The Best of Big D 2004

What is the hottest dance club in town? Where can you get a heavenly pedicure? Who serves the yummiest onion rings? For the answers to these burning questions and more, turn to our annual guide to the absolute best in Dallas.



Goods & Services


 << Best Reason to Leave Your Dog at Home


Society Pet Sitter

Pets need companionship, and for 10 years Tiffany Watson has been providing it. The owner of Society Pet Sitter comes to your house on a moment’s notice, feeds your kitty, walks your dog, waters plants, and picks up the mail and newspapers collecting on your porch. If your little Peanut is needy, Watson will spend the night to keep him calm. Now you can go away without feeling guilty. 214-821-3900.

Best Leather for Less
American Leather Outlet

If you love the look of American Leather from Cantoni or Urban Home but can’t swing the retail prices, check out the American Leather outlet store, located next to its company headquarters. Some recent good buys included a crescent leather sectional sofa for $2,805, a set of four home theater seats for $4,407, and a storage ottoman with tray for $311. Ultrasuede pillows were a steal at $25 each. 4501 Mountain Creek Pkwy. 972-296-9250.

Best Handyman
Gary White

White House Services’ Gary White is more than a handyman. Sure, he can fix a toilet, repair a sprinkler, or install a ceiling fan. But he has a knack for decorating, color, and design, thanks to his years working at Levolor and hanging around his interior-decorating grandmother. One dedicated customer says, “He’s completely trustworthy, neat, and always vacuums before he leaves.” Sounds like the perfect man. 972-406-0164.

Best Organic Gardening Center
Redenta’s Garden

Unlike those at some other organic gardens, where plants suffer from bug infestation and other ailments, Redenta’s plants are hearty and strong. We especially love the extensive herb selection: 15 varieties of mint, 15 of thyme, and 11 of lavender. The outdoor garden accessories, including hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders, are lovely. 2001 Skillman St. 214-823-9421.

Best Antique Vanities
Lakewood Furniture Co.
In business since 1994, Lakewood Furniture has a fabulous selection of antique armoires from Europe, headboards and footboards, sideboards, mirrors, and dining sets from the turn of the century through the 1960s. But we couldn’t get over the number of amazing vanities—some with full-length mirrors—in impeccable condition. Candle fans will love the extensive collection of Votivo candles and burning sticks. 2225 Abrams Rd. 214-824-5083. www.ourwoodisgood.com.

 << Best Place to Celebrate

It’s a Party

This is the place to go when you need help planning your next shindig or you just want to smile. Bright walls and thousands of whimsical gifts and decorations are what you can expect when you pop into Betty Tapella’s store. Everything from personalized stationery to party decorations and specialty baby items fills the shelves. Along with great service, the folks here have some of the most imaginative ideas out there. Word is they just helped set up a bash for the wife of a Dallas Stars player. 130 N. Denton Tap Rd., Coppell. 972-462-0200.

Best Tailor When You’re Expecting
Park Cities Custom Tailors

Even the tiniest gal can outgrow her Blue Cults and James Perse tees when she’s pregnant. That’s why expectant moms need Park Cities Custom Tailors. They’re more than happy to add elastic maternity panels to your favorite jeans; take in a too-big maternity shirt for a more fitted, flattering look; and shorten hems on pants and skirts. Hey, even a mother-to-be needs to show off her gams. 4351 Lovers Ln. 214-526-9009.

Best Lamp and Fixture Service
Royal Touch

We’ve come across quite a few lovely finds during our antiquing excursions, including four Spanish glass lanterns without wiring. When we tried to find someone to fix them, only Royal Touch would take the job. The nice folks there didn’t bat an eyelash upon inspection. They wired them, put in porcelain sockets, and got them working for just $35 each. Spanish Village, 15615 Coit Rd., Ste. 210, Richardson. 972-386-9189.

Best Mosquito Control
MosquitoNix

Aside from the sweltering heat, pesky Texas-size mosquitoes can turn a family into prisoners in their own home. Enter MosquitoNix, the geniuses behind pyrethrum (an extract of the chrysanthemum flower) insecticide spraying systems for outdoor areas. The environmentally friendly spray doesn’t harm humans or animals, but flying insects loathe the stuff. We feel no pity. 214-866-0199. www.mosquitonix.com.

 << Best Bee Removal

All Time Pest Control
With the notable exception of ladybugs, we don’t like insects, especially the flying, stinging kind. A homeowner friend told us about a honeybee hive in the wall of her house, and it nearly made us faint. Knowing she couldn’t take on a swarm of bees by herself, she called a pro. All Time Pest Control removed all 400 bees without a hitch. Now she can frolic around the house worry-free. 214-718-8780.

Best Traveling Fragrance
Sephora
We absolutely adore our Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien, but we do not like worrying about breaking the Baccarat bottle when we travel. Thankfully, Sephora has a sweet-smelling deal: for just $9, you can choose any fragrance in the store (Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Burberry, Calvin Klein, and more), fill an atomizer, and walk away with travel-safe scent. 220 NorthPark Center. 214-378-8177. Multiple locations. www.sephora.com.

  << Best Jewelry Designer
Sue Gragg

Never sporting less than 50 carats, Sue Gragg practices what she preaches. The Dallas-based Queen of Bling has 26 years of the jewelry biz in her blood, and you can spot one of her signature platinum and diamond baubles from a mile away. Her cult-like following includes Tamia Hill, Emmitt Smith’s wife Patricia, and Daryl Johnston’s wife Diane, our model on
p. 29. 5500 Preston Rd. 214-630-1422.

Best Movers
Bill Richter

Until scientists develop the technology to make transporter pods possible, we are not moving again. Moving is miserable. Only sadists enjoy the lengthy process of throwing out their old junk, packing up everything from keepsakes to couches, and hauling it all to a new pad. Bill Richter somehow helps put your mind at ease. Maybe it’s his years of experience. Or maybe it’s the professionalism of his crew. Whatever it is, Richter will give transporter pods a run for their money. 469-446-4568.

Best Pedicure
Salon at Eaton Court
Officially, Kathleen Eaton has been in the pedicure business for 12 years. But her passion for pampering began at age 11, when she participated in an old-fashioned foot-washing ceremony at her church. Since then, from her former station at the Grand Kempinski, she has soothed the soles of countless celebrities and the world’s elite. Now, at her salon and spa in Allen, the ritual begins when the lights are dimmed and candles are lit in your private room. What follows is an hour or more of pure heaven—heat packs, exfoliating scrubs, deep moisturizing, expert massage, a refreshing beverage, and, yes, pretty nails. Bump it up with an herbal mask, paraffin wax, more massage, and lunch for the ultimate spa pedicure experience. 102 W. McDermott Dr., Allen. 972-727-2333. www.eatoncourt.com.

Best Car Wash
Lakewood Auto Detail

There are no fancy gadgets here. It’s just a blast from the past, where real, live people clean your car from roof to tire. For  $18.95, two super detailers wash the exterior, vacuum the interior, dress the tires, and wipe down the dash, leaving nary a crumb in nook nor cranny. Full detail, including engine dressing and carpet shampoo, is $94.95. 6365 Belmont Ave. 214-823-2832.

 

One Strike,You’re Out!

Nothing makes painters work harder than a referral from Mr. J’s.

For more than 50 years, Mr. J’s Paint and Supply Company has provided paint contractors in the Park Cities area with, well, paint. But for a decade, Mr. J’s has given something much more valuable to its Dallas customers: painter referrals. Owner Ron Wolfe checks out every contractor who buys his paint and supplies, sometimes doing on-site inspections. If a contractor passes Wolfe’s test, he makes it onto the coveted painter referral list. “We look for courteous painters who lean toward higher quality,” Wolfe says. Mr. J’s customers can choose from the list of superior painters and are encouraged to give feedback after their jobs are done. If a customer is pleased, the painter stays on Mr. J’s list. But if the customer has a problem that the painter doesn’t fix, the painter gets the boot. “Anyone can make a mistake,” Wolfe says. “But if you don’t resolve it, you’re off the list.” 8619 Hillcrest Ave. 214-691-3944.

Best Sunless Tan
Total Eclipse

ZaSpa is the only place in Dallas that offers this flawless tanning treatment. Whether you choose a natural glow or a bronzed bod, you will end up with a perfectly even tan that lasts a full week. In the 80-minute process you get a full-body exfoliation and a streak-free rubdown of a magic potion that produces color in six to eight hours. Bonus: wrinkle-free skin. Downside: price. $140 (full body); $100 (partial); $80 (face). Hotel ZaZa, 2332 Leonard St. 214-550-9492. www.hotelzaza.com.

Best Way to Light up Your Life
Er’go Candles

Made here in our hometown, Er’go candles relax and rejuvenate without overpowering. The secret is the multidimensional fragrance technique and natural ingredients that let the candles burn and burn without losing their scent or melting into a slushy mess. All candles are made from soy and come in a simple, clear-glass cylinder so as not to interfere with your home or office décor. $20 and $25 each at Just Gotta Have It, 1004 E. 15th St., Plano. 972-633-5000.

Best Baby Baubles
Bebe Grand

Moms in the know visit this darling little Lakewood boutique for chic baby and toddler wear, plus fancy accessories to go along with their fanciful outfits and nurseries. Our favorites include clothes by French import Petit Bateau, cotton twin sets by Tea Collection, Irene Hirose drawer sachets, Smile for the Birdie picture frames, and Collins and Hall heirloom christening gowns from the United Kingdom. 2013 Abrams Pkwy. 214-887-9224.

Things To Do

 

<< Best Advertisement for Paint Remover
The Body Art Ball

Utterly wild and always a sellout, the annual body-painting event packs the Gypsy Tea Room with walking works of art and those who’ve come to gawk. Fifteen visual artists transform models and performers into moving masterpieces. Think Sports Illustrated’s airbrush bikinis, then add feathers, fur, fins, and wings. The coolness culminates in a choreographed runway show set to synchronized lights and music. April 23, 2005. 2548 Elm St. 972-788-1822. www.thebodyartball.com.

Best Lunchtime Listen
Out to Lunch

Fresh air, sunshine, and song are on the midday menu every Friday in May, June, September, and October. It’s so nice to get outside and shake off the office stress. Musicians and downtown locations change for the free outdoor concerts, but the good time stays the same. It’s a toe-tapping picnic of melody and harmony, with a side of bebop. 214-744-4819. www.downtowndallas.org.

Best Tacky Lights Tour
Interlochen

It takes an hour or more to wind through the spirited streets of this northwest Arlington subdivision. The entire neighborhood does it up in finest Christmas Vacation style, decking a lot more than the halls with chaser lights, twinkling stars, Christmas trees, and plastic reindeer. The route begins at Randol Mill Road and Westwood Drive, west of Cooper Street. December 15-31. 817-459-6100. www.ci.arlington.tx.us.

Best Singer-songwriters
Wildflower Arts & Music Festival

They write the songs that make the whole world sing, and here they vie for the chance to be named best of the fest. They’re an excellent complement to big-time bands like Blues Traveler, Polyphonic Spree, and Blue Öyster Cult—all on previous lineups. May 13-15, 2005. Galatyn Park, Central Expwy. @ Galatyn Pkwy., Richardson. 972-744-4580. www.wildflowerfestival.com.

Best Flight of Fantasy
Monarch Air
Trey Sawtelle flies for American and runs the company his family started in 1986. It sells more pilot-training kits than any other Cessna certification center in the world. Stretch your wings with an introductory flight (just $49) or become a full-fledged private pilot for as little as $5,000. Dallas Executive Airport, 5025 Voyager Dr. 214-331-5758; Addison Airport, 4580 Claire Chennault, Addison. 972-931-0345; McKinney Airport, 1500 E. Industrial Blvd., Ste. 101, McKinney. 972-562-0717. www.monarchair.com.

 << Best Bullfighters

Texas Stampede

The country’s biggest rodeo stars compete for national titles while raising cash (lots of it) for area pediatric programs. Yeah, the bull- and bronc-riders are tough and the steer wrestlers are fast, but the clowns are no laughing matter. They’re in the ring, necks on the line, making sure those fancy cowboys live to ride another day. November 12-14. American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave. 214-520-8874. www.texasstampede.org.

Best Place to Get Your Rocks Off
Stone Works Climbing Gym
Perhaps the only time you’ve climbed a wall was when your kids were driving you mad, or maybe you could give Spider-Man a run for his money. Either way, the world’s tallest indoor climbing gym, located in what were once grain elevators, will challenge you. Day passes and monthly memberships are available, and when you get enough of scaling the silos, you can join gym experts on a weekend expedition. 1003 Fourth Ave., Carrollton. 972-323-1047. www.stoneworkssilos.com.

 << Best Projection
Lone Star Drive-in

If you want to sit in your car and make out during the movie, you can. You just won’t be able to watch John Travolta swoon over Olivia Newton-John when you break your lip lock. More movies-in-the-park than ’50s throwback (Who needs Jujubes between the seats, anyway?), the free outdoor movie series, launched last fall by the folks who bring us the Deep Ellum Film Festival, is drawing crowds to Addison Circle Park and Pegasus Plaza and makes its State Fair debut next month. 214-752-6759. www.lonestardrivein.com.

 << Best Roll Playing

Pegasus Flyers
Clad in pads, comrades on wheels travel in a swift pack, a mere blur down Main Street and a marvel for those who can barely balance in shoes. Beginning inline skaters can take the Sunday Morning Stroll through Park Cities or join the Slow Ass Group, which meets Wednesday evenings at Fair Park. Intermediate and advanced skaters take to the streets downtown Tuesday and Thursday nights. 214-537-7774. www.pegasusflyers.org.

Best Bird Legs
Audubon Dallas Field Trips

It doesn’t matter whether you can tell a sandpiper from a sparrow. Beginning birders are welcome on weekend outings of Audubon Dallas. Experts lead the way through the woods at Cedar Ridge Preserve, the UT Southwestern rookery, and other areas where the wild things are. The trips are excellent for forgetting the city and rediscovering nature. And you know what they say about birds of a feather. 214-943-2982. www.audubondallas.org.

Best Horse Races in the World
Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship

Eight races, 50,000 people, $14 million in purses and awards, across-the-board excitement. That’s what you can expect at Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship, which in 20 years has never taken place in the Southwest, much less Dallas. Tickets were sold only after a lottery determined who could buy them first. A sellout is a sure bet. October 30. Lone Star Park, 1000 Lone Star Pkwy., Grand Prairie. 972-263-RACE. www.lonestarpark.com.

 << Best Excuse to Wear Polo
Las Colinas Polo Club

Sunday evenings hold a certain promise for lovers of picnics and ponies. The fun is sublime: just good food and friends politely cheering chukker after chukker. Halftime festivities give you a chance to stretch your legs, meet your neighbor, and put the dirt back in place during the divot stomp. May-July and September-November. Hibernia Championship Field, 600 E. Royal Ln., Irving. 214-373-8855. www.lascolinaspolo.com.

Best River Ride
Trinity River Expeditions
Row, row, row your boat gently down the Trinity with experienced canoeist and outdoor enthusiast Charles Allen as your guide. Routes change through the year, ensuring the best outing January or June. Don’t care for the company or have the equipment? Allen will rent you what you need and help you get on your way. 214-941-1757. www.canoedallas.com.

Best Toe Jam
GrapeStomp

Teams of two get two minutes to trounce around in a wooden barrel and crush 20 pounds of grapes. The pair who collects the most juice makes it to the finals. The coveted prize: a near life-size purple foot. Don’t be afraid to jump right in. Just make sure your feet are clean. September 9-12. Main St. @ Hudgins St., Grapevine. 817-410-3185. www.grapevinetexasusa.com.

Best Dog-day Afternoon
Bark Park Central

Weekday or weekend, the 1-acre Deep Ellum dog park, situated under an overpass, is empty except for the occasional Schnauzer. That’s too bad, because it’s a city canine’s heaven. Though parking is tough, the location is prime for Uptown and downtown doggies, the grass is green, and concrete benches shaped like bones give owners a spot to sit a spell. Good-Latimer Expwy. @ Commerce St. www.barkparkcentral.com.

Best Schooling Bus
Preservation Dallas Fall Architectural Tour

Before you board a bus, you learn lots you never knew. Educational lectures are what set these home tours apart from the pack. By the time you’re out and about (in multiple parts of Dallas, including those you may not have seen before, and not just one neighborhood), you develop an eye for architectural greatness. The tour changes focus annually; the depth of the education does not. October 16. 214-821-3290. www.preservationdallas.org.

Arts & Culture

Best Local Arts Promoter
JR Compton

Dallas has its share of art critics, but few can claim the career longevity of the curmudgeonly JR Compton, who’s covered the local arts scene since the early ’70s. His web site provides exhaustive coverage of local artists, shows, and cultural happenings. With his educated eye and knowledgeable sense of history, he’s not afraid to dish out some strong opinions. www.dallasartsrevue.com.

 << Best Make-out Movie Theater
Landmark Inwood

The Inwood shows some top-notch indie films. At least that’s what they tell us. See, the Inwood’s main theater is big enough that you can sit inconspicuously with your sweetie in the back. Upstairs theaters can be cozy and private, too. So storylines often take a backseat to, ahem, more pressing matters. 5458 W. Lovers Ln. 214-764-9106. www.landmarktheatres.com.

Best Reading Series
The Writers Studio

Fact: literary readings can be boring. Another fact: the Writers Studio, which last season showcased some of the most unforgettable voices in contemporary literature, is anything but. Based on Bravo’s Inside the Actor’s Studio, the series at Theater Three featured in-depth interviews with T.C. Boyle, Tracy Kidder, Alice Walker, and others, revealing the most personal aspects of their work. The program for next season is still shaping up, but it promises to be just as spectacular. We can’t wait. 214-828-1715. www.writersgarret.org.

Best Cultural Bargain
Jazz in the Atrium 
Thursday nights mean live music at the Dallas Museum of Art. Sip a glass of wine from the cafe, then stroll through the galleries while local talent provides the evening’s soundtrack. Popular with art cognoscenti, hippies, students, and, sure, even people from Plano and Frisco, it’s a resounding (and free) weekly answer to anyone who dares ask, “Why is there no culture in Dallas?” 1717 N. Harwood St. 214-922-1200. www.dm-art.org.

Best New Theater Troupe
Classical Acting Company

Under the direction of Matthew and Emily Gray, the company has given us several strong productions, including Much Ado About Nothing, All My Sons, and A Flea in Her Ear. The Grays moved from New York to Dallas with the goal of bringing dramatic classics to the city, and their early efforts are both consistent and relevant. Arena Theatre @ Richland College, 12800 Abrams Rd. 214-505-1655. www.classicalactingcompany.com.

 << Best Actress

Liz Mikel

Liz Mikel’s performances seem effortless to awestruck audiences, but they are the result of extraordinary discipline and glorious talent. Mikel has performed in Seattle and New York, but her home is here in Dallas. Thank goodness. As just one example, her lusty shimmy of a performance in last spring’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Dallas Theater Center was delightful. The lady has staying power, and her career is as strong as her booming voice.

Best Builders
Dallas Architecture Forum

Architects and other design professionals, as well as ordinary folk with a keen interest in architecture, make up this group. It hosts a lecture series at the Dallas Museum of Art from September through May, as well as a series of roundtable discussions. The aim is to stimulate conversation about architecture and urban design in Dallas and provide intriguing answers to “Where is Dallas going?” and “What can Dallas be?” www.dallasarchitectureforum.org.

Best Gallery that Isn’t a Gallery
Landmark Magnolia Theatre

You’ve been searching for years for that perfect painting to hang on your living room wall. Head to the Magnolia Bar and your search may be over. The theater art collection, handpicked by curator Sarah Jane Semrad, features a new local artist every six weeks. No velvet ropes, no pretension, all style. West Village, 3699 McKinney Ave., Ste. 100. 214-764-9106. www.landmarktheatres.com.

 << Best Texas Art

David Dike Fine Art

Tucked in among the trendy galleries off McKinney Avenue, David Dike Fine Art has set the standard for Texas painting and sculpture since 1986. The simple, spare gallery displays works from American and European artists, but savvy collectors know that the Texans steal the show. If you’re looking to add to your collection—from an epic landscape to a subdued ink portrait—the annual auction, held in October, is the perfect chance to take home a masterpiece. 2613 Fairmount St. 214-720-4044. www.daviddikefineart.com.

 

Best Lit Mag
Southwest Review

All literary magazines are not created equal. We’ve encountered many through the years that are downright bad. Fortunately for us, Dallas is home to a first-rate breeding ground for young writers and established authors alike. Published by Southern Methodist University, Southwest Review is the fourth-oldest continuously published literary quarterly in the United States. Not only is it old, it’s good. 214-768-1036. www.southwestreview.org.

Best Place to Get Your Craft On
Craft Guild of Dallas

With more than 40 instructors waiting to lead you through everything from bookbinding to stained glass, you’re bound to reconnect with the creative side you thought you left back at summer camp. This nonprofit offers year-round classes for ages 4 to adult. And if that bowl you’re sculpting doesn’t turn into another ashtray, there’s a store that sells pieces made by students and instructors. 14325 Proton Rd. 972-490-0303. www.craftguildofdallas.com.

Best Venue
Charles W. Eisemann Center

The Telecom Corridor may seem like an odd place for a top-notch performing-arts complex, but the Eisemann Center’s location appeals to folks from Dallas to Sherman. The performance hall seats more than 1,550 without sacrificing intimacy, and a smaller theater, with its adjustable stage, offers flexibility for less formal productions. The season’s lineup satisfies a wide range of interests, from the 50th anniversary celebration of the Paul Taylor Dance Company
to MacHomer, a less-than-tragic staging of MacBeth done in the voices of
characters from The Simpsons. 2351 Performance Dr., Richardson. 972-744-4650. www.eisemanncenter.com.

 << Best Radio Station
KNTU 88.1 FM

The only true jazz station available in Dallas is primarily staffed by students, including those in UNT’s renowned Jazz Studies program. DJs like Alissa Simmons play selections ranging from avant-garde to beloved standards to Dixieland to fusion, and playlists often feature local musicians. The eclectic holiday programming in December is a must-listen. www.kntu.fm.

Best New Addition
Nasher Sculpture Center

Ray Nasher’s $70 million gift to Dallas cemented the Downtown Arts District as a destination. Its indoor galleries and outdoor garden house what is arguably the best collection of 20th-century sculpture in the world, with outstanding works by all the great masters of modern sculpture, including 11 pieces by Matisse, seven Picassos, eight David Smiths, and 13 pieces by Alberto Giacometti. It’s an education and a serene retreat in an urban jungle and a lunchtime favorite of downtown professionals. 2001 Flora St. 214-242-5100. www.nashersculpturecenter.org.

Best Reinvention of the Classics
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

While most orchestras stick to the standards year after year, last season at the DSO was all about ambition. The bar was raised with some of the most serious and demanding classical music around—from Stravinsky’s inflammatory “Rites of Spring” to an astounding lineup of all four Rachmaninoff piano concertos. This is not your grandmother’s classical music. 2301 Flora St. 214-692-0203. www.dallassymphony.com.

Best Art On the Edge
Dallas Video Festival
As the oldest and largest event of its kind, the Dallas Video Festival has been opening our eyes since 1986. The displays are as eclectic as the fans who flock to the celebration: quirky commercials, engaging documentaries, and spellbinding video art. And then there’s the stuff that defies description. Trust us, you might not understand what you see, but you’ll never forget it. Dallas Theater Center, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. 214-428-8700. www.videofest.org.

Kid Stuff

 

 << Best Puppet Show
Slappy’s Puppet Playhouse
If you’ve been looking for Le Theatre de Marionette at NorthPark, you’ll find it these days as Slappy’s Puppet Playhouse. New owners took over earlier this year, changing locations and slowly creating a more diverse family entertainment troupe. Dick Monday—formerly the director of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Manhattan—and his wife Tiffany Riley plan to add live music, singer-songwriters, variety and magic shows, storytelling, and, of course, clowns. Tickets: $8 for adults, $7 for kids and seniors. Dallas Galleria, 13550 N. Dallas Pkwy. 214-369-4849.


Best Free Water Fun
Fountain Place

The prism-shaped skyscraper is most famous for being designed by I.M. Pei and Partners, who also did Dallas City Hall and the Meyerson Symphony Center. It’s the water fountains on the ground, though, that’ll impress the kids. Half the building site was set aside as a 3-acre water garden and fountain plaza designed by noted landscape architect Daniel Kiley. It features 172 bubbler fountains, waterfalls, and a central court fountain with 360 computer-driven jets. It’s a great place for a picnic lunch. 1445 Ross Ave.

 

Best Reason to Drive to Fort Worth
Burger’s Lake

The last time we made the trek to this 1-acre spring-fed lake, we ran into two other Dallas families who knew, as we do, that Burger’s is worth the drive. There are two sandy beaches, giant shade trees, six diving boards (including a baby board), a 20-foot slide, a 25-foot trapeze, tubes to rent, 300 picnic tables, grills for cooking, and a snack bar for not cooking. Cost: $10 per person for everyone over 6. No alcohol or pets allowed. 1200 Meandering Rd., Fort Worth. 817-737-3414. www.burgerslake.com.

 

Best Kids’ Photographer
Wendolin Mercado

Hidden on the second floor of an antique mall in downtown McKinney is one of the most creative children’s photographers in the area. Mercado’s style is a departure from the usual squeaking-ducks-over-your-head-until-they-smile approach used by many children’s photographers. “I just record them,” she says. “I’m going to capture who this child is.” Mercado and her camera travel all around the Dallas area. 213 E. Virginia St., McKinney. 972-529-9223. www.wendolin.com.

 

 << Best Way to Pretend You’re in San Francisco

The McKinney Avenue Trolley
Okay, maybe McKinney Avenue’s M-line trolleys aren’t Dallas’ most effective mass transit option. But kids dig them. On a recent midday ride from one end of the route (Cityplace Station) to the other (near the Dallas Museum of Art) and back, we were the only passengers for half the trip. The conductor let our 6-year-old son ring the trolley bell, explained how Tex Avery attended North Dallas High School, and pointed out the window washers on Fountain Place. It was 40 minutes of pure entertainment. And it was free. The trolleys can also be chartered for parties. 214-855-0006. www.mata.org.

 

Best Kid-friendly Gourmet Pasta
Pasta Plus

A divorced couple runs this restaurant, just down the strip mall from the ever-popular Purple Cow. Their children often hang out in a special part of the restaurant that’s set aside just for rowdy little ones. It’s equipped with a chalkboard, Dr. Seuss books, games, and alphabet cards. The kid’s menu includes fried cheese sticks and ravioli, and adults can choose from 14 types of wine (important when you’re dining with children) and all kinds of pasta with homemade sauces. We recommend the walnut sauce. It will make you forget the pain of childbirth. 225 Preston Royal E. 214-373-3999.


Best Etiquette Class
The Mansion on Turtle Creek

If your kids think standing up butt-naked in their chairs while dribbling angel hair pasta from their lips to their bellybutton is appropriate dinner etiquette, perhaps they need a lesson from Charlene Levering and chef Dean Fearing. Levering is one of the last people in town who teach formal table manners. Twice a year, she and Fearing enjoy a three-course meal with a class of kids, ages 5 to 12, in the Mansion Ballroom. The next class is on Saturday, September 18. Cost: $50 per person. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 214-559-2100. www.mansiononturtlecreek.com.

 

Best Shark Attack
Dallas World Aquarium

Sure the crocs are cool, the river otters are a riot, and the electric eels are entertaining. But the No. 1 question at the Dallas World Aquarium is: “Where are the sharks?” Well, the folks at the DWA are happy now to direct you to the new Mundo Maya exhibit, scheduled to open last month. It features a 400,000-gallon shark tank and almost doubles the size of the aquarium. 1801 N. Griffin St. 214-720-2224. www.dwazoo.com.

 

Best High Dive
Cottonwood Pool

When we were kids, we covered ourselves in coconut-scented oil and jumped off high dives with the greatest of ease. Now we use SPF 45, and all but one high dive has been taken down to avoid lawsuits. In addition to its low dive, Cottonwood has a 3-meter board—rare in a pool open to the public and most excellent for cannonballing. There’s also a nice baby pool for the younger set. 1321 W. Belt Line Rd., Richardson. 972-644-7156.

 

Best Way to Break Wind
North Texas Sailing School

Whether your kids are the type who will end up yachting with friends in the Mediterranean or pontooning on Caddo Lake, learning to sail at North Texas Sailing School will be great fun. Six weeks of classes for kids 7 to 17, taught each summer at the Rush Creek Yacht Club, will have your kids sailing a pint-size boat within days. The oldest sailing school in Dallas employs schoolteachers-turned-certified sailors as instructors and keeps an adult-to-kid ratio of 5:1. Cost: $295 per two-week session. 320 Rush Creek Dr., Heath. 972-771-2002. www.northtexassailing.com.

 

 << Best Downward Dog Sunstone Yoga

Jennifer Chitwood started a yoga class for kids earlier this year, teaching a circle of little ones how to breathe correctly by putting toy ducks, frogs, and even Cookie Monsters on their bellies so the kids could watch the toys rise and fall with their breath. Ages 4 to 8 love to hoist their bottoms in the air for downward dog, hiss like a snake for cobra, and will even lie almost perfectly still for child’s pose. 11661 Preston Rd., Ste. 206. 214-373-7999. www.sunstoneyoga.com.

 

Best Way to Avoid the E.R.
Dr. Baby Proofer

The moment your baby begins to crawl, you realize you live in a deathtrap. Dr. Baby Proofer (aka Thom Golden) has been in the child-safety business in Dallas for 18 years. Many of his child-safety products are sold in catalogs, but seeing them in person—and seeing how they’re installed—makes all the difference. Golden also does in-home safety evaluations (starting at $100) and car seat checks (free if you purchase a car seat from him; $25 otherwise). 17390 Preston Rd., Ste. 245. 972-380-1116. www.drbabyproofer.com.

 

Best Toy Store Adventure
Whole Earth Provision Co.

You might think of Whole Earth as just a hiking and outdoor store. Sure enough, if you’re looking for camping gear or a carabiner, this is the place. But the store carries unique toys, too. What kid wouldn’t love a Jell-O brain mold, a Bengal tiger from the Vanishing Wild Collection, or a kit to make a jump-rope out of rubber bands? Whole Earth also has a great book selection. 5400 E. Mockingbird Ln., Ste. 110. 214-824-7444. www.wholeearthprovision.com.

 

 << Best Egg Cream
Herby’s Soda Fountain

At Herby’s, you can spin around on a pedestal stool and listen to “Flying Purple People Eater” on the jukebox (with actual 45s) while your seltzer and syrup are mixed right before your eyes. That’s right. Herby’s has an actual soda fountain that came from an old drugstore in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Herby’s serves egg creams, too—which, chances are, your kid has never heard of. 210 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. 972-548-7632.

 

Best Haircut
Stride Rite Hair Shop

A small child will tolerate an apron strapped to his neck for no longer than 12 minutes. Proven fact. And during those 12 minutes, he will not keep his head still. Also a fact. The ladies at Stride Rite know this and work wonders under the most difficult conditions. Leg kicking, body rocking, head shaking—they’ve seen it all. Whether Eunice, Ginger, Lesley, or Lolly handles your tot’s locks, he will look fabulous. 6129 Luther Ln. 214-373-1124.

 

Best Piñata
Party Surprize

With all due respect, Party City sells itty-bitty, overpriced piñatas. Head instead to Party Surprize. The owner there knows a guy. And that guy can make you a Hulk as tall as a 6-year-old—or just about any other piñata design you can dream up. The in-store models come in small ($8.50) and large ($22 and  up), and all are far superior to those lame things the gringos sell at Party City. 5334-A Ross Ave., Ste. 400. 214-887-0003.

 

Photos: Pet Sitter, Party, Bees and Gragg: James Bland; Body Art: Courtesy of Chris and Candy Productions; Cowboy: Courtesy of Texas Stampede; Flyers, Polo, Playhouse, Trolley, Yoga and Fountain: Danny Plassick; Drive-in: Jimmy Paleschic; Inwood: Dan Sellers, Models: Ryan Hurst and Brigett Dugas/Campbell Agency; Mikel, Jazz and Dike: Dan Sellers

Contributors: Julie Blacklidge, Jennifer Chininis, Allison Hatfield, Todd Johnson, Dawn McMullan, Nancy Nichols, Stephanie Quadri, Kristie Ramirez, Tim Rogers, Brian Sweany, Anne Young

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