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.

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.

Best Place to Scrounge Free Lunch

Best Cellars

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.

Catfish can often be dull, spongy and soggy, even when fried. It takes a special set of fingers and a deft mind to breathe life into these supple fillets. Hattie's chef Lisa Kelley does it. Her pecan-crusted catfish resonates with such rich buzz that you'll find it bathes your mind as well as your buds. A long fillet, tapered on one end, shimmers in a scaly gold coat glossed with lemon-butter sauce, ebony patches breaking through where heat held more sway. It's crisp, nutty and draped over a mashed-potato cushion snarled with bits of scallion melded into reverential communion with lemon-butter sauce. The butter is full-throttle stuff--rich and salty--and the citrus is dribbled to perfect pitch.

Best Japanese Restaurant That Doesn't Have a Sushi Bar

Waka

Waka chef-owner Seiji Wakabayashi defines his craft as nouvelle Japanese. And the nouvelle part is like a projector or viewer for peering at Japanese cuisine from a different vantage point. The examples are subtle--creamy carrot soup, rich nutty foie gras perched on yams, mixed seaweed salad fluffed with baby greens and little surprises like a thing called an eel carpet ride (the kind that won't skin your knees). Though there is no sushi bar, you can watch them carve it from the stools perched near the open kitchen.

This spinach never saw the inside of a can. A square dish is layered in the center with steamed spinach leaves, and soy sauce is channeled between the stack and the edge of the dish. The leaves are dusted with shredded bonito, blond thin curls of dried skipjack tuna. The bitter, leafy earthiness--silky in texture--is deftly foiled by the concentrated sea wash, delivered in whispered bursts shrouded in a delicate crunch. This stuff can do more than just swell biceps.

Fried calamari is as ubiquitous as Monday-morning yawns, but it's the subtle details that make it shine. Crú's scraps of squid are light and airy and virtually greaseless. And the spicy sweet-and-sour sauce kicks your senses back into alignment, should your wine-tasting flights knock you off course.

Best Of Dallas®

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