It's a long drive at highway speeds (35 or so miles south of Dallas). But that pales when you consider how difficult it is to complete a New Orleans jaunt without a head hum and a humiliating struggle with a Tylenol childproof cap. Chez Willie's is in Ennis, home of the "ultimate drag racing facility," otherwise known as Texas Motorplex, where people do short drives at 320 mph. But unlike the Motorplex, Chez Willie's isn't a huge megaplex. So consider yourself among the fortunate few when you park your bottom and open your chops to shovel in tasty boiled crawfish (in season), rich étouffée, spiced-to-an-arousing-prickle blackened meats and fish, topless New Orleans oysters and swamp critters such as fried frog legs and alligator. It must be easier to wrestle a gator onto a menu than a cap from a Tylenol bottle.

Now in its fourth decade, this sandwich shop's longevity speaks to just how good its product is. Around the noon hour you can usually see a dozen or more people standing around drooling while they wait for their sub to be prepared. There is no indoor dining, but the shop provides school desks and some shade from an awning that looks like it was built during the Eisenhower administration. The portions are fresh and huge, and no national sub chain's product can compare. The spicy Italian, our personal favorite, is an amazing pile of salami and provolone with fresh lettuce, peppers and special spices unique to Cero's. The foot-long is so much food that you might actually bust your gut if you eat the whole thing. Other subs are equally popular among Cero's faithful. Don't try to get one of these suckers for dinner or on your way to church.

You are probably thinking Balls or Ez's or the Purple Cow--something more kid-driven than kid-friendly. But we are thinking food locales that may cater to kids but actually target the adults of the family, those over the age of, say, 5. The new Tin Star on Belt Line Road meets our criteria down to the last available chip. You've got your big-guy Southwestern cuisine, served up fast, done up tastefully and modestly priced. And your prepubescent fun food--taco cheeseburger, hot dogs, chicken fingers--tasty morsels all. The stand-in-line service lends itself to kids, particularly those with short attention spans and hungry appetites. And there are slurpees for those who think young, and Oreo cookies for those in search of a sweet ending to this fine but casual dining experience. Standard-issue coloring books and crayons are available upon request.

Cuba Libre

There's nowhere in Dallas to get a better hit of post-debauchery nutrition than Cuba Libre, a Latin rumba of pulsing pecs, flirty lips, slinky dresses and herbs and spices lewdly dispersed over various protein platforms hopped up on mom-approved vitamins and minerals (even prowling club lizards need virility maintenance). The latter is assembled by Nick Badovinus, a crafty chef who does things to shrimp, fish and meat that would scare the chips out of salsa, or maybe the salsa into your night buddy's bloomers. And that's a helluva lot more bang than you'll get from an aerosol cheese omelette or a waffle with freeze-dried blueberries.

Throughout the year Celebrity Bakery does these great seasonal and holiday iced cookies, always fresh and moist, with delicious decorations for everything from Christmas to Bastille Day. Any holiday at all is a great excuse for biting into one of these little works of art.

Metro Diner

Metro is an old roadside slinger within spit shot of Dallas' downtown skyline. It's an archaic, rudimentary grub hut, one whose only modern amenity is a jukebox packed with CDs. Griddle sizzle is the constant din; ice machine whirs the constant hum; smoke clouds and grill gusts the incontinent weather. Booth seating is covered in deep red vinyl embedded with metal flake: an homage, perhaps, to all those jacked-up, candy apple red Chevelles and Chargers of years past. The menu's got a kind of hum to it, too, and maybe a rattle. Metro porky dinner has two pork chops and a pile of hash browns that feel like they were dragged through 40-weight (best to eat with a spoon). Home boy is a double-meat chicken-fried steak. This is the kind of meaty one-two punch that has horrified the health professions for decades. There's also stewed potatoes, fried catfish, eggs galore (even with a chicken-fried steak), pancakes--and refreshing lemonade, which serves as a kind of Drano to remove some of the excess lipids lining your plumbing. Most of us think that, anyway.

Legal Grounds

It's not every day you come across a good burger. Much less a non-meat burger. Even rarer are the chances of it being a good burger if it's made out of beans. But we're here to tell you the best bean burger in the city limits, maybe in the state, is found at Legal Grounds. Served on a toasted, cracked-wheat bun, this black bean patty is dressed up with a sauce any hungry Texan would be proud of: sautéed corn and onions mixed with barbecue sauce and melted cheddar cheese. The calorie counters and vegetarians among us will be proud, too, knowing it has just 6 grams of fat, 18 grams of carbs and 13 grams of protein.

Blue Goose Cantina

There may be better-tasting margaritas in town. There may be more authentic margaritas in town. But with a Blue Goose margarita, you will get 2 full ounces of tequila in your luscious, lime-kissed adult beverage, which means you will more quickly get lit--and that is, quite frankly, the point when drinking margaritas. No one says, "Honey, let's have a light supper, one margarita and then go to the book signing." No. People who drink margaritas say things like, "You're hot! Where do you go to school?" and, "C'mon, show us the bruise on your butt. Pleeeaaase." The best way to drink a Blue Goose margarita (or five) is this way: After getting paired up for 18 holes with Blue Goose owner-guy Bob, you should discover that not only is he a top-notch golfer, but that, when the mood strikes him, he will invite you to his establishment for drinks, for which he will pay. You should also discover that he will chat up the two young ladies next to you and announce to you and your two friends, "Boys, these girls are dead ready." He will then leave and allow you to make margarita-filled asses of yourselves, which will cause you to write a Best Of item that appears to be a tout for said margaritas but is in fact a thinly veiled apology to Becca and Sylvia, the dead-ready girls at the Blue Goose bar. Because good margaritas will make you do stuff like that. And Blue Goose has some damn good margaritas.

According to recent polls, a slight majority of Americans believe that Congress should curtail First Amendment rights. Freedom and liberty are bad things, apparently. Of course, people admit in those same polls to a certain amount of ignorance regarding the rights guaranteed by the initial addendum to the Constitution. This is why the founding fathers sought to limit voting rights: People are susceptible to cons, fictions and artificial ingredients. Simply put, the masses are not truly qualified to address key issues, and you need look no further than the popularity of margaritas to understand this. Bar patrons order the cocktails frozen, swirled, flavored and sweetened with sugar water--but they rarely order a real margarita. The original cocktail consisted of three ingredients (tequila, orange liqueur and fresh lime juice) served up. It was tart and effective. The versions served by Monica's will kill enough brain cells to make the erosion of rights in the Bush-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft era seem quite acceptable.

Maguire's

Maguire's owner Mark Maguire laments that his North Dallas New American restaurant is a little too upscale for his tastes; his customers seem to keep pushing the check average up while he wrestles them by dropping prices. Maybe Maguire is a little off in that way. Maybe he doesn't understand that if you train your service staff to sincerely treat diners as special guests, they want to come to your restaurant and give you money; sometimes lots of it. People are funny that way. They like to unload cash on those who make them feel good. Maguire's servers don't miss a beat (and if they do, they quickly find it and replace it). They smile, they laugh, they know the menu, they're polite, and they watch for things that need to be done (even if you didn't notice the napkin slipped off your lap) and execute without the programmed jargon and choreography that can give dining that scripted-ad-libs-from-a-Dean Martin-celebrity-roast aura. Maguire is set to open a "casual" spot called M Grill & Tap on Cedar Springs in November. But if he doesn't watch his step, this one will scramble away from him up the scale ladder as well.

La Duni Latin Cafe

La Duni bills itself as the ultimate "Mestizo experience," a blend of "European traditions with Latin American soul," and nowhere is the blending more mysteriously seductive than in the chip salsa La Duni puts on the table. Made with fresh poblano, chipotle and serrano peppers and mixed dried chilies, all grilled with tomato, onion, garlic, lime and cilantro, the mojo salsa at La Duni is a global experience.

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