Be honest, most salsas that restaurants bring out with the premeal basket of chips taste pretty much the same. The only difference is whether they're mild, hot or nuclear. Unless, that is, you're dipping into Ozona's unique blend of fire-roasted tomatoes, jalapeños and lots of fresh garlic that make up a West Texas-style salsa that will have you returning for more. Served warm, it'll get the sweat beading but won't leave blisters on the roof of your mouth. And it's a bonus to be able to dip it or spread it over your entrée while seated in the recently remodeled tree-covered patio.
No, Frito pie wasn't invented in a double-wide disposal. Daisy Dean Doolin, mother of Elmer Doolin, the Frito Company founder, concocted the recipe in the kitchen of her San Antonio home way back in 1932 in the depth of the Great Depression. At Sonny Bryan's downtown tunnel location, they substitute chopped brisket for ground beef in the $4.99 Thursday Frito pie special, and it makes for a monster dish. The beef is mixed with Fritos corn chips, barbecue sauce, beans, chives and cheese. You also get a small drink. Dave "The Baron of Beef" Rummel, the store's manager, says Thursdays have become the shop's biggest day of the week partly because of the rising popularity of this down-home dish. Ham, sausage, chicken and the very tasty pulled pork are featured the other days of the week. In these lean times, Mrs. Doolin's hearty invention should keep you feeling fat until dinner, if not into the middle of next week.
The criteria here are a restaurant where you are comfortable taking the kids and where you actually like the food. Not an easy order, at least until you find the pasta pleasures offered at this reasonably priced Park Cities eatery. Sharply designed--it was the old Café A--with a nice sidewalk patio, Penne Pomodoro serves some of the best hearty pasta dishes in town. Given the liberal smattering of tykes around every time we've been there, it's obvious that the word is out: This is a family place. If you think your mother could make lasagna, you'll stop boasting after you try the massive, sizzling, subtly flavored square served here. For those looking for a little less calorie loading, there's a nice selection of fish specials, led by the spicy fisherman's stew.
If all else fails and you'd rather hang among tourists than Dallasites, go to the West End. Let's rephrase: If there's a cool joint in the West End, then it's Spiatza's Italian Grill and Bar. Tucked between a shack full of crabs and the infamous neon rainbow walkway, it's a bit hard to find, but the ample-sized servings along with a down-to-earth bar atmosphere make it worth the search. Rumor is that in the near future, the walls will evolve from heroin-chic paintings to flat-screen TVs, and the waitresses will begin wearing baby tees bearing a Nick's Sport City logo. But in the meantime, what's so cool about this West End secret? They accept DART Pass coupons, Southwestern alligator pasta is on the menu and the kitchen stays open until at least 1 a.m. on the weekends. Whether the name changes, it gets the big thumbs up: It's the most convenient spot to hit before or after an American Airlines Center event.

Not mushy, not crunchy, just right--even Goldilocks would be satisfied (if she were into french fries). These golden beauties are always warm and crisp, like great fries should be, but the real secret is in the seasoning. The spicy, salty blend has made Burger House fries famous since 1951, and with good reason. Even the thought of their aromatic deliciousness makes us salivate. If you're wavering in your Atkins diet conviction, this is the place to cheat. Do it up right, too: Don't forget the ketchup.
We've been known to watch Sunday morning turn to Sunday evening at this McKinney Avenue eatery, where our cups of awesome coffee always manage to turn into tall mojitos; somehow the thought that Monday's around the corner goes down better with a gulp of rum poured over crushed ice, sugar and lime. Against our better judgment, we always start with the basket of exotic breads--carbs schmarbs, and just look at what happened to Dr. Atkins, anyhoo. Then it's on to the dishes of eggs and ham and cheese and sauce so rich you'd swear the whole plate could buy Mark Cuban. When the weather's nice we sit outside, though parking-lot fumes are a bit hard to choke down unless you're on your third caipirinha. Which we are right now, as a matter of fact.

Maxim's
Got a couple of hours to kill on a Sunday morning? (Or any other day of the week, for that matter?) Try this Chinatown wonderland off Greenville Avenue and Main Street in Richardson, where the waitstaff strolls through this gargantuan restaurant with wagons full of goodies familiar (shrimp-and-scallion dumplings, fried rice, sautéed Chinese broccoli) and mysterious (soup with "1,000-year-old eggs," we kid you not) and always delicious. Maxim's, so named for a legendary Hong Kong eatery, offers the best dim sum experience in town: Eat till you can't talk, and wash it all down with the pur tea that seems to make room in your tummy for more of the pork barbecue-stuffed buns or the steamed shrimp balls (yeah, yeah--who knew they had 'em, got it). Arrive early, before the 11 a.m. rush, and stay late or just move in; you'll be back next weekend, anyway.

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.
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.
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.

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