Decisions, decisions. Can't make up your mind between the cheesecake and the chocolate raspberry truffle cake? Central Market knows that these are hard choices and makes it harder still by putting out hefty samples of both, so cruise by the bakery counter and conduct your own taste test before buying. (We vote for the chocolate every time.) Then try to get out of this carb-counter's nightmare without checking out the chunks of fresh zucchini muffin and slithers of toothy sourdough offered as samples on your way to frozen foods. If you can come out of this department without buying something sweet or yeasty, you have more willpower than we do.

Trust us, we've tried virtually every Middle Eastern restaurant in the area, and there are a few that get repeat business from us: Hedary's, which has Dallas and Fort Worth locations; Byblos in Fort Worth, run by a member of the Hedary family; and King Tut's in Fort Worth's Hospital District. But the place you'll see us at most often is Café Istanbul, a pretty cafe near the Inwood Theatre. Here, chef-owner Erol Girgin clearly attends to the details, because everything comes together each time we visit: presentation, service and, above all, the excellent quality of Café Istanbul's Turkish cuisine. Istanbul Doner is one of the house specialties--kind of like gyros, but meatier--served with pickled red cabbage, rice pilaf and small peppers. It's a perfect ensemble of tastes and textures. The Islim Kebap--lamb shanks--are fall-off-the-bone tender and are served with a single, draped slice of grilled eggplant and a rich sauce of tomatoes and onion. If there were a category for best lentil soup, Café Istanbul would win it hands down for its slightly spicy version, and every meal comes with outstanding fresh-baked bread speckled with sesame seeds. You probably haven't experienced a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dallas with such high standards for service and surroundings. Try this place; we know you'll be back.

Readers' Pick

Cafe Izmir

3711 Greenville Ave.


Dogs are welcome at the outdoor tables lining this unusually broad and colonnaded stretch of sidewalk along the trolley part of uptown McKinney Avenue, a sure sign of a cool and civilized spot. In fact, everything outdoors and indoors about this smartly designed, smartly run cafe whispers cool in the kind of voice that Miles Davis might have had if he'd been a chick. The style of the place attracts women, and the dogs provide the ideal conversation starters, abetted by Greenz's small but select, reasonably priced selection of wines. Greenz features live music on Thursday evenings and offers free delivery in the neighborhood.

Everyone serves tapas these days. Boring. Lola takes the small-plates idea a step further, designating an entire room as a chef's tasting room. They even hired a second chef, David Uygur, to handle the space. Diners choose between a five-course, 10-course or 15-course meal. Not to worry: Each plate contains about two bites' worth. Granted, everything from the description to the presentation to the unexpected flavors of the food itself is par excellence. (Means either "brilliant" or "don't shoot" in French.) Yet a 10-course tasting menu paired with wine will set you back between $75 and $100, depending on how much wine you choose to consume. See, over the two to three hours required to serve a series of tiny samples, you'll need a few more than five glasses of wine. After enough, it's all worth it.

On Fridays, Blue Fish makes a startlingly generous offer: $1 draft beers and sake. Our man goes for the rice wine (a taste to which we have never grown accustomed), but we go for a frosty pint (or three) of Kirin Ichiban--a crisp Japanese pilsner that has become one of our favorite drafts in the city. It goes perfectly with Blue Fish's excellent sushi, which runs from the traditional to the fusion-eclectic. And though we are huge fans of the salmon sashimi, we appreciate the fact that Blue Fish offers cooked dishes for those customers who feel less comfortable with, you know, raw flesh. Of course, we always encourage newbies to relax and have a few drinks before they dive in. At $1 a pop, we could stay there all night (and sometimes do).

At Gloria's in Addison there are two kinds of salsa. One comes in a dish and is pretty hot. The other is on the dance floor, and it's even hotter. On Friday and Saturday nights the Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant transforms into a Latin Dance Dance Revolution. Couples step, gyrate, dip, spin and swivel, working up a sweat and working off the excellent empanadas and enchiladas that started off the evening. If you're looking to heat up your night, go to Gloria's. It's like one-stop shopping: dinner, drinks and dancing in one festive location.

This is a tough category, because everyone has a different version of what makes a great pizza: thin crust, chunky toppings, lots of sauce, extra cheese, blah blah blah. Tell you what: Just go to Nick Badovinus' hip and happenin' joint (next to his Cuba Libra) and scan the menu. You'll find just the right pie for you. If you don't (our little one just wanted "plain ol' pepperoni pizza"), they'll make it for you. Fantastic flamed pies and big salads are the attraction here, as is the star-packed patio. The scene and the slices are worth the wait.

Readers' Pick


Various locations

Restaurant Week, usually in late August every year, has grown up: It now includes almost 100 restaurants, from casual family to formal dining. During Restaurant Week you can make a reservation at any of the featured venues and enjoy a prix fixe three-course meal at $30 a person. For many of the more expensive places, this is a very economical way to try out a new spot. All you have to do is look at the list on, call the place and make a rez. In recent years, the event has generated contributions of $35,000 to $45,000 for the North Texas Food Bank and the Lena Pope Home. You get good food, and good causes get some money. Good deal all around.

A quick look at Lola's 25-selection by-the-glass wine list is reason enough for this award. Rather than pound your eyes and tongue with endless chardonnays and merlots from California and elsewhere, Lola throws out a couple of ticklers from Veneto, Italy; Germany; and Vouvray, France. The sweetener is this: Prices range from $6 to $18, with most of them hovering under the $10 mark. The list bulges with a diversity of wine regions, including Germany, Austria and Alsace, areas that don't usually merit list mentions. Heck, there are three chenin blancs from Savennieres--most lists don't even have whites from the Loire Valley, let alone from this tiny appellation. But fat phone-book wine lists, no matter how comprehensive, can't spell quality in and of themselves. Who wants to wade through lakes of wine with names that are hard to pronounce? So the weighty list comes with svelte prices, with markups well below those typical in Dallas. And if the phone-book list is too mind-numbing before the appetizer arrives, there's also "Van's Picks," a one-page wine brief of favorites composed by Lola owner and tireless wine slurper Van Roberts with prices mostly in the $40 to $80 range. Never has cork yanking been so pleasurable.

Readers' Pick

Cool River Café

1045 Hidden Ridge Road, Irving


Addiction is an ugly thing. The first step is to admit you're powerless over it: You need your coffee, you will have your quintuple espresso low foam the runway mocha frappadoodle, and the rest of the world be damned. Having accepted the situation, the next step is to quit slopping the corporate hog. The Nodding Dog in Oak Cliff is a funky independent coffee house in the Bishop Arts district. It can comfortably sit 10 at its smattering of mismatched tables, not including the incongruous floral sofa. Think of it as anti-décor: The place doesn't look like a hotel lobby, it doesn't invite you to spend the night, it doesn't try to sell you a compilation CD or a ceramic mug. You can get a cup of coffee--a really good, ulcer-squirting cuppa joe. Coffee selections are for people who really enjoy the taste of coffee, so frou-frou is kept to a minimum. That said, they do make the best soy latte, hands down. The Dog also mixes Italian sodas and offers a small selection of muffins, cookies and grilled sandwiches. Owner Gus Trevino believes in giving back to the community, which is why he buys his coffees from area roasters such as the San Angelo-based La Crème Coffee and Tea. You can also catch local musicians jamming on the weekend.

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