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

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

P.D. Johnson's Dog Day Deli

We get it, all right? Yes, the word "Johnson" is synonymous with penis. Has been for--what?--a thousand years. Good job, P.D. Johnson's Dog Day Deli, for incorporating the joke into your menu and onto the T-shirts you sell and the paraphernalia that lines your restaurant's walls. Ha ha, funny stuff, a sophomore-ish bit, but the problem is...the problem is that it's not...well, to be honest, the real problem is that it's tough to stay mad at P.D. Johnson's for its crassness. The sandwiches are too good. The signature sub, the Hot Johnson, piles roast beef, oven turkey, bacon, barbecue sauce and two kinds of mayonnaise--"cheddar" and "horsey"--between two thick slices of warm bread. Order the grande--the regular is 6 inches, the grande 8--and it's amazing what happens. You leave the table wanting more--the sub's that tasty. Plus, P.D. Johnson's serves beer. Plus, you get to pull your beer from a tub of ice before twisting off your own top. Domestic bottles are only two bucks. Suddenly, this place has charm.

Burger Island 2
Stuff a toasted sub roll with grilled chunks of chicken. Add sautéed onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Then smother it all with melted provolone cheese. You have a lower-fat version of a Philly cheese steak. At least that's what you can tell yourself as you shovel in every gooey morsel. Burger Island's not really fast food--order at the register, take a booth and wait for delivery--but at $3.99 a pop, their chicken Philly is an ideal alternative to a drive-thru chicken sandwich. Oh, go ahead. Order the delicious skin-on seasoned fries. You've been good enough.

Purists may scoff and pick, oh, Big Easy New Orleans Style Sandwiches up north or something farther east...say, in New Orleans. But this venerable Deep Ellum eatery has never let us down, whether we needed our café au lait-and-beignet fix at 8 a.m. or our muffaleta-and-fries jones satisfied at lunch. The gumbo and étouffée are extraordinary--the roux's particularly rich, like Mark Cuban--and the sandwiches wonderful, and if we feel the need to dock this place points, it's ditching the booze, which is fine most afternoons save those occasional lunches after the boss tells us if our Best of Dallas items are late again, there'll be no raise. Need a Dixie after that. Make it a case. Instead, we'll just have the oyster po' boy.

Readers' Pick

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

Various locations

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