Pho is a little like Buddha: It invites nourishing contemplation. A Vietnamese beef-broth soup, pho is often described as the national dish of Vietnam. It's a fundamental part of the day, a mind-clearing tonic steeped in ritual, often served for breakfast. It's an arduous, labor-intensive thing created by simmering meat and bones for roughly eight hours to extract that soothing richness. To this are added long rice noodle strands, meat, scallions, and herbs. It's often floated with cuts of beef such as brisket, eye of round, and flank steak, as well as meatballs. But there's more yummy stuff to toss in. You can add gelatinous and chewy soft tendon (not so much a cabled ligament as a piece of knuckle) or bible tripe, a piece of ox stomach. The wide, steaming bowl arrives with a plate piled with knots of bean sprouts, Asian basil, a lime wedge, and tiny slices of green chilies that look like mag wheels, all for tossing into the soup. Pho Kim's pho is delicious: freshly light and perfumy with tender, separate noodles and chewy sheets of beef. There's nothing better to endulge in as the briskness of fall sneaks upon us.

How many times have you ogled the layer cake at your favorite coffee shop, ordered a slice of the vertical wonder, and then sunk in disappointment at its day-old taste and fridge-ridden frosting? Cake by the slice is a risky choice, but not at Dallas Affairs, the Lakewood-area bakery known for its stunning special occasion cakes. At the counter, Dallas Affairs keeps two cakes on hand for by-the-slice orders. One is an Italian cream with cream and pecan frosting; the other, a chocolate fudge with chocolate cream filling. For $3 a pop, it's a little slice of heaven--thick, heavy with flavor, and most important, fresh, fresh, fresh.
We hate to do this, if only because it seems so unfair giving this award to a chain (though that doesn't stop readers, who, until recently, were convinced that the best burger in town came from the Burger King "grill") when plenty of local coffeehouses serve their own brand of bean brew. But having lived here our entire lives and having sampled a good amount of coffee around this town, we keep returning to the cup of joe served at this bagel chain. (Speaking of which, the Bagel Chain on Inwood Lane serves a tasty brew, though they recently took away our favorite, Double Chocolate Chip, which is why it doesn't make the top of the list.) Einstein's is big on the seasonal flavor: Last week or so, it resurrected the autumn brew, which has a chestnut scent and very little acidity; it went down smooth. We're equally fond of the vanilla hazelnut: Unlike most other flavored coffees around town, the Einstein's variations aren't overwhelming--neither too sweet nor too strong. They are, in a word, perfect. When's the last time you saw someone get this worked up over coffee? (Maybe we had too much this morning: We stopped at Einstein's and had two large cups. We're still buzzing.)

Stadium food is a blessing and a curse. The best things about turkey legs at a ballgame are: 1. They are self-contained and easy to transport down steep steps; 2. They disgust large segments of the population, who are too squeamish to watch someone tear the meat on the bone like a cur, not to mention try it themselves; 3. There is no way to spill it on the people sitting in front of you; 4. They somehow make the overpriced canned beer taste better.

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.

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