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.

Peggy Sue BBQ

This is one of those no-win categories: Everyone has his favorite barbecue joint, be it some tiny roadhouse in Taylor or Sonny Bryan's on Inwood Road or even Sammy's, which is great but could be better if someone tweaked the sauce just a little bit. But we're sticking with this Highland Park hang, because the meat's as lean as a supermodel, the sausage is as smoky as our grandfather, and the ribs are as tender as a Gershwin ballad. The sauce, too, is as good as it gets, particularly the spicy variety, which doesn't cover up the meat so much as complement it; it's best when sopped up with a piece of Texas toast, of which we can never have enough. The sides are stars in their own right, particularly the cole slaw, but the real highlight is the fried pie for which you must save plenty of room. Or the bread pudding. Or both. At the same time.

Readers' Pick

Dickey's Barbecue

Various locations

Norma's Cafe

"We eat here every Friday because Norma's is Oak Cliff," said businessman and community activist Ralph Isenberg. Norma's is that and much more. It's an archetypal Southern breakfast and lunch spot, a place that feels familiar from the first visit, and, best of all, it's a living time capsule of a long-gone Dallas. Opened in 1956, Norma's has defied modernization. As a result, the effect is that of having ventured into one of the black-and-white photographs that crowd the walls. As you wander around the two spacious rooms you see neither the crumbling Texas Theater of today nor the already seedy hideout for Lee Harvey Oswald, but a glamorous and spiffy movie basilica with Gable and Harlow on the marquee. The staff provides a similar window on the easy, unstudied friendliness of an earlier Dallas.

La Madeleine

It's French, which helps, but what sets La Madeleine apart from other food-court stops is the tastefulness of the place. For one, the food at La Madeleine is flat-out better than anywhere else in the mall: The tomato basil soup is the best; the pesto pasta salad is light yet alive with flavor; and just try to stop at one cup of strawberries Romanoff. Secondly and, to be more accurate, amazingly, the procession to place an order and receive food has the ease of a fast-food line without the feel, once in line, that we're all orphans in a Charles Dickens novel, food trays extended, waiting for our gruel.

Cosmic Café
Catherine Downes

Cosmic Café is the one vegetarian restaurant where we can go knowing our carnivore friends aren't going to leave us alone at a table for four while they go down the street to a burger place. The converted house is funky but not too scary (unless you find murals of monkeys, sitar music and a fish tank scary). The same goes for the food. Indian-inspired veggie-based dishes with funny names (Buddha's Delight, Herban Renewal, Sufi Special) are zesty and fresh but not tofu/textured vegetable protein/Quorn terrifying. The less adventurous have options, too. There's also cake, smoothies, beans and rice, ice cream, and peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches (served on nan, not on white bread, of course). The ultimate test: We took our small-town, steak 'n' taters, falafel-what? mom, and not only did she find something to eat, she liked it and asked to go back. Vegetarians don't have to eat alone!

Readers' Pick

Cosmic Café

Iron Cactus

This is really no contest. How do we know? Because our wife is the margarita-drinkin'-est fool alive. You think you're a 'rita fool? You couldn't out-fool her on the foolingest day of your life if you had yourself an electrified fooling machine. We're talkin' 'bout a fool. And when she first stepped her fool foot in Iron Cactus, she ordered herself a house margarita and quickly proclaimed it the best she'd had that year. Potent but not overly tequila-ed, tart with a hint of sweetness, this drink alone makes it worth trying to find a parking place downtown. And, most likely, deciding to hitch a ride home after downing more than one of them.

Readers' Pick

Mi Cocina

Various locations

Behold, a pouch of tiny mushroom magic (not that kind of magic).
Beth Rankin
Behold, a pouch of tiny mushroom magic (not that kind of magic).

God knows how many times we found ourselves on Lower Greenville on a Saturday night in the mid-'90s with a woozy tummy in need of filling. Happened every weekend, it seemed, and always we'd sprint (or wobble, whatever) over to chef Teiichi Sakurai's Teppo, which was awesome not only because of its location but because it served up some of the best sushi in the city. Six years ago, Sakurai opened up this hoity-toity companion restaurant, and it remains the best Japanese joint in town; come for the Kobe steak, stay for the fried soft-shell crab and marinated sea bass and quail on a stick (the latter of which used to be our nickname in high school). And in between, have the gentlemen behind the counter hand-roll you a little sumpin-sumpin. It'll get you high.

Readers' Pick

Blue Fish

3519 Greenville Ave.

214-824-3474

What do Madonna and Mike Modano have in common with dozens of other celebrities and athletes and thousands of ordinary citizens who love good food? According to Chris Walter, Midwest regional partner, all have serious vittles--cooked and uncooked--delivered to their homes by Horizon Foods. "Our trucks pull up to the door, and our representatives put the food right in our customers' freezers." In business since 1979 and in Dallas since 1997, Horizon provides a wide array of seafood, steaks and poultry, as well as dozens of other items including soups, pizzas, hors d'oeuvres and desserts. All uncooked items are trimmed and individually wrapped, and every item comes "guaranteed to your palate. If you don't like it for any reason, we'll happily exchange it," Walter says.

The Meridian Room

Old-fashioned drinks require a certain atmosphere. Not necessarily a clubbish dark wood and leather, billowing clouds of cigar smoke, British accents type thing, mind you. Cocktails like the negroni or the mint julep or the old-fashioned call out for a bar. That is, a room dominated by a long counter backed by rows and rows of alcohol--the kind of place your grandfather frequented back when the greatest generation led this country through Prohibition, the Depression, war. You know, the good old days. The Meridian Room is such a place. Sophisticated without being fancy, it's a throwback in time listing a number of classic cocktails on the bar menu.

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