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Best of Big D: Food and Drink 2012

Our annual selections for the finest beverages and bites in Dallas.
photography by Kevin Marple

photography by Kevin Marple

Best French Fries

Central 214

Chef Graham Dodds’ fries are a labor of love. And we do mean labor. Inspired by summers Dodds spent in Scotland, his triple-cooked fries result from a five-hour process that involves boiling, air drying, blanching, air drying again, and crisping the potatoes. The result is a thicker steak-fry version of classic British chips, revealing a thick, crispy exterior and pillowy soft interior. And don’t forget the crunchy bits of coating that fall to the bottom of the fries’ cup. Those are the best part.

Readers’ Pick: Burger House

Best Cheese Shop

Owners Rich and Karen Rogers’ zeal for all things cheese is apparent the second you enter their intimate shop. You are greeted by a case filled with more than 150 artisan and farmstead cheeses from the United States and Europe. Plus, they stock local producers such as Mozzarella Company, Latte Da, and Brazos Valley. They also offer samples, classes, regional tours, cured meats, sandwiches, and other locally produced delicacies. Find something new? Have them track your purchases for easy reference.

Readers’ Pick: Central Market

Best Brunch
The Grape

The best time to visit The Grape is any time it’s open. But the second best time is Sunday for brunch. Chef/owner Brian Luscher’s Lower Greenville bistro packs the house every week, pleasing patrons with its award-winning cheeseburger, diet-busting fried chicken biscuit, and sausage-egg-and-cheese-filled breakfast on a bun. Be sure to make a reservation. The tiny dining room can feed only some of the people some of the time.

Readers’ pick: Blue Mesa Grill

Best Patio Dining
Mi Dia From Scratch

The patio overlooks the outdoor terraces of Fireside Pies and Winewood, and provides the perfect perch for people-watching. Or you can fix your gaze on the peaceful Pastoral Dreamer, a 19-foot bronze sculpture of a man reclining in the grass by David L. Phelps. It’s a work of art and an impromptu jungle gym for kids.

Readers’ Pick:
Ozona Grill & Bar

Best Margarita

Last year, the tamarind margarita created by mixologist Leann Berry swept us away, and we named it the best in Dallas. This year, we didn’t discover a better one. Her blend of Casa Noble Resposado, Cointreau, tamarind purée, and fresh lime served with a spiced rim is hard to beat in the Dallas heat.

Readers’ Pick:
El Fenix

Best Bakery for Sweets
Casa Linda Bakery

Over the last year, we’ve been dazzled by fancy cupcakes and trendy cake balls. They’re pretty (and pricey), but when we want a taste of nostalgia, we head here for conventional cupcakes ($1; with sprinkles, $1.25), traditional decorated sheet cakes, and (our favorite) the Mr. Clown iced cookie, the best $2 you will ever spend if you are shopping with a grouchy child.

Readers’ Pick:
La Duni

Best Bakery for Bread
Empire Baking Company

This once-tiny operation has conquered the breadbaskets of Dallas. Its fine European-style bread and pastries now rule. Chefs call for custom buns and rolls. Caterers buy loaves of unusual breads, such as the walnut scallion, pumpernickel, and braided challah. Customers order rugulah, hot cross buns, scones, muffins, brownies, and small-batch artisan jams. The pane paisano—a classic Italian bread with a crispy crust and a porous interior—is ideal for sandwiches and fit for any kingdom.

Readers’ Pick:

Best Burger
Liberty Burger

There was a great debate this year over two new burger spots: Goodfriend and Liberty Burger. They both begin with quality beef and end with innovative ingredient combinations. We give you Liberty because they give you more. Any of its burgers can be made with a chicken, beef, bison, turkey, lamb, or vegetable patty. And nobody in town makes a better caramel sea salt shake.

Readers’ Pick:
Twisted Root Burger Co.

Best Barbecue
Pecan Lodge

Glory be to lurlene, the nickname for owners Diane and Justin Fourton’s well-seasoned smoker. Justin, the pit master, adds his secret rubs and spices, but the magic of this tiny restaurant is created once the meat is tucked into Lurlene and she slowly puffs mesquite smoke over it until it glistens with black crust. Brisket is the star, but Lurlene has a cult following that flocks to her side for her burnt ends. Shh. They’re a secret off-the-menu treat.

Readers’ Pick:
Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse

photography: Davallion courtesy of Rosewood Hotels; all others Kevin Marple

Best Gourmet Shop

Bolsa Mercado

Though it shares its name with next-door sibling and critical darling Bolsa restaurant, this gourmet-to-go market stands on its own as one of the city’s more imaginative foodie destinations. Even those not from Oak Cliff gladly cross the Trinity River for chef Jeff Harris’ house-made goodies, including sausages, smoked meats, salads, sandwiches, and more. Baker Lauren Leone makes pies, tarts, and morning kolaches. Shelves are stocked with hard-to-find gourmet oddities, many procured locally. A juice bar keeps customers clean and green. Even the wine selection focuses heavily on local and Texas vineyards. With comfy couches, industrial-chic touches, and plenty of shaggy, hipster aplomb, Bolsa Mercado is a delicious communal spot for Oak Cliff and a game changer for grocery shopping south of I-30.

Readers’ Pick:

Best Steakhouse
Nick & Sam’s

Finding a great steak in Dallas is easy. Finding a sleek, sexy dining room filled with beautiful people tapping their toes to a pianist while watching the action in the exhibition kitchen is possible only at Nick & Sam’s. Did we mention that the caviar in the bar is free?

Readers’ Pick:
Bob’s Steak & Chop House

Best Tex-Mex
Mr. Mesero

it could be argued that owner Mico Rodriguez shaped the current Dallas palate for Tex-Mex. He co-founded the popular Mi Cocina, the restaurant many feel typifies the cuisine. He’s no longer affiliated with Mi Cocina, but it hasn’t kept him from doing what he does best: providing high-quality food and stellar service. Mico has taken a regular bowl of queso and turned it into a white-tablecloth dining experience. The kitchen turns out stellar tomatillo chicken enchiladas stuffed with fluffy chicken. The bar shakes a mean Mico Rita. It also makes a Size 2 with Splenda, but we don’t consider Tex-Mex bad calories. Diets are for sissies.

Readers’ Pick:
El Fenix

Best Taco Joint
Torchy’s Tacos

Born in a trailer park in Austin, this gringo taco haven is all grown up and ready for the big show. There’s a reason for its rapid growth: the tacos combine quality ingredients into imaginative creations. The cheekily named Dirty Sanchez—a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, fried poblano, guacamole, escabeche carrots, and shredded cheese, and covered with a poblano sauce—has redefined the term. Thank goodness.

Readers’ Pick: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

Best Butcher
Matador Meat & Wine

We love mom-and-pop shops. Colleen and Matt Peterson provide a full-service, custom-cut butcher shop. They will trim any piece of Certified Angus or Prime-grade beef to your specs. The staff is trained to give wine advice. All you need is a grill and a corkscrew.

Readers’ Pick:
Central Market

Best Pizza
Cane Rosso

Cane rosso won last year. Since then, it has only gotten better. Owner Jay Jerrier hired executive chef Dino Santonicola, who was born in Naples and learned the art of making Neapolitan pizza in some of that city’s more famous pizzerias. Santonicola improved some of Cane Rosso’s methods. Rather than proofing dough in a refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours, now the restaurant uses less yeast and allows dough to proof for 12 to 18 hours in its new dough room. The result is an even lighter, airier crust. And another win.

Readers’ pick:

Best Coffeehouse
Avoca Coffee

Oddfellows and Cul–tivar might have the best coffee in Dallas. But neither evoke that romantic coffeehouse feeling, a place that inspires community with both its cafelike atmosphere and bold brews. No, for a proper cafe society, you have to go west, young coffee connoisseurs. Located in the historic Near Southside district of Fort Worth, Avoca is the ideal coffeehouse, the perfect marriage of sip and spirit. Owners Jimmy Story and Garold LaRue are coffee fanatics, and they court a sense of community among other Cowtown beanheads.

Readers’ Pick:
White Rock Coffee

Best Ice Cream/Gelato
Old Town Creamery

The only thing fancy in this small shop is the ice cream. Traditional flavors sit next to exotic creations such as banana avocado, butterscotch, cashew-raisin, saffron, Thai tea, almond-date, and fig. Imagine coconut ice cream with bits of real coconut meat in every bite. Now eat it.

Readers’ Pick:

Best Chef
Bruno Davaillon

Kudos to the rosewood Mansion for hiring chef Bruno Davaillon and injecting his talent into the listless fine-dining scene in Dallas. He has spent the last three years making friends with local purveyors and farmers, and his classic French cooking is now served with a thick Texas accent. The white tablecloths are back, and, thanks to Davaillon, the international spotlight is again shining on the Mansion.

Readers’ Pick:
Tim Love

Best French


This restaurant continues to seduce us with its French countryside charm. The cozy blue-and-yellow color scheme, filled with hand-screened Pierre Deux fabrics, screams Provence. The menu whispers classic French: Escargots à la Bourguignonne, Coquilles Saint Jacques, Canard rôti au Cassis. Service is personal. The wine is French. The spirit is not pretentious. It’s honest and comforting.

Readers’ Pick:

Best Indian

If you’re looking for chicken tikka or various biryanis, you’ll find them here. But we suggest you go total Mughalai, a style of Indian cuisine developed in imperial kitchens of the Mughal Empire. The exotic beef nihari, a casserole of simmered meat, onions, ghee, and more than a dozen spices, clears more than your sinuses. Adventurous eaters prefer queema hari mirch, ground veal cooked with green chili peppers; and Afghan mutton karhai, mutton braised and cooked with spicy tomato sauce and sprinkled with ginger. BYOBreathmints.

Readers’ Pick:
India Palace

photography by Kevin Marple

Best Fish Market

TJ’s Fresh Seafood Market

If you don’t know about TJ’s, you either don’t eat seafood or you live in the sea. In which case, someone at TJ’s will meet you soon. Family owned since 1989, this little shop has become a mover and shaker in the local food scene thanks to Jon Alexis, the ubiquitous promoter of seafood. He shows up at grilling competitions, food festivals, and pop-up dinners with an ice chest full of fresh fish. He knows his stuff. You should know him.

Readers’ Pick:
Central Market

Best Family-Friendly Restaurant
Chicken Scratch

Who needs video games and singing robotic rats? Let your kids and their imaginations run wild on Chicken Scratch’s kid-friendly gravel patio as they play hopscotch, tag, and other games that don’t require tokens. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, and more are given a gourmet touch by chef/owner Tim Byres of nearby Smoke restaurant fame. Kids love the crispy, slightly sweet chicken strips. Adults appreciate that the restaurant shares its patio with sibling bar The Foundry, which offers a great beer selection and live music most weekends. .

Readers’ Pick:
Babe’s Chicken Dinner House

Best Sushi

Most people think of this One Arts Plaza restaurant as the finest Japanese soba noodle house in Dallas. And they’re right. But we also think chef/owner Teiichi Sakurai’s carefully curated list of sushi is the city’s best. The fish is supple and fresh, much of it flown in from Japan, and ranges from the common, such as big eye tuna, to the unusual (sea snail, anyone?). The sashimi salad features generous cuts of silky raw fish resting on curvy ribbons of white seaweed. Best of all, Tei-An eschews clichéd sushi rolls for oshizushi, bite-size cubes of pressed rice and toppings. They’re simple and sublime.

Reader’s Choice:
The Blue Fish

Best Breakfast

Crossroads Diner

Former fine dining chef Tom Fleming got tired of getting home at 3 am, so he rearranged his world. Now he gets up at 3 am so he can start baking the breakfast goodies he plates at Crossroads Diner. His melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk pancakes, cinnamon sticky buns, and flaky biscuits open more than your eyes. After lunch service, he heads to his favorite job. He’s also a doting father.

Readers’ Pick:
Cafe Brazil

photography by Kevin Marple

Best Italian

Dallas, once void of world-class Italian restaurants, now has two: Lucia and Nonna. Last year, we crowned Lucia the best; this year we move our magic wand over chef Julian Barsotti’s Nonna. We love the Italian sausages with ham hock cranberry beans cooked in a wood-burning oven, and we swoon over pici pasta specials. Barsotti has spread the love. He now offers many of his house-made pastas, sauces, and specialties at Carbone’s, a small Italian-American deli in Highland Park.

Readers’ Pick: Lucia

Best Chinese
A Wok

Sure, a wok isn’t as fancy as Yao Fuzi or Royal China, but sometimes the best Chinese comfort food comes in the form of a tiny hot pot cooking precious pieces of niu nan bao (stewed beef and tendon) inside a thick soup of bok choy, carrots, and turnips. Don’t forget to order the buttered shrimp while you’re at it.

Readers’ Pick:
Royal China

Best Sandwich Shop
Off-Site Kitchen

Feast on inspirational sandwiches made with glorious slow-cooked meats such as smoked jalapeño sausage, pork shoulder, hot links, Spam, black pepper kielbasa, and chicken. The combinations run from the simple (a sliced peppered kielbasa topped with a lettuce salad tossed in a Carolina pulled pork vinaigrette) to the sloppy (the Brough Ham Fleetwood, with Tavern ham, slow-roasted pork shoulder, Swiss cheese, jalapeño bacon relish, and 57 Thousand slaw). Not recommended for first dates.

Readers’ Pick:
Jimmy’s Food Store

Best Thai
Royal Thai

When it opened its hand-carved doors in 1992, the kitchen gave Dallas its first true taste of the strong aromatic components of truly Thai cuisine. Twenty years later, the intimate restaurant still draws crowds because it has stayed true to its culinary roots. The ambience remains peaceful, the wine list thoughtful, and the service charming

Readers’ Pick:
Royal Thai

Best Vietnamese
Zander’s House

You know you’re in for great Vietnamese food when you walk into this dining room and it is full of large Vietnamese families in the midst of celebration. The extensive menu is filled with specialties such as whole red snapper with cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces in a chile-lime fish sauce. Pay attention to those little red peppers next to many of the dishes; they indicate a dish is “mild to spicy.” Warning: Vietnamese mild translates into Texas spicy.

Readers’ Pick:
Green Papaya

Best Chocolatier
Dude, Sweet Chocolate

Katherine Clapner had us at blue cheese fudge. She got us again with her box of Chubby Nuts, which includes hazelnuts, almonds, and macadamias. We love pretty much all the creations the spunky Oak Cliff chocolatier comes up with. Few things are better than eating at one of the many restaurants in the Bishop Arts District and then moseying over to taste some of Clapner’s newest creations.

Readers’ Pick:
Dude, Sweet Chocolate

Best Wine Bar
Veritas Wine Room

This laid-back vino-pub is usually packed with wine lovers in search of the next great inexpensive wine. The 30-plus wines-by-the-glass menu circles the globe, and the 350-bottle cellar features red (Old and New World), white, port, sparkling, and sweet varieties. Regional products get top billing in the kitchen. It serves meats, cheeses, chocolate, and honey from local artisan producers. Need advice? The owners are lawyers, and they’ve been known to brief a customer on the finer points of a Texas Sangiovese and offer tips on how to fix a traffic ticket.

Readers’ Pick:

Best Wine Shop
La Cave Warehouse

There is a reason this wine shop has been in business for 35 years: owners Anne and Francois Chandou offer more than cute corkscrews. Burgeoning oenologists head there to learn about wine. Serious collectors stash their costly cache in one of the walk-in storage spaces that holds up to 1,300 bottles, so they can sleep well knowing their precious magnum of 1945 Chateau Talbot is resting comfortably at 53 degrees with 70 percent humidity.

Readers’ Pick:
Central Market

Best Vegetarian-Friendly
Sundown at Granada

Most vegetarians just want options when they go out. They don’t want to have to settle for a salad or a veggie burger (or, on rare occasions, pasta with the least interesting sauce on the menu). You’re still probably going to eat a salad or burger at Sundown at Granada. But its Buddha Burger, with a house-made quinoa veggie patty, chile-lime slaw, and chipotle cream
sauce, is so good you won’t care even a little bit.

Readers’ Pick: Cosmic Cafe

Best Dessert
Oak’s Gianduja Chocolate Panna Cotta

Just as we were about to write off panna cotta as a worn-out choice for dessert, Oak’s pastry chef, Sarah Green, comes up with a doozie we can’t resist. Her dramatic presentation of gianduja panna cotta on top of a hazelnut blondie sits across from a boulder-size serving of Patrón orange ice resting on a pile of crushed chocolate cake. It appears to be style over substance, but in the mouth, it’s quite the opposite.

Readers’ Pick: Cuatro leches cake at La Duni