Lots of spaces in Dallas ply the fused stuff, the culinary caulk known as Tex-Mex. A few places ply genuine Mexican food, some even going so far as to represent the varied and distinct cuisines from around that nation. But no one in Dallas creates Mexican cuisine with the dazzle and verve of restaurateur Monica Greene and chef Joanne Bondy at Ciudad. The restaurant was conceived as a reflection of the sophisticated cuisine ambling around the menus of Mexico City--a sort of big-city chic lassoed and stuffed into a Dallas taco (Ciudad stuffs its tacos with goat). Now this cuisine ambles around Dallas, twisting some needed sophistication torque onto the typical Mexican flush. This twist is fueled with things like ceviche pumped with a vanilla-pineapple pico and lamb chops enveloped with cumin and aroused with tomato fennel salsa. No need for bean retreads or dried-out rice.

The Capital Grille

Understand something: The best cocktail isn't necessarily the one we drink every night. Then the winner in this category would be "Whatever alcohol is brown, in our cupboard and you can pour over ice." No, this category is reserved for the sort of drink that men and women can consume and say to themselves, "My, this is a refreshing way to get loaded." With that being the criterion, the winner is clearly the Stoli Doli at C-Grille. On the bar you will see a huge container filled with "jet-fresh" (meaning they're flown in the day they're picked, or somesuch) Dole pineapples, to which is added many, many fluid ounces of Stoli vodka. This marinates for five to seven days. The resulting nectar is served chilled in a cocktail glass or, if you prefer (as we do), in a tumbler on the rocks. Especially in the summer, but at all times of the year, this is a killer cocktail.

Well, they do actually serve coffee here, but unlike the mass confusion of corporate coffeehouses, they've pared it down to five or six delicious choices. But you won't miss the coffee once you notice the fully stocked bar. New Amsterdam manages to maintain the relaxed intimacy of a coffeehouse while providing a good selection of beers and liquors. Unlike the many bars that seem awkward and gaudy in the light of day, New Amsterdam is equally cozy whether you drop by on a Saturday afternoon or a Thursday night (and if you come by on Mondays, you might catch some live jazz). So put some change in the jukebox, order some (Irish) coffee and pull up a dilapidated chair--this just might be the place where everybody knows your name.

No, it isn't the waffles, though they're damn good. It's this little killer deal known as The Hearty Breakfast. For $5.45, Waffle Way will stuff your plumbing with two eggs, bacon or sausage and all the pancakes you can hold without busting or turning a shade of green that only Andy Warhol could love. They'll give you all the butter and syrup you need, too. It's good to be stuffed to the gills, or maybe the jowls, in the morning. If you have leaks in your plumbing, the feeling is doubly good.

The fried mushrooms at Snookie's are everything they should be: plump, juicy and not too greasy. These lightly battered balls of goodness are also just the right size--not so small that all you can taste is the crust, and not so large that the 'shroom overpowers. They're served with ranch dressing and horseradish sauce and extra-long toothpicks, which aid in easy dipping. And dip you will. The horseradish sauce is an excellent touch. At $4.25 and served in a plastic basket, Snookie's fried mushrooms aren't the epitome of class, but they go great with a couple of brewskis and some titillating barroom conversation.

Santiago's Taco Loco Express

So this may not be what she thought when you told her "dinner and dancing." But with prices like this, you can afford to buy her flowers, too. Dining al fresco, as is the situation at Taco Loco, is always exciting, especially on a bustling Deep Ellum street. Taco Loco offers 17 kinds of tacos, including a few vegetarian choices, all priced at less than four dollars. Other dishes--tamales, enchiladas, fries, desserts--round out the menu, plus it's open all night on Friday and Saturday. And if you go to Deep Ellum on "Deep Friday," the first Friday of the month, you can enjoy live music at eight (or more) clubs for one cover price. They vary month to month, but past participants include Trees, The Curtain Club, Gypsy Tea Room and Club Clearview. Eat tacos, rock the night away. Repeat.

Mirabelle

Mirabelle isn't exactly new. It was forged from the leftovers of Francois and Catherine Fotre's La Mirabelle. Though the name is a retread as is largely the interior, the food is not. Gone is La Mirabelle's French fare, and in its place is a New American hybrid (and what New American sortie isn't a mongrel?) cobbled together from an odd assortment of influences, from French to South American to Nordic. From his shunning the use of olive oil (he prefers the neutrality of grapeseed oil) to his creation of ambidextrous fish ensembles that flirt equally well with red and white wines (Mediterranean branzini in a red wine emulsion), chef/owner Joseph Maher treads an odd culinary path, one governed by color swipes. Like olive oil, he eschews butter and cream because he says the inherent fats blunt and obscure the intrinsic flavors he seeks to draw out. In their place he employs fruit, a substitution he insists heightens freshness. Yet unlike the color in his art collection that splashes the walls of the restaurant, Maher's food is not drenched in bracingly intense fruit tones. Rather, his sauces are pervious cloaks that embrace rather than drape. Mirabelle is a pretty good squeeze.

Celebration

If only we had a placid lake or high mountain setting to linger over in Dallas, this category might be flooded with possibilities. But most outdoor dining here overlooks a parking lot or busy intersection, and oppressive heat and smog alerts cure even the most incurable romantics among us. One restaurant that is really trying to alter the landscape is Celebration, which has several outdoor seating areas, friendly to lovers and families alike. In the summer, its outdoor patio sprinkles a cooling spray from its several mist machines. In the winter, well-placed electric heaters and an outdoor fireplace conjure up feelings of a ski chalet. The traditional home-cooking fare is consistently competent and abundant, much like it has been through its 31 years in service. And between the fountains, the mist machines, the fireplace, fans and food, you might not even notice the cars racing down Lovers Lane.

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.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of