Restaurant Reviews

DESIGNATED DINER

I was looking for a different kind of home plate,authentic Cuban food. Havana-bom first baseman Rafael Palmeiro agreed to help me find it,
Everyone knows certain things about Palmeiro: This year his peers voted him Sporting News’ Most Outstanding Player in Baseball. He finished 2nd in home runs, 2nd in RBIs, 10th in hitting. 5th in batting average with runners in scoring position,and 5th in the MVP race. But stats are just part of the picture for this clutch performer. Off the field Palmeiro is acandid,self-effacing.down-to-earth guy, not afraid to speak his mind over a bad call. Or a bad Cuban sandwich.
Dallas has been in the throes of a love affair with things Cuban the last year or so, but the craze has never quite reached the plate as successfully as it has in Manhattan and South Beach. Mostly, high-end restaurants calling themselves Cuban have capitalized on the sultry vibe of Havana-palm trees, hot-blooded music, spicy food, and tropical drinks. Dallas chefs have tinkered with the basic Latin flavors, seemingly more interested in making good menu copy than in duplicating the original dishes. Palmeiro has promised to tag out the imposters and show me real cuisine Cubano.
Thst’s why I’m meeting him at El Paraiso Latin Cuisine in Euless, a small joint owned by veteran major leaguer Orlando Merced and frequented by other Rangers. Palmeiro eats here with his wife Lynne and sons 9-year- old Patrick and 5-year-old Preston when his busy off-season schedule allows. The kitchen does an okay job, he says, tapping his fingers to the salsa beat, though sometimes things are “a little greasy.”
Over blaring merengue music, Raffy explains the basics. Cubans love meat, pork, and beans, and they eat yucca and plantains instead of salad .The exotic cuisine has touches of Spanish, African, French, and Arab cultures. A typical dish is pork roasted on a spit and served with congrfri rice, black beans, and plantains. The food is heavy on garlic, peppers, bay leaves, and sofrito, a tomato sauce with yellow onions and green pepper.
At the heart of authentic Cuban food is the Cuban sandwich, a favorite late night nosh after an evening of drinking and dancing. Most versions are made with thinly sliced pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles, but the real thing is the media noche, which is the same inside, but is layered on a sweet version of Cuban bread, pan suave. Authentic Cuban bread looks like a French baguette, but the texture is soft and chewy. In the old days,a palm frond was laid across the loaves while baking to keep the crust soft. But now, the heavily-buttered bread is toasted on a hinged grill called a plancha, which flattens the sandwich while heating the filling and melting the cheese.
For anyone who wants to try this at home. Palmeiro says Lynne achieves the same results by cooking it in a heavy skillet and putting another heavy pot on top. One ingre- dient is very important. Like the famous scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen groans in disgust as Diane Keaton slathers mayo on a pastrami. Palmeiro cringes at the thought of a Cuban sandwich “without tons of mustard.”
Unfortunately. EI Paraiso strikes out on more than their sandwich. I miss most of the conversation because Palmeiro and Juan the waiter engage in a lengthy debate over the menu in rapid-fire Spanish. Sipping slowly on my Highway 10. El Paraiso’s house specialty drink of blue Curacao, rum, and pineapple juice, 1 manage to hear familiar snips like “flank steak,” “numéro cuarenta.” and the high points of why they couldn’t serve us “Una Cabana.” A loosely translated version of the story involves the woman responsible for cooking the pork being out of town for a week for a funeral and the kitchen just getting back up to speed. So instead, we have a tasty traditional Ropa Vieja-shredded beef mixed in sofrito. “I want you to eat it the right way,’’ says Palmeiro as he reaches across the table to squeeze a little lemon on top of my food. “I usually get the #40 Montuno Cubano, a combination platter with tamales, masitas de cerdo [pork nuggets], eongri rice, and fried yucca.”
After the huge assortment arrives, he pokes a finger into an oily piece of pork and shakes his head. His mouth curls downward at the taste of the beans. Obviously, he’s disappointed. “My mom. she makes the best black beans ever. My mom starts with a big bag of beans and takes out all the bad ones. soaks them overnight, and cooks them in a big pot. Most people just use canned beans, but the time my mom takes to do them really makes it worth it.”
Homesick for the real thing, Palmeiro has his favorite haunts hidden around the American League. Umpire Richie Garcia tipped him oft” to Felix’s Continental Cafe, a little down home spot in Anaheim. Lynne joins him in New York for lunch at Cabana-their favorite Nuevo Latino hole in the wall on the Upper East Side. The superstar doesn’t get oui much in Dallas during the off season, preferring to stay at home and eat with the kids, on rare occasions driving into town to Javier’s or Nana Grill.
Palmeiro doesn’t allow himself too much Cuban food because of the high fat content. After all, he’s an athlete at the top of his game,and he knows how hard he has to work the day after a night of overindulgence. He’s so in tune with his body he can feel any added weight and prefers to “stay light.” “There’s nothing worse than taking the Held feeling like you’ve got a sack of cement in your gut.”
After a couple of Highway 10s, I’m feeling light, so we move uptown to the swanky Samba Room. We leave the black Mercedes with the valet {“That will be $6.00. please”) and worm our way through the throng of beautiful people swaying to the beyond-loud Caribbean music. Bleached blondes in skimpy dresses surround cocktail tables crammed with pitchers of mojitos, and the smell of cigars drifts from the back room. We form a conga line to get to our table. Heads turn as starseekers spot Palmeiro. Women poof their bangs; guys suck in their guts. It’s the hot scene-pulsating, flash and dash; the rich and famous are out tonight.
And the kitchen was out of Cuban sandwiches.
This time the waitress explained it in plain English, “Ya’ll just got here too late. We run out of pork early every night.”
I decide not to ask why the chef doesn’t revise his prep list, and instead ask Palmeiro about his Havana roots.
He left Cuba when he was five. “Most of my dad’s family still lives there. But when I was young, he saw what was ahead for Cuba. and he didn’t like it. He decided if we were going to have a chance at anything in life we had to get out.”
Once his father obtained immigration papers in 1971. the family loaded a plane for Miami, minus Palmeiro’s brother, who was held by the government because he was eligible for the military. “We had to give up all our possessions and lived with friends who had come already. I still remember getting off that plane, walking down the tarmac. and feeling lucky to find a nickel stuck in my shoe. At the airport I had to have my arm stuck with all my vaccinations. 1 still have a big scar.”
Palmeiro’s face lights up like a kid when a silver cocktail shaker of Yuca Frita is placed between us. He picks up one of the long strips of the mildly sweet fleshy root seasoned with lime and garlic and declares. “This isn’t Cuban, but it sure is good.”
In fact .thai was the sentiment of the whole meal. Samba’s Ropa Vieja was a mushy sandwich seasoned like a Mexican sloppy Joe with cumin and chili powder. The Polio Cubano was a great grilled chicken sandwich with melted machego cheese, but they might as well call it a Polio Dallas Norte sandwich for all ii has in common with anything served in Havana. The closest we got to the real thing was the Palomilla, sliced Hank steak scented with a lime garlic mojo and covered with grilled onions. “It’s not traditional, but if I added some garlic and lemon, it would be close.”
But close is not a victory. Our search (or the perfect Cuban meal ended in a shut out. That doesn’t happen much with Palmeiro at the plate.

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

Sammy’s Barbecue. Barbecue for the banking crowd al 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. 2126 Leonard Si.,214-880-9064.$,
Sonny Bryan’s. For 40 years. Sonny Bryan’s meaty ribs, moist brisket, and classic barbecue sauce have been the standard by which all other Dallas barbecue is judged. For the classic barbecue experience, return to the original Inwood Road joint, sit on the hood of your car, and gnaw on tender smoked ribs, chopped beef, and giant onion rings. 2202 Inwood Rd. 214-357-7120. Multiple locations. $.
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BAKERY/SANDWICHES
Harry’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs. Harry’s serves real Chicago dogs, topped with onions, mustard, peppers, and the authentic neon-green relish- he also serves mem smothered with Texas chili, sauerkraut, and pretty much everything else. You have to have custard after a Harry’s dog-even if you’re too full. It’s smoother than crème brulée ever thought about being, and every day there’s a different selection of flavors. This is the kind of place that gives you hope for American culture. 3113 Knox St.. 214-520-3113. $.
Street’s Famous Sandwiches. A sandwich can be just a sandwich, but at Street’s it’s more like a meal. Fresh ingredients are key: Turkeys, roasts, and desserts are baked on the spot. As for the sides, Chinese sesame noodles, cole slaw, and potato salad are fine filler. But you might skip those and go straight from your sandwich to the rum cake. If you’re lucky, it will still be warm, with the rum freshly sprinkled on top. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-526-2505. Multiple locations. $.
BREW PUBS
D BEST Routh Street 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 task 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, anil 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 alt-American hamburger is served at Chip’s. Both locations have an atmosphere as wholesome as a Beach Boys song, and the food is fast and fresh, loo. A return to a time of innocence, when a good time could be fueled by nothing more than fries and a shake. The skinny onion rings, rich pig sandwich, and hot dogs are just lagniappe. 4501 Cole Ave. 214-526-1092; 4530 Lovers Ln. 214-691-2447.$.

The Prince of Hamburgers. The crispy-edged, toasty bun, the slim but beefy-tasting, just-cooked patty, and the simple but fresh garnitures combine to make the quintessential American sandwich. Prince sticks to the classic accompaniments: thick shakes, incredibly frosty root beer, fries, and fabulous onion rings, all brought to you by a real live person. 5200 Lemmon Ave. 214-326-9081.$.

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 arid Jelly. The Blue-Cheeseburger is a great variation on standard soda-shop fare, dripping with rich,creamy blue cheese. But the reason we’ll go hack 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. $.

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. $.

Stonelelgh 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 “rustiea” bun. was the chipotle mayonnaise. Maybe that explains the condiment ban. 2926 Maple Ave. 214-871-2346. $.

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

Cafe Panda. If you can’t find what you’re hungry for on the menu at Cafe Panda, you’ll have to go to China. Usually, you have to know 24 hours ahead thai you are in the mood for this Mandarin delicacy, but at Cafe Panda, Peking duck can be an impulse buy. The downside: Fire Cracker Shrimp, hilled as a hot dish- “buckle your seal belt, this shrimp will bring one bumpy night.” warns the menu -is anything but spicy. The Kung Pao Chicken could use some more fire as well. 7979 In wood Rd. 214-9O2-9500.$$.
D BEST Jenny Ho’s Szechwan Pavilion. After 20 years of Irving. Jenny Ho s is serving some of (he best Chinese in town. We never eat here (or lake out ) without a plate of twice-cooked pork -paper thin squares of pork stir-fried in black bean sauce with thick cuts of canots and crisp vegetables. If you are lucky enough to live nearby, they’ll deliver. 8409 Preston Rd. 214-368-4303.$-$$.
New Big Wong. Large lunches are served here in fast-food time, but a leisurely dinner rewards experimentation. The menu is large and largely authentic, serving a wide variety of wiggly sea creatures. The setting is plain and the service friendly. 2121 S.Greenville Ave. 214-821-4198. $$$.
Royal China. Royal China serves the same neighborhood clientele that has been faithfully eating here since Buck Kao and his family opened the place in 1974. Appetizers are still in peak performance, including a wonderful hot and sour soup and perfectly steamed pan-fried pork dumpling. But the General’s Chicken lends to look and taste like Chicken McNuggets in a sweet orange sauce. 201 Preston Royal Center. 214-361-1771. $-$$.
Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan. Not much has changed here over the past 15 years. Bow-tie clad waiters still formally dish out classic hoi 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 willed watercress. In the Galleria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy. at LBJ. 972-934-9998. $$.
DELI
Deli News. This plainly authentic deli has continued to demonstrate that you don’t have to be from New York to know the Real Thine when you taste it. Hoi cabbage borscht, potato pancakes, and rye-wrapped pastrami are all wonderful. 4805 Frankford. 972-733-3354. $-$$.
Gilbert’s. AD you Yankees pining for the comforts of the Carnegie Deli, slop 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 skiksa 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.$$.
ECECTIC
Bistro A. Peripatetic chef Avner Samuel’s latest venture is his best yet. and better yet. Bistro A looks like it’s going to be around awhile. Dishes with Middle Eastern influences are especially good, but the chef does equally well with simple steak fries, and casserole-roasted chicken could be the best bird in town. Beware of spotty service. 6815 Snider Plaza. 214-373-9911.$$-$$$.
Bread Winners. Three different menus a day are all imaginative. But the buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast with mushed potatoes and cream gravy is the real winner -lightly battered and fried fork-tender chicken over leek mashed potatoes and cream gravy so good it makes the bland bread better. 3301 McKinney Ave.214-754-4940.$-$$.
Cork. The list of wines by the glass, ports. sherries, and champagnes is staggering considering the small space. The food is simple but perfectly matched to the concept. Pick your wines, then customize a cheese plate to match. Lovely pates and olive mixes also make more substantial meals, and you can linger long, foregoing dinner. 2709 McKinney Ave. 214-303-0302.$.
Dream Cafe. One of Dallas’ original organically oriented menus, old favorites like the California Dreaming (mozzarella. tomatoes, and basil on grilled sourdough bread I and the basic Global Dinner (a simple bowl of brown rice and beans covered with melted jack cheese) are as good as ever. The One for John-a grilled marinated tempeh burger -is the best hamburger substitute in town. The Quadrangle. 2800 Routh St. 214-954-0486. $-$$.
Firehouse. We’ve hat! no problems with new chef Bill Lewis’ version of International Hot and Spicy Cuisine. Trendy tamarind-soy marinated pork chops are served with a tongue-soothing | mango salsa. Surprisingly, our favorite dish isn’t spicy at all -the warm chocolate devil’s food cake surrounded by Milwaukee Joe’s vanilla ice cream comes garnished with a chunk of homemade pistachio brittle. 1928 Greenville Ave. 214-826-2468.$$.
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 losses it on a giant round griddle, cooks it quick. then serves it back to you in the bowl. And Genghis Grill provides basic recipes for people who don’t know the difference between tamarind and teriyaki. 1915 Greenville Ave. 214-841-9990.$’-$$.
D BEST The Grape. The secret is that Dallas’ oldest and best wine bar is really one of its oldest and best restaurants – dim and atmospheric, with a blackboard menu thai remains interesting and enticing (no matter how often the chef changes) and the tiniest, most romantic bar in town. 2808 Greenville Ave. 214-828-1981.$$.
D BEST The Green Room. This ’90s bistro continues to dish out some of the most inventive cuisine to be found between New York and L.A. The menu is eclectically uptown, and the decor is strictly downtown rock V roll. The contrast between them is cool. At $36 the fixed-price, four-course “Feed Me” menu is the best deal in town. 2715 Elm St. 214-748-7666.$$-$$$.
PLano Cafe. A feast of vegetables accompanies each meal at this suburban bistro, and most people leave with leftovers. Freshly grilled roast chicken with red pesto penne draws loyal fans. There’s a decent wine list and a winner of a dessert list. 1915 N. Central Expwy.,Ste. 500. Piano. 972-516-0865.$$.
Soho. The imaginative one-world-on-a-plate concept isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The Mahi Mahi its light ginger and lemongrass crust, grilled to tender, bedded on nutty red wehani rice and encircled with a soy-lemon sauce is the dish thai would lure us back to pseudo-Soho: An armagnac poached pear with toasted walnut and rice mascarpone cheese is simple elegance done well. 5290 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-490-8686.$$.

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

FRENCH/CONTINENTAL

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 die most extensive and inexpensive in town. That means the Bistro caters to you-you can drop in for a few small plates and a bottle of wine or settle in for a full-course meal at a reasonable price. 5405 W. lovers Ln. at In wood Rd.214-352-1997.$-$$.

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.$$-$$$.

Glair 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 Rd. 214-987-2028.$$-$$$.

French Room. This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling. Versailles-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn’t mesh with the modern world. It’s only natural to expect perfect food that matches the fairy-tale room. Sweetbread schnitzel is perfect, placed on a bed of asparagus ragout. Lamb ribeye is precisely matched with rosemary goat cheese polenta and tomato confit with basil, combining every Mediterranean high note in a single dish. Hotel Adolphus, 1321 Commerce St. 214-742-8200.$$$.
Jennivine. The charming old house is as popular a pop-the-question romantic spot as ever. Wood floors, quaint bar candles, flowers, and fine food are the selling for a nice selection of wines by the glass. The tilapia is a perfectly tender filet on a layer of lemony orzo with red cabbage and a tablespoon of sweet potatoes. And the chocolate mousse here is classic – bittersweet, firm, and lopped with fresh whipped cream. 3605 McKinney Ave. 214-528-6010. $$.

D BEST L’Ancestral. Lei L’Ancestral remind you of traditional delights: The civilized dining room is softly lit. tables are draped in starchy while, and the menu is stubbornly, traditionally French. Begin your meal with a bowl of onion soup, about as recherche as you can get. but some ideas need no improve-ment. 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. 45I4Travis St. 214-528-1081.$$-$$$.

Paris Bistrot Jean Michel Sakouhi has opened a charming dining room offering authentic French classics delicately prepared. You can have a civilized lunch of grilled salmon on sautéed leeks swirled with a deep red beet sauce for less than S10. The kitchen doesn’t skimp on details -roasted chicken is restored to a regal status with both white and dark meat plump with clear juice. 2533 McKinney Ave. 214-720-0225. $-$$.

The Pyramid Room. The table d’hote menu is a good deal -$6K for four courses with wine, $44 with-out. 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. 1717N.AkardSt. 214-720-5249.$$$.

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

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

GOURMET TO GO
City Cafe To Go. Does anybody cook from scratch anymore? According to the servers at City Cafe To Go, most people don’t even know how to use a regular oven to reheat the precooked food they buy there. They all want microwave instructions. Bui for those of you who can handle it. most of the dishes (for instance, a thickly sliced rare leg of lamb with charred, sun-dried tomatoes) are tasty and reheat beautifully. 5757 Lovers Ln. 214-351-3366. $-$$.
City Harvest This neighborhood favorite is open every day and serves real morning food. Downtowners take noie: Oak Cliff is easy for lunch (buy a bag of Zapp’s chips and a triple chocolate chunk cookie to go with the pesto chicken salad deluxe sandwich), and you can pick up dinner to go while you eat. 939 N. Edgefield Ave. 214-943-2650. $-$$.
Izmir Deli. Dallas” new fascination with Middle Eastern food means there have been long lines at Cafe Izmir since it opened. You can avoid those crowds now by ordering in from the Izmir Deli, just down Greenville from the original cafe. Gyros, tenderloin, mozzarclla. grilled vegetable, and chicken sandwiches. pita, hummus, couscous, and eggplant dip are all available for pick-up or phone-in orders. And this is the place to go if you need rosewa-ter at 9 p.m. 3607 Greenville Ave. 214-824-8484. $-$$.
Marty’s Cafe TuGogh. Marty’s latest version of its wine bar has changed everything but the name. And the food -there was never a problem with that. Al night, when the blond, light-filled Cafe TuGogh features full table service, it’s on its way to becoming one of the best little bistros in town. 3316 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-526-4070. $-$$.
GREEK
Kostas Cafe. The food is simply Greek and simply good. Appetizer do’s: saganaki and dolmas (musts, really). Entree don’t: souvlaki (tough and chewy). 4914 Greenville Ave. 214-987-3225.$$.
D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly get a prime-trme table at this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take reservations. except l’or large parlies. But the barbed Iamb souvlaki. folded in thick warm pita and sauced with tart yogurt, is worth a wait. Ziziki’s menu has featured the same idiosyncratic version of Mediterranean food since it opened -it’s a good thing when some things don’t change. 4514 Travis St. Ste. 122.214-521-2233.$$.

HOME COOKING
Barbec’s. Barbec’s regulars love the tabloid newsprint menu, the hearty, whal-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 worn’ 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 hat! home cooking this line only in your dreams of classic soul-food plate lunches at penny-ante prices. Pork chops, meatloaf. catfish et al. come with three sides; business is about half-and-half eat-in and takeout, and we’ve never seen the room empty of patrons. 8224 Park Ln. 214-363-4348. $.

Natalie’s. It’s the ultimate neighborhood spot: The portions are large, and the prices are small. The meatloaf is a popular choice: For S7.95 you gel an eight-by-three-inch slab of finely ground meal with a light tomato sauce on top, mixed crisp steamed vegetables, and a hunk of mashed potatoes. But the secret to Natalie’s success is the cinnamon rolls. We always order extra to take home for the next morning. 5944 Royal Ln. 1 214-739-0362.$.

Poop Richard’s Cafo. Honest home-cooked food, featuring a huge spread of the one meal Mom told you never to leave home without -breakfast. 2442 Ave. K (at Park Boulevard). Piano, 972-423-1524.$.

INDIAN

D REVISITS India Place. Kulcha is disappearing from the Dallas dining room, and we don’t mean table manners. The number of major Indian restau- rants is shrinking-with the demise of Bombay Cricket Club, we decided a trek north to India Palace was in order. India Palace has long been considered the best Indian restau- rant in town,except when the honor was bestowed on its sister restaurant, the Cricket Club. Bui our last visit found the luster lack- ing. Service was haphazard and unhelpful – if we didn’t know what something on the menu was. like Paneer Musala. we had to gamble or skip it. Dining as a game show appeals only occasionally. Fortunately for us, we knew what we wanted and it was easy – biryani. fragrant and studded with fruits, nuts, and lamb -and very good. The Vegetable Bhojan. a battery of stainless steel cups holding saag paneer, navratten curry, and dal maharuni. was an institutional presentation but tasted good if you closed your eyes. A few Cricket Club refugees have found a new home on the Palace’s menu, notably the kadhai dishes, but all in all, we’d like to issue a call for help: Dallas needs more Indian restaurants. 12817 Preston Rd.. Ste 105.972-392-0190.$$.

ITALIAN

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

D REVISITS Amore. Aniore is a nice family place, but wouldn’t choose to eat here unless we lived down the street. It has all the elements of a successful neighborhood restaurant: It’s small, friendly, intimate, and casual. But like most Italian restaurants in Dallas, the food is average. There’s plenty to choose from -the menu is loaded with chicken, seafood, veal, and chicken dishes with cream sauces presiding over tomato-based marinants. Everything is available in half plates, making it easy to sample or bring the kids. The minestrone soup we tried was an uninspired cup of thin broth with a few pieces of overcooked squash and a strip of pasta floating in it. Meatballs, usually the definitive dish in Italian restaurants, were lacking in flavor. However we found some life in the inspired Mediterranean-spiced mixed grill of chicken breasts, eggplant, red onion, zucchini, and scallions. 6931 Snider Plaza. 214-739-0502,$$.

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 Snuffers than at a “ristoraue” with 520 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 things is a mess of housemade sausage and peppers. 4985 Addison Circle. 972-458-1010. $$.

Avanti. Avanti has maintained the feel of a small. intimate neighborhood cafe in spite of every obstacle. The fried calamari with tomato and basil sauce is grcascless, and the crunchy batter is light and tasty. We’re slightly disappointed with the grilled veal medallions, but the Italian sausage seasoned with lots of fennel and sautéed with onions and bell peppers on top of angel hair pasta covered in a light marinara is gutsier. 2720 McKinney Ave. 214-871-4955. $$.

Cafe Cipriani. This is one of the best Italian restaurants in town. Owner Salvino Zannetti doesn’t compromise on his ingredients: he orders his cheese from a deli in New York -as close to Italy as you can get in Dallas. And the lasagna is the real standout – layers of homemade noodles, with just enough ground veal to give the dish substance without making it too heavy. 220 Las Colinas Blvd., Irving. 972-869-0713.$$.

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

Mi Piacl. Housemade is a term Mi Piaci doesn’t take lightly -the kitchen makes its own pastas and cures its own meats. Every other ingredient is either imported or hand-picked. A bowl of the Tuscan classic ribollita could be enough for a meal. But don’t neglect the spicy penne arrabbia-ta, the three thin scallops of veal perched on a pile of portobello mushrooms, or the asparagus and cheese tortellini with a fragile Marsala sauce 14854 Montfort. 972-934-8424. $$-$$$.

D BEST Modo Mio. Here is a “labor of love restaurant that has overcome the obstacle of doing business in an ugly strip mall by serving some of the best Italian food in town. Chef/owner Rino Brigliadori turns out deliriously plump gnocchi lightly coated in tomato sauce, and his simple seafood specials are always perfectly prepared. 18352 Dallas Pkwy? Ste. 112. 972-671-6636. $$.

Nero’s, Chef Luigi Lama has been serving pink garlic bread and Caesar salad for 15 years, but we prefer his Linguinie Fra Diavlo-a steaming plate of sea scallops, gulf shrimp, and mushrooms in a spicy marinara sauce. Of course, the regular pasta dishes are above average, and his homemade white chocolate ice cream has customers driving long distances just for dessert. 2104 Greenville Ave. 214-826-6376.$$.

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

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

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

Huggari’s. We’re happy to report that our old favorite chicken parmigiano remains unscathed. It’s still served sautéed to the appropriate firmness without becoming blobby or covered with too much tomato sauce and 1mozzarella cheese. Even on busy weekends, service flows evenly. 2911 Routh St.. 214-871-7377; Beltline Rd. 972-726-9555. $$.

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

JAPANESE

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 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. $$.

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

D BEST Nakamoto. Service tends to range from sublime to abrupt at this stylish, roomy Piano institution, but cuisine (tempura, sushi, and Sashimi) remains uniformly excellent. 3309 N. Central Expwy. at Parker Rd. Piano. 972-881-0328.$$.

Sushi Sake. Sushi Sake is half-hidden in a Fleet- wood 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.$$-$$$. BR>
D BEST Teppo. Our only yakitori bar is also one of the city s most exciting sushi bars and a favorite weekend date destination. High-energy atmosphere. highly chic modem decor, and high-quality food make this one of Dallas’ best Japanese restaurants, even though the menu is mostly skewers and sushi. Be sure to try the specials. 2014 Greenville Ave. 214-826-S9K9. $$-$$$.
LATIN AMERICAN
Caribbean Grill. Jumbo shrimp marinated in coconut milk, lightly Tried 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 coaling of spices, and the dipping sauce is a killer honey-mustard concoction spiced with hot relish (chow) from Trinidad. Stay busy with their large selection of bottled hot sauces and soothe your burning tongues with homemade key lime pie. 3068 Forest Ln. 972-241-9113. $-$$.
Fogo de Chao. This is not a place for the faint of heart. Or the not-very-hungry. Once you’ve signaled “go” by turning your ordering chip from red to green, you are immediately barraged by gaueho-clad waiters waving huge skewers of assorted meats. The “Lombo”-pork loin crusted with parmesan -can be dry. but the Frallinlia (bottom sirloin) is tender, and the Picanha {rump steak with lots of garlic) will make you send the other waiters away. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the beautiful salad bar-vegetarians who can get past the carnivorous atmosphere will find nirvana indie form of big bowls Of steamed asparagus, mozzarella cheese balls, rice, marinated red peppers, hearts of palm, and sun-dried tomatoes. 4300 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-503-7300.$$.
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, men 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 Idled with long, thin strips of Yuca Frita-fried yuca seasoned with lime and garlic -makes french fries obsolete. 4514Travis St, 214-522-4137,$$.
Texas de Brazil. No need for menus here -it’s one price fits all. Skewer-swagging waiters slice varied cuts of slow-roasted (and extremely flavorful) filet, picanha. rack of lamb, lop sirloin, and pork loin from their swords right onto your plate. The salad bar features 30 hefty items besides salad, including tabbouleh and marinated mushrooms, and (be required feijoa-da (the national dish of Brazil). 15101 Addison Rd. 972-385-1000. $$$.
MEDITERRANEAN
Adelmo’s, Some go for the food, some go lor the intimacy, but almost everybody finds a reason to go back to this well-hidden gem. Service is unhurried and patient, and the wine list is varied and reasonable. Entrees and appetizers alike feature creatively bold sauces that will hold your attention long alter the main ingredients of the dishes have been devoured. 4537 Cole Ave. 214-559-0325.$$.
D BEST The Riviera We knew the moment an airy avocado cream hors d’oeuvre passed our lips that we were doomed, once again, to a near-flawless dining experience. Each dish seems to outdo another. Food credits here mostly belong to Chef de Cuisine Frank Harris, one assumes, with input from David Holben, now executive chef at sibling restaurants Mediterraneo and Toscana. 7709 In wood Rd.214-351-0094.$$$.

Sine. The attitude is casual, sophisticated, and neighborhood friendly. The food is a funky blend of Mediterranean fare that rotates con-tinually and includes Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in coconut milk, cilantro, and chipotle broth thai should not be missed. Former Toscana wiz Gilbert Garza has proved he is a chef to be reckoned with-his double cut pork chops rubbed with red curry and lopped with dried cherry sauce is a gastronomic work of art. 4345 W. Northwest Hwy. @ Midway. 214-350-6135.$$.

MEXICAN<BR>
Anamia’s. The basics-cheese enchiladas, cheese tacos, guacamole, and beef tacos-are all above average, the surprise being the usually boring beef taco full of chili powder-spiced beef. Shrimp comes wafting the scent of lime, covered with nuggets of sautéed garlic, on a bed of sautéed celery, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms. and jalapehos. For two bucks, you can get an order of sopapillas-a platter of three gold puffs sent from heaven with a little honey. 600 E. Sandy Lake Rd.,Coppell. 972-304-0321.$. Margaritas.
Avlla’s. At Avila’s you can find all the flavors of Mexican food without the lard. Chili relleno isn’t battered and deep-fried, it’s gently roasted and stuffed with cheese or meal and covered in a light ranehera sauce. Enchiladas can be customized from a mix and match ingredients menu and is a must for vegetarians looking for a Tex-Mex fix. 4714 Maple Ave. 214-520-2700.$.

D REVISITS La Calle Doce. Calle Doce’s new Lakewood digs has the same menu as the popular 12-year-old Oak Cliff location, and the walls are covered with the familiar blue-and-white striped wallpaper. The setting may be more elegant, but the food quality is identical. Undoubtedly, the best Mexican seafood in town, the fresh cold seafood cocktails -octopus, ceviche, and oysters-are full of spicy tomato sauce filled with chunks of celery and green peppers. Nachos plump with lumps of crab were delivered bubbling with hot melted cheese. For the first time, we ordered something besides fish-enchiladas verde. Surprised by the electric lime green sauce of pureed sour cream and cucumber, we discovered mat they tasted better than they looked. Our only gripe was the fishy flavor of the usually reliable red snapper served a la Veracruzana. Bui the grilled whole catfish served with vegetables and rice is one of the best plates of food in town. 1925 Skillman. 214-824-9900. $$.415W 12th St. 214-941-4304. $$.

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

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

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

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, Fileie Cantinflas may look like a fried puck, but inside the stiff crust is a cheese-stuffed filet mignon with a brick-col- ored chile sauce-it’s too rich to eat and loo good not to try. 4912 Cole Ave. 214-521 -4211. $$.

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

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. 22 I 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-lopped chalupa, its toasty tortilla thickly spread with guacamole. 7726 Ferguson Rd. 214-319-8834. $-$$.
Mattlto’s, The Baja shrimp stuffed with Monterey jack cheese and fresh jaiapenos then wrapped in bacon is a Change of pace from our favorite Malt Martinez recipe chiles rellenos stuffed with cheese and topped with ranchero sauce, sour cream, raisins and pecans. The gorditos we fried were dry and tasteless, but save room for chocolate caramel nachos – this is a destination dessert. 5290 Belt Line Rd. R Momfort Dr.. Addison. 972-503-3100. $-$$.
D BEST Matt’s Rancho Martinez. The place is filled with the faithful at every meal because the llamas are the best in Dallas, the chile rellcno 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. $-$$.
Nuevo Leon. Nuevo Leon has the uncanny knack of blending perfectly with a neighborhood while serving the same menu at every location. Somehow, the camitas al pastor are hearty. country fare in Farmers Branch (the original location), fiesta party fare on Greenville Avenue, and mod-Mex in the latest location on Oak Lawn. Service is slick, and the food is excellent -fat enchiladas, avocado-like cold cream, thick tortillas. So far. this is a winning formula. 3211 Oak Lawn. 214-522-3331. Multiple locations. $-$$.
Omega’s. It’s easy to imagine ending evenings al 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.$.
Pope & 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 over- cooked), 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 Him St. 214-741-1901. $. Margaritas.
Piano Tortilla Factory. If you live in Piano, then this little place should be. at the top of your list for a quick bite, takeout, or delivery, Piano Tortilla factory’s appeal doesn’t end with the food -the friendly owner is quick to strike up a conversation and make you feel welcome. Low prices are a bonus, too. 1009 E. 18th Si., Piano. 972-423-6980.$.
Prime’s. On the “Mex” side of the Tex-Mex fare, enchiladas come with cheddar cheese gurgling in thick chili con came and lopped with more cheese. The cheese-fest continues with a “Tex” version of a chili relleno: a cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, dipped in a queso and egg bailer, (hen deep-fried. The amount of money the kitchen spends on cheese could probably put a man on the moon -there is even grated cheese on the side salads. We ate it all. 14905 Midway, Addison. 972-661-2287; 33O9McKinney.2l4-220-O510.$.
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 A/tec gods and one happy tomato. The place could still use a few velvet paintings, but the tablescape is complete: Light, fresh chips, vinegar)’ salsa, and fast margaritas are the intra to a meal that’s quintessential Dallas Mexican. 5617 W. Lovers Ln. 214-357-2080. $-$$. Margaritas.
Rodolfo’s. Start with the home-fried chips, huge half-tortilla rounds served with a full-bodied salsa. Then try the Big Tex-Mex dinner or the Number 0 (yes. they start numbering at zero). The star on the Number 0 plate is the Idaho enchiladas made of. yes. mashed potatoes, pleasantly spiced and available with a choice of seven different sauces. 2002 S. Edgefield Ave.214-942-1211.$.
Serf’s. The goal here seems to be to offer pretty good Mexican food in a pretty comfortable place to folks who live pretty close. Sol’s has found a niche where old-fashioned combination plates-oozing enchiladas, rich chili gravy, deep fried flautas, and lush guacamole – are all that’s required. Nachos come with a pile of sliced jalapenos. margaritas have plenty of tequila, and the set is tuned to Mexican TV. Really, what more do you want on a Sunday evening? 6434 Mockingbird Ln. 214 821-7911. $-$$.
Taco Diner. The name sounds slightly retro. But the tacos at the Diner arc 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.40l I Villanova. 214-696-4944. $. Margaritas.
MIDDLE EASTERN
Al-Amir. The Mediterranean meets the rising sun at AI Amir, which took the place of a Japanese restaurant. The result is an odd. melting-pot ambience. Concentrate on the plate -Middle Eastern expectations are well-met with good renditions of hummus, baba ghanoush. and lamb. Bui there are also some less well-known dishes to try. 7402 Greenville Ave. 214-739-2647.$$.
Ali Baba. Order hummus and you get a bowl swirled with the garlicky purée, pooled with yellow olive oil. dusted with parsley and adorned with slick olives. That and a stack of hot pita could do you, but the grilled chicken is irresistible, and the tabbouleh. mostly chopped parsley with bits of bulghur and tomato, is a perfect counterpoint to the unctuous chickpea mash. 1905 Greenville Ave. 214-823-8235.$-$$.
Basha. Basha was one of the first in the wave of Middle Eastern restaurants that have opened in Dallas in the last few years. And il remains one of the best of a good lot. The menu is less predictable than many of Dallas” Lebanese restaurants, offering dishes outside the usual selection of hummus, baba ghanoush. rice, and grilled everything. Breast of chicken breaded in crushed pistachios is an excellent idea-so is fragrant lamb shank, cooked till it is stew on the bone. OK. hummus is good, too. 2217 Greenville Ave. 214-824-7794.$$.
Cafe Istanbul. The tiny kitchen overachieves on most of its Turkish dishes, especially if you like it spicy. The dining room gets cozy at night, but those who tolerate early evening daylight are rewarded with a happy hour. Solid service lops off a superb all-around experience. 5450 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 222. 214-902-0919.$-$$.
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.$$.
Hedary’s- The original Hedary’s was a destination restaurant in Fort Worth long before hummus became hip. Maybe it’s just the Dallas location that’s stopped trying. More garlic in the baba ghanoush, please. Less leathery lahvosh. You have to watch that kibbe; it tends to get dry if it’s cooked too long. Where’s that nice Greek red we like with our lamb? We know better now. 7915 Bell Line Rd. 972-233-1080.$$.
MOROCCAN
D BEST Marrakesh. Just what is Moroccan cuisine, and what is it doing in Dallas? It is lamb and couscous and fresh vegetables spiced with mysterious combinations of nutmeg, paprika, and cumin -wonderful. The Moroccan Feast -a sample of almost everything on the menu- is a bargain at $26.95 per person, Vibrant Middle-Eastern music accompanies a veiled belly dancer in a purple bra who gyrates and finger-cymbals her way around the room. 5207 W. Lovers Ln. 214-357-4104.$$.
NEW AMERICAN
Antarcs. The Hyatt Regency’s sky-high, revolving restaurant appears to be finding its wings at last. Huge sea scallops were sparked with chile-peanut dressing; grilled beefsteak tomatoes and shiitake mushroom caps wore dollops of melted queso fresco in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Reunion Tower. 300 Reunion Blvd. 214-651-1234.$$-$$$.
Anzu. The Nakamotos spent a considerable amount of money to alter Anzu’s entrance so it’s feng shui would be perfectly balanced. Maybe it helps the consistently balanced flavors in the bento boxes. Lunch at this orientally inclined restaurant has always been a great deal-a beautiful arrangement of tempura and sushi or G plate of Asian-influenced fish or chicken, served gracefully, under a flock of origami birds, for less than $10. 4620 McKinney Ave. 214-526-7398.$$.

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

Chaparral Club. The ancho-rubbed chicken (with bones!) con 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 sautéed 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 crème Anglaise. Adam’s Mark Hotel. 400 N. Olive St. 214-922-8000. $$-$$$.

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

Gershwin’s. Pretty people, pretty food, pretty prices set the scene for power lunching in this California-influenced Upper Greenville emporium, where on-track careerists linger over creative fare noontimes and gather after work to share single 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 fra?che don’t make sense until you put them in your mouth. You have to trust Custer: She thinks with her palate, and the results are brilliant. Westin Park Centra], 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.$$$.

Parigi. Menus still change weekly, and the food is prepared to order, by hand. Service can be a little flaky, but the food-specials and perennials-is excellent. The famous beef tenderloin with mustard sauce and “smashed” potatoes is as good as ever, the beef rare and unusually flavorful, the potatoes buttery and just lumpy. It’s been on the menu since Parigi opened. A long time. 33II Oak Lawn Ave., 214-521-0295.$$.

Rooster. The room is as easily gracious as a family dining room. And the staff offers naturally Southern-style hospitality. The traditional Senate bean soup is authentic -substantial and scented with smoky ham-and the breadbasket is filled with com muffins and bacon biscuits. The catfish, thick and white as cake, is crusted with molasses and pecans, then sauced with brown butter. 3521 Oak Grove Ave. 214-521-1234.$$. 7

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 m 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 paté 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 tojt. 6047 Lewis St. 214-826-0968.$$-$$$.

SEAFOOD
D BEST AquaKnox. Stephan Pyles’ swanky seafood spot has commanded national attention, and the swell decor and meticulous food mostly merit it. Luscious red snapper in red curry masa is an example of the global approach to seafood. The rich and the wannabes are eating from a simpler menu that includes platters of fresh shrimp, oysters, clams, and small-plate versions of the dinner entrées, an excellent option for those who want a taste of the high life without the high tab. 3234 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.$$-$$$.

Fishmonger’s. Over the years, we’ve had good and bad experiences at Fishmonger’s. but never great ones. The crawfish é’toufée’s only resemblance to Cajun cuisine is the fact that it looks like the muddy Mississippi. Tuna fajitas. a weird diversion from the mostly Cajun-themed menu, are tasteless strips of grilled tuna rolled in tortillas and served with a tortilla soup made with shrimp. But seafood gumbo is surprisingly well-flavored and filled with loads of okra. tomato, and baby shrimp. 1915 N. Central Expwy. 972-423-3699.$-$$.
D BEST Lombardi Mare. The stylishly polished interior is a real mind-blower, and so is the food. Feast on five types of farm-fresh oysters, steamed mussels, and lobster. A polenta-crusted salmon served with red cabbage was a perfect meal. If we had to choose one place to entertain an out-of-town-er. Lombard! Mare would be our choice. 5l00_Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-503-1233. $$.
Lefty’s. The menu is small, but Lefty’s features everything you’d expect a good lobster house to have, including beef for those who don’t like seafood. One bargain: the one-pound lobster with baked potato and com for $10.95. 4021 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-774-9518.$$.
Newport’s. Enjoy an imaginative seafood menu that we classify loosely as New England seafood with Asian and Cajun influences. Grilled tilapia is imaginatively served with a side of sautéed apples, cilantro. and toasted pecans. And the tuna is a three-inch pan-seared hunk served in a bow] of rice and covered with sautéed portobellos and roasted peppers- almost wonderful, except for the lake of teriyaki sauce drowning the rice. 703 McKinney Ave. 214-954-0220.$$-$$$.
Rockfish. Rockfish is cozy and uncontrived; even the cute stuff, like the tin-pail light fixtures and the out-of-place ambience, like the rock fireplace on the patio overlooking the parking lot. feels comfortable. You can get an oversized platter filled with more than a pound of fresh crab. about 30 medium boiled shrimp, two ears of com, several new potatoes, and a foot of sausage for S22.99. Our main problem with Rockfish is that it’s a neighborhood restaurant, but it’s not in our neighborhood. 7639 Campbell [email protected] Coit. 972-267-8979. $-$$.
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.$$.
Truluck’s Steak & Stone Crab. Stone crabs are a new delicacy in Dallas, and they’re sweet and rich. They’re also easy to eat: The kitchen cracks them for you. so all you have to do is break in and fish for the meat. You can eat other stuff with your crab (mediocre salad, onion rings, cole slaw, creamed spinach), but all you’ll remember is the claws and cake – four layers of dark chocolate cake covered with a whipped milk-chocolate icing. 500) Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-503-3079; 2401 McKinney Ave., 214-220-2401.$$-$$$.
Vincent’s, This place hasn’t conformed to any current low-fat or global-spice trends; the signature Red Snapper a la Vincent’s is still a deliciously rich filet, lightly breaded, sautéed in loads of lemon butter, and lopped with a huge clump of fresh crab.There is a tighter side; A lovely broiled halibut was sauced with about half the snapper’s butter. The whole experience is completely unhip and, therefore, completely comforting. 3004 N. Northwest Hwy. 214-352-2692; 2432 Preston at Park. Plano. 972-612-6208.$$-$$$.

SOUTHWESTERN
Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa has wisely stuck with its original concept of Southwestern fare; The table-side 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 corn chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce are richer than anything ever dreamed up in Santa Fe – they have a definite (and welcome) Texas rich-ness and come with a corn cake and gingered rice, a nice relief from the usual Spanish. 7700 W. Northwest Hwv. 214-378-8686; 5100 Belt Line Rd. 972-934-0165. $$.
No Place. Tender elk sirloin and boneless rabbit are sided with sautéed portobello mushrooms and onions, Better-than-beef chicken-fried venison comes with Matt’s famous smoked mashed potatoes. The food is why Matt Martinez Jr. is a legend -in his own neighborhood, anyway. 6325 La Vista Dr. 214-328-9078.$$-$$$.
D BEST Star Canyon, Chef-owner Stephan Pyles has created a Dallas destination with his innovative New Texas Cuisine. An appetizer of fried green tomatoes stacked high with layers of Dallas-made mozzarella is a rare case of tall food tasting as good as it looks. And the bone-in cowboy ribeye on a bed of pinto beans, covered with a mound of shoestring onion rings dusted with red chile, should be listed in Fodor’s under Dallas’ top attractions. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-520-7827. $$-$$$.
Y.0. Ranch. Though this is frontier fare, the kitchen can have a light touch. Delicately grilled, semi-boneless quail is delicious, and the special two-inch. 12-ounce pork chop is as moist and tender as a filet mignon. However, the buck stops short with an undercooked top sirloin. And the bar scene rocks with Jerry Jeff Walker tunes and cigar-smoking buckaroos – the perfect place to lake your Yankee guests. 702 Ross Ave.. 214-744-3287. $-$$.

SPANISH

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

D REVISITS Ketama. The good news is that the music and atmosphere at Ketama is a funky blend of live flamenco guitars playing in a groovy beatnik coffee house setting. The bad news is that they attempt to serve food. A short list of tapas was even shorter the Thursday night we visited. Not one of the three entrees- Paella. Frito Misto. or the Ketama Special -was available, and they were out of another third of the menu. The remaining items were “on sale for $2.00.” according to our leather-clad waitress. Obviously, the kitchen was cleaning out the walk-in. so we weren’t surprised by the fact that everything we did sample should have been thrown out with the dishwater. A selection of Spanish spreads was nothing more than bowls of aioli, tartar sauce, and mayonnaise served with stale bread that was croutons waiting to happen. Tough skirt steak stuffed on a skewer was charred and smothered in a melted mess of blue cheese. Shrimp, billed as “grilled with a honey-lemon glaze,” was served drowning in oily garlic sauce. So, eat before you come, grab a couch, and order a well-priced bottle of Rioja. a plate of assorted olives, and enjoy the music. It’s hard to screw that up. 2801 Commerce St. 214-651-1119.$-$$.

STEAKHOUSES

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

Bob’s Steak and Chop House. We usually forego filets, preferring a more flavorful cut, but the three-inch nine-ounce is beautifully marbled and cooked perfectly pink and 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 the slight sweet glaze on Bob’s signature whole carrots side dish is a nice contrast to the beef. The atmosphere here is as comfortable as your grandmother’s dining room, but the restaurant is crowded with the Ross Perot and Jerry Jones set. 4300 Lemmon Ave. 214-528-9446.$$-$$$.
Capital Grille. The menu has a funny. East Coastfuddy-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 porternouse-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 S6.75 to the affordable $4 potato -are extra, of course, and have plenty to share. 500 Crescent Court. Ste. 135. 214-303-0500. $$-$$$.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. No complaints about the meats (and at these prices there shouldn’t be)-you could cut the porterhouse with a fork Of it weren’t two-and-a-half inches thick). But the onion rings are our favorite dish. Each three-inch ring has the perfect ratio of breading to onion, hut somehow, the fry doesn’t separate from the onion-you get batter with every bite. The lobster tail isn’t worth (he price. But this is one place where you get what you pay for. 5251 Spring Valley Rd. 972-490-9000. $$$.
Kirby’s Steakhouse. One recent dinner had six happy Yankee carnivores whistling Dixie, but more recently, we were served a puck-like filet sitting alone on a parsley-less plate. And we didn’t understand what made the mashed potatoes “famous” -we lasted nothing more than potatoes whipped with lots of pepper. On the other hand, service was attentive, and the prime rib was pure retro-quality. 3525 Greenville. Ave. 214-821-2122; 3408 Preston Rd., Piano. 972-867-2122. $$.
Nick & Sam’s. Nick & Sam’s is a steakhouse first, 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. We ate the traditional steakhouse meal –a wedge salad with creamy lumps of Maytag blue cheese. Surf ’if Turf (snowy sweet lobster tail and soft filet), and a prime aged “cowboy steak” with sides. The most successful twist on (he traditional steakhouse is the setting itself. This is not a faux men’s club-no brass, etched glass,or hunting paintings. 3008 Maple Ave. 214-871 -7663.$$-$$$.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. This is the best beef we’ve eaten in Dallas lately. The porterhouse, regally alone and ungarnished, arrives at the perfect degree of doneness and is still actually hot. Mushrooms-crimini and shiitake, in a port reduction -and onion rings, thick-cut and thinly breaded, are both preferable to another potato. And we appreciate the diminutive (just three-and-a-half pounds!) Maine lobster, perfectly steamed and cracked, and only $64. Even dessert, which frequently seems like an insult in a steakhouse, is spectacular, 10477 Lombardy Ln. 214-366-2000. $$-$$$.
The Palm. The four-pound lobster (at $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 S80 to spare for a lobster can join. 701 Ross Ave, 214-698-0470. $$-$$$.

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

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

THAI
Chow Thal. 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 hat taste clean and light. A dessert of fresh ango atop sticky rice is a spectacular ending. 290 Belt Line Rd. @ Montfort Dr., Addison. 972-960-2999. $$.
D BEST Liberty. Annie Wong, the mother of Thai food in Dallas, still owns three all-Thai restaurants, but Liberty is where her imagination is freed. Romantically and softly lit, with beaded candleshades on each table and bamboo birdcages animated with twinkling Christmas lights, the brightly lit kitchen makes Liberty into real dinner theater, and Wong is the star. What makes her food different is what makes any chef’s food special: imagination. 5631 AltaAve.214-887-8795.$$.
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.$-$$.
Thai Garden. Thai Garden serves homestyle Thai; a beautiful plate of beef satay skewered and grilled comes with a light creamy peanut sauce. The takeout is top-notch, loo: Even the usually lowly Lo Mein is an elegant mixture of soft noodies, bean Sprouls, cabbage, and celery in a silky broth. Rice pudding made with sweetened black rice blended with a salty-sweet coconut milk and lopped with fresh lotus seed and fruit is a treat. 6090 Campbell Rd., Ste. 124. 972-248-8861. $-$$.

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

VIETNAMESE

Green Papaya. If you’re going to learn anything about pronouncing Vietnamese, learn to say pho correctly. The traditional Vietnamese bowl of broth comes thick with rice noodles and your choice of beef, chicken or meatballs. Most of the other traditional country dishes arc good, but someone in the kitchen needs to adjust some of the uninspired seasonings. 3211 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-52-4811. $.

Mai’s. Mai’s is one of those places that has lots of loyal customers. The menu is stocked with authentic Vietnamese specialties, including lots of noodle and rice entrees and the classic hot pots: exotic meats, vegetables, and spices cooked and served in clay pots. Be sure and try 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 terri lie at her little restaurant in Snider Plaza. The hot pots are especially good-“hot chic” is the regulars” favorite. 6912 Snider Plaza. 214-361-8220. $-$$.

VietNam. A little bit of Southeast Asia transplanted to East Dallas, VietNam has very little Western influence to make the cultural transition easier. This is Vietnamese food designed for die Vietnamese community. But some things are universal -the appeal of hot soup, for instance. And VietNam’s hoi pot, a comforting, steaming cauldron of soup, noodles. and vegetables, is enough to share. 4302 Bryan St.. 214-821-4542. 5-$$.

TARRANT COUNTY

Angelo’s. The big. wood-paneled dance hall of a room is lined with a self-service buffet line, cold-drink coolers, and chip racks on a linoleum Moor. You grab a round tray and a frosted stein of Bud and eat from styrofoam plates under antler heads mounted on the walls. The chicken, served “while it lasts, ” goes fast -it’s juicy and smoked off the bone. All the usual sides-beans, cole slaw-stand up to the ribs, but we wish they’d put more punch in their thin, vinegar-based sauce, 2533 White Settlement Rd.. Fort Worth. 817-332-0357. $.
Angeluna. The patio swarms with an artsy Chanel-and-Chardonnay crowd before and after events at the Bass Performance Hull 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 H. 4th St.. Fort Worth. 817-334-0080. $$.

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

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

Cacharel. This easily lops Arlington’s dining scene, such as it is. with ils French country decor and New French cuisine. The fixed-price menu ($3450) 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. Fon 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 Si., 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. $$.
D BEST Joe T. Garcla’s Mexican Dishes. The quintessential Fort Worth restaurant. Its location near the Stockyards is a rambling plantation that can handle the crowds for whom the restaurant’s status hovers somewhere between “institution” and “nirvana. ” Wait for a spot outside by the pool, and order the enchiladas. Joe doesn’t do credit cards or reservations, either- 2201 N. Commerce St.. Fort Worth. 817-626-4356. $$.
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 resistance is a savory cheesecake, made of parmesan and feta cheese baked with basil pesto, asparagus, mushrooms, and Kalamata olives. 907 Houston St., Fon Worth. 817-336-2253. $$.
Reata. Reata’s upscale “cowboy cuisine” includes a chicken-fried steak the size of a boot and steaks with Mexican side dishes. A special o blackened salmon is covered with a roasted com red pepper, and cilantro relish with small cubes of queso fresco. Sil in the north dining room and watch the sun sink in the west and the Dallas skyline twinkle in the east. 500 Throckmorton St.. Fort Worth. 817-336-1009. $$-$$$.

Reflections. Maybe you don’t expect high romance in Port Worth, but maybe you should Reflections is surely among the most graceful ly romantic dining settings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Worthington Hotel’s flagship restaurant in downtown Fori Worth offers a refined escape from high-decibel stress. Intuitive service and avant bill of fare live up to the ambience. Delicate pan-seared foie gras with sautéed apples and grilled, whiskey-sauced ostrich medallions with red lentil risotto are representative of the kitchen’s inventions. 200 Main St., Fort Worth. 817-882-1664 or 800-433-5677, $$$.

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

S I D E D I S H
Birthday Bash

Forget the balloons and bring on the spinach balls. Neighborhood Italian restaurant Rodolfo’s is celebrating its 20th birthday by offering their pretty-famous spinach balls (a spinach ricotta dumpling seasoned with nutmeg) at retro prices, along with the rest of the classic dishes on the menu.
Rodolfo’s, Preston Royal Shopping Center, 5956 Royal Ln. 214-368-5039.
NEIGHBORHOOD FIND
Pecan House Grill
Frisco, the newest promised land north of Dallas, is En danger of becoming Just another suburb satiated with chain restaurants. Huge strip malls with the requisite McDonald’s Play lands, Subways, and KFCs are going up faster than we can type. But we found hope in the old city center of Frisco, where the clapboard store fronts that line Main Street have been left intact and a couple of Victorian houses have been restored and turned into restaurants. One, Randy’s Steakhouse, serves decent steaks, and now another, Pecan House Grill, Is gearing up with a menu of wood-fired foods.
Once the home of former Chicago Bear Bob Kilcullen and his wife Katie, the house, built in 1918, outgrew their needs, and sons Chris, who did time in the hotel business, and Tim, a French-trained chef, have converted it into an all-in-the-family restaurant. The fare is mostly home-style cooking with some fancier hill country cuisine accents. We tried the hand-battered pork fritter, a lighter version of chicken fried steak, and found a moist pork cutlet wrapped in a crispy fried batter. The accompanying cream gravy wasn’t too thick, and someone in the kitchen knows how to use a pepper mill properly. From the upscale selections, we chose the wood-grilled baby lamb chops with orange mint sauce. They were cooked to a light pink; a little long for our taste, and we found them tough, but the demi-glace had the accurate hint of cherries. As our waiter placed beerbattered onion pings on the table, he apologized for the fact they weren’t the type normally served. For some reason he felt compelled to explain that the usual prepackaged frozen rings hadn’t been delivered, so the kitchen had whipped up a substitution. The prep chef should think about his home-cooking concept before he places his next order. The replacement platter was brimming with wonderfully thick cut red onions fried to a golden brown in a crunchy (there’s that pepper again) batter. The kitchen redeemed some status with a gooey slice of pie thick with Texas pecans served warm with vanilla ice cream and splattered with chocolate ganache that made us feel right at home. 7110 Main St, Frisco. 972-712-9911. $-$$.

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