Royal China
Nick Rallo
Three things you can never get people to agree on: whether Polyphonic Spree is gimmick or salvation, just what is the best advertorial in the history of D magazine and who has the best Chinese food in town. Everyone has his fave, and though we've tried many, many of them (August Moon, P.F. Chang's and others rank high on the list), we can't tell you whether this Preston Royal Shopping Center eatery is definitively the all-time greatest. We can, however, inform you that the best dishes here are some of the best dishes anywhere and in any cuisine; dare you to find prawns more fearsomely flavorful than the General Shrimp, which commands a mighty plate. Same goes for the dry-stirred beef, which whets our appetite and then some. Royal China's also expanding its menu to include edamame and cold, rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls--a little Japan and Thailand, in other words. Owner George Kao, who runs the place papa Buck opened years ago, and wife April make every stranger feel like friend and every friend feel like family. One thing's for sure--you will not find a friendlier restaurant in Dallas.
Metro Diner
You scoff; we can hear you cackling all the way from the Dream Café, you snobs. But think about it: Where else in town can you get breakfast just as late night gives way to early morn? This 24-hour joint, where Deep Ellum gets a little deeper, serves up just what you need after a night of getting hassled by downtown criminals or before an early shift at neighboring Baylor hospital; it's where you fuel up on good joe and a great jukebox, where the eggs are fried just right, the bacon's just that side of crunchy, where the hash browns are the right shade of greasy and where the waffles and biscuits can fill you up till lunch (the next day). And you can get breakfast at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., which is perfect for those who pass out just to wake up. You can get snazzier breakfasts at Breadwinners, where we go when we wanna feel like tourists, but you can get no heavier breakfast anywhere.
Central Market
We've been addicted to this sandwich ever since we tried it at Jimmy's Food Store on Bryan Street, which is still the best version in town--hotter and heavier than the Central Market variation, which means it's the lunch that lasts till breakfast. But Central Market's Cuban, ham and cheese and pickles melted and then pressed twixt hot griddles, is a great addition to an already star-studded lineup of sandwiches, including a right-on Reuben and a mozzarella-tomato joint packed between loaves of the store's amazing prosciutto-and-black-pepper bread (which is, all by its lonesome, a meal). And since it doesn't weigh a ton, you can eat it for lunch and not have to suffer the consequences of telling the old lady you don't feel like dinner, which never goes over well. It's guilty eating, guilt-free.

You wouldn't expect a steak house to deliver a zesty rich gazpacho, at least not one that hasn't been carpet bombed with A-1. But there it is, dark and delicately lumpy, ceremoniously poured from a silver urn into a white bowl--a ritual that seems mildly out of place in one that serves knife-wielding carnivores. It resembles a homicidal salsa. But it is deliriously brisk with cool rich tomato savor and a burst of heat that pokes at the back of the throat long after the swallow, a hefty soup that rakes the mouth clean, paving the way for the bloody loins and rich bones to follow. Summer swelter has slipping away, so this cool dish is off the menu, but watch for its return.

La Calle Doce
Ceviche is a peculiar twist on the Crock-Pot: scraps of raw fish cooked slowly, not with heat but with lemon or lime juices. La Calle Doce's ceviche is a tight, focused arrangement--a tiny still life--with a cupped lettuce leaf spilling over with avocado chunks, chopped tomato, scallion and opaque creamy-white chunks of fish and shrimp. It strikes the palate like a laser, searing the tongue and scorching the roof with tightly focused acid layers that gently unravel into briny sweetness. Leftover juices don't pool; they puddle once the debris is evacuated, leaving a fluid that might serve as a foundation for a killer margarita.

Antoine's Foods
For the low, low price of $3.59, they serve up the po' boy to end all po' boys. Just ask for the "red wrap" and they'll know what you're talking about: double ham, double German salami, double provolone cheese, mayo, chowchow and pickles on fresh hoagie bread. On the Dallas scene for almost four decades, Antoine's serves up color-coded slices of heaven. The "green wrap" is Antoine's original and most popular. It's the "red wrap" without double helpings of all the goodies. Then, there's the "brown wrap" (turkey), the "purple wrap" (roast beef), the "orange wrap" (pastrami) and the "blue wrap" (tuna).

Best Cellars is clean, crisp and easy, everything wine should be but mostly isn't. Instead of by geographical origin or grape variety, wines are arranged by color and taste--fizzy, fresh, soft, luscious, juicy, smooth, big, sweet--so shopping is easy on the brain. Best Cellars scours the globe to dig up wines that veer elegantly from the beaten path. Yet this won't land you in a pack of dogs. (OK, you may hit a pooch here and there.) It's easy on the wallet because most of their stash of 150-plus wines is priced at $15 or less, which can be further shaved via case discounts.

It's a frugal place already (see above). On Saturday afternoons, however, it becomes a freeloader's heaven, as top Dallas chefs drop by to offer sample plates paired with a good wine. That's right. For the cost of a little gas and a bit of shoe leather--well, not leather, perhaps, but whatever Target makes their shoes from, you damn cheapskate--you can try out crab cakes or risotto or whatever while sipping a red or white from the Best Cellars collection. The likes of Gilbert Garza from Suze and Bartolino Cocuzza of Amici prepare dishes for the Saturday fete. Best of all, the chefs hang around to answer questions, which makes it easier to say, "I didn't notice the hint of basil, let me try another free sample, chop chop." Yes, the wine comes in little plastic sample cups, but we assume they're clean. Besides, it's all free, so quit your bitching.

Citizen's neo-Asian fusion menu stapled to a traditional sushi bar has eked out a foie gras recipe that is virtually peerless. It's seared and draped on a brioche seasoned with a little cinnamon and sugar and placed on a square plate with dots of dark berry sauce in each corner. It's an ample bit of flesh, mottled with blotches of yellow, beige and gray. But the richness spreads with such smooth elegance across the tongue, you'll forget your mouth is lounging on a swollen waterfowl organ.

He was a founding partner of Sipango, which in the mid-1990s was perhaps the hottest restaurant in Dallas. But after cashing out some five years ago, Matthew Antonovich trekked a bumpy road, sustaining a bruising at III Forks, a bounce on Chuck Norris' defunct Lone Wolf Cigar Bar, a fizzled restaurant project with former Mansion maître d' Wayne Broadwell and the fast and furious crash of his own restaurant, Antonovich's Tuscan Steak House. But just as he was about to hit the most bizarre pothole in this trek--selling residential real estate in Kentucky--he landed back in Dallas on a lark and did a guest-chef stint that led to Sipango redux. Now, after striking a deal with his former Sipango partner Ron Corcoran, Antonovich is taking another taste of his former glory, albeit as a leaner, wiser, cooking machine. And God knows he needs a good meal after that long strange trip. So do we.

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