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

Pappas Brothers Steakhouse

What's at stake with steak? In Dallas that's a foolish question. Our existence depends on it. Without steak, Dallas is just Six Flags and Big Tex. The former isn't even in Dallas, and the latter doesn't go very well with a first-growth Bordeaux. So you know how important steak is. And there's a lot of bad steak out there. Trust us. We've had the leftovers. (No matter how unfortunate a steak might be, you still can't afford the misfortune of not bringing it home after you've spent a fortune on the dang thing.) Fortunately, you're virtually guaranteed a flood of drool at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. Pappas has its own dry-aging locker on the premises, which is ostensibly loaded with the one thing missing from most prime steak houses: rich, dry-aged prime. It has all of the succulence, the robust flavor that you'd expect from the type of steak Dallas swoons over. This is special. Juices gush. Whatever cut you have carved, the flavor spectrum is broad, right through to the lingering finish. No leftovers tomorrow, just a messy T-shirt.

Readers' Pick

Bob's Steak and Chop House

4300 Lemmon Ave.

214-528-9446

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

What makes Pappadeaux's Greek salad the best? Absolutely fresh lettuce, not a brown leaf in the bunch; a tangy, well-balanced lemon vinaigrette dressing; a generous sprinkling of high-quality feta cheese; and all the other ingredients--capers, scallions, tomatoes, celery, pepperoncini--mixed tableside so nothing ends up soggy. The huge creation, available in portions for one or two, is garnished with a single boiled shrimp and finished with a squeeze of lemon. Other places in town turn out a praiseworthy Greek salad, such as The Metropolitan Cafe at 2032 Main St. and Ziziki's, but none of them equals Pappadeaux's.

Oishii mixes Japanese and Vietnamese with a little Chinese. The latter two are closely linked, while the former is more distant. Does this sound confusing? It shouldn't. OK, sushi is a little hard to square with kung pao chicken. There's lemongrass tofu, too, which is hard to square with anything. Yet the sushi is good. And the pork ribs in spicy salt and shaken beef are stellar, as are the Vietnamese spring rolls. But pho, that ceremonial, aromatic soup that's ladled for every meal among the Vietnamese, is how you test the spine of Vietnamese fare. And it's here where Oishii goes over the top. When pho is good, it's all minimalist guts and glory, the Dalai Lama of soups. Slurping pho is like having your soul breast-fed. Pho is loaded with feathery hints of lushly sweet aromas and carnivore brawn. Tangled there among slick and supple rice noodles are square scraps of beef as thin as pounded sheet metal plus beef tendon as tender as noodles (you can get it in chicken duds, too). From a separate plate heaped high with green and white flora, you add cilantro clippings, dark green basil leaves, bean sprouts, jalapeos and squirts from lime wedges. Pho is sense-surround soup: You breathe in billowing gusts of perfumed steam while spray stings your wrists from the splashes of noodles, sprouts and beef slipping off the spoon as you try to cram its addictive warmth into your mouth. Can your kung pao do that?

Readers' Pick

Green Papaya Cafe

3211 Oak Lawn Ave.

214-521-4811

Cuba Libre

Pretty much any event that combines two of our favorite pastimes--food and setting things aflame--will win our rapt devotion. Dislike bananas, like bananas Foster. Loathe the French, adore crêpes suzette. So, any dessert that brings a butane torch into the kitchen, namely crème brûlée, is tops on our list, especially when it's the coffee-tinged crème brûlée served at Cuba Libre. The rich, firm mocha custard mingled with the crunchy caramelized sugar topping is a smooth, luscious counterpoint to Cuba Libre's spicy entrées.

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