The Green Room

If you want to support Deep Ellum but don't dare want to stay up past your bedtime, here's a good way to do it: Set up reservations for you and your honey, take 'bout $160 and make reservations at this DE staple. Here's what that covers: four courses of food and wine for each of you, each dish chosen by the chef based on what's freshest/bestest in the kitchen that day, that hour, that minute. If you have an allergy, tell 'em. If you prefer to start with the fantastic mussels (steamed in champagne with spinach, mushrooms, ginger and chili flakes), tell 'em. You prefer red meat to fish, tell 'em. Then sit back, drink from a fantastic wine list and eat some of the most sophisticated, hearty fare you'll find in town. Suggestion: Plan on taking a cab home. Most likely, you'll be stuffed and loaded when you leave.

La Popular Tamale House
Taryn Walker

Jesse Moreno and his family are among the few proprietors still producing truly handmade tamales in Dallas. They roast the pork, grind the corn, spread the masa harina de maiz (corn flour) by hand in the husks and cook the tamales themselves. The Morenos use all the best-quality ingredients, no lard, all vegetable oil. During the holiday season, La Popular is so popular, you have to call in your orders several hours in advance, maybe even a day. There's always lots of chitchat along the front counter: Jesse Moreno Sr. is an avid community volunteer with long service to the Dallas school system, and Jesse Jr. will probably show up on the city council some day. So in addition to selling great tamales, La Popular is an interesting place to visit.

Sometimes the servers can be snooty. Sometimes the prices are over the top. But this is the way things are in the world of Michelin star restaurants. You can't feed those suffering from wallet obesity unless there's a little condescension. Yes, the rich may like to belittle their bilingual Toro jockeys when they accidentally puree the azaleas, but they absolutely adore being sneered at by those who snicker when they slosh and make their noses run red with expensive Burgundy while trying to remember the tasting ritual. Anyway, Chef Avner Samuel--the kind of man you pray would prepare your last fried chicken-and-cottage fries dinner should you ever find yourself with a serious appointment at Huntsville--has created Dallas' first and only Michelin star-quality restaurant. There is no flavor here that doesn't make your toes curl like popcorn shrimp, or your wallet trim down like a waist on a carb countdown. So sneer all you want. We can lick our plates without ever showing our tongues--unless the food goes rude.

Readers' Pick

III Forks

17776 Dallas Parkway

972-267-1776

Taco Cabana

We wanted to give this award to someone else; we really did. "Best Tortillas at Taco Cabana? Why not just give Best Hamburger to effin' McDonald's?" we think, angry with ourselves. But then we sigh, and our fists unclench as our thoughts turn to the pliable, pillowy flatbreads that are just 19 cents apiece at that familiar pink-and-green-stucco drive-thru. Plus, you can even see the tortilla-making machine right behind the counter, so you know they're going to be warm and fresh. And they pass the true tortilla test: They're great when filled with beans, cheese or rice but can also stand on their own. Cue the drool; we just can't help it.

After a several-month hiatus, Tipperary Inn is back in business, serving traditional Irish fare in the pub's old location at the corner of Skillman and Live Oak streets. The Tipp's environs are made for comfort--including dark woods and roomy seating areas--and so is the food. The menu is a little on the heavy side, but you can't miss the shepherd's pie or the fish & chips or the bangers & mash. Avoid the booths, though; they're so big and comfy, you may be tempted to curl up for a nap after you're done.

Il Mulino is cloaked in a jacket of elegance. The waiters have them. Even you are supposed to, except in the summer when wearing a jacket turns even the noblest, most mannered fellow into a sweating plow horse. At Il Mulino, waiters sport crisp tuxedos and move with impeccable precision and graceful warmth. They serve from the left and bus from the right. Or do they serve from the right and bus from the left? We can't remember, because we're usually seated next to a post or are crammed into a banquette sandwich where left and right have no meaning. Here it is open, and the servers are prompt and keen, clearing away course-worn flatware, deploying reinforcements in seconds. Sure, it's dark and hard to read the designer labels, but the servers dispense penlights. And they know the menu, right down to the gory details, which mostly involve prices. But then again, professionals who can distinguish right from left do not come cheap.

Readers' Pick

Lucky's Café

3531 Oak Lawn Ave.

214-522-3500

Best Children's Restaurant on Saturday

Hooters

Hooters

Why Hooters? On Saturdays, kids 12 and under eat for free--so put that in your Happy Meal and play with it. It's a deal so good that, let's face it, it makes Hooters the new McDonald's. Only better. It has more options for the little ones--they can choose between a hot dog, a burger, wings, chicken strips, a corn dog or a grilled cheese sandwich--and you're not parting with any cash. Nor are you stepping on any toy in your bare feet on Sunday morning. Plus, if you want, you can have a beer at Hooters while they eat. Name one McDonald's like that. Another plus: The waitresses have really big...um, never mind, we're talking about kids here.

Greenz

If you want a tasty, crispy spinach salad, Greenz can fix you up, but their specialty is more creative inventions, like the Bar None, a salad festooned with steak, tomatoes and mixed nuts and served in a pretzel bowl. Other fanciful salads include warm pear and goat cheese, BBQ Texas slaw and spicy panko shrimp. Every visit has included fast, helpful service and the opportunity to try delicious extras like creamy asparagus and ancho tortilla soups.

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.

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