Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Like Mom's cooking, Babe's doesn't mess with frills. If it doesn't fix gut plumbing like J-B Weld (Drill it! Grind it! Machine it!), then fry, boil or roast it until it does. In addition to fried chicken that could scare a body-fat scale into weather service, Babe's has sinfully rich pot roast, bitchin' big chicken-fried steak with killer gravy, chewy pork ribs with a swift spice prick and delicious moist smoked chicken. You can load that down with lush velvety mashed potatoes, green beans pimpled with bacon bits, creamed corn and biscuits hefty enough to choke off a Senate floor speech. Dump some honey on those. You'll want to memorialize them on your girth.

Cafe Izmir

Lots of eateries in Dallas capture the cuisine tucked between the near and far of East. But only Café Izmir does it with a dazzling display of poise. The wine list is broad but simple, with a handful of Greek and Lebanese wines included. Dolmas are fresh and supple. Salads are cheek-slap fresh. Tabouli is dazzlingly brisk. Lamb roll is juicy and broad. Kabobs are tender, with a tasty char coat. And while we can't vouch for the Café Izmir claim that it makes the best hummus on the planet (even pulverized and lemon-freshened, passing that many chickpeas can create distressing microclimates), we can say that it's smoother than cold cream. It tastes better, too.

When the folks at Casa Rosa say their guacamole is fresh, they mean it. This tasty avocado appetizer is made at your table, before your very eyes, and the quality is undeniable. Compared with the typical cooler-wilted guacamole you'll find at many other Mexican restaurants, Casa Rosa's version is superb. The fact that you get to choose your own ingredients also makes it the best in town.

Red Square McDonald's aside, we never expected to eat lunch with Lenin. And if we ever did, we expected it to be, of course, during some strange Bill and Ted-esque time-travel adventure. Yet, right in front of Goff's stands a life-size statue of Lenin, sternly glaring as you bite into a juicy Goffburger and ponder political economics. Or simply wonder if you should spring for a fried pie (we say go for it). If you buy him an Orangina, he might answer that pesky question you've had about The State and Revolution. Not that we suspect the hamburger joint of harboring Commies, because they know, as it proudly states on Lenin's pedestal, "AMERICA WON." Goff's burgers are made fresh, but, in true capitalist fashion, they only take cash.

It's a little confusing, this heavy metal bandying about by Mico Rodriguez (The M Crowd, Restaurant Life) and company. The Mercury used to be a casual fine dining experience in a strip mall at Preston and Forest. But that shingle got changed to Mercury Grill. The new "The Mercury" (a tribute to Orson Welles' and John Houseman's Mercury Theatre in New York) was revamped and installed in the Shops of Willow Bend in Plano. And what an installation it is. It's a contemporary brush of soft hues and glimmering hard surfaces, the kind that relax instead of agitate. The Mercury isn't visually busy or fashionably annoying, rather it's so tastefully done in every area that it's hard not to marvel between bites. Tan booth enclosures and the green-blue frosted glass frame the clear glass viewing slits in front of the kitchen. Those slits reveal an avalanche of stainless steel. Good things go on in there, too. Every dish--no, every bite--is a near-flawless oral escapade. Simple afterthoughts--like the ubiquitous house salad--become attention-getting flourishes within its midst. Fried calamari, almost as ubiquitous as pretzel twists and peppermint candy in bars and restaurants, takes on new life. Who would have thought of parking battered little tentacle blossoms and tender body rings on a bed of creamy risotto rattled out of composure by a spicy tomato sauce? This is the kind of stuff that makes the best dining a bastion of perfect moments; when unexpected elements come together with such gentle seamlessness they seem genetically predisposed to couple. Yet with all this culture and pedigree, The Mercury omits Paul Masson from its wine list. Orson Welles would be so jealous.

What is it about a bowl of piping-hot red that enables it to create a culture all its own? Chili cook-offs, chili championships, chili parlors, chili with beans or without. What's the best chili, the hottest, the reddest, the meanest? Texas chauvinism aside, none of these is an easy question, and weighing into the great chili debate about what constitutes the best chili can be just plain foolish. But here goes, anyway. The chili served at Highland Park Pharmacy for at least the past 20 years, and probably longer, is our sentimental favorite. No, it's not hot; no, it's not spicy; and yes, it's full of beans. But it's mighty tasty, goes down smooth and is a welcome complement to just about any sandwich the old-fashioned soda fountain has to offer. Summer or winter, it just seems to work its magic, particularly when doused with a chocolate malt or a vanilla Coke.

When you're a tad disheveled from the night before and need a good breakfast, or brunch if you wake up when we do, head to the Bronx. It's safe to say you won't find better service or better food on a Sunday morning. The waitstaff is so on the ball you'd think they'd stayed at home the night before to rest up for their shift. They don't bitch at our occasional "can you add Gorgonzola?" requests, and they offer dependable recommendations. California poached eggs, an occasional menu item, and chicken Cobb sandwiches have changed our lives thanks to Bronx. Oh, about that dog we mentioned? They can set you up with a mean Bloody Mary, Bellini or mimosa in addition to regular bar selections.
The Metropolitan Cafe

It's the kind of mouthwatering soup that would make Seinfeld's Soup Nazi (admit it, you watch the reruns) jealous with rage. Only it's prepared by a soft-spoken, gentle mom (Christine Vouras), using family recipes that she once served at one of Dallas' swankiest restaurants, Chateaubriand (1958-1982). Her only problem is selecting two soups a day from among her 21 recipes to meet the desires of the regulars at the Metropolitan Café, an urban outpost along downtown's edge, next to the old municipal courthouse. Whether it's a hot winter broth, such as lentil or chicken gumbo, or a cool summer soup, such as cucumber or gazpacho, the ingredients are fresh, tasty, natural and healthful, a frothy alternative for those who wish to drink their lunch and stay sober.

Ali Baba Mediterrian Grill
Taryn Walker

Opened in 1990 by two brothers from Syria, Ali Baba has been gathering continuous good reviews for its rice, tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, dolmas and gyros. Meat lovers with $10 to spare can't go wrong with the Mashwi shish, a plate of marinated beef or lamb grilled with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, all seasoned with saffron and thyme. It comes with a hefty portion of Ali Baba's inimitable rice. It's worth the visit just because of the hummus, which, unlike the grayish mystery goop sold at some stores, actually melds the chickpeas into something that doesn't just taste, well, like mashed chickpeas. Dips are creamy and have a kick. Portions are generous. In all, the tour through the region is far more rewarding than any wonk's policy speech on the area's rising tensions or whatnot. Just relax, fight through the big crowds and eat till you gain a deeper understanding of the world's hot spot.

Tofu is a scary thing. It's spongy; it takes on the flavors of the food it's cooked with. It kind of looks like chicken. It requires special storage. Nothing about it seems like "fast" or "food." But, in about the time one would spend in a drive-through at lunch, Lover's Eggroll can serve up tofu delight, a plate of chunked tofu stir-fried in soy sauce with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and cabbage and offered with a side of steamed or fried rice. It's tasty, filling and much less mysterious than the ingredients in the average fast-food chain's so-called chicken nuggets.

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