Restaurant Reviews

Parigi

Parigi began as part of the Alice Waters aftermath, the passionate chef-inspired restaurants that came in the first frenzy of the New American food. Parigi, like other New American disciples, featured daily menus relying on fresh ingredients, preferably purchased that day. The restaurant has been sold a couple of times since its Inception and has become more of a neighborhood than a destination restaurant. Chefs Melody Wolfertz and Lisa Kelley don’t have a freezer or much storage space; menus stilt change weekly, and the food Is prepared to order, by hand. (Service is a little flaky-when we asked for a glass of red wine, the waiter offered us merlot or cabernet When we asked what kind, he started explaining the difference between the grapes.) But the food-specials and perennials- was excellent. The famous beef tenderloin with mustard sauce and ’smashed’ potatoes was as good as ever, the beef rare and unusually flavorful, the potatoes buttery and just lumpy. It’s been on the menu since Parigi opened. A long time. 3311 Oak Lawn, 214-521-0295. $$.



NEWCOMERS



CAPITAL GRILLE

Last year, every other restaurant that opened was ocean-themed; this year, Capital Grille is only the latest in a seemingly never-ending parade of high-priced steakhouses. So we entered the place with a sigh-too much of anything, fish, flesh, fowl, or tofu, gets tiring, and we’ve had more than our share of prime grade lately. (Then again, maybe we should eat our fill-the plentitude of big-deal steakhouses means we could be facing a shortage of prime beef in the next year or so. It takes so much more time and money for a cow to develop the fat-euphemistically called “marbling”-that makes the best beef so tender and flavorful.)

We are a little jaded with the concept of cow palaces, so we were wearily anticipating the usual steakhouse setup at Capital Grille-the woody men’s club decor, the brass trim, the Tiffany lamps. And the entry is lined with the usual pretentious wine lockers. But the warm-colored room is softer than most macho meat-eater environments, the dining room is ultra, East-Coast civilized-rich paneling, gold-framed portraits, faux-alabaster fixtures. Even though you know the antique patina is fake, it works, especially with the piano music in the background.

It’s the trend in the restaurant business to operate in several financial strata: Capital Grille is the high-end offering of the 109-unit strong Longhorn Steak House chain. So these people know their beef.

And our waiter really knew his beef. He’s been working his way through school by waiting tables at the best steakhouses in town, and he really understood, and readily explained, technical meat terms like marbleization and aging (Capital Grille ages its own beef) and how to justify the prices of expensive food. (Their salmon is smoked especially for them in Maine.) And like all these places. Capital Grille is breathtakingly expensive. Lobster is priced by the pound-you can choose a 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-pound dinner. A porterhouse is more than $30.

The menu has a funny, Washingtonian fuddy-duddiness: It features a “wedge” salad, a quarter head of iceberg with blue cheese and bacon. Perfectly cooked lamb chops come with mint jelly. And there’s a Delmonico steak on the menu-a porterhouse-style cut you don’t often see labeled that way anymore. And it was a perfectly marbled piece of beefcake, rich and buttery. Sides-from asparagus at $6.75 to the affordable $4 potato-are extra, of course, and have plenty to share. But none of us wanted the Lyonnaise potatoes that apparently had been deep fried, then tossed with sautéed onions so there was no melding of flavor.

The year of the fish is over, and we’re beginning the year of the cow. It sounds like Chinese astrology, but it’s just dining in Dallas. Capital Grille, 500 Crescent Court, Suite 135, 214-303-0500. $$$.



MAGGIANO’S

Maggiano’s is a little disconcerting, as these Trumanesque recreations of reality often are. Maggiano’s appears to be a scrubbed-up portion of Little Italy oddly attached to south NorthPark as though a big tornado picked up the restaurant on Mulberry Street and jammed it up against a random mall. Inside, the fantasy is slightly more believable. Downstairs is devoted to red-checked, family-style dining; upstairs is mafia formal, and Frank Sinatra plays incessantly everwhere. Still, the maitre d’ wears a tux, and everyone else seems to have wandered from the mall, toting bags from Dillard’s and Victoria’s Secret.

Upstairs-dark, woody, and expensive, with a city club atmosphere-is for catering and special events. We ate downstairs, which is where Kay Corleone might have eaten with the kids while Michael was upstairs plotting the downfall of his fellow Mafiosi. Because family-style dining is Maggiano’s attraction, we couldn’t help wondering why the tables are the size of card tables. We-four people with one child-aren’t a family, by Maggiano’s definition, our waiter told us. They’re talking Italian Catholic-size families, the stereotype you see in spaghetti sauce commercials. Our waiter strongly discouraged us from ordering family-style, which made things very complicated-or maybe the waiter was not quite verbal enough to communicate the Maggiano’s concept. He encouraged us to order half-portions because servings are so huge, but we wanted to try as many dishes as possible, The menu is listed on a huge, unreadable blackboard and repeated on the sandwich-board-sized menus.

As it turned out, even the appetizer of four ravioli al forno (stuffed with mushrooms) was too much, besides being too salty. Caesar salad was bland and watery, one of those versions that uses “Caesar” as code for “romaine.” Maggiano’s salad was better, a pungent vinaigrette dressing with tiny chunks of blue cheese over crunchy iceberg lettuce. We’re still looking for good gnocchi; these tasted as if they’d been reconstituted, and the alleged tomato vodka sauce looked like it was made with Velveeta and Campbell’s tomato. Chicken Giardina was four huge half-breasts, fried and smothered to death with sautéed vegetables. The calamari was inoffensive at best. But the lamb chops with rosemary garlic were excellent-rosy, juicy, and fragrant-and the fet-tucine alfredo was cooked correctly, sauced in a coat-the-spoon cream. To bring it back to basics, and to the dish that sums up the Maggiano’s experience, the spaghetti and meatballs were excellent.

Maggiano’s is brought to us by Chicagoan Richard Mellman (whose Lettuce Entertain You usually has the first idea in restaurant concepts) and Norm Brinker-the restaurant world’s Dream Team. There’s a separate bar, a takeout section (lasagne serves 20 people for $5.98 per person), and a banquet space with special menus. And you can walk through the back into The Corner Bakery which opens onto the mall. In fact, : Maggiano’s is the ultimate shopper/restau- rant fantasy-a mall within a mall. Maggiano’s Little Italy, 205 NorthPark Center. 214-360-0707. $$$.



ARARAT

The first thing you notice is the smell of incense burning by the front door. Western gourmets object to the scent of flowers mingling with the aroma of their food and even prefer that dining companions eschew cologne or perfume in case it interferes with the appreciation of a wine’s bouquet. But Ararat is the new Middle Eastern restaurant at the comer of Main, down from Monica’s, and the rules are different. Not only does the smell of incense complement the food, the i food breaks Western rules of flavor combi- nation, and the place breaks Western ideas about manners.

For instance, you can lounge around and eat if you ask for one of the low round tables at the back, where you can curl up on rugs or pillows or kilim-covered footstools. This is Middle Eastern ambiance all the way-walls and floors are covered with oriental carpets, lanterns hang from the ceiling, and there are different ethnic dances on weekend evenings-one night an interminable belly dancer, another night an overly educational presentation of traditional Turkish dancing with an explanatory recording that sounded like a social studies film from the bad old days of public TV. But we love Ararat because the food is some of the most exotic in town. Not just the baba ghanoush, dolma, and hummus (by the way, better and more garlicky on the second visit), which we have all come to know as well as guacamole, but also dishes that intri-cately layer flavors in ways as unexpected to the Western palate as the smell of incense with food. The dip (called “drinker’s choice” because it goes so well with wine, though it doesn’t sound like it should) is made of sesame paste and lemon with pomegranate syrup and pomegranate seeds that break in the mouth like crunchy, sweet frog’s eggs. Tabbouleh here is made with lots of mint mixed in the bulghur, then lavished with dried apricots, chopped figs, walnuts, pistachios, and dates. There are several stuffed vegetables, a favorite Middle Eastern idea: A cooked purple onion was stuffed with feta cheese, nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives. A tomato was sliced horizontally and stacked back together with goat cheese, dates, and olives. Borek folds spinach into flaky pastry (like a spanokopha).We ordered it all and passed it around, playing with our food, combining different bits on pieces of soft, warm, cardboard-thin lahvosh. Every dish segued into the others via a common flavor or ingredient.

Main courses were complicated, generous plates, filled with big chunks of lamb in a fiery dark tomato sauce with orange-red bulghur pilaf and a Persian rice pilaf threaded with vermicelli. Skewered shrimp is served on a bed of a complex pomegranate sauce deepened with dates and quartered figs. Chicken stew was simmered in a fragrant, Indian-like honeyed sauce, and simple tastes can settle for roast lamb in a rosemary sauce. Ararat, 2934 Main Street, 214-744-1555.$$.



BARBECUE

Baker’s Ribs. Nothing fancy about this place. Load up your tray with piles of sliced beef, pork, turkey, chicken, cayenne-seasoned St. Louis-cm ribs, and the usual side dishes: potato salad, cole slaw, and beans. We still prefer the Commerce Street location. 2724 Commerce St., 214-748-5433; multiple locations. $.



Peggy Sue Barbecue. This ’50s-style joint in Snider Plaza is serving some of the best BBQ in town. Terrific appetizers include Texas Torpedoes-cream cheese-filled fried jalapenos. Baby back ribs, chicken. Polish kiel-basa sausage, and brisket are smoked to perfeclion. Vegetables, usually second-class in the macho world of meat, go first-class here. 6600 Snider Plaza, 214-987-9188. $.



Red Hot & Blue. RHB specializes in pulled pork and dry ribs-that is, Southern-style, as opposed to Texas-style, barbecue. It’s all good, though there are gimmicky touches like the fried onion loaf. The “blues” are on the walls, in the form of concert posters, and in your ears. Friendly waitstaff. 9810 N. Central Expwy., 214-368-7427; 5017 W. Piano Pkwy., Ste. 100, Piano, 972-248-3866. $.



D BEST Sonny Bryan’s. For 40 years. Sonny Bryan’s meaty ribs, moist brisket, and classic barbecue sauce have been the standard by which all other Dallas barbecue is judged. For the classic barbecue experience, return to the original Inwood Road joint, sit on the hood of your car, and gnaw on tender smoked ribs, chopped beef, and giant onion rings. 2202 Inwood Rd., 214-357-7120; multiple locations. $.



BAKERY/SANDWICHES



Comer Bakery. Dallas has a number of excellent bakeries now, but the Comer Bakery holds its own. Country loaves are crusty, and the sweet stuff is all excellent. And the Bakery has a cafe side, serving pizza, tomato-sauced pasta, and sandwiches. 13350 N. Dallas Pkwy., Ste., 2443, 972-934-7001; multiple locations. $.

D REVISITS Street’s Famous Sandwiches. A sandwich can be just a sandwich, but at Street’s it’s more like a meal. No wonder the place is filled with regulars-on our last visit, we received a lot of unsolicited, friendly advice about what to order. The choices are varied, but not as overwhelming in number as a New York-style deli. The “V.I.P.” is French bread (from La Madeleine) filled with fresh, moist turkey, herbed stuffing, cranberries, and a thin layer of mayo. The “California Dreamin”’ concoction piles cream cheese, sprouts, tomato, avocado, and bacon on wheat bread, deliciously garlic-buttered with aftertaste sensations of dill and tarragon. It may sound like a jumbled mess, but you can distinctly taste each ingredient. Fresh ingredients are the key: Turkeys, roasts, and desserts are baked on the spot. As for the sides, Chinese sesame noodles, coleslaw, and potato salad are fine filler. But you might skip those and go straight from your sandwich to the rum cake. If you’re lucky it will still be warm, with the rum freshly sprinkled on top. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-2505. $.



BREW PUBS



Hubcap Brewery & Kitchen. The menu’s range of food is wider than the kitchen’s in this casual, cavernous West End brew pub, where bar food and steaks are a better choice than more innovative selections. Prices are modest, service is fast, and the main draw-the Colorado-rooted pub’s own house brews-is outstanding enough to command a following. 1701 N. Market St., Ste. 130,214-651-0808.$-$$.



Routh Street Brewery and Grill. Although the food has slipped a little, the hand-crafted brew remains some of the finest in Dallas, and an elegant hill country lodge motif with soft lighting makes it a sexy spot for a beer joint. Shy away from the wienerschnitzel; roasted pork tenderloin fares better. 3011 Routh St., 214-922-8835. $$.



BURGERS



Angry Dog. The menu is standard bar cuisine, including some great burgers, nachos, and sandwiches, but it extends to include some inspiring options. The Angry Dog-a grilled, all-beef hot dog split and served open-faced covered with grilled onions, chili, and cheese-is truly fantastic and a bargain at $4.50. For serious beer drinkers, there are 120 beers to choose from. 2726 Commerce St., 214-741-4406.$.



Balls Hamburgers. The burgers are big, weighing in at a half-pound, but the flavor is only average. However, the silver-dollar sized burgers with grilled onions and pickles are real crowd-pleasers. And a humble hot dog-smothered in chili, cheese, and chopped onions-saves the day. 3404 Rankin (Snider Plaza), 214-373-1717; 4343 W. Northwest Hwy., 214-352-2525. $.

Chip’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers. Perhaps Dallas’ best rendition of the ail-American hamburger is served at Chip’s. Both locations have an atmosphere as wholesome as a Beach Boys song, and the food is fast and fresh, too. A return to a time of innocence, when a good time could be fueled by nothing more than fries and a shake. The skinny onion rings, rich pig sandwich, and hot dogs are just lagniappe. 4501 Cole Ave., 214-526-1092; 4530 Lovers Ln., 214-691-2447.$.



The Prince of Hamburgers. The crispy-edged, toasty bun, the slim but beefy-tasting, just-cooked patty, and the simple but fresh garnitures combine to make the quintessential American sandwich. Prince sticks to the classic accompaniments: thick shakes, incredibly frosty root beer, fries, and fabulous onion rings, all brought to you by a real live person. 5200 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-9081.$.



Stoneleigh P. Everyone smuggles in ketchup because the place proudly and oddly refuses to serve it. But even the contraband ketchup can’t help the boring, meatless garden burger, and the homemade potato chips are not as good as Zapp’s out of the bag. The best thing about the Stoneleigh’s rancho deluxe burger, served on an equally crumbly “rustica” bun. was the chipotle mayonnaise. Maybe thai explains the condiment ban. 2926 Maple Ave.. 214-871-2346. $.



CAJUN CREOLE



Crescent City Cafe. Crescent City still dishes out solid New Orleans chow in authentic French Quarter surroundings. Though the fried food can be spotty, the gumbo’s rich and the po’ boys are consistently good. 2615 Commerce St., 214-745-1900.$.



Margaux’s. Cafe Margaux owner Kay Agnew has reopened yet again, in a smaller space wearing a suitably shorter name and with a menu that includes lunch on weekdays and dinner on Thursday only. Shrimp and sausage gumbo is the real thing, and commeal-crusted oysters are crisp-skinned delights. 2404 Cedar Springs Rd.. 214-740-1985. $$.



CHINESE



Arc-En-Ciel. The kitchen employs separate cooks for the Chinese and Vietnamese fare, but everyone really goes there to eat Vietnamese. Our last meal we ordered in a leisurely way, a few dishes at a time-pristine Imperial rolls; shrimp pounded and molded on sugarcane; grilled pork to roll in rice paper with rice noodles, cilantro, mint, lettuce, and sprouts-each dish delightful, fresh, excellent. 3555 W. Walnut St., Garland, 972-272-2188.$-$$.



Cathy’s Pacific. Chef/nutritionist Cathy Liu continues to succeed in combining authentic Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese techniques with healthy twists. The best dish we tried was the Szechuan Shrimp: fresh shrimp stir-fried with com, sweet peppers, and onions lightly coated in a black bean sauce. The dishes we ordered “extra hoi” were not, so if you like your food scorching, ask the kitchen to crank it up. 5950-A Royal Lane at Preston, 214-739-3378. $$.



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. 4002 Bell Line Rd., Addison. 972-991-6867.$$.



Royal China. Royal China serves the same neighborhood clientele that has been faithfully eating here since Buck Kao and his family opened the place in 1974. Appetizers are still in peak performance-our meal began with a wonderful hot and sour soup and perfectly steamed pan-fried pork dumpling. But the General’s Chicken looked and tasted like Chicken McNuggets in a sweet orange sauce, and the moo shu pork tasted like a Taco Bell Gordita. 201 Preston Royal Center, 214-361-1771, $$.



Szechuan Pavilion. One of the top Chinese restaurants in a city with far too few to choose from. Service here is smooth and the usual Szechuan specialties are good. Pot stickers filled with juicy pork and a whole crispy fish are worth waiting for. 8409 Preston Rd.. 214-368-4303. $$.

Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan. Not much has changed here over the last 15 years. Bow-tie clad waiters still formally dish out classic hot Hunan specialties tableside. Past favorites still shine: Crispy Beef with broccoli sizzling in spicy orange sauce and Uncle Tai’s Chicken flamed with jalapenos, lightly coated with black bean sauce, and served on a bed of slightly wilted watercress. In the Galleria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy. at LBJ. 972-934-9998. $$



COFFEEHOUSES



Cafe Society. Dallas’ most authentic coffeehouse not only roasts its own beans but offers a comfortable but hip environment for serious discussion, flirtation, hanging out, listening to music, and feeling generally plugged-in and with it. 209 Henry St., 214-745-1964. $.



Cafe Brazil. “Brazil” here is a coffee cue. but this cafe is not just another Java joint. The brews are varied and the laid-back attitude of all the locations make them comfortable chat rooms, but the food is better than it has to be. Breakfasts are particularly notable. 6420 N. Central Expwy., 214-691-7791; multiple locations.$



Cosmic Cup. The counterculture’s barely made a dent in the Dallas psyche, a fact that makes Cosmic Cup almost a tourist attraction here. In other cities, there are whole neighborhoods lined with places like this. Most of the food is India-inspired, which makes vegetarian an easy philosophy-samosas. dal. curry. Good, and good for the soul. 2912 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-6157.$.



DELI



Deli News. This plainly authentic deli has continued to demonstrate that you don’t have to be from New York to know the Real Thing when you taste it. Hot cabbage borscht. potato pancakes, and rye-wrapped pastrami are all wonderful. 4805 Frankfort. 972-733-3354. $-$$.



Gilbert’s. All you Yankees pining for the comforts of the Carnegie Deli, stop whining. The Gilbert family enters their 11th year of dishing out potato knishes, stuffed derma, and kasha varnishkas as good as any in the Big Apple. They also have a decent plate of spaghetti and meatballs for the shiksa in your group. 11661 Preston Rd., 214-373-3333. $.



EASTERN EUROPEAN



Athenée Cafe. Dallas’ only Rumanian restaurant-are you surprised? Stuffed mountain cabbage is a fabulous signature dish-meatball-size beef rolls oven-roasted in delicate cabbage leaves with a red wine sauce, just like grandma in Transylvania used to make. Other highlights: Rumanian sausage and veal chop. The wine list is adequate. 5365 Spring Valley Rd., Ste. 150, 972-239-8060. $$.



ECLECTIC

D BEST Bistro A. Peripatetic chef Avner Samuel’s latest venture is his best yet, and better yet. Bistro A looks like it’s going to be around awhile. It’s made sleepy Snider Plaza a destination, drawing well-heeled diners in for stylish fare that’s beautifully presented. Dishes with Middle Eastern influences are especially good, but the chef does equally well with simple steak fries, and casserole-roasted chicken could be the best bird in town. 6815 Snider Plaza, 214-373-9911. $$-$$$.



D REVISITS Bread Winners. The odd thing about Bread Winners is that the food is better than the baked goods they sell in the bakery. The amazingly bland loaf of multi-grain bread we took home fell apart in the toaster every time. But Bread Winners toasts its own pretty well. Three different menus a day are all imaginative-like the vegetarian benedict, an English muffin with two eggs over easy and a layer of asparagus, artichokes, spinach, and broccoli covered with hollandaise. Lunch is always crowded, but the service is spunky, and tables turn at a good pace. In the evenings, candlelight softens the brick walls, making Bread Winners one of the most comfortable restaurants in Dallas. Tables are scattered through the leafy courtyard and into nooks on several levels. It feels like SoHo. The buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes and cream gravy was the real winner-lightly battered and fried fork-tender chicken over leek mashed potatoes and cream gravy so good it made the bland bread better. 3301 McKinney Ave., 214-754-4940.$-$$.



Deep Ellum Cafe. The first legitimate restaurant in Deep Ellum has a lot of competition now, and though this is still one of the most pleasant places to be in downtown, sometimes the food is not so pleasant. The kitchen seems bored with the standards like chicken and dill dumplings and Vietnamese chicken salad; specials are a better bet. Sit outside if you can. 2704 Elm St.. 214-741 -9012. $-$$.



Dream Cafe. This Quadrangle eatery’s pastoral in-city setting seems appropriate for the Dream Cafe’s menu, though there are those who insist that “dream” refers to the often seemingly somnolent service. The famed breakfast menu remains an intriguing blend; solid egg dishes to entice the power-breakfast crowd and granola for those who want to start the day on a more spiritual, healthful note. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-954-0486. $$.



Firehouse. Maybe chef Bruno Mello-the inspiration behind Firehouse-has stretched himself too thin with side ventures, or maybe he’s just tired. Whatever the case, the food here has slipped a bit. The Sicilian Firehouse chicken is a fire-eater’s dream when it’s not drowning in habanero sauce. Great appetizers include a whole roasted onion filled with spicy garlic and eggplant dip. 1928 Greenville Ave., 214-826-2468. $$-$$$.



Going Gourmet. This place is a delicious blend of French bistro and neighborhood favorite: small, intimate, humming with conversation. The food’s a creative melange of Continental, Mediterranean, and New American influences, and the wine you bring yourself. Call for reservations-this tiny space is packed on any given evening. 4345 W. Northwest Hwy. at Midway Road. 214-350-6135. $$-$$$.

D BEST The Grape. The secret is that Dallas’ oldest and best wine bar is really one of its oldest and best restaurants-dim and atmospheric, with a blackboard menu that remains interesting and enticing (no matter how often the chef changes), and the tiniest, most romantic bar in town. 2808 Greenville Ave..2I4-828-l981. $$.



D BEST The Green Room. This 90s bistro continues to dish out some of the most inventive cuisine to be found between New York and L.A. The menu is eclectically uptown, and the decor is strictly downtown rock V roll. The contrast between them is cool. At S36, the fixed-price, four-course, “Feed Me” menu is the best deal in town. 2715 Elm St., 214-748-ROOM. $$.



Mark’s on Henderson. Chef-owner Mark Jenson is an avowed one-man show in his intimate 13-table bistro. Lately we have found his food starving for attention. But when he’s in the kitchen and delegates the other restaurant responsibilities to his pleasant staff, the eclectic entrees that change daily-like sea bass and risotto-always shine. Browse the cellar and choose a bottle, or sample international wines by the glass. 2926 Henderson Ave., 214-841-0900. $$.



Plano Cafe. A feast of vegetables accompanies each meal at this suburban bistro, and most people leave with leftovers. Freshly grilled roast chicken with red pesto penne draws loyal fans. There’s a decent wine list and a winner of a dessert list 1915 N. Central Expwy., Ste. 500. Piano. 972-516-0865. $$.



Simply Fondue. You choose one kind of cheese for your first stick-and-dip course, and the waiter does a cooking show for you tableside, mixing white wine, cheese, and a little mustard in the fondue pot. For the main course you can choose to cook in hot oil or hot broth; for dessert it’s dark or milk chocolate. It seems like an awful lot of work for a meal you’re paying someone else to cook. And not so simple. 2108 Greenville Ave.. 214-827-8878. $$$.



St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin. The marlin doesn’t mean seafood, it’s just a clue that the owner likes to fish. The only seafood here is the dancing tuna sandwich; mostly, the food is simply designed to go with your beer. Beware the Diablo Tempestuous, pasta doused in fiery jalapeno-tomato sauce. It’s so hot it comes with a chaser of chocolate milk. 2730 Commerce St., 214-698-1511.$.



D BEST Tarantino’s. The overall ambience-a dark, New York cafe-shaped space dominated by a long bar-is best at night, when the slight scruffiness is hidden by dim light and the place looks avant instead of under-financed. The food goes back to the basics of Italian and Spanish cuisine, served tapas-style. The take on traditional osso buco, based on a rich, gamy lamb shank instead of veal, is food you lust after. 3611 Parry Ave., 214-821-2224. Dinner only. $$.



FRENCH/CONTINENTAL



Addison Cafe. It’s called “’Le French Bistro,” but in reality, Addison Cafe is a restaurant serving classically prepared French and New American dishes, which has kept them in business for 14 years. Tournedos of beef are cooked medium-rare and served in a textbook bordelaise sauce. A thick slab of fennel-crusted sea bass seasoned with kalamata olives is poached to perfection. And dark chocolate mousse is worth every hip-hugging calorie. 5290 Belt Line Rd., Ste. 108 at Montfort Drive, Addison, 972-991 -8824. $$.



D BEST Barclays. Don’t come to Barclays expecting to find a pint of bitters and bangers and mash. This is upper-crust English fare with a European twist. Potato ravioli stuffed with Stilton cheese and wild mushrooms is of regal status. And if you’re looking for that perfect place to “pop” the question or celebrate something special, look no further-this place is a gem. 2917 Fairmount St., 214-855-0700. $$-$$$.



Chez Gerant. Which is more to be celebrated, French thrift or French style? Skin-thin petals of veal liver, sautéed with onions and grapes in port wine sauce, become the gourmand’s liver and onions-or is it the peasant’s foie gras? Whatever. 4444 McKinney Ave., 214-522-6865. $$-$$$.



Clair De Lune. Tucked behind some trees in the corner of a small strip of shops in Preston Royal, this cozy French country restaurant delights with delicious food and impeccable service. A classic house-made pork paté is served with diced onion, French cornichons, and mustard. Poitrine de canard, a splendidly moist duck breast, is served with a delicate port wine sauce. 5934 Royal Ln. at Preston Road, 214-987-2028. $$.



French Room. This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling, Versailles-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn’t mesh with the modem world. It’s only natural to expect perfect food that matches the fairy-tale room. Sweetbread schnitzel is perfect, placed on a bed of asparagus ragout. Lamb ribeye is precisely matched with rosemary goat cheese polenta and tomato confit with basil, combining every Mediterranean high note in a single dish. Hotel Adolphus, 1321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200.$$$.



D BEST L’Ancestral. Let L’Ancestral remind you of traditional delights: The civilized dining room is softly lit, tables are draped in starchy white, and the menu is stubbornly, traditionally French. Begin your meal with a bowl of onion soup, about as recherché as you could get, but some ideas need no improvement. The onion tart is just as subtly good. Lamb is cooked perfectly medium rare, and steak au poivre comes with the best, yes, French fries in town. 4514 Travis St.. 214-528-1081.$$-$$$.



Lavendou. Despite the fact that our waiter didn’t know the difference between smooth and coarse paté, someone in die kitchen cooks with a French accent. Delicious French specialties come garnished a la Fran?aise within an inch of their life: For instance, a tender tilapia came tucked into a tutu-like frill of purple kale, decorated with two swishes and a swirl of orange red-pepper sauce. 19009 Preston Rd., 972-248-1911.$$-$$$.



D BEST The Pyramid Room. That overused word, opulence, must be hauled out again-the Fairmont Hotel’s flagship restaurant demands it. Here is service and ambience thai beggar less extravagant description. The food. too. deserves superlatives. You can 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. $$$.



St Martin’s. Rich paneling, soft-lit paintings, and touches of muted gold update the famous romantic setting; live music shapes the proper evening mood; and the food delivers sophisticated fulfillment. The by-the-glass wine selection is broad, and service strikes the correct balance between attention and discretion. 3020 Greenville Ave., 214-820-0940. $$.



Watel’s. Sure, you’ll find weird organ meats like calves’ brains doctored with capers and veal kidneys touched with mushrooms to satisfy the strand of old-world gastronomic esoterica that quivers in your palate. But you’ll also find exquisite contrasts like delicate rare tuna coated with crunchy peppercorns and tightly structured grilled shrimp with red pepper coulis- all nerved in a crisp, clean space. 2719 McKinney Ave.. 214-720-0323. $$.



GOURMET TO GO



City Harvest. This neighborhood favorite is open every day and serves real morning food. Downtowners take note: Oak Cliff is easy for lunch (buy a bag of Zapp’s chips and a triple chocolate chunk cookie to go with the pesto chicken salad deluxe sandwich), and you can pick up dinner to go while you eat. 939 N. Edgefield Ave.. 214-943-2650. $-$$.



Eatzi’s. Eatzi’s definitely lives up to its circus hype. Hear the strains of opera and waltz through the crowds collecting the already cooked makings of a gourmet dinner-down to the imported beer, fresh bread, and flowers. Or choose salads or sandwiches made to order. Checkout lines are infamously long. 3403 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-1515.$-$$.



Izmir Dell. Dallas’ new fascination with Middle Eastern food means there have been long lines at Cafe Izmir since it opened. You can avoid those crowds now by ordering in from the Izmir to go, just down Greenville from the original cafe. Gyros, tenderloin, mozzarella, grilled vegetable, and chicken sandwiches, pita, hummus, couscous, and eggplant dip are all available for pick-up or phone-in orders. And this is the place to go if you need rosewa-ter at 9:00 at night. 3607 Greenville Ave., 214-824-8484.$-$$.

Marty’s Cafe TuGogh. Marty’s latest version of its wine bar has changed everything but the name. And the food-there was never a problem with that. At night, when the blond, light-filled Cafe TuGogh features full table service, it’s on its way to becoming one of the best little bistros in town. 3316 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-4070. $-$$.



GREEK



Kostas Cafe. The food is simply Greek and simply good. Appetizer do’s: saganaki and dolmas (musts, really). Entrée don’t: souvlaki (tough and chewy). 4914 Greenville Ave., 214-987-3225. $$.



D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly get a prime-time table at this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take reservations, except for large parties. But the herbed Iamb souvlaki, folded in thick warm pita and sauced with tart yogurt, is worth a wait. Ziziki’s menu has featured the same idiosyncratic version of Mediterranean food since it opened-it’s a good thing when some things don’t change. 4514 Travis St., Ste. 122, 214-521-2233.$$.



HOME COOKING



Celebration. Bring your appetite to this longtime mecca for Dallas home-cooking purists. Entrées run the gamut from broiled fresh fish to pot roast 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. 4503 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-5681.$.



DC’s Cafe. You’ve been in powder rooms bigger than this super-clean little place, but you’ve had home cooking this fine only in your dreams of classic soul-food plate lunches at penny-ante prices. Pork chops, meatloaf, catfish et al. come with three sides; business is about half-and-half eat-in and takeout, and we’ve never seen the room empty of patrons. 8224 Park Ln., 214-363-4348. $.



Poor Richards Cafe. Honest home-cooked food, featuring a huge spread of the one meal Mom told you never to leave home without-breakfast. 2442 Ave. K at Park Boulevard, Plano, 972-423-1524.$.



INDIAN



D BEST Bombay Cricket Club. Lunch buffets are an Indian restaurant tradition, and Bombay Cricket Club’s lineup is excellent. A pretty setting, unfailingly polite service, and excellent food make this one of the top Indian restaurants in town. The quality is steady at lunch, which for some restaurants seems to be a time not to try very hard. 2508 MapleAve..214-871-1333.$-$$.



India Palace. Delicate spices imbue truly fine Indian cuisine. And, similar to a fine perfume, too much is an assault on the senses, too little and there’s no magic. India Palace has kept the proper balance for nearly a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. 12817 Preston Rd., Ste. 105,972-392-0190.$-$$.



ITALIAN



Alessio’s. The minestrone left our taslebuds bored, and the fettucine was pasty, with undercooked pieces of chicken and flavorless veal piccata. Alessio’s has an established reputation for being a highbrow, sophisticated Italian ris-torante. Not from where we were sitting. Next time we eat here, we’ll wear our Escada-if we make a better impression on Alessio’s, maybe Alessio’s will make a better impression on us. 4117 Lomo Alto Dr., 214-521-3585. $$-$$$.



Alfonso’s. The menu touches on all the basics, and the house marinara and buttery rolls have held a rapt following for years. An appetizer of artichoke heads gently warmed in lemon-butter is simply transporting. Lake Highland Village. 718 N. Buckner Blvd. at Northcliff Dr.. 214-217-7777.$.



Alfredo Trattoria. We know loyal customers who drive across town to eat here, and regulars rave about the tortellini with ham and cream sauce, but this restaurant hasn’t inspired our loyalty. We wouldn’t drive across the street for the strings of rubbery calamari washed with a watery marinara sauce that started our meal. Surprisingly, though, a special of soft shell crab and scampi was superb. The pink and blue flowery surroundings remind us more of Baby Gap than an Italian restaurant. 5404 Lemmon Avenue, 214-526-3331.$$.



Arcodoro. The bar’s always loud and crowded, and if you want to pick up pizza instead of people, you’ll be an anomaly here. It’s too bad, because the food is quite good. The salads are nicely dressed, the pizzas are thin with big bubbling brown crusts, and the special, a pork chop with sage, is good, too. The only problem is, the prices seem sleep for bar food. And that’s what Arcodoro feels like. 2520 Cedar Springs, 214-871-1924. $$-$$$.



D REVISITS Arairti. McKinney avenue has been a victim of its own charm: What restaurant is really worth the spine-wrenching ride over those uneven bricks’? Any Dallas restaurant that has maintained its appeal in the face of traffic impediments deserves recognition. And Avanti has maintained the feel of a small, intimate neighborhood cafe in spite of every obstacle. You can’t help feeling comfortable as soon as you are sealed-the room is intimately dark, with lots of candles, flowers, and linen. The night we visited we found an eclectic clientele: one couple wearing khakis and another table dressed in full-length sequins. The fried calamari with tomato and basil sauce was grease-less, and the crunchy batter was light and tasty. Crab claws were sautéed in garlic butter, served with a wine sauce with a gentle citrus scent. We were slightly disappointed with the grilled veal medallions: They were cooked properly, but the portobello mushroom and Jack Daniels demi-glace tasted like brown gravy in a Swanson’s TV dinner. However, the Italian sausage seasoned with lots of fennel and sautéed with onions and bell peppers on top of angel hair pasta covered in a light marinara was gutsier. A live trio plays pop-jazz that encourages you to linger on the patio and put off the bumpy ride home. 2720 McKinney Ave., 214-871-4955, $$.



D REVISITS Cafe Cipriani. Brace your-self-one of the best Italian restaurants in town is located in Las Colinas. That’s right. “Plastic City,” as it is dubbed by those of us who get nosebleeds when we drive north of LBJ or west of Stemmons, now gives us a reason to get out the Kleenex and go. We entered through the bar (which looks like the lobby of a Ramada Inn in New Orleans) and descended in a brass elevator to a lovely low-lit room (ask to sit in the wine room) with white tablecloths and waiters in burgundy bow ties, wheeling Italian specialties on trolleys. Owner Sal vino Zannetti doesn’t compromise on his ingredients; he orders his cheese from a deli in New York-as close to Italy as you can get in Dallas. Our waiter was friendly and helpful, even offering us a taste of the mozzarella when we inquired about its origin. He brought us a slab so big we didn’t need to order it. It was creamy and fresh-like butter. A grilled veal chop was tender and pink on the inside and lightly covered in a refined mushroom-and-Barolo wine sauce. But the lasagna was the real standout-layers of homemade noodles, with just enough (thin layer) ground veal to give the dish substance without making it too heavy. The wine selection isn’t expensive or imaginative-your standard list of Merlot, Cabernet, and Chardonnay with a Chianti here and a Pinot Grigio there. 220 Las Colinas Blvd., Irving. 972-869-0713.$$.



La Dolce Vita. Lakewood’s favorite wood-burning oven is as comfortable a place for pizza and wine as it is for pastry and coffee. The high-ceilinged room with tall windows is a good place to linger if the crowds don’t push you out. Service is unpretentious and friendly; pizzas and pastas are good but not weird. 1924 Abrams Pkwy., 214-821-2608. $-$$.



D BEST Mi Piaci. At all times, these hip-per-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. You’ll always see waiters expertly deboning the tender Dover sole for savvy diners. Our only complaint: The noise level can get pretty high. 14854 Montfort Dr., 972-934-8424. $$.



D BEST Modo Mio. Here is a “labor of love restaurant that has overcome the obstacle of doing business in an ugly strip mall by serving some of the best Italian food in town. Chef/owner Rino Brigliadori turns out deliciously plump gnocchi lightly coated in tomato sauce, and his simple seafood specials are always perfectly prepared. 18352 Dallas Pkwy., Ste. 112,972-671-MODO. $$.



Pomodoro. The white-tiled walls and floors and odd faucet-like lighting of this trendy dining spot give this Cedar Springs mainstay shower-like appeal. But this doesn’t take away from the charm of the little garlic trees that sit in the windows or the fresh flowers that grace each table. As for the food, Pomodoro deserves applause for consistent innovation. 2520 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-871-1924.$$.



Rodoifo’s. The service is welcoming, even thoughtful, which makes up for a lot that’s lacking in food and decor. Spinach balls are the dish to order here. Dumplings of ricotta and spinach (yes, it’s probably frozen) are scented with nutmeg and served over pasta. It’s American ’50s Italian style, as is the hefty, overly mealy lasagna and the average chicken parmigiana. 5956 Royal Ln., 214-368-5039. $$.



Ruggeri’s. It could be that success at its newer Addison spinoff has cost the Uptown original its reputation for dependably fine Italian dining. The formerly flawless food has been less consistent lately: The veal chop was huge and tender, but zabaglione was not too much more than froth. The crowd is festive as always. 2911 Routh St. 214-871-7377; 5348 Belt Line Rd. 972-726-9555. $$-$$$.

Terilli’s. A Lower Greenville fixture. Terilli’s packs in a semi-sophisticated crowd for such-as-it-is jazz and an eclectic menu featuring the signature item with the silly name: “Italcho’s” (crisp chips of pizza dough topped with mozzarella and a choice of toppings). Food ranges from pretty good to so-so, but devotees find that Terilli’s is more than the sum of its parts. 2815 Greenville Ave., 214-827-3993. $$.



Toscana. You’ll gladly pay top dollar for Executive Chef David Holben’s fancy versions of Tuscan-based dishes. Appetizers alone are worth the visit: Pan-seared, lemon-thyme calamari is light and delicious, and lightly creamed grilled corn soup with toasted pine nuts is reminiscent of the hearty Tuscan soups of Florence. Indulge in tiramisu bread pudding with a Frangelico anglaise sauce. 4900 McKinney Ave., 214-521-2244.$$.



JAPANESE



Chaya. Cold beer and warm, salted edamame- so much better than pretzels-will make you happy to start. Sushi is consistently good, even the beginner sushi rolls: Rich salmon skin centers contrast nicely with the very sticky rice. For non-sushi lovers, the skewers from the robata-yaki (grill) are good, especially the chicken chunks of moist thigh meat and cubes of succulent swordfish. 101 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 214-361-0220. $$.

D BEST Nakamoto. Service tends to range from sublime to abrupt at this stylish, roomy Piano institution, but cuisine (tempura, sushi, and sashimi) remains uniformly excellent. 3309 N. Central Expwy, at Parker Road, Piano, 972-8SI-0328. $$.



Rock & Roll Sushi. Rock V roll is here to stay, and obviously, so is sushi. Rock & Roll Sushi’s California concept is part fish, part gimmick. Around the circular bar is a stream with a flotilla of lacquered boats bearing sushi. The things we like best are the least traditional, and at lunch, the bento boxes are a good deal. 6109-B Berkshire Ln., 214-987-1966. $$-$$$.



Sushi on McKinney. One of the first sushi bars in Dallas to cash in on the ’80s notion that sushi is cool. Sushi on McKinney remains a popular stop for everything from introductory hand rolls to more esoteric Eastern concoctions. And, somehow, the scene here has stayed cool, even in the un-hip ’90s. 4502 McKinney Ave., 214-521-0969.$-$$.



Sushi at The Stoneleigh. Sedate for a sushi spot, with more of the civilized pace of the old hotel than the faster rhythms of a typical sushi bar. Still, the fish is fine. We especially like the special Stoneleigh sushi. 2917 Maple Ave., 214-871-7111.$$-$$$.



Tei Tei. We still haven’t tasted the kobe beef (which comes from cattle fed with beer and massaged with sake), but Tei Tei is a destination restaurant anyway. The “kinki fish” is a whole fish (snapper), slashed to the bone so the flesh lifts out easily with chopsticks. To eat the soft-shell crab, abandon the Eastern eating utensils and resort to the god-given: fingers. 2906 N. Henderson Ave.. 214-828-2400. $$-$$$.



D BEST Teppo. Our only yakitori bar is also one of the city’s most exciting sushi bars and a favorite weekend date destination as well. High-energy atmosphere, highly chic modem decor, and high-quality food make this one of Dallas” best Japanese restaurants, even though the menu is mostly skewers and sushi. Be sure to try the specials. 2014 Greenville Ave., 214-826-8989. $$-$$$.



LATIN AMERICAN



Fogo de Chao. A churrascaria in Addison with branches in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, Fogo de Chao serves traditional cookery from south-em Brazil, starting with the caipirinha (a little like a sweet margarita, with cachaca, a sugarcane liquor). Overwhelming abundance is the theme: A neverending parade of meat on long skewers is delivered by gaucho guys in amazing trousers and belts. Very exotic. 4300 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-503-7300. $$.



Gloria’s. Everyone’s favorite Oak Cliff restaurant has opened yet another branch, this time on already overloaded Greenville. There’s the inevitable streetside al fresco scene with mar-garitas and nachos on every table, but the glory of Gloria’s was, is now, and ever shall be its Salvadoran menu, available at every location. Don’t miss the pupusas (cheese-stufted com tortillas) or the banana leaf tamales. 3715 Greenville Ave., 214-874-0088; multiple locations. $-$$.



MEDITERRANEAN



The Bistro. The list of small plates at this tapas bistro has been pared down to 14 from 30 selections, but they’re all exciting, and the wine list is one of the most extensive and inexpensive in town. That means the Bistro caters to you-you can drop in for a few small plates and a bottle of wine or settle in for a full-course meal at a reasonable price. 5405 W. Lovers Ln. at Inwood Rd., 214-352-1997. $-$$.



Mediterraneo. The Quadrangle location will probably be the prototype for future Mediterraneos. It’s a pretty restaurant, stylishly minimalist but surprisingly warm and welcoming, and the food-a balance of old and new ideas-is hard to find fault with. Crusts are all the rage: Halibut is mysteriously crab crusted, salmon has a polenta crust, and Lamb is crusted with goal cheese. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-979-0002; 18111 Preston Rd. at Frankford Road, Ste. 120, 972-447-0066. $$-$$$.



PoPoLo’s. The ownership of this neighborhood restaurant has changed, but the food seems to have stayed the same: mediocre Mediterranean-inspired pizza, pastas, and mix-and-match meats and sauces. An herb-crusted pork tenderloin is dry inside and charred outside, and the rosemary-garlic glaze is nothing special. Pizza used to be the standby here, but when Marco’s is right across the street, you have to try harder than this. 707 Preston Royal Shopping Center. 214-692-5497. $-$$.



D BEST The Riviera. We knew the moment an airy avocado cream hors d’oeuvre passed our lips that we were doomed, once again, to a near-flawless dining experience. Each dish seems to outdo another. Food credits here mostly belong to Chef de Cuisine Frank Harris, one assumes, with input from David Holben, now executive chef at sibling restaurants Mediterraneo and Toscana. 7709 Inwood Rd., 214-351-0094.$$$.



Sambuca. Both locations are vibrant restaurants featuring innovative Mediterranean cuisine for those who enjoy their meals with jazz. Each presents well-known groups nightly, but the decibel level prohibits any casual dinner conversation during performances. 15207 Addison Rd., Addison, 972-385-8455; 2618 Elm St., 214-744-0820. $$.



MEXICAN



Avila’s. The create-your-own enchiladas are always a good idea, and the chili relleno reminds us why we like this family-owned place. Stuffed with cheese and topped with a delicious ranchera sauce, the peppers are left unbreaded so the pungent flavor of the pepper is what you notice, not fried batter. 4714 Maple Ave., 214-520-2700. $.



D REVISITS Blue Goose. Size does matter. And so, evidently, does noise, if you’re trying deduce the Blue Goose’s formula for success. Large portions and loudness seem to be key. The perennially filled patio is jammed and rocking, as any Sunday driver can see; imagine the din packed into a galvanized can, and you’ve got the ambiance of the dining room down. We were a clutch of mid-40s fogies clustered tightly together in a bar teeming with people who could still remember everyone who was in their sorority–and probably hung out with them too. Geezers like us look around and expect nothing but spilled beer and messy nachos-after all. we were young once, too. But the food at the Goose is consistently good as well as generous. On our recent visit, the cheese enchiladas and flautas were as fat as tamales, and the chile rellenos came as a pic-cadillo-filled pair. And the Homer Price tortilla machine once again turned out the thick, powdery flour tortillas that folded around some of the best fajita meat in town. 2905 Greenville Ave., 214-823-6786.$$.



Casa Navarro. This little cafe in a former 7-Eleven specializes in the same unpretentious, cheesy fare we used to love before Tex-Mex became chic. The beer is bring-your-own, and on Wednesdays the enchilada plate is $3.75 all day long. Sopapillas. once the darling dessert at every Tex-Mex joint, are still handmade, light, and greaseless, such a surprisingly elegant finish to the meal that we wished we’d brought our demi-tasse, too. 11742-A Marsh Lane at Forest, 972-357-0141.$.



Casa Rosa. There’s almost always a table available at pink-tinted Casa Rosa, but only because the place is so big. The appeal ol’ the food would pack a smaller place. Casa Rosa does well with standards-except the chimi-changa-but the finds here are the more unusual dishes like goat cheese chile relleno and mushroom enchiladas. 165 Inwood Village, 214-350-5227.$.



Dos Charros. This is food for people who break into a sweat at the sight of a habanero chile. 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. $. Margaritas.



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. This is a great family spot with a reasonable, all-you-can-eat special. 2205 W. Parker Rd.. Piano. 972-596-6783. $. Margaritas.



Herrera’s. In the early ’70s, we used to grab a six-pack and line up on the sidewalk around the original Alamo-like Herrera’s on Maple Avenue waiting for one of nine tables and a No. 10: one tostada with guacamole, one cheese enchilada, and a soft cheese taco. Twenty-five years and six locations later, they continue to serve the same No. 10, along with other reliable Tex-Mex favorites, in tacky surroundings. 4001 Maple Ave., 214-528-9644; 5427 Denton Dr., 214-630-2599; multiple locations. $. Margaritas in some locations.



D REVISITS Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano. Javier’s is as close to a dining secret as there is in Dallas-where else do you wait in a valet parking line on Monday night? Inside, we had the feeling everyone had been there before. (Probably last week.) And the staff, from host to waiter, seemed to think we had been there, too. (At least, that’s how friendly the service was.) We hadn’t been to Javier’s in months, but not much has changed. Javier’s hook is Mexico City Mexican food, and the atmosphere isn’t Tex-Mex kitschy but sophisticated-what you should expect from a restaurant that’s trying to evoke the biggest city in the world. And the service is big-city suave. Salsa is nicely warmed, and margaritas are the real thing. And the food is far, far away from enchilada-land. Filete Cantinflas looks like a fried puck, but inside the stiff crust is a cheese-stuffed filet mignon with a brick-colored chile sauce-too rich to eat, too good not to try. 4912 Cole Ave., 214-521-4211. $$.



La Galle Does. Far from slicker Belt Line and Greenville Avenue eateries, this old house is home to some seriously good Mexican-style seafood. Sit on the porch and dine on a spicy gazpacho-like octopus cocktail served in huge goblets or shrimp, stuffed with crabmeat, covered with chili con queso and tasting much better than it sounds. 415 W. 12th St., 214-941-4304. $-$$.



La Valentina. A taste of big city Mexico in suburbia. The beautiful menu makes fascinating reading that doesn’t always translate to the plate. The polio en mole poblano tops chicken with a sensuous sauce that includes 54 types of chilies, spices, and a touch of chocolate, resulting in a richly layered smoky-sweet flavor. Forget that fascinating menu when it’s time for dessert and ask for the flan. 14866 Montfort Dr., Addison, 972-726-0202. $$.



Mario’s Chiquita. A Dallas classic, this restaurant eschews velvet paintings and kitsch in favor of a pretty, casual decor and offers upscale Mexico City-style fare, as well as some of the best Tex-Mex combinations in town. 221 W. Parker Rd., Ste. 400, Piano, 972^123-2977. $-$$.



Martin’s Gocina. The kitchen here does magic things with seafood (shrimp especially) and offers a listing of entrees that weigh in at less than 1,000 calories each, including the four chiles rellenos. But only skimp if you want to-the most basic combination plate starts with a lettuce-topped chalupa, its toasty tortilla thickly spread with guacamole. 7726 Ferguson Rd.. 214-319-8834. $-$$.

Mattito’s. Matt Martinez Jr. himself doesn’t have anything to do with Mattito’s, but he did develop the recipes, and those didn’t change when he left. So the chile relleno and griddled flautas are excellent. The service is snappy, and what it lacks in charm, it makes up for in efficiency. 5290 Belt Line Rd. at Montfort Drive, Addison, 972-503-8100; 4311 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-8181.$.



D BEST Mart’s Rancho Martinez. The place is filled with the faithful at every meal because the flautas are the best in Dallas, the chile relleno is food for the gods, and even a combination plate satisfies, if you don’t mind processed cheese. 6332 La Vista Dr., 214-823-5517.$-$$.



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 specialties. Service is cheerful; the setting is no-frills comfortable. The bad news: beer and wine only. 4322 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-1020. $.



D BEST Monica Aca Y Alla. This cool place has been around long enough to be a tradition in these days of restaurants that open and close-especially in Deep Ellum. The ambitious menu offers intriguing Southwestern-inspired options as well as more standard Tex-Mex, in a hip and hopping ambience. Best lunch deals in town. 2914 Main St., 214-748-7140.$$.



Nuevo Leon. Excellent Mex-Mex food in a comfortable old Greenville Avenue location draws a mixed crowd but enthusiastic reviews. Cabrito is good, mole is excellent, carnitas are the best. 2013 Greenville Ave., 214-887-8148; 12895 Josey Ln., 972-488-1984. $-$$.



Omega’s. It’s easy to imagine ending evenings at Omega’s. But fortunately Omega’s is also a great place to lunch, and it’s even a comfortable place to eat alone. This friendly little cafe on a Deep Ellum side street serves a complimentary cup of chile con queso with the warmed salsa and tostados. There’s nothing particularly original about the menu, but the basic cheese-oozing enchilada plate is pure comfort food. 212 N. Crowdus St., 214-744-6842. $.



Pepe & Mito’s. The vivid walls and bright lights mean this cafe looks noisy even though it’s not usually crowded. It should be-chips worth mentioning {thick, warm, slightly overcooked), cilantro-laced salsa, and standards like nachos and enchiladas are excellent. Tamales are utterly remarkable, and chicken and beef taquitos are still some of the best in town. 2935 Elm St., 214-741-1901.$. Margaritas.



Piano Tortilla Factory. If you live in Piano, then this little place should be on the top of your list for a quick bite, takeout, or delivery. Piano Tortilla Factory’s appeal doesn’t end with the food-the friendly owner is quick to strike up a conversation and make you feel welcome. Low prices are a bonus, too. 1009 E. 18th St., Piano, 972-423-6980. $.



Primo’s. On the “Mex” side of the Tex-Mex fare, enchiladas came with cheddar cheese gurgling in thick chili con came and topped with more cheese. Our cheese-fest continued with a “Tex” version of a chili relleno: a cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, dipped in a queso and egg batter, then deep-fried. The amount of money the kitchen spends on cheese could probably put a man on the moon–there is even grated cheese on the side salads. We ate it all. 14905 Midway. Addison, 972-661-2287; 3309 McKinney, 214-220-0510.$.



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 star on the Number I) 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. $.



Sol’s. The low-key goal here seems to be to offer pretty good Mexican food in a pretty comfortable place to folks who live pretty close. Sol’s has found a niche where old-fashioned combination plates-oozing enchiladas, rich chili gravy, deep fried flautas. and lush gua-camole-are all that’s required. Nachos come with a pile of sliced jalapenos, margaritas have plenty of tequila, and the set is tuned to Mexican TV. Really, what more do you want on a Sunday evening? 6434 Mockingbird. 214821-7911.$-$$.



Taco Diner. The name sounds slightly retro. But the tacos at the Diner are real Mexican soft tacos, not drive-through. crunchy, greasy Tex-Mex mutations. The com tortillas are the star here; no matter what you wrap them around, die result is good-chicken with cojita cheese, grilled pork, and meaty mushrooms are all complemented by the fragrant masa tortillas. 4011 Villa-nova, 214-6964944. $. Margaritas.



Tupinamba. Thankfully, nothing changes at Tupinamba. Those 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. 12270 Inwood Rd., 972-991-8148. $-$$.

MIDDLE EASTERN



Al-Amir. The Mediterranean meets the rising sun at AI Amir, which took the place of a Japanese restaurant. The result is an odd, melting-pot ambience. Concentrate on the plate-Middle Eastern expectations are well-met with good renditions of hummus, baba ghanoush, and lamb. But there are also some less well-known dishes to try. 7402 Greenville Ave.. 214-739-2647. $$.



Ali Baba. Order hummus and you get a bowl swirled with the garlicky purée, pooled with yellow olive oil, dusted with parsley and adorned with slick olives. That and a stack of hot pita could do you. but the grilled chicken is irresistible, and the tabbouleh, mostly chopped parsley with bits of bulgur and tomato, is a perfect counterpoint to the unctuous chickpea mash. 1905 Greenville Ave., 214-823-8235. $-$$.



Cafe Istanbul. The tiny kitchen overachieves on most of its Turkish dishes, especially if you like it spicy. The dining room gets cozy at night, but those who tolerate early evening daylight are rewarded with a happy hour. Solid service tops off a superb all-around experience. 5450 W. Lovers Ln.. Ste, 222.214-902-0919. $-$$.



D BEST Cafe Izmir. This remains one of the best little restaurants in Dallas. The space is small, the service is friendly, and the choices are simple-all you have to say is “meat” or “veg.” and the food starts coming. The mezes platter-hummus, baba ghanoush, and Russian chicken salad, all designed to spread on warm pita bread-is a regular. Wash it down with a bottle of the Boutari and you’ll be happy. 3711 Greenville Ave., 214-826-7788. $$$.



Hcdary’s. George Hedary is back with a comfortable clone of the Fort Worth original, menu and all. in North Dallas. Order the menu’s maza appetizer and you’ll get a dozen sampler starters. And tiny cups of Lebanese coffee keep you awake on the drive home. 7915 Belt Line Rd., 972-233-1080. $$.



MOROCCAN



D BEST Marrakesh. Just what is Moroccan cuisine, and what is it doing in Dallas? It is lamb and couscous and fresh vegetables spiced with mysterious combinations of nutmeg, paprika, and cumin–wonderful. The Moroccan Feast-a sample of almost everything on the menu-is a bargain at $26.95 per person. Vibrant Middle-Eastern music accompanies a veiled belly dancer in a purple bra who gyrates and finger-cymbals her way around the room. 5207 W. Lovers Ln., 214-357-4104.$$.



NEW AMERICAN



Antares. The Hyatt Regency’s sky-high, revolving restaurant appears to be finding its wings at last. Huge sea scallops were sparked with chile-peanut dressing; grilled beefsteak tomatoes and shiitake mushroom caps wore dollops of melted queso fresco in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Reunion Tower, 300 Reunion Blvd.. 214-651-1234.$$$.



Anzu. The Nakamotos spent a considerable amount of money to alter Anzu’s entrance so its feng shui would be perfectly balanced. Maybe it helps the consistently balanced flavors in the bento boxes. Lunch at this orientally inclined restaurant has always been one of the best deals in town-a beautiful arrangement of tempura and sushi or a plate of Asian-influenced fish or chicken, served gracefully, under a flock of origami birds, for less than $10. 4620 McKinney Ave., 214-526-7398. $$.



City Cafe. This California-inspired, mostly family-run cafe opened over a dozen years ago but remains in the top tier of Dallas restaurants. The charming but dim dining room is furnished with cottage antiques, and the food is classic, with a wake-up flash of invention. Fresh tomato basil soup is famous. The service is confident and careful, and the American wine list is one of the best in town. 5757 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-2233.$$.



Gershwin’s. Pretty people, pretty food, pretty ’ prices set the scene for power lunching in this California-influenced Upper Greenville emporium, where on-track careerists linger over creative fare noontimes and gather after work to share single malts, tall foods, and to people-watch. An outstanding wine list, too. 8442 Walnut Hill Ln? 214-373-7171. $$-$$$.



Landmark Restaurant Landmark’s menu may make you wish for an atlas and a thesaurus to F find your way around, but if you’ll close your eyes, forget about the origin of your vegetables, and eat them, you’ll have a great trip. The New American food here, under the direction of Jim Anile, is ultra-imaginative, if highly complicated. And the gently refurbished room remains one of the must gracious in town. In the Melrose, 3015 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-5151.$$-$$$.



D BEST Laurels. Rising star executive chef and general manager Danielle Custer brings her cutting-edge cuisine to Sheraton Park Central’s 20th floor. Incomprehensible dishes like pear soup with plum wine crème fra?che don’t make sense until you put them in your mouth. You have to trust Custer: She thinks with her palate, and the results are brilliant. Sheraton Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr., 972-385-3000. $$$.



The Mansion on Turtle Creek. This isn’t dinner. it’s a dining experience. A dramatic, country club-like, members-only dining experience. The Grande Dame of Dallas dining lives up to its legend-the atmosphere is inimitably posh, the food is predictably innovative. The price? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.. 214-526-2121. $$$.



The Mercury. Though we still think the place is too chic for a neighborhood restaurant, the food has improved since the opening months. The swordfish, perfectly marked from the grill, is balanced by a warm artichoke salad and a com relish. The grilled shrimp with avocado and a “gazpacho” sauce is equally lovely to look at, though you won’t look at it for long. 1418 Preston Forest Sq., 972-960-7774. $$.



Nana Grill. The new menu broadens Nana’s focus from Southwestern to Regional American. Service is supremely suave and caring, the accoutrements define luxe, and the ambience is as comfortably refined as always in this upscale establishment. In the Wyndham Anatole Hotel Tower, 2201 Stemmons Frwy., 214-761-7479.$$$.



Sevy’s. The thoroughly American Prairie-style interior perfectly complements chef-owner Jim Severson’s hearty American cuisine. The plates here present classic ideas with imaginative updates. The menu is varied, but beef is a reliable choice-the tenderloin is slightly hickory smoked. The marinated mushroom appetizer is the best portobello in town. 8201 Preston Rd., 214-265-7389.$$.



SEAFOOD



D BEST AquaKnox. Stephan Pyles’ swanky seafood spot has commanded national attention, and the swell decor and meticulous food mostly merit it. Luscious red snapper in red curry masa is an example of the global approach to seafood. The rich and the wannabes are sipping bright blue Aquatinis in the elegant lounge, eating from a simpler menu that includes platters of fresh shrimp, oysters, clams, and small-plate versions of the dinner entrées, an excellent option for those who want a taste of the high life without the high tab. 3214 Knox St., 214-219-2782. $$$.



Cafe Pacific. Cafe Pacific continues to delight as one of Dallas’ most reliable luncheon and dinner restaurants, as well as the place to witness the social structure of Dallas’ power people in action. Menu favorites like calarnari, clam chowder, Caesar salad, salmon, and red snapper are superbly prepared and presented by an experienced waitstaff. 24 Highland Park Village, 214-526-1170. $$-$$$.



Daddy Jack’s. Chef Jack Chaplin’s tiny restaurant with its casual, cozy atmosphere is perfect for a date or for breezing in after a day at the lake. But forget about atmosphere. What we’re really talking about is fantastic, though richly prepared, seafood. Also worth noting are the relaxed, efficient service and fair prices: The experience is worth every penny. 1916 Greenville Ave.,214-826-4910; multiple locations. $$.



Daddy Jacks 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 com. 2723 Elm St., 214-653-3949. $$.



Fish. This elegant downtown spot got very hot very fast, and it may have gone to their heads, Not only have we seen inconsistencies in the food, but service has been snooty. When they’re on, the acclaimed Green Soup-a shallow bowl piled high with shells, legs, and tails protruding recklessly from a broth-is divine. Late-night menu from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 302 S. Houston St., 214-747-3474. $$-$$$.



D BEST Lombardi Mare. The stylishly polished interior is a real mind-blower, and so is the food. Feast on five types of farm-fresh oysters, steamed mussels, and lobster. A polenta crusted salmon served with red cabbage was a perfect meal. If we had to choose one place to entertain an out-of-towner, Lombard! Mare would be our choice.5100 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-503-1233.$$.



Newport’s. Some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in land-locked North Texas. Choose from mesquite-grilled fish, seared, blackened, or fried seafood, and sautéed chicken. Housed in the old Dallas Brewery and Bottling works, Newport’s three-tiered dining room actually holds a huge, open Artesian well that once fed the pre-Prohibition brewing operation. 703 McKinney Ave., 214-954-0220. $$.



Picardys Shrimp Shop. New American inventiveness at family-style prices. Picardys finds a regional inspiration for most of its mostly shrimp dishes: Coconut tempura shrimp are tender, juicy, and pleasantly sweet: a side of honey-sour sauce added a potent bite. Grilled shrimp nachos, with shrimp, black beans, white cheese, and salsa, were light and chewy. Picardys’ kid-friendly atmosphere is a plus. 6800SniderPlaza,214-373-4099.$-$$.

S&D Oyster Company. S & D can do anything with shrimp, and they have been doing it for longer than we care to remember (or admit we do). The fried shrimp is so delicately breaded you can still see the pink-skinned flesh through the crust. Then it’s butterflied, lightly fried, and served with a dollop of tartar sauce-heavy on the pickle. And no meal here would be complete without a slice of the famous key lime pie. 2701 McKinney Ave., 214-880-0111.$$.



Sea Grill. Mall sprawl makes this Piano oasis hard to find, which would make its unflagging popularity hard to explain if Chef Andy Tun’s highly creative takes on seafood were not so arresting. Dip a half-dozen raw oysters in Tun’s tangy grapefruit-horseradish sauce, and you’ll wonder why you ever overwhelmed such delicacy with ketchup. And your fork’s own weight slides through the barely seared jumbo sea scallop or a moist-hearted cut of grilled tuna. 2205 N. Central Expwy., Ste. 180, Piano, 972-509-5542. $$.



Truluck’s Steak & Stone Crab. Stone crabs are a new delicacy in Dallas, and they’re sweet and rich. They’re also easy to eat; the kitchen cracks them for you so all you have to do is break in and fish for the meat. You can eat other stuff with your crab (mediocre salad, onion rings, cole slaw, creamed spinach) but all you’ll remember is the claws and cake- four layers of dark chocolate cake covered with a whipped milk-chocolate icing. 5001 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-503-3079; 2401 McKinney, 214-220-2401. $$-$$$.



Vincent’s. This place hasn’t conformed to any current low-fat or global-spice trends; the signature Red Snapper a la Vincent’s is still a deliciously rich filet, lightly breaded, sautéed in loads of lemon butter, and topped with a huge clump of fresh crab. There is a lighter side: A lovely broiled halibut was sauced with about half the snapper’s butter. The whole experience is completely unhip and therefore completely comforting. 3004 N Northwest Highway, 214-352-2692; 2432 Preston at Park, Piano, 972-612-6208. $$-$$$.



SOUTHWESTERN



Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa has become a dining mainstay, faithful to its Southwest mission and consistently good. Adobe pie, the signature dish, is a treat, the bowl-shaped mound of cornmeal enclosing a stew-like filling of seasoned chicken. Guacamole, barely seasoned and creamy, is some of the best in town. Our only quibble is the Blue Mesa margarita: We want to be warned when we’re going to be served a blue drink-so we can order something else. Village on the Parkway, Tollway at Belt Line Road, 972-934-0165.$-$$.

No Place. Tender elk sirloin and boneless rabbit are sided with sautéed portobello mushrooms and onions. Better-than-beef chicken-fried venison comes with Matt’s famous smoked mashed potatoes. The food is why Matt Martinez Jr. is a legend-in his own neighborhood, anyway. 6325 La Vista Dr., 214-328-9078. $$-$$$.



D BEST Star Canyon. Chef-owner Stephan Pyles has created a Dallas destination with his innovative New Texas Cuisine. An appetizer of fried green tomatoes stacked high with layers of Dallas-made mozzarella is a rare case of tall food tasting as good as it looks. And the bone-in cowboy ribeye on a bed of pinto beans and covered with a mound of shoestring onion rings dusted with red chile should be listed in Fodor’s under Dallas’ top attractions. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-520-7827.$$.



Y.0. Ranch. Though this is frontier fare, the kitchen can have a light touch. Delicately grilled, semi-boneless quail is delicious, and the special two-inch, 12-ounce pork chop is as moist and tender as a filet mignon. However, the buck stops short with an undercooked top sirloin. And the bar scene rocks with Jerry Jeff Walker tunes and cigar-smoking buckaroos- the perfect place to take your Yankee guests. 702 Ross Ave., 214-744-3287. $-$$.



SPANISH

Barcelona. Tapas in Spain, of course, are Spanish food. Greenville Avenue is global. So Barcelona serves snack food from all over the world, such as chicken satay, mezes, and tab-bouleh, as well as the stacked potato omelet that is the quintessential Spanish tapa and the buffalo burger-juicy and lean on a toasted roll. 2100 Greenville Ave., 214-826-8600. $.



Cafe Madrid. Dallas’ first tapas bar remains its best, and everybody knows it. Even midweek, this little two-room restaurant has customers waiting at the bar for one of the mismatched tables in the storefront space. For those who insist, there is a prix-fixe, three-course dinner menu, but Cafe Madrid is a great place to linger over a succession of small dishes-an assortment of olives, oxtail stew, the potato omelet called a tortilla, braised lamb slices. 4501 Travis St., 214-528-1731.$$.



La Tasca Espanola. So many tapas, so little time. You can make a meal by choosing small plates from the list of 22-and do it for under $20. We encountered some rough spots after a recent change in ownership, but we hope they will get their classic paella Valencia back in shape. The service is gracious, and the fun wine list is full of inexpensive Spanish reds- one bottle of which cost as much as two glasses in most restaurants. 4131 Lomo Alto Dr., 214-599-9563.$$.



STEAKHOUSES



Arthur’s. Having marked its half-century mile-post, this continental steakhouse still deserves its reputation for dependably upscale dining. It’s clubby and suave in a retro kind of way. A fist-sized tenderloin filet is wonderful, and the martinis are ample. 8350 N. Central Expwy, (in Campbell Center), 214-361-8833. $$$.



Biernat’s. The dinner menu’s specialty section features prime rib, rack of lamb, and jumbo lobsters. The entrees section reveals the imagination of a chef who has more on his mind than meat. The sea bass is moist, but the two mainstay;;- steak and lobster- are a problem. As for the lunch menu, the steak sandwich comes off well, and so do the slices of grilled and balsamic-dressed portobello mushroom and tomato fanned around a hummock of baked goat cheese. 4217 Oak Lawn, 214-219-2201.$$$.



Bob’s Steak & Chop House. This place dazzles with juicy, tasty cuts of meat-coupled with veggie and potato-and pleasant, attentive service. AH at the appropriate price. 4300 Lemmon Ave., 214-528-9446. $$-$$$.



D BEST Chamberlain’s Prime Chop House. Prime rib and a trimmed-to-lean ribeye are robustly rare and complemented with garlic mashed potatoes. Figure in service that is, if not clairvoyant, almost uncannily empathetic, and you’ll have some grasp of the comfortable ambience that keeps this cigar-friendly outpost filled even on weekday evenings. 5330 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-934-2467. $$-$$$.



Kirby’s Steakhouse. One recent dinner had six happy Yankee carnivores whistling Dixie, but more recently we were served a puck-like filet sitting alone on a parsley-less plate. And we didn’t understand what made me mashed potatoes “famous”-we tasted nothing more than potatoes whipped with lots of pepper. On the other hand, service was attentive, the prime rib was pure retro-quality, and the onion rings might be the best in Dallas. 3525 Greenville Avenue, 214-821-2122; 3408 Preston Road, Piano, 972-867-2122.$$.



The Palm. The four-pound lobster (at $20 a pound!) is sweet and tender, but the 24-ounce New York strip tends to be overcooked. The Palm staffers are all veterans, and so are most of the customers, but don’t be intimidated by the chummy atmosphere. This is a club anyone with $80 to spare for a lobster can join. 701 Ross Ave., 214-698-0470. $$-$$$.



Paul’s Porterhouse. Devoted fans of this Restaurant Row mainstay make a compelling argument that it deserves a prominent spot in your regular red-meat rotation. The menu features an array of steak variations, and choices are thick, fine cuts of meat cooked exactly to order. Unexpected alternatives like ostrich and game complicate your entree decision; so might the taxidermy decor. 10960 Composite Dr., 214-357-0279.$$$.



Randy’s Steakhouse. A meal in this cozy, Victorian home-cum-restaurant can make you feel like you’re having dinner at a friend’s. But your friends never served steaks like these. Graded prime and cut by hand, these beauties are rich and buttery. Ten seafood selections offer plenty of alternate choices. 7026 Main St., Frisco, 972-335-3066.$$-$$$.



Stone Trail Steakhouse. Lavish decor, live music for late dancing, an upscale menu and wine list mark this sprawling steak spread as the brainchild of restaurateur Tony Taherzadeh, former owner of Farfallo and Papillon. A clubby ambience and prescient service support terrific beef treatments (try the bone-in ribeye); seafood and other meats provide variety. Dinner only. 14833 Midway Rd., 972-701-9600. $$$.



Three Forks. The special pepper sirloin is mealy and chewy, and the peppercorn sauce is dull. And the trout swims in a weak brown sauce accompanied by a few lonely roasted pecans. But we do love the salad, a mix of mesclun, red oak leal lettuce, and sliced green apple, topped with roasted pecans and crumbly Maytag blue cheese, all lightly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette. 17776 Dallas Parkway, 972-267-1776, $$$.



THAI



Chow Thai. A strip shopping center doesn’t seem a likely spot for a Thai food epiphany, but you’ll have one here. Excellent Thai classics like vegetables in a fiery green curry and pad Thai taste clean and light. A dessert of fresh mango atop sticky rice is a spectacular ending. 5290 Beitline Rd. at Montfort Drive. Addison, 972-960-2999. $$.



D BEST Liberty. Annie Wong, the mother of Thai food in Dallas, still owns three all-Thai restaurants, but Liberty is where her imagination is freed. Romantically and softly lit, with beaded candleshades on each table and bamboo birdcages animated with twinkling Christmas lights, the brightly lit kitchen makes Liberty into real dinner theater, and Wong is the star. What makes her food different is what makes any chef’s food special: imagination. 5631 Alta Ave., 214-887-8795. $$.



Royal Thai Furnished with ornate Thai antiques and traditional arts, Royal Thai is a pleasantly upscale change from the starkly serviceable interiors of so many Thai restaurants. Chicken packets are wrapped in tenderizing banana leaves. Curries are fragrant and benefit from their presentation under a little domed top. In Old Town, 5500 Greenville Ave., 214-691-3555. $-$$.



VIETNAMESE

Mai’s. Mai’s is one of those places that has lots of loyal customers. The menu is stocked with authentic Vietnamese specialties, including lots of noodle and rice entrees and the classic hot pots: exotic meats, vegetables, and spices cooked and served in clay pots. Be sure and try the legendary Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. 4812 Bryan St., 214-826-9887. $.



Mai’s Oriental Cuisine. The Vietnamese menu is the one to go for. Proprietor Mai Pham opened the first Vietnamese restaurant in Dallas, and her food is still terrific at her little restaurant in Snider Plaza. The hot pots are especially good-“hot chic” is the regulars’ favorite. 6912 Snider Plaza, 214-361-8220. $-$$.



Saigon Bistro. Authentic Vietnamese food translated into English. Saigon Bistro aims for the authenticity of a point-and-order Vietnamese restaurant, without the risk. The menu lets you know what to expect, and this is one of the only places in town that serves “festive beef,” a special occasion dinner in Vietnam-one you shouldn’t miss. 17390 Preston Rd., Ste. 490, 972-380-2766. $-$$.



VietNam. A little bit of Southeast Asia transplanted to East Dallas, VietNam has very little Western influence to make the cultural transition easier. This is Vietnamese food designed for the Vietnamese community. But some things are universal-the appeal of hot soup, for instance. And VietNam’s hot pot, a comforting, steaming caldron of soup, noodles, and vegetables, is enough to share. 4302 Bryan St., 214-821-4542.$-$$.



TARRANT COUNTY

D BEST Angela’s Barbecue. The Fort Worth landmark is one of the bookends of Dallas-Fort Worth area barbecue, its Dallas counterpart being the original Sonny Bryan’s. Famous for fabulous ribs smoked so tender the meat falls off the bone at the slightest nudge-and are properly enjoyed with a couple of Shiners. 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth, 817-332-0357.$.



Angeluna. The patio swarms with an artsy Chanel-and-Chardonnay crowd before and after events at the Bass Performance Hall across the street. The “one-world-on-a-plate” menu features designer pizzas, pastas, and spinach and mushroom salads corralled by delicate potato rings. Who cares if it’s more about style than substance? After all, the parent company is in Aspen. 215 E. 4th St., Fort Worth, 817-334-0080.$$.



Benito’s. Like an old familiar friend, Benito’s appearance may be spruced up from time to time, but some things never change-like the food. The queso flameado, with or without chorizo, is flamed tableside and served with fresh pico de gallo and hot flour or com tortillas. Order it first and then spend some time with the menu-everything on it is worth trying. 1450 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-332-8633. $$.



Bistro Louise. This gem of a bistro offers takeout now, but the staff seems curiously challenged by the idea. The famed smoked duck and stuffed lamb loin travel well, but even delicate reheating of an appetizer of Brie roasted in pastry petals fails to restore it. Savored in the sunny bistro, the cuisine works Mediterranean magic. Enjoy it there as often as possible. 2900 S. Hulen St., Fort Worth, 817-922-9244. $$.



Blue Mesa. See listing in Dallas Southwestern. University Park Village, 1600 S. University, Fort Worth, 817-332-6372. $-$$.



Cacharel. This easily tops Arlington’s dining scene, such as it is, with its French country decor and New French cuisine. The fixed-pric menu ($34.50) is a great deal. A la carte menu also available. 2221 E. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 910 Arlington, metro 817-640-9981. $$$.



Cattlemen’s Steak House. Fort Worth ate cattle before cattle was cool, and Cattlemen’s is still the quintessential stockyard steakhouse. There not much but beef accompanied by rolls, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmosphere is genuine cowboy. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth, 817-624-3945. $$-$$$.



Daddio’s Downtown Nearly Jazz Cafe. The Greek salad is the best in town, and the rest of the menu gives a unique Texas tone to classic Gree specialties. Breakfast and lunch only, except or Friday and Saturday, when you can listen to music while enjoying dinner. 715 W. Magnolia Ave.,FortWorth,8l7-926-7000.$.



8.0. See listing in Dallas Eclectic. 111 E. 3rd, Fort Worth, 817-336-0880. $-$$.

D BEST Grape Escape. The gimmick here is education-Grape Escape is trying to do the same thing for wine that brew pubs did for beer. So you order “flights” of the grape of your choice, and the waiter brings a four-glass tasting of say. chardonnay, from Sonoma, Napa, Australia, and New Zealand. Compare and contrast. The food is designed around the wine, so you can change direction mid-meal-start with white wine and suggested matches, finish with red wine and cheese. The selection of small plates-merguez sausages, pate, salads, stuffed potatoes, pizzettes-adds up to a full meal that’s lots of fun. 500 Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817-336-9463. $$.



Joe T. Garcia’s Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery. Although not as fancy as its cousin around the corner, the chefs do an excellent job preparing all the old favorites from burritos to tamales. Breakfast is a work of art here. 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 St., Fort Worth, 817-626-5770.$$.



D BEST Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Dishes. The quintessential Fort Worth restaurant. Its location near the Stockyards is a rambling plantation that can handle the crowds for whom the restaurant’s status hovers somewhere between “institution” and “nirvana.” Wait for a spot outside by the pool and order [he enchiladas. Joe doesn’t do credit cards or reservations, either. 2201 N. Commerce St.. Fort Worth, 817-626-4356. $$.



Kincaid’s. The actual truth is thai a Kincaid’s hamburger is too big to get your mouth around and too good not to try. Lunching business types stand hip to hip with blue-collared brethren at long counters or share benches at tables to inhale half-pound patties of choice chuck that are ground, hand-shaped, and grilled daily. 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-732-2881. $.



Piccolo Mondo. This neighborhood Italian restaurant is a suburban strip-mall surprise. It features an elegant, parquet-floored piano bar, a white tablecloth dining room, and service to match the basic Italian fare-heavy pastas, variations of veal scaloppine. If you want imagination, look to the specials. They always delight. 829 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington, 817-265-9174. $-$$.



Reata. Reata’s upscale “cowboy cuisine” includes a chicken-fried steak the size of a boot and steaks with Mexican side dishes. A special of blackened salmon is covered with a roasted corn, red pepper, and cilantro relish with small cubes of queso fresco. But the Vaquero Sampler, a huge platter of Mexican selections {shredded chicken chili rellenos, cacciota cheese enchiladas, a beef tamale, barbecue shrimp enchiladas and rice and beans) is an undistinguishable mess. 500 Throckmorton St.. Fort Worth, 817-336-1009. $$-$$$.



Reflections. Surely among the most gracefully romantic dining settings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Worthington Hotel’s flagship restaurant in downtown Fort Worth offers a refined escape from high-decibel stress. Intuitive service and avant bill of fare live up to the ambience. Delicate pan-seared foie gras with sautéed apples and grilled, whiskey-sauced ostrich medallions with red lentil risotto are representative of the kitchen’s inventions. 200 Main St.. Fort Worth, 817-882-1660 or 800-433-5677. $$$.



Saint Emillon. Some are surprised to see this Fort Worth restaurant on the list of top 10 restaurants in the area. But the brick-walled, country French atmosphere is charming, and the food is mostly terrific. The wine list features many vintages from the Saint Emilion region, as you might expect. 3617 W. 7th St.. Fort Worth, 817-727-2781.$$$.



Sundance Deli & Market. There’s no better spot in Sundance Square for a casual, imaginative meal. Basics include sandwiches, salads, breakfast, gourmet coffees, and homemade desserts. This is the rare restaurant that’s quick enough for just a bite, but whose smart decor, great coffee, and excellent food make it perfect for lingering. 353 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth. 817-335-3354. $.

Oom-Pah



Aplate of brats and kraut needs a soundtrack to make the sausage really soulful. Kuby’s, the market and deli that’s been the German heartbeat of Dallas for decades, now provides background music for weekend dinners. Costumed accordion players pump out German folk music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Kuby’s, 6601 Snider Plaza, 214-363-2231.



Thrill of the Grill



Jackson’s Pottery looks like a typical landscape store, but besides the acres of bedding plants and stacks of pots, the store stocks the largest selections of grills In town (Including Komodo grills from Japan). And every Saturday morning you’ll find frustrated restaurateur Tim Taggart doing Informal grilling demonstrations, turning grilled meats into gourmet specialties. He usually fires up around 11 a.m, and the free tasting lasts until the groceries are gone.

Jackson’s Pottery, 6950 Lemmon Ave. (between University and Mockingbird), 214-350-9200.

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