Yes, it's a chain. But when the quality control, selection, and freshness are this good, screw mom and pop. The blueberry and cinnamon-raisin varieties are some of our favorites--sweet and chewy, great smeared with copious amounts of butter. The coffee is on par with the garden varieties offered by those Seattle guys too. The one in our neighborhood is always packed on the weekends, but these kids are so well trained, the line is never as daunting as it looks.

Bagel chains come and go, but Gilbert's Delicatessen has weathered the onslaught, holding firm to its New York traditions and its conviction that Jason's will never be a deli. The Gilbert family runs this North Dallas institution with a sweet-and-sour sauciness, but their bagels cannot be denied. They're big, hot, doughy, plain, egg, wheat, sesame-seed, poppy-seed, onion-garlic, everything bagels. Try them with the scrambled eggs, lox, and onions. Or for the less Jewish, the link sausage is the best in town. What more could you ask for? Nothing, so eat.

A mojito is an exhilarating blend of lime wedges and mint leaves bathed in rum, with a splash of soda and a stalk of sugar cane for garnish. It's the kind of drink that will turn even the most uptight WASP into a samba-dancing Latin lover.

East Wind
As good as the food is at East Wind--and it is good, possibly the best Vietnamese cuisine this side of a day-long plane ride, or maybe just Mai's--the Vietnamese coffee is even better, 8 ounces of happiness disguised as coal-black coffee and sweet, thick cream. A liquid heart attack? Probably, but it's worth it. One day, the Drug Enforcement Agency will wise up to its, uh, medicinal benefits. Until then, enjoy.

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For roughly 10 bucks you can experience Fishbowl's sizzling whole catfish in sweet chile sauce. Though this sounds like a bottom feeder dolled up in a sequined corset with tassels gyrating from its underbelly, it's actually a fish covered in a sternly crisp sheath, seemingly deep-fried in the midst of a swim shimmy. The meat is tender, sweet, and moist. Knots of crisp bok choy surround the colorful oval platter like aquatic weeds. Just don't get the garter straps caught in your bridgework.
Its cool, slick Milano-inspired dcor may be a bit much for some in Dallas to stomach (we think it's stunning). OK, although it looks like a cross between a bank lobby and a Shriner's dinette set, we admire successful crossbreeding. The food is even more stunning. With Salve!, restaurateurs Phil and Janet Cobb have created a marvel featuring "Tuscan-style home cooking" such as delicately delicious pastas and risottos, briskly fresh appetizers, and heartily savory entres. Plus the all-Italian wine list is broad and comprehensive, with selections organized by region. And it has an interior piazza, just in case you want to let your hat tassels flutter in the wind.
It's lodged in a circa-1946 duplex cluttered with family photos, stained-glass windowpanes, and antique furniture (all with little Minnie Pearl price tags dangling from them). It features delicious Southwestern-inspired items (lobster tacos) and dishes of other influences (Muscovy duck, seared pork steak ravioli), all at prices that won't force you to tie Minnie Pearl price tags on the kids and park them next to those stained-glass windowpanes. Casa Del Lago is owned by former Landmark-Mansion-Nana Grill chef Hector Angeles, who has done quite a job fashioning a respectable restaurant out of a space that could just as easily have been a wig salon.

Why would a Houston-based grocery store chain have good sushi? For that matter, why would 7-Eleven announce it has entered the bait business or expect to compete in freshness? We don't know the answers, but check out Tom Thumb's selection. For about five bucks, you can acquire a sweet little package of the sticky rice and seaweed concoctions. In summer months, with an abundance of caution, we stick to the California veggie offerings, because we're never quite sure about any fish that has traveled any distance in the Dallas heat in allegedly refrigerated trucks.

Suze Restaurant
OK, so this little restaurant is tucked into a strip mall. But it's outfitted to resemble a sophisticated country caf, with lacy curtains that delicately refract light in a cozily assembled dining room that's tight but comfortable. It's casual but sharp, with a sweet caviar-in-the-rough feel. Plus, the kitchen is directed by chef and owner Gilbert Garza, whose grasp of Tuscan cuisine adds a lyrical thread.

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
What could be better than sipping your Shiner Bock with a piping hot bowl of this delicious concoction? Served in a large bread bowl with a convenient lid for dipping, this is perfect for chilly winter evenings on the couches in the beer garden. If you feel like being social, ask for a chess set or checkers. We promise they won't laugh at you.
This restaurant gets the nod because of great food at even better prices. Owner Mark Serrao's second restaurant (the first being the flagship store Vitto's in Oak Cliff) has been open only nine months, but it's already made a big splash with Oak Lawn-area patrons. The mood is cheery when you enter, with a friendly and competent staff. (The background disco music made us feel like we were in high school again.) We really loved the spinach-and-cheese tortellini; the various styles of pizzas were similarly gooey and loaded with sauce. The chocolate cake was creamy, smooth, and sinful. The wine list comes highly recommended. What's really amazing is that a meal at this place won't break the bank in comparison with establishments of similar quality and atmosphere in town. Head for this little jewel and discover why so many Oak Lawn dwellers start off their nights here.

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