Best Calamari 2005 | Daniele Osteria | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
We'll be honest here: We don't like our squid fried. It's not the concept, it's the execution. Virtually all of it in Dallas is either greasy and tepid or greasy and tepid with a dipping sauce. And then there's the primordial fear most kitchens have of tentacles. What's with this suction cup phobia? Does it stem from childhood traumas of being shuttled in cars warm with Garfields and "Baby on Board" signs? Instead of trying to conquer the underachievement of fried calamari, Daniele Osteria circumvents it with this: calamari alla griglia. Creamy white body tubes are grilled, covered with olive oil and lemon, and served with an orange salad. That's it. The orange is slightly chilled; the squid tubes are The meat cleaves easily as the fork sinks into the dirty bronze grill gauze surrounding these milky body socks. Contrasts bubble: clean orange acids jabbing at meat moist with marine sweat; dismembered citrus pressing against whole bodies.

Readers' Pick
The Grape Restaurant 2808 Greenville Ave. 214-828-1981
62 Main is a double-barrel high; one, because you have to climb a circuitous flight of stairs to get to the dining room and, two, because the food gets the serotonin juiced up. So you need something to bring you down: raspberry cobbler. Chef David McMillan, who escaped from L.A. to do a tour at Nana atop the Anatole 27 stories up, is the owner of this dining room, and he says he picks up many of his ingredients from a little farmers' market nearby. But these berries are weird, even for a farmers' market. The raspberries are so impossibly swollen with flavor and acid they could have only come from a biotech firm in Berkeley or perhaps Major League Baseball. McMillan bravely exploits them, pulling way back on the sugar, softly sweetening the edges with a blanket of sweet cream. This all rests on a mattress of moist, firm honey shortbread--a brilliant piece of fruit exploitation.

Readers' Pick
Cheesecake Factory 7700 W. Northwest Highway 214-373-4844 2601 Preston Road, #2219, Frisco 972-731-7799
Sure, they're everywhere--Marble Slab Creamery's Web site lists 32 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (We picked the one in Cedar Hill because the workers are so friendly.) But this is killer ice cream: smooth, rich, dense and available in several intriguing flavors such as black walnut, Amaretto, mango and our favorite, rum. Add in all kinds of toppings (which can also be mixed in on the namesake marble slab, kept at a freezing temperature)--like crushed Heath bars, gummi bears and pecan pralines--and you can create your own customized treat. Houston-based Marble Slab proffers a number of reasons why its ice cream is so good: It's made fresh in the store every day, and the cones are baked and rolled daily. We rate it higher than some other premium ice cream shops because of the wide choice of flavors and toppings.

Readers' Pick
Marble Slab Creamery Multiple locations
Forget rare, medium rare, medium well, well or soot. The true color of steak in Dallas is jade. We're jaded by these slabs of meat, by the temples and ranches that arise in their honor. Pity the steers; envy the cardiologists; be awe-stricken by the steak-house glut; pity us. This is why it was inevitable that the best steak would not come from a steak house but from some other food-purveying species--one that is trying to get famous with macaroni and cheese. Hibiscus has steak. Big steak. Even the name hits with a dizzying thud: Prime strip "brick." It's an 18-ounce bone-in sirloin hemorrhaging roasted garlic butter. Hibiscus chef Nick Badovinus says steak is easy because cows do all of the work. But chefs have choices: They can cull from shiftless, idle cows; carve off marbled Rembrandts and then ruin them with Bunsen burners and tar pits of demi-glace; or seek out and discern bovine brilliance and then enhance it with soft lighting, Barry White and a shake of salt. Badovinus has done the latter. This steak is stunning: brilliantly red with a huge flavor bandwidth wrapped in shimmering silk. Let the steak house temples quiver in their creamed spinach.

Readers' Pick
Bob's Steak and Chop House 4300 Lemmon Ave. 214-528-9446 5760 Legacy Drive, #B-1, Plano 972-608-2627
We like the shoes the servers wear in this barbecue joint, mostly for their inspired classic look: Mary Janes, the strapped shoes styled after the traditional shoes children wore more than a half-century ago. These shoes are touchingly framed by lacy anklets, creating a heartwarming, homey image from a simpler time: one of innocence, where simple rib-sticking barbecue and a beer mug as big as a sumo wrestler was all one needed to know life was good. It isn't the hot pants, the glittery belts, the highly exposed midriffs, the plunging necklines on the teeny tops or the dangle of navel bangles donned by this tanned and taut platoon of servers that warms our tickers. It's the shoes. Did you hear us? WE LIKE THE SHOES. So shut the hell up.
In Dallas, Greek cuisine, where it exists at all, seldom moves beyond gyros and a salad of broad leaf weeds, feta cheese, tomato wedges and olives that are usually black Mission instead of Greek. Perhaps this is why Ziziki's on Travis Walk is such a heroic steakless stalwart, surviving in the cutthroat flash and dash of the Dallas restaurant grinder for more than a decade. Ziziki's grabs its name from a Greek condiment made of creamy yogurt and cucumber that is saddled to many of the menu items, such as Ziziki bread, fresh and warm sections of pita tarped with cheese, olive oil, garlic and herbs. There's lamb: in rack, leg, pastichio (Greek lasagna) and souvlaki (skewered and dropped on pita) versions--all good. Other Med stuff too, such as chicken and mushroom fettuccine in béchamel with feta and Parmesan, and Greek paella. Then there's the wine, which includes good drinks from some of the planet's premier growing areas and offers a few dozen of them by the glass along with splashes of Greek retsina and roditis. Gyrate with that.

Readers' Pick
Let's be blunt: The bench in Dallas for mouth-watering, clean, elegant Italian cuisine is thin; thin enough to make into a racy camisole. So the competition isn't tough. Il Mulino pounds it silly anyway, shredding this flimsy bench into saucy confetti. It does this with large portions and bold flavors from Italy's Abruzzi region. Yet it executes its bloodying with grace and elegance--velvet gloves in a plush ring. The dishes roll off the tongue--prosciutto and melon, carpaccio, rack of lamb, veal Marsala, clean and lush seafood, great crumbles of Parmigiano-Reggiano--as they settle gently into the gullet in a great fusillade of garlic. It's pricy, but heavyweight knockouts don't come cheap.

Readers' Pick
Campisi's Restaurant Multiple locations
Houston's servers aren't good because they're friendly, efficient, knowledgeable and able to act on service cues without your even noticing. They're good because they perform like this in a powder keg. Houston's is almost always confronting the crush of a crowd. Waits build and grow. Reservations are not taken. Chaos threatens but never invades. The staff is calm, seemingly oblivious to the potential devastation lurking underneath. Servers never seem harried. They speak slowly in soft clear tones, moving with measured deliberateness, patiently answering every question such as "what are those spindly things next to the stone walls in the middle of the dining room?" "Why, they're calcified cactus skeletons." See what we mean?

Readers' Pick
Hooters Multiple locations
Like fried calamari, crab cakes are the ubiquitous foodstuff of contemporary dining--though most times they seem more at home in a mattress than on a dinner plate. Too often, crab cakes are little more than Underwood Deviled sandwich spread/Shake 'N' Bake hybrids. Not so with Hibiscus' crab cakes. For starters, chef Nick Badovinus uses crushed Ritz crackers. Second, the crabs are loose and chunky instead of puréed and cemented. This may not sound good, but trust us, it's essential. This blend of backfin lump for texture and Dungeness for creamy sweetness rings tears from jaded ducts.
You know the organ part of Watel's; the menu swath that offers calf's liver, sweetbreads, calf brains and veal kidney. But you probably didn't know that Watel's has a room with a view, too. Tucked in back of this quaint Allen Street cottage is the sunroom, which offers the opportunity to munch on juvenile bovine brains while taking in the brain-teasing Dallas skyline. The room, with a brick sunken floor, overlooks a green space that serves as a refuge for power substation cables with the Dallas skyline peeking through as a backdrop. It's endearing, this rustic urbanity that crackles beneath the grass, sparkles in the distance and broods on the plate. Unless you get the kidneys.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of