiffonade. Entrées were just as outstanding, from the sautéed trout in a delicate lemon-tarragon butter to grilled quail with a red pepper cannelloni bean tart. But the star is the risotto with chicken, porcini mushrooms, tomato and Gorgonzola cheese. The standout on the dessert menu: a tiramisu bread pudding with marcarpone cream, hazelnuts and Frangelico sauce. 4900 McKinney Ave., 214-521-2244. Moderate.
Avlia’s. This is the food you’d come home to it you could and leave home for if you must, starting with the eye-watering salsa. Beef tacos are brim-full of good, greaseless ground beef, and a plump enchilada is perfectly partnered with a soft cheese taco. The retried beans are outstanding. The service is pleasant, and the restaurant is immaculate. 4714 Maple Ave., 214-520-2700. Inexpensive.
D REVISITS Cantina Laredo. With local Tex-Mex growing more and more gastronomi-catly androgenous, it’s the little things that separate the best from the also-rans. Cantina Laredo’s attention to detail shows throughout the meal. Chips come with two excellent warm sauces, and our entrées were flawless, led by some of the tastiest fajita meat we’ve ever run across. Predictable rice and beans were uninspired, but we were only too happy to shove them aside and get back to our main courses. Our advice? To hell with decisions-order the monstrous sampler platter and take home the leftovers. 8121 Walnut Hill Ln., 214-987-9192; 4546 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-458-0962. Inexpensive.
Casa Navarro. This wonderful descendant of downtown’s late, lamented El Taxco offers classic Tex-Mex in true hole-in-the-wall style. Complimentary borracho bean soup, fresh chips, kicky salsa and easy, relaxed service-it’s all setup for huge, steaming portions that’ll ruin tomorrow’s cholesterol test, but what a way to go. Hot. buttery enchiladas, down-home tamales and frijoles all have that ineffable tang only homemade can deliver. Huffy rice and perfect tacos- all at luncheon-special prices-make this place a godsend for North Dallas-types hankering for a Mex-fix. Can’t wait? There’s breakfast, too. In the Park Forest Shopping Center, 11742 Marsh Ln., Ste. A, 214-357-0141. Inexpensive.
Casa Rosa. 165 Inwood Village, 214-350-5227.inexpensive.
Chihuahua Charlie’s. With offerings such as cactus soup with whole pinto beans and a beef fillet simmered in chipo-tle sauce blanketed with Chihuahua cheese, you’ll quickly reconsider Mexican standards like enchiladas and chicken taquitos. You get fresh, crisp carrots and juicy jicama with ranch dressing for starters-a refreshing end-run around chip fatigue. And fatigue is exactly what you don’t want because of entrees like the Mayan plate-cubed bits of fish, oysters, octopus and shrimp in a backdrop of spicy, tomato-broccoli stock sauce. The sea bass fillet, topped I with pibil sauce and cooked in a leaf of corn, was firm and i flavorful. The accompanying spinach, with rich, smoky fla-vors, was a can’t-get-enough-of sider. Which is OK because Chihuahua’s owner Jose Luis Gutierres says you can have as much as you want of anything on the menu. While adequate, the service was annoyingly uneven. 3232 McKinney Ave., 214-969-9300. Moderate to expensive.
Chuy’s. 4544 McKinney Ave.. 214-559-2489. Inexpensive to moderate.
Dos Charros. This is food for people who break into a sweat at the sight of a habanero chile or those who don’t automatically reach for the Tabasco when they order a Bloody , Mary or guacamole. The extensive menu has plenty of seafood choices and healthful options added to the list of traditional favorites. 108 University Village Shopping Center, Belt Line and Piano roads, 972-783-7671. Inexpensive.
Escondido’s. The rickety surroundings exude genuine “dump” appeal, which simply means that the food should be as good as the place is bad. And for the most part, it is. Service, however, was lacking speed and thoughtful-ness, marring an otherwise fine fix of better-than-average Tex-Mex. 2210 Butler St.. 214-634-2056. Inexpensive.
Herrera’s. From the first taste of the spicy, lumpy salsa, you know your meal will be terrific. A chalupa. spread with well-seasoned retried beans and a heap of shredded lettuce, is wonderful. The tamales are meaty, filled with lean shredded pork. Attention to detail can be tasted in the seasonings of a cheese enchilada’s toothsome meat sauce. Service lives up to the food’s quality, and the decor is eclectic and fun. 4001 Maple Ave, 214-528-9644. Inexpensive.
Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano. Consistently touted as Dallas’ best interior Mexican restaurant. Javier’s lives up to its own high standards. While you shouldn’t expect the menu to change very often, after a few trips you’ll be glad it doesn’t. The tomatillo sauce served with the fresh chips is the best around-period-and coaxes many to forego the appetizers. Entrées range from excellent seafood dishes to tender cabrito. though some regulars never stray from the legendary filet durango. Most meals are complimented by seasoned rice and refried black beans that redefine that experience. A spacious and elegant cigar bar has been added in the rear: if you prefer not to wait, make reservations. 4912 Cole Ave., 214-521-4211. Moderate.
La Calle Doce. Those who don’t like seafood will appreciate more traditional Mexican offerings, such as spinach enchiladas carefully covered with green sauce. And La Calle Doce’s celebrated hot sauce remains a winner. 415 W. 12th St., 214-941-4304. Inexpensive to moderate.
Las Cazuelas. This tiny East Dallas jewel serves up marvelous food, starting with the killer salsa that’s made with fresh cilantro, onion and tomato essences. Try the Mexican enchilada, its tortilla dipped in a ruddy chile wash, wrapped around onion-studded meat filling and topped with grated cheese. On Mondays, the special caldo de res. chunky with beef and vegetables, is fabulous as is the knock-your-socks-Off Chile relleno. 4933 Columbia Ave.. 214-827-1889. Inexpensive.
La Valentina. If you like authentic Mexican food, you’ll appreciate this menu. The polio en mole poblano tops a chicken breast with a sensuous sauce that includes 54 types of chilies, spices and a touch of chocolate, resulting in a richly layered smoky-sweet flavor. Try a reverse taco-juli-enned vegetables, crisp shreds of tortillas and pomegran-ite seeds wrapped in a lettuce leaf and eaten taco-style. The tasty peanut cilantro dressing adds a Thai touch and great flavor. The meals also include some absolutely dismal roils and tasteless whipped herbed butter, and homemade blue corn tortillas with a duo of colorful sauces. But put down that fascinating menu when it’s time for dessert and ask for the flan. 14866 Montfort Dr., 972-726-0202. Moderate.
Martin’s Cocina. The kitchen here does magic things with seafood (shrimp especially) and offers a listing of entrées that weigh in at less than 1.000 calories each, including the four chiles rellenos. But there’s no skimping here-the most basic combination plate starts with a lettuce-topped chalupa, its toasty tortilla thickly spread with guacamole. The platter that follows holds a massive enchilada, a queso-bathed cheese taco and an overstuffed meat taco as greaseless as that crunchy marvel gets. Equally wonderful rice and beans can be ordered as side dishes. The dynamite pico de gallo is serrano-spiked. 7726 Ferguson Rd.. 214-319-8834. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mattito’s. Don’t miss the chile relleno. topped with the usual sauce, cheese and sour cream, but also with chopped pecans for crunch and raisins for sweetness. The fajitas and tacos are standard fare; save your calories for the homemade flan and sopaipillas instead. 4311 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-8181. Inexpensive.
Mates Rancho Martinez. Three styles of chicken-fried steak, and outstanding grilled (not fried) flautas. Has moved around the corner; now closer to the Lakewood Theater. 6332 La Vista Dr., 214-823-5517. Inexpensive.
Mia’s. For 14 years, this venerable institution has dished up definitive Tex-Mex food to addicts who stand in line on Tuesdays, when owner Ana Enriquez satisfies their lust for her incomparable chiles rellenos. Other days, they make do with house specialities, combo plates and sides that read like standard Tex-Mex on paper, but on the palate translate into transcendent fare. Try the bean soup-pin-tos with minced chiles, bacon, onion and cilantro accents, miles richer in flavor than prissy upscale black-bean concoctions. Fork into a cheese enchilada crowned with honest, beefy chili, or a soft cheese taco’s tenderly molten heart. Ladle the bracing house salsa onto a bean-spread chalupa or a beef-filled taco. and savor the texture contrasts of greaseless tortilla shells and fine-ribboned lettuce. Service is cheerful; the setting is no-frills comfortable. One note: The restaurant serves only beer and wine. 4322 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-1020. Inexpensive.
Monica’s Aca Y Alla. This place has been around long enough to be a tradition in these days of restaurants that open and close-especially in Deep Ellum. An extremely ambitious menu offers some intriguing Southwestern-inspired options as well as more standard Tex-Mex. but it offers so many options it borders on being too confusing. The same confusion shows up in single dishes as well, such as an appetizer of grilled portobello mushrooms with sausage in garlic-butter sauce with pecans and little pieces of grilled bread. More successful was grilled shrimp with chipotle-cream sauce and an accompanying salad of Asian greens and rice noodles. Despite the menu’s lack of focus, the food’s good and service pleasant. The funky minimalist atmosphere and furnishings of abstract design are warmed by the red walls and smooth concrete floor. And there’s always a chance you might get a glimpse of Monica, famous primarily for having once been Eduardo. New weekend brunch: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday & Sunday. 2914 Main St., 214-748-7140. Moderate,
Monterrey. The setting’s gardenlike, the service is sweetly attentive and the food in this family-run Lakewood establishment is fresh, fresh, fresh. An enchilada plate holds two generous wraps of cheese or beef, richly seasoned and sauced, plus outstanding rice and retries. A tamale comes as a tender masa pillow plumped with lean pork under a hearty chili sauce. A special treat is the house ceviche. a heady marinade of white fish in an infusion of lemon, onions, garlic and cilantro. 1611 Greenville Ave.. 214-821-2026. Inexpensive.
Nuevo Leon. If you start with the fajita nachos here, you won’t have room for lunch or dinner. Dig into the warm chips and warmer salsa and then get ready to gorge. Tender chicken enchiladas with verde sauce and beef enchiladas with chilorio are fresh and not at all greasy; the taco macho is 10 inches of tender flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, avocado and your choice of chicken, beef or pork. 12895 Josey Lane at valley View Rd., 972-488-1984. Inexpensive.
Rodolfo’s. Start with the home-fried chips, huge half-tortilla rounds served with a full-bodied salsa. Then try the Big Tex Mex dinner or the Number 0 (yes, they start numbering at zero). The Big Tex Mex offers a cheese enchilada, a tamale with chili sauce, a meat taco, a soft cheese taco, rice, beans and half of a praline for dessert. The taco and enchilada were both silky, the beans creamy and the tamale married nongreasy meat and a just-on-the-edge-of-crumbly shell. The star on the Number 0 plate is the Idaho enchiladas made of, yes. mashed potatoes, pleasantly spiced and available with a choice of seven different sauces. 2002 S. Edgefield Ave.. 214-942-1211. Inexpensive.
Tupinamba. Nothing changes at Tupinamba. And, boy. are we glad. Those of us who have followed Tupy’s for 30-some-odd years to its several locations [now, fourth) have come to depend on it for massive quantities of delicious food in a friendly, attentive atmosphere. The nachos: never heavy or soggy, the ratio of beans to cheese, perfect. The queso: creamy but never cloying. Chicken-stuffed jalapenos: hotter than hell, as they should be. Our latest visit included pescado soldado, a bed of Mexican rice topped by a la-ge slab of grilled swordfish topped by sautéed peppers and onions; alongside was a beautiful, whole, sliced avocado. And the classic Tupy Special-ribeye, enchilada, cheese nachos. borracho beans and guacamole. We finished with cinnamon-dusted sopaipillas and waddled out the door, once again, stuffed. We will return for the champagne Sunday brunch, 12270 Inwood Rd., almost to the Tollway. 972-991-8148. Inexpensive to moderate.
Cafe Izmir. A unique dining experience: Diners choose a vegetarian or a meat-based meal rather than ordering from a menu. And then a parade of delightful food appears. The lemon-zested tabbouleh is terrific; the hummus silken. The Mediterranean cole slaw and a Russian chicken salad, however, were bland. But with these came excellent pita quarters for dipping or stuffing wit h grilled kabob tubes of ground beef and marinated chicken. Lamb wore its own wrap of a tortilla-like crepe, with piquant minced green peppers. Cubed cucumber and tomato in lemon-olive oil dressing was a cooling touch: battered saffron rice was fine; and an enormous platter of grilled eggplant, squash and ripe tomato slices brought a bright counterpoint of flavors to tie table. A scarce Greek red wine called Boutari Maossa is a happy find here, and the sweet Turkish coffee in fragile cups was as irresistible as the desserts. 3711 Greenville Ave., 214-826-7788. Moderate.
Hedary’s. George Hedary is back with a comfortable clone of the Fort Worth original, menu and all. in Far North Dallas. But the question is: Can one Lebanese oven produce enough of the family’s famed pita rounds to satisfy us all? To dip pieces of it into a dish of ladni, Hedary’s garlicky yogurt cheese, is to find bliss. But that’s only the beginning. Order the menu’s maza appetizer, and you’ll get a dozen sampler starters on tiny plates. Be warned: The maza array alone might be all two people can eat, but the entries are as prodigal. Mquiniq, for example, fills a huge plate with plump ovals of lebanese pork sausage, squeezed with lemon before serving. Dessert-wise, a fragile pastry filled with milk custard and topped with pistachios barely edged out rosewater-scented rice pudding. And tiny cups of Lebanese coffee kept us awake on the drive home. 7915 Belt Line Rd.r 972-233-1080. Moderate.
As in Greek and Middle Eastern cooking, Moroccan dishes combine spices we think of as suitable for sweets with cilantro, paprika, sometimes even piquant seasonings in dishes that strike the tongue first as unfamiliar, then seduce it with comfort-food associations. One stellar example: a starter called pastilla-ground chicken and almonds wrapped in puff pastry and dusted with powdered sugar. Follow it with tagine royale, meaty lamb simmered with onions and hauntingly sweet prunes to melt-away succulence in a hearty main dish that could well be the Moroccan translation of Mom’s Sunday pot roast. Along with its food, Marrakesh’s amiable service and hospitably relaxed ambience give the place a family appeal unexpected in a place that features belly dancers on weekends. 5207 Lovers Ln.. 214-357-4104. Moderate.
Dream Cafe. This Quadrangle eatery’s pastoral-in-city setting seems particularly appropriate for the Dream Cafe’s menu of nightly pasta and chicken specials-on our visit, one with the tongue-twisting name of chicken with feta-cala-mata olive relish-salads and sandwiches. You can’t go wrong ordering corn cakes, with a hot, peanut dipping sauce and grilled shrimp, or the vegetable enchiladas of spinach and wild mushrooms with ancho sauce and melted Jack cheese. However, a grilled chicken breast sandwich came on a regrettably dry sourdough bun. The Dream Cafe’s famed breakfast menu remains an intriguing cross-solid egg dishes to entice the power-breakfast crowd and gra-nota for those who want to start the day on a more spiritual, healthful note. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-954-0486. Inexpensive.
Eureka! 4011 Villanova Dr., 214-369-7767. Inexpensive.
An tares. The Hyatt Regency’s sky-flung, revolving restaurant, long marked by mediocre food that failed to live up to the view, appears to be finding its wings at last. Huge, meaty, seared sea scallops, pearly-white within, were sparked with chile-peanut dressing: grilled beefsteak tomatoes and earthy shiitake mushroom caps wore dollops of melted queso fresco in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Sau-téed salmon was less memorable only because its seasoning was too timid and its bed of rice totally tasteless; flavor came from the grilled Granny Smith apple slices and applejack sauce that were both blander than expected. Desserts were one up-a tongue-tingling Key lime pie, really terrific-and one down-warm peach-walnut cobbler, made with canned peaches, sans walnuts as far as we could tell, and far too sweet. And the view? How blasé do we have to be before seeing the city do a slow 360-degree pirouette below us fails to be enchanting? Reunion Tower, 300 Reunion Blvd., 214-651-1234. Expensive.
Anzu. The uncluttered feng shui decor induces relaxed pleasure, from granite-hued tabletops and intimate booth enclosures to the witty flock of bright-colored origami birds that flutter from the ceiling. Service supports the mood, too, with knowledgeable dish descriptions and friendly attention to small needs. Each dish on the menu is a compelling example of East-meets-West culinary compatibility. One entrée, mustard-crusted rack of lamb-five baby riblets- on white beans with tomato and garlic, partnered with rosemary-scented potatoes, was classically American: another, sake-marinated black cod broiled to succulence and served on infant greens with grapefruit sections and Chinese black vinegar alongside ginger-snapped pickled beets, was as eloquently Asian. And a dessert of coconut sorbet with ripe, fresh berries, pineapple and kiwi on raspberry and mango sauces brought both worlds together. 4620 McKinney Ave.. 214-526-7398. Moderate.
Beau Nash. After vainly seeking gustatory vibes in a tersely written bill of fare, we had to look to the food’s execution for enough excitement to justify some of the prices. We found it in a portobello tart, delectably grilled with crun-chy fennel cubes and rich juices in a buttery crust; and in the crisp?dged perfection of moist-hearted Atlantic salmon. We found it lacking in a carefully composed salad of Belgian endive and mache leaves–several of the latter had gone unforgivably dry and yellow. What we did appreciate was our waiter’s deleting charges for an entrée of angel hair pasta that didn’t quite mask One fishy flavor of crab-meat that overshadowed the mild basil pesto sauce. Service throughout, in fact, was immaculate and uncommonly thoughtful enough to give us hope that this was just a below-par food evening. Hotel Crescent Court, 2215 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-871-3240. Moderate to expensive.
City Cafe. Basic California-style food comes graced with a Cajun touch here, a hint of the Southwest there. Seafood dishes make the best choices, whether a juicy grilled esco-lar or a seared-salmon salad. City Cafe also renders the classics well, like an herb-sprinkled omelet or a club sandwich packed with turkey, tomatoes and bacon. The menu changes every two weeks, but a few customer favorites, like the succulent tomato soup, appear regularly. Save room for homemade dessert. Also check out the award-winning wine list and the nice choice of after-dinner drinks. 5757 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-2233. Moderate.
Dakota’s. Start with an appetizer sampler or warm homemade breads and the addictive, fried, cayenne-spiked onion shreds as you peruse the menu, which includes plenty of items marked as “lighter fare.” Choices from the wood-burning grill never disappoint, but a recent daily special was especially intriguing-colorfully striped, smoked moz-zarella ravioli showered with sweet crab and sautéed bell peppers with a light, garlicky sauce to tie all the elements together. Bargain-seekers will love the $15.95, three-course ’twilight menu” offered daily, with choices that might include a first course of venison sausage quesadil-las followed by roasted salmon and chocolate pecan pie. 600 N. Akard St., 214-740-4001. Moderate.
Huntington’s. This is one of the best places in Dallas for a reasonably priced, reliably good meal. Lobster bisque smoothly and richly delivers the very essence of lobster, best enjoyed as you wolf down the lightly crusty rolls slathered with garlic-studded whipped butter. Don’t miss the meaty crab cakes (offered as an appetizer or entrée), and end your meal with a crusty crème br?lée. Watch out for the tame salad dressings, though. Westin Galleria, 13440 Dallas Pkwy., 972-851-2882. Moderate to expensive.
Landmark Restaurant. A day’s-special starter, on our visit, topped a crisp-edged potato pancake with a single, huge, seared sea scallop and zipped with caviar-caper rémoulade. Another special sandwiched a grilled shiitake mushroom between Roma tomato halves, crumb-coated and fried, on baby greens dressed with basil-balsamic vinaigrette. Both were excellent, as was a smoky tomato soup dolloped with paie green basil cream-adorned by a flash-fried basil leaf. An entrée of charred rare ahi tuna was stellar stuff indeed, the thick, meaty cut crisp-seared on the outside, its heart rosy-dark and tender; its accompanying warm salad ni?oise was studded with pressed kalamata olives that provided spirited accent to the gentle smoothness of the dressing, a vintage balsamic vinegar and saffron a?oli. 3015 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-521-5151. Moderate to expensive.
Laurels. Closed June through September for renovation. Sheraton Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr., 972-385-3000. Expensive.
The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Chef Dean Fearing’s cuisine has been polished over the years so that the early brash-ness has evolved into a sophistication and balance that justify his international recognition. Take two starters: A mammoth, orange-caramelized sea scallop partnered flash-seared foie gras on a duck confit crêpe with black- | ened turnip slices and gingered currant sauce. Risotto perfumed with Oregon truffles offered gentle counterpoint to pesto-glazed shrimp with tomato essence and grilled zuc-chinl salad. A request to split an entrée was honored, and the ranch-reared antelope proved adequate for two, a sub- . stantial cut, rare and honey-glazed on a hearty posole stew gilded with roasted yellow tomato, punctuated with barbe-cued venison fajitas. Hang the cost. Go there. Do that. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-559-2100. Expensive.
Nana Grill. The new kitchen king of this elegant room-with-a-view is Ron Rosenbaum (former banquet chef at The Mansion) and his new menu broadens Nana’s focus from Southwestern to Regional American. We found the transition mostly hard to fault: Carolina she-crab soup held a wealth of supple flavor: crisped veal sweetbreads and por-tobello mushroom, cooked en brochette, were delectably paired. A wood-grilled pizza involving foie gras, bacon and Gorgonzola cheese was a disaster, but entrées were flawless-pork tenderloin sparked with cilantro and warm chipotle pepper salsa and peanut-crusted rack of lamb chops. Service, of course, was supremely suave and caring, the accoutrements defined luxe yet again, and the ambience was as comfortably refined as always in this upscale establishment. In the Wyndham Anatole Hotel Tower, 2201 Stemmons Fwy., 214-761-7479. Expensive.
Natchez. 2810 N. Henderson Ave., 214-821-4552. Inex pensive to moderate.
NorthSouth. Dallas fitness guru Larry North’s wife, Melanie Peskett North, has accomplished the seemingly impossible by creating a menu that would please her hus-band and people like us. Most menu items come “north”
(low-fat) or “south” (indulgent). “Far north’ choices are good-for-you; “deep south” options combine taboo foods like steak and lyonnaise potatoes. We headed south with our appetizer of ahi tuna sushi and lapped up every bit of the fish, cucumber salad and nicety spiced wasabi-sake sauce. Heading further south, the roast chicken with a fruity Grand Marnier sauce was ordered, along with scrumptious mashed potatoes. The veal chop was smoky and tender, served with mushroom-rich risotto. The wine list was pretty impressive, even those available by the glass. 2800 Routh St.. 214-849OT00. Moderate.
The Riviera. We knew the moment an airy avocado cream hors d’ouevre passed our lips that we were doomed, once again, to a near-flawless (and therefore difficult to describe without sounding, well, gushy) dining experience. Each dish seemed to outdo another-yellow-fin tuna, marinated and grilled with apple-smoked bacon, hardly needed its accompaniment of lobster-caviar rémoulade; a pan-seared cut of salmon on fennel-seasoned white beans was crowned with a waffle of crisp phyllo layers. Food credits here mostly belong to Chef de Cuisine Michael Weinstein, one assumes, with input from David Holben, now executive chef at sibling restaurants Mediterraneo and Toscana. 7709 Inwood Rd., 214-351-0094. Expensive.
Rooster. David Burdette-former chef at The Grape-has drawn Inspiration from vittles from the old South. He dubs this action “new American Southern cuisine.” which is actually a disciplined orchestration of traditional influences and imaginative diversions coupled with a deftly assembled wine list. The menu moves from fried green tomatoes (listless and bland) with Dallas mozzarella. to Coca Cola-marinated venison loin to roasted double breast of chicken with Pontchartrain crab-meat stuffing. Rooster will continually emphasize seasonal game on its menu, so we sampled the braised wild pheasant, which-settled in a bowl of dark, rich hunters sauce with Southern Comfort-gla;ed baby onions, cracklings (pork fat) and shiitake mushrooms-was moist, sweet, chewy and very hearty. While the service was adequate, it lacked the pleasant, sincere attentiveness this Southern setting demands. Plus, our servers* knowledge of the menu was jittery at best. Oak Grove and Lemmon avenues, 214-521-1234. Moderate to expensive.
Seventeen Seventeen. At the Dallas Museum of Art’s new restaurant, the decor and food are both simply lovely. On a brunch visit, the tomato-Pernod broth was a muted masterpiece, and a small comino-rubbed, baby lamb T-bone on musky black-chile mole sauce was splendid. On the breakfast side, a honey-granola waffle wore a toss of pecans beside a caramelized, oatmeal-crusted, fried banana on vanilla bean syrup, and smoky-flavored wild boar sausage partnered an omelet stuffed with charred bell pepper confetti and white Cheddar cheese. For lunch, the toasted ravioli triangles, although a trifle tough, were nicely stuffed with corn and goat cheese and served with coins of candied kumquat under white chayote squash. The most memorable desserts were a pink-and-white layered mousse cake with fresh raspberries and a trio of house br?lées-mango-lime, raspberry-chocolate, orange with vanilla cream. 1717 N. Harwood St., 214-6800158. Moderate to expensive.
Cafe Pacific, Cafe Pacific continues to delight as one of Dallas’ most reliable luncheon and dinner restaurants. This is the place to take an old friend for a reunion or a business associate to discuss the next deal. Paintings of the 19th-century Italian countryside grace the walls, fresh flowers fill large vases and the lighting is soft. Menu favorites like calamari, clam chowder, Caesar salad, salmon and red snapper are suberbly prepared and presented by experienced waitstaff. Daily specials are inventive and delicious. Very nice wines by the glass are available, complementing a diverse wine list. Specialty of the bar is Dallas’ best Ramos gin fizz-a must for brunch diners. 24 Highland Park Village. Preston Road and Mockingbird Lane. 214-526-1170. Moderate to expensive.
Daddy Jack’s. This tiny restaurant with its quaint red-and-white checked tablecloths and casual, cozy atmosphere is perfect for a date or for just breezing in after a day at the lake. But forget about the atmosphere. What we’re really talking about is fantastic seafood. Indecision plagued us in the beginning: We couldn’t decide between a New England-style crab cake or a lobster-and-potato cake, so we ordered both and then had an even harder time deciding which was better. As for the main course, we were disappointed to hear they were out of soft-shell crab, but our consolation was the tilapia daily special topped with delectable shrimp and a fabulous cream sacue. Also worth noting are the relaxed, efficient service and fair prices: The experience was worth every penny. And although we left Daddy Jack’s almost painfully full, we’re already making plans to return. 1916 Greenville Ave., 214-826-4910. Moderate.
Daddy Jock’s Wood Grill. This Jack Chaplin restaurant offers lively service and food that manage to combine homey familiarity with twists of near-elegance. For example, a grilled red snapper topped with shrimp and lobster brandy could grace a tonier table, but here it’s served with an ear of corn. Ditto on the beef filet grilled with apple bacon and crowned with Roquefort butter and roasted walnuts. The Lobster Fra Diavolo is a heaping challenge of lobster, mussels, clams and shrimp. For lunch, try the memorable tomato and crab gazpacho or the tuna anointed with fresh mango and avocado. The one true disappointment was the chocolate mousse that was grainy, rock-hard and almost inedible. However, the smooth Key lime pie was refreshing. 2723 Elm St., 214-653-3949. Moderate.
Fish. The food here is as compelling as followers of chef Chris Svalesen’s career would have laid odds it would be. On our visits, appetizers were poetry on the plate-house-smoked salmon, trout, oysters and shrimp a mini-banquet with red onion confit; a pan-fried Dungeness crab cake fall-apart tender and fresh-flavored. Pepper-crusted yellow-fin tuna came as three noisettes, barely crisped outside rosy-roasted corn crust alongside crawfish tails in lusty Cajun beurre blanc. A delectable warm apple tart stands out in memory as the most repeatable dessert. The memory of Fish’s service lingers likewise as correct and warmly friendly. 302 S. Houston St., 214-747-FISH. Late menu, 10p.m.-2 a.m. nightly. Moderate to expensive.
Lefty’s. Although the menu is small. Lefty’s features everything you’d expect a good lobster house to have, including beef for those who don’t like seafood. Soups come in thick, white mugs; a disk of a cracker covers the top to keep the steam in. Choose the clam chowder and steer away from the metallic-tasting lobster bisque. Of the appetizers, the smoked salmon with bagel chips or the steamed clams would make a nice meal. So would the crisp house salad, paired with a crab cake and dilled tartar sauce. Baked shrimp, stuffed with baby shrimp, crab and cracker crumbs, are served perched in a wickedly good sauce. The service gets mixed marks, but the wine list is promising. One false note: The sauce on a daily special of seafood diablo lacked spiciness, though the plate was heaped with clams, lobster, mussels and shrimp. One big bargain: the 1-pound lobster with baked potato and corn for $10.95. 4021 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-774-9518. Moderate.
Lombardi Mare. You might just want to take a tour of this big, rectangular box of a room before you sit down; otherwise, you’ll be too distracted by the marine decor to eat. The restaurant’s version of focaccia-a thin, bubbly pizza crust topped with Parmesan and rosemary-led us to order an appetizer of pizza on another visit. Its light topping of basil, smoked mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes puts American pizza to shame. The lobster bisque also scored high marks, as did the fried calamari. Light, crisp, tender and delicious, it couldn’t have been better. Of the main courses tried, only one disappointed: the bland, overcooked monkfish. Perfectly executed was the risotto di mare, with asparagus, scallops and shrimp; the pasta with a veal ragu would soothe any soul. The lighter crab and cheese souffle, which arrived with unmentioned (but very appreciated) lobster sauce, was richly satisfying. The crème br?lée is not, as promised, “the best in Dallas,” but the Tuscan bread pudding, which makes no such claim, just might be the best bread pudding in the city. 5100 Belt Line Rd.. Addison, 972-503-1233. Moderate.
Mainstream Fish House. Mainstream will reel you in. just like it has such notables as Ross Perot and Roger Stau-bach-from the properly seasoned chowder studded with juicy clams to the mouth-puckering Key lime tart sweetened by a dab of whipped cream and a mound of berries. Your best choice in between those two winners? The daily specials. This restaurant, a hands-on operation of owner Kelly Hagen and family (his dad owns the very popular fish market a few doors away), knows its fish, as does every employee, so take their recommendations and you cant go wrong with specials. Mainstream pays attention to every detail-it serves Empire Bakery’s incomparable bread and killer potato cakes, sautéed to a crisp on the outside, tender within and dotted with corn and bell peppers. Excellent food, low prices and a thoroughly casual atmosphere (with decent choices of wine and beer} keep this homey little place packed for both lunch and dinner. Preston Forest Shopping Center, 11661 Preston Rd.. Ste. 153, 214-739-3474. Moderate.
Newport’s. It’s rare that a restaurant can skillfully anticipate needs and smoothly sprint the extra mile to meet them. But Newport’s offers service of this caliber, along with some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in land-locked North Texas. Choose from mesquite-grilled fish, seared, blackened or fried seafood, and sauteed chicken. Newport’s is housed in the old Dallas Brewery and Bottling works and its three-tiered dining room actually holds a huge, open Artesian well that once fed the pre-Prohibition brewing operation. With a wine list that is adequate, if unimaginative. Newport’s offers only a handful of craft brews-sacrilege considering Newport’s digs. (New evening hours) 703 McKinney Ave.. 214-954-0220. Moderate.
Picardys Shrimp Shop. Coconut tempura shrimp were tender, juicy and pleasantly sweet and a side of honey-sour sauce added a potent bite. The rice pilaf. slightly undercooked and bland, was a bit of a damp blanket on the whole presentation. Grilled shrimp nachos, with shrimp, black beans, white cheese and salsa, were light and chewy with wonderfully balanced flavors. Other intriguing offerings that went untried were the shrimp and Cheddar grits, fried Shrimp loaf and grilled shrimp tacos. Picardys’ wine offerings are mostly ho-hum standards save for a couple of exciting selections, but the beer list was fairly unimaginative. For dessert, the house-made peach cobbler and scoop of Haagen-Dazs was satisfyingly chewy, with a swift nutmeg finish. Picardys’ kid-friendly atmosphere is a plus; crayons, a coloring placemat, toys and a bright tray make the experience almost effortless. 6800 Snider Plaza, 214-373-4099. Inexpensive to moderate.
S&D Oyster Company. Serving fresh food for years, S&D has become a mainstay of quality. The simple atmosphere complements the simple fare: oysters, shrimp, gumbo and fish. Oysters, its speciality, should definitely be sampled. Make your own tartar sauce or let your experienced waiter mix together the perfect blend of ingredients right at your table. For lunch, try an oyster or shrimp loaf sandwich. For heartier meals, partake of broiled fish; red snapper, trout or flounder, depending on what is available fresh. 2701 McKinney Ave., 214-8800111. Moderate.
Truluck’s Steak & Stone Crab. This striking art-deco eatery designed to look like a posh railroad car is the only spot in Dallas that serves the infamous stone crab seven days a week, year-round. Truluck’s stone crabs come in four sizes-medium, large, jumbo and colossal-and they’re ruinously expensive. Served pre-cracked because of their dense shells, stone crabs taste best when served chilled with hot mustard and drawn butter. But if the surf part of the menu doesn’t lift you into culinary orbit, the turf part surely will. Truluck’s meats (USDA Prime and Certified Angus Beef) are among the best we’ve tasted in Dallas- a 14-ounce ribeye was juicy and melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Taking the crusher-claw hugeness theme to the end, Truluck’s desserts are massive: The carrot cake, moist and hearty, is about the size of a cinder block. Truluck’s showcases an attentiveness to detail and skillful service- even if it demands you crush your piggy bank before savoring those claws. 50011 Belt Une Rd., Addison, 972-503-3079. Moderate to expensive.
Flying Burro. Bringing his own style of New Mexico-Mex to Dallas, owner Scott Cain has a neat sense of the cuisine’s essential basics. To Texas tongues, the most alien dish on the menu will probably be Winnie’s Killer Queso, a dark, spicy, burn-the-baby mélange of peppers. The fried jala-penos-uncommonly crisp and pickled, are filled with vinegary chicken and cheese, all hot as bell. The Burro’s sauces, in red or green, are gentler on the tongue and add the right spice to the chicken and New Mexican enchiladas. Be wary, however, of the posole. which bad been overcooked and oversalted when we visited. The pounded chicken breast also bad been baked too long. 2831 Greenville Ave., 214-827-2112. Inexpensive.
Sam’s Cafe. Pots of soft, poppyseed-studded breadsticks stand ready to dip into their accompanying cream cheese/salsa mixture. Caesars take a Southwestern spin with spicy fried strips of tortillas replacing the croutons, while the dressing remains perkily authentic. The King Ranch Casserole, a palate-pleasing mixture of chicken, corn tortillas, roasted peppers, cheeses and onions, makes an excellent take-out dish for a dinner the whole family will love. Quesadillas. all five varieties, score high marks, although the ingredients need to be spread out more evenly. Regulars like the eight inventive pastas, and they also know that the poblano chicken chowder, with its sneaky little burn, is a must-order. Sam’s offers a good-sized bar, with a house specialty called the “Grand Canyon”-a 32-ounce margarita. In the Preston Center Shopping Center, 8411 Preston Rd.. Ste. 112. 214-739-2288. Moderate.
Star Canyon. Superchef Stephan Pyles has a gift for slipping happy little surprises into even the most mundane-sounding dishes. A grilled quail was not only halved but boned on a first-course plate mounded with arugula that coyly concealed poached pear slices and zip-spiked Cajun pecans. Coriander-cured venison lived up to its legendary reputation, grilled rare and sliced into rosy petals complemented by whipped yam and an assertive dried fruit empanada. Even as simple a dessert as bread pudding departs from the commonplace here. Service was friendly and fast, as always. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-520-7827. Moderate to expensive.
Y.O. Ranch. This food may be dubbed “early Texas cooking,” but we doubt many Old West ranch cooks whipped up this sophisticated a menu, starting with the seafood corn cake, a vast flapjack concealing nuggets of crab, shrimp, oysters and corn kernels. Other appetizers are as wonderful; the frog legs were grilled to flawless succulence on wild rice with vegetable ribbons, and the wild boar sausage was served on a sea of molten cheese. Entrées range from basic steaks (we enjoyed a huge, perfect ribeye) to turkey, catfish, shrimp and the Muy Grande Tex Mex Platter. On the side, we found fresh grilled spinach extraordinarily fine and beautifully seasoned. At lunch, when everything on the menu but the fajitas are a reasonable $5.50, enjoy a country-fried steak that can be prepared in four different styles or one of the Tex-Mex specialties, like Matt’s famed chile relteno. Desserts run the gamut from a wonderful pecan pie to a wretched, dense-as-lead lemon cake. 702 Ross Ave., 214-744-3287. Inexpensive to moderate.
Cafe Madrid. Apart from the house bread, which is totally undistinguished, every bite we sampled here was delight ful. Besides the two dozen or so tapas always available, a daily changing blackboard lists as many more, including everything from potato omelet to crisp-fried baby smelt, from wine-poached rabbit to blood sausage-and that last is a near-religious experience, the dark, crisp-skinned sausage stuffed with rice and onion, filled with rich, meaty flavor, presented in double-bite-size morsels on herb-oiled cushions of bread. Try it with authentic Spanish manchego cheese, thin-sliced in crumbly mellow triangles, and stalks of white asparagus dressed with tomato-, onion- and green pepper-studded vinaigrette. If it’s a more conventional meal you’re after, a three-course dinner is offered nightly-cream of leek soup, veal stew and a cream-filled liqueur cake on our visit, paella on Friday and Saturday evenings. 4501 Travis St.. 214-528-1731. Moderate.
Bob’s Steak & Chop House. In addition to a lusty carnivorous appetite, be sure to bring your night-vision goggles to this chop house to keep from bruising your nose on the dark wood paneling or from slipping on the green carpeting. At least we think it’s green: it’s hard to tell because Bob’s decor reflects a vampirish fear of illumination. Still, this place dazzles with juicy, tasty cuts of meat-coupled with veggie and potato-and pleasant, attentive service, while its pricey wine list invokes ghoulish terror. Our filet, ordered medium, was many shades redder than our New York strip, ordered medium rare. Maybe they need to punch up the lumens in the kitchen, too. 4300 Lemmon Ave., 214-528-9446. Moderate to expensive.
Chamberlain’s Steak and Chop House. A for-two combo appetizer’s shared crabcake and brace of crunch-battered shrimp were definitive enough, but the housemade Worcestershire sauce that spiked portobello mushrooms redefined that condiment with stellar authority. Prime rib and a trimmed-to-lean ribeye were robustly rare and confidently complemented with the horseradish cream that partnered the former and garlic mashed potatoes that accompanied both. Sides of corn kernels hand-cut off the cob and early-season asparagus delivered fresh texture and flavor; warm bread pudding cupped a spill of caramel that ’ was just assertive enough to give the near-cliche dessert special character. Figure in service that was, if not clairvoyant, almost uncannily empathetic. and you’ll have some . grasp of the comfortable ambience that keeps chef/proprietor Richard Chamberlain’s cigar-friendly Addison out ; post filled even on weekday evenings. 5330 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-934-2467. Moderate.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. Now in its North Dallas digs for more than four years, Del Frisco’s still serves up one mean slab ’o’ meat. Our filets were virtually perfect, fashioned from cuts of meat void of grisle and thick as couch cushions. Top-shelf appetizers included an aggressively tangy shrimp rémoulade and turtle soup whose only fault was that it didn’t come inunlimited quantities. The wine list is varied and complete, and the but terscotch cheesecake was worth the calories for even the most disciplined dieter. Heck, we even thought the vegetables were great. The front dining room gets smokey and regrettably loud when it’s crowded, so wait for a table else where if that’s a problem. Not a joint for the faint of pocketbook, but worth serious consideration when you’re in a mood to blow it out red-meat style. 5251 Spring Valley Rd.. 972-490-9000. Expensive.
Morton’s of Chicago. Understatement reigns here, from dark wood to etched glass, starched white linens and muted Sinatra, and there are more than 30 martini varieties. And, of course, there are steaks-big. beautiful steaks. 501 Elm St.. 214-741-2277. Expensive.
The Palm. 701 Ross Ave., 214-698-0470. Expensive.
D REVISITS Paul’s Porterhouse. Fans of this Restaurant Row mainstay make a compelling argument that Paul’s deserves a prominent spot in your regular red-meat rotation. The menu features an extensive array of steak variations, and our choices were thick, fine cuts of meat-cooked exactly as we had ordered-and complimented by excellent sauces. Unexpected alternatives like ostrich and game complicate your entree decision, and meals include soup or salad, baked potato, fresh bread and a slab of cheese left for your grazing pleasure as soon as you’re seated. The seemingly nonexistent dress code is an added bonus. Get a reservation, or stand in the cramped reception area waiting for a table vacated by someone who did. Expect this place to grow on you, especially if you’re a taxidermist (trust us, you’ll understand when you get there). 10960 Composite Dr., . 214-357-0279. Expensive.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The steaks, served on a platter sizzling with butter, come as either a filet, a ribeye, a New York strip, a porterhouse or a T-bone. The rich marbling of the corn-fed Midwestern beef displays the promise of juiciness to follow. The meaty lamb chops, however, can give the beef a run for the money. Although you have to order side dishes a la carte-including eight types of potatoes-most of the side dishes will serve two. For an appetizer, try the cheesy, crab-stuffed mushroom caps; among salads, go for the Caesar instead of the unexciting Italian version. There is a huge wine list, and for serious grape lovers, the restaurant has a wine room for tastings. 17840 Dallas Pkwy., 972-250-2244. Expensive.
Stone Trail. 14833 Midway Rd., 972-701-9600. Moderate to expensive.
Chow Thai. 5290 Belt Line Rd., Ste. 144, Addison. 972-960-2999. Moderate.
Royal Thai. Accented with small lamps casting delicate pools of light, this is Vie prettiest of Dallas’ Thai restaurants. That old standby, lemon grass chicken, is skillfully executed, but try less familiar items, too. On a recent visit, one entrée of crab, scallops, fish, shrimp, squid and peppers on curried rice was delightful. If there’s a drawback, it’s in the size of the portions, which are not large; consider appetizers if you’re really hungry. In Old Town, 5500 Greenville Ave,, 214-691-3555. Inexpensive to moderate,
Thai-Thai. 1731 Greenville Ave. at Ross, 214-828-9795. Inexpensive to moderate.
Toy’s Cafe. We tried really hard to love this place. Tucked into a tattered strip of Lemmon Avenue between a donut shop and laundromat, this hole-in-the-wall joint had all the elements of a great neighborhood “find.” We were welcomed warmly by three friendly Asian women and the tantalizing aroma of curry and garlic. Seated on uncomfortably high bar stools overlooking the open kitchen we perused the ambitious menu-a welcome sight for sore vegetarian eyes in our group. We wanted everything to be as good as it sounded, but our experience was hit or miss. Our Thai iced tea was a hit, the crab with Thai sauce a miss. Eggplant and tofu in a Thai green curry coconut milk was perfectly prepared while the fried corn patties tasted like they came from the donut shop next door. Our fresh squid salad with Thai herbs was fresh and tasty, but overdressed. In fact, if they reduced the amount of sauce on i every dish, many of them would be great. If we lived in the ? neighborhood, we would call in our order “light on the sauce” and take it home. 4422-B Lemmon Ave., 214-528-7233. Inexpensive.
Betty’s Brisket and Gourmet Foods. At this take-out shop, order brisket or turkey as a meal complete with mashed potatoes, vegetables and bread; or order meat by the pound. Also: killer desserts, appetizers. 17390 Preston Rd., 972-931-9094. Inexpensive.
Covino’s. Buried deep inside a series of strip malls, Covino’s Pasta and Pizza draws raves for its New York-style pizza-a thin, crisp dough lightly topped with whole (not skim) mozzarella and just a whisper of tomato sauce. That same dough makes the richly stuffed calzones especially good and stars again in an appetizer stuffed with meat, cheese and spinach. Pastas, especially the hearty lasagne and tortellini with pesto, earn high marks due to their sprightly sauces. Meatball subs can’t be beat but, like all sandwiches here, require a hearty appetite. Owner Joe Covino (a transplanted New Yorker) is usually on hand greeting the regulars in this tiny, unpretentious trattoria, while us wife Michèle is at home making her scrumptious cheesecakes for the restaurant. Bring the kids, bring the baseball team, bring a bottle of Chianti, but the prices are so low you won’t need to bring much money. 3265 Independence Pkwy.. Plano. 972-519-0345. Inexpensive.
El Norte. The decor varies from the authentic look of specials painted directly on the walls to cheesy plastic flamingos in the flower boxes, but some solidly good food comes out of the kitchen. Great starters include the white queso sauce and chips or the jalapeno poppers. The restaurant serves terrific roasted chicken that can be ordered as a dinner or in Mexican specialties like enchiladas. This is a great family spot with a reasonable all-you-can-eat special. 2205 W. Parker Rd.. Plano, 972-596-6783. Inexpensive.
Fresh ’N Lite. Healthful menu that includes more than a dozen salads, but also burgers and corn dogs. 6150 Frank-ford Rd,. 972-713-8167. Inexpensive.
Kirby’s Steakhouse. Well, wow, Toto. this sure doesn’t look like Lower Greenville. Unlike the neat-but-not-gaudy in-town reincarnation of the venerated 1950s original, this vast place has Piano-style prosperity written all over it-all upscale splendor (clubby dark woods and sculptural glass) with a midscale attitude (confidently casual service and ambience, an at-ease clientele outfitted for comfort from Dockers to Nikes to cell phones). The menu’s the same, though-mostly steaks, with the usual few seafood and fowl entrées, plus starters and a list of a la carte sides that outshone pricier places on our visit. Everything we tried was outstanding: ribeye steak was a royal 14 ounces of rare, tendon-free perfection au naturel; pepper steak was even better, a thick cut of filet crusted with cracked peppercorns on a keen-edged cognac pepper sauce. Crisp-skinned coins of fried okra were too fine to dip in the garlicky pink creamy house dressing that accompanied them, and Susie’s mashed potatoes-spiked with cream cheese and sour cream-were sublime. Word has it the house crème br?lée is star-quality, but who has room for dessert after all this carnivorous indulgence? Not us-our apologies. 3408 Preston Rd.. 972-867-2122. Moderate to expensive.
Kostas Cafe. Greek cuisine. 4621 W. Park Blvd.. Plano, 972-59&S424. Moderate.
Mac’s Bar & Grill. Burgers, steaks, excellent, moist fried chicken. 2301 N. Central Expwy., Piano. 972-881-2804. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mario’s Chiquita. This restaurant, while offering upscale Mexico City-style fare, also has some of the best basic combination Tex-Mex dinners in town. 221 W. Parker Rd., 972-423-2977. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mediterraneo Chef David Holben’s exquisite culinary artistry, a casually elegant decor and efficient, non-stuffy service combine to create a sublimely magical Medierranean bistro that’s a cousin to the very successful Riviera. Of particular interest: Mediterraneo’s $9.95 luncheon menu includes appetizer and entrée. 18111 Preston Rd. at Frank-ford Road, Ste. 120, 972-447-0066. Moderate to expensive.
Modo Mio. 18352 Dallas Pkwy., Ste. 112, 972-671-MODO. Moderate.
Nakamoto. Service tends to range from the sublime to the abrupt at this stylish, roomy North Piano institution, but cuisine remains uniformly excellent. Japanese food neophytes can be comfortable with traditional, lightly fried tem-pura offerings or “bento” box lunches-samplings of tender beef or chicken teriyaki, sautéed salmon batayaki or kara age (delicate fried chicken) and California rolls. More adventuresome diners will be rewarded by appetizers of karariage (flounder wrapped in seaweed then lightly fried) or succulent, salty soft-shell crab. Sushi and sashimi are all perfectly sliced and presented with proper panache: Experiment with dragon rolls, unagi (eel) hand rolls, or ask the sushi master to fix something fun. 3309 N. Central Expwy. at Parker Road, Piano. 972-881-0328. Moderate.
Piano Cafe. Choose the mixed green salad instead of the Caesar and opt for the zingy raspberry vinaigrette. A feast of vegetables accompanies each generous meal, and most people leave loaded with leftovers. Juicy, freshly grilled roast chicken with red pesto penne draws loyal fans, and vegetarians will find much to choose from. Two more surprises: a decent wine list and a winner of a dessert list, including a warm French apple pie (homemade, like everything else here) accompanied by Cham bord/ FrangeIico ice cream, whipped cream and berries. 1915 N. Central Expwy., Ste. 500, Plano, 972-516-0865. Moderate.
D REVISITS Plano Tortilla Factory. If you live in Plano, then this little place should be
on the top of your list for a quick bite, take-out, or delivery. In fact, the retried beans alone ought to be enough to keep you coming back. On our visit we devoured cheese enchiladas with chile con came sauce and a chile relleno loaded with tasty beef and cheese, then smothered with green peppers, onions and more cheese. That sucker was hot, though, so keep the iced tea handy. Fresh homemade tortillas (corn and flour) also accompanied our order, so there was no hope for any room for dessert. Piano Tortilla Factory’s appeal doesn’t end with the food-the friendly owner was quick to strike up a conversation and make us feel welcome. Low prices are a bonus, too. 1009 E. 18th St., Piano, 972-423-6980. Inexpensive.
Poor Richard’s Cafe. Home-cooked food, featuring a huge breakfast spread. 2442 Ave. K at Park Boulevard, Piano, 972423-1524. Inexpensive.
Randy’s Steakhouse. A meal in this cozy, Victorian home-turned-restau rant can make you feel like you’re having dinner at a friend’s home. But your friends have never served steaks like these. Graded prime and cut by hand, these beauties tasted rich and buttery. Filets, New York strips and rib-eyes are each offered in two sizes, or opt for the 26-ounce porterhouse. The marbling that characterizes prime meat makes these steaks some of the juiciest around. The 10 seafood selections offer plenty of alternate choices, and all meals come with rich, cheesy potatoes au gratin or a baked potato and fresh vegetables. Ignore the thoroughly tasteless Caesar and the supermarket-style bread. Start your meal instead with a good tossed salad (try the chunky blue-cheese dressing) or an appetizer-size order of crab cakes-pure comfort food. The bread pudding with Jack Daniels sauce is heavenly mainly because of the lush cinnamon ice cream that topped it. 7026 Main St., Frisco. 972-335-3066. Moderate to expensive.
Red Hot & Blue. What better way to spend a Friday night than with two giant pigs clad in sunglasses hovering over us while we ale? Needless to say we knew we were in for a treat. Every item on the menu was scrumptious-wet and dry ribs, pulled pig platters and brisket sandwiches-all Memphis style. An appetizer of jalapeno poppers were just the right amount of hot and paired with a yummy barbecue-ranch sauce for dipping, and the side dishes were as tasty as the meals they accompanied. Along with good barbecue and festive atmosphere, you can count on attentive service from a friendly waitstaff. 5017 W. Plano Pkwy., Ste. 100, Piano, 972-248-3866. Inexpensive.
Saigon Savour. The cuisine here combines Mediterranean and Asian influences, but the San Francisco owners need to realize that Dallas palates are used to piquancy. We also found ourselves wishing for vegetables, which the Vietnamese cooks usually prepare with finesse. 17370 Preston Rd., Ste. 490. 972-380-2766. Moderate.
Sea Grill. Asian accents are subtly woven into this seafood-intense menu, where every bite surprises-a touch of lemon grass in the iced tea, a splash of sake enlivening a black bean sauce. Don’t even bother with the menu if a lobster sandwich is one of the daily specials; just order it quickly before they run out. Hunks of sweet lobster meat tossed with a lemon/Dijon mayo make this open-faced sandwich a winner, and it’s served not only with fries, caraway seed-flecked slaw and slices of mango, but also with the good house salad. The setting may be strip mall-pedestrian, but the food, right down to the homemade desserts, transcends it. The orange cheesecake, as delicate as a mousse, ends a meal on a light but flavor-intense note. Sea Grill offers a wine list that does justice to its food (although the by-the-glass prices are steep). 2205 N. Central Expwy., Ste. 180, Plano, 972-509-5542. Moderate.
D REVISITS Splro’s New York Cafe. This place has all the elements of a great neighborhood joint: relaxed. come-as-you-are atmosphere, regulars chatting with each other and an owner who comes out to greet his customers and hand them a bag of bagels as they depart. And, like most casual neighborhood finds, the service is cheerful, but slow. In other words, be glad there is a stack of People magazines on the floor to flip through while you wait for your waitress. Thankfully we got to munch on some delicious house-baked bread while we eagerly awaited our meal, and if the bread is any indication of how fabulous the extensive array of sandwiches is, you can bet we will go back for lunch. Our entrées consisted of fettucini alfredo that was tasty and not too heavy, and chicken fried steak that was too soggy. But the Greek salad that comes with that chicken fried steak might just be the best we’ve ever tasted. Good food overshadowed the stow service until a question arose about the bill: that’s when the cheerful waitress who we forgave before turned downright nasty. But a charming owner was quick to smooth over any rough edges, so we’ll put the past behind us and head back for lunch. 700 E. 15th St.. Piano, 972-881-2959. Inexpensive.
Tuppee Tong. Thai cuisine. The Village at Collin Creek, 621 W. Piano Pkwy., Ste. 247, Plano. 972-509-7979. Inexpensive.
The menu might be small at this take-out place, but the flavor’s all there, especially if you start with the pan-fried chicken dumplings, jam-packed with tender white meat. Both the won ton soup and the fried rice score high culinary marks. Moo shu is packed the sensible way- the pancake wrappers separate from the sauce, separate from fillers-allowing customers to serve themselves non-soggy food. Fried rice features chunks of shrimp; spring rolls offer plenty of both chicken and shrimp; and the appetizers can substitute as full meals. 19021 Midway Rd.. 972-306-CHOW. Inexpensive.
Angel una. This beautiful, high-energy restaurant offers an exciting, well-done menu, with a mix of flavor influences from Thai to Cajun to Caribbean and Mediterranean. An appetizer of shrimp paesano with limoncello butter turned out to be four fat, delectable breaded shrimp perched like lemon slices on a martini glass filled with lemon-butter sauce. A salad of baby greens with sweet basil vinaigrette was so simple but so fresh, and individual pizzas came from the wood oven with crunchy thin crusts, dotted with ingredients like wood-grilled mushrooms, roasted garlic and Texas chèvre. The only less-than-angelic dish was an appetizer of oven-roasted chicken that-for reasons unknown-was served in a thick, tasteless strudel crust. And desserts ranged from heavenly to far too dense. We could hardly get a fork into the sweet potato cake or the flour-less chocolate cake, but toasted coconut ice cream floated on the tongue. And with kid-friendly pizzas and warm cookies and milk, you could bring the kids here easily. 215 E. 4th St.. Fort Worth. 817-334-0080. Moderate.
Angeio’s Barbecue. 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth, 817-332-0357. Inexpensive.
Benito’s. Like a familiar old friend. Benito’s appearance may be spruced up from time to time, but the food does not change. The queso flameado, with or without chorizo, is flamed tableside and served with fresh pico de gallo and hot flour or corn tortillas. Order it first and then spend some time with the menu-everything on it is worth trying. The enchiladas can be ordered with mole rojo or mole verde. The chiles rellenos, stuffed with white cheese or beef, are a delight. The fajitas are well marinated and never so overcooked that the subtle marinade flavor is lost. The tacos are big, fresh and filling. 1450 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. 817-332-8633. Moderate.
Bistro Louise. We’ve rarely found food wonderful enough to warrant a 40-mile return trip, but here the tea-smoked duck-moist and fat-free, its satin skin smoked black and its luscious meat’s near-sweetness offset by a tart cranberry-port salsa-is such a dish. But almost everything we tried here was just as stellar. Desserts, lemon coconut cake and a reverse chocolate cake, were humdingers. 2900 S. Hulen St. (south from 1-30}, Fort Worth. 817-922-9244. Moderate to expensive.
Cacharel. Country French as to decor, city haughty as to service, this fixed-price ($34.50) refuge easily tops Arlington’s dining scene with its ninth-floor business building location as well as its New French cuisine. Our last visit, however, found the usually striking view blocked by closed blinds and the fare less arresting than we’ve had here before. As too often happens, our meal peaked with first-course selections-sautéed sea scallops were butter-tender and beautifully sparked with goat cheese and tomato ravioli. Roast duck breast slices lay rare as jewels on a Grand Marnier sauce-but our other entrée, sautéed mahi mahi, delivered only blandness. Ditto desserts, a mango Bavarian mousse cake and a vanilla bean tart, both undis-tinguished. This year’s self-financed Zagat surveyors were right to rank this popular place Arlington’s best, but to put ” its food second only to The Riviera’s in both Dallas and Fort Worth? Oh, please. 2221 E. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 910. (Metro) 817-640-9981. Expensive.
Casa Jose. The best Tex-Mex cafe in Arlington offers all the regular Tex-Mex dishes but specializes in soft flour tortilla tacos. Their thick, slightly chewy, warm, handmade flour tortillas offer a tasty base from which to build a taco. Casa Jose isn’t good enough to merit a drive from Dallas or Fort Worth (you’d pass as good or better Tex-Mex on the way), I but if you’re in the area, try it. 2030 S. Cooper St., Arlington, I (metro) 817-265-5423. Inexpensive.
City Park Cafe. 2418 Forest Park Blvd., 817-921-4567. Moderate.
Daddio’s Downtown Nearly Jazz Cafe. Like the music its name celebrates, this cafe provides a constantly evolving . riff on the theme of service-sometimes it’s faster than other times. But the Greek salad is the best in town, and the rest of the menu gives a unique Texas tone to classic Greek specialties. Breakfast and lunch only, except on Friday and Saturday, when you can listen to great music at night while enjoying your dinner. 715 W. Magnolia Ave. 817-926-7000. Inexpensive.
8.0 Restaurant & Bat. Sundance Square. Ill E. 3rd St., 817-33&0880. Inexpensive.
Gaylen’s. 826 N. Collins St.. Arlington, 817-277-1945. Inexpensive.
Joe T. Garcia s Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery. Not as fancy as its more famous cousin around the corner on North Commerce, the chefs do an excellent job preparing all the old favorites from burritos to tamales. Don’t overlook the soups here: The caldo de res, a homestyle soup with carrots, potatoes and squash, is delicious and filling. The frijoles a la char-ra are also above average-they are made with flair and spici-neas. Breakfast is a work of art here. Chorizo con huevo (Mexican sausage and eggs) can be ordered with potatoes, ham, bacon or pork skin. And on your way out. the bakery, in an alcove off the dining room, sells traditional Mexican breads, rolls and sweet rolls. 2122 N. Main, Fort Worth, 817-626-5770. Moderate.
Joe T. Garcla’s Mexican Dishes. If there is such a thing as the quintessential Fort Worth restaurant, Joe T’s can certainly stake its claim to the title. Its location near the Stockyards is a rambling plantation that can handle the predictable crowds for whom the restaurant’s status hovers somewhere between “institution” and “nirvana.” On a balmy night, wait for a spot outside-if you’re lucky, you might score one of the primo tables surrounding the pool. Rookies intent on amusing adjacent tables ask for a dinner menu, unaware that their choice is limited to fajitas or enchiladas; Joe’s junkies typically mainline the enchilada dinner. The chaotic kitchen is a lousy place to work off even the reasonable price of this meal, so take cash or a local check because Joe doesn’t do credit cards, or reservations, either, for that matter. Oh well- nobody’s perfect. 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817-6264356. Moderate.
Kowloon Seafood Restaurant. 100 W. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington, (metro) 817-261-6699. Moderate.
Lucile’s-A Stateside Bistro. 4700 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-738-4761. Moderate.
Michael’s. 3413 W. 7th St.. Fort Worth, 817-877-3413. Expensive.
Reata. Reata is Spanish for rope. And after reading that bit of trivia on the menu, we prayed our food wouldn’t taste like hemp. It did not. The flavors purveyed (upscale, artsy fartsy Mexi-contemporary) were crisp and deftly defined, although the Texas T-bone was a little gristly and fat. With a good wine list, lots of distressed wood, floor-to-ceiling windows siphoning the brilliant Fort Worth city lights, a batch of horrifyingly overpriced cigars and a thick glaze of western decor, (including a menu finished in leather) you’d have to be a pretty crusty cowboy not to be roped-in. 35th floor, Bank One Tower, 500 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth, 817-336-1009. Moderate to expensive.
Rickshaw Chinese Restaurant. 1229 Wood Haven Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-496-6767. Inexpensive to moderate.
D REVISITS Saint Emilion. When the 1997 Zagat survey was released, some were surprised to see this Fort Worth restaurant on the list of top 10 restaurants in the area, along with the likes of The Mansion, Star Canyon, and the most popular restaurant in Fort Worth. Saint Emilion should enjoy its turn at the top, because it has stiff competition from new Fort Worth restaurants such as Bistro Louise and Angeluna. A recent visit confirmed that while the brick-walled, country French . atmosphere Is charming and the food for the most part terrific, Saint Emilion’s hold on the top spot isn’t that secure. Two seafood appetizers were excellent. An entrée of the house specialty, roasted duck, was tender and moist on the inside, crispy on the outside. The sommelier steered us with caring efficiency through the wine list (many vintages from the Saint Emilion region, as you might expect). but other than that service seemed to lack a sense of focus. This may be a romantic place to have dinner, but it shouldn’t take three hours from start to finish. 3617 W. 7th St, Fort Worth, 817-727-2781. Expensive.
Sundance Dell & Market. There is no better spot in Sundance Square for a casual, imaginative brunch, lunch or dinner. Basic offerings include sandwiches, salads, break- fast, gourmet coffees and homemade desserts. On a recent visit, we sampled salads including a zesty roasted potato salad in a homemade vinaigrette, a lemon pepper chicken and spaghetti salad, and an outstanding jicama and mango slaw. Tasty tortilla soup came with shredded Cheddar covering the cup and a generous amount of tortilla chips nestled in the Cheddar on one side. This is the rare restaurant that’s quick enough for just a bite, but whose smartly minimalist decor, great coffee and excellent food make it perfect for lingering. 353 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth. 817-335-3354. Inexpensive.
Water Street Seafood Company. Near the TCU campus. 1540 S. University Dr., Ste. 120. Fort Worth. 817-877-3474. Moderate to expensive.