Best Martini 2002 | Terilli's Restaurant and Bar | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

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.

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.

This strip-mall eatery off Marsh and Forest is deceptive; from the outside it looks like a vet's office, but inside it's as cozy as a down comforter in January (at least if you're willing to overlook the tiny television in the corner that always seems to be tuned to static). And, yeah, there may be better Thai joints in town--everyone has his fave; telling someone "the best" Thai is like informing strangers theirs is the wrong religion--but we keep coming back here, and not just because it's close to, well, our house. The soup is extraordinary, particularly the vegetable tom ka (coconut loaded with lemongrass, mushrooms, zucchini, you name it); the fried corn cakes give us what the Thai call "happy good strong stomach smile"; and the noodle dishes, all of them, are so delicate and delicious we've been known to down two orders of shrimp pad Thai even without the munchies. And the red snapper with mint leaves is as delicious as it sounds...and smells...and looks...and...

The bar at Tramontana seems more of an afterthought, consisting of a few worn chairs interrupting a walkway to the back dining area, a modest liquor selection--hell, we're not even certain they have a bartender. Their version of the Bloody Mary, however, makes you exceedingly happy that a certain English queen slaughtered scores of Protestants during her bloodthirsty reign. Where most overwhelm you with Tabasco or pepper, Tramontana treats the Bloody Mary as a tomato-based dish with a balance of flavors (including, but not dominated by, the all-important bite of hot sauce). They dress the rim with a mix of salt and fresh dill, another unique touch that adds to the experience. The result: a cocktail worth contemplating, an alcoholic appetizer, a reason to drink your dinner.

Face it: Anyone can singe a coffee bean until it smells like a car driven to Lufkin with the parking brake engaged. It takes deft to tease real coffee flavor out of those beans. Melvyn's does this by delivering piping-hot clean flavors that soothe as they flood the blood with those good old nerve-shredding caffeine jitters. That's when that "darn good" coffee becomes profanely swell.

Sweet and sour is the theme of the baby backs at this Park Cities establishment, which in 13 years has gathered enough adherents to be considered a barbecue shrine. On its ribs, Peggy Sue's smokes on a nice brown sugar crust, using all those mystical slow-cook methods that make good barbecue so mysterious. At the table, you add the spicy, vinegar-based sauce, yielding a blend of tastes so wonderful, people in places like Minnesota boast of stealing Peggy Sue's recipes. The sides here, too, raise our overall rating. They include healthful steamed vegetables, a great vinegar-based slaw and wonderful fries. The server always comes by and offers fried pie desserts, which are actually turnovers filled with chocolate or fruit. We're told they're great, but, with all those rib bones piled up, we have never left enough room to check them out.

We would venture that many Dallasites have never had the joy of a samosa (and no, it's not a Girl Scout cookie). Having only recently discovered them ourselves, we felt it our duty to spread the word, and with Texans' love of fried things, this Indian treat already has one point in its favor. Filled with potatoes and peas, wrapped in a pastry and then fried, often served with mint and tamarind chutney, you can't eat just one. Good thing they're only 80 cents at the front counter at India Grocers. You can also pick up other fresh and packaged Indian foods and goods while you're picking up your samosas. They tend to be pretty spicy, but a cool chutney or hummus balances the flavors. Just don't let them see you use ketchup.

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