Best Big Salad 2003 | Baker Bros. American Deli | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Back in the '90s, when Seinfeld dominated prime time, one of the things Elaine really wanted was a big salad. Sounds easy enough, but apparently it's more difficult than one might think, and Elaine's not the only one who's come up short. Dallas menus are laden with subpar salads--limp lettuce, bland dressings and sparse ingredients abound. But not at Baker Bros. These guys do it right, and they do it big. All five offerings on the deli's salad menu are excellent, but the Santa Fe chicken salad is a standout. A mix of greens sown with roasted chicken, cheddar cheese, tomato, red onion, green onion, black olives, cilantro and spiced pecans, the Santa Fe is a meal within a meal. Just when you think you've picked out all the good stuff, a quick flick of the fork reveals another layer of once-hidden heaven. And topped with Baker Bros.' Southwestern honey mustard, well, it's just too hard to talk about.

Veal piccata, a thin veal escalope that's dredged in flour, seasoned, sautéed and sauced in lemon, takes on many forms in Dallas. Sometimes it's pasty, sometimes thick. Sometimes it's drowning in lemon to the pucker point. But Ernie's, a supper club with dancing and avocado crab salads, gets it right. Pounded into a skinny scaloppine and drenched with a bracing butter, wine and lemon sauce seriously studded with capers, the meat is tender and juicy. Plus, the flour dredge on the veal never congeals into that slimy Lake Ray Hubbard mucus that is so common in many Dallas preparations.

Wine flights, even in rooms posing as wine bars, are often a rarity. When they are offered, they arrive as laser-printer sheets of paper with little circles so servers can bull's-eye the glass bases in proper flight formation. But at Mercy, flights are delivered in 6-ounce crystal carafes dangling from custom-hewn loops of iron with little hooks fastened inside the carafe handle. Tasters can pour wine from the carafe to the glass at their leisure. Looking is half the pleasure of wine tasting--at least until your vision blurs--and this contraption is stunning. And far be it from us to suggest anything illegal, but they can also be used to hang tiny little pots, thus making swell windowsill herb gardens.

It's truly weird when a bit of hog can outflank a steer in an upper-crust steak house. It's even weirder when that pork piece is not a loin or a chop, but a shank. It looks like a battered, partially deflated deep-fried soccer ball: in other words, butt ugly (which is no way meant to denigrate pork butts). But Smith & Wollensky's crackling pork shank is a beautiful thing in the mouth. Sitting in a rat's nest of sauerkraut studded with poppy seeds, this crusted, crunchy brown ball is a hive of lusty rich flavor delivered by moist, tender pork flesh. And its preparation is just as ugly as its appearance. The shank is scored, cured in salt and sugar for a day or two, braised in beef lard and deep-fried in oil. The deep-frying sheathes it in crisp crust (leaking fat with every chew--yum) that seals in the juices, allowing the pork to come off like silk. You can feel your arteries quaking in fear as your tongue waters in anticipation. Get in there and get one quick, before the National Institutes of Health sends in a SWAT team and puts a stop to this vicious health crime.

Best Dallas Restaurant That Ended Up in Podunk

Rough Creek Lodge

OK. Glen Rose isn't Podunk. It's a swell little quaint town with lots of rejuvenating hospitality and giant fiberglass dinosaurs. But the restaurant in Rough Creek Lodge, an executive retreat with activities ranging from bird-watching to hunting wild boars, has a profoundly delicious menu--so delicious, it would do any haughty metropolis proud. Sherry-maple-glazed Texas quail is the best version of this bird (Nosh it or shoot it? You get to pick!) you're likely to find. Likewise, the porcini mushroom-crusted salmon elevates this stately fish to new levels. Peppercorn-crusted fillet of beef is pure silk. Pack your spyglasses or your Remington. But don't forget your refined sensibilities.

Even if Dawat didn't serve the exotic and sensually complex cuisine emanating from India, it would be an absorbing experience. Couched in a former General Cinema multiplex theater, Dawat is the creation of a pair of Richardson businessmen, one Pakistani, the other of Indian descent. They cobbled together 47 investors and $6 million to turn the place into FunAsiA, a complex featuring banquet rooms, a concession stand, an ice cream parlor, a fast-food outlet, an arcade, an advertising business, a theater that shows Bollywood films and an office where a free monthly magazine (FunAsiA) is published. The food is exquisite, even when left to the horrifying tortures of the buffet table, a ubiquitous staple in Indian restaurants that may in fact be a requirement under Texas state restaurant statutes. Chicken boti is moist (as are the lamb and beef dishes) with an army of flavors--lemon, coriander, garlic, ginger, cumin, garam masala (spice blend)--that seem to line up for dazzling choreography instead of a fighting formation on the tongue. Rice even has its 15 minutes--plain or adulterated--with firm, distinct and separate grains. Palak paneer, a spinach slurry blended with planks of white cheese, is sublime. Not bad for a place with ornate banquet rooms set up in traditional festive Indian wedding garb around the corner from an immense air hockey table.
Few car hawkers are as passionate about wine as Van Roberts (Point West Volvo) and his Lola. The restaurant is his vino playground. Roberts is a diligent and tireless wine-taster and list-tweaker, and his roster shows it. Lola's selection of Italian wines rivals that of just about any Italian restaurant in Dallas, and his group of Alsatian wines (more than 30) is unheard of in these parts. German and Austrian bottles, too. Half-bottles and magnums round out size options, and 25 wines are offered by the glass. There is also a collection of Roberts' favorite bottles from around the world. But the best thing about Lola's wine list is the prices, and not just the generous list of "twentysomethings" in the $20-$29 range. Roberts keeps his markups low, which means you can get a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee for $170 (hard to find on lists for less than $200) or a '97 Diamond Creek "Volcanic Hill" cab for $180. This puts that special-occasion sip within reach with wines that most people will never taste in their lifetimes.
You can't drive through, and they won't serve it to you in a cardboard box, but for flavor and crispness, Ed Lowe's restaurant, which has been on the Dallas scene for 32 years, is head and shoulders above all others. All day Sunday (11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) and on Monday and Tuesday nights, the $10.50 fried chicken plate is on the menu. You can get two large pieces of white, dark or mixed. And there are fresh vegetables, salad, soup or fruit. And, hey, you can ask for seconds with no additional charge. Their secret? It's the marinade the chicken is soaked in for 12 hours. "Can't tell you what's in it," says Lowe, "but our cook got the recipe from his mother."
Progeny of longtime Dallas restaurateur Charlie Venetis, Charlie's Opa! Grille is a rich cacophony of Greek grub, sprawling the gamut from deliciously tender lamb chops to flaky spanakopita (a savory pie), juicy grilled chicken, gyros that are lean, rich moussaka (Greek lasagna) and saganaki, thick pie sections of lightly breaded Romano cheese that are deep-fried, placed on a hot metal plate, doused with a shot of vodka that hisses and steams, and then set ablaze. The waiter shouts "Opa!," which is Greek for, "What the hell happened to your eyebrows?"
Nana has always had a spectacular view of Dallas from its 27th-floor perch, but it was blunted by burgundy brothel décor that included acoustic ceiling tiles, brass railings and sagging velvet curtains that cramped the windows. Now more than a year old, Nana's understated makeover has settled in. Alterations include Asian art installations from the Trammell Crow family collection, unobtrusive sage green curtains, rich gold carpeting, newly installed banquettes and ribbed, sandblasted glass panels around the raised open kitchen, subduing the severe visual thrust this culinary cockpit had when it was wrapped in clear glass. The food in this stunning room is virtually flawless, crafted as it is by David McMillan, easily among the top handful of chefs in Dallas. McMillan performs unparalleled wizardry that manifests itself in grilled Texas quail (with armagnac-poached prunes), silky grilled prime fillet in a black shallot sauce and sublime veal Rossini in a brew of Madeira and truffles, among other classics with shrewdly imaginative twists. Service is superb, and the wine portfolio is well-endowed. Plus, there is Nana herself: a 6-foot-by-9-foot portrait of a reclining, Rubenesque nude painted by Russian-Polish artist Gospodin Marcel Gavriel Suchorowsky in 1881. Tasty.

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