Food and Drink

NEWCOMERS



LOLA, THE RESTAURANT

Kinks fans be forewarned: The name has nothing to do with the British rock band’s infamous ballad to “Lola,” the mysterious lover who walked like a woman and talked like a man. Rookie restaurateur Van Roberts just wanted something short, snappy. and easy to remember. After several dinners at Lola, we wouldn’t care if he renamed the restaurant “Antidisestablishmentarianism”; we would be back.

Owner Roberts and chef Jamie Samford, fresh from Angeluna in Fort Worth, had big shoes to fill in this little house on Fairmount Street. The quaint Victorian cottage has been home to some big names in Dallas food- Calluaud’s, Juniper, Le Maison Blanche, and. most recently. Barclays. Pre-opening rumors surrounding Roberts’ and Sam-ford’s ability to fill the void left by popular chef Nick Barclay weren’t too optimistic. But nay-sayers be damned-the reviews are in and Lola is officially off to a triumphant start.

Other than a few changes inside, Roberts smartly stuck with Barclays’ successful concept-a user-friendly fixed-price menu allowing diners to choose from two ($32), three ($40), or four ($47) courses. The interior is still intimate-the gold walls are now a warm brown, the English garden paintings have been replaced by smaller landscapes (some painted by Roberts and his mother), and the wall sconces are turned down low. Service is the same high quality patrons will remember from Barclays, mainly because the staff is almost entire-ly unchanged. Chef Sam lord even kept a little Nick on his nightly menu-a perfect rendition of his signature Stilton cheese and chive soufflé with Cabernet sauce.

For first courses we tried a sautéed foie gras that would have been excellent, except for a faint burnt flavor. The accompanying sun-dried cherry relish would have paired perfectly, but there was too much of it on the plate. Happily, on our second visit, we found the problems corrected. Obviously, Chef Samford is watching what comes back to the kitchen.

But we never left much for him to see. A wild mushroom soup-a ’shroom lover’s dream-is a bowl of thick pureed mushrooms decorated with swirls of parsley crème fraiche thai rivals the iconic version served across town at The Grape.

At first glance, the entrées on Samford’s new menu seemed bizarre-it was hard to imagine grilled mahi-mahi rubbed with cumin on the same plate with Guatemalan black beans and grapefruit butter sauce. But we were shocked to find every bite a splendid combination of exotic flavors.

The same goes for the sea scallops scented with truffle oil served with a wild mushroom sweet potato hash. The gently grilled scallops were firm, but flaked at the touch of a fork, Cider-roasted pork tenderloin was beautifully splayed around a pastry tart filled with mixed root vegetables and a bed of braised red cabbage.

Apparently when Roberts isn’t at his day job overseeing his Point West Volvo dealership, he dabbles in cooking-especially desserts. And it’s hard to choose just one of his inspired creations. We skipped the predictable crème brulée and discovered roasted fresh pineapple drizzled with warm rum sauce served with house-made vanilla bean ice cream. Even a martini glass filled with sliced berries in a reduced port glaze scented with cinnamon was brilliant.

Lola, you’ve really got me. 2917 Fairmount St. 214-855-0700. $$-$$$.



MANGIA E BEVI

Blame it on McKinney Avenue construction or the changing makeup of the neighborhood. but restaurateur Alberto Lombardi wasted no time pulling the plug on his swanky French bistro, Bizu. Gone are the white leather banquettes and the sexy gauze-swagged booths designed by Paul Draper. The fancy Bizu concept has been downsized to meet the demands of the upscale and mobile neighborhood. Patio tables covered in familiar red-and-white-checked tablecloths now scream. “Hey, look, we’re casual.”

Inside, the dark mustard-colored walls are lined with reproductions of vintage French posters with Talouse-Latrec dancers advertising cigarettes or a heavy-lidded French beauty selling a glass of Pernod. The overall appearance is a little cheesy, and some of the added touches border on tacky: It looks like a kindergarten art class had a field day with magic markers-beautiful wood-rimmed mirrors are covered with swirling neon ink designs. The drink menu over the bar is a list handwritten with the same pens and features daily cocktail specials, which includes an odd accompaniment to Italian fare-Long Island Iced Tea.

But there is nothing tacky about the food. After all. Alberto Lombardi hasn’t survived 23 years in the restaurant business by slinging average spaghetti and meatballs. This champion has repositioned his restaurant to serve as a neighborhood hangout, a place you can go (or walk! ) to several times a week for a glass of wine and a pizza or a full-on Italian meal.

Lombardi joins the tapas, dim sum. and small-plates craze that has Dallas restaurateurs righting over dishwashers by offering a large variety of bocconcini, which is-you guessed it–Italian for small plates. The user-friendly menu goes once step further- all the pasta and risotto entrées are available in half orders.

Our first visit we went the small-plate route and our servers brought us plate after plate of crispy fried calamari dipped in thick rich marinara, New Zealand mussels baked with seasoned focaccia crumbs and Parmesan, and a delicious imported moz-zarella caprese.By the time we made it back, the weather had turned muggy and a house special Bellini-a slurpee made with peach schnapps and champagne-made a perfect aperitif. We started with a delightful salad of frisée greens tossed with warm crumbles of herb-crusted baby goat cheese and Dijon vinaigrette. Homemade gnocchi tossed in a creamy pesto sauce will have us back at the gym sooner than we’d like, but every guilt-ridden bite was worth our anticipatory pain. The small order of the rich porcini mushroom risotto flavored with white truffle oil would have been enough, but we had no trouble devouring every last grain of the regular-sized version. 2504 McKinney Ave., 214-303-1102.$-$$.

ASIAN FUSION

D BEST Abacus. Kent Rathbun s kitchen is a stage; dinner is a show. Lobster shooters are served sake-style-six cups contain a chunk of lobster tossed back with a shot of coconut milk, red curry, and sake. Entrées of pan-seared wall-eyed pike with scallion whipped potatoes and pork loin with pumpkin risotto are inspired meal and mash variations. 4511 McKinney Ave. 214-559-3111.$$$.

Citizen. Tuna tartare served on the base of an upside-down martini glass and sake served in wooden boxes may be as tricky as the décor, but somehow it all works. A stunningly simple slab of black cod is served solo on a banana leaf, a blond miso anchoring the ethereal fish. And Kobe beef, grilled and sliced, is the ultimate extravagance at around S15 an ounce. 3858 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-522-7253. $$$.

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 Aha Ave. 214-887-8795. $$.



BAKERY/SANDWICHES

Street’s Famous Sandwiches. A sandwich can be just a sandwich, but at Street’s it’s more like a meal. Fresh ingredients are key; turkeys, roasts, and desserts are baked on the spot. As for the sides, Chinese sesame noodles, cole slaw, and potato salad are fine tiller. But you might skip those and go straight from your sandwich to the rum cake. 4246 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-526-2505. Multiple locations. $.

Wild About Harry’s. Harry’s serves real Chicago dogs, topped with onions, mustard, peppers, and the authentic neon-green relish-he also serves them smothered with Texas chili, sauerkraut, and pretty much everything else. You have to have custard after a Harry’s dog-it’s smoother than crème brulée, and every day there’s a different selection of flavors. This is the kind of place thai gives you hope for American culture. 3113 Knox St. 214-520-3113.$.



BARBECUE

D BEST Peggy Sue Barbecue. Though Sonny Bryan’s 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 quesadil-las alone are worth a trip. A new favorite is brisket fajitas-soft flour tortillas filled with barbecued brisket, onions, and green peppers. 6600 Snider Plaza. 214-987-9188. $.

Sammy’s Barbecue. Barbecue for the banking crowd at bankers’ hours. Everyday at lunch, Sammy’s is full of while-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 St. 214-880-9064. $.

Sonny Bryan’s. For 40 years, Sonny Bryan’s meaty ribs, moist brisket, and classic barbecue sauce have been the standard by which all other Dallas barbecue is judged. For the classic barbecue experience, return to the original Inwood Road joint, sit on the hood of your car, and gnaw on tender smoked ribs, chopped beef, and giant onion rings. 2202 Inwood Rd. 214-357-7120. Multiple locations. $.



BURGERS

Angry Dog. The menu is standard bar cuisine, including some great burgers, nachos, and sandwiches, but it extends to include some inspiring options. The Angry Dog-a grilled, all-beef hot dog split and served open-faced, covered with grilled onions, chili, and cheese-is truly fantastic and a bargain at $4.50. For serious beer drinkers, there are 120 beers to choose from. 2726 Commerce St. 214-741-4406.$.

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

D BEST The Prince of Hamburgers. The crispy-edged, toasty bun, the slim hut 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 Com ’This burger-and-shake diner uses Blue Bell ice cream and features 10 flavors of milkshakes, including the signature Purple Cow and the Peanut Butter and Jelly. The Blue-Cheeseburger is a great variation on standard soda-shop fare, dripping with rich, creamy blue cheese. But the reason we’ll go back is the grilled Palm Beach-a hot pimento 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 that college was 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.$.



CHINESE

Arc En-Ciel. The kitchen employs separate cooks for the Chinese and Vietnamese fare, hut everyone really goes there to eat Vietnamese. We ordered our last meal in a leisurely way, a few dishes al 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 tor on the menu at Cafe Panda, you’ll have to go to China. Usually, you have to know 24 hours ahead that you are in the mood for this Mandarin delicacy, but at Cafe Panda, Peking duck can be an impulse buy. The downside: Fire Cracker Shrimp, billed as a hot dish- “buckle your seal bell, 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. 214-902-9500.$$.

D BEST Jenny Ho’s Szechwan Pavilion. After 20 years or trying. Jenny Ho s is serving some of the best Chinese in town. We never eat here (or takeout) without a plate of twice-cooked pork-paper thin squares of pork stir-fried in black bean sauce with thick cuts of carrots and crisp vegetables. If you are lucky enough to live nearby, they’ll deliver. 8409 Preston Rd. 214-368-4303. $-$$.

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 1947. Appetizers are still in peak performance, including a wonderful hot and sour soup and perfectly steamed pan-fried pork dumplings. But the General’s Chicken tends to look and taste like chicken McNuggets in a sweet orange sauce. 201 Preston Royal Center. 214-361-1771. $-$$.

D REVISITS Tong’s. We walked about 8 p.m. on a Sunday night and the dining room was in shambles. Almost every table was littered with empty plates, crumpled napkins, and broken fortune cookies. A cheery hostess greeted us. grabbed a few menus, and together the three of us snaked around the room looking for a spot with the least amount of mess. As we stood beside our two-top, she shoved the dirty plates to a neighboring table and with one swipe of a wet towel proclaimed il ready. The next hour was a topsy-turvy feast. Our old favorite, Kung Pao chicken-a stir-fry of chicken and peanuts in a spicy sweet grilled pepper sauce-is still one of the best versions in town. Bui the once stellar “Dan-Dan” Szechuan noodles came overly dressed with a sesame garlic and ginger sauce and were so crammed into a tiny bow! that we couldn’t pull on one noodle without an avalanche of pasta cascading to the table. We sunk our teeth into the pan-fried vegetarian pot stickers and ended up with a mouthful of chopped pork. Good, but not what we ordered. Our waitress broke from the gab session she was having with another server long enough for both of them to deliver an above-average mu shu pork. She stood with her hip cocked to one side, and in rapid Chinese, continued her chatter while she casually spread Hoisin sauce on the thin pancakes and rolled the shredded pork, cabbage, woodear mushrooms, and scrambled eggs mixture into a Chinese burrito. She set the plates down and the two of them disappeared into the kitchen. Tong’s has always been a friendly, casual place with ambitious food. Last time, it was just a little too casual. 11661 Preston Rd. 214-361-6588. $$.

Uncle Tai’s. The kitchen never fusses when asked to prepare old-time favorites no longer on the menu. Seafood lovers will swoon over Sa-Chai jumbo shrimp with baby com in a spicy tea-infused sauce. And the Hunan Chicken is lightly stir-fried in the best black bean sauce in Dallas. Service can be flaky or efficient. In the Galleria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy. @ LBJ Fwy., 972-934-9998. $$$.



DELI

Deli News. This authentic deli has continued to demonstrate that you don’t have to be from New York to know the Real Tiling when you taste it, Hot cabbage borscht. potato pancakes, and rye-wrapped pastrami are all wonderful. 4805 Frankford Rd. 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-sized 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 à. 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. $-$$.

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

Firehouse. We’ve had 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 meal and vegetables, along with your choice of oils and seasonings. Then you give your bowl to the grill-master, who tosses it on a giant round griddle, cooks it quick, then serves it back to you in the bowl. And Genghis Grill provides basic recipes for people who don’t know the difference between tamarind and teriyaki. 1915 Greenville Ave. 214-841-9990. $-$$.

D REVISITS The Grape. Whether you’re hoping for a marriage proposal or just looking to get lucky, your chances of a “yes” are practically assured at The Grape. For 25 years, the warm, cozy room with the purple grape cluster lights is about the most romantic spot in town. The winning combination here has always been romance, good food, and fine affordable wine. Recently we tried a new take on an old appetizer-a salad topped with fried calamari tossed with honey lime vinaigrette. We would have liked to see more greens on the plate, but the calamari was crunchy and not at all greasy. Happily we found our old favorite mushroom soup and house salad still a thrill. Our waitress, who described a side dish as a “pureed rice.” confused us. Even though we weren’t in the mood to try something that sounded like it came from a jar with a baby on the label, we gave it a shot. Once in front of us, we found a delight-ful grilled halibut served with rice tossed in a deliciously light cream sauce. Unfortunately. the Cobb salad was a mishmash of ingredients and uncut lettuce covered with an unsightly blob of dressing. And we could quibble with what the kitchen calls a tart, a pie, or a tort, but we won’t because they were all delectable. The wine list always has an interesting nugget to discover, and we applaud them for not filling the glass to the brim so the wine can be savored and not slurped. 2808 Greenville Ave., 214-828-1981.$$.



D BEST The Green Room. Undoubtedly the grooviest chef and dining room in town. Marc Cassel’s “Collision Cuisine” menu includes a knockout prime strip steak served with lemon-horseradish potatoes and a delicate coconut-steamed rainbow trout. Don’t be fooled by the young staff, they know the menu and wine list and service is hip and polished. 2715 Elm St. 214-748-7666. $$-$$$.

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

Thomas Avenue Beverage Company. TABC isn’t a beer and burger pub, although they do serve both. Chef Kerry Kelly has elevated the menu to the level other fine restaurants in town by rotating creative versions of Southwestern, Cuban, and Italian with any other cuisine that fits his mood. The tikka chicken is a great rendition of the Indian classic. 2901 Thomas Ave. 214-979-0452.$$.

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. The restaurant may lose you with the cheeseburger taco-a big cheese-topped pally 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

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. @ Inwood Rd. 214-352-1997. $-$$.

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. 214-522-6865.5$-$$$.

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. $$$.

Jennivine. Trie charming old house is as popular a pop-the-question romande spot as ever. Wood floors, quaint bar candles, flowers, and line foot are the setting 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, him, and topped with fresh whipped cream. 3605 McKinney Ave. 214-528-6010. $$.

D BEST L’Ancestral. Let L’Ancestral remind you of traditional delights: The civilized dining room is softly lit, tables are draped in starchy white, and the menu is stubbornly, traditionally French. Begin your meal with a bowl of onion soup, about as 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 best, yes, French fries in town. 4514 Travis St. 214-528-1081.$$-$$$.

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

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 specialities come garnished à la Francaise within an inch of their life: For instance, a tender tilapia came tucked in a tutu-like frill of purple kale, decorated with two swishes and a curl of orange red pepper sauce. 19009 Preston Rd. 972-248-1911.$$-$$$.

Old Warsaw. Hanging on to a reputation as one of Dallas’ oldest elite restaurants is tough, but La Vielle Varsovie is valiant It takes effort to find much fault with the food-from appetizers to dessert, the meal is an anachronistic treat. Servers, however, are only acceptably pleasant 2610 Maple Ave. 214-528-0092. $$$.

Paris Bistrot Paris Bistrot spills out onto McKinney like a sidewalk cafe in Paris. We’re infatuated with the classic duck confit. coarse paté campagne, delicately julienned and turned vegetables, and lamb shank with rich creamy risotto. Chocolate mousse is the real thing. 2533 McKinney Ave. 214-720-0225. $$.

D BEST The Riviera. Chef Tom Fleming’s roasted rack of lamb swaddled in cracked black pepper and sautéed maple leaf duck breast served with a sour cherry baked apple compote are just two reasons The Riviera is at the top of every live-star dining list. Any night is reason enough to celebrate with a warm apple streusel and a scoop of Calvados ice cream paired with a glass of Moet & Chandon brut Rose. 7709 Inwood Rd. 214-351-0094.$$$.

Voltaire. All the elements of fine dining have been taken to surreal extremes. The wine list is 15,000 strong. A small menu offers sophisticated seafood, poultry, and meat selections, including a lovely lobster harissa with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a warm Thai-scented sauce. 5150 Keller Springs Rd. @ N. Dallas Tollway. 972-239-8988. $$$.



GOURMET TO GO

City Harvest. We can always count on the infamous King Ranch Casserole-a comforting blend of chicken, cheese and chilies–to take the edge off of a hard day at the office. You can dine in or take out from a list of other old favorites including Frito pie and Mom’s meat-loaf. 939 N. Edgefield Ave. 214-943-2650. $.

Eatzi’s. Eatzi’s definitely lives up to its circus hype. Hear the strains of opera and waltz through the crowds collecting the already cooked makings of a gourmet dinner-down to the imported beer, fresh bread, and flowers. Or choose salads or sandwiches made to order. Checkout lines are infamously long. 3403 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-526-1515.$.

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 thai. At night, when the blond, light-tilled 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 tittle 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. If you can’t get to Greece anytime soon, sample the saganaki at Kostas. The fried kasseri cheese soaked in brandy comes to the table flaming and is ceremoniously doused with fresh lemon juice and a loud “Opa!” All the classics-spanakopita, moussaka, and sou-vlaki-are authentically prepared, and the family atmosphere makes eating off your neighbor’s plate seem like a warm gesture. 4914 Greenville Ave. 214-987-3225. $$.

Z Cafe. Pizza topped with gyro meat, feta, tomatoes, and olives and the potato balls are a legacy of the former Little Gus. Breakfast omelettes take on the flavor of the neighborhood when they’re filled with chorizo, chili, and cheddar. The quintessential creasy spoon burger is a masterpiece topped with feta, grilled onions, and jalapenos. Breakfast and lunch only. 1924 Henderson Ave. 214-821-0991.$.

D BEST Ziziki’s. You can hardly set a prime-time (able at this contemporary Greek cafe, and they don’t take réserva tions, except for large parties. But the herbed lamb souvlaki, folded in thick warm pita and sauced with tart yogurt, is worth a wait. Ziziki’s menu has featured the same idiosyncratic version of Mediterranean food since it opened-it’s a good thing some things don’t change. 4514 Travis St., Ste. 122. 214-521-2233. $$.



HOME COOKING

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 entree seems small–you can reorder as often as you wish. 4503 W. Lovers Ln. 214-351-5681.$-$$.

Natalia’s. It’s the ultimate neighborhood spot: The portions are large; the prices are small. The meatloaf is a popular choice: For $7.95 you get an 8-by-3-Ulch slab of finely ground meat with a light tomato sauce on top, mixed crisp steamed vegetables, and a hunk of mashed potatoes. But the secret to Natalie’s success is the cinnamon rolls. We always order extra to take home for the next morning. 5944 Royal Ln. 214-739-0362. $.

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



INDIAN

India Palace. India Palace has long been considered one the best Indian restaurants in town. Recently merged with Bombay Cricket Club, we found the luster lacking. Service was unhelpful, so it was fortunate we knew what we wanted and it was easy-biryani, fragrant and studded with fruits, nuts, and lamb-and delicious. The Vegetable Bhojan was an institutional presentation but tasted good. 12817 Preston Rd. 972-392-0190.$$.

Madras Pavilion. The unforgettable aromas of jasmine, coriander, and turmeric greet you at the door. Lunch is an Indian food orgy buffet thai includes unusual (for Dallas) Northern Indian specialties-a bargain at $6.99. In the evening, you can choose from an extensive menu that includes a large list of dosai (thin rice crepes with vegetarian fillings) and vadas (crunchy lentil cakes), Cold raita. fresh coriander leaves, salads of chopped carrots, cucumber, and onions, are just a few of the refreshing condiments supplied to ease the heat. 101 S. Coit @ Belt Line Rd., Dal Rich Shopping “enter. 972-671-3672. $-$$.

ITALIAN

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

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

Cafe Expresse. Owner Dieter Paul offers an uncomplicated list of Italian specialties. Pastas and sauces are mix and match, and the same goes for the thin crusty individual pizzas. The kitchen also knocks out above average veal scaloppini with lemon butter and capers and the nightly specials (maybe a pecan-crusted flounder) never disappoint. 6135 Luther Ln. 214-361-6984.$$.

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. $$.

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

D BEST Modo Mio. Chef owner Rino Brigliadori’s small traditional rustic Italian menu is consistently dependable, starting with the asparagus, eggplant, and goat cheese antipasto and finishing with the softly sweetened sorbets. In-between we have always been happy ordering gnocchi Modo Mio. but special sea bass in tomato broth is an offering we will never refuse. 18352 Dallas Pkwy. 972-671-6636.$$.

Nero’s. Chef Luigi Lama has been serving pink garlic bread and Caesar salad for 1? 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.$$.

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 l. The prices aren’t what you’d expect with Escada and Calvin Klein just a kiss away. Highland Park Village. Mockingbird Ln. @ Preston Rd. 214-522-7878. $$.

Pavarotti’s. Pavarotti’s is one of the few places in North Dallas where parents can escape for a quick, semi-romantic meal. The baked lasagna is a delightful casserole layered with noodles, meat, and cheese that somehow remains light. The linguine Pavarotti loaded with shrimp and chicken sautéed in a garlic white wine sauce is all the reason we need to return. 6757 Arapaho Rd., 972-991-2828.$$.

Rodolpho’s. American I950s-style Italian food is the order of the day-hefty lasagna and only average chicken parmigiana. We’ve never had the nerve to try the “pasta with berries” section of the menu; we just stick to the angel hair pasta with spinach balls. The dumplings of ricotta and spinach scented with nutmeg make l a wonderful light meal. 5956 Royal Ln. @ Preston Rd. 214-368-5039. $$.

D BEST Salve! Like sister restaurant Mi Piaci, home style luscan is the backbone of Salve!. Casual all-day dining in the bar features pizza, calzones, and panini. Lin the evenings, the extensive menu in the elegant dining room is the perfect opportunity for a sophisticated Italian feast. Brodetta Adriatica, a pile of clams, mussels, shrimp, and lobster is as fresh as a Mediterranean breeze perfumed with saffron. 2120 McKinney Ave. 214-220-0070. $$-S$$.

Villus. The menu attempts several ambitious dishes-including some veal preparations- but most people stick to pasta and pizza. We like the “different” pizzas: one topped with spinach, goat cheese, and red peppers: the other with garlic, spinach, bacon, and pepper-oni. 316 W. 17th St. 214-946-1212. $-$$.

JAPANESE

Chaya Sushi. The tuna roll is lean, deep red. and fresh. From the robata bar, try the chargrilled 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 hoi, nourishing version has healing properties. 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. $$-$$$.

Fishbowl. The small but ambitious menu reflects the 1960s Pan-Asian concept: Trader Vic’s-style cocktails, sushi, sake, and noodles, all served tapas-style one small plate at a time. A meal is a series and may include a best seller like peanut chicken satay as well as Stephan Pyles’ innovative version of mu shu pork tacos served with thai basil slaw. Dinner only. 3214 Knox St. 214-521-2695.

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. Centra] Expwy. @ Parker Rd., Piano. 972-881-0328. $$.

Royal Tokyo. It’s a hibachi steak room, it’s a sushi bar (Dallas’ first), and it’s a show palace. You can leave your shoes at the door and eat in one of their Tamati Rooms or sit around grill tables where Japanese chefs perform slice and dice like Samurai warriors. It’s a great way to get kids to eat their vegetables. 7525 Greenville Ave. 214-368-3304.$$.

Tel Tel. We still haven’t tasted the kobe beef (which comes from cattle fed with beer and massaged with sake), but Tei Tei is a destination restaurant anyway. The “kinki fish” is a whole fish (snapper) slashed to the bone, so the flesh lifts out easily with chopsticks. To eat the soft-shell crab, abandon the Eastern eating utensils and resort to the god-given: fingers. 2906 N. Henderson Ave. 214-828-2400. $$-$$$.

D REVISITS Teppo. Dinner need never be boring again for those with a brave heart. Even with the opening of sister restaurant Tei Tei, the quality of Teppo’s food and service has not suffered one iota. They serve impeccable sushi and sashimi geared toward the novice or the advanced sushi addict. A bit of advice: If you ever walk into a sushi bar and smell fish-turn around. Open the door at Teppo and the scent of sake ensures you’re about to experience the real thing. We suggest you take a few shots of sake before you sample some of the items that are cut or cooked live. Recently we were offered live scallops, live clams, and the Limoge-like sawagari, which are tiny deep-fried crabs. Ranging in size from a dime to a quarter, the sawagari were arranged on a tiny plate in a circle resting on their tippy toes looking like porcelain amidst their pine sprout garnish, satisfying a soulful need for great art and great food. The sake list is not extensive, but the $10 half-bottle of Ozaki Dry sunk in a large iced sake box is a good value. We boldly finished our meal with quail egg shooters-a sake glass with fish roe, chives, lime, two quail eggs, soy sauce, house-made ponzu sauce, and daikon sprouts-and left feeling like courageous culinary veterans. 2906 N. Henderson Ave., 214-828-2400. $$-$$$.

D BEST Yamaguchi. Far from being wrapped up in the traditional trappings of sushi showmar ship, Yamaguchi focuses on flavor and takes it seriously. Service is precise and caring, and entrees reflect a balance of tortuously fine flavor, fresh ingredients, and design on the plate. 7713 lnwood Rd. @ Lovers Ln., 214-350-8660. $$$.



LATIN AMERICAN

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

Gloria’s. Gloria’s was serving pupusas and other exotic Salvadorian and Mexican dishes before the hot Latin craze was cool. Discover the unique tastes with Gloria’s Super Sampler, starring a tamale stuffed with chicken wrapped and steamed in a fresh banana leaf. The chocolate flan coated in caramel should be on every menu in town. 3715 Greenville Ave. 214-874-0088. $-$$.

Samba Room. It’s impossible not to feel transport-ed 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 mom. Arepas-beef marinated in sherry, cooked with onion and pep-pers, 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 time and garlic-makes trench fries obsolete. 4514 Travis St 214-522-4137.$$.

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

MEDITERRANEAN

Avanti Euro Bistro. The menu at this sexy spot circles the Mediterranean Sea, featuring French. Moroccan, and Middle Eastern delights. We marveled at a truly traditional veal Francaise delicately swirled with a cognac demi-glace and a Chicken Marrakesh bursting with a saffron lime flavor. Skip the crème brulée and go straight for the fresh pear poached in vintage port stuffed with a dollop of buttery mascarpone. 5001 Addison Circle, Addison! 972-386-7800. $$.

II Sole. Chef Tim Perm focuses on Mediterranean food, sometimes to brilliant effect. Long lingers of tender pan-fried cala-mari dip easily into a spicy red chile sauce. Wonderful warm putanesca pasta crowded with kalamata olives, capers, tomatoes, and garlic pops with flavor. Nice by-the-glass wine selection. 4515 Travis St. 214-559-3888. $$-$$$.

Popolos. One visit we sat at the bar and nibbled thin-crusted pizza layered with tomato, kalamata olives, capers, and garlic. Another night we feasted on the always dependable (and enough for two)Chicken piccata. For those without Sansabelt pants, the fat-free angel food cake bruscetta is a guilt-free ending. 707 Preston Royal Shopping Center. 214-692-5497. $$.

D best Suze. The attitude is casual. sophisticated, and neighborhood friendly. The food is a funky blend of Mediterranean fare that rotates continually and includes Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in coconut milk, cilantro, and chipotle broth that 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 topped with dried cherry sauce is a gastronomic work of art. 4345 W. Northwest Hwy. @ Midway Rd. 214-350-6135.$$.



MEXICAN

Anamia’s. The basics-cheese enchiladas, tacos. and guacamole-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 jalapenos. For two bucks, you can get an order of sopaipil-las-a platter of three gold puffs sent from heaven with a little honey. 106 Denton Tap Rd., Suite 240, Coppell. 972-304-0321. $. Margaritas.

D BEST Avila’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 meat and covered in a light ranchera sauce. Enchiladas can be customized from a mix and match menu and are a must for vegetarians looking for a Tex-Mex fix. 4714 Maple Ave. 214-520-2700. $.

Calle Dace. The new Lakewood digs has the same menu and quality as the popular Oak Cliff location. Undoubtedly the best Mexican seafood in town, the fresh cold seafood cocktails-octopus, ceviche, and oysters-are full of spicy tomato sauce with chunks of celery and green peppers. The grilled whole catfish served with rice and vegetables shouldn’t be missed. 1925 Skillman. 214-824-9900; 415 W. 12th St. 214-941-4304. $$.

Casa Navarro. This little cafe in a former 7-Eleven specializes in the same unpretentious cheesy fare we used to love before Tex-Mex became chic. The beer is bring-your-own, and on Wednesdays the enchilada plate is S3.75 all day long. Sopaipillas, once the darling dessert at every Tex-Mex joint, are still handmade, light, and greaseless, such a surprisingly elegant finish to the meal that we wished we’d brought our demitasse, too. 11742A Marsh Ln. @ Forest Ln. 972-357-0141.$.

D BEST Ciudad. Monica Greene, the genius behind Monica’s Aca y Alla, ups her own ante by delivering dishes based on true Mexico City-style cuisine. Tender barbecued pork wrapped in fresh com tortillas mix easily with a tropical fruit salsa, and an 8-ounce beef tenderloin lopped with melted modem cheese is surrounded with a spicy red tomato sauce with a side of epazote-scented black beans. Par favor, save room for elegant desserts. 3888 Oak Lawn Ave., Ste. 135. 214-219-3141. $$-$$$.

Cuquita’s. You won’t find a list of Tex-Mex com bination plates or even a margarita here, but you will find authentic specialties like beef tongue simmering in a pepper-si added tomato sauce and tender fillets of pork sautéed with onions and spices. Everything goes down easy with a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade or a Bohemia. 2326N. Henderson Ave. 214-823-1859. $. Beer only.

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 $$.

Luna De Noche. The secret is out in Garland. Luna Noche is playing in the Mexican food big leagues with stellar versions of cheese enchiladas, guacamole, and-our favorite- nachos. Thankfully the margaritas are more sour than sweet, and the Polio Pepian is a juicy, tender chicken breast simmering in delicious chicken broth, ancho chile, and pecan sauce. The fruit flautas are simply the best dessert find around. 7602 Jupiter Rd. @ Lookout Dr., Garland. 972-414-3616. $-$$.

D BEST Mart’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’s flea y Alla Monica Greene continues to serve the best food bargains in town. Most lunches are less than $5. and the choices are not your normal Tex-Mex combinations. We’ve gorged on green enchiladas, mushroom quesadillas, and spinach-jalapeno fettuccine with chicken, roasted corn, cilantro, and black beans in a cream shallot béchamel sauce, Tuesday food is half-price and Wednesday’s freshly squeezed lime margaritas are only 50 cents. 2914 Main St. 214-748-7140.

Nuevo Leon. Nuevo Leon has the uncanny knack of blending perfectly with a neighborhood while serving the same menu at every location. Somehow, the carnitas 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 Avenue. 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 Ave. 214-522-3331. Multiple locations. $-$$.

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 wanned salsa and tostados. There’s nothing particularly original about the menu, but the basic cheese-oozing enchilada plate is pure comfort food. 212 N. Crowdus St. 214-744-6842. $.

Pepe & Mito’s. The vivid walls and bright lights mean this cafe looks noisy even though it’s not usually crowded. It should be-chips worth mentioning (thick, warm, slightly overcooked), cilantro-laced salsa, and standards like nachos and enchiladas are excellent. Tamales are utterly remarkable, and chicken and beef taquitos are still some of the best in town. 2935 Elm St. 214-741-1901. S. 9 Margaritas.

Primo’s. On the “Mex” side of the Tex-Mex fare, enchiladas come with cheddar cheese gurgling in thick chili con came and topped with more cheese. The cheese-fest continues with a “Tex” version of a chili relleno: a cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, dipped in a queso and egg batter, then deep-fried. The amount of money the kitchen spends on cheese could probably put a man on the moon-there is even grated cheese on the side salads. We ate it all. 3309 McKinney Ave. 214-220-0510.$.

Rafa’s. We love the seasoned red snapper topped with crabmeat, wrapped in foil, an cooked in ils natural juices. The full-on Tex-Mex regulars of hefty beef enchiladas and sour cream chicken enchiladas never fail. And we never leave without sinfully submerging a sopaipilla dusted with powdered sugar into a warm ramekin of honey. 5917 Lovers Ln. 214-357-2080. $-$$.

Taco Diner. The name sounds slightly retro. But the tacos at the Diner are real Mexican soft tacos, not drive-through, crunchy, greasy Tex-Mex mutations. The corn tortillas are the star here; no matter what you wrap them around, the result is good-chicken with cojita cheese, grilled pork, and meaty mushrooms are all complemented by the fragrant masa tortillas. Service is hit-or-miss. 4011 Villanova Dr. 214-696-4944. $. 3 Margaritas.



MIDDLE EASTERN

AI- 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. But 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. $-$$.

D BEST Cafe Izmir. This remains one of the best little restaurants in Dallas. The space is small, the service is friendly, and the choices are simple-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 Belt Line Rd. 972-233-1080. $$.



MOROCCAN

D BEST Marrakesh. Just what is Moroccan cuisine, and what is it doing in Dallas? It is lamb and couscous and fresh vegetables spiced with mysterious combinations of nutmeg, paprika, and cumin-wonderful. The Moroccan Feast-a sample of almost everything on the menu-is a bargain at $26.95 per person. Vibrant Middle-Eastern music accompanies a veiled belly dancer in a purple bra who gyrates and finger-cymbals her way around the room. 5207 W. Lovers Ln. 214-357-4104.$$.



NEW AMERICAN

Antares. The Hyatt Regency’s sky-high, revolving restaurant appears to be finding its wings at last. Huge sea scallops were sparked with chile-peanut dressing; grilled beefsteak tomatoes and shiitake mushroom caps wore dollops of melted queso fresco in a roasted shallot vinaigrette. Reunion Tower. 300 Reunion Blvd. 214-651-1234.$$-$$$.

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. $$-$$$.

Guthrie’s. Luckily Guthrie’s sits next to our parking lot downtown. That makes it easy to dash over for a quick luncheon comfort-food fix of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. Chef William Guthrie gets creative at night and turns out brilliant versions of pork schnitzel with sautéed mushroom and a killer version of fish and chips. 400 S. Ervay St. 214-760-7900.$-$$.

Maquire’s. The menu reads like a syllabus for a global cooking class, and each entree tastes like the final exam. Uninspired versions of maple ginger salmon, peppercorn steak, and herb-marinated chicken anchor the selections. However, the house salad is a memorable blend of greens, roasted pecans, and blue cheese tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, and the Molten Lava Cake spills hot, gooey chocolate at the touch of a fork. 17552 Dallas Pkwy. @ Trinity Mills Rd. 972-818-0068. $$.

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. Chef Chris Ward has taken control of the kitchen and is doing a bang-up job. A normally pedestrian potato soup was delivered thick and hot and the arugula pesto drizzled on top provided the perfect kick of flavor. Two savory pork chops resting easily beside a creamy rosemary risotto was easy on the eye and palate. 1418* Preston Forest Sq. 972-960-7774.$$.

D BEST 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.$$.

Tramontana. Chef James Neel has successfully stretched his culinary skills. He and his wife, Lisa, have created a delightful New American menu with Italian and French accents. Osso buco fans, bring your own marrow forks- after devouring the veal braised in red wine, we brazenly blew the marrow out of the bone; ourselves. A key lime trifle was so tart it puck ered our mouth, but the silky bananas foster cream pie soothed our souls. 8220-B Westchester Dr., Preston Center. 214-368-4188.$$.

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 because the atmosphere is so conducive to it. 6047 Lewis St. 214-826-0968 $$-$$$.



SEAFOOD

AquaKnox. Since the lounge was turned into Fishbowl, the sexy blue chenille dining room of AquaKnox feels like half a restaurant. The décor isn’t the only boat that’s been rocked here. We’ve had a good meal-brilliantly seared beef tenderloin with chipotle mashed potatoes-and we’ve had a bad meal-salty red snapper with gooey corn pudding. But overall Stephan Pyles seems to have steadied the course with the addition of new executive chef Ethan Powell. 3214 Knox St. 214-219-2782. $$$.

Cafe Pacifie. 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.$$-$$$.

Fish. After a long float in troubled waters. Fish has plugged up the holes in the sinking standard of their food. The laurel-scented Chilean sea bass with roasted sweet peppers and leeks has been tweaked and now includes jumbo shrimp and ginger rice. Delicious grilled, pep-per-crusted sea scallops served on hot creamy risotto-flavored with lemon, red peppers, and sweet basil is a comfort and a delight. 302 S. Houston St. 214-747-3474. $$$.

Lombard Mare. Few seafood kitchens in town offer as many varieties of fresh oysters. Recently we were served a disappointing plate of polenta-crusted salmon, but the pasta covered with lobster. shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, and asparagus restored our faith in Alberto Lombardi’s touch. Perfect setting and food to impress out-of-towners. Village on the Parkway, Montfort Dr. @ Belt Line Rd. 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 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 porto-bellos and roasted peppers-almost wonderful, except for the lake of teriyaki sauce drowning the rice. 703 McKinney Ave. 214-954-0220. $$-$$$.

Nicholini’s. Don’t be fooled by the neon lights outside, because once you’re seated in the sexy dining room, the dining experience is elegant. We love the herb-crusted orange roughy 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. $$.

Rockfish. Rockfish is cozy and uncontrived; even the cute stuff, like the tin-pail light fixtures and (he out-of-place ambience, like the rock fireplace on (he patio overlooking the parking loi. feels comfortable. You can get an oversized platter filled with more than a pound of fresh crab, about 30 medium boiled shrimp, two ears of com, several new potatoes, and a foot of sausage for $22.99. Our main problem with Rockfish is thai it’s a neighborhood restaurant, but it’s not in our neighborhood. 7639 Campbell Rd. @ Coir 972-267-8979. Multiple locations. $-$$.

D BEST 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. Yes. Truluck’s has a large array of seafood and steak special-lies, but the main reason to eat here is the crab claws. They serve four varieties-medium, large, jumbo, and colossal. Recently we conducted a taste test, ordering four different plates of pre-cracked claws. After much fork-fighting, we decided we loved the sweet fresh meat tucked inside all of them. At Truluck’s. size doesn’t matter. 5001 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-503-3079; 2401 McKinney Ave., 214-220-2401. $$-$$$.

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 Lincoln Plaza location is mostly new. There’s a churrascaria section and a number of new entrées. 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 richness and come with a com cake and gingered rice, a nice relief from the usual Spanish. 7700 W. Northwest Hwy. 214-378-8686; 5100 Belt Line Rd. 972-934-0165. $$.

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

Y.O. Ranch. Though this is frontier fare, the kitchen can have a light touch. Delicately grilled, semi-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

Barcelona. Tapas in Spain, of course, are Spanish food. Greenville Avenue is global. So Barcelona serves snack food from all over the world, such as chicken satay, mezes, and tab-bouleh, as well as tortilla, the stacked potato omelet that is the quintessential Spanish tapa. and the buffalo burger-juicy and lean-on a toasted roll. 2100 Greenville Ave. 214-826- 600.$

Cafe Madrid. Dallas’ first tapas bar remains its pest, and everybody knows it. Even midweek, this little two-room restaurant has customers wailing 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 Si. 214-528-1731. $$.

Seville at the Stoneleigh. The menu is more than lapas at this upscale Spanish dining room that resembles chichi spots in Spain. Five varieties of paella headline the show and a tenderly braised rabbit comes served hunter-style in rich brown gravy that accents the mild-flavored meat. An extensive list of tapas makes it easy to make a meal with a combination of small plates. 2927 Maple Ave. 214-871-7111. $$$.



STEAKHOUSES

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

D BEST 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, it’s impossible not to love the “smashed” potatoes-they Ye 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. $$-$$$.

D BEST Chamberlain’s. Richard Chamberlain makes tine dining simple and elegant. You won’t find any singing cowboys or 20-page wine lists. Prime rib, a beautiful hand-cut aged beef, is perfectly seasoned with coarse salt and chunks of fresh cracked black pepper. We could pass on the meat here and still be happy with bowls of green beans and mushrooms sautéed in garlic and buttered corn freshly shucked from the cob. 5330 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-934-2467. $$-$$$.

Charolais. Clair and John Rubede (Clair de Lune) have opened a new steak joint with a French twist-the menu only offers France’s favorite Charolais beef. But the seafood entrées rule. Redfish stuffed with shrimp and crab is delicately sauced with lemon butter and the broiled chicken isn’t just a token dish- c’est magnifique. 5950 Royal Ln. @ Preston Rd. 214-692-0900. $$$.

Hick & 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-and-turf (snowy sweet lobster tail and soft filet), and a prime aged “cowboy steak” with sides. The most successful twist on the traditional steakhouse is the setting itself. This is not a faux men’s club-no brass, etched glass. or hunting paintings. 3008 Maple Ave. 214-871-7663″! $$-$$$.

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. $$-$$$.

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

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 donut-sized onion rings are heavily beer-breaded and greasy. Prices are less than you’d expect, 1779.’) Dallas Pkwy. 972-267-9393.$$.

III Forks. The special pepper sirloin is mealy and chewy, and the peppercorn sauce is dull. The trout swims in a weak brown sauce accompanied by a few lonely roasted pecans. But we do love the salad, a mix of mesclun. red oak leaf lettuce, and sliced green apple, topped with roasted pecans and crumbly Maytag blue cheese, all lightly dressed in a sweet vinai-grette.17776 Dallas Pkwy. 72-267-1776. $$-$$$.

THAI

D BEST Chow Thai. A strip shopping center doesn’t seem a likely spot for a Thai food epiphany, but you’ll have one here. Excellent Thai classics like vegetables in a fiery green curry and Pad Thai taste clean and light. A dessert of fresh mango atop sticky rice is a spectacular ending. 5290 Belt Line Rd. @ Montfort Dr.. Addison. 972-960-2999. $$.

Mango. This is the second restaurant from the folks who brought Chow Thai to Dallas. Playful proportions and offbeat hues color Mango California-cool. House special Mee Sea Go is an ocean broth full of scallops, shrimp, and cala-mari. Pad Thai is appropriately sweet and crunchy with peanuts. 4701 W. Park Blvd., Piano. 972-599-0289. $-$$.

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. 5500 Greenville Ave. 214-691-3555.$-$$.

Thai Garden. Thai Garden serves homestyle Thai; a beautiful plaie 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. $-$$.

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 Thai green-curry coconut milk is perfectly prepared. Squid salad with Thai herbs is fresh and tasty. 4422B 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 conies thick with rice noodles and your choice of beef, chicken, or meatballs. Most of the other traditional country dishes are good, but someone in the kitchen needs to adjust some of the uninspired seasonings. 3211 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-521 -4811. $.

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

Mai’s Oriental 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. $-$$.

Miss Saigon. Texas-sized portions abound at thi authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Egg rolls the diameter of baby bottles, a mound of fried rice, a pile of lemon grass chicken, and three plate-sized mu shoo pancakes stuffed with Mongolian beef were all delicious and kepi us fed for three days. 12300 Inwood Rd. 972-503-7110.$$.

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

TARRANT COUNTY

Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy. Usually we stick to hole-in-the-wall joints, avoiding slick contrived cantina-esque restaurants like the tap water in Mexico. But Abuelo’s gives us a few reasons to cross the line. We loved the house specialties of grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with Monterey luck and the medallions of chicken stuffed with chorizo. But the Tex-Mex offerings covered with pounds of cheese send us straight to the nearest bring-your-own-six-pack spot. 824 Airport Fwy., Hurst. 817-514-9355. $$.

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 Boor. You grab a round tray and a frosted stein of Bud and eat from styrofoam plates under antler heads mounted on the walls. The chicken, served “while it lasts.” goes fast-it’s juicy and smoked off the bone. All the usual sides-beans, cole slaw-stand up to the ribs, but we wish they’d put more punch in their thin, vinegar-based sauce. 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth. 817-332-0357.$.

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

Benito’s. Like an old familiar friend. Benito’s appearance may be spruced up from time to time, but some things never change-like the food. The queso flameado, with or without chorizo, is flamed tableside and served with fresh pico de gallo and hot Hour or com 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 décor 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. F Arlington. 817-640-9981. $$$.

Cattlemen’s Steak House. Foil Worth ate cattle before cuttle was cool, and Cattlemen’s is still the quintessential stockyard steakhouse. There’s not much hut beef accompanied by rolls, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmosphere is genuine cowboy. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth. 817-624-3945. $$-$$$.

Joe T. Garcia’s Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery. Although not as fancy as its cousin around the corner, the chefs do an excellent job preparing all the old favorites from burritos to tamales. Breakfast is a work of art here. And on your way out, the bakery, in an alcove off the dining room, sells traditional Mexican breads, rolls, and sweet rolls. 2122 N. Main St.. Fort Worth. 817-626-5770.$$.

D BEST Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Dishes. The quintessential Fort worth restaurant. Us location near the Stockyards can handle the crowds for whom the restaurant’s sta-tus 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. $.

Mi Cocina. The food at Mi Cocina is dependably good. If there’s a line, cool your heels with great margaritas. The menu features upscale dishes in addition to basic tacos and enchiladas-tacos habanas are stuffed with chicken and covered with ground chile and cilantro; Latin stir-fry fajitas provide a new option for vegetarians. 509 Main St., Fort Worth. 817-877-3600. $-$$.

Pegasus. Fort Worth has good restaurant news-this newly opened eclectic spot with strong Middle Eastern touches is a winner. The mezze menu features hummus softly spiked with garlic, handmade dolmas stuffed with lamb and rice, and moist falafels served with an inspired fresh mango and mint coulis. A chocolate cappuccino tart smothered in Godiva chocolate sauce is nearly an overdose for chocoholics. 2443 Forest Park Blvd.. Fort Worth. 817-922-0808. $$.

D BEST Randall’s Gourmet Cheesecake Company. It’s a wonderfully romantic, candle-lit French cafe serving delightful classic specialties. 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. $$.

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. S17-727-2781. $$$.

Sundance Market and Deli, Every neighborhood could use a Sundance Market and Deli. Urbanités can stop in for a few staples-there’s a refrigerated case with prepared meals, chilled beer and wine, fresh produce, and even a large variety of funky gifts. A cafeteria line offers specialty soups, salads, and spuds. 353 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth. 817-335-3354. $.

Laurels

Chef Danielle Custer doesn’t get the respect she deserves. Maybe It’s because most of her customers are the out-of-towners staying at Westin Park Central, where her glass-walled dining room sits high above the grime of Central Expressway. Dallasites should make more of an effort-the lights of downtown twinkle like Oz on the horizon. But the best views are on the plates. The warm spinach and Judith Point calamari salad is edible art with a tangy mustard-brie dressing. Custer keeps her menu fresh and her attention to detail borders on insanity-tequila-cured gravlax are made in-house. Sumac-marinated Chicago lamb rack with licorice and mint sauce has, by popular demand, become a regular menu item. Desserts rise above many of the other upscale kitchens in town. Sweet plum ice cream pairs perfectly with a tart port reduction. Custer has assembled a well-rounded, color-coded wine list that Is easier to read than Wine Lists for Dummies. Our pick is a half-bottle of hard-to-find Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, reasonably priced at $30.

Westin Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr., 972-385-3000. $$$.

S I D E D I S H

Christmas in July

As you toil in the 100-degree heat, smart hostesses all over town are sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of their kitchens and booking Dallas’ premier caterers for coveted Christmas holiday party dates. So get on your butt and call George Catering. Husband and wife George and Katie Brown-a match made in culinary heaven-left the restaurant business behind {Mansion, Baby Routh, Seventeen Seventeen) to create a full-scale catering company. Their passion for creative cuisine and artistic desserts will wow your guests with plenty of Christmas cheer.

George or Katie Brown, 214-752-6851.

www.georgecatering.com

NEIGHBORHOOD FIND

Rhineland Haus

For those of us that don’t live there, a trip to McKinney usually requires an intention. We didn’t have much of a reason to travel this far north until we discovered Rhineland Haus tucked in a neighborhood that gleams like a shiny new penny, albeit a treeless one. Mimicking the locale, the atmosphere of Rhineland Haus is bare-bones German, accented with doilies, cardboard beer signs, and quaint handmade wooden tables and settees designed to promote fast turnover. We’re not saying that they’re unbearably uncomfortable, but they do have a time limit. But the drive and the stiff back are worth it-they cook some of the best German food we’ve had in some time. Silky spaetzle, ja. Crispy schnitzel, ach ja. Homemade marinated herring, ach gott, ja!

Rhineland Haus is authentically German beyond the food. They have imported beers on tap, including a double bock and a deli case crammed with traditional German sausages, cold cuts, and desserts open for takeout all day.

And then there’s the German attitude. When they say they close at 9 p.m., they close at 9 p.m. That doesn’t mean they serve dinner until 9; it means the lights are turned off at 9. Luckily, we visited with a friend familiar with the German penchant for rules, and he educated us on the cultural eccentricities. We arrived around 8 p.m., which made for a short but glorious dinner. A little before 9 we inquired about dessert and we got a look-not mean, but wary. Our waitress was ready to go home and although she didn’t ask us to leave, we were too intimidated to ask for the homemade apple strudel. Next time we’ll get there early.

1330 N. McDonald St. {northeast corner of Highway 5 and 380E), McKinney, 972-562-0124. $$.

GRAB LIFE BY THE GRAPES SYBIL KIPRIOTIS & SUSAN KENDALL

Know me stranger,

For I am thy lifeblood and thy nectar.

Rest thy head upon my bosom, lose thyself

in the ecstasy of my caresses,

And know me, for I am Zinfandel!

-Unknown



Now with your full attention, we’re going to share something from our hearts-our passion for Zinfandel. “Zin” Is the most stylistically diverse wine in the United States. Some are as enchant-ing as a young Soubrette; others are as overpowering as a zaftig Wagnerian soprano. Nearly all Zins are high In alcohol content, medium to high in tannins, spicy In character, and berry in aroma and flavor-often to the point of jammyness. They all pair well with ribs, red meat, and even takeout chicken. Zins-like love and marriage-are best enjoyed young and for a maximum of six years. Trust us, these art words to live by. We’ve Zin there, done that

PERRY CREEK VINEYARDS, “ZIN- MAN” ZINFANDEL, Sierra Foot Hills, California, 1997, $12. We recommend this wine to our friends just beginning their trek down the long and winding Red Wine Road. This well-balanced, yet oaky and acidic, wine is very fruity with a hint of creamy vanilla on the finish.

CLINE ZINFANDEL, California, 1997, $10. This alluring expression of wine maker Matt Cline’s artistry combines premium grapes from across California to create this very forward, very structured, very fruity, very dark ruby charmer. Very good.

TOAD HOLLOW CACOPHONY ZINFANDEL, California, 1997, $16. In Dr. “Toad” Williams’ own words: “This wine dances to a different tune…. It wants to dance, but not alone…. So, Join the party, and let it rip.” We look forward to the release of the 1998 Zin due at this printing. Frankie, Mrs. Dr. Toad, considers this upcoming 1998 release their best to date. Despite the name “Cacophony,” there’s no dissonance here.

NIEBAUM-COPPOLA EDIZONE PENNINO ZINFANDEL, Napa, 1997,

$32. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s tribute to his immigrant grandfather is celebrated on the blue label depicting the Statue of Liberty and the Bay of Naples. Rich and ripe with Juicy blackberry, raspberry, black cherry, and plum, this wine is plush with polished tannins. Elegant and refined, this Godfather-oops. Grandfather-Zin is an offering you can’t refuse.

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