Perry's serves only prime beef, and while prime may at times seem interchangeable with flame-proof saddle padding on the city's menus, Perry's has the real thing both on paper and between the lips. It's juicy, rich and infiltrated with lusty silk that successfully straddles the razor-thin line between feminine refinement and masculine rusticity, never delving too far into either pocket. Each bite is a fresh adventure in the annals of beef-witted delight. Yet these gnaws are plump with exquisitely balanced flavor, and therefore rife with intelligence--the kind that fills your mind with two-fisted poetry.

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The Place at Perry's
It's a given that a competent service staff has a deft grip on the menu, and Perry's is no exception. Yet steak generally doesn't cause a strain on the culinary memory banks. What does tax servers are the vagaries of people. Perry's staff knows people. They know how to make them feel at ease, how to serve without being a pest (never interrupt a conversation to ask if everything is OK), how to anticipate needs, how to meet them without calling attention to the service protocol. Skillful service is being in the forefront while loitering in the background.

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Technically speaking, Krispy Kreme's isn't the best cup of coffee, if by "cup of coffee" you mean just coffee. Starbucks is fine for that, though with all its iced drinks, the chain lately seems more like an ice cream stand. (Hint: If it has lots of ice, sugar and milk and is whipped in a blender, it ain't coffee. It's a milk shake.) Krispy Kreme's brew, taken in the right combination, hits on a more primitive level. Picture this: Your soul is screaming, as it's up early for another miserable day working for the man. Gotta have something to brace the mind, and only that pitch-perfect blend of chemicals will do. First, start with hot grease and sugar from a doughnut. Add caffeine from the joe, then pitch in some sweet, sweet nicotine from the morning's first cigarette, balanced delicately between two fingertips to keep you from singeing your eyebrows as you sip the steaming brew. Does the coffee taste the best? Who cares? What's important is that deep inside your psyche, a primal, raging beast rolls over and purrs. It's the best combo since some long-forgotten stoner said, "Hey, I know! Let's put the hash in the brownies."
Metro Diner
Located across from Baylor hospital, this place deserves a spot in the Greasy Spoon Hall of Fame. Waitresses balance three or four orders at once, all the while yelling good-natured chatter at one another and calling every customer "sweetie." Signs on the wall note that only "two coffee warm-ups are allowed" before you start paying again, and another politely asks that you "do not stand in front of the door to smoke." The griddle is on 24 hours, cranking out breakfast feasts (eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, breakfast tacos, etc.) anytime you get the urge. Back in the kitchen they're whipping up chicken-fried steak, smothered pork chops, pinto beans and turnip greens to die for. Their motto is "Always Cookin'," and that's truth in advertising. Don't be surprised if you have to wait for a booth or a spot at the counter to open.
The Metropolitan Cafe
Better get to the Metropolitan Cafe early on Wednesdays, because the lunch special is crab cakes, and they sell like hotcakes, whatever that means. Unlike many Dallas restaurants that buy their crab cakes from food distributors, Metropolitan's Momma Christine makes these oval morsels from scratch, having divined her recipe from a dream, she says, as she did for many of the soups, salads, sandwiches and such that find their way onto the menu of this hot downtown spot. These babies are sautéed rather than deep-fried, loaded with fresh crabmeat rather than frozen and served up Texas-style with black-eyed peas and coleslaw. Lawyers, cops and journalists lousy for lunch turn away in tears when they learn there will be no more crab cakes until the following Wednesday. Unless, of course, they can dream up their own recipe.

Their tagline is "We'll make you a pizza you can't refuse." The logo splashed across their menu features a sextet of sharp-suited gentlemen walking toward you like a pack of reservoir dogs...and one is armed with a pizza box. The name of the joint is Café Nostra, and while they may play it up "bad," every run-in we've had with these fellas has been good. Backed by lunch and dinner choices that are available in-house, for pickup or (best of all) for delivery, the fine folks at Nostra make us almost forget that we're not around the corner from a genuine New York eatery. Appetizers to salads, pastas to pizzas, it's all here, capice? Our favorite? Start off with some garlic knots and maliciously addictive Buffalo wings, then move on to the main event: The Sicilian. Aesthetically, it's a bit like "The Big New Yorker," but the similarities end there, as Nostra's Sicilian is actually, you know, good. Each ingredient is balanced with precision in this thick-crusted rectangle of pie perfection. You'll likely have leftovers, and you'll definitely make use of them.

Even though Gilbert's Deli broke the hearts of many of its most loyal patrons by leaving North Dallas and moving to Addison, there are too many things about the restaurant that make the drive worthwhile. The meat loaf sandwich, the bagels, the pastrami, the vegetable soup, the knishes--all of which cost money. What doesn't cost are the pickles, which are placed on every table alongside a mountain of crunchy bagel chips. Those deli pickles are of two varieties--kosher dills and half sours--and besides their abundance, they make the lips pucker, the mouth water and prepare the taste buds for the deli food that follows. If you ask Alan Gilbert where you can purchase a jar of these pickles, he has been known to reply, "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you." Rather than press the issue, the occasional drive north will have to suffice.

Local
There are a lot of good things that can be said about Local, the tiny boutique restaurant that opened in the heart of Deep Ellum in the historic Boyd Hotel, one-time stopover for Bonnie and Clyde, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and Blind Lemon Jefferson. One of them is the Sluree, a blend of Rotari, an Italian sparkling wine, and scoops of house-made grapefruit-rosemary sorbet that quickly melt into the fizz. The Sluree is a good source of vitamin C as long as you don't fortify yourself into blurred vision. Another is the small collection of imaginative salads equipped with things like fried pears, oven-baked Roma tomatoes and strips of skillet-fried prosciutto. The cheeseburger is hearty and bursting with flavor, the fried chicken flits like a cloud and the fish is provocatively simple, letting the natural fish flavors blaze a path across the tongue (the footprint of chef Tracy Miller is ever so slight, yet undeniably shrewd). But perhaps the best thing that can be said of this restaurant is that it has no ambition to be anything other than what it is: a distinctly Dallas restaurant that bubbled up organically from the inner city's pavement. This is no New York or L.A. or Chicago wannabe posing. It just is what it is. To this spirit is stapled a tiny, eclectic and thought-provoking wine list and deliciously clean and crisp design lines (even wool shag carpet) by hotel designer and co-owner Alice Cottrell. Plans for an outdoor courtyard and wine lounge only assure that the luster deepens, carving another notch in the short bedpost of culinary experiences tasted through a distinctly Dallas prism.
El Fenix
The term "fast food" does not have to describe the greasy cesspool of unidentifiable mystery meat served up at drive-through windows. Well, at least not in El Fenix's case. Quick, simple and delicious, we'd take a sit-down meal in this cozy Dallas landmark over a puck-sized burger in our car any day. The service is the fastest in town, but don't think that means they're sloppy. Orders come out perfect every time, even if you request an enchilada combo with double the rice, nix the beans, extra sour cream and no jalapeos. As partial to iced tea as we are, while dining at El Fenix, we can never pass up their sodas, which are noticeably crisper, lighter and more refreshing when consumed in conjunction with their famous tortilla chips. In less than 60 minutes you can get in, get full and get out.

Though it was conceptually groundbreaking when it fused tastes from Thailand, Korea, China, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and India under one roof, Liberty was mostly a bore when it opened. Aside from the birdcages posing as chandeliers with incarcerated amber bulbs and a swell, spacious patio with a huge aluminum washtub posing as a koi pond, there was little of interest in the cramped Lower Greenville quarters. The new Liberty is almost thoroughly denuded of such whimsy. Slipped into the two-decked Pavilion strip mall on Lovers Lane near Inwood Road, the new Liberty Noodles is at least a washtub above the old. And the strip-mall funk lifts once you slip through the door. The flickering birdcages are still there. But Liberty no longer flaunts self-conscious "ain't we hip?" flamboyance. Its style comes across more as a self-deprecating smirk, an acknowledgment of twisted excesses of youth. In short, Liberty has grown up, and nowhere is this more evident than in the food, which is brighter, brisker, tighter and tastier than ever. Promise realized is always the best move.

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