Restaurant Reviews

NEWCOMERS

MEL’S ON MAIN

We’ve had our share of reaction from readers and restaurateurs who had a bone or two to pick with us after reading one of our reviews, “You’re trying to run us out of business” or “You don”t know what you’re talking about” are familiar messages left conveniently on our voice mail. Inevitably, restaurant managers demand to know when we came in, what we ate, and who served us, so they can figure out who screwed up. Unfortunately, the management at Mel’s On Main has no one to blame. For our first dinner, co-owner Judy Chorbajian waited on us and co-owner/chef Bruno Mella was front and center in the showcase kitchen. We waited for our appetizers, while they proceeded to hold an impromptu tete-a-tete fussing over where to hang the artwork instead of paying attention to what the diners needed. Eventually they reached an agreement, and Mella returned to the kitchen long enough to send out a pitiful platter of lamb kebabs that had the aftertaste of kerosene (we hope from the grill) and was accompanied by a bowl of something billed as hummus, but in reality was a thick Elmer’s glue-like paste of pureed chick peas grossly spiked with horseradish. It was covered with a half inch of dark yellow oil-not a pretty sight. For our entertainment, the picture hanger arrived with an electric drill and began piercing holes in the brick wall behind us. Eventually a waiter emerged and, without questioning why we had left our food basically untouched, removed the mess. For the next half an hour, we were left to watch Mella fuss around the kitchen and rush in and out of the walk-in like he was cooking for a packed house. No one approached our table. We might spot a restaurant slow service on a packed opening night, but Mel’s On Main had been open several weeks, and there was only one other table of customers. We could go on about the pan-roasted pheasant that looked and tasted like it had been cooked two days before and reheated or the swordfish that was the fishiest-tasting fish we’ve ever eaten. Mella once wooed us with his hot and spicy creations at Firehouse. but his food since has failed to excite us. As food critics we set out anonymously to evaluate the quality and performance of a restaurant. Just like movie reviewers, we give our opinion, and you can choose to agree or disagree. We just tell it like it is. And at Mel’s On Main, it’s bad.

2612 Main St. 214-748-7711.$$.

Z CAFE

When Nicholas Zotos was ten years old he was a busboy at the gone-but-not-forgotten Little Gus on Greenville, His older cousins Tony Mantzuranis and Pete Lucas, made Little Gus an eclectic hangout famous for greasy spoon breakfasts and cheeseburger lunches. But the real charm set in at 5 p.m. when the linoleum tables were covered with white cloths and the whole family shouted to each other in Greek and somehow managed to turn out spectacular souvlaki and dolmades. Little Gus was more than a restaurant, it was a true neighborhood hangout where big-name doctors and judges greeted plumbers and repairmen by name. If you were tall enough to reach the cash register. you could run a tab, and it wasn’t unusual to see a starving artist hand over a picture for a burger. In 1991 Tony and Pete traded their aprons for lawnmowers. and now in-between landscaping jobs, they stop into little cousin Nicholas’ new venture, Z Cafe, a friendly ghost of Little Gus. The breakfast menu is standard eggs, bacon, and hash browns. Word has gotten out,and former disciples are returning for potato balls, gyro sandwiches, and an updated burger: The Z Burger is a delicious concoction of double meat, grilled onion, feta cheese, and jalapenos. For only $6.95 we were served a sizzling lamb shish kebob with warm pita and grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice that match any in town. Nicholas would make his grandparents proud with his greek pizza-gyro meat, feta, kalamata olives, and tomatoes. Z Cafe is only open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., but maybe Nicholas will pull out the white table cloths soon.

1924 N. Henderson. 214-821-0991. $.

BIBENDUM

We can’t help liking Avner Samuel. Sure he’s burned a lot of bridges over his years as a sometimes reckless businessman, but his eye for design and his passion in the kitchen has built many food memories. For the last two years, he has been (somewhat) quietly building a thriving business at Bistro A in Snider Plaza. But the lure of the thriving McKinney Avenue scene, where he opened his first solo venture, Avner’s, and later Yellow, was too much for him to resist. In fact, his newly opened Bibendum is in the same space as the original Avner’s.

Although his loyal group of chefs are manning the range, the menu is pure Avner-ambitious and bold. The selection of global tapas allows you to combine Latin-American, Asian, European, African, Middle Eastern, and North American small plates. If you’re in an Asian mood-and who isn’t these days-you can make a meal from a list varying oriental flavors, for instance.

But if you really want to circle the globe, you can pick and choose-have a curry here and a bouillabaise there, nosh or gorge, it’s your call. We splurged on chef’s selection which included nine surprises from the kitchen. First was a beautiful small square green plate of skewered chicken tikka-a classic Indian dish rarely done properly in the States. But after running a London kitchen full of Bangladesh cooks, Avner picked up the technique and does it better than anyone around.

The parade of plates continued. A garlic-spiked hummus was full of flavor and topped with incredibly tasty pine nuts. But the inten-sity stopped here. All the other dishes lacked the vivid intense flavors required when eating tapas style. The pan-fried wasabi crab pot stickers lacked the pungent fiery flare of horseradish, and the beef inside the Argentine empanada had a faint hint of spice, but not enough to overcome the fried breading. Each dish should pop from the last surprise after surprise in the mouth. The worst comment a chef can hear about his tapas menu is that we could have eaten a whole plate.

2515 McKinney. 214-303-0033.$-$$.

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-cut ribs, and the usual side dishes: potato salad, cole slaw, and beans. We stilt prefer the Commerce Street location. 2724 Commerce St., 214-748-5433. Multiple locations. $.

D BEST Peggy Sue Barbecue. Though Sonny Bryan’s still wins in the beef sandwich category, the definitive dish when you’re talking Texas barbecue. Peggy Sue’s beats Sonny’s by a rib in meats, side dishes, and sauces. And the smoked chicken quesadillas alone are worth a trip. The ribs-baby backs and pork short ribs -are always moist, tender, and free of gristle. A new favorite is brisket fajitas-soft flour tortillas filled with grilled barbecued brisket, onions, and green peppers. 6600 Snider Plaza. 214-987-9188.$.

Sammy’s Barbecue. Barbecue for the banking crowd at bankers’ hours. Everyday at lunch. Sammy’s is full of white-collar types, ties thrown over their shoulders, chowing on great red-stripe brisket, ribs, and homemade Mom-style pie. No, realty -Sammy’s is a family-run enterprise, and all the Pritchards pitch in. 2126 Leonard St.. 214-880-9064. $.

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

Harry’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs. Harry’s serves rea Chicago dogs, topped with onions, mustard, peppers, and the authentic neon-green relish-he also serves them smothered with Texas chili, sauerkraut, and pretty much everything else. You have to have custard after a Harry’s dog-even if you’re too full. It’s smoother than creme brulee ever thought about being, and every day there’s a different selection of flavors. This is the kind of place that gives you hope for American culture. 3113 Knox St.. 214-520-3113.$.

Highland Park Pharmacy. We can only describe the Pharmacy atmosphere as reassuring. Some people love me Palm Beach (pimiento cheese to you) sandwich or the tuna salad with cherry cokes. For us. the grilled cheese is the only thing-the American slices melted to glue, the bread buttery and crisp. Chips are extra; sodas and milkshakes are priceless. Lunch only. 3229 KnoxSt..214-521-2126.$.

Street’s Famous Sandwiches. A sandwich can be just a sandwich, but at Street’s it’s more like a meal. Fresh ingredients are key: Turkeys, roasts, and desserts are baked on the spot. As for the sides, Chinese sesame noodles, cole slaw, 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. Multiple locations. $.

BREW PUBS

D BEST Routh Street Brewery. This place has thrived because the food is as good as the beer. The food, with a German-Texas accent, complements beer and wine equally well. The pork chop is big, juicy, and pink; ale-steamed mussels are plentiful and aromatic; and the vegetable Reuben (ask for it-it’s not on the menu) is a brilliant invention-car-roway-scented sauerkraut with melted Swiss on dark pumpernickel. 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 all-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.$.

D BEST 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.$.

Puff’s The Hickory Grill. Servers tend to be the ’90s version of the ’50s soda jerk – baggy-jeaned teens with good intentions and no grace. But the burgers, built from half a pound of chuck, grilled and smoked over hickory on a special, Massimo-baked bun. are good. And the options are, too: cheese, bacon-mushroom, and a welcome revival of the old Goff’s hickory-sauced sandwich, livened up with jalapenos. 6112 Luther Ln.. Preston Center. 214-361-6191. $.Margaritas.

Purple Cow. This burger-and-shake diner uses Blue Bell ice cream and features 10 flavors of milkshakes, including the signature Purple Cow and the Peanut Butter and Jelly. The Blue-Cheeseburger is a great variation on standard soda-shop fare, dripping with rich, creamy blue cheese. But the reason we’ll go back is the grilled Palm Beach-a hoi pimiento cheese sandwich that oozes down your arms. It’s worth the price of the dry cleaning bill. 110 Preston Royal Village. 214-373-0037. $.

Snuffer’s. The burgers and frosty brew are a . sensory way-back machine for those who : thought the university years were the prime of their life. They probably were, if you continue to eat things like Snuffer’s cheese fries (a basket of deep-fried strips, covered in gloriously greasy cheese) because you can’t last long if you eat this way often. 3526 Greenville Ave. 214-826-6850; 14910 Midway Rd.,Addison. 972-991-8811. $.

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 that explains the condiment ban. 2926 Maple Ave. 214-871-2346.$.

Texas Hamburgers. This Texas kitsch joint is filled with stuffed armadillos, Texas flags, cowboy memorabilia, good ol’ boys, and Armani-clad Design Center sophisticates. Besides great half-and third-pound burgers accompanied by fresh fixings, this place serves some great meatloaf with a tasty tomato sauce laden with celery, onions, and peppers. 1616 Market Center Blvd. 214-747-2222.$.

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.$-$$.

Cafe Panda. If you can’t find what you’re hungry for on the menu at Cafe Panda, you’ll have to go to China. Usually, you have to know 24 hours ahead that you are in the mood for this Mandarin delicacy, but at Cafe Panda, Peking duck can be an impulse buy. The downside: Fire Cracker Shrimp, billed as a hot dish – “buckle your seat belt, this shrimp will bring one bumpy night,” warns the menu -is anything but spicy. The Kung Pao Chicken could use some more tire as well. 7979 Inwood Rd. 214-902-9500.$$.

D BEST Jenny Ho’s Szechwan Pavilion. Alter 20 years of trying. Jenny Ho’s is serving some of the best Chinese in town. We never eat here (or take out) without a plate of twice-cooked pork-paper thin squares of pork stir-fried in black bean sauce with thick cuts of carrots and crisp vegetables. If you are lucky enough to live nearby, they’ll deliver. 8409 Preston Rd. 214-368-43033-$$.

New Big Wong. Large lunches are served here in fast-food time, but a leisurely dinner rewards experimentation. The menu is large and largely authentic, serving a wide variety of wiggly sea creatures. The setting is plain and the service friendly. 2121 S. Greenville Ave. 214-821-4198. $-$$.

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, including a wonderful hot and sour soup and perfectly steamed pan-fried pork dumpling. But the General’s Chicken tends to look and taste like Chicken McNuggets in a sweet orange sauce. 201 Preston Royal Center, 214-361-1771. $-$$.

Taiwan. Taiwan has had the same chef, owner, and location for 18 years, so it must be doing something right. The Princess Beef-delicate strips of beef with crunchy celery cubes and peanuts in a hot, spicy brown sauce-tastes as good as it looks. And the hot and sour soup is delicious, with fresh shrimp and pork, and mercifully lacking in that disconcerting, jiggly cornstarch texture that so often makes us push our bowl away. 4980 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-387-2333, $-$$.

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

COFFEEHOUSES

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 three 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. $.

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. $.

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 Frankford. 972-733-3354. $-$$.

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

EASTERN EUROPEAN

Athenee Cafe. Dallas’ only Rumanian restaurant-are you surprised? Stuffed mountain cabbage is a fabulous signature dish – meat-ball-size beef rolls oven-roasted in delicate cabbage leaves with a red wine sauce,jusl 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

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. 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. Beware of spotty service. 6815 Snider Plaza. 214-373-9911.$$-$$$.

Bread Winners. Three different menus a day are all imaginative. But the buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes and cream gravy is the real winner-lightly battered and fried fork-tender chicken over leek mashed potatoes and cream gravy so good it makes the bland bread better. 330! McKinney Ave. 214-754-4940. $-$$.

Cafe Express. The food here is dependably good. Penne pasta salad is served with loads of torn spinach leaves and julienned crisp vegetables, all topped with black olives and red peppers. It’s a feast for the eyes, and we dare you to finish it. Cavatelli with broccoli, mushrooms, and goat cheese is steaming hot. The only glitch to this fast food improvement is that, sometimes it’s so hard to find a table, you have to take the food and eat it in the car. 5600 W. Lovers Ln. 214-352-2211. Multiple locations. $.

The Cheesecake Factory. The menu is an encyclopedia of every dish that’s hit the big time in the past five years: bruschetta, pot stickers, spring rolls, calamari, buffalo wings, meat loaf, pork chops, crab cakes, fish tacos, roasted chicken, ribs, and pasta, pasta, pasta. And there are several dozen kinds of cheesecake, all sauced and garnished and pouted with cream. We suppose you could call the Cheesecake Factory “overwhelmingly eclectic.” Just remember, that’s not a good thing. 7700 Northwest Hwy. 214-373-4844. $$-$$$.

Cork. The list of wines by the glass, ports, sherries, and champagnes is staggering considering the small space. The food is simple but perfectly matched to the concept. Pick your wines, then customize a cheese plate to match. Lovely pates and olive mixes also make more substantial meals, and you can linger long, foregoing dinner. 2709 McKinney Ave. 214-303-0302. $.

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 belter bet. Sit outside if you can. 2704 Elm St.. 214-741-9012. $-$$.

Dream Cafe. One of Dallas’ original organically oriented menus, old favorites like the California Dreaming (mozzarella. tomatoes, and basil on grilled sourdough bread) and the basic Global Dinner (a simple bowl of brown rice and beans covered with melted jack cheese) are as good as ever. The One for John-a grilled marinated tempeh burger- is the best hamburger substitute in town. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St. 214-954-0486. $-$$.

Genghis Grill. You get a stainless steel bowl from the stack and choose your ingredients from a cafeteria line on ice: bins of meat and vegetables, along with your choice of oils and seasonings. Then you give your bowl to the grill-master, who tosses it on a giant round griddle, cooks it quick, then serves it back to you in the bowl. And Genghis Grill provides basic recipes for people who don’t know the difference between tamarind and teriyaki. 1915 Greenville Ave. 214-841-9990. $-$$.

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.214-828-1981.$$.

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 ’n’ roll. The contrast between them is cool. At $36 the fixed-price, four-course “Feed Me” menu is the best deal in town. 2715 Elm St. 214-748-7666.$$-$$$.

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 Exowy.,Ste. 500, Piano. 972-516-0865.$$.

St Pete’s Dancing Martin. The m&rlin 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.$-$$.

Simply Fondue. The appeal of Simply Fondue is lost on us -if you’re not going to stay home and cook, why would you go out and cook? Still, the place is always booked. Cooking together evidently gives young couples something to talk about (because there’s no TV hanging from the ceiling and the noise level is reasonable, conversation is called for). The professional and friendly staff makes the process manageable. Bread and cheese are staples of the age-just like chips and queso, but you can’t spear a tostado. And the meal is as good as melted cheese, sauteed meat, and melted chocolate can be. 2108 Greenville Ave. 214-827-8878.$$-$$$.

Soho. The imaginative one-world-on-a-plate concept isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The Mahi Mahi its light ginger and lemongrass crust, grilled to tender, bedded on nutty red wehani rice and encircled with a soy-lemon sauce is the dish that would lure us back to pseudo-Soho: An armagnac poached pear with toasted walnut and rice mascarpone cheese is simple elegance done well. 5290 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-490-8686.$$.

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. $$.

Tin Star. Tex-Mex meets the world under the “Salsa. Smoke, and Sizzle” style. Stick to thin-crusted pizza topped with a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce and dotted with chunks of grilled chicken and onions. Soft tacos tilled with tempura shrimp, fruit pico de gallo, bacon, and cilantro is a bizarre combination that somehow works. But the restaurant may lose you with the cheeseburger taco-a big cheese-topped patty wrapped in a flour tortilla. We’re Texans: we agree that almost everything tastes better wrapped in a tortilla. Almost. 2626 Howell St. (across from the Quadrangle). 2 14-999-0059. $.

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 kepi them in business for 15 years. Tournedos of beef are cooked medium-rare and served in a textbook bordelaise sauce. And dark chocolate mousse is worth every hip-hugging calorie. 5290 Belt Line Rd.. Ste. 108 at Montfort Dr., Addison. 972-991-8824. $$-$$$.

The Bistro. The list of small plates ai 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. $-$$.

Bizu. This is the beginning of the Gallic Hood we’ve been predicting. It’s a bistro-you can order omelettes for lunch (we like the tomato-basil one), steak tartare. and pommes frites. The pates, including a smooth- as -cream chicken liver mousse and a coarse country meat loaf, are fragrant and spicy, a great lunch with the Bizu salad: a toss of pear slivers, mature spinach leaves. feta, and raspberry vinaigrette. 2504 McKinney Ave, 214-303-1002. $$.

Chez Gerard. Which is more to be celebrated-French thrift or French style? Skin-thin petals of veal liver, sauteed 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 comer 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 pate 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 Rd. 214-987-2028. $$-$$$.

French Room. This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling, Versai lies-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn’t mesh with the modern 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.$$$.

Jennivine. The charming old house is as popular a pop-the-question romantic spot as ever. Wood floors, quaint bar candles, flowers, and fine food are the setiing for a nice selection of wines by the glass. The tilapia is a perfectly lender filet on a layer of lemony orzo with red cabbage and a tablespoon of sweet potatoes. And the chocolate mousse here is classic-bittersweet, firm, and topped with fresh whipped cream. 3605 McKinney Ave. 214-528-6010. $$.

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 recherche as you can 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 cornes with the the best, yes, French fries in town. 4514 Travis St. 214-528-1081.$$-$$$.

La Mirabelle. Thoroughly retro not only in its ambience, which stresses traditional comfort. and in its food, which is precisely and personally prepared French, but also in its service, which actually claims to coddle the customer. Enjoy reading the menu, but don’t order a thing until you hear the specials of the day. That’s where the treasures are. 17610 Midway Rd. 972-733-0202. $$-$$$.

The Pyramid Room. The table d’hote menu is a good deal-$68 for four courses with wine. S44 without. Cream of carrot soup with celery root and gorgonzola croutons is good, hot, and thick, with a spicy nose. As for the main courses, a fan of rare duck slices with a wonderful apple-pineapple wild rice goes perfectly with an Indigo Hills pinot noir, the food and the wine forming a perfect circle on the palate. 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. 214-826-0940. $$-$$$.

Tramontana. This cozy little dining room has charming murals on the walls and an inviting-looking bar, but service and food vary. Some high points: The steak is perfectly good-flavorful red meat with a simple emphatic wine reduction-and the salad is a mix of lovely, flowerlike greens with pungent, mouth-cleaning flavors. 8220B Westchester Dr. 214-368-4188.$$.

Watel’s. French food may be the latest trend on McKinney, but Watel’s has been the top French bistro on the block for 11 years. And the new. sleeker digs haven’t had any effect on the quality of the food- The menu, which has always contained unusual organ offerings like calf brains, veal kidneys, and sweetbreads has weathered the wars of nouvelle cuisine. A splendid classic duck leg confit appropriately slips off the bone with each bite, and the accompanying risotto is just rich enough. Although the roast pork loin can be dry, the tasty apple and calvados sauce would make a meal out of shoe leather. 2719 McKinney Ave. 214-720-0323.$$.

GOURMET TO GO

City Cafe To Go. Does anybody cook from scratch anymore? According to the servers at City Cafe To Go, most people don’t even know how to use a regular oven to reheat the precooked food they buy there. They all want microwave instructions. But for those of you who can handle it, most of the dishes (for instance, a thickly sliced rare leg of lamb with charred, sun-dried tomatoes) are tasty and reheat beautifully. 5757 Lovers Ln. 214-351-3366. $-$$.

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 Deli, 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 p.m. 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. $-$$.

Sigel’s Fresh Market Besides the stellar cheese counter, dozens of kinds of imported pasta, great selection of olive oils, and other gourmet comestibles, the little deli adjoining Sigel’s liquor store sells perhaps the best roast chicken to go in town -and it’s a deal. too. 15003 Inwood Rd. 972-387-9804. $-$$.

GREEK

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

D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly get a prime-time table al this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take reservations, except for large parties. But the herbed lamb 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

Barbec’s. Barbec’s regulars love the tabloid newsprint menu, the hearty, what-canget-you-Hon? waitresses, the awesome anytime breakfasts. The food ranges from pretty good to good, but it’s all cheap. And they’ve always got those legendary beer biscuits, sweet and high and truly loved by all. Great meringues. 8949 Garland Rd. 214-321-5597. $.

Celebration. Bring your appetite to this longtime mecca for Dallas home-cooking purists. Entrees 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 entree 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.$.

Mama’s Daughter’s Diner. Mama’s Daughter’s Diner has ’em lined up out the door for the Deep South, deep fat cuisine that’s euphemistically called home cooking: fried chicken with bones, green beans cooked beyond tenderness with cornbread and mashed potatoes. The prize is the chocolate pie-tall, dark, and lopped with clouds of meringue. 2014 Irving Blvd. 214-742-8646. $.

Mecca. The place is sunny, cheerfully decorated with flowers in Spam and Manwich cans. The pro waitresses keep the coffee cups filled and call the customers “hon.” Ridiculously large plates of banana pancakes, thick-cut bacon, eggs over easy, great big biscuits, and reassuring hash browns, served at an appropriate morning pace, add up to an eye-blinkingly low tab. Good morning. 10422 Harry Hines. 214-352-0051.$.

Natalie’s. It’s the ultimate neighborhood spot: The portions are large, and the prices are small. The meatloaf is a popular choice: For $7.95 you get an eight-by-three-inch slab of finely ground meal with a light tomato sauce on top, mixed crisp steamed vegetables, and a hunk of mashed potatoes. But the secret to Natalie’s success is the cinnamon rolls. We always order extra to take home for the next morning. 5944 Royal Ln. 214-739-0362.$.

Poor Richard’s 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). Piano. 972-423-1524.$.

INDIAN

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

Alfonso’s. If you don’t live in east Dallas, it’s time to load the kids in the car and take a round trip for dinner. Basic Italian favorites are cooked the old-fashioned way -heavy on the garlic and butter. Chicken Francese and the hot homemade garlic land we mean garlic) rolls are alone worth the trip. Lake Highland Village. 718 N. Buckner Blvd. at Northcliff Dr., 214-327-7777.$.

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. Surprisingly, though, a special of soft shell crab and scampi was superb. The pink and blue flowery surroundings reminded us more of Baby Gap than an Italian restaurant. 5404 Lemmon Ave. 214-526-3331. $$.

Antonio Ristorante. This new restaurant is a funky-free, spic-and-span version of the Lombardi’s on Hall: red brick walls, green-and-white checked tablecloths. The servers are friendly but inexperienced, more what you would expect at Snuffer’s than at a “ristorante” with $20 entrees. Focaccia tends to be gooey in the center and burned on the edges; minestrone soup is indistinguishable from Campbell’s Chunky Vegetable. One of the only tasty things is a mess of housemade sausage and peppers. 4985 Addison Circle. 972-458-1010. $$.

Avanti. Avanti has maintained the feel of a small, intimate neighborhood cafe in spite of every obstacle. The fried calamari with tomato and basil sauce is greaseless, and the crunchy batter is light and tasty. We’re slightly disappointed with the grilled veal medallions, but the Italian sausage seasoned with lots of fennel and sauteed with onions and bell peppers on top of angel hair pasta covered in a light marinara is gutsier. 2720 MeKinneyAve.214-87I-4955.$$.

Cafe Cipriani. This is one of the best Italian restaurants in town. Owner Salvino 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. And the lasagna is the real standout -layers of homemade noodles, with just enough ground veal to give the dish substance without making it too heavy. 220 Las Colinas Blvd., Irving. 972-869-0713.$$.

Campisi’s. Campisi’s recent addition is a big. new cheesy room adjoining the small, old cheesy room. Campisi’s is famous, or infamous, however you feel about its ambience, and you don’t change a legend lightly. They should have left well enough alone; Campisi’s red sauce isn’t that great even in the original dining room. where it’s so dim you can’t see it. As for the famous pizza, the crust tends to be tough and tastes like it’s been reheated. We’d be embarrassed to bring anyone to try this Dallas tradition. 5610 E. Mockingbird Ln. 214-827-0355. $-$$.

lano’s. The menu is priced per portion and per “la familia.” And it’s thoroughly Italian in that a “la familia” platter is plenty for a family, including parents, several children, and grandparents. Vitello Pugliese, for example, is thickly breaded slices of veal, smothered in tomato sauce allegedly enriched with goat cheese and loaded with purple kalamata olives. 250 Spanish Village. 972-866-0888. $$.

II Sorrento. Who wouldn’t love the over-the-top, chichi atmosphere at II Sorrento-the canopy of plastic grapevines, the fortune-teller in her niche? It’s completely winning. But the food doesn’t always match the extravagant spirit of the decor. The salad plaies still come chilled. but the lettuce is tossed in a pint of Golden Goddess dressing. Housemade gnocchi is plump and perfectly cooked, but the marinara sauce is the victim of a salt murderer in the kitchen. 86l6Turtle Creek Blvd. 214-352-8759. $$.

Maggiano’s little Italy. Chicken Giardina is four huge half-breasts, fried and smothered to death with sauteed vegetables. But the lamb chops with rosemary garlic are excellent-rosy, juicy, and fragrant-and the fettucine alfredo is 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, don’t miss the spaghetti and meatballs. 205 NorthPark Center,2I4-360-0707.$$-$$$.

Mi Piaci. Housemade is a term Mi Piaci doesn’t take lightly-the kitchen makes its own pastas and cures its own meats. Every other ingredient is either imported or hand-picked. A bowl of the Tuscan classic ribollita could be enough for a meal. But don’t neglect the spicy penne arrabbia-ta. the three thin scallops of veal perched on a pile of portobello mushrooms, or the asparagus and cheese tortellini with a fragile Marsala sauce. 14854 Montfort. 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. 112.972-671-6636.$$.

Nicola’s. Nicola’s makes its own cheeses and frozen desserts -the deliciously light and creamy Mozzarella delia Casa includes handmade cheese layered with grilled eggplant and oven-roasted peppers, finished with basil-infused oil and balsamic vinegar. Farfalle con Salsiccia. pasta butterflies with dainty slices of sausage and a light bath of rich tomato cream sauce, is a little too light-handed. But you’ll be sold on the chocolate hazelnut gelato cone. In the Galleria. 13350 Dallas Pkwy. at LBJ. 972-788-1177. $$.

Nicholini’s. Don’t be fooled by the neon lights outside, because once your seated in the sexy dining room, the dining experience is elegant. We love the herb crusted orange roughy with a thin crunchy breading on a moist filet sauced sparingly with citrus paprika glaze. Attentive service and consistent food have the tables packed with neighborhood diners who all seem to know each other. 17370 Preston Rd. 972-735-9868.$$.

Patrizio’s. Move over. Campisi’s. Patrizio’s signature crab claws just took first place in the crab claws competition. Soft and delicate, they slip off the exoskeleton and melt in your mouth like, well, butter. Oh, yes-you should eat dinner, too: There’s the chicken and mushroom lasagna (good, but rich) and the baked ziti ( we had leftovers for breakfast). The prices aren’t what you’d expect with Escada and Calvin Klein just a kiss away. Highland Park Village, Mockingbird at Preston. 214-522-7878. $$.

Rodolfo’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 meaty lasagna and the average chicken parmigiana. 5956 Royal Ln. 214-368-5039. $$.

Ruggeri’s. We’re happy to report that our old favorite chicken parmigiano remains unscathed. It’s still served sauteed to the appropriate firmness without becoming blobby or covered with too much tomato sauce and moz-zarella cheese. Even on busy weekends, service flows evenly. 2911 Routh St.. 214-871-7377; Beltline 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. Toscana has survived the exodus of executive chef David Holben-the menu is the same, the room is still beautiful, and the food is still elegantly prepared Tuscan comfort food. Pizza made on a crispy lavosh sprinkled with layers of gently smoked chicken, red onion and fontina cheese is a perfect appetizer for two or a light pre-theater dinner. Sweet potato ravioli cooked al dente come lightly coated with a rich rosemary sauce. 4900 McKinney Ave. 214-521-2244.$$.

JAPANESE

Chaya Sushi. The tuna roll is lean, deep red. and fresh. From the robata bar. try die char-grilled sirloin -thinly sliced, bite-sized morsels of rare tenderloin dipped in ponzu sauce. Gulf shrimp, sauteed in a light ginger sauce, is fragrant and firm. And our all-time favorite dish -simple to make, but hard to make well -is the miso soup. We believe this hot, nourishing version has healing properties, like a global chicken soup. 101 Preston Royal Shopping Center. 214-361-0220.$$.

Deep Sushi. Remember thai American sushi is as much style as substance, and you’ll be happy here. There’s a lot of style, and even some good sushi, if you fish carefully. Watch out for the dragon lady roll, a combination of tuna, avocado, and rice flashed with incendiary wasabi. red pepper sauce, and Japanese yellow mustard wrapped in seaweed and sliced. 2624 Elm St.. 214-651-1177. $$-$$$.

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 Rd. Plano. 972-881-0328. $$.

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. Sushi at the Stoneleigh is less of a production than many sushi bars, making it as much a bar as a sushi bar. That is. it’s very comfortable to drop in for a beer, some edamame, and a couple of excellent salmon skin rolls. Sushi, from traditional yellowtail to the chef’s concoctions (generally, themes on hot peppers, like the jalapeno roll and the 9-1-1 roll), is good, and the kitchen pretty much limits itself to sushi, which is wise. 2917 Maple Ave.214-871-7111.$$-$$$.

Sushi Sake. Sushi Sake is half-hidden in a Fleetwood Square strip that we’d call hard-to-find if so many aficionados weren’t finding it. Many of them are admirers from chef-owner Takashi Soda’s former days as sushi chef of Nakamoto in Piano, and they find here a warmly upbeat ambience, willing attendance to every need, an arresting selection of sakes, hot and cold-and of course, good food. 220 W. Campbell Rd. Richardson. 972-470-0722.$$.

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. 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

Caribbean Grill. Jumbo shrimp marinated in coconut milk, lightly fried and rolled in coconut shreds, is one of the best appetizers we’ve had all year. Jerk chicken is moist inside, with a thin crusty coating of spices, and the dipping sauce is a killer honey-mustard concoction spiced with hot relish (chow) from Trinidad. Stay busy with their large selection of bottled hot sauces and soothe your burning tongues with homemade key lime pie. 3068 Forest Ln. 972-241-9113. $-$$.

Fogo de Chao. This is not a place for the faint of heart. Or the not-very-hungry. Once you’ve signaled “go” by turning your ordering chip from red to green, you are immediately barraged by gaucho-clad waiters waving huge skewers of assorted meats. The “Lombo” -pork loin crusted with parmesan-can be dry, but the Frallinha (bottom sirloin) is tender, and the Picanha (rump steak with lots of garlic) will make you send the other waiters away. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the beautiful salad bar-vegetarians who can get past the carnivorous atmosphere will find nirvana in the form of big bowls of steamed asparagus, mozzarella cheese balls, rice, marinated red peppers, hearts of palm, and sun-dried tomatoes. 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-stuffed com tortillas) or the banana leaf tamales, 3715 Greenville Ave. 214-874-0088. Multiple locations. $-$$.

Samba Room. It’s impossible not to feel transported to an exotic Havana night -huge palm trees; windows covered by wooden-slat shutters; warm browns, ochre, and cobalt blue sel the mellow. sexy tone for the whole room. Arepas-beef marinated in sherry, cooked with onion and peppers, then shredded into a mound and surrounded by triangles of griddled sweet corn cakes topped with a slight drizzle of sour cream-are superb. A silver martini shaker filled with long, thin strips of Yuca Frita-fried yuca seasoned with lime and garlic -makes trench fries obsolete. 4514 Travis St, 214-522-4137, $$.

Texas de Brazil. No need for menus here-it’s one price fits all. Skewer-swagging waiters slice varied cuts of slow-roasted (and extremely flavorful) filet, picanha, rack of lamb, lop sirloin, and pork loin from their swords right onto your plate. The salad bar features 30 hefty items besides- salad, including tabbouleh and marinated mushrooms, and the required feijoa-da (the national dish of Brazil). 15101 Addison Rd. 972-385-1000.$$$.

MEDITERRANEAN

Adeline’s. Some go for the food, some go for the intimacy, but almost everybody finds a reason to go back to this well-hidden gem. Service is unhurried and patient, and the wine list is varied and reasonable. Entrees and appetizers alike feature creatively bold sauces that will hold your attention long after the main ingredients of the dishes have been devoured. 4537 ColeAve.2l4-559-0325.$$.

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

Anamia’s. The basics-cheese enchiladas, cheese tacos, guacamole. and beef tacos-are all above average, the surprise being the usually boring beef taco full of chili powder-spiced beef. Shrimp comes wafting the scent of lime, covered with nuggets of sauteed garlic, on a bed of sauteed celery, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and jalapenos. For two bucks, you can gel an order of sopapillas -a platter of three gold puffs sent from heaven with a little honey. 600 E. Sandy Lake Rd, Coppell. 972-304-0321. $. Margaritas.

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 that the pungent flavor of the pepper is what you notice, not fried batter. 4714 Maple Ave. 214-520-2700. $.

Cantina Laredo. The rule is stick to Mex-Mex food at Cantina. and you’ll probably be happy. Chicken tacos cascabel enfold hot peppered. orange-scented, stewed chicken in a soft, fresh tortilla. But the doppelganger Tex-Mex side of the menu is not so good. Undercooked, stuffed jalapenos are so tough you can’t bite through them. 250 Preston Royal Center. 214-265-1610. Multiple locations. $$.

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 demitasse, too. 11742-A Marsh Ln @ Forest. 972-357-0141. $.

Casa Rosa. There’s almost always a table available at the pink-tinted Casa Rosa, but only because the place is so big. The appeal of the food would certainly pack a smaller place. Casa Rosa does well with standards-except the chimichanga – hut the real finds here are the more unusual dishes such as the goat cheese chile relleno and the 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 Rds, Richardson. 972-783-7671. $. Margaritas.

Herrera’s. In the early ’70s. we used to grab a six-pack and line upon the sidewalk around the original Alamo-like Herrera’s on Maple Avenue wailing 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,

Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano. Javier’s hook is Mexico City Mexican food, and the atmosphere isn’t Tex-Mex kitschy but sophisticated. Salsa is nicely warmed, and margaritas are the real tiling. Filets Cantinflas may look like a fried puck, but inside the stiff crust is a cheese-stuffed filet mignon with a brick-colored chile sauce-it’s too rich to eat and too good not to try. 4912 Cole Ave. 214-521-4211. $$.

Las Caruelas. This tiny East Dallas jewel serves up marvelous food, starting with the killer salsa that’s made with fresh cilantro. onion, and tomato essences. On Mondays, the special caldo de res, chunky with beef and vegetables, is fabulous, as is the super-hot chile relleno. 4933 Columbia Ave. 214-827-1889.$.

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, 972-423-2977.$-$$.

Martin’s Cocina. 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. The Baja shrimp stuffed with Monterey jack cheese and fresh jalapenos then wrapped in bacon is a change of pace from our favorite Man Martinez recipe chiles rellenos stuffed with cheese and topped with ranchero sauce, sour cream, raisins anil pecans. The gorditos we tried were dry and tasteless, but save room lor chocolate caramel nachos-this is a destination dessert. 5290 Belt Line Rd. @ Monlfort Dr.,Addison. 972-503-8100. $-$$.

D BEST Matt’s Rancho Martinez. The place is tilled 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.$-$$.

Mi Cocina. This chain has expanded so rapidly, you’d think Dallasites had just discovered Tex-Mex. But at all eight locations, the food is dependably good, and lines are still dependably long. The menu features upscale dishes in addition to basic tacos and enchiladas-tacos habanas are stuffed with chicken and covered with ground chili and cilantro; Latin stir-fry fajitas provide a new option for vegetarians. 11661 Preston Rd. 214-265-7704. Multiple locations. $-$$, Margaritas.

D REVISITS Monica’s Aca y Alla. Monica Greene’s menu boasts. “Do I have a deal for you?” She’s not selling swampland; she has the best food bargains in town. Most lunches are less than $5, and the choices are not your normal Tex-Mex combinations. Recently, our table gorged on the usual: spinach and mushroom quesadillas followed by two enchiladas stuffed with chunks of tender chicken smothered in spicy tomatillo salsa-perfect comfort food. Daring to be adventurous, we tried the spinach-jalapeno fet-tucine with chicken, roasted corn, cilantro. and black beans in a cream shallot bechamel sauce and found a new reason to return. Tuesday night, food is half price; Wednesday’s freshly squeezed lime margarita’s are only 50 cents a piece. It’s no secret that this is the place to be on Sunday nights, dining and dancing to the live salsa beat. But, until now, it has been a secret that Monica will be dividing her time between Monica’s and Cuidad, a new sophisti-cated Mexico City-style taqueria set to open in late January. 2914 Main St, 214-748-7140.$-$$.

Nuevo Leon. Nuevo Leon has the uncanny knack of blending perfectly with a neighborhood while serving the same menu at every location. Somehow, the camitas al pastor are hearty, country fare in Farmers Branch (the original location), fiesta party fare on Greenville Avenue, and mod-Mex in the latest location on Oak Lawn. Service is slick, and the food is excellent -fat enchiladas, avocado-like cold cream, thick tortillas. So far. this is a winning formula. 3211 Oak Lawn. 214-522-3331. Multiple locations. $-$$.

Omega’s. It’s easy to imagine ending evenings at Omega’s. Bui 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 at the lop 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 come with cheddar cheese gurgling in thick chili con came and topped with more cheese. The cheese-fest continues 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; 3309McKinney. 214-220-0510. $.

Rafa’s. One Dallas institution replaced another when Raphael’s (now Rafa’s) opened in Mr. Peppe’s old space on Lovers Lane. The arched brick wine cellar is bright orange, and the pastoral Swiss view has been replaced by pictures of many Aztec gods and one happy tomato. The place could still use a few velvet paintings, but (he tablescape is complete; Light, fresh chips, vinegary salsa, and fast margaritas are the intra to a meal that’s quintessential Dallas Mexican. 5617 W, Lovers Ln. 214-357-2080. $-$$. Margaritas.

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 al zero). 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.$.

Sol’s. The 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 guacamole – arc 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 Ln. 214 821-7911. $-$$.

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 corn tortillas are the star here; no matter what you wrap them around, the result is good-chicken with cojita cheese, grilled pork. and meaty mushrooms are all complemented by the fragrant masa tortillas. Service is hit-or-miss. 4011 Villanova. 214-696-4944. $, Margaritas.

MIDDLE EASTERN

Al-Amir. The Mediterranean meets the rising sun al 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.$$.

All Baba. Order hummus and you get a bowl swirled with the garlicky puree, 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 bulghur and tomato, is a perfect counterpoint to the unctuous chickpea mash. 1905 Greenville Ave. 214-823-8235.$-$$.

Basha. Basha was one of the first in the wave of Middle Eastern restaurants that have opened in Dallas in the last few years. And it remains one of the best of a good lot. The menu is less predictable than many of Dallas” Lebanese restaurants, offering dishes outside the usual selection of hummus, baba ghanoush. rice, and grilled everything. Breast of chicken breaded in crushed pistachios is an excellent idea -so is fragrant lamb shank, cooked till it is stew on the bone. OK, hummus is good. too. 2217 Greenville Ave. 214-824-7794. $$.

Cafe Istanbul. The liny 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 arc rewarded with a happy hour. Solid service tops off a superb all-around experience. 5450 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 222. 214-902-0919.$-$$.

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 tegular. Wash il down with a bottle of the Boutari. and you’ll be happy. 3711 Greenville Ave. 214-826-7788.$$.

Hedary’s. The original Hedary’s was a destination restaurant in Fort Worth long before hummus became hip. Maybe it’s just the Dallas location that’s stopped trying. More garlic in the baba ghanoush, please. Less leathery lahvosh. You have to watch that kibbe; it tends to get dry if it’s cooked loo long. Where’s that nice Greek red we like with our lamb? We know better now. 7915 Belt Line Rd. 972-233-1080. $$.

MOROCCAN

D BEST Marrakesh. Just that 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 S26.95 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 a great deal-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.$$.

Beau Nash. The beautiful dining room is aging gracefully, and the light-sparkled, romantic conservatory at night remains one of the delights of Dallas dining. The Cobb salad and smoked chicken corn chowder still win Best of Kind, and desserts are a dream-try the rich pillow of mocha mousse sandwiched between two dark chocolate cake slices. Hotel Crescent Court, 2215 Cedar Springs Rd.. 214-871 -3240.$$-$$$.

Chaparral Club. The ancho-rubbed chicken (with bones!) can be a little salty, but the creamy goat-cheese stuffing guarantees moist meat. The bone-in filet, along with truffled mashed potatoes and cubed root vegetables sauteed together, make a plate that satisfies all senses. Don’t miss The Perfect Dessert: a satiny sphere of white chocolate split and filled with fresh blueberries and raspberries sliding around in a pool of creme Anglaise. Adam’s Mark Hotel, 400 N. Olive St. 214-922-8000. $$-$$$.

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. 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 malls, tall foods, and to people-watch. An outstanding wine list, too. 8442 Walnut Hill Ln. 214-373-7171. $$-$$$.

D BEST Laurels. Rising star executive chef and general manager Danielle Custer brings her cutting-edge cuisine to Westin Park Central’s 20th floor. Incomprehensible dishes like pear soup with plum wine creme fraiche 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. Westin 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 continues to live up to its legend -the atmosphere is inimitably posh, and the food is predictably innovative. The price? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 214-526-2121.$$$.

D REVISITS The Mercury. If head chef Chris Ward hasn’t been pulled over for speeding through Highland Park, he is one lucky guy. When he’s not in the kitchen at The Mercury, he’s traveling the stretch of Preston Road that separates him from Citizen, the recently opened M Crowd venture. Even though The Mercury is (he place where he calls home, he wasn’t behind the line the last time we visited. His back-up crew did a bang-up job. A normally pedestrian potato soup was delivered thick and hot (which is a rare occurrence these days), and the arugula pesto drizzled on top provided the perfect kick of flavor. We are praying for the day when tall food disappears from the table but Ward’s gravity-defying version of swordfish stacked with polenta and mashed potatoes towered a scary eight inches above the plate. The taste was right on. but we had trouble deciding where to start. Of course, after one bite, the whole thing came tumbling down. But two savory pork chops rested easily beside a creamy rosemary risotto and was easy on the eye and the palate. 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 earing, the accoutrements dell ne luxe, and the ambience is as comfortably refined as always in this upscale establishment. Wyndham Anatole Hotel,2201 Stemmons Frwy.,214-761-7479. $$-$$$.

Parigi. Menus still change weekly, and the food is prepared to order, by hand. Service can be a little flaky, but the food-specials and perennials-is excellent. The famous beef tenderloin with mustard sauce and “smashed” potatoes is 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 Ave., 214-521-0295.$$.

Rooster. The room is as easily gracious as a family dining room. And the staff offers naturally Southern-style hospitality. The traditional Senate bean soup is authentic -substantial and scented with smoky ham -and the breadbasket is rilled with corn muffins and bacon biscuits. The catfish, thick and white as cake, is crusted with molasses and pecans, then sauced with brown butter. 3521 Oak Grove Ave. 214-521-1234.$$.

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.$$.

York Street. As Dallas restaurants get bigger and bigger, this little chef-owned cafe seems smaller and smaller. And its value rises as the qualities we love about it become rarer and rarer. The choices of elegant food -pheasant pate with pears, frogs’ legs, roast duck, and quail, are a wonderful relief from beef and chicken .It’s easy for dinner to spin into hours of conversation just because the atmosphere is so conducive to it. 6047 Lewis St. 214-826-0968.$$-$$$.

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 eating from a simpler menu that includes platters of fresh shrimp, oysters, clams, and small-plate versions of the dinner entrees, an excellent option for those who want a taste of the high life without the high tab. 3214 Knox St.. 214-219-2782.$$-$$$.

Big Fish, Little fish. King cake, a patty of crawfish. crab, and shrimp-is fine when it’s not overwhelmed by the mustard sauce that stripes it. And the Boston chowder is overwhelmed by the aroma of bacon. The simple stuffed snapper, a filet spread with a mixture similar to the king cake and baked, is better-a real stick-to-your-ribs dish, especially with the sides of mashed potatoes and com. 2918 Henderson. 214-821-4552. $$-$$$.

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 calamari, clam chowder, Caesar salad, salmon, and red snapper are superbly prepared and presented by an experienced staff. 24 Highland Park Village. 214-526-1170. $$-$$$.

D REVISITS Fish. After long float troubled waters, new chef George Grieser has plugged up the holes in the sinking standard of Fish’s food. He’s altered the menu slightly, adding a few steaks and chops, but Grieser has resuscitated Fish’s signature items with a breath of quality preparation and fancier presentations. The laurel-scented Chilean sea bass with roasted sweet peppers and leeks has been tweaked and now includes jumbo shrimp and ginger rice. Over the last year, our experiences here have ranged from average to awful. But recently, catfish stuffed with ginger, lightly dusted in cornstarch and gently deep-fried, seduced us. The Asian-spiced whole fish curled around a bed of wasabi-mashed potatoes, and the meat was tender and flaked easily off the tiny bones. Delicious grilled, pepper-crusted sea scallops served on hot creamy risotto-flavored with lemon, red peppers, and a touch of sweet basil oil -was a comfort and a delight. The crew in the front of the house has been whipped back into shape. Although our server was somewhat flaky -he suggested the catfish because “it looks really cool” -the overall pace was efficient, courteous, and professional.302 S. Houston St. 214-747-3474. $$$.

Fishmonger’s. Over the years, we’ve had good and bad experiences at Fishmonger’s, but never great ones. The crawfish etoufee’s only resemblance to Cajun cuisine is the fact that it looks like the muddy Mississippi. Tuna fajitas, a weird diversion from the mostly Cajun-themed menu, are tasteless strips of grilled tuna rolled in tortillas and served with a tortilla soup made with shrimp. But seafood gumbo is surprisingly well-flavored and filled with loads of okra, tomato, and baby shrimp. 1915 N. Central Expwy. 972-423-3699. $-$$.

D BEST Lombard 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-town-er, Lombardi Mare would be our choice. 5 l00 Bell Line Rd? Addison. 972-503-1233. $$.

Lefty’s. The menu is small, but Lefty’s features everything you’d expect a good lobster house to have, including beef for those who don’t like seafood. One bargain: the one-pound lobster with baked potato and com for $10.95. 402! Belt Line Rd? Addison. 972-774-9518. $$.

Newport’s. Enjoy an imaginative seafood menu that we classify loosely as New England seafood with Asian and Cajun influences. Grilled tilapia is imaginatively served with a side of sauteed apples, cilantro, and toasted pecans. And the (una is a three-inch pan-seared hunk served in a bowl of rice and covered with sauteed portobellos and roasted pep|iers- almost wonderful, except for the take of teriyaki sauce drowning (he rice. 703 McKinney Ave. 214-954-0220. $$-$$$.

Rockfish. Rockfish is cozy and uncontrived; even the cute stuff, like the tin-pail light fixtures and the out-of-place ambience, like the rock fireplace on the patio overlooking the parking lot. feels comfortable. You can get an oversized platter filled with more than a pound of fresh crab, about 30 medium boiled shrimp, two ears of com. several new potatoes, and a foot of sausage for $22.99. Our main problem with Rockfish is that it’s a neighborhood restaurant. but it’s not in our neighborhood. 7639 Campbell Rd.(ri Coit. 972-267-X979. $-$$.

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 (he famous key lime pie. 2701 McKinney Ave. 214-880-0111.$$.

Sea Grill. Mall sprawl makes this Piano oasis hard to Grid, which would make ils unflagging popularity hard to explain if Chef Andy Tun’s highly creative lakes 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 meal. You can eat other stuff with your crab (mediocre salad, onion rings, cole slaw, creamed spinach), hut 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 Ave., 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 deli-ciously rich filet, lightly breaded, sauteed 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 Hwy. 214-352-2692; 2432 Preston at Park, Piano. 972-612-6208.$$-$$$.

SOUTHWESTERN

Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa has wisely stuck with its original concept of Southwestern fare: The tableside guacamole is truly a marvel, with avocados as smooth as congealed cream. Adobe pie, the signature dish, is as good as ever, as is the warm salsa and yam and tortilla chips. But the menu at the new Lincoln Plaza location is mostly new. There’s a new churrascaria section and a number of new entrees. New Mexican-style blue com chicken enchiladas with tomatil-lo sauce are richer than anything ever dreamed up in Santa Fe -they have a definite (and welcome) Texas richness and come with a corn cake and gingered rice, a nice relief from (he usual Spanish. 7700 W. Northwest Hwy. 214-378-8686; 5100 Belt Line Rd. 972-934-0165. $$.

No Place. Tender elk sirloin and boneless rabbit are sided with sauteed 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 Dal las-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, 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.O. 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

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 omelette called a tortilla, and braised lamb slices. 4501 Travis St. 214-528-1731. $$.

STEAKHOUSES

Biernat’s. The dinner menu’s specialty section features prime rib. rack of lamb, and jumbo lobsters. The entrees reveal the imagination of a chef who has more on his mind than meat. The sea bass is moist, but the two mainstays-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 Ave. 214-219-2201. $$-$$$.

Boll’s Steak and Chop House. We usually forego filets, preferring a more flavorful cut. but the three-inch nine-ounce is beautifully marbled and cooked perfectly pink and lender. The New York strip steak is also outstanding. It’s impossible not to love the “smashed” potatoes-they’re wickedly mashed with about a stick of butter in each serving. And the slight sweet glaze on Bob’s signature whole carrots side dish is a nice contrast to the beef. The atmosphere here is as comfortable as your grandmother’s dining room, but the restaurant is crowded with the Ross Perot and Jerry Jones set4300 Lemmon Ave. 214-528-9446. $$-$$$.

Capital Grille. The menu has a funny, East Coast 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. It’s 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. 500 Crescent Court, Ste. 135. 214-303-0500.$$-$$$.

D REVISITS Chamberlains.

Richard Chamberlain makes line dining simple and elegant. You won’t find any singing cowboys or 20-page wine lists to complicate your experience. The setting is intimate and warm -the carpeted floor muffles the noise of a crowded room. We stopped in without reservations, and the valet volunteered to hold our car while we checked out the possibility of getting a table. The maitre d’ scoured the room and promised a 15-minute wait. Right on time, we were seated with fresh bread and water arriving within seconds. A hand-cut. 12-ounce filet served on a warm plate was cooked, as ordered, to a pink warm center. Chamberlain’s prime rib is the best in town. Evenly marbled aged beef, seasoned with coarse salt and chunks of fresh cracked pepper, is slow roasted to juicy perfection. We could pass on the meat here and still be happy with bowls of green beans and mushrooms sauteed in garlic soy. buttered corn shucked from the cob, and skillet potatoes and on ions -a cross between cottage fries and potato chips with soft warm centers and crispy edges. 5330 Beltline Rd., Addison. 972-934-2467. $$-$$$.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. No complaints about the meats (and at these prices there shouldn’t be) -you could cut the porterhouse with a fork (if it weren’t two-and-a-half inches thick). But the onion rings are our favorite dish. Each three-inch ring has the perfect ratio of breading to onion, but somehow, the fry doesn’t separate from the onion-you get batter with every bite. The lobster tail isn’t worth the price. But this is one place where you get what you pay for. 5251 Spring Valley Rd. 972-490-9000.$$$.

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 the mashed potatoes “famous” -we tasted nothing more than potatoes whipped with lots of pepper. On the other hand, service was attentive, and the prime rib was pure retro-quality. 3525 Greenville Ave. 214-821-2122; 3408 Preston Rd.. Piano. 972-867-2122.$$.

Nick & Sam’s. Nick & Sam’s is a steakhouse first, hut it’s trying -and succeeding -to be more. For instance, there’s a raw bar at the far end of the building, and the lobby bar area is a wine cellar with more than 300 wines. We ate the traditional steakhouse meal -a wedge salad with creamy lumps of Maytag blue cheese. Surf ’n’ Turf (snowy sweet lobster tail and soft filet), and a prime aged “cowboy steak” with sides. The most successful twist on the traditional steakhouse is the setting itself. This is not a faux men’s club -no brass, etched glass, or hunting paintings. 3008 Maple Ave. 214-871-7663.$$-$$$.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. This is the best beef we’ve eaten in Dallas lately. The porterhouse, regally alone and ungarnished. arrives at the perfect degree of doneness and is still actually hot. Mushrooms -crimini and shiitake, in a port reduction -and onion rings, thick-cut and thinly breaded, are both preferable to another potato. And we appreciate the diminutive (just three-and-a-half pounds!) Maine lobster, perfectly steamed and cracked, and only $64. Even dessert, which frequently seems like an insult in a steakhouse. is spectacular. 10477 Lombardy Ln. 214-366-2000. $$-$$$.

The Palm. The four-pound lobster (at S20 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 il deserves a prominent spot in your regular red-meal 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. $$-$$$.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse. The knockout punch is a 24-ounce. bone-in ribeye coated with lots of fresh ground pepper, perfectly cooked to medium rare. Smoked pork chops are grilled and served with a. side of sweet, smoked apples. The side dishes are only average; the horseradish mashed potatoes could have used a little more horseradish, and the doughnut-sized onion rings are heavily beer-breaded and greasy. Prices are less than you’d expect. 17795 Dallas Pkwy. 972-267-9393.$$.

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 leaf lettuce, and sliced green apple, topped with roasted pecans and crumbly Maytag blue cheese, all lightly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette. 17776 Dallas Pkwy. 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 Belt Line Rd. @ Montfort Dr., 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.$-$$.

Thai Garten. Thai Garden serves homestyle Thai: a beautiful plate of beef satay skewered and grilled comes with a light creamy peanut sauce. The takeout is top-notch, tew: Even the usually lowly Lo Mein is an elegant mixture of soft noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery in a silky broth. Rice pudding made with sweetened black rice blended with a salty-sweet coconut milk and topped with fresh lotus seed and fruit is a treat. 6090 Campbell Rd? Ste. 124. 972-248-8861.$-$$.

Toy’s Cafe. This hole-in-the-wall joint has all the elements of a great neighborhood “find.” The tantalizing aroma of curry and garlic is welcoming. Thai iced tea is a hit: eggplant and torn in a Thai green curry coconut milk is perfectly prepared. Fresh squid salad with Thai herbs is fresh and tasty. 4422-B Lemmon Ave. 214-528-7233.$.

VIETNAMESE

Green Papaya. If you’re going to learn anything about pronouncing Vietnamese, learn to say pho correctly. The traditional Vietnamese bowl of broth comes thick with rice noodles and your choice of beef, chicken or meatballs. Most of the other traditional country dishes are good, but someone in the kitchen needs to adjust some of the uninspired seasonings. 3211 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-521-4811.$.

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 die 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. $-$$.

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 cauldron of soup, noodles, and vegetables, is enough to share. 4302 Bryan St.. 214-821-4542.$-$$.

TARRANT COUNTY

Angelo’s. The big. Wood-paneled dance hall of a room is lined with a self-service buffet line, cold-drink coolers, and chip racks on a linoleum floor. You grab a round tray and a frosted stein of Bud and eat from styrofoam plates under antler heads mounted on the walls. The chicken, served “while it lasts.” goes fast-it’s juicy and smoked off the bone. All the usual sides-beans. cole slaw-stand up to the ribs, but we wish they’d put more punch in their thin, vinegar-based sauce. 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 corn tor-tillas. Order it first, and then spend some time with the menu-everything on it is worth try-ing. 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 die sunny bistro, the cuisine works Mediterranean magic. Enjoy it there as often as possible. 2900 S.Hulen St., Fort Worth. 817-922-9244.$$.

Cacharel. This easily tops Arlington’s dining scene, such as it is, with its French country decor and New French cuisine. The fixed-price 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’s not much but beef accompanied by rolls, pota-toes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmos-phere is genuine cowboy. 2458 N. Main St, Fort Worth. 817-624-3945. $$-$$$.

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 lasting 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 the enchiladas. Joe doesn’t do credit cards or reservations, either. 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth. 817-626-4356. $$.

Kincaid’s. It’s organized chaos at lunch, but there isn’t a frown in the lime-green room. The burgers are worth the drive from Dallas, and so are the sides: fried okra, deviled eggs, and pimiento cheese-stuffed jalapemos. If you can manage, have homemade banana pudding for dessert. It’s been a while since we left a restaurant this satisfied for only $5. 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd.. Fort Worth. 817-732-2881. $.

D BEST Randall’s Gourmet Cheesecake Company. It’s a wonderfully romantic, candle-lit French cafe serving delightful classic specialties and more than 20 wines by the glass. Beef tenderloin medallions served with rosemary-roasted shallots come with crunchy haricots verts and garlic mashed potatoes. But the piece de resistance is a savory cheesecake, made of parmesan and feta cheese baked with basil pesto, asparagus, mushrooms, and Kalamata olives. 907 Houston St., Fort Worth. 817-336-2253. $$.

Reals. 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 com, red pepper, and cilantro relish with small cubes of queso fresco. Sit in the norm dining room and watch the sun sink in the west and the Dallas skyline twinkle in the east. 500 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth. 817-336-1009. $$-$$$.

Reflections. Maybe you don’t expect high romance in Fort Worth, but maybe you should. Reflections is 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 sauteed 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 Emilion. 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.. FortWorth.8I7-727-2781.$$$.

Miss Saigon

“You-can’t-finish?-You-take-home-microwave-for-just-three-and-a-half minutes-exactly. Not-in the -styrofoam. It-lasts-several-days.”

Miss Saigon speaking. Not the sylph-like logo image mi the front of the menu but a short, plump, middle-aged woman, the sort who Just looks like a good cook. She was talking about our leftover food: a couple of fried Vietnamese egg rolls the diameter of baby bottles, a mound of fried rice, a pile of lemon grass chicken, and three plate-sized mu shoo pancakes stuffed with Mongolian beef. It was all delicious-freshly stir-fried, the lemon grass chicken was full of big white meat strips and crunchy julienned vegetables, sparked with fresh ginger and the citrusy herb. Mongolian beef, tender bits of meat and peppers In a spicy brown sauce, were sprinkled with chopped peanuts. And those almost embarrassingly large egg rolls were overstuffed with cabbage and more vegetables. So It’s not that we didn’t like the food. But each of Miss Saigon’s Texas-sized portions is big enough to feed a family of four, and we were just two at the table.

Fortunately, “three-and-a-half minutes-exactly” worked perfectly, and we had Miss Saigon for lunch for three days. 12300 Inwood Rd. 972-503-7110. $$

These restaurants represent the best in Dallas-Fort Worth area dining. It is implicit, then, mat we recommend them highly. Visits by our critics are made anonymously to avoid preferential treatment, listings are updated periodically.

Restaurant listings are subject to change from month to month according to space availability.

Inclusion in this directory has nothing whatsoever to do with paid advertising.

KEY:

$: Dinner entrees under $10

$$: Host entrees $10 to $25

$$$: Most entrees $25 or more

Full Bar

Beer/Wine

(Based on a typical dinner for one, not including drinks, tax, and Up.)

Mystery Solved

Burger House’s secret salt is a secret no longer. Our presumption that the mixture might contain MSG proved to be wrong: The recipe contains loads of garlic salt, black pepper, and salt, along with other herbs and spices.

Burger House, 6913 Hillcrest, 214-361-0370.

The Soda Pop Guy

Hamilton Rousseau has the perfect answer for the hard-to-please “sodaholic” on your Christmas list. The shelves of If And & Butts are stocked with the largest selection of bottled soda in the country, including Dr Pepper made from cane sugar, Grapette, Big Red, and New York’s nostalgic Jeff’s Egg Cream. With enough notice, he can usually find the perfect New Year’s Eve alternative to Dom Perlgnon-“Dutch Coke,” the original formula now produced exclusively in Holland. If Ands & Butts, 408 N. Bishop 214-941-1222

NEIGHBORHOOD FIND

Luna De Noche

You’d think the residents of Garland would like to keep Luna De Noche a secret. But after several phone calls and letters from readers proclaiming this family-run Tex-Mex grill the best in town, we eagerly Jumped at the chance of finding the next golden enchilada It was a little hard to find. We passed it twice before we pulled into the tiny strip mall anchored by the Jazzy Dog Bed & Breakfast. There’s a small sign above a row of blackened windows, but the crowd of people standing outside the door suggested we were in the right place. By 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, the dining room was buzzing with busboys and waiters rushing from table to table. We could sense that the service was working in perfect rhythm. The waiters serving and the busboys clearing were in sync and even as the crowd swelled, we were never rushed. A basket of hot chips and spicy salsa thick with cliantro and garlic Instantly appeared from over our shoulders. Tall mar-garitas, thankfully more sour than sweet, arrived so quickly we assumed our waiter moonlighted as a clairvoyant. The chile relleno was disappointing-the soggy poblano pepper battered in egg whites sat sloppily on a scoop of stewed chicken. Polio Pipian-a huge, juicy chicken breast simmering in chicken broth, ancho chile, and pecans-was imaginative and flavorful. But the much ballyhooed cheese enchiladas deserve to be In the running as best around. The fresh corn tortillas filled with chopped onion and melted cheese were topped with a chili made with slowly simmered pork. The folks in Garland failed to clue us In on the fruit flauta: the crisp flour tortilla filled with cinnamon-spiced apples covered with melted whipped cream and topped with pecans is the best kept secret in town. 7602 Jupiter Rd.. @ Lookout, Garland. 972-414-3616. $-$$. Margaritas.

Moveable Feast

Watch where you walk the next time you visit Lawry’s. If you’re not careful, you might get run over by one of the 800-pound silver carts that showcase their signature prime roast beef. Loaded with four standing rib roasts, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and creamed corn, the $30,000 trolley carries the ultimate meal on wheels. Lawry’s, 14655 Dallas Pkwy., Addison 972-503-6688

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