Tofu is a scary thing. It's spongy; it takes on the flavors of the food it's cooked with. It kind of looks like chicken. It requires special storage. Nothing about it seems like "fast" or "food." But, in about the time one would spend in a drive-through at lunch, Lover's Eggroll can serve up tofu delight, a plate of chunked tofu stir-fried in soy sauce with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and cabbage and offered with a side of steamed or fried rice. It's tasty, filling and much less mysterious than the ingredients in the average fast-food chain's so-called chicken nuggets.

The burritos at Chipotle look normal enough. Well, they do if you're used to a burrito the size of your thigh and a little bit heavier. But that's not what's so great about them, though, obviously, getting a complete Mexican dinner wrapped inside a delicious flour tortilla is pretty fantastic. What's great is that every single ingredient--the fluffy rice flecked with cilantro, the spicy black beans, the spicier salsa, the juicy beef and/or chicken--is pretty much as perfect as they could be, fine enough to eat by themselves. And when they're blended together? Let's just say you might wanna wear sweatpants.

Best Chinese Food Mainstay That Never Gets Old

Royal China

Nick Rallo

We'll admit it: We're partial to this place because it's one of the few places--OK, the only place--in town where we feel, well, a little special. Not that we are or anything (even our own mama tells us we're not daily), but Kai-Chi Kao, known to regulars as "George," has a way of making us feel like Dean Martin at Musso & Frank's; he's there to welcome friend and stranger alike with a hearty how-do, and the waitstaff never forgets a name, face or favorite drink (ours is sake, more please). Kai-Chi, whose poppa Buck founded the joint in 1974, is hip to everything that makes an eatery divine: amazing food (do not miss the general shrimp, as crispy as it is sweet, or the dry-stirred beef, which we swear is a dessert), warm atmosphere (kitschy, but whimsically so) and rock-crit-cool music (Kai-Chi has the best CD collection this side of, well, us). And this is how we know Royal China deserves a Best Of: Every time we take people there, they always return without us--which we don't take personally, at all.

Best Neighborhood Restaurant in Any Neighborhood

Café Expresso

Alex Scott

We've been frequenting this place for a decade, and save for the turnover in waitstaff nothing changes; it's still owned by Dieter Paul, an elegant man running a swellegant Italian bistro, where the wine's as fine as the pastas you can mix and match with the sauces of your choosing (we prefer pesto, and pronto). The pizzas are divine--as thin as Swiss biscuits, and just as melty in your mouthy--and the specials truly are; nothing makes us swim upstream faster than the cioppino, the seafood medley where the hits just keep on coming. Only problem is, it's barely on the menu, which is no sweat for the regulars: Dieter will actually call you when it's on the menu, which only makes us love him that much more--impossible, we know, but still. And, as a bonus, it's one of the best date-night restaurants we know: fancy enough to warrant slacks (makes your lady think you have class), but cheap enough to keep you from breaking the bank, even if it's a piggy bank.

We couldn't contain our excitement when Big Shucks, the big brother of Aw Shucks on Lower Greenville Avenue, opened last year. As its name implies, the new location is bigger, offering more outdoor seating for cool nights and indoor seating during the dog days. The one thing that hasn't changed is the crab legs, which are as scrumptious and fresh as ever. You can tell that when you snap a leg in two and the sweet white meat pulls cleanly out of its shell. Naturally, the process creates quite a mess. Unlike most restaurants, which serve up crab legs with prepackaged towelettes, Shucks takes the Louisiana approach: lemons. Just squeeze some lemon juice on your raw paws and wipe 'em down with paper towels.

Steel's Vietnamese/Japanese cuisine is not necessarily the easiest chow to mate with wine. But the 40-plus by-the-glass list (embracing sparkling, white, red and dessert wines) includes an easy reference guide with tasting notes and pairing suggestions to coach you through the dining experience. Tethered to this is a list of more than 65 sakes, also with tasting notes and pairing suggestions. Imagine that. But Steel's grape mettle erupts with its hefty bottle list--more than 1,300 entries strong, each noting the varietal composition of the wine and the winemakers that created it. Largely a work constructed in alphabetical order by varietal, Steel's list includes the great wines from virtually every corner of the globe. But Steel also has the shrewdness to devote ample list real estate to Gewürztraminer and Riesling, wines void of any snob appeal (the latter perhaps the most overlooked noble grape on the planet). This is a deliciously imposing list, one that, with a surplus of time and shekels, should be perused with an irrationally exuberant thirst.

Catherine Downes

Buddha's Special is possibly the most authentic dish at this Indian-inspired vegetarian restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue. And it offers a sample of the more traditional dishes with a serving of basmati rice, a dish of curried vegetables (whatever is the day's special, but usually involving spinach or potatoes), pappadam (a lentil wafer), dahl (a lentil soup), a piece of nan (flat bread) and a samosa (see above item). If they could throw in a cup of hummus, the expedition would be complete.

The spinach and artichoke queso at Pappasito's Cantina is the best of two very different worlds. We've had some pretty decent spinach and artichoke dip, and we've had some pretty decent queso. But never, until Pappasito's added this appetizer to its menu, have we had the two served up as one big tasty dish. It's a great combination, and Pappasito's does a fine job with it. The creamy queso is served with crunchy corn tortilla chips, strong and sturdy enough to stand up to the thick dip, and the bowl is huge, so there's plenty for the whole family.

This ain't no misnomer. You've got your brown rice; you've got your organic black beans. It's a virtual one-two punch of grains and legumes, providing the protein needed without using meat. Then there's the pile of steamed veggies, fresh and crunchy, satisfying the colorful part of the food pyramid, and a cup of Dream Café's tahini miso sauce, a tangy, oily creation that adds a hint of flavor without overpowering the three basics of this square, but not unhip, meal.

Best Cachapas and Other Things Filled with Cheese and Caramel

Zaguán World Bakery & Café

Venezuelan Carlos Branger is an evil, evil man, and we love him for it. Since opening a few months ago, this Latin restaurant-bakery on Oak Lawn Avenue has become our go-to restaurant whenever we crave sweet corn tortillas filled with meat and cheese...and cheese; this is a delicacy called cachapas, incidentally, which we believe is Venezuelan for "happy heart attack yummy delight." There are also the arepas, stuffed but not sweet; we prefer the former, though, because there's something about getting that corn-cheese-etc. stuck in our teeth--the lunch that keeps on giving. Branger's cut back a bit on the free-sample smorgasbord that lined the countertops for months, which is fine; we were loaded up on fresh breads, most filled with cheese and/or caramel, well before our lunch arrived anyway, and we needed to save room for those plantain chips and sweet-bread desserts, which give us full belly and tight, but happy, pants. We haven't quite mustered up the courage to order the ham-and-cheese bread loaves--it's been weeks since we've been to the gym--or myriad other fresh-baked delicacies taunting us from the glass cases and oven racks, but we will. It's not like we're not at Zaguán once a week. Or twice. Or thrice, dang it.

Best Of Dallas®

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