Cigarz Bona Pizza

The spicy Greek pizza at this takeout-only spot near Lakewood is the best excuse to forgo pepperoni in town: crisp crust with a garlic-olive oil base, mozzarella, seasoned chicken, kalamata olives, tomatoes, red onions, pepperoncinis and feta cheese. Owners Omar Dibe and his wife, Sadie Ayers, opened shop last spring and offer traditional Italian pizza as well, but their Lebanese-inspired pies are standouts: Try rosemary chicken, margarita and ardalino with baked eggplant slices. Dibe and Ayers are beefing up their imaginative menu all the time. They've just added oven-baked paninis, subs, pita wraps and gyros. Order and take home, or slip into Lota's Goat next door for some liquid and musical accompaniment.

Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant

Sure, the building looks vacant from the street, and it sits in a neighborhood that can get rough after, like, 10 a.m., but please look beyond this, for Jade Garden is one of the best Chinese restaurants in Dallas, a place as filling as it is good as it is cheap. And this last point is the true measure of its worth. At Jade Garden, two people can have a soup of their choice, water and an entrée for $3.50 each. Three dollars and 50 cents. That's $7 for whoever's buying. And go ahead, throw in tax and a tip. If you pay with a 10, you're still stuffing a bill in your pocket when you leave. And you're leaving full and satisfied: The food is served quickly but doesn't taste like a chain restaurant. It tastes, instead, like the steal it is.

We've come to the conclusion that Italian in Dallas is the rope-a-dope cuisine. It takes its punches and wobbles weakly, acting like it's barely in the ring. Then when you least expect it, it springs to life and delivers a knockout blow. We aren't sure yet if Il Mulino New York is that knockout blow (we're still dizzy, and we think we can get up if the waiter would just quit pointing that finger in our face and give us a hand), but there sure are a lot of parts stinging. There's the tummy (portions are huge), the ribs (the food is so rich it clings) and the wallet (your check will equal the gross domestic product of Lilliput). Il Mulino is bold. It's raw. It's tasty, bluntly flaunting its rich cuisine from Italy's Abruzzi region. And in virtually all instances, this food is beautiful. Zucchini slices, sautéed in wine and garlic, drenched in olive oil and flurried with oregano and pepper flakes, are simply the best rendition of this vegetable we've ever tasted. Pastas are perfectly supple with just the right amount of give against the teeth. But the most compelling composition here is the veal Marsala--a masterpiece. Thin patches of veal are crowded in a haze of porcini mushrooms slathered in a rich, smooth Marsala sauce of uncommon richness, leaving hints of toffee on the finish. And it's a hammer blow to the city's moribund Italian strain that forever wavers between mediocre and tragic.

Readers' Pick

Maggiano's Little Italy

205 NorthPark Center

214-360-0707

Whole Foods Market

Man and woman shall not live by nuts, berries, wheatgrass shots and tofu alone, but when we want these things, organically grown, of course, we schlep our Birkenstocks to Whole Foods Market. Forget the stereotypes and focus on the strategies. This food chain's in-store sampling not only gets you cooking and buying suggested ingredients, it has become a 21st-century meet-and-greet-and-eat. Store staff fires up the electric skillets and whips up a mess o' spicy Cajun catfish or apple butter brisket for Rosh Hoshana, plus noodles, plus potatoes, plus vegetable medleys. This is the best free lunch, or dinner, and singles bar/sports bar alternative going.

We debated whether or not to tell you peasants about the awesomeness (yeah, we checked, it's a word) that are Mia's brisket tacos. See, for the longest time, Mia's served the delightful treats only as a once-a-week special, but they were so popular that Mama and company decided to make them an everyday thing. But they never got around to putting them on the menu, so only the regulars over at Mia's really know about them, which makes them tasty and cool. Now you can head over there and impress your friends or a date with your insider knowledge of what are, unquestionably, the best tacos in Dallas. You're welcome.

The Purple Cow

Burgers, the "mundane hot dog" for tykes too finicky for ketchup squirts, grilled American cheese sandwiches, a variety of fried foods that make swell props for carb-counting lessons, ice cream desserts and purple vanilla milk shakes. The Purple Cow has everything a kid could ever want outside of Gummy Bear cell phones. There's an electric train up above that chugs along the perimeter. There's a jukebox that can play the same song over and over and over to test the limits of parental sanity, lots of cow gimcracks for the whelps to whine after and a kiddy menu to maul with crayons. It's good, clean hair-pulling fun. For mayhem temperance, the Purple Cow even serves milk shakes spiked with hooch. Plus there's plenty of black coffee for the adults.

Readers' Pick

The Purple Cow

Eighteen-O-One is the small, lunch-only restaurant inside the West End's Dallas World Aquarium, but it could easily stand on its own merits. They please parents as well as kids with interesting seafood dishes and quality renditions of old standbys such as hamburgers and sandwiches. But someone put a lot of thought into the kids menu. Best of all is the fish-shaped pizza, one of the best pizzas we've had in Dallas (we know because we kept stealing pieces from our kid's plate). Amply supplied with mozzarella and thin-sliced pepperoni, the pizza is made perfect with a doughy crust and chunky marinara sauce. Makes us wish we were a kid again, because the pizza isn't available on the adult side of the menu. Same with the fish and chips--perfectly golden brown fillets served with fries--and the mini-hamburgers. The familiar kids-menu default item, chicken tenders, is also available.

Goodhues is not, in itself, a reason to move to McKinney, but it's sure worth the occasional drive. This former RC Cola bottling plant just off the town square provides a wonderful antidote for the franchises that have infested this booming community. The charming interior, with its exposed brick and long antique bar, is welcoming, casual and heartily American, and one can say the same for the food. Start with the roasted garlic with fresh goat cheese or the perfectly seasoned roasted poblano chicken corn chowder. Or try the surprising Erin's Salad, baby greens, blue cheese, oranges, strawberries and spiced pecans in a honey shallot vinaigrette that pulls it all together. The roast duckling, chicken Goodhues and sautéed tilapia in a champagne-cilantro sauce are all standout entrées, and the steaks, chops and baby back ribs are generous portions of excellent meat. Be sure to check out their small but select wine list. The first surprise at the end of the meal is the mixed berry crumble with ice cream, a perfect balance of flavors and textures. The second is the check. Goodhues costs 25 percent to 30 percent less than a comparable Dallas restaurant.

Reikyu Sushi and Bar

Reikyu says it features "contemporary fusion," but what that means to us is damn fine sushi. It's a great place for people-watching--if the moon and stars align, you can see the yuppies in the Mock-Station lofts wandering about their chic pads in their underthingies--but not so great for watching your checkbook. Getting full at Reikyu is fun but not cheap. That is, unless you try the bento box. For about a sawbuck, you get shrimp tempura, a California roll, sautéed beef or chicken, salad, soup and a bowl of rice. Add some good cold sake and you have yourself a meal you and your wallet can stomach.

Royal Thai

The lunch crowds here tell you all you need to know about the food. Expect a 10- to 20-minute wait during peak lunch hours, but go ahead and put your name in. It's worth it. Just tell the boss you had a flat on the way back from lunch (or come back for dinner). We like our curry dishes and pad Thai fiery, and Royal Thai can turn up the heat--but only if we ask for it--while preserving the many layers of flavors that make Thai distinctive. Tulip dumplings stuffed with shrimp and pork and served with a spicy soy dipping sauce will kick-start your meal. If you're hungry, follow them up with one of the varieties of whole fried fish, which come with sauces both fiery and spicy sweet, or try one of the mixed seafood entrées with basil. Fried cubes of catfish and a mildly sweet sauce put a delicious spin on a bland fish, and Royal Thai has perfected the art of cooking squid without turning it into vulcanized rubber.

Readers' Pick

Royal Thai

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