Catherine Downes

It's rare you'll encounter a chicken-fried steak that's as interesting as the one served at Tom's Burgers & Grill. It starts out with the breading, which replaces everyday seasoned flour with crushed potato chips that pack a serious crunch. There are flecks of herbs strewn about and the whole thing is fried until it's a deep, rich brown. Ask for your gravy to be served on the side to preserve the crispy texture and then get to dipping until heart palpitations tell you it's time to quit. Chicken-fried steak has a whole new lease on life at Tom's, and so will you while you're eating it.

Steakhouses are a dime a dozen here in Dallas, but none of them will let you get out of door for loose change. Knife is no different, but it can be significantly more affordable if you know how to navigate the menu. Look for the section of affordable bistro cuts that can be had for $25 each. You might not recognize names like tri-tip, culotte and chuck flap but you'll recognize the flavor as big and beefy. Each is cooked sous-vide and then finished over an oak fire. Pair yours with any of the sides such as creamed spinach and super crunchy onion rings and you'll have a steakhouse meal for well under 50 bucks.

Normally you expect to eat fried chicken at an outdoor table made of pine or maybe on a picnic blanket, not at an elegant marble bar at some hoity-toity Henderson Avenue restaurant. But the bar stools at Sissy's turn out to be the perfect chicken perch. Order a cocktail, or maybe a glass of bubbles, and request an entire bucket, even if you're alone because fried chicken served cold the next day is one of the greatest things you can eat for lunch. It's better that you bring a friend or two, though, if only for help with the sides. Don't skip the deviled eggs and if you can spare the room, the chocolate cake before you're done. Some say it's better than ...

Ten Bells makes marvelous pub grub, so it stands to reason that their take on wings, the ultimate bar food, would be great. They're also quite a departure from the pedestrian Frank's-slathered slabs of gristle served with a ramekin of Kraft blue cheese dressing and a scattering of limp celery. These instead are big and tender, crispy and coated with a tangy spin on barbecue sauce that's just spicy enough, with a bowl of dank, musky "blue cheese fondue" in place of the usual dressing. You'll still need plenty of napkins, though, no matter how upscale these wings may be.

It's 8 a.m., you're late for a meeting, you're hungry and last night you had a steak and creamed spinach for dinner. You need breakfast, you need it fast and you need it not to suck. That's why you're in line at the drive-thru at Start, perusing a menu of whole wheat breads and tortillas, baked goods and fresh fruits. You can get a smoothie if you need some extra nutrients, and the coffee is black and strong. There's oatmeal if you're inclined, and if that steak dinner doesn't have you too far down, plenty of sunny scrambled eggs and bacon. Don't feel bad about it — bacon makes everything better. And at Start it's just one of many ingredients that are responsibly sourced and carefully handled.

Customers know they're somewhere interesting as soon as they walk through the door. The diners are nearly all Chinese, payment is accepted only in cash, and there aren't any egg rolls on the menu. There are marinated pork intestine and beef tendon and dried squid. First Chinese offers up Cantonese-style cooking, but don't think everything here is blood and guts. Roast duck with crispy skin is a go-to order, as are a number of stir-fried noodle dishes from crispy noodles to lo-mein. And the best part of the restaurant is BYOB, which combined with some rock-bottom menu prices adds up to a really cheap night.

Catherine Downes

When you walk into a Mexican restaurant with fajitas and nachos on the menu, you might be inclined to indulge in your standbys. You can do that at Palapas, too, and you'll leave with a great impression of the restaurant. But where this Greenville Avenue newcomer really excels is with ingredients that hail from the sea, in ceviches and grilled fish dishes that absolutely sing. Get the shrimp ceviche served on a crunchy tostada for a textural contrast, or a mixed seafood ceviche served in a young coconut. And if you have a hangover you might consider the camarón in agua chili, which features shrimp quickly cooked in lime juice and served in a freshly blended sauce of cilantro, more lime juice and shrimp stock. You certainly don't need a hangover to enjoy the dish, but if you had too much tequila the night before it can be a godsend.

Easy Slider was one of the first trucks to have a real presence on the Dallas food truck scene, and years later they are easily still the best. Whenever you see their teal, stars-and-stripes-themed vehicle parked around town and you're feeling hungry, you'd do well to change your dining plans. At times, some of the flavor combinations sound like they'd be too much, especially when you're dealing with toppings like strawberry jam and goat cheese, but each of the wacky creations works as well as the next, and their diminutive size means you can try two at a time, or maybe three.

La Banqueta has been a mainstay on the Dallas taquería circuit for years. The tiny walk-up with only a counter for seating is the go-to spot for suadero tacos. But with the move across the street to a new location, the Dallas location of this four-taquería chain has become a neighborhood hotspot for everything taco. Don't stop at the suadero; the pastor is a popular order too, and while you may not see as many customers ordering the tripas, you owe it to yourself to try the tacos made from calf intestines. Order them extra crunchy and give your taco a sturdy dousing from the squeeze bottle filled with green salsa. One bite and beef tacos will be forever boring.

For those who have grown tired with the ice cream status quo, Carnival Barker's offers flavors that are anything but boring. Banana pudding and Nutella vodka join Fat Elvis — a peanut butter and banana ice cream with candied bacon and honey — in a slew of flavors that will keep you thinking while you spoon-feed your face. For those who aren't feeling as adventurous, cookie dough and cookies and cream are among flavors that will resonate with old ice cream memories. Just don't forget these guys are Texas' only independent ice cream shop. Those other shops have to buy their base from state-controlled creameries.

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