La Madeline

It's all about payback, or so we've heard. Maybe that's why La Madeleine, wherein some of the best breads on earth are made, fills a handy yet surreptitiously placed rack with homemade slices or half-loaves several times a day. On a little shelf, the bread fairies also put out pats of butter and little bowls of fruit preserves. The preserves have earned the right to be called something other than jelly, since they appear to be real, fresh fruit that has been simmered with a bit of sugar long enough to soften up, break down and then thicken to a pleasing, goo-like consistency. This simple buffet runs by the honor system. La Mad's idea is that diners--that is, people who have actually purchased something from the menu--can help themselves to more bread to go with the meal as they need it. People we've known who always run out of money before payday can usually spring for a cup of French roast at La Madeleine; then, with only a smidgen of guilt, help themselves to six or 12 bread, butter and jelly sandwiches, on the house. It's the best free breakfast in Dallas.

Best Cheeseburger and Cheese Fries Combo

Fat Daddy's

Fat Daddy's Burger House

It's not hard to get good cheeseburgers or cheddar fries around here (Snuffer's is terrific on both of those fronts, but they employ a service system that tends to screw up your order and try your patience). Still, Fat Daddy's has about the best combination. Their half-pound cheeseburgers are as good as they come (they also have a full 1-pound burger for the especially hungry), and the cheese fries are loaded with artery-clogging cheddar. Plus, when you walk in, the staff screams, "Welcome to Fat Daddy's." A good burger, good cheese fries and a cheery welcome. That's service.

Wolfberries are believed to be good for the eyes and enhance energy. Gingko seeds are swell for memory enhancement and urination promotion (not the same as urinal advertising). Lychee nuts are good for the skin. Gingko Tree China Bistro employs all of these healthful ingredients in its menu so that we can cease being forgetful sloths with eyesight that blinds us to our own bad skin. Plus we don't pee enough, or maybe just not in straight enough streams. That's why Gingko serves delicious dishes like lychee nut shrimp and gingko shrimp seasoned with seeds from the gingko, a Chinese ornamental shade tree. Gingko is Nuevo Chinese, in effect. It acknowledges that the great regional cuisines of China--Cantonese, Fukien, Honan, Szechwan, Peking-Shantung--are blurring, with aspects of some absorbed by staples of others. Gingko fare is designed to reflect the shifts in this hoary cuisine stirred by modernity. There are nods to the past, such as ants climb tree: rice noodles infested with stir-fried ground pork, bell peppers, scallions and tiny broccoli florets. There are crafty desserts such as fire on ice: seasonal fruit surrounding a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream that's doused with Everclear squirts and set ablaze. Desserts like this simply underscore the need for proper bladder health.

Readers' Pick

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Various locations

Hamburger Mary's is so gay--and we mean that in every sense of the word. The décor includes bejeweled high heels and all the colors of the rainbow. And the staff is about the friendliest we've ever seen. It's almost as if they're happy to come to work. Kinda weird. But not too weird, especially considering that Hamburger Mary's atmosphere is all fun, including drag shows on the weekend and movie nights that have included such titles as Steel Magnolias. (See? Gay.) This Uptown joint was imported from San Francisco, and it specializes in gourmet burgers that are as big as your head, with names like the Queen Mary and Buffy the Hamburger Slayer. (See? Fun.) There's also a pretty wide selection of salads, wraps, appetizers and sandwiches.

Palm Restaurant

For the unrepentant carnivore, nothing can compare with the cardiological time bomb that is the prime rib. If it's to be perfect, let it have been chosen and aged by experts and roasted in a manner that lets its enzymes caramelize into an ephemeral sweetness while its flesh remains firm but tender. Let it be well-trimmed with just a little interior marbling. Make it seasoned on the outside and juicy throughout, cut so broad and thick that a single slab can be rare near its massive bone, medium rare across its great plains and verging on medium well at its peppery borders. Let it smell as lordly as it looks. Such perfection exists in Dallas. Only at The Palm.

Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse

We keep hearing that Deep Ellum and the West End are dead. Funny, we see plenty of young black and brown people in Deep Ellum and lots of pasty white tourists packing the West End. Oh, we get it: They're dead because the only good homogeny is white liberal homogeny. Now that we've cleared that up, we can tell you that you should brave the baby strollers and farmer's tans you'll find in TWE if you want a damn good hunk of meat at a reasonable price. We sampled four dinners (ours and three friends') there, and each cut of meat was perfectly cooked--seared outside, reddish-pink and tender inside--and dripping with flavor. We've been to several better-known steak houses in Dallas and received lesser-quality meals at 2.5 times the price.

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

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