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Dallas doesn't have a Chinatown. It has a Koreatown. And there's a Cowtown to the left. But no Chinatown, no parades with dragons and firecrackers. Perhaps that's why most Chinese cuisine in Dallas is forgettable: heavy, dry, greasy and sticky--with dumb fortunes. Chef Hsu busts that mold with a fat bronze Buddha (they have a nice collection on the bar). Chef Hsu features lithe treatments of the old standard retreads: kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, sweet and sour pork. Then it goes on a rampage of Chinese exotica with braised sea cucumbers with pork belly, various versions of stewed and braised shark's fin and shredded jellyfish salad among others, all impeccably prepared with an eye on clarity and a palate sensitive to intrinsic flavors. Plus they have a large live lobster and crab tank for the kids, and buffet tables the size of container freighters for the value-minded. Dumb fortunes, too.
Without a doubt, Kuby's has always been the best of the wurst--the best bratwurst, knockwurst, even bloodwurst, if you're gutsy enough to try it. But their vast array of meats goes beyond sausage and incorporates some of the choicest cuts of beef found this side of the Rhine. Try the tenderloin, the T-bone, the sirloin strip--all cued up and displayed with Teutonic exactitude. But if you really want to savor the saturated fat that is Kuby's, let them smoke you a large turkey for the holiday season. Artfully sliced and plentiful, you will be eating turkey sandwiches well into the new year. And you will enjoy it!
A Dallas institution, Keller's offers a hamburger dining experience like none other. The drive-in joint, in all its tattered glory, conjures up Happy Days memories with a grown-up twist. On a recent weekday evening, a line of cars formed in the drive-thru, where six-packs of Coors Light were the item du jour. Oh, and its hamburger is pretty good, too. Cooked to order, the modest patty comes with pickles, tomatoes and onions on a lightly grilled sesame seed bun. The price is old-fashioned, too: just $2.05. Add 20 cents for cheese.
The traditional South Indian, all-vegetarian restaurant offers a lunchtime buffet that stretches the width of the restaurant, with both sides of the long, heated serving table offering dishes to sample as you circle it. This industrial utopia offers standard buffet items such as fruit and vegetable salads, and the ethnic dishes are thoughtfully labeled. But, more important, the trays are always hot, fresh and filled with an array of vegetables, soups, nan and rice, with standards such as curried vegetables finding room along items such as a coconut and veggie salsa. In addition, a crepe filled with potatoes and peas is brought to the table in either spicy or regular versions.
The spring rolls at Green Papaya are like little pieces of heaven wrapped up in rice paper. Stuffed with vermicelli, lettuce and cilantro, these rolls come with your choice of shrimp, chicken or pork--known as goi cuon tom, goi cuon ga and goi cuon heo, respectively--and they're served with a dish of peanut sauce that makes these appetizers even more appetizing. This tiny restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue does other dishes well, too. We suggest the flat noodles, the cabbage salad and anything made with the garlic sauce. Above all, don't forget the spring rolls. They're the perfect start to a near-perfect Vietnamese meal.
Popeye's straight-from-the-can approach to spinach has nothing on Taj Express' creamed spinach, and neither does any other spinach dish we've tried. Almost always available on the buffet, this spinach creation isn't bitter or oily and is mixed with chunks of soft cheese. We prefer it slathered on Taj's warm nan. Fortunately for those who dare not like the steamed greens, the buffet is also stocked with rice and dishes such as fried potatoes, tandoor chicken, chickpeas in sauce and curried vegetables.
It isn't one of the swankier steer temples. It isn't showered in the kind of swarthy wood paneling you thought was only used in confessional booths. It's well lit so that you can tell the difference between the creamed spinach boat and the iceberg lettuce wedge without tripping over the fork. It has 105 wines by the glass that can be used to patch together tasting flights. Their meat isn't even dry-aged (it's wet-aged, which is kind of like spending your 30s and 40s with your fingers in a Ponds jar). And it doesn't do everything well. The fish seems more pummeled by steer hoofs than scorched by grill bars. But what kind of fool eats tuna in a beef bordello anyway? Fleming's hits it where it counts: in the meat, primewise. Bone-in New York strip, a craggy piece of thick black meat, is so juicy, tender and rich that modifiers like "buttery" and "silky" fall flat on their face. It's prepared simply, with a little salt, pepper and butter, and served on a plate heated to 350 degrees. Yet the meat and its effect on the mouth are hard to describe. It's chewy without being gristly; it's packed with flavor without being fatty. And these steaks don't cost as much as Botox injections. Sometimes aging is cheap.
There's a lot of all-you-can-eat lunch buffets out there, the kind that let you dump ladle upon ladle of quick-set cellulite mix onto a plate and then go back for more after you've licked it to a sheen. The pity is that these places don't offer forklift service to your car when you've exhausted the "all" part of the you-can-eat designation. Well, you won't have to worry about being propelled by a Clark after you pay the check at Chef Hsu--which rings in at $5.25 for all your little paunch can hold without popping a rivet. Chef Hsu's "super buffet" actually contains food you'll want to dabble in two or three times: bright and crisp fresh vegetables, juicy fresh fruits, near-greaseless fried foods, terrific hot and sour soup, delicious heads-on prawns and great fried rice, just to mention a few of the foods slumped in this enormous set of binge beds. This has more buck-bang than a six-pack of Hormel hash.
Café Brazil now has a half-dozen locations, but this location is our favorite spot to stop for a pile of crepes and a bottomless cup of coffee for those nights when you're not quite ready to go home after the bars close. Come 2 a.m., especially on a weekend night, the place is wall-to-wall with people. The band may be done playing, but this crowd makes the show go on.