ANGELS IN THE PARK
Our first trip to Angels In The Park was a lot like our first trip to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Even though we knew the scenery was fake, it was still scary. In fact, it just so happens that the restaurant located in Pirates of the Caribbean is Angels In the Park co-owner Barry Lyon’s favorite restaurant in the “whole world.”
We were somewhat prepared for our first dining experience. When construction began. word on the street was that the creators were restaurant rookies with loads of cash and were pending it outlandishly to create a dramatic interior designed to be the talk of die town. We’d heard about their headstrong, ambitious i plans to do it all-a cafeteria setup for lunch, F a white tablecloth restaurant for dinner, a late-night bar scene-and do it all for 24 hours a day. We’d seen huge plastic trees loaded in just before they opened. Angels sounded so themed that when we finally opened the front door, we expected to see a sign next to the hostess stand stating, “You must be this tall to eat here.”
The theme is a 1940s park at twilight; the effect is created with fiber optic stars that twinkle across the ceiling and red brick walkways lined with gas-burning street lights that wind through life-sized twinkle-lit trees. One wall has the facade of a southern Victorian house surrounded by a white picket fence while a huge fountain gurgles from (and on) the mirrored wall on the other side of the room. Rickety wooden chairs teeter on the bricks- this is one touch of realism they could have avoided. The sounds of chirping birds sing from the trees. (We can only hope that Barry never finds those recorded cricket noises he’s still searching for.)
It took our waiter three full minutes to explain all of our ordering options: We could grab a tray and go through a cafeteria-style line with Southern specialties; we could order from an “extensive and impressive” sandwich list; or we could order one of the many daily specials. Then we had to hear how the concept changed at dinner to white tablecloth and a menu full of entrées over $20. We were exhausted, and we hadn’t even gotten a glass of water. To make it harder, the type was so small we had to have our waiter read parts of it aloud to us. (On the bottom of the page, in even smaller type, was a notice that Braille menus would soon be available.)
We got no comfort from the “comfort food” offered in the hot line-the Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and black-eyed peas were just a pinch better than the Luby’s down the street, but maybe that’s why that option had disapeared by the time of our second visit. We took one bite of the foul-tasting Southwest shrimp cocktail and spit it into our napkin. Grilled, the shrimp was at least edible, but it was served with a pedestrian-looking scoop of risotto and probably would be just as good at Luby’s at half the price.
Sandwiches are what the kitchen does best. Our club sandwich was two thick slices of homemade bread filled with fresh ham, turkey, bacon, and Swiss and cheddar cheeses. Angels in the Park, 4006 Cedar Springs, 214-219-1375. $$.
It’s no secret. The word is out, and the wait for a table at Rockfish can be long. But the 18-ounce Rock-A-Ritas served in chilled schooners and the buckets of free peanuts help time pass fast. Rockfish in Piano is the newest venture of See-Worthy Restaurants, which operates Mother Pearl’s and Half Shells oyster bar.
Their motto is: “Great seafood. Not a lot of clams.” There’s not a lot of rockfish, either. The menu told us all about the 400 varieties of rockfish (sold as pacific snapper) with the admonition, ’Try it, you’ 11 like it.” But the only option was a Rockfish sandwich, which didn’t appeal. So we skipped the learning experience and followed the word-of-mouth advice instead.
We arrived after 9 p.m.; the exhausted hostess took our names and sent us to the bar, where we struck up a conversation with the threesome on the stools next to us. They were busy with a huge boiled dinner, and a hockey game was on the bar TV, so we didn’t bother with the menu but ordered one just like theirs from the bartender.
For $22.99 we got an oversized platter rilled with more than a pound of fresh crab, about 30 medium boiled shrimp, two ears of corn, several new potatoes, and a foot of sausage. We cracked and peeled and dipped for eternity-till the Stars won-and though the pile of shells grew, the pile of shrimp never seemed to get smaller-we ended up taking home enough for another person. Our service was a little inattentive, but hey, we were relying on the bartender instead of a waiter. And there was a game on.
See-Worthy has made its name with neighborhood concepts and has been so successful that their restaurants don’t feel like concepts at all. Rockfish is cozy and uncontrived; even the cute stuff, like the tin-pail light fixtures, and the out-of-place ambience, like me rock fireplace on the patio overlooking the parking lot, feels comfortable. Our main problem with Rockfish is that it’s a neighborhood restaurant, but it’s not in our neighborhood. Rockfish, 7639Campbell Road (at Coit), 972-267-8979, $-$$.
NICK & SAM’S
They’re pros, all right. We walked through the dining room door of Nick & Sam’s, and an astute waiter recognized us immediately and fled to management. Co-owner Patrick Colombo came rushing over and introduced himself-to the one person at the table who was not reviewing, as it turns out-but the effort was impressive.
Colombo is an old Dallas face returned; he started out here as food and beverage director of the Mansion, then went on to found San Simeon and Sfuzzi. His partner at Nick & Sam’s is Phil Romano, the brain behind Macaroni Grill, Fuddrucker’s, and Eatzi’s. They’re adynamic duo. (That said, we ordered a glass of Veuve Cliquot and were brought a glass of the house bubbly. Colombo remedied the situation.)
Nick & Sam’s is a steakhouse first, but 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; it doubles as a tasting lounge where you can order flights of wine, and dinner, too, if you’re in me mood. We “flew” from Penfold’s Shiraz 95 from Australia to Fess Parker 95 and Qupe 97, both from Santa Barbara-an elegant trio. It’s been an immediate hit-on Saturday nights the bar is packed with buff blondes and their expense-account dates. The restaurant is filled with an equally chic but slightly more sedate crowd than the bar-one night we saw Stanley Marcus reigning atone table and Alan Peppard parading through the premises on a prepran-dial tour, along with those fashionable faces you see in The Scene but can’t identify.
The pre-opening menu we received in the mail had already been cut by the first time we ate there-no more daily risotto, fewer vegetable options. We ate the traditional steak-house meal-a wedge salad with creamy lumps of Maytag blue cheese, Surf V Turf (snowy sweet lobster tail and soft filet), and a prime aged “cowboy steak” with sides. We told the waiter one of our party was a vegetarian visiting from California and asked what the kitchen could do for us. And we were delighted with the mound of off-the-menu risotto, huge spears of steamed asparagus, buttered green beans, and cut corn beautifully arranged on a plate. Other sides were the “hand pressed” potatoes, cooked potatoes gently run through a ricer, and three-cheese macaroni with a toasted topping. Who needs the steaks?
Dessert was a delicious apple/strawberry pie and a glass of port. But on our second visit, the menu had been edited again and the pie was gone, along with our favorite macaroni and cheese.
The most successful twist on the traditional steakhouse is the setting itself. This is, blessedly, not a faux men’s club. No brass, etched glass, or hunting paintings. A baby grand whimsically marks the division between the open kitchen and the dining room-you can watch waiters pick up orders and dodge the piano on their way to tables. Nick & Sam’s, 3008 Maple Ave., 214-871 -7663, $$-$$$.
Red Hot & Blue. The music helps the whole situation-lots of Elvis, Rufus Thomas, and Jerry Lee Lewis set the stage for a mind-set change, Red Hot & Blue’s version of pulled pork is the real thing: a sandwich with a pile of tender pork, along with a mound of crunchy, sweet cole slaw piled high on the sandwich. The dry ribs aren’t anything special until you add the Hoochie Coochie sauce-and spend 10 minutes with your tongue immersed in a glass of ice. 9810 N. Central Expwy., 214-368-7427. $.
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, really-Sammy’s is a family-run enterprise, and ail the Pritchards pitch in. 2126 Leonard St., 214-880-9064. $.
D BEST Sonny Bryan’s. For 40 years, Sonny Bryan’s meaty ribs, moist brisket, and classic barbecue sauce have been the standard by which all other Dallas barbecue is judged. For die 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. $.
Highland Park Pharmacy. We can only describe the Pharmacy atmosphere as reassuring. Some people love the 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, me bread buttery and crisp. Chips are extra; sodas and milkshakes are priceless. Lunch only. 3229 Knox St., 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 wilt still be warm, with the rum freshly sprinkled on top. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-2505; multiple locations. $.
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 all-American hamburger is served at Chip’s. Both locations have an atmosphere as wholesome as a Beach Boys song, and die 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. $.
D BEST The Prince of Hamburgers. The crispy-edged, toasty bun, the slim but beefy-tasting, just-cooked patty, and the simple but fresh garnitures combine to make the quintessential American sandwich. Prince sticks to the classic accompaniments: thick shakes, incredibly frosty root beer, fries, and fabulous onion rings, all brought to you by a real live person. 5200 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-9081.$.
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. $.
Texas Hamburgers. This Texas kitsch joint is filled with stuffed armadillos, Texas flags, cowboy memorabilia, good ol’ boys, and Armani-clad Design Center sophisticates. Besides great half-and third-pound burgers accompanied by fresh fixings, this place serves some great meatloaf with a tasty tomato sauce laden with celery, onions, and peppers. 1616 Market Center Blvd.. 214-747-2222.$.
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. $-$$.
Jasmine. Ersatz nightclub ambience collides with hustle-bustle service, but freshly prepared cuisine fortunately transcends both. Exquisite Ming chicken, redolent with spices and served in a crispy cold iceberg lettuce shell, was almost a meal in itself. 4002 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-991-6867. $-$$.
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. $-$$.
Szechwan Pavilion. One of the top Chinese restaurants in a city with far too few to choose from. Service here is smooth, and the usual Szechuan specialties are good. Pot stickers rilled with juicy pork and a whole crispy fish are worth waiting for. 8409 Preston Rd., 214-368-4303. $-$$.
Undo Chow. The menu might be small, but the flavor’s all there, especially if you start with the pan-fried chicken dumplings, jam-packed with tender white meat. 19021 Midway Rd., 972-306-2469. $-$$.
Cafe Brazil. “Brazil” here is a coffee cue. but this cafe is not just another Java joint. The brews are varied, and the laid-back attitude of all three locations make them comfortable chat rooms, but the food is better than it has to be. Breakfasts are particularly notable. 6420 N. Central Expwy.. 214-691-7791; multiple locations. $.
Cafe Society. Dallas’ most authentic coffeehouse not only roasts its own beans but offers a comfortable but hip environment for serious discussion, flirtation, hanging out, listening to music, and feeling generally plugged-in and with it. 209 Henry St., 214-745-1964. $.
Deli Hews. This plainly authentic deli has continued to demonstrate that you don’t have to be from New York to know the Real Thing when you taste it. Hot cabbage borscht, potato pancakes, and rye-wrapped pastrami are all wonderful. 4805 Frankford, 972-733-3354. $-$$.
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. $.
Athénée 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.$$.
Bistro A. Peripatetic chef Avner Samuel’s latest venture is his best yet, and better yet. Bistro A looks like it’s going to be around awhile. Dishes with Middle Eastern influences are especially good, but the chef does equally well with simple steak fries, and casserole-roasted chicken could be the best bird in town. Beware of spotty service. 6815 Snider Plaza, 214-373-9911.$$-$$$.
Bread Winners. Three different menus a day are all imaginative. But the buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes and cream gravy is the real winner-lightly battered and fried fork-tender chicken over leek mashed potatoes and cream gravy so good it makes the bland bread better. 3301 McKinney Ave., 214-754-1940. $-$$.
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. 19IS Greenville Ave.. 214-841-9990. $-$$.
D DEST The Grape, The secret is that Dallas’ oldest and best wine bar is really one of its oldest and best restaurants-dim and atmospheric, with a blackboard menu that remains interesting and enticing (no matter how often the chef changes) and the tiniest, most romantic bar in town. 2808 Greenville Ave., 214-828-1981. $$.
D BEST The Green Room. This 90s bistro continues to dish out some or the most inventive cuisine to be found between New York and L.A. The menu is eclectically uptown, and die 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. $$-$$$.
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. Centra! Expwy., Ste. 500, Piano, 972-516-0865. $$.
Soho. The imaginative one-world-on-a-plate concept isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The Mahi Mahi is the dish that would lure us back to pseudo-Soho: its light ginger and lemon-grass crust, grilled to tender, bedded on nutty red wehani rice and encircled with a soy-lemon sauce. An armagnac poached pear with toasted walnut and rice mascarpone cheese is simple elegance done well. 5290 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-490-8686. $$.
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. $$.
D BEST Barclays. Don’t come to Barclays expecting to find a pint of bitters and bangers and mash. This is upper-crust English fare with a European twist. Potato ravioli stuffed with Stilton cheese and wild mushrooms is of regal status. And if you’re looking for that perfect place to “pop” the question or celebrate something special, look no further-this place is a gem. 2917 Fairmount St., 214-855-0700. $$-$$$.
Bizú. This is the beginning of the Gallic flood we’ve been predicting. It’s a bistro-you can order omelettes for lunch (we like the tomato-basil one), steak tartare, and pommes frites. The patés, including a smooth-as-cream chicken liver mousse and a coarse country meat loaf, are fragrant and spicy, a great lunch with the Bizú salad: a toss of pear slivers, mature spinach leaves, feta, and raspberry vinaigrette. 2504 McKinney Ave., 214-303-1002. $$.
Chez Gerard. Which is more to be celebrated, French thrift or French style? Skin-thin petals of veal liver, sautéed with onions and grapes in port wine sauce, become the gourmand’s liver and onions-or is it the peasant’s foie gras? Whatever. 4444_McKinney Ave., 214-522-6865. $$-$$$.
Clair De Lune. Tucked behind some trees in the corner of a small strip of shops in Preston Royal, this cozy French country restaurant delights with delicious food and impeccable service. A classic house-made pork paté is served with diced onion, French cornichons, and mustard. Poitrine de canard, a splendidly moist duck breast, is served with a delicate port wine sauce. 5934 Royal Ln. at Preston Road, 214-987-2028. $$-$$$.
French Room. This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling, Versailles-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn’t mesh with the modem world. It’s only natural to expect perfect food that matches the fairy-tale room. Sweetbread schnitzel is perfect, placed on a bed of asparagus ragout. Lamb ribeye is precisely matched with rosemary goat cheese polenta and tomato confit with basil, combining every Mediterranean high note in a single dish. Hotel Adolphus, 1321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200. $$$.
D REVISITS Jennivine. We turned the corner from McKinney to Lemmon and saw the huge sign proclaiming, “We’re here and we’re staying.” That’s the spirit of Jenny Messina, who refused to give in to urban revitalisation. The charming old house is as popular a pop-the-question romantic spot as ever. Wood floors, quaint bar candles, flowers, and fine food are the setting for a nice selection of wines by the glass, including a Black Opal Australian chardonnay, which was lovely with our house paté, thickly crusted with cracked pepper and a selection of fine cheese. But our waitress convinced us that we had to try the tilapia, a perfectly tender filet on a layer of lemony orzo with red cabbage and a tablespoon of sweet potatoes. A 1ittle of each on the fork was a perfect mouthful of food. Recently we’ve had some wild versions of chocolate mousse, but the version here was classic-bittersweet, firm mousse topped with fresh whipped cream. Whatever they’re doing to McKinney, there’s no need for renovations in Jennivine’s kitchen. 3605 McKinney Ave., 214-528-6010. $$.
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 recherché 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 comes 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. $$-$$$.
Old Warsaw. Hanging on to a reputation as one of Dallas’ oldest elite restaurants is tough, but La Vieille Varsovie is valiant. It takes effort to find much fault with the food-from appetizers to dessert, the meal is an anachronistic treat. Servers, however, are only acceptably pleasant. 2610 Maple Ave., 214-528-0032.$$$.
The Pyramid Room. The table d’hote menu is a good deal-$68 for four courses with wine, $44 without. Cream of carrot soup with celery root and gorgonzola croutons is good, hot, and thick, with a spicy nose. As for the main courses, a fan of rare duck slices with a wonderful apple-pineapple wild rice goes perfectly with an Indigo Hills pinot noir, the food and the wine forming a perfect circle on the palate. Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N. Akard St., 214-720-5249. $$$.
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. $$.
GOURMET TO GO
City Harvest. This neighborhood favorite is open every day and serves real morning food. Downtowners take note: Oak Cliff is easy for lunch (buy a bag of Zapp’s chips and a triple chocolate chunk cookie to go with the pesto chicken salad deluxe sandwich), and you can pick up dinner to go while you eat. 939 N. Edgefield Ave., 214-943-2650. $-$$.
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. $-$$.
Sigel’s Fresh Market. Besides the stellar cheese counter, dozens of kinds of imported pasta, great selection of olive oils, and other gourmet comestibles, the little deli adjoining Sigel’s liquor store sells perhaps the best roast chicken to go in town-and it’s a deal, too. 15003 Inwood Rd? 972-387-9804, $-$$.
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. $$.
D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly get a prime-time table at this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take reservations, except for large parties. But the herbed lamb souvlaki, folded in thick warm pita and sauced with tart yogurt, is worth a wait. Ziziki’s menu has featured the same idiosyncratic version of Mediterranean food since it opened-it’s a good thing when some things don’t change. 4514 Travis St., Ste. 122, 214-521-2233.$$.
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. $-$$.
D REVISITS Natalie. Everybody knows everybody at Natalie’s. Waiters are on a first-name basis with most of the customers, and we overheard one waiter say, “Are you sure you want the meatloaf again? You just had it Friday.” It’s the ultimate neighborhood spot: The portions are large, and the prices are small. So is the place-only 13 tables inside, with a few more on the sidewalk. Get there early-and we mean before 5:30 or after 7:30-it seems like this is an early dining spot. We had to try the meatloaf because our neighbor seems to live on it. For $7.95 we were served an 8 by 3 inch slab of finely ground meat with a light tomato sauce on top, mixed crisp steamed vegetables, and a hunk of mashed potatoes. We also sampled a special pounded chicken with melted provolone cheese in a roasted red pepper sauce with oven-roasted potatoes. Our total bill was just under $20, helped by the fact that you bring your own wine. But the secret to Natalie’s success is the cinnamon rolls. We always order extra to take home for the next morning. 5944 Royal Ln., 214-739-0362. $.
India Palace. Delicate spices imbue truly fine Indian cuisine. And, similar to a fine perfume, too much is an assault on the senses, too little and there’s no magic. India Palace has kept the proper balance for nearly a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. 12817 Preston Rd., Ste. 105,972-392-0190. $-$$.
Alessio’s. The minestrone left our tastebuds bored, and the fettucine was pasty, with undercooked pieces of chicken and flavorless veal piccata. Alessio’s has an established reputation for being a sophisticated Italian ristorante. Not from where we were sitting. Next time we’ll wear our Escada-if we make a better impression on Alessio’s, maybe Alessio’s will make a better impression on us. 4117 Lomo Alto Dr., 214-521-3585.$$-$$$.
Alfonso’s. The menu touches on all the basics, and the house marinara and buttery rolls have held a rapt following for years. An appetizer of artichoke hearts gently warmed in lemon-butter is simply transporting. Lake Highland Village, 718 N. Buckner Blvd. at Northcliff Drive, 214-327-7777. $.
Arcodoro. The bar’s always loud and crowded, and if you want to pick up pizza instead of people, you’ll be an anomaly here. It’s too bad because the food is quite good. The salads are nicely dressed, the pizzas are thin with big bubbling brown crusts, and the special, a pork chop with sage, is good, too. The only problem is, the prices seem steep for bar food. And that’s what Arcodoro feels like. 2520 Cedar Springs, 214-871-1924.$
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.$$.
II Sorrento. Who wouldn’t love the over-the-top, chichi atmosphere at II Sorrento-die canopy of plastic grapevines, the fortune-teller in her niche? It’s completely winning. But the food doesn’t always match die extravagant spirit of die decor. The salad plates still come chilled, but the lettuce is tossed in a pint of Golden Goddess dressing. Housemade gnocchi is plump and perfectly cooked, but die marinara sauce is die victim of a salt murderer in die kitchen. 8616 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-352-8759. $$.
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 die 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. NorthPark Center, Park Lane at Central Expressway, 214-691-0488.$$.
Ml Piaci. Housemade is a term Mi Piaci doesn’t take lightly-the kitchen makes its own pastas and cures its own meats. Every other ingredient is either imported or hand-picked, A bowl of die Tuscan classic ribollita could be enough for a meal. But don’t neglect die spicy penne all’ arrabbiata, die three thin scallops of veal perched on a pile of portobello mushrooms, or die asparagus and cheese tortellini with a fragile Marsala sauce. 14854 Montfort, 972-943-8424. $$-$$$.
D BEST Modo Mio. Here is a “labor of love restaurant that has overcome the obstacle of doing business in an ugly strip mall by serving some of the best Italian food in town. Chef/owner Rino Brigliadori turns out deliciously plump gnocchi lightly coated in tomato sauce, and his simple seafood specials are always perfectly prepared. 18352 Dallas Pkwy., Ste. 112,972-671-6636. $$.
Nicola’s. Nicola’ s makes its own cheeses and frozen desserts-the deliciously light and creamy Mozzarella della 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. $$.
Patrizio’s. Move over, Campisi’s. Patrizio’s signature crab claws just took first place in the crab claws competition. Soft and delicate, they slip off the exoskeleton and melt in your mouth like, well, butter. Oh, yes-you should eat dinner, too: there’s the chicken and mushroom lasagna (good, but rich) and the baked ziti (we had leftovers for breakfast). The prices aren’t what you’d expect with Escada and Calvin Klein just a kiss away. Highland Park Village, Mockingbird at Preston, 214-522-7878. $$.
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, $$.
Rodolfo’s. The service is welcoming, even thoughtful, which makes up for a lot that’s lacking in food and decor. Spinach balls are the dish to order here. Dumplings of ricotta and spinach (yes, it’s probably frozen) are scented with nutmeg and served over pasta. It’s American ’50s Italian style, as is the hefty, overly meaty lasagna and the average chicken parmigiana. 5956 Royal Ln., 214-368-5039. $$.
Vittos. 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; me other with garlic, spinach, bacon, and pepperoni. 316 W. 7th St.. 214-946-1212. $-$$.
Chaya Sushi. The tuna roll is lean, deep red, and fresh. From the robata bar, try the char-grilled sirloin-thinly sliced, bite-sized morsels of rare ten-derloin dipped in ponzu sauce. Gulf shrimp, sautéed in a light ginger sauce, is fragrant and firm. And our all-time favorite dish-simple to make, but hard to make well-is the miso soup. We believe this hot. nourishing version has healing properties, like a global chicken soup. 101 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 214-361-0220. $$.
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? Piano, 972-881-0328. $$.
Sushi Sake. Sushi Sake is half-hidden in a Fleetwood Square strip that we’d call hard to find if so many aficionados weren’t finding it. Many of them are admirers from chef-owner Takashi Soda’s former days as sushi chef of Nakamoto in Piano, and they find here a warmly upbeat ambience, willing attendance to every need, an arresting selection of sakes, hot and cold-and of course, good food. 220 W. Campbell Rd., Richardson, 972-470-0722. $$.
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 modern 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. $$-$$$.
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. $-$$.
D REVISITS Fogo de Chao. This is not a place for the faint of heart. Or the not-very-hungry. Once you’ve signaled “go” by turning your ordering chip from red to green, you are immediately barraged by gaucho-clad waiters waving huge skewers of assorted meats. It can be a little intimidating-strengthen your spirit with a caipirinha-and hard to keep them straight, but trying to figure out what you’re eating guarantees good dinner conversation. We’ve always found the “Lombo”-pork loin crusted with parmesan-dry, but the Frallinha (bottom sirloin) was tender, and the Picanha (rump steak with lots of garlic) had us asking the other waiters to go away and bring back the Picanha. Once we had time to look up we realized this place isn’t much to look at-just two big beige rooms with boarded-up windows. There are lots of long, family-style tables full of long families. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the beautiful salad bar-vegetarians who can get past the carnivorous atmosphere will find nirvana in the form of big bowls of steamed asparagus, mozzarella cheese balls, fejoada, rice, marinated red peppers, hearts of palm, and gorgeous sun-dried tomatoes. 4300 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-503-7300. $$.
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 set 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 com 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 french fries obsolete. 4514TravisStreet, 214-522-4137, $$.
Texas de Brazil. No need for menus here-if s one price fits all. Skewer-swagging waiters slice varied cuts of slow-roasted (and extremely flavorful) filet, picanha, rack of lamb, top sirloin, and pork loin from their swords right onto your plate. The salad bar features 30 hefty items besides salad, including tabbouleh and marinated mushrooms, and the required feijna-da (the national dish of Brazil). 15101 Addison Rd? 972-385-1000. $$$.
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 is varied and reasonable. Entrées and appetizers alike feature creatively bold sauces that will hold your attention long after the main ingredients of the dishes have been devoured. 4537 Cole Ave., 214-559-0325. $$.
D BEST The Riviera. We knew the moment an airy avocado cream hors d’oeuvre passed our lips that we were doomed, once again, to a near-flawless dining experience. Each dish seems to outdo another. Food credits here mostly belong to Chef de Cuisine Frank Harris, one assumes, with input from David Holben, now executive chef at sibling restaurants Mediterraneo and Toscana. 7709 Inwood Rd., 214-351 -0094. $$$.
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. $$.
Avila’s. The create-your-own enchiladas are always a good idea, and the chili relleno reminds us why we like this family-owned place. Stuffed with cheese and topped with a delicious ranchera sauce, the peppers are left unbreaded so that the pungent flavor of the pepper is what you notice, not fried batter. 4714 MapieAve., 214-520-2700.$.
Casa Navarro. This little cafe in a former 7-Eleven specializes in the same unpretentious, cheesy fare we used to love before Tex-Mex became chic. The beer is bring-your-own, and on Wednesdays the enchilada plate is $3.75 all day long. Sopapillas, once the darling dessert at every Tex-Mex joint, are still handmade, light, and greaseless, such a surprisingly elegant finish to the meal that we wished we’d brought our demitasse, too. 11742-A Marsh Lane at Forest, 972-357-0141. $.
El Norte. The decor varies from the authentic look of specials painted directly on the walls to cheesy plastic flamingos in the flower boxes, but some solidly good food comes out of the kitchen. This is a great family spot with a reasonable, all-you-can-eat special. 2205 W. Parker Rd.. Piano. 972-596-6783. $. Margarita.
La Calle Doce. Far from slicker Bell Line and Greenville Avenue eateries, this old house is home to some seriously good Mexican-style seafood. Sit on the porch and dine on a spicy gazpacho-like octopus cocktail served in huge goblets or shrimp, stuffed with crabmeat, covered with chili con queso and tasting much better than it sounds. 415 W. 12th St., 214-941-4304. $-$$.
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 lime for dessert and ask for the flan. 14866 Montfort Dr., Addison, 972-726-0202. $$-$$$.
Mario’s Chiquita. A Dallas classic, this restaurant eschews velvet paintings and kitsch in favor of a pretty, casual decor and offers upscale Mexico City-style fare, as well as some of the best Tex-Mex combinations in town. 221 W. Parker Rd., Ste. 400, Piano, 972-423-2977. $-$$.
Martin’s Cocina. The kitchen here does magic things with seafood (shrimp especially) and offers a listing of entrées that weigh in at less than 1,000 calories each, including the four chiles rellenos. But only skimp if you want to-the most basic combination plate starts ’ with a lettuce-topped chalupa, its toasty tortilla thickly spread with guacamole. 7726 Ferguson Rd., 214-319-8834. $-$$.
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. $-$$.
D BEST Monica Aca Y Alla. This cool place has been around long enough to be a tradition in these days of restaurants that open and close-especially in Deep Ellum. The ambitious menu offers intriguing Southwestern-inspired options as well as more standard Tex-Mex, in a hip and hopping ambience. Best lunch deals in town. 2914 Main St., 214-748-7140. $-$$.
Omega’s. It’s easy to imagine ending evenings at Omega’s. But fortunately Omega’s is also a great place to lunch, and it’s even a comfortable place to eat alone. This friendly little cafe on a Deep Ellum side street serves a complimentary cup of chile con queso with the warmed salsa and tostados. There’s nothing particularly original about the menu, but the basic cheese-oozing enchilada plate is pure comfort food. 212 N. Crowdus St., 214-744-6842. $.
Pepe & Mito’s. The vivid walls and bright lights mean this cafe looks noisy even though it’s not usually crowded. It should be-chips worth mentioning (thick, warm, slightly overcooked), cilantro-laced salsa, and standards like nachos and enchiladas are excellent. Tamales are utterly remarkable, and chicken and beef taquitos are still some of the best in town. 2935 Elm St., 214-741-1901. $. Margaritas.
Plano Tortilla Factory. If you live in Piano, then this little place should be at the top of your list for a quick bite, takeout, or delivery. Piano Tortilla Factory’s appeal doesn’t end with me 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., Plano, 972-423-6980. $.
Sol’s. The goal here seems to be to offer pretty good Mexican food in a pretty comfortable place to folks who live pretty close. Sol’s has found a niche where old-fashioned combination plates- oozing enchiladas, rich chili gravy, deep fried flautas, and lush guacamole-are all that’s required. Nachos come with a pile of sliced jalapenos, margaritas have plenty of tequila, and the set is tuned to Mexican TV. Really, what more do you want on a Sunday evening? 6434 Mockingbird Ln., 214 821-7911.$-$$.
Taco Diner. The name sounds slightly retro. But die tacos at the Diner are real Mexican soft tacos, not drive-through, crunchy, greasy Tex-Mex mutations. The corn tortillas are the star here; no matter what you wrap them around, me result is good-chicken with cojita cheese, grilled pork, and meaty mushrooms are all complemented by die fragrant masa tortillas. Service is hit-or-miss. 4011 Villanova, 214-696-4944. $. Margaritas.
Ararat. This is Middle Eastern ambience all the way, but we love Ararat because the food is some of the most exotic in town. Main courses are complicated, generous plates, filled with big chunks of lamb in a fiery dark tomato sauce with orange-red bulghur pilaf and a Persian rice pilaf threaded with vermicelli. Skewered shrimp is served on a bed of a complex pomegranate sauce deepened with dates and quartered figs. Simple tastes can settle for roast lamb in a rosemary sauce. 2934 Main St., 214-744-1555. $$.
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 Liu, Ste. 222, 214-902-0919.$-$$.
Cafe Izmir This remains one of the best little restaurants in Dallas. The space is small, the service is friendly, and the choices are simple-all you have to say is “meat” or “veg,” and the food starts coming. The mezes platter-hummus, baba ghanoush. and Russian chicken salad, all designed to spread on warm pita bread-is a regular. Wash it down with a bottle of the Boutari and you’ll be happy. 3711 Greenville Ave.. 214-826-7788. $$.
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., 214-357-1104.$$.
Antares. The Hyatt Regency’s sky-high, revolving restaurant appears to be finding its wings at last. Huge sea scallops were sparked with chile-peanut dressing; grilled beefsteak tomatoes and shiitake mushroom caps wore dollops of melted queso fresco in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Reunion Tower, 300 Reunion Blvd., 214-651-1234. $$-$$$.
Anzu. The Nakamotos spent a considerable amount of money to alter Anzu’s entrance so its feng shui would be perfectly balanced. Maybe it helps the consistently balanced flavors in the bento boxes. Lunch at this orientally inclined restaurant has always been a great deal-a beautiful arrangement of tempura and sushi or a plate of Asian-influenced fish or chicken, served gracefully, under a flock of origami birds, for less than 510. 4620 McKinney Ave., 214-526-7398.$$.
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 goal-cheese stuffing guarantees moist meat. The bone-in filet, along with truffled mashed potatoes and cubed root vegetables sautéed 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 ;i 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. $$.
D BEST Laurels. Rising star executive chef and general manager Danielle Custer brings her cutting-edge cuisine to Westin Park Central’s 20th floor. Incomprehensible dishes like pear soup with plum wine crème fraiche don’t make sense until you put them in your mouth. You have to trust Custer: She thinks with her palate, and the results are brilliant. Westin Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr., 972-385-3000. $$-$$$.
The Mansion on Turtle Creek. This isn’t dinner, it’s a dining experience. A dramatic, country club-like, members-only dining experience. The Grande Dame of Dallas dining continues to live up to its legend-the atmosphere is inimitably posh, and the food is predictably innovative. The price? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-526-2121.$$$.
The Mercury. Though we still think the place is loo chic for a neighborhood restaurant, the food has improved since the opening months. The swordfish, perfectly marked from the grill, is balanced by a warm artichoke salad and a com relish. The grilled shrimp with avocado and a “gazpacho” sauce is equally lovely to look at, though you won’t look at it for long. 1418 Preston Forest Sq., 972-960-7774. $$.
Nana Grill. The new menu broadens Nana’s focus from Southwestern to Regional American. Service is supremely suave and caring, the accoutrements define luxe, and the ambience is as comfortably refined as always in this upscale establishment. Wyndham Anatole Hotel, 2201 Slemmons Frwy.. 214-761-7479. $$-$$$.
Sevy’s. The thoroughly American Prairie-style interior perfectly complements chef-owner Jim Severson\s hearty American cuisine. The plates here present classic ideas with imaginative updates. The menu is varied, but beef is a reli-able choice-the tenderloin is slightly hickory smoked. The marinated mushroom appetizer is the best portobello in town. 8201 Preston Rd., 214-265-7389.$$.
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. $$-$$$.
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 entries, an excellent option for those who want a taste of the high life without the high tab. 3214 Knox St., 214-219-2782, $$-$$$.
Cafe Pacific. Cafe Pacific continues to delight as one of Dallas’ most reliable luncheon and dinner restaurants, as well as the place to witness the social structure of Dallas’ power people in action. Menu favorites like 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.$$-$$$.
Daddy Jack’s. With pricey lobsters the rage all over town, Jack Chaplin brings the delicacy back to realistic prices. Mark your calendars: Weekdays, a one-pounder is only $10.95; weekends, they’re still a bargain (they come with baked potato and com). Sunday and Mondays it’s all you can eat for $34.95. 5940 Royal Ln., 214-378-6767; 1916 Greenville Ave., 214-826-4910.$$.
Daddy Jack’s Wood Grill. This Chaplin restaurant offers lively service and food that manage to combine homey familiarity with twists of near-elegance. For example, a grilled red snapper topped with shrimp and lobster brandy could grace a tonier table, but here it’s served with an ear of com. 2723 Elm St., 214-653-3949. $$.
D BEST Lombardi Mare. The stylishly 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-lowner, Lombardi Mare would be our choice. 5100 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-1503-1233.$$.
S&D Oyster Company. S & D can do anything with shrimp, and they have been doing it for longer than we care to remember (or admit we do). The fried shrimp is so delicately breaded you can still see the pink-skinned flesh through the crust. Then it’s butterflied, lightly fried, and served with a dollop of tartar sauce-heavy on the pickle. And no meal here would be complete without a slice of the famous key lime pie. 2701 McKinney Ave., 214-880-0111,$$.
Sea Grill. Mall sprawl makes this Piano oasis hard to find, which would make its unflagging popularity hard to explain if Chef Andy Tun’s highly creative takes on seafood were not so arresting. Dip a half-dozen raw oysters in Tun’s tangy grapefruit-horseradish sauce, and you’ll wonder why you ever overwhelmed such delicacy with ketchup. And your fork’s own weight slides through the barely seared jumbo sea scallop or a moist-hearted cut of grilled tuna. 2205 N. Central Expwy., Ste. 180, Piano, 972-509-5542. $$.
Truluck’s Steak & Stone Crab. Stone crabs are a new delicacy in Dallas, and they’re sweet and rich. They’re also easy to eat; the kitchen cracks them for you so all you have to do is break in and fish for the meat. You can eat other stuff with your crab (mediocre salad, onion rings, cole slaw, creamed spinach) but all you’ll remember is the claws and cake-four layers of dark chocolate cake covered with a whipped milk-chocolate icing. 5001 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-503-3079; 2401 McKinney Ave., 214-220-2401. $$-$$$.
Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa has wisely stuck with its original concept of Southwestern fare: The tableside guacamole is truly a marvel, with avocados as smooth as congealed cream. Adobe pie, the signature dish, is as good as ever, as is the warm salsa and yam and tortilla chips. But the menu at the new Lincoln Plaza location is mostly new. There’s a new churrascaria section and a number of new entrees. New Mexican-style blue com chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce are richer than anything ever dreamed up in Santa Fe-they have a definite (and welcome) Texas richness and come with a corn cake and gingered rice, a nice relief from the usual Spanish. 7700 W. Northwest Hwy., 214-378-8686; 5100 Belt Line Rd., 972-934-0165.$$.
No Place. Tender elk sirloin and boneless rabbit are sided with sautéed portobello mushrooms and onions. Better-than-beef chicken-fried venison comes with Matt’s famous smoked mashed potatoes. The food is why Matt Martinez Jr. is a legend-in his own neighborhood, anyway. 6325 La Vista Dr., 214-328-9078. $$-$$$.
D BEST Star Canyon. Chef-owner Stephan Pyles has created a Dallas destination with his innovative New Texas Cuisine. An appetizer of fried green tomatoes stacked high with layers of Dallas-made mozzarella is a rare case of tall food tasting as good as it looks. And the bone-in cowboy ribeye on a bed of pinto beans, 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-bone less 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. $-$$.
Cafe Madrid. Dallas’ first tapas bar remains its best, and everybody knows it. Even midweek, this little two-room restaurant has customers waiting at the bar for one of the mismatched tables in the storefront space. For those who insist, there is a prix-fixe, three-course dinner menu, but Cafe Madrid is a great place to linger over a succession of small dishes-an assortment of olives, oxtail stew, the potato omelette called a tortilla, braised lamb slices. 4501 Travis St., 214-528-1731. $$.
Bob’s Steak and Chap House. We usually forego filets, preferring a more flavorful cut, but the three-inch 9-ounce is beautifully marbled and cooked perfectly pink and tender. 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 die 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 set. 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 S4 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. $$-$$$.
Kirby’s Steakhouse. One recent dinner had six happy Yankee carnivores whistling Dixie, but more recently we were served a puck-like filet sitting atone 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., Plano, 972-867-2122. $$.
Paul’s Porterhouse. Devoted fans of this Restaurant Row mainstay make a compelling argument that it deserves a prominent spot in your regular red-meat rotation. The menu features an array of steak variations, and choices are thick, fine cuts of meat cooked exactly to order. Unexpected alternatives like ostrich and game complicate your entree decision; so might the taxidermy decor. 10960 Composite Dr., 214-357-0279.$$$.
D REVISITS Texas land and Cattle. There’s a big-time battle of beef going on in Dallas, and the steaks are high. So are the prices. So it’s nice to see that Texas Land and Cattle doesn’t have a $30 filet on the menu-their prices top out at $18.95. and that includes a salad or soup and one side. So we can’t be too picky because in the battle of beef, you get what you pay for. The place has a laid-back, kitschy, Texas log cabin ambience with concrete floors and deer heads mounted on the wall above. And lots of neon beer signs. Our waiter advised us to “order from the red box,” which was the house specialty TXLC smoked sirloin. We should have listened to him. The 16-ounce pepper-smoked sirloin was delivered sliced and was as rich and juicy as prime rib, perfectly cooked and delicious. However, our North Texas strip was ordered medium and came with a cold red center, which we sent back only to receive it overdone. Trail quail were grilled and dry-we prefer pan frying. A huge baked sweet potato served with cinnamon-sugar sauce and butter was a nice diversion from boring baked Idahoes. TXLC knows what they do best-take their advice. 3130 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-4664.$$.
Three Forks. The special pepper sirloin is mealy and chewy, and the peppercorn sauce is dull. And the trout swims in a weak brown sauce accompanied by a few lonely roasted pecans. But we do love the salad, a mix of mesclun, red oak leaf lettuce, and sliced green apple, topped with roasted pecans and crumbly Maytag blue cheese, all lightly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette. 17776 Dallas Pkwy., 972-267-1776. $$-$$$.
Chow Thai. A strip shopping center doesn’t seem a likely spot for a Thai food epiphany, but you’ll have one here. Excellent Thai classics like vegetables in a fiery green curry and pad Thai taste clean and light. A dessert of fresh mango atop sticky rice is a spectacular ending. 5290 Belt Line Rd. at Montfort Drive, Addison, 972-960-2999. $$.
D BEST Liberty. Annie Wong, the mother of Thai food in Dallas, still owns three all-Thai restaurants, but Liberty is where her imagination is freed. Romantically and softly lit, with beaded candleshades on each table and bamboo birdcages animated with twinkling Christmas lights, the brightly lit kitchen makes Liberty into real dinner theater, and Wong is the star. What makes her food different is what makes any chef’s food special: imagination. 5631 Alta Ave., 214-887-8795. $$.
Toy’s Cafe. This hole-in-the-wall joint has all the elements of a great neighborhood “find.” The tantalizing aroma of curry and garlic is wel-coming. Thai iced tea is a hit; eggplant and tofu in a Thai green curry coconut milk is per-fectly prepared. Fresh squid salad with Thai herbs is fresh and tasty. 4422-B Lemmon Ave., 214-528-7233.$.
Mai’s. Mai’s is one of those places that has lots of loyal customers, The menu is stocked with authentic Vietnamese specialties, including lots of noodle and rice entrées and die classic hot pots: exotic meats, vegetables, and spices cooked and served in clay pots. Be sure and try the legendary Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk. 4812 Bryan St., 214-826-9887. $.
Mai’s Oriental Cuisine. The Vietnamese menu is the one to go for. Proprietor Mai Pham opened the first Vietnamese restaurant in Dallas, and her food is still terrific at her little restaurant in Snider Plaza. The hot pots are especially good-“hot chic” is the regulars* favorite. 6912 Snider Plaza, 214-361-8220. $-$$.
Saigon Bistro. Authentic Vietnamese food translated into English. Saigon Bistro aims for the authenticity of a point-and-order Vietnamese restaurant, without the risk. The menu lets you know what to expect, and this is one of the only places in town that serves “festive beef,” a special occasion dinner in Vietnam-one you shouldn’t miss. 17390 Preston Rd.. Ste. 490. 972-380-2766. $-$$.
Angela’s. The big, wood-paneled dance hall of a room is lined with a self-service buffet line, cold-drink coolers, and chip racks on a linoleum floor You grab a round tray and a frosted stein of Bud and eat from styrofoam plates under antler heads mounted on the walls. The chicken, served “while it lasts,” goes fast-it’s juicy and smoked off the bone. All the usual sides- beans, cole slaw-stand up to the ribs, but we wish they’d put more punch in their thin, vinegar-based sauce. 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth. 817-332-0357.$.
Benito’s. Like an old familiar friend, Benito’s appearance may be spruced up from time to time, but some things never change-like the food. The queso flameado, with or without chorizo, is flamed tableside and served with fresh pico de gallo and hot flour or corn tortillas. Order it first, and then spend some time with the menu-everything on it is worth trying. 1450 W. Magnolia Ave., Fon Worth, 817-332-8633. $$.
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. $$.
Cattlemen’s Steak House. Fort Worth ate cattle before cattle was cool, and Cattlemen’s is still the quintessential stockyard steakhouse. There’s not much but beef accompanied by rolls, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmosphere is genuine cowboy. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth, 817-624-3945. $$-$$$.
D BEST Grape Escape. The gimmick here is education-Grape Escape is trying to do the same thing for wine that brew pubs did for beer. So you order “flights” of the grape of your choice, and the waiter brings a four-glass tasting of say, chardonnay, from Sonoma, Napa, Australia, and New Zealand. Compare and contrast. The food is designed around the wine, so you can change direction mid-meal-start with white wine and suggested matches, finish with red wine and cheese. The selection of small plates-merguez sausages, paté, salads, stuffed potatoes, pizzettes-adds up to a full meal that’s lots of fun. 500 Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817-336-9463. $$.
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.$$.
D BEST Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Dishes. The quintessential Fort Worth restaurant. Its location near the Stockyards is a rambling plantation that can handle the crowds for whom the restaurant’s status hovers somewhere between “institution” and “nirvana.” Wait for a spot outside by the pool, and order the enchiladas. Joe doesn’t do credit cards or reservations, either. 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817-626-4356. $$.
Kincaide. 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 jalapenos. 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 pièce de résistance 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.$$.
Reata. Reata’s upscale “cowboy cuisine” includes a chicken-fried steak the size of a boot and steaks with Mexican side dishes. A special of blackened salmon is covered with a roasted com, red pepper, and cilantro relish with small cubes of queso fresco. Sit in the north dining room and watch the sun sink in the west and the Dallas skyline twinkle in the east. 500 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth, 817-336-1009.$$-$$$.
Saint Emilion. Some are surprised to see this Fon Worth restaurant on the list of top 10 restaurants in the area. But die brick-walled, country French atmosphere is charming, and the food is mostly terrific. The wine list features many vintages from the Saint Emilion region, as you might expect. 3617 W. 7th St., Fort Worth. 817-727-2781. $$$.
Peggy Sue Barbecue
Call us sacrilegious, but Peggy Sue’s Is better than Sonny Bryan’s. Before you cancel your subscription, read on. We recognize that both places serve great barbecue, but In the rarefied air of the best of the bests-though Sonny’s still wins in the beef sandwich category, which is the définitive dish when you’re talking Texas barbecue-Peggy Sue’s beats Sonny’s by a rib in meats, side dishes, and sauces. The menu allows vegetarians to graze on delicious sides of fresh corn, squash casserole, and fresh spinach next to hard-core, three-meat-platter eaters. And they’ve come up with some clever items fusing Tex-Mex and barbecue. (Bet you never thought barbecue could be “fused” with anything.) The smoked chicken quesadillas alone are worth a trip. The ribs-baby backs and pork short ribs-are always motet, tender, and free of gristle, which we cant always say of Sonny’s. Recently we discovered a new favorite, brisket fajitas-soft flour tortillas filled with grilled barbecued brisket, onions, and green peppers. If all this wasn’t enough, they have a full bar and a little club area where you can order a hand-mixed margarita with your ribs. We think the best just got a little better. 6600 Snider Plaza, 214-987-9186. $.
When we were kids, Sandy Lake Road was out in the boondocks, a scraggly lane lined with huge nurseries and little farms. Now it’s lined with subdivisions of million-dollar homes and families who never have to go north of LBJ or east of 1-35 to get anything. Even good Mexican food. Anamia’s is located in a nondescript shopping strip (isn’t that redundant?), sandwiched between a dance studio and a dry cleaner. The interior actually resembles the early Mi Cocinas; endless Gypsy Kings music furthers the Mi Cocina feel. We got seated, were instantly served chips and salsa, placed and received our drink orders with our gruff business-like waiter, and heard, “Are you ready to order?” all In about a three-minute span. The speed signals a restaurant with lots of regulars, looking to turn tables fast. The basics-cheese enchiladas, cheese tacos, guacamole, and beef tacos-were all above average, the surprise being the usually boring beef taco full of chili powder-spiced beef. Shrimp came wafting the scent of lime, covered with nuggets of sautéed garlic, on a bed of sautéed celery, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, and jalapenos. Just when we thought we’d had enough we saw an order of sopapillas go by and couldn’t resist. For two bucks we got a platter of three gold puffs sent from heaven with a little honey. Now Sandy Lake Road looks like such a desirable destination. 600 E. Sandy Lake Rd., Coppell. 972-304-0321. $. Margaritas.
Scream for Ice Cream
Looking for a special dessert for your next backyard cookout that has guests thinking you’re the next Martha Stewart? Order a custom-blended Ice cream from Henry’s Ice Cream in Piano. Show off with a tequila cilantro sorbet or black raspberry cream, or create your own fantasy taste to match your menu. There’s a six-quart minimum for special orders, or you can stop by for a cone of one of the 40 flavors they make fresh daily.
Henry’s Ice Cream, northwest corner of 15th and Independence, Plano, 972-612-9949.
Our phone rings daily with people looking for unusual places to book parties. Basha introduces tent dining to bring out the Lawrence of Arabia In all of us. They offer everything but the sand-a tented room with cushions on the floor. A breadman makes authentic Sag bread In the corner, while food flows from a price-fixed menu ($24.95 per person) that includes seven ta pas-sty le appetizers, a mixed grill of chicken, lamb, and beef, and dessert. Wear your robe and watch the belly dancers-and don’t forget to wash your hands with the rose water.
Basha, 2217 Greenville Ave., 214-824-7794.