Best Use of Spinach 2002 | Taj Express | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

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.

Best Early-early-morning Cup 'n' Crepes

Café Brazil

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.

It's a long drive at highway speeds (35 or so miles south of Dallas). But that pales when you consider how difficult it is to complete a New Orleans jaunt without a head hum and a humiliating struggle with a Tylenol childproof cap. Chez Willie's is in Ennis, home of the "ultimate drag racing facility," otherwise known as Texas Motorplex, where people do short drives at 320 mph. But unlike the Motorplex, Chez Willie's isn't a huge megaplex. So consider yourself among the fortunate few when you park your bottom and open your chops to shovel in tasty boiled crawfish (in season), rich étouffée, spiced-to-an-arousing-prickle blackened meats and fish, topless New Orleans oysters and swamp critters such as fried frog legs and alligator. It must be easier to wrestle a gator onto a menu than a cap from a Tylenol bottle.

Now in its fourth decade, this sandwich shop's longevity speaks to just how good its product is. Around the noon hour you can usually see a dozen or more people standing around drooling while they wait for their sub to be prepared. There is no indoor dining, but the shop provides school desks and some shade from an awning that looks like it was built during the Eisenhower administration. The portions are fresh and huge, and no national sub chain's product can compare. The spicy Italian, our personal favorite, is an amazing pile of salami and provolone with fresh lettuce, peppers and special spices unique to Cero's. The foot-long is so much food that you might actually bust your gut if you eat the whole thing. Other subs are equally popular among Cero's faithful. Don't try to get one of these suckers for dinner or on your way to church.

You are probably thinking Balls or Ez's or the Purple Cow--something more kid-driven than kid-friendly. But we are thinking food locales that may cater to kids but actually target the adults of the family, those over the age of, say, 5. The new Tin Star on Belt Line Road meets our criteria down to the last available chip. You've got your big-guy Southwestern cuisine, served up fast, done up tastefully and modestly priced. And your prepubescent fun food--taco cheeseburger, hot dogs, chicken fingers--tasty morsels all. The stand-in-line service lends itself to kids, particularly those with short attention spans and hungry appetites. And there are slurpees for those who think young, and Oreo cookies for those in search of a sweet ending to this fine but casual dining experience. Standard-issue coloring books and crayons are available upon request.

There's nowhere in Dallas to get a better hit of post-debauchery nutrition than Cuba Libre, a Latin rumba of pulsing pecs, flirty lips, slinky dresses and herbs and spices lewdly dispersed over various protein platforms hopped up on mom-approved vitamins and minerals (even prowling club lizards need virility maintenance). The latter is assembled by Nick Badovinus, a crafty chef who does things to shrimp, fish and meat that would scare the chips out of salsa, or maybe the salsa into your night buddy's bloomers. And that's a helluva lot more bang than you'll get from an aerosol cheese omelette or a waffle with freeze-dried blueberries.

Throughout the year Celebrity Bakery does these great seasonal and holiday iced cookies, always fresh and moist, with delicious decorations for everything from Christmas to Bastille Day. Any holiday at all is a great excuse for biting into one of these little works of art.

Metro is an old roadside slinger within spit shot of Dallas' downtown skyline. It's an archaic, rudimentary grub hut, one whose only modern amenity is a jukebox packed with CDs. Griddle sizzle is the constant din; ice machine whirs the constant hum; smoke clouds and grill gusts the incontinent weather. Booth seating is covered in deep red vinyl embedded with metal flake: an homage, perhaps, to all those jacked-up, candy apple red Chevelles and Chargers of years past. The menu's got a kind of hum to it, too, and maybe a rattle. Metro porky dinner has two pork chops and a pile of hash browns that feel like they were dragged through 40-weight (best to eat with a spoon). Home boy is a double-meat chicken-fried steak. This is the kind of meaty one-two punch that has horrified the health professions for decades. There's also stewed potatoes, fried catfish, eggs galore (even with a chicken-fried steak), pancakes--and refreshing lemonade, which serves as a kind of Drano to remove some of the excess lipids lining your plumbing. Most of us think that, anyway.

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