Restaurant Reviews

NEWCOMERS



THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY

Ifs a little like standing really close to a train: An enormous amount of activity, a tremendous feeling of organized energy, a lot of smoke and whistles, deafening noise, and the feeling that something very big just missed you by that much.

That’s the Cheesecake Factory experience- sensational, in a very literal way, but completely unsatisfying in terms of what you’re there for. Which, after all, is only dinner.

The Cheesecake Factory is the latest garish, overblown, expensive imported chain restaurant in the series that Dallas can’t seem to get enough of, and-only so far, of course- it’s the furthest over the top.

Don’t even question the interior-a Las Vegas conglomeration of lotus-topped columns, airbrushed murals, and jumbo booths. Instead, try to reconsider “assault” as an idea for ambiance. And don’t lose the “hostess” as she hustles you to your table-just be glad you got one. All those people lending the entrance the air of a bus station didn’t. There is often an hour wait for dinner.

The menu, a laminated, colorful, spiral-bound book that looks suitable for use in preschool (it’s totally sanitary-just wipe it down with Fantastick), is 18 pages long and features full-page ads next to the lists of food. We’re concerned that Sheers didn’t buy smart space-in the face of deciding whether to choose (from the “Super-Creamy” section of the bar list) a Strawberry Creamsicle or an Amaretto Milkshake, the full-page photo of the svelte leotard V fur-clad model didn’t help. We went with the Dizzy Lemon, but only because we hadn’t noticed the Mai Tai on the previous page.

We think we should mention that our waitress was friendly. She described everything accurately, and we ordered it anyway, thus having our first taste of an avocado eggroll, a deep-fried wrapper split lengthwise and filled with mashed avocado. No, it was not a good idea. Maybe we should have chosen the sliders (why didn’t tiny hamburgers get trendy when baby vegetables did?) or gone the healthy route with a roasted vegetable quesadilla (filled with smoked Gouda, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, red onion, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa).

Caesar salad (we were advised to order a half) covered a platter, but not very well. We ’re tired of talking about insipid Caesar salads. You know what to expect by now.

In fact, you know what to expect from everything on this menu, 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. Then you see “shepherd’s pie” and feel like someone’s pulling your leg.

We refused to be the butt of that joke and ordered a classic California dish, the tuna burger, which perked us up-a shingle of lean grilled tuna on a bun with lettuce, onion, tomato…well, you get the idea. It comes with fries.

And there are several dozen kinds of cheesecake, actually, all sauced and garnished and poufed with cream. How about chocolate-peanut-butter-cookie dough cheesecake? White chocolate lemon truffle cheesecake? We went with plain ol’ white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake. And we still have some.

The trend these days is to label your cuisine accurately. AquaKnox sells “global water cuisine,” and Tract’s sells “home cooking gone gourmet.” Some restaurants specialize in Peruvian seafood or Historical American food, thereby guaranteeing themselves an entire category in the newspaper’s restaurant listings.

We suppose you should look for Cheesecake Factory in the “overwhelmingly eclectic” category. Just remember, that’s not a good thing.

The Cheesecake Factory, 7700 Northwest Hwy., 214-373-4844. $$$.



PAPPAS BROS. STEAKHOUSE

Every time we go to a new one. we think, this is it: This is the ur-steakhouse. There could never be another place this big, this expensive, this overblown. After all. there are so many already. Then, sure enough, we go out the next week and review another one. Everyone who eats in Dallas is marvelling at the pounds of beef being butchered and grilled here these days. Among foodies, it gets a little hysterical: “When will it all end?!” they exclaim as they throw up their hands and order another piece of sea bass in retaliation. Food writers turn to the thesaurus again to find another word for “too big.”

Well this is it. That’s what we thought when we went to Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, the gargantuan new restaurant out in Pappas-land (past Pappasito’s. Pappadeaux, Pappas BarBQ-you’ll find it).

Indoors, past the ostentatious fountain emblazoned with the Pappas boys’ names (Jim, George. Tom. and Pete) is the, yes, clubby (an adjective that steakhouses should just go ahead and copyright) dining room.

We were seated at an insulting table, one of three that should be removed from the restaurant; it was right in the traffic flow between bar, kitchen, and dining room.

The menu was the usual-26-ounce steaks, monster lobsters, fuddy-duddy soups (in this case, turtle) and very valuable potatoes.

We were offended by the size of the wine list, although its reputation had preceded it. ( It’s taken three years to put together this collection of 1,500 wines-the steakhouse has seven full-time sommeliers and three wine rooms, two temperature-controlled.)

Add to our generally bad attitude the fact that we were recognized by the waiter (meaning we had to work harder, reporting as well as reviewing), and we were bound to hate this place. We could just tell.

How unsatisfactory it is to have to be truthful and say this is the best beef we’ve eaten in Dallas lately.

The porterhouse, regally alone and ungar-nished, finished cooking on the sizzling plate so that as it arrived at the perfect degree of doneness, it was still actually hot.

“Hot” seems like a pretty basic requirement, but with steak it’s often sacrificed to accuracy. After all. you can’t correct an overcooked steak. Zen masters know that the simplest task is the most difficult to achieve, and though some may think it a stretch to apply Buddhist philosophy to beefsteak, something sublime happened in our mouth when we tasted this tender, juicy, butter-washed beef. We agreed that mushrooms-crimini and shiitake, in a port reduction, and onion rings, thick-cut and thinly breaded, were both preferable to another potato. And we appreciated the diminutive (just three-and-a-half pounds!) Maine lobster, perfectly steamed and cracked, and only $64.

Although our wine waiter was rather shaken when we told him we were looking for something red in the two-digit range, he recovered nicely and brought us a bottle of 1994 Spring Mountain Cabernet from Napa Valley, whose sibs we visited later on our tour of the cellars.

Even dessert, which frequently seems like an insult in a steakhouse, was, well, spectacular. They were all overthe top-the one we tried was made with homemade marshmallows.

In fact, outside of our standing protest against the proliferation of places like Pappas Bros., we couldn’t find much to complain about at all.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, 10477 Lombardy Ln., 214-366-2000.$$$.



CARIBBEAN GRILL

It took us a year to find this place, but oh. what a find. It doesn’t look like much from the front-lost in a strip mall on the surreal comer of Forest and Webb Chapel. Chinese. Korean, and Indian restaurants surround an El Fenix. Can you say multicultural? We were welcomed by the soothing sounds of Bob Marley and a feast of colors: purple booths, turquoise and yellow walls, and pointy pink upholstered chairs seemingly swiped from a Coen Brothers movie set in a cheezy Las Vegas coffee shop. We were greeted, seated, and waited on by the owner, Roland Frederick, who’s as wacky as the decor. After 15 years as a mechanical engineer, the Antigua native walked away from job security to open a restaurant featuring the food of his Caribbean homeland. One of his passions is paella-a different version nightly. The other is rum punch guaranteed to “knock us off our feet.” Ah, Caribe!

Guess Bob Marley made us mellow-we let Roland bring us his favorites. He delivered jumbo shrimp marinated in coconut milk, lightly fried and rolled in coconut shreds-one of the best appetizers we’ve had all year. The Cuban expert in our group pronounced the classic Cuban sandwich authentic (grilled ham, roast pork, Monterey Jack cheese, and pickles). We think he means they’re this good in Miami, Jerk chicken was moist inside, with a thin crusty coating of spices, and the dipping sauce was a killer honey-mustard concoction spiced with hot relish (chow) from Trinidad, Equally delicious was the huge plate of chicken curry with a side of pige on peas and rice. Our only disappointment was the crab in the paella-the rice was perfectly cooked with the chicken, sausage, and shrimp, but the crab was fishy. Roland kept us busy with his large selection of bottled hot sauces, and we delighted in experimenting with the different flavors until we hit Miss Vs. Beyond hot. But Roland had an antidote to soothe our burning tongues- we stuck them in his homemade key lime pie. Caribbean Grill, 3068 Forest Lane, 972-241-9113.$-$$.

Taiwan

The garishly garnished entrées at Taiwan provide entertainment on the plate-in a Las Vegas showgirl kind of style. Contemplate the Princess Beef-delicate strips of beef with crunchy celery cubes and peanuts In a hot, spicy brown sauce, decorated with delicate flower petals carved from a turnip. It tastes as good as it looks. Taiwan has had the same chef, owner, and location for 18 years, so it must be doing something right. The pleasantly peach dining room with funky country-and-western style Chinese music makes this place a little different. And what about those playing cards taped to the ceiling? Odd. The hot and sour soup was delicious, with fresh shrimp and pork, and mercifully lacking in that disconcerting, Jiggly cornstarch texture that so often makes us push our bowl away. Dessert arrived with a roving magician who did tableside card tricks-but we never understood how they ended up on the ceiling. 4980 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-387-2333. $$.

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 still prefer the Commerce Street location. 2724 Commerce St., 214-748-5433; multiple locations. $.

Peggy Sue Barbecue. This ’50s-style joint in Snider Plaza is serving some of the best BBQ in town. Terrific appelizers include Texas Torpedoes-cream cheese-filled fried jalapenos. Baby back ribs, chicken. Polish kiel-basa sausage, and brisket are smoked to perfection. Vegetables, usually second-class in the macho world of meat, go first-class here. 6600 SniderPlaza.2l4-9o7-9188. $.

Red Hot & Blue. RUB specializes in pulled pork and dry ribs-that is, Southern-sty le. as opposed to Texas-style, barbecue. It’s all good, though there are gimmicky touches like the fried onion loaf. The “blues” are on the walls, in the form of concert posters, and in your ears, Friendly service. 98ION. Central Expwy.,214-368-7427; 5017 W. Piano Pkwy., Ste. 100, Piano, 972-248-3866. $.

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

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. $.



BREW PUBS

Capper Tank Brewing Company. The beer may be microbrewed. but the setting is macro. This Austin import functions as a sports bar, watering hole, and restaurant. While the beer wins awards, the food also deserves some attention. Our favorite pretzel replacement: onion rings with a zesty apple-horseradish dipping sauce. 2600 Main St., 214-744-2739. $.

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



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. $.

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

The Prince of Hamburgers. The crispy-edged, toasty bun, the slim but beefy-tasting, just-cooked patty, and the simple but fresh garnitures combine to make l he 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. $.

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 die 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 me 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. $.



CAJUN CREOLE

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

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



CHINESE

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

Cafe Panda. The personnel here roll out the red carpet, and the mostly excellent food reflects a meticulous attention to detail, performing some service rituals as complex as the cuisine. Start with quail curl and watch as a team of servers performs a near-ballet in bringing it to your table. And finish with tableside French-pressed coffee. 7979 Jnwood Rd., Ste. 121,214-902-9500.$-$$.

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

May Dragon. An inscrutable strip center location belies one of the city’s best Chinese restaurants. Stay away from the neon sweet and sour stuff, and you’ll be happy. 4848 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-392-9998. $$.

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

Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan. Not much has changed here over the last 15 years. Bow-tie clad wait- ers still formally dish out classic hot Hunan specialties tableside. Past favorites still shine, including the Crispy Beef with broccoli siz-zling 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. $$.



COFFEEHOUSE

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

Cafe Brazil. “Brazil” here is a coffee cue, but this cafe is not just another Java joint. The brews are varied and the laid-back attitude of all 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. $.

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



DELI

Dell 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 enters their 11th year of dishing out potato knishes, stuffed derma, and kasha vamishkas as good as any in the Big Apple. They also have a decent plate of spaghetti and meatballs for the shiksa in your group. 11661 Preston Rd., 214-373-3333.$.



EASTERN EUROPEAN

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



ECLECTIC

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

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. 3301 McKinney Ave., 214-754-4940. $-$$.

The Brick Room. Tables on tiers raked amphiteater-style give live jazz lovers a fine view of the bandstand in this suave food-and-jazz emporium that’s brought a new night-life dimension to Lowest Skillman. Steaks and seafood are main menu draws; pleasant service and a well-tuned bar keep the all-aged faithful happy between sets. 1925 Skillman St., 214-823-2725. $$

D REVISITS Cafe Express. Finally, “fast food no longer translates as “bad food.” It’s not necessarily driving through and eating grease anymore. Even sporting facilities have branched from hot dogs and nachos to croissant sandwiches. (Wait-is that a good thing?) It’s taken this concept some time-the first one opened four years ago-but they’ve stuck to the simple scheme, and the food is dependably good now. Sometimes, though, it’s too fast-your order is announced before you have had time to eat your fill of complimentary olives and get your silverware from die condiment station. Penne pasta salad is served with loads of torn spinach leaves and julienned crisp vegetables, all topped with more black olives and red peppers. It’s a feast for the eyes, and we dare you to finish it. Cavatelli pasta with broccoli, mushrooms, and goat cheese comes in an oversized white bowl and 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 it and eat it in the car. 5600 W. Lovers Ln., 214-352-2211; multiple locations.

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

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

6.0 Restaurant and Bar. This hip joint is still hopping with pretty people sipping blue mar-garitas and noshing upscale bar food like thick, 8-ounce burgers and chicken nachos. Lines are oui the door at lunch and cocktail hour in the summer, and the patio is swarming with guys and girls cruising for girls and guys. Blaring music makes table conversation nearly impossible, but mural-covered walls painted by local artists make it a funky place to sit back and watch the show. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-979-0880. $-$$.

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

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-ROOM. $$.

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

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

Sipango. The Cal-Ital menu offers selections various enough to allow for grazing as well as course-by-course dining at this currently cool eafe-cum-nightspo1. Service is overly amiable, with some timing lapses. Once the too-loud cocktail pianist makes way for a combo, conversation is possible and people-watching is its own entertainment. 4513 Travis St., 214-522-2411.$$.

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

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



FRENCH/CONTINENTAL

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

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

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

Clair De Lune. Tucked behind some trees in the 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 paté is served with diced onion, French cornichons, and mustard. Poitrine de canard, a splendidly moist duck breast, is served with a delicate port wine sauce. 5934 Royal Ln. at Preston Road, 214-987-2028. $$.

French Room. This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling, Versailles-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn’t mesh with the modern world. It’s only natural to expect perfect food thai 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, 321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200.$$$.

Jennivine. Jennivine’s slightly anachronistic atmosphere, a quaint old house stranded in the massive new Uptown apartments, still delivers one of Dallas’ most unexpected dining experiences: fine food in fine surroundings at a fair price. Appetizers and entrees alike are first-rate. If you’re not up for one of the excellent meals, enjoy a glass of wine and a sampling of cheese or one of their many patés. 3605 McKinney Ave., 214-528-6010. $$.

DBEST L’Ancestral. Let L’Ancestral remind you of traditional delights: The civilized dining room is softly lit. tables are draped in starchy white, and the menu is stubbornly, traditionally French. Begin your meal with a bowl of onion soup, about as recherché as you could get, but some ideas need no improvement. The onion tart is just as subtly good. Lamb is cooked perfectly medium rare, and steak au poivre comes with the the best, yes, French fries in town. 4514Travis 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 MidwayRd., 972-733-0202. $$-$$$.

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

D BEST The Pyramid Room. That overused word, opulence, must be hauled out again-the Fairmont Hotel’s flagship restaurant demands it, Here is service and ambience that beggar less extravagant description. The food, too, deserves superlatives. You can hardly ask for more cosseting at any price than that provided by this serenely cosmopolitan restaurant. Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N. Akard St., 214-720-5249. $$$.

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



GOURMET TO GO

Bon Vivant Market. Longtime Dallas chef Dan O’Leary is the food mind behind this all-purpose market. Bon Vivant has plenty of room to navigate a basket around the central island filled with prepared meals (veal meatloaf. lasagna), past the bakery (crusty Euro-country loaves), to the grill area (Juicy chicken skewers) and sandwich bar. Plus, there’s a real wine department and tables for eating in. 1801 Preston Rd., Piano, 972-818-1177. $-$$.

City Cafe To Go. Does anybody cook from scratch anymore? According to the friendly 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 350 degrees for 20 minutes, most of the dishes (for instance, a thickly sliced rare leg of lamb with charred, sun-dried tomatoes) are tasty and reheat beautifully. We love the apple pizza: a thick slice of thinly sliced apples layered with sugar and cinnamon, covered with two inches of nut-laden crumble topping. 5757 Lovers Ln.. 214-351-3366, $-$$

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 LawnAve..214-526-1515.$-$$.

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 lnwood Rd.. 972-387-9804. $.



GREEK

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

D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly get a prime-time table at this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take reservations, except for large parties. But the herbed 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. Entrées run the gamut from broiled fresh fish to pot roast to fried chicken, all accompanied by an endless supply of vegetables. Don’t worry if your entrée seems small-you can reorder as often as you wish. 4503 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-5681. $.

DCs 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. $.

D REVISITS Mecca. We want to be as happy as Becci ai Mecca. It had been a year since we slopped in at the Harry Hines institution, and we liked our recent breakfast so much that we wanted to stay for lunch. The place was sunny, cheerfully decorated with flowers in Spam and Manwich cans. Everyone but us was a regular, and our blonde waitress, Becci, knew them all. She kept our coffee cups filled, she called us “non,” she cheerfully delivered ridiculously large plates of banana pancakes, thick-cut bacon, eggs over easy, great big biscuits, and reassuring hash browns at an appropriate morning pace, charged us eye-blinkingly low prices for the whole experience, then smiled and waved when we left. We may be giving her more credit than she deserves, but we don’t know who else to blame for a happy morning. It so seldom happens. 10422 Harry Hines, 214-352-0051.$.

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



INDIAN

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

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



ITALIAN

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

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

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 sautéed with onions and bell peppers on top of angel hair pasta covered in a light mari-nara is gutsier. 2720 McKinney Ave., 214-871-4955.$$.

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 Egyptian. It’s dark, outdated, and frankly, a dump. The food is predictable and mostly pedestrian, except the famous pizza. But all an institution has to do in order to succeed is endure. Dallas loves Campisi’s and has for decades. Cash or check only. 5610 E. Mockingbird Ln., 214-827-0355. $.

Isola Gozo. The parking lot just doesn’t help the ambience. But the best you could hope for from a restaurant in NorthPark is some retail compatibility. Thin-crusted pizza is always the star-a perfectly proportioned layering of bread and topping, just held together with cheese. The fare at Isola Gozo is sophisticated and good and deserves a better setting. The Market, NorthPark Center. Park Lane at Central Expressway. 214-691-0488. $$.

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

Maggiano’s Little Italy. Chicken Giardina is four huge half-breasts, fried and smothered to death with sautéed vegetables. The calamari is only inoffensive, But the lamb chops with rosemary garlic are excellent-rosy, juicy, and fragrant-and the fet-tucine alfredo is cooked correctly, sauced in acoat-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, 214-360-0707.$$$.

D BEST Mi Piaci At all times, these hip-per-than-hip rooms are filled with people who look like they just stepped off the fashion pages. The menu focuses on classic Tuscan cuisine, with homemade pasta, made-to-order risotto, and superb breads. You’ll always see waiters expertly deboning the tender Dover sole for savvy diners. Our only complaint: The noise level can get pretty high. 14854 Montfort Dr., 972-934-8424. $$.

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

Nicola’s. From its tony Tuscan a! fresco decor to the woody perfume of grilled meats, Nicola’s exhibits stylishness beyond typical mall restaurants. For a light meal, glass of wine, and an unsurpassed view of Dallasites doing what they do best-shopping-Nicola’s is the best. In the Galleria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy. at LBJ, 972-788-1177.$$.

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

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

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

Vitto’s. The menu attempts several ambitious dishes-including some veal preparations-but most people stick to the pasta and pizza. We Like the “different” pizzas: one topped with spinach, goat cheese, and red peppers; the other with garlic, spinach, bacon, and pepperoni. 316 W. 7th St., 214-946-1212. $-$$.



Bloody Mary Morning

Build your own eye-opener on weekends at Ozona-they bring you the ice and your choice of vodka (from more than 15 flavors and brands), and you garnish at will from a buffet set with 25 kinds of hot sauces, seasonings, pickled okra, celery, carrots, avocado, popcorn shrimp, green and black olives, onions, pickles, horseradish, baby corn-It’s breakfast In a glass. Served all morning long-10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ozena. Grill, 4615 Greenville Ave., 214-265-9105.

JAPANESE

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

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

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 ambiance, willing attendance to every need, an arresting selection of sakes, hot and cold-and of course, good food. 220 W. Campbell Rd., 972-470-0722. $$.

Tel Tel. 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. $$-$$$.

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



LATIN AMERICAN

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

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



MEDITERRANEAN

Adelmo’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 varied and reasonable. Entrées and appetizers alike feature creatively bold sauces that will hold your attention long after the main ingredients of the dishes had been devoured. 4537 Cole Ave., 214-559-0325.$$.

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

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

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

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

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



MEXICAN

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

Blue Goose. Size does matter. And so, evidently, does noise, if you’re trying to deduce the Blue Goose’s formula for success. But the food at the Goose is consistently good as well as generous. The cheese enchiladas and flautas are as fat as tamales; the chile rellenos come as a pic-cadillo-filled pair. And the Homer Price tortilla machine turns out the thick, powdery flour tortillas that fold around some of the best fajita meat in town. 2905 Greenville Ave., 214-823-6786. $$.

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. Pork camitas feature pork slow-cooked to shreds and wrapped in a tortilla with fresh grilled vegetables and spicy rice. But the dop-pelganger 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 S3.75 all day long. Sopapillas. once the darling dessert at every Tex-Mex joint, are still handmade, light, and greaseless, such a surprisingly elegant finish to the meal that we wished we’d brought our demi-tasse, too. 11742-A Marsh Lane at Forest. 972-357-0141.$.

Chuy’s. Dallas’ most frenzied dining scene, if you can call this “dining,” The frenetically zany decor induces an attentional deficit and the food is competent Tex-Mex, but the herds of elbow-bending college students can be daunting if you’re over 30 or are indisposed to dine in a den. Din. Whatever. 4544 McKinney Ave., 214-559-2489. $.

Dos Charros. This is food for people who break into a sweat at the sight of a habanera chile. The extensive menu has plenty of seafood choices and healthful options added to the list of traditional favorites. 108 University Village Shopping Center, Belt Line and Piano roads, 972-783-7671.$. Margaritas.

El Norte, The decor varies from the authentic look of specials painted directly on the walls to cheesy plastic flamingos in the flower boxes, but some solidly good food comes out of the kitchen. This is a great family spot with a reasonable, all-you-can-eat special. 2205 W. Parker Rd., Piano. 972-596-6783. $. Margaritas.

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

Javier’s Gourmet Mexteano. 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 thing. Fileté Cantinflas looks like a fried puck, but inside the stiff crust is a cheese-stuffed filet mignon with a brick-colored chile sauce-too rich to eat. too good not to try. 4912 ColeAve.,2I4-52I-4211. $$.

Las Cazuelas, This tiny East Dallas jewel serves up marvelous food, starting with the killer salsa that’s made with fresh cilantro, onion, and tomato essences. 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. $.

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

Mario’s Chiquita. A Dallas classic, this restaurant eschews velvet paintings and kitsch in favor of a pretty, casual decor and offers upscale Mexico City-style fare, as well as some of the best Tex-Mex combinations in town. 221 W. Parker Rd.. Ste. 400. Piano. 972-423-2977. $-$$.

Martin’s Cocina. The kitchen here does magic things with seafood (shrimp especially) and offers a listing of entrées that weigh in at less than 1,000 calories each, including the four chiles rellenos. But 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.. 214-319×34. $-$$.

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

Mia’s. For 14 years, this venerable institution has dished up definitive Tex-Mex food to addicts who stand in line on Tuesdays, when owner Ana Enriquez satisfies their lust for her incomparable chiles rellenos. Other days, they make do with house specialties. Service is cheerful; the setting is no-frills comfortable. The bad news: beer and wine only. 4322 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-1020. $.

Mi Coclna. This chain has expanded so rapidly, you’d think Dal lashes 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; 77 Highland Park Village. 214-521 -6426; multiple locations. $-$$. Margaritas.

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

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

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

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

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

Prime’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; 3309 McKinney, 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 the tablescape is complete: Light, fresh chips, vinegary salsa, and fast margaritas are the intro 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 at 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.$.

Taco Diner. The name sounds slightly retro. But the tacos at the Diner are real Mexican soft tacos, not drive-through, crunchy. greasy Tex-Mex mutations. The com tortillas are the star here; no matter what you wrap them around, the result is good-chicken with cojita cheese, grilled pork, and meaty mushrooms are all complemented by the fragrant masa tortillas. 4011 Villanova, 214-696-4944. $. Margaritas.



MIDDLE EASTERN

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

Ararat This is Middle Eastern ambiance all the way, but we love Ararat because the food is some of the most exotic in town. Main courses are complicated, generous plates, rilled with big chunks of lamb in a fiery dark tomato sauce with orange-red bulghur pilaf and a Persian rice pilaf threaded with vermicelli. Skewered shrimp is served on a bed of a complex pomegranate sauce deepened with dates and quartered figs. Simple tastes can settle for roast lamb in a rosemary sauce. 2934 Main Street, 214-744-1555. $$.

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 tiny kitchen overachieves on most of its Turkish dishes, especially if you like it spicy. The dining room gets cozy at night, but those who tolerate early evening daylight are rewarded with a happy hour. Solid service tops off a superb all-around experience. 5450 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 222, 214-902-0919. $-$$.

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

D REVISITS Hedary’s. The grand-daddy-or basha, as we say in Arabic-of Dallas Middle Eastern food is being threatened by its young. Middle Eastern food is trendy now, so Dallasites are becoming more demanding. 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, but our last maza-fest was mediocre. 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 too 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 what is Moroccan cuisine, and what is it doing in Dallas? It is lamb and couscous and fresh vegetables spiced with mysterious combinations of nutmeg, paprika, and cumin- wonderful. The Moroccan Feast-a sample of almost everything on the menu-is a bargain at $26.95 per person. Vibrant Middle-Eastern music accompanies a veiled belly dancer in a purple bra who gyrates and finger-cymbales her way around the room. 5207 W. Lovers Ln., 214-357-4104.$$.



NEW AMERICAN

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

Beau Nash. The genteel bustle of a world-class hotel makes dinner at this restaurant seem like a special occasion. Good picks: a portobello tart or moist-hearted Atlantic salmon. Bad pick: a salad of Belgian endive and unforgivably dry and yellow mache. Service throughout is immaculate and thoughtful. Hotel Crescent Court, 2215 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-871-3240.$$-$$$.

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

Dakota’s. The pad of paper and pen beside the plate are the first clue to Dakota’s lunchtime target. That’s if you didn’t notice the standard lunchtime uniforms around ever)’ table-pinstripes preferred. The menu is correspondingly conservative, focusing on grilled meats and predictable pastas, with imaginative New American touches on some dishes, like the venison sausage in the quesadillas and the tortilla crust on the halibut. For a business meal, though, the noise level needs to come way down. 600 N. Akard St., 214-740-4001. $$.

Landmark Restaurant Landmark’s menu may make you wish for an atlas and a thesaurus to find your way around, but if you’ll close your eyes, forget about the origin of your vegetables, and eat them, you’ll have a great trip. The New American food here, under the direction of Jim Anile, is ultra-imaginative, if highly complicated. And the gently refurbished room remains one of the most gracious in town. In the Melrose, 30J5 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-5151.$$-$$$.

D BEST Laurels. Rising star executive chef and general manager Danielle Custer brings her cutting-edge cuisine to Sheraton Park Central’s 20th floor. Incomprehensible dishes like pear soup with plum wine crème 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. Sheraton Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr.. 972-385-3000. $$$.

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

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

Nana Gril. The new menu broadens Nana’s focus from Southwestern to Regional American. Service is supremely suave and caring, the accoutrements define luxe, and the ambiance is as comfortably refined as always in this upscale establishment. In the Wyndham Anatole Hotel Tower. 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, 214-521-0295.$$.

Bevy’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.$$.

D REVISITS York Street. Is York Street shrinking? Or does it seem smaller in comparison with the gargantuan restaurants that have opened recently? The restaurant felt like a refuge when we entered, a safe haven to hide for a while from the steak-house stampede. Maybe if we stay here long enough, we thought, those steroid lobsters will all be gone when we come out. The choices of elegant food-pheasant pate with pears, frogs’ legs, roast duck, and quail, were a wonderful relief from the beef or chicken duty we’ve been pulling. The place is small, but it allows for intimacy. This is the better mousetrap. Beat a path to its door-but you’ll have to stand in line, 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. A recent dinner spun into hours of conversation just because the atmosphere was so conducive to it. Our apologies-and thanks-to the staff who patiently waited to see us out. 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 sipping bright blue Aquatinis in the elegant lounge, eating from a simpler menu that includes platters of fresh shrimp, oysters, clams, and small-plate versions of the dinner entrées, an excellent option for those who i want a taste of the high life without the high tab. 3214 Knox St.,214-2l9-2782.$$$.

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 fi let 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 ram. 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 Daddy Jack’s. Every time we visit one of JackChaplin’s retaurants, he’s always there. So it was no surprise when we walked into the new location in Preston Royal to find him (in his apron, in the middle of dinner rush) chatting with a table of regulars. He popped back in the kitchen, only to come out with a plate of lobsters to deliver to another table with a handshake and a kiss. We felt like we’d walked into a family reunion. With pricey lobsters the rage all over town, Chaplin brings the delicacy back to realistic prices. Mark your calendars: Weekdays, a one-pounder is only $10.95; weekends, they are still a bargain (they come with baked potato and com). Sunday and Mondays it’s all you can eat for $34.95. 5940 Royal Lane, 214-378-6767. $$.

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

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

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

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

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

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



Fish Story

Chef William Guthrie has been perfecting his beer batter fop 13 years. We think he’s got it. The golden, crusty batter poufs out around the cod, making Guthrie’s fish and chips remarkably light when fried. Choose malt vinegar, ketchup, or just lemon to set off the richness. And don’t forget- grease is a good thing for fish and chips. Guthrie’s, 400S. Ervay, 214-760-7900.

SOUTHWESTERN

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

Flying Surra The Burro’s brand of Mexican food isn’t purely New Mexican-there’s more meat and cheese richness on this menu than most New Mexicans (except those from California) can afford to relish. Enchiladas are stacked and come topped with an egg. 2831 GreenvilleAve.,214-827-2112.$.

Ko Place. Tender elk sirloin and boneless rabbit are sided with sautéed portobello mushrooms and onions. Better-than-beef chicken-fried venison comes with Mali’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. $$-$$$.

Sam’s Cafe The menu is mostly mainstreamed New Southwest, food that succeeds more with heft than invention. The Southwest pot roast tills a dinner plate and two later lunches, was a hunk of tender beef allegedly spiced with chili and sided with a mountain of mashed potatoes. Sedona spring mils were a novelty item that wrapped flour tortillas around chopped chicken and vegetables with an unpleasantly smooth barbecue sauce. 100 Crescent Court, 214-555-2233.$$.

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

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

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



STEAKHOUSES

Biernat’s. The dinner menu’s specialty section features prime rib, rack of lamb, and jumbo lobsters. The entrées 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 portobel-lo mushroom and tomato fanned around a hummock of baked goat cheese. 4217 Oak Lawn, 214-219-2201.$$$.

Bob’s Steak & Chop House. This place dazzles with juicy, tasty cuts of meat-coupled with veggie and potato-and pleasant, attentive service. All at the appropriate price. 4300 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 BEST Chamberlain’s Prime Chop House. Prime rib and a trimmed-to-lean ribeye are robustly rare and complemented with garlic mashed potatoes. Figure in service that is, if not clairvoyant, almost uncannily empathetic, and you’ll have some grasp of the comfortable ambience that keeps this cigar-friendly outpost filled even on weekday evenings. 5330 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-934-2467. $$-$$$.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. Filets are virtually perfect, the cuts of meat as thick as couch cushions, and the wine list is varied. Even the vegetables are great. Not for the faint of pocketbook, but it’s worth serious consideration when you’re in the mood to blow it out red-meat style. 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, the prime rib was pure retro-quality, and the onion rings might be the best in Dallas. 3525 Greenville Ave., 214-821-2122; 3408 Preston Road, Piano, 972-867-2122.$$.

Morton’s of Chicago. Understatement reigns here, from dark wood to etched glass, starched white linens and muted Sinatra, and more than 30 martini varieties. And, of course, there are steaks-big, beautiful steaks. 501 Elm St., 214-741-2277.$$$.

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

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

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

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



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 Beltline Rd. at 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. Whal makes her food different is what makes any chef’s food special: imagination. 5631 Alta Ave., 214-887-8795. $$. 9

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



VIETNAMESE

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

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

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



TARRANT COUNTY

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

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

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

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

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

Cacharel. This easily tops Arlington’s dining scene, such as it is, with its French country decor and New French cuisine. The fixed-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, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmosphere is genuine cowboy. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth. 817-624-3945. $$-$$$.

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

D BEST Grape Escape. The gimmick here is education-Grape Escape is trying to do the same thing for wine that brew pubs did for beer. So you order ’’flights” of the grape of your choice, and the waiter brings a four-glass tasting of say, chardonnay, from Sonoma, Napa. Australia, and New Zealand. Compare and contrast. The food is designed around the wine, so you can change direction mid-meal-start with while 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 an 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. Ils location near the Stockyards is a rambling plantation that can handle the crowds for whom the restaurant’s stains 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. $$.

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

Reata. Reata’s upscale “cowboy cuisine” includes a chicken-fried steak the size of a boot and steaks with Mexican side dishes. A special of blackened salmon is covered with a roasted com, red pepper, and cilantro relish with small cubes of queso fresco. But the Vaquero Sampler, a huge platter of Mexican selections (shredded chicken chili rellenos. cacciota cheese enchiladas, a beef tamale, barbecue shrimp enchiladas and rice and beans) is an undistinguishable mess. The view is nice, but the food doesn’t always match up. 500 Throckmorton St.. Fort Worth, 817-336-1009.$$-$$$.

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