Big Shucks

We couldn't contain our excitement when Big Shucks, the big brother of Aw Shucks on Lower Greenville Avenue, opened last year. As its name implies, the new location is bigger, offering more outdoor seating for cool nights and indoor seating during the dog days. The one thing that hasn't changed is the crab legs, which are as scrumptious and fresh as ever. You can tell that when you snap a leg in two and the sweet white meat pulls cleanly out of its shell. Naturally, the process creates quite a mess. Unlike most restaurants, which serve up crab legs with prepackaged towelettes, Shucks takes the Louisiana approach: lemons. Just squeeze some lemon juice on your raw paws and wipe 'em down with paper towels.

Steel Restaurant & Lounge

Steel's Vietnamese/Japanese cuisine is not necessarily the easiest chow to mate with wine. But the 40-plus by-the-glass list (embracing sparkling, white, red and dessert wines) includes an easy reference guide with tasting notes and pairing suggestions to coach you through the dining experience. Tethered to this is a list of more than 65 sakes, also with tasting notes and pairing suggestions. Imagine that. But Steel's grape mettle erupts with its hefty bottle list--more than 1,300 entries strong, each noting the varietal composition of the wine and the winemakers that created it. Largely a work constructed in alphabetical order by varietal, Steel's list includes the great wines from virtually every corner of the globe. But Steel also has the shrewdness to devote ample list real estate to Gewürztraminer and Riesling, wines void of any snob appeal (the latter perhaps the most overlooked noble grape on the planet). This is a deliciously imposing list, one that, with a surplus of time and shekels, should be perused with an irrationally exuberant thirst.

Cosmic Café
Catherine Downes

Buddha's Special is possibly the most authentic dish at this Indian-inspired vegetarian restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue. And it offers a sample of the more traditional dishes with a serving of basmati rice, a dish of curried vegetables (whatever is the day's special, but usually involving spinach or potatoes), pappadam (a lentil wafer), dahl (a lentil soup), a piece of nan (flat bread) and a samosa (see above item). If they could throw in a cup of hummus, the expedition would be complete.

Pappasito's Cantina

The spinach and artichoke queso at Pappasito's Cantina is the best of two very different worlds. We've had some pretty decent spinach and artichoke dip, and we've had some pretty decent queso. But never, until Pappasito's added this appetizer to its menu, have we had the two served up as one big tasty dish. It's a great combination, and Pappasito's does a fine job with it. The creamy queso is served with crunchy corn tortilla chips, strong and sturdy enough to stand up to the thick dip, and the bowl is huge, so there's plenty for the whole family.

The Dream Cafe

This ain't no misnomer. You've got your brown rice; you've got your organic black beans. It's a virtual one-two punch of grains and legumes, providing the protein needed without using meat. Then there's the pile of steamed veggies, fresh and crunchy, satisfying the colorful part of the food pyramid, and a cup of Dream Café's tahini miso sauce, a tangy, oily creation that adds a hint of flavor without overpowering the three basics of this square, but not unhip, meal.

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.

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