Restaurant Reviews

NEWCOMERS



CORK

We have a friend {well, an acquaintance) who is a Napa Valley Cabernet wine snob. We waste a lot of time with this friend (let’s just call him Tweeners) arguing the virtues of California wine versus all the rest of the wine in the world. When we go out to dinner, we strive to find an interesting wine mat isn’t from California, usually a tough task. Meanwhile, Tweeners doesn’t consider anything but. Recently, in an act of social desperation, we took Tweeners to Cork for an impromptu blind wine-and-stop-whining tasting.

Scouring the list of almost 100 wines by the glass for our entry in the showdown, we each picked a wine and instructed the waiter to tell only our companions (referees) which one was which. Tweeners swirled his glass and held it to the light, saying something about L’legs.” We swirled our glass and held it to the light and said something about “red.” He took in the nose and set his glass down. We took in the nose and set our glass down. He took three sips-one to prepare the palate, one to swish, one to breathe. We took three sips. Then we switched glasses and repealed the dance. With all his Calicentricconfidence,Tweenerschose glass B. Hah! Becker Cabernet (from Iconoclast, Texas) 1, California’s Chalk Hill Cabernet 0. A shut out.

So goes just one of the many games possible in the wine bar, a concept once popular in Dallas and now flourishing again. At least, Steve Naylor thinks so. Naylor befriended regular customers Julie Stevens and Clancy Martin while managing Cafe Madrid. Julie travels a lot and apparently has spent lots of time in European wine bars; she convinced Naylor and Clancy that Dallas was ready for the wine bar concept again. They pooled their money and talent and-Voila!-Cork.

They did most of the interior work themselves, combing antique stores for the funky mix-matched glassware, painting the walls, and hanging the antique chandeliers on weekends. The overall effect is eclectically charming, and the list of wines by the glass, ports, sherries, and champagnes is staggering considering the small space.

“We’ve got wine crammed into every nook and cranny,” says Naylor in his thick Texas drawl. There’s a huge refrigerated cellar with 200 whites and a nitrous preservation system to keep the reds drinkable. Out back there’s a romantic patio-perfect for sipping on warm summer nights, but beware of the ever-present cigar smokers.

The food is simple but perfectly matched to the concept. Once we picked our wines, we customized a cheese plate to match our choice. opting for a plate of manchego, goat gouda, and Maytag blue. Lovely patés and olive mixes also make more substantial meals, and you can linger long, foregoing dinner.

Tweeners, by the way, went back to California with his tail between his legs and a bottle of Texas Cabernet in his suitcase. Cork, 2709 McKinney Ave.. 214-303-0302, $.

ZEITGEIST CAFE

Zeitgeist, you know, means spirit of the times. That’s a tall order. When we try to think of what the spirit of these times is, we get as indecisive as Charles Dickens. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. And then Zeitgeist Cafe reaffirms thai, after all. It is the most indecisive of times. (Or is it?)

Zeitgeist, the latest restaurant of Laurie Sandifer, who founded Cafe Society, is tucked in a comer of Turtle Creek Village. And after several visits, it still defies definition.

Zeitgeist has a bar and a dance floor and a stage for a band. You can buy lunch to go from the deli case. It adjoins the overlit formal dining room, which opens onto a casual patio, Zeitgeist is everything at once; if you’re in doubt, take a look at the menu, which lists a $6 portabella mushroom burger as well as a $28 steak. The rest of the menu is equally varied, ranging from pomegranate-glazed lamb chops to a club sandwich. In fact, it’s hard to know what you want from Zeitgeist. Which is very much in the spirit of the times.

The roast chicken, a dependable entrée, came with a pile of excellent French fries- which, by the way, are generally improving everywhere. The “not-so” Caesar was wimpy. The pasta in cream sauce was gentle and only a little gooey. We didn’t remember ordering the com chowder on our first visit until we’d ordered it on the second visit. Then when it arrived, we said. Oh, yes. That. The consistency was gelatinous. We ordered the portabella mushroom burger, and the waiter asked, “Do you want couscous, cole slaw, or fries with that?”-which seemed a delightfully Zeitgeist question. And even with the slippery tendency of mushrooms to slide out of buns, this was one of the best neo-burgers we’ve had, with fried onions and rémoulade moistening the wheat bun. We asked for a dessert sampler and were thrilled with everything but the dry bread pudding-our dinner at Zeitgeist ended with a bang, not a whimper. Zeitgeist Cafe, One Turtle Creek, 3888 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-0552.$$.



BLUE MESA

It’s a grand canyon, all right. Blue Mesa gets design kudos for the most innovative and refreshing use of strip shopping center design. Their location out north is an oasis in mall-land, and the new space upstairs at Lincoln Plaza, one of the least attractive and imaginative upscale strip malls to be built this decade, also one-ups its surroundings. The long, high-walled walk through sandstone-colored walls is an adventurous entrance; the climb to the second floor lets you leave the parking lot behind, and the cloistered room, with no windows to remind you of the parking lot and expressway acreage below, makes this centrally located dining room a getaway.

This is the third Blue Mesa in the area, and this seems to be the one with “legs”-with executive chef Melissa Ballinger in the corporate kitchen, the food at the new location has a polish and a promise it hasn’t had before. The menu is well-written and professional-sounding. We wonder if there’s not a touch too much polish for a restaurant we like to think of as home-grown. Some of the dishes are trademarked, and there’s something about the menu that makes it look like you could sell it in Peoria.

There’s a tequila bar at the top of the stairs, but we don’t know what they use it for because the margarita recommended to us tasted like Squirt. At dinner, we were seated in a roofed booth that had plenty of room for three people. Until the menus came. Then we needed an extra booth. Every time one of us opened a menu, it knocked over a glass or hit someone ’s nose, so dinner began with a plastic laminate swordfight.

Blue Mesa has wisely stuck with its original concept of Southwestern fare even though other restaurants have left that trendy bandwagon for more current cuisines. Their classics are all here: The tableside guacamole was truly a marvel, prepared to our taste like an old-fashioned Caesar, 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 location is mostly new, according to our waiter, who was cool, hip, and very well-informed about everything (except the margaritas). There’s a new chur-rascaria section and a number of new entrées. Crisp, corn-crusted chicken breast, somehow still succulent, came with so-called Southwestern ratatouille-squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions. New Mexican-style blue corn chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce were richer than anything every dreamed up in Santa Fe-they had a definite (and welcome) Texas richness and came with a com cake and gingered rice, a nice relief from the usual Spanish. Blue Mesa, Lincoln Plaza, 7700 W. Northwest Hwy., 214-378-8686. $$.



BARBECUE

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



D REVISITS Red Hot & Blue. Red Hot & Blue boldly moved its Memphis-style barbecue to Dallas, the land of barbecue brisket, five years ago. Either there are a lot of transplanted folks who grew up on sweet tea and dry ribs, or Dallas is broadening its barbecue mentality–recently, the restaurant opened a fourth location. The music helps the whole situation-lots of Elvis, Rufus Thomas, and Jerry Lee Lewis set the stage for a mind-set change. Pulled pork is appearing on other menus, but Red Hot & Blue’s version is the real thing: a sandwich with a pile offender pork, along with a mound of crunchy, sweet cole slaw piled high on the sandwich. The dry ribs weren’t anything special until we made them wet by disregarding the waiter’s warning on the Hoochie Coochie sauce. We spent the next 10 minutes with our tongues 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 all the Pritchards pitch in. 2 ! 26 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 the classic barbecue experience, return to the original Inwood Road joint, sit on the hood of your car, and gnaw on tender smoked ribs, chopped beef, and giant onion rings. 2202 Inwood Rd., 214-357-7120; multiple locations. $.



BAKERY/SANDWICHES

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



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-die American slices melted to glue, the 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 ai Street’s it’s more like a meal. Fresh ingredients are key: Turkeys, roasts, and desserts are baked on the spot, As for the sides, Chinese sesame noodles, cole slaw, and potato salad are fine filler. But you might skip those and go straight from your sandwich to the rum cake. If you’re lucky it will still be warm, with the rum freshly sprinkled on top. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-2505; multiple locations. $.

BREW PUBS<BR>Copper 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, (he food also deserves some attention. Our favorite pretzel replacement: onion rings with a zesty apple-horseradish dipping sauce. 2600 Main St., 214-744-2739. $.

D BEST Routh Street Brewery. This place has thrived because the food is as good as the beer. The food, with a German-Texas accent, complements beer and wine equally well. The pork chop is big, juicy, and pink; ale-steamed mussels are plentiful and aromatic; and the vegetable Reuben (ask for it-it’s not on the menu) is a brilliant invention-car-roway-scented sauerkraut with melted Swiss on dark pumpernickel. 3011 Routh St., 214-922-8835. $$.

BURGERS

Angry Dog. The menu is standard bar cuisine, including some great burgers, nachos. and sandwiches, but it extends to include some inspiring options. The Angry Dog-a grilled, all-beef hot dog split and served open-faced, covered with grilled onions, chili, and cheese-is truly fantastic and a bargain at S4.50. For serious beer drinkers, there are 120 beers to choose from. 2726 Commerce St., 214-741-4406.$.

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

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.$.

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



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.$.



CAJUN/CREOLE



Copeland’s of New Orleans. Cajun staples are complemented by an array of more creative : appetizers and entrées. The blackened redfish is nicely done if a bit tame. What’s more, every staff member from the manager on down is friendly and polite. 5353 Belt Line Rd, Addison, 972-661-1883. $$.



Margaux’s. Cafe Margaux owner Kay Agnew has reopened yet again, in a smaller space wearing a suitably shorter name and with a menu that includes lunch on weekdays and dinner on Thursday only. Shrimp and sausage gumbo is the real thing, and 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 ai a time-pristine Imperial rolls; shrimp pounded and molded on sugarcane; grilled pork to roll in rice paper with rice noodles, cilantro, mint, lettuce, and sprouts-each dish delightful, fresh, excellent. 3555 W. Walnut St.. Garland. 972-272-2188.$-$$.



Cathy’s Pacific. Chef/nutritionist Cathy Liu continues to succeed in combining authentic Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese techniques with healthy twists. The best dish we’ve tried is the Szechuan Shrimp; fresh shrimp stir-fried with com, sweet peppers, and onions lightly coated in : a black bean sauce. The dishes we ordered “extra 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. $-$$.

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. $-$$.

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

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. $-$$.

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

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



COFFEEHOUSES

Cafe 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. $.

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



DELI

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



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



EASTERN EUROPEAN

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. $$.



ECLECTIC



Bistro A. Peripatetic chef Avner Samuel’s latest venture is his best yet, and better yet, Bistro A looks like it’s going to be around awhile. Dishes with Middle Eastern influences are especially good, but the chef does equally well with simple steak fries, and casserole-roasted chicken could be the best bird in town. Beware of spotty service. 6815 Snider Plaza. 214-373-9911.$$-$$$.



Bread Winners. Three different menus a day are all imaginative. But the buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes and cream gravy is the real winner-lightly battered and fried fork-tender chicken over leek mashed potatoes and cream gravy so good it makes the bland bread better. 3301 McKinney Ave.. 214-754-4940. $-$$.



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



8.0 Restaurant and Bar. This hip joint is still hopping with pretty people sipping blue mar-garitas and noshing upscale bar food like thick, 8-ounee burgers and chicken nachos. Lines are out 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. $-$$.

D BEST The Grape. The secret is that Dallas1 oldest and best wine bar is really one of its oldest and best restaurants-dim and atmospheric, with a blackboard menu thai 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. $$.



The Green Room. This ’90s bistro continues to dish out some of the most inventive cuisine to be found between New York and L.A. The menu is eclectically uptown, and the decor is strictly downtown rock ’n’ roll. The contrast between them is cool, At $36, the fixed-price, four-course, “Feed Me” menu is the best deal in town. 2715 Elm St., 214-748-7666. $$-$$$.



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. $$.



D REVISITS Simply Fondue. Like most people in the food business, we once had a close relationship with a fryolator. Maybe that’s why the appeal of Simply Fondue is lost on us-at the end of the evening, you have to go home and wash the smell of hot oil out of your hair. (Plus, if you’re not going to slay home and cook, why would you go out and cook?) Still, Simply Fondue is always booked. Cooking together evidently gives young couples something to talk about (because there’s no TV hanging from the ceiling and the noise level is reasonable, conversation is called for). Our last visit was a festive occasion, and the professional and friendly waiter/chef-instructor made the process manageable. Actually, eating fondue with young teenage girls turned out to be lots of fun. They get to play with fire, and their imagination adds excitement to the process of dipping and cooking. Bread and cheese are staples of the age (just like chips and queso, but you can’t spear a tostado). and the personal relationship each girl developed with her food added drama to dinner. (“Oh no! There goes Jimmy!” one shrieked as her chunk of chicken slipped from her fork into the depths of the boiling oil.) And the meal was as good as melted cheese, sauteed meat, and melted chocolate can be. 2108 Greenville Ave., 214-827-8878. $$-$$$.

Soho. Chef Chris Finch’s 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 lemongrass 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. 529() Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-490-8686. $$.

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

Tin Star. Tex-Mex meets the world under the “Salsa, Smoke, and Sizzle” style. Stick to thin-crusted pizza topped with a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce and dotted with chunks of grilled chicken and onions. Soft tacos filled with tem-pura shrimp, fruit pico de gallo, bacon, and cilantro is a bizarre combination that somehow works. But the restaurant may lose you with the cheeseburger taco-a big cheese-topped patty wrapped in a flour tortilla. We’re Texans; we agree that that almost everything tastes better wrapped in a tortilla. Almost. 2626 Howell St. (across from the Quadrangle), 214-999-0059. $.

FRENCH/CONTINENTAL

D BEST Barclays. Don’t come to Barclays expecting to rind 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. $$-$$$.



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



Bizu. 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 Bizu salad: a toss of pear slivers, mature spinach leaves, feta, and raspberry vinaigrette. 2504 McKinney Ave., 214-303-1002. $$.



Chez Gerard. Which is more to be celebrated, French thrift or French style? Skin-thin petals of veal liver, 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, 214-987-2028.5$-$$$.



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



D BEST L’Ancestral. Let L’ Ancestral remind you of traditional delights: The civilized dining room is softly lit, tables are draped in starchy white, and the menu is stubbornly, traditionally French. Begin your meal with a bowl of onion soup, about as recherché as you 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 me day. That’s where the treasures are. 17610 Midway Rd., 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 Fran?aise within an inch of their life: For instance, a tender tilapia came tucked into a tutu-like frill of purple kale, decorated with two swishes and a swirl of orange red-pepper sauce. 19009 Preston Rd., 972-248-1911.$$-$$$.



The Pyramid Room. An evening here can be more of a learning experience than a special occasion. Arthur Riddles’ piano-playing fills the interstices,but service is sl-o-o-o-w. And the food is uneven. The ! table d’hote menu is a good deal-$68 for four courses with wine, $44 without. Cream of carrot soup with celery root mid gorgonzola croutons is good, hot, and thick, with a spicy nose. As for the main courses, a fan of rare duck slices with a wonderful apple-pineapple wild rice goes perfectly with an Indigo Hills pinot noir, the food and the wine forming a perfect circle on the palate. Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N.Akard St, 214-720-5249.$$$.



St. Martin’s. Rich paneling, soft-lit paintings, and touches of muted gold update the famous romantic setting; live music shapes the proper evening mood; and the food delivers sophisticated fulfillment. The by-the-glass wine selection is broad, and service strikes the correct balance between attention and discretion. 3020 Greenville Ave., 214-826-0940. $$-$$$.



D REVISITS Watel’s. French food may be the latest trend on McKinney, but Watel’s has been the top French bistro on the block for 11 years. Although we miss the slanting floors and glass doors of their original location down the street, the new sleeker digs haven’t had any effect on the quality of the food. The menu, which has always contained unusual organ offerings like calf brains, veal kidneys, and sweetbreads, has weathered the wars of nouvelle cuisine. We pondered the wine list while munching on a basket of toast points that we dipped in a rich tapenade-a thick paste made from capers, anchovies, and olive oil. We split our favorite appetizer of pepper-crusted rare tuna with its accompanying lentil salad. The hardwood floors squeaked charmingly, not annoyingly, every time our server approached, and we felt like we were dining in a French country home. A splendid classic duck leg confit appropriately slipped off the bone with each bite, and the accompanying risotto was just rich enough. Although the roast pork loin was dry, the tasty apple and calvados sauce would have made a meal out of shoe leather. 2719 McKinney Ave., 214-720-0323. $$.



GOURMET TO GO

City Harvest. This neighborhood favorite is open every day and serves real mornin 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. $-$$.



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 pila 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-can-1-get-you-Hon? waitresses, the awesome anytime breakfasts. The food ranges from pretty good to good, but it’s all cheap. And mey’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 long-lime mecca for Dallas home-cooking purists. Entrées run the gamut from broiled fresh fish to pot roast to fried chicken, all accompanied by an endless supply of vegetables. Don’t worry if your entrée seems small-you can reorder as often as you wish. 4503 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-5681.$-$$.



DC’s Cafe. You’ve been in powder rooms bigger than this super-clean little place, but you’ve had home cooking this fine only in your dreams of classic soul-food plate lunches at penny-ante prices. Pork chops, meatloaf, cattish el 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 Luckys Cafe. You can get aboul anything yon at Lucky’s, on the menu and off. The customers are an interesting mix of Oak Lawn, Highland Park, and East Dallas types, all waiting in line for yuppie home cooking. On a recent Sunday-brunch visit, we watched a table of elite runners, numbers from their I0K race still pinned to their shins, dining on egg white omelettes. Next to them was a sad-looking group nursing hangovers with a plate of greasy onion rings and endless cups of coffee. Feeling our station in life was somewhere in between, we opted to try a little of both worlds. We were delighted with our Cajun-style, mesquite-grilled catfish. It was moisi and flaky, and the spinach casserole side dish, which easily could be soggy, wasn’t. But you’d still have to be drunk to eat the touted “sleaziest, cheesiest grilled cheese in town.” It was a globby mess of cheddar and swiss cheese, tomato, green chiles, and bacon. 3531 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-522-3500, $.

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



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, loo 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

Angelo’s Italian Grill. When you think of classic-Italian favorites, what triggers your Pavlovian response? Lasagna? Spaghetti? Scampi? Chicken parmesan? Pizza? This homey place has it all. Each meal comes with a Caesar salad and out-of-the-oven garlic rolls. The wine list is extensive, even by the glass. 6341 La Vista Dr., 214-823-5566.$.

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

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, loo. 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 Sal vino Zannetti doesn’t compromise on his ingredients; he orders his cheese from a deli in New York-as close to Italy as you can get in Dallas. 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. 22U Las Colinas Blvd., Irving. 972-869-0713.$$.

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

Isola Gozo. The parking lot just doesn’t help the ambience. Bui 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 [sola Gozo is sophisticated and good and deserves a better setting. The Market, NorthPark Center, Park Lane at Central Expressway, 214-691-0488.$$.

Mi Piaci. Housemade is a term Mi Piaci doesn’t take lightly-the kitchen makes its own pastas and cures its own meals. Every other ingredient is either imported or hand-picked. A bowl of the Tuscan classic ribollita could be enough for a meal. But don’t neglect the spicy penne all’ arrabbiata, the three thin scallops of veal perched on a pile of portobello mushrooms, or the asparagus and cheese tortellini with a fragile Marsala sauce. 14854 Montfort. 972-943-8424. $$-$$$.

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-MODO. $$.

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. In contrast, tiramisu suffers from too much of a good thing-mascarpone. 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. Palrizio’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 cat dinner, too: there’s the chicken and mushroom lasagna (good. but rich), the baked ziti (we had leftovers for breakfast), and the open-faced ravioli (sounds like a bad idea but is surprisingly light and tasty). 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 shower-like appeal. But this doesn’t take away from the charm of the little garlic trees that sit in the windows or the fresh flowers that grace each table. As for the food, Pomodoro deserves applause for consistent innovation. 2520 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-871-1924.$$.



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. $$.



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



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



JAPANESE

Chaya Sushi. The tuna roll is lean, deep red, and fresh. From me robata bar, try the char-grilled sirloin-thinly sliced, bite-sized morsels of rare tenderloin 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 Nakarmto. Service tends to range from sublime to abrupt at this stylish, roomy Piano institution, but cuisine (tempura. sushi, and sashimi) remains uniformly excellent. 3309 N. Central Expwy. at Parker Rd.. Plano, 972-881-0328.$$.



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



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



LATIN AMERICAN



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. Overwhelming abundance is the theme: A neverending parade of meat on long skewers is delivered by gaucho guys in amazing trousers and belts. Very exotic. 4300 Belt Line Rd? Addison, 972-503-7300. $$.



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 lone 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. 4514 Travis Street, 214-522-4137,$$.



Taxas de Brazil. No need for menus here-it’s one price fits all. Skewer-swagging waiters slice varied cuts of slow-roasted (and extremely flavorful) filet, picanha, rack of lamb, 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 feijoada (the national dish of Brazil). 15101 Addison Rd., 972-385-1000.$$$.



MEDITERRANEAN



D REVISITS Mediterraneo. To readers of the sports pages. Med Quad sounds like a season-ending injury. But in “restaurant speak” it’s slang for the Mediterraneo at the Quadrangle, to differentiate it from Mediterraneo on Frankford Road. The restaurants share a name, but die menus and interiors are different, North is cool and chic, while Med Quad is one of Dallas’ sexiest interiors: curved walls and accents of deep blue contrast beautifully with the blonde wood and soft lighting, The effect makes you want to linger long after dinner and sip something expensive. But before we get to the end. we’ll begin with the starters. Florida rock shrimp and wild mushrooms served with a sweet com cake lightly drizzled with sun dried tomato butter sauce delighted every sense of the palate. A Tuscan white bean soup was hot and accented with apple smoked chicken. Orange marinated roasted duck breast with a soft pink center was sliced, fanned on the plate, and gently glazed with a light peppercorn sauce. The creamy, lightly fried parmesan risotto cakes beside the duck were so good, we ordered one extra. The grilled monk fish ’’Ossobucco” sounded like a bad idea and was. The fish stuck up oddly from the plate to resemble a lamb shank bone (hence the fanciful ossobucco name), and die bottom part of the fish was submerged in a mess of roasted vegetables, creamy polenta, and a pomodoro sauce. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-979-0002. $$-$$$.

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., 2I4-744-0K20. $$.

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

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

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.



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



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



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, $.



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



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



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

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. $.



Piano 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 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. $.



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 intra to a meal that’s quintessential Dallas Mexican. 56)7 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. Service is hit-or-miss. 4011 Villanova, 214-696-4944. $. Margaritas.

MIDDLE EASTERN

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.$$.



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 tike 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.$-$$.

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. $$.

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

Hedary’s. The original Hedary’s was a destination restaurant in Fort Worth long before hummus became hip. Maybe it’s just the Dallas location that’s stopped trying. More garlic in the baba ghanoush, please. Less leathery lahvosh. You have to watch that kibbe; it tends to get dry if it’s cooked 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 Marrakash. 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 S26.95 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

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. $$-$$$.

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 com chowder still win Best of Kind, and desserts are a dream-try the rich pillow of mocha mousse sandwiched between two dark chocolate cake slices. Hotel Crescent Court. 2215 Cedar Springs Rd., 214-871-3240.

Chaparral Club. The ancho-rubbed chicken (with bones!) can be a little salty, but the creamy goat-cheese stuffing guarantees moist meat. The bone-in filet, along with truffled mashed potatoes and cubed root vegetables sauteed together, make a plate that satisfies all senses. Don’t miss The Perfect Dessert: a satiny sphere of while chocolate split and filled with fresh blueberries and raspberries sliding around in a pool of creme Anglaise. Sink into the leather seals in the bar and listen to David Williams playing a jazzy version of “Cheek to Cheek”- some pleasures never age. Adam’s Mark Hotel, 400 N. Olive St., 214-922-8000. $$-$$$.

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

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

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 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 corn relish. The grilled shrimp with avocado and a “gazpacho” sauce is equally lovely to look at, though you won’t look at it for long. 1418 Preston Forest Sq.. 972-960-7774. $$.

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

Parigi. Menus still change weekly, and the food is prepared to order, by hand. Service can be a little flaky, but die food-specials and perennials-is excellent. The famous beef tenderloin with mustard sauce and ’smashed’ potatoes is as good as ever, the beef rare and unusually flavorful, the potatoes buttery and just lumpy. It’s been on the menu since Parigi opened. A long time. 3311 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-0295. $$.

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



SEAFOOD

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

Cafe Pacifia. 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 corn). Sunday and Mondays it’s all you can eat for $34.95. 5940 Royal Ln., 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, arid 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 REVISITS Fishmonger’s. Enter a, your own risk. Over the years, we’ve had good and bad experiences at Fishmonger’s, but never great ones. It is what it is: a casual neighborhood fish joint with concrete floors and plenty of smiling regulars with napkins lied under their chins dipping into huge pots of steamed mussels. We should have had what they were having. Instead, we ordered Crawfish Etoufee, whose only resemblance to Cajun cuisine was the fact that it looked like the muddy Mississippi. The platter of tiny crawfish was smothered (and we mean smothered) in a dull, dark roux (think cold Wolf-brand chili). Tuna Fajitas. a weird diversion from the mostly Cajun-themed menu, were tasteless strips of grilled tuna rolled in tortillas and served with a tortilla soup made with shrimp (is that legal in Dallas?). An order of sautéed crab fingers were fishy and greasy, but seafood gumbo was surprisingly well-flavored and filled with loads of okra, tomato, and baby shrimp. Each spoonful was followed by a nice, spicy spike. But me mesquite charbroiled Yellowfin tuna was about as low as a dish can go. The huge triangular steak was covered in a thick, tar-like barbecue sauce. We scraped away half a cup to get a look at the tuna, which was not a pretty sight-dark grey and stone cold. Despite being understaffed, our waitress, who spent the evening sprinting from tables to kitchen with the speed and grace of Florence Griffith Joyner, noticed our grimacing faces, took it off our bill and returned it to the kitchen, gasping earnest apologies. 1915 N. Central Expwy.. 972-423-3699. $-$$.

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

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

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 Ave.. 214-220-2401.$$-$$$.



SOUTHWESTERN

Flying Burro. 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 Greenville Ave., 214-827-2112.$.

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 neighbor- hood, 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 tast-ing as good as it looks. And the bone-in cow-boy 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.0. Ranch. Though this is frontier fare, the kitchen can have a light touch. Delicately grilled, semi-boneless quail is delicious, and the special two-inch, 12-ounce pork chop is as moist and tender as a filet mignon.

However, the buck slops short with an undercooked lop sirloin. And the bar scene rocks with Jerry Jeff Walker tunes and cigar-smoking buckaroos-the perfect place to take your Yankee guests. 702 Ross Ave.. 214-744-3287.$-$$.

SPANISH

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

STEAKHOUSES

D REVISITS Bob’s Steak and Chop House. The table next to us was so close that we couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. Holding court was a stereotypical Texas good ol’ boy tilted back in his chair, Scotch “neat” in his hand and a wad of cash in a gold money clip next to his plate. Obviously, this guy was a regular. His girth and menu knowledge were big. His dining buddies listened to him as he loudly described every steak on the menu, prefacing most of his sentences with “Well, you know Bob…” and then proceeded to tell them how Bob chooses and cooks his steaks. This guy knew all about Bob. so instead of making up our own minds, we took his inadvertently given suggestions-all of which were as right on as the kitchen. We usually forego filets, preferring a more flavorful cut, but this time we had inside information that Bob buys “ultra fine” filets, and the three-inch 9-ounce we were served was beautifully marbled and cooked perfectly pink and tender. A New York strip steak was also outstanding, It was impossible not to love the “smashed” potatoes-they were wickedly mashed with about a stick of butter in each serving. The slight sweet glaze on Bob’s signature whole carrots side dish was a nice contrast to the beef. The atmosphere is as comfortable as your grandmother’s dining room, but the restaurant is crowded with the Ross Perot and Jerry Jones set. Wonder if we shouldn’t have listened as intently to our neighbor’s stock tips as we did his steak tips? 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. $$-$$$.



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



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



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



Sullivan’s Steakhouse. The knockout punch is a 24-ounce, bone-in ribeye coated with lots of fresh ground pepper, perfectly cooked to medium rare. Smoked pork chops are grilled and served with a side of sweet, smoked apples. The side dishes arc only average; the horseradish mashed potatoes could have used a little more horseradish, and the doughnut-sized onion rings are heavily beer-breaded and greasy. Prices are less than you’d expect. 17795 Dallas Pkwy., 972-267-9398. $$.



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, lopped with roasted pecans and crumbly Maylag blue cheese, all lightly dressed in a sweet vinaigrette. 17776 Dallas Pkwy., 972-267-1776. $$-$$$.

THAI

Chow Thai. A strip shopping center doesn’t seem a likely spin 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. $$.



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



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



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 Si., 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-arid-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

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 il lasts,” goes fast-it’s juicy and smoked off the bone. All the usual sides- beans, cole slaw-stand up to the ribs, but we wish they’d put more punch in their thin, vinegar-based sauce. 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth, 817-332-0357. $.

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

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

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. $$-S$$.

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 comer, the chefs do an excellent job preparing all the old favorites from burritos to tamales. Breakfast is a work of art here. And on your way out, the bakery, in an alcove off the dining room, sells traditional Mexican breads, rolls, and sweet rolls. 2122 N. Main St.. Fort Worth, 817-626-5770. $$.



D BEST Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Dishes.

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



Kincaid’s. It’s organized chaos at lunch, but there isn’t a frown in the lime-green room. The burgers are worth the drive from Dallas, and so are the sides: fried okra, deviled eggs, and pimiento cheese-stuffed 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 Fort Worth restaurant on the list of top 10 restaurants in the area. But the brick-walled, country French atmosphere is charming, and the food is mostly terrific. The wine list features many vintages from the Saint Emilion region, as you might expect. 3617 W. 7th St., Fort Worth. 817-727-2781. $$$.



Water Street Seafood Company. Although Fort Worth is landlocked, there’s still serviceable seafood to be had. The dining room could use more walls and fewer tables, but plenty of daily specials supplement a range of regular entrées that would make a coastal restaurant proud. 1540 S. University Dr., Ste. 120, Fort Worth. 817-877-3474.$$.

Wild About Harry’s

There’s nothing like Harry’s. It’s one of the few places In town where PleasantvilIe is real, and when It’s real, If s a good thing. Of course, if s on the same street as its ancestor, the Highland Park Pharmacy. Harry’s has the same kind of small-town friendliness, the kind of “service” that other restaurants train into their employees but that comes naturally in an owner-run shop. Everyone who oats at Harry’s knows Harry. Our daughters rush hi, arms open, to say hi to their friend Harry. They both claim to be vegetarian “except for hot dogs.” Harry’s serves real Chicago dogs, topped with onions, mustard, poppers, and the authentic neon-green relish-he also serves them smothered with Texas chili, sauerkraut, and pretty much everything else. Still, some people prefer them with just ketchup. You have to have custard after a Harry’s dog-even if you’re too full. It s smoother than creme brulee ever thought about being, and every day there’s a different selection of flavors. Everyone at Harry’s knows everyone else, and if you go there a couple of times, you’ll know Harry, too. This is the kind of place that gives you hope for American culture. 3113 Knox St., 214-520-3113. $.

Rasta Barbecue

If you’ve ever traveled the Caribbean you know that for every Island, there is a hot sauce. What’s a trip to Antigua without scorching your palate on chicken marinated in Susie’s or fighting the fire of the Barbados sun with the fire in a bottle of Barbados* Jacks? Now you don’t have to load your suitcases with bottles to bring home-the Caribbean Mart carries all the hard-to-find brands guaranteed to bring the memories of gently swaying palm trees, turquoise waters, and the soft rhythms of a steel band to your backyard-in ajar.

The Caribbean Mart, 3068 Forest Ln? #113, 972-241-3863.

Just For the Halibut

Andrea and David Hart take their seafood more seriously than the name implies. If the fishermen aren’t catching it that day, they aren’t buying. Daily deliveries may include swordfish and tilapia, along with elite swimmers like dabs sole and sashimi-quality tuna. If you’re not sure how to cook it, they either will tell you how or sell you one of their oven-ready versions like pistachio-crusted halibut or Louisiana-style crab cakes, just like Andrea’s grandma used to make.

5541 W. Lover’s La, 214-351-5445.

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