Best Onion Rings 2002 | Peggy Sue's BBQ | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

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.

Banana Leaf, whose twin mottos are "the leaf that's delicious" and "to-go, or reservation," does all the staples--pad Thai, panang, satay, spring rolls--with skillful aplomb. But it also pinches you with less familiar but well-spiced creations such as waterfall beef (so molten it turns your tear ducts into hydropower channels) and tiger cry (so named because it can turn a fierce feline predator into a typical Oprah guest). And while Banana Leaf isn't a dazzling example of interior design (walls feature groupings of birds from the truck-stop souvenir ilk), the food is clean, brisk and good-looking. Just make sure to stuff your pockets with Kleenex before venturing forth.

Most people we see at Whole Foods are buying stuff, so we don't think anyone goes there just to snack on the free samples in the aisles. But around the pineapple-mango salsa bowl, sometimes you wonder. It doesn't stick around long. The unlikely combination of fresh fruit and heat/spice, courtesy of chilies, cilantro and onion, is as refreshing as it is unusual. True, Tex-Mex purists might not even call this salsa. But it's such a brilliant departure from the traditional tomato-based varieties, and such a relief in the summer heat, it gets the best nod on originality alone.

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