Alligator Cafe
People who work downtown and in East Dallas pack The Alligator Café ("Quick & Cajun") for lunch and post-work munchies. Yes, they do serve alligator--fried, grilled, blackened and in jambalaya, gumbo and po-boys. But the best bets are shrimp-and-oyster gumbo, followed by a basket of fried shrimp or whole catfish. Sides go beyond French fries--dirty rice, fried green tomatoes, new potato chive salad and spicy red beans and rice. You can even drive through for a lunch deal: half a muffaletta and a cup of gumbo for about $6. Make like the regulars and hit happy hour after work, Monday through Friday, for $1.75 draft beer and the $2.50 menu: six fried or raw oysters, six hot wings or six boudin balls. (If you have to ask, don't order them.) Friday nights feature live music.

Readers' Pick
Razzoo's Cajun Café Multiple locations
Del Frisco's
Prime beef doesn't need much help, really. Just a little salt and pepper plus a grill that flames to, oh, about 2,000 degrees. A few line cooks willing to roast their arms retrieving the steaks help, too. Seems every steak house serves Australian lobster but no big deal. Toss it into boiling water and melt some butter, it's perfect. Ah, but David Holben of Del Frisco's wields culinary talents far beyond the steak-house grill. Great chefs in the Dallas market must create a signature lobster dish, and Holben is known for chicken-fried lobster, a succulent upgrade of the Texas classic. He spent several years cooking intricate and highly rated cuisine at Riviera before turning Culpepper's into a Rockwall destination. Last year he won the coveted Caesar salad competition. Now at Del Frisco's, he's introduced such items as asparagus tempura, tenderloin satays and seared sesame-crusted tuna, along with his famous lobster dish. And that's just the bar menu. Wait until he adds his touch to the dinner menu.
We like sushi. And we like bodies, too. But for some reason, Body Sushi scares us--yet intrigues at the same time. This company, which caters events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, offers an interesting twist on sushi: serving raw fish on raw flesh. Hungry yet? Body Sushi provides the food, the models (naughty bits covered, of course) and a hostess (we're assuming her naughty bits will be covered as well), and you provide the party. It's a pretty simple concept and quite a tantalizing one, too--that is, if you have no aversion to eating tuna rolls off a half-naked stranger's body. But you'd better work on your chopstick skills first. You wouldn't wanna accidentally pierce something...or someone.
You long ago snubbed supermarket produce, and lately you've even become bored with the selection at the Farmers Market. Short of waiting under a peach tree for the fruit to drop into your mouth, Ham's Orchard is the freshest you can get. Various fruits--peaches, plums, apricots, plumcots--are picked daily and sold in Ham's air-conditioned roadside store, which also peddles preserves, pickles and creamy soft-serve ice cream made from the orchard's peaches and strawberries. During May and June, you can even pick your own raspberries and blackberries. Sadly, you will have missed this year's crop (the orchard was open to the public May 15-August 15 this year), but that's no reason you can't start salivating for next year's bounty.
Every time you sit in the red vinyl booths and glance at the laminated sign, you cannot believe your eyes. "Hobo Special--2 eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns and toast, biscuit or pancakes. $6.60." It's like seeing heaven on a piece of 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper. So when the lovely server approaches, you confidently order the Hobo thinking, "I'm so gonna eat every last bite of that craaaazy Hobo!" Every time you think you're gonna make that Hobo special your breakfast bitch. And every time you're wrong. You finish the crisp bacon easily. You dive into the savory (and always perfectly cooked) eggs, sopping them up with the toast you thought would take up less stomach space than the other bready options. The golden, crispy hash browns have been alternated in between each bite. You chomp on the sausage, almost making it to the end. But there between the last sad lump of browns and the tail end of sausage sits the final element, and you're only good for one more bite. And dammit, it's sooo delicious; it's the albatross of this morning meal. That damned ham.

Readers' Pick
Lucky's 3531 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-522-3500
Cafe Izmir
Don't speak. Don't speak. Not after siphoning a dab of Café Izmir's hummus. You'll flatten everyone within a 40-yard radius. This is why Café Izmir should be the first stop for cops after the doughnut shop. Dallas police could use Café Izmir hummus instead of pepper spray and Taser guns to subdue common criminals and jaywalkers--such is the garlic shock; such is the smooth allure. But that's not all Café Izmir has to water your eyes. They have brisk tabouli, delish babaganoush, great dolmas and killer kabobs. Plus they shovel $2 cold tapas and $14 wine bottles on Tuesdays and $14 wine bottles and $15 sangria pitchers on Thursdays.


Readers' Pick
Café Izmir
See? It is possible to reach greatness without stuffing pasta pillows with pulverized shellfish and drowning them in fortified grape ferment. Kathleen's artichoke-stuffed ravioli is little more than a pile of tooth-firm green pasta bulges reeking of the pulverized thistle flower and buried loosely under a pile of bell peppers, mushrooms, grilled chicken and limpid strips of spinach. But this isn't the best part of the mess. What breathes life into this heap is the three-olive pesto, a svelte touch that catapults beyond typical pesto, where the cheese and olive oil become an unction junction pinned together with garlic pricks. The surge of brine transcends the tumble, elevating the chaos along with it. This ravioli is so invigorating, Kathleen's serves it at brunch, which means it pairs well with wines, old wines that have aged into hangovers.
Mizuna, a feathery Japanese mustard green, does not make many house salad appearances in Dallas. But it does show up at the Landmark next to a sea bass, along with its Sicilian eggplant relish cousin caponata. Pommes frites are threaded through there, too, making this the first continental fusion fish that even Ronald McDonald could warm up to. The fish rests in a brisk blood-orange buerre blanc, relegating the buttery richness of the fish to the shadows. You may think nothing more could be done to the ubiquitous and drowsy sea bass, but you'd be wrong. Kick up a few contrasts, and this fish--in its natural habitat as ugly as a Robert Bork-Whoopi Goldberg love child--blooms with beauty.
Fancy schmancy. In this category, it's thoroughly inaccurate to claim chef Avner Samuel's Aurora has no rivals; Aurora is simply its own category. The evidence: Aurora offers Bentley car service to and from the restaurant. You see? Sure, Best Buy has its Geek Squad VW Beetles, and Sushi Zushi has its Scion xB sushi shuttles. But Aurora has a Bentley. This is important. It rolls you in, you enter the vestibule, the curtain is drawn back and you are sucked into a jewel box. Suddenly, you realize you aren't in Dallas anymore (don't mind that intense cook behind the open kitchen glass). On the plate, Aurora is nothing short of re-creation of the three-star Michelin temples that dot Paris and other French regions. Aurora is about layers and textures and simplicity and dinners that cost more than a Pentagon toilet seat. And a Scion ain't no Bentley, after all.


Readers' Pick
The French Room 1321 Commerce St., in the Adolphus Hotel 214-742-8200
After the cigarettes have been smoked, the shots have been swallowed and the numbers have been shoved into pockets, the beautiful people head to hook up or wherever it is they go. The rest of us go to Cuquita's to try to soak up all that is wrong in our stomachs. The restaurant stays open from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesdays through Mondays, so it doesn't matter what nightly drink special you've been abusing, Cuquita's is almost always open. For breakfast lovers, huevos rancheros (or any of the many variations on that theme) is a sure bet, and the chicken mole is our official cure for a hangover before it begins. Potato and egg gorditas are recommended for the timid. Just remember to bring your cash, because this buzzing after-hours eatery is a no-charge zone.


Readers' Pick
Cafe Brazil Multiple locations

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