La Duni Latin Cafe

La Duni bills itself as the ultimate "Mestizo experience," a blend of "European traditions with Latin American soul," and nowhere is the blending more mysteriously seductive than in the chip salsa La Duni puts on the table. Made with fresh poblano, chipotle and serrano peppers and mixed dried chilies, all grilled with tomato, onion, garlic, lime and cilantro, the mojo salsa at La Duni is a global experience.

Prince of Hamburgers has a certain low-tech charm rarely found in fast-food restaurants, what with pneumatic tubes at Chick-Fil-A and TollTag drive-throughs at McDonald's. At Prince, you simply roll into a space, turn on your headlights for service and a carhop will kindly assist you. The menu is replete with drive-in staples such as several varieties of burgers, fries and the like. But when you make a beverage choice, it must be the legendary root beer, which they make themselves. The dark draft has a thick, Guinness-like head, and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's weighty enough to be a meal in itself. If you still have room, have another.

Better than a year-round Greek festival, the Z Café's gyro sandwich is amazingly pleasing, and well it should be. Owner Nicholas Zotos (he couldn't be Greek by any chance, could he?) apparently makes sure his gyro sandwich has the kind of texture and flavor that made people start loving this sandwich in the first place. The Greek flat bread is so fresh, it feels and tastes like it just came out of the oven. The lamb meat is grilled and seasoned to perfection. The sandwich has just the right mix of sauce and tomatoes, without the usual overdose of onions. This is a gyro to drive for.

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.

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