Maguire's Regional Cuisine
It's unremarkable, yet it works. A wide tongue of catfish with a crisp golden coating is slipped between a cleaved roll and crowned with fresh ruddy tomato slices and a smear of Creole rmoulade. The fish is greaseless, crisp, and moist with stratified flakes of flesh and not a hint of river silt.

Angry Dog
We once worked at a restaurant that hosted a weekly half-priced burger night. As a result, for months we could not stomach a burger and came dangerously close to vegetarianism. Luckily, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and soon enough we were eating burgers again, doing our part to help out the national beef industry. Most of the time for lunch, we just go get a deli sandwich. But every so often, our stomach rumbles and angrily demands: "Burger! Burger!" So we motor down the street to Angry Dog, where the burgers are thick and juicy and the service is fast and friendly. A craving is a terrible thing to waste.

Juicy double-beef burgers with cheese and Thousand Island dressing, which they call Thousand Island, not "secret sauce." Beer to go or stay. You can smoke in part of the dining room. The jukebox has plenty of C&W. The ladies behind the counter know how to take an order and chew gum at the same time. And the cell-phone-per-table ratio is lower than any other spot in a 20-mile radius. Everything is jake at Jake's.

Curved leopard-print banquettes, sequestered in gauzy curtains, resemble a sheer neglige over cat-pelt bloomers. Black lacquered chairs are cushioned with leopard-print padded seats, and tables are cloaked in black tablecloths, like a black slit skirt over shiny black stilettos. The focal point of the back bar is a dramatic pair of narrow, triangular shelves bathed in the kind of neon orange favored by those who like folded greenbacks slipped into their underwear. This is the fine-dining version of a minx in homicidal regalia. Be careful how you use it.

Babe's Chicken Dinner House
No fast-food assembly line or heat lamp warming here. Manager Don Oates doesn't buy frozen chicken, so everything's fresh. The crunchy crisp breast, wing, drum, and thigh that come with the dinner have been marinated for 24 hours before being battered and cooked. Forget the calorie count and plan to go away full and happy since the side dishes include a choice of five home-style vegetables, a salad, and hot biscuits.

Sweet Temptations' wonderful crab cakes are served over salad or pasta in an intimate European setting. Their dessert selections are also awesome, including the Lake Highlands rock cake or the Godiva cake.

It's searingly potent. Sewn with thick sheets of tender, supple rice noodle, Royal Spice Thai Bistro's bong bong chicken contains a simple combination of ground bird and Thai basil in a clean, spicy oyster and Thai bean-sauce blend. Yum, yum. Cluck, cluck. No smelly water to chuck.

If you're sick of the smog, the ozone alert days, the heat, and the general misery of a Texas summer that lasts into February, head over to La Madeleine for some freshly squeezed lemonade. Not too tart, not too sweet. As the immortal Tammy Faye Bakker once sang, "When life throws you a lemon, make lemonade."

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.)

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