Best Cachapas and Other Things Filled with Cheese and Caramel

Zaguán World Bakery & Café

Venezuelan Carlos Branger is an evil, evil man, and we love him for it. Since opening a few months ago, this Latin restaurant-bakery on Oak Lawn Avenue has become our go-to restaurant whenever we crave sweet corn tortillas filled with meat and cheese...and cheese; this is a delicacy called cachapas, incidentally, which we believe is Venezuelan for "happy heart attack yummy delight." There are also the arepas, stuffed but not sweet; we prefer the former, though, because there's something about getting that corn-cheese-etc. stuck in our teeth--the lunch that keeps on giving. Branger's cut back a bit on the free-sample smorgasbord that lined the countertops for months, which is fine; we were loaded up on fresh breads, most filled with cheese and/or caramel, well before our lunch arrived anyway, and we needed to save room for those plantain chips and sweet-bread desserts, which give us full belly and tight, but happy, pants. We haven't quite mustered up the courage to order the ham-and-cheese bread loaves--it's been weeks since we've been to the gym--or myriad other fresh-baked delicacies taunting us from the glass cases and oven racks, but we will. It's not like we're not at Zaguán once a week. Or twice. Or thrice, dang it.

Unlike Starbucks, which seems to have a station on every other block, CC's Coffee House hasn't made much progress in the quest for world domination. But maybe the world hasn't tried the Mochasippi yet. This refreshing beverage is a frothy espresso treat that's perfect when you need a caffeine kick on a hot day. Despite its name, there is no chocolate in the Mochasippi, unless you want there to be. It comes in a variety of other flavors, too, including hazelnut, white chocolate and sugar-free caramel. We like the sugar-free varieties because they make us feel less guilty when we get that extra whipped cream on top. The Baton Rouge-based CC's is a family-owned chain that has five locations in Dallas and several stores in the surrounding areas, including Addison, Carrollton, Plano and Coppell. The first location was opened in New Orleans in 1995, and according to CC's Web site, their coffee has "New Orleans passion in every cup." And we like the way that sounds. We also like the way Mochasippi sounds. Go ahead, say it. Mochasippi. See how nicely it rolls off an espresso-soaked tongue?

It's just a fact: You cannot buy really fresh lima beans or speckled butter beans in a supermarket. Fresh, they have no shelf life. That's why we buy them here, from Pat Sherlock, a farmer/dealer who trucks fresh-picked beans by the bushel from his fields in Canton and sells them by the pint to grateful city folk. His beans are a taste of natural abundance.

Opened in 1981 in a 1927 Texaco station, this fried-chicken sibling to the Babe's Chicken Dinner Houses in Garland and Roanoke is a no-frills art-deco temple to biddy crunch. And it's like no other. The chicken is juicy, firm, well-seasoned (but not too much) and greaseless (damn near, anyway). Each piece of Arkansas chicken is marinated for 24 hours. It comes tethered to killer mashed potatoes, juicy sweet corn on the cob and moist, tasty rolls (like angel food cake). There's no better way in Dallas to convert pullet to paunch.

Angry Dog

Considering that they named their restaurant for their hot dog, it had better be good, right? Well, it is good. Split in half and served open-face with mustard and piled high with chili, cooked onions and a heap of American cheese, the Angry Dog's Angry Dog is actually something that you'd order at a ballpark if it were served there. For $5.25 you get the Angry Dog and seasoned fries and a pickle, which is probably cheaper than what you could take back with you to the cheap seats, anyway. The best part is that it's actually sold outside the ballpark, which means you don't have to watch another abysmal performance by the Rangers.

Martinis are clearly an acquired taste: You can pretty much expect to pay $6 to $10 just to acquire one of them. Even then, you have to get past their somewhat medicinal flavor, which in a badly made martini is something akin to rubbing alcohol. But if done right, they can be a cheap high because they are so damn potent. And if done right, they can also add an air of sophistication (it's the olives and the presentation) to your bar persona. Terilli's clearly does them right, using the best ingredients and a block of ice to cool down the vodka, which makes it go down smoothly and, yes, sumptuously. We must give first runner-up to Del Frisco's, which gets downright creative by placing blue cheese in its olives. Also Houston's on Preston can't be left out of the mix, because its chilling procedure causes ice crystals to form in the vodka, which gives it that same Terilli's effect. We would like to give an honorable mention to this other bar, but after conducting our nightlong taste test, we can't remember its name and scarcely remember being there.

Meatless in Dallas is sacrilege; like letting your speedometer needle slip below 70 on the Tollway (55 mph is permissible only when pitching change into a toll basket). So vegetarian restaurants are few. Good ones are downright rare. That's why when seeking out meals void of elements that once had supporting roles in Green Acres, it's best to seek out Indian cuisine. Indian food is so beautifully complex, it's hard not to be dazzled--even if there isn't a flank or a wing to be found. Its endless and exotic variations on pickles, chutneys and salads tickled with a vast variety of spices--many fiercely intense--such as cardamom, chili, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, saffron and tamarind, make for a meal that never suffers from a lack of livestock. Take Food for Thought, for example. The food is light and fresh, the sauces are vivid and the spices are expertly applied: robust yet balanced. In addition to dosai (crepes), pakoras (deep-fried chickpea batter fritters) and samosas (triangular pastries bulging with mashed potatoes, peas and fennel), Food for Thought has delicious mulligatawny ("pepper water" soup) and a lunch buffet packed with dozens of herbivore joys. Food for Thought also has thali dinners, those traditional Indian meals served on a circular steel tray with several small metal serving bowls filled with chutneys, rice, soups and such. Food for Thought proves it takes a lot of thinking to prepare food without brains.

Peggy Sue BBQ

Every morning, every day of the week, the onion ring guy in the kitchen at Peggy Sue's BBQ cuts the onions into rings, dips them in a special buttermilk sauce and batters them. Then all day he fries each order individually as it comes in from the waitstaff. The end product is the very best freshest crunchiest onion ring on this particular planet.

Though it isn't strictly Greek--it's billed as "Mediterranean" with Greek and Italian influences--there are a number of Greek-bred standouts at Ziziki's. Lamb souvlaki, a tasty slew of juicy skewered meat medallions, is served in handmade pita bread with roasted new potatoes and sweet-onion marinade. Then there's pastichio, a.k.a. Greek lasagna, a pie of chopped lamb baked with tomatoes, onions and herbs, blended with pasta and topped with béchamel sauce. Little twists erupt, too, like Greek paella, curried orzo pocked with shrimp, lamb, spicy sausage and bits of chicken. But mostly Ziziki's is great because of how it dresses its dining room. The digs are clean and a little cheeky, and the wine list is a renowned little slate of eclectic bottlings, including a half-dozen or so from Greece just to keep the branding authentic. Stuff that into your dolma.

Yes, we're Yankee enough to know what people are talking about when they utter the words "New York" and "pizza" in the same sentence. Thin crust. Big slices. Pizza expertise going back to the days when Uncle Dom came over on the boat. Dallas finally has someone from the old neighborhood making pizza for us prairie dwellers--brash New Yorkers with pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers on the walls and some decent cannolis in the dessert box. Pastazio's is reason enough to move to Addison Circle, or at least into the delivery area of the best pizza joint this town has ever known. Our favorite: the "special," which includes a bit of everything on a wide, thin wedge.

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