Kostas Cafe

Come for the fried cheese, stay for the coffee. See, this venerable Middle Greenville Avenue eatery is one of our favorite places to go for the Greek food--loads o' lamb, fistfuls of dolmas, that wonderful spinakopita stomachache (mmmmmm). But our favorite part of the meal is the cup of coffee that comes afterward. It may be small, no bigger than an espresso thimble, but it packs a Superman punch; you know the stuff's strong when you're halfway done and already down to the sludgy grains that cover your teeth and coat your tongue and have you tasting the stuff hours later. Starbucks ain't got jack on this place.

Readers' Pick

Starbucks

Various locations

Steam injected or boiled? A debate rages about the proper way to cook a bagel. What's the Einstein Bros. method? Dunno. Don't care. What matters most to us is the taste and texture, and this chain scores on both points, offering a wide variety of flavors--from garlic to cranberries and pumpkin--and doughy pillows that are light and chewy without that dense, clay-like demeanor that afflicts lesser bagels. Plus, the bagels here are saucer-sized, so just one--with either a smear of cream cheese or dressed up with toppings such as smoked salmon--makes a full and filling lunch.

Readers' Pick

Einstein Bros. Bagels

Chip's Old Fashioned Hamburgers
We were always partial to the pig sandwich here, which is simply pulled pork between two slices. And it's good, don't get us wrong, but as we've gotten older and wiser, and as other places famous for their burgers have gotten slow and sloppy, we've come to appreciate the never-declining quality of Chip's. With burgers thick enough to be tasty, thin enough to pile with toppings and still get your mouth around it, Chip's has for years been an SMU and Park Cities staple. But don't let that deter you. Everyone, even the rich, know a good burger when they see one. Just that on you, it goes right to your hips. Them, not so much.

Readers' Pick

Snuffer's

Various locations

Old Hickory Steakhouse

If you insist on pounding your plumbing with a 2,000-pound laser-guided porterhouse, you must follow such precision with a lithe dessert. Actually, you should always follow dinner with confectionary brevity. Dinner is, after all, the domain of the savory, and every square inch of digestive real estate should be reserved for the salted, the herbed and veal-bone reductions hopped up on truffle mud. Dessert is a stepchild, which is why Old Hickory's lemon cannoli is so vitally important. Whisper-thin, flaky pastry scrolls are filled with smooth, transcendental stretches of citrus cream that sweep over the tongue with a quietly luxurious, cleansing tang.

Readers' Pick

Cheesecake Factory

Various locations

Del Frisco's

Somehow Dee Lincoln exists in a city rife with staid steak houses straining for elegance, with smiling maître d's and hushed dining rooms. There's never a dull moment with her around. When she holds forth in "Havana Dee's," the piano bar at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse in North Dallas, the mood shifts from upscale to frat-house blowout. In a good way. She may fling herself on the makeshift dance floor or encourage others to embarrass themselves. Her raucous laughter explodes across any room and never fails to lift a dour group. Good-natured teasing, cajoling, prodding, whatever; if it's necessary to stir up a group or create a party, Lincoln will try it and succeed. And all of this behavior occurs within close proximity to food and wine, refined service, evening dress and all the stylish elements of a Dallas steak house. Cool.

No one tops Al Biernat in the meet-and-greet. But Michel etc. comes as close as any restaurant host possibly can. Like Biernat, he (yes, he--Michel is as masculine a name as they have in France) flashes a genuine smile at each guest, throws his arms in welcoming gestures and directs people to their tables with a fluid grace. He is charming without being overbearing. Gracious without too much obsequiousness. Plus he understands the ways of fine dining and--more important--fine drinking. During his stint at Paris Vendome, BdG would spend time patiently explaining to American novices the rules of upscale European alcoholism, which basically involved downing many drinks, but in a specific order (aperitifs before dinner, that sort of thing). His talents are probably lost on the cruise-ship crowd (walk in, glance around, you'll understand what we mean) at Popolos, but what the hell. He makes it worth a visit.

The philosophy of fine Dallas restaurants tends toward the overblown. We adore The Mansion, but aren't the flowers kinda humongous? Aren't the walls a little peachy? Aren't the waiters a little fawning? Jeroboam has the opposite tack--it's sleek and understated, furnished with classic woods and black-and-white photography. The waiters are knowledgeable and helpful without making us feel like Dudley Moore to their Sir John Gielgud. Of course, that means we have to wipe our own chins, but a college education has prepared us for these tasks. What Jeroboam reminds us of more than anything is Manhattan, where sophistication and smarts are prized above all else and a proper martini can make the difference between success and failure. The only thing about this New American restaurant that doesn't remind us of Manhattan is the thinning crowds; it's a sad commentary on downtown when such a superlative restaurant doesn't fill up on a Friday night

The Gold Rush Cafe

This Lakewood hole-in-the-strip-center-wall is, now that Dan's Lakewood has shuttered, the finest hangover breakfast in town, which means that by its very definition it is the best greasy spoon around. They are one and the same. You wake up after being overserved, you need eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage, hash browns, et. al. In fact, we may tie one on tonight just so we can have an excuse for eating a plateful of this tomorrow. Our favorite, actually, is the huevos rancheros, eggs and chorizo and refried beans topped with a green chile sauce and served with hot tortillas. Even the coffee is good here. Just be prepared to wait in cramped quarters for a table during peak hours. Worth it, though.

Readers' Pick

Metro Diner

3309 Gaston Ave.

214-828-2190

An icy Jarritos of any flavor--lime, fruit punch, guava, plenty more--is enough to win you over from the laboratory and focus-group flavors of most Norteamericano sodas. The fresh, clean fruit taste of Jarritos is a blast of beach and jungle rolled into one. Fiesta Mart offers a variety of Mexican brands--Goya, Victoria, Topo-Chico, along with Mexican versions of some U.S. drinks. But the very best is the Jarritos orange. It actually tastes like an orange! Imagine: naturally occurring flavors! What a concept. Other stores stock the brand, but Fiesta is one of the few places where you can buy Jarritos in plastic 2-liter bottles, after you get the habit.

Let's be honest here: There are no great Indian restaurants in Dallas. So with that premise established, let's examine the most interesting entrant in this mediocre ilk. Mantra is a stab at modernity; an incremental tweak of traditional Indian cuisine. Mantra attempts to preserve the rich, heady complexity of Indian cuisine while casting it as wily and deft, in a contemporary sense. Many culinary trend peepers have been predicting Indian fare would be "the next big thing": mainstream dining tickled by mint chutney and tandoori chicken. If that's true, Mantra is poised to pounce. Mantra is Indian lithe. Gone are the soupy dishes like chicken masala and lamb curry. Indestructible sauces able to survive hours of agony on buffet tables are also no-shows, as are the buffet-table torture chambers. Exhibit one: tomato broccoli soup. It's thick. It's smooth. It vibrates. Conclusion: Mantra's dishes are not only seasoned with more subtlety; they're actually a different set of centerpieces gently framed in Indian influences. Exhibit two: crepes stuffed with things, from vegetables, scrambled eggs, onions and potato to chicken, shrimp and lamb, all adorned with lush Indian spices. Conclusion: Keep your eyes peeled for the sweetbread mulligatawny. It's the next big thing.

Readers' Pick

India Palace

12817 Preston Road

972-392-0190

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