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
So, we lied. Standard isn't a new restaurant. Until recently, it was in the league of the undead. Standard has roots that stretch across time and Dallas neighborhoods. In 2003 it opened in Deep Ellum when former Tom Tom Noodle House chef Tim Byres decided to try his hand at restaurateuring. But diners' fear of crime plagued the Deep Ellum location, and a year later he put Standard in suspended animation, scouring the city for a plot that would sit well with his targeted audience. He found that plot in the former Stolik location on Cedar Springs Road and proceeded to fertilize it before he transplanted and slightly upgraded his menu. The food was good before the relocation: seductive short ribs, delicately aromatic halibut, rich lamb racks, even a stunning garden salad. This is set in such a stunningly unpretentious atmosphere. This is because Standard isn't trying to be anything: not hip, not European, not New York, not some edgy grub mosaic from the West Coast. It is simply a reflection of the personalities and the space that comprise it, an honest bloom from a specific stretch of Dallas asphalt.


Readers' Pick
Nobu 400 Crescent Court 214-252-7000
Peggy Sue BBQ
First off, it seems wrong for the region's best barbecue to be in hoity-toity University Park. Just wrong. Second off, the whole '50s theme at this place is sort of a Texas rip on Peggy Sue's Diner in San Jose, California. But so what? When it's barbecue we're talking about, we have to come back to the basic eats, don't we? And the plain fact is Peggy Sue's still has 'em all beat, from the succulent ribs to the tasty pulled pork sandwich, the fresh-cut fried onion rings, even the little thimbles of cole slaw they give you: It's all just right at Peggy Sue BBQ.


Readers' Pick
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse Multiple locations
White Rock Coffee
Flying in the face of the Starbucks-ification of America, Bob and Nancy Baker built a cool new building and opened this neighborhood coffee shop in Lake Highlands to offer custom blends of coffee roasted on the premises. Yeah, you can order almond mocha latte or the "White Rocker" (latte with caramel and white chocolate), but a plain cup of Baker's roast of the day is guaranteed to be a rich, robust blend of arabica beans--all from certified "fair trade" growers, so a portion goes directly to the coffee growers, if that helps you feel good about your caffeine habit. Add a scone or zucchini bread and jumpstart your day. Baker has added amenities such as wi-fi, but in the end, it's all about the beans.


Readers' Pick
Starbucks Multiple locations
El Ranchito
Kathy Tran
Mexican food is a lot like sex. It comes in infinite varieties, but there are a few basic elements that you just can't do without. And of course, even bad Mexican food is usually pretty good. One way the two differ would be that sex delivers ample visual and aural stimulation, senses that a plate of enchiladas would seem to neglect. Perhaps with that in mind, El Ranchito picks up the enchilada's slack. The riotously kitschy décor and the strolling mariachis provide a suitably lively backdrop for the fantastic food. Not only can you stuff yourself with delicious Tex-Mex standards for around $7, but you can venture farther afield with authentic norteño cuisine like grilled baby goat. In all, it's a great place to bring a date, which brings us back to our point above.


Readers' Pick
Mi Cocina Multiple locations
Luna De Noche
This stuff is unique: Made from a base of "lots of cilantro," as our waiter described it, it's dark green with little flecks of red tomato. Dense and deep-flavored, it isn't at all sweet, like many tomato-based salsas. We've had nothing else quite like it in the area. Also prominent in the recipe are jalapeño peppers. If you don't like cilantro, well, you're not going to enjoy it, but it's still worth a visit to this lovely, inventive Mexican eatery.


Readers' Pick
Luna de Noche
Some lunch hours you just want something cheap and filling to quiet the beast in your belly so you can get back to work. Sometimes, on the other hand, you want to splurge, to eat something you're not going to forget about before you pay the check. With its blue plate special, the Original Market Diner gives you both. For $5.25 you get the kind of flavor that only labor-intensive home cooking provides: a slab of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with cornbread, say, or a giant bowl of chicken and dumplings. If the food doesn't do it, the cowboy hats on the counter patrons and the trains rumbling by across the way will have you humming John Mellencamp on your way back to the corporate cubicle.


Readers' Pick
Potbelly Sandwich Works Multiple locations
Remember the feeling of going to your grandma's house when she's made so many appetizing dishes that you can't choose one, so you end up eating more than you thought humanly possible, and Nana (or Granny or MawMaw) still lays the guilt trip, "You barely touched your food. Don't you like my cooking?" Avoid this whole debacle by taking your grandmother to gorge at Cindi's, where she can enjoy deli favorites like latkes, stuffed cabbage and matzo ball soup. Cindi's menu also offers page after page of more traditional American breakfast and lunch items (we'll just say the waffle is delightful). If you're feeling a wee bit peckish after all that, top it off with an old-fashioned egg cream or phosphate. We had to loosen our belt just thinking about it.
Hey, where but in East Dallas are you going to find a Mexican dish named after the Duke? And it's meant as a compliment. To Mexico. The John Wayne is two eggs over on a flour tortilla, hash browns, melted cheese, choice of sausage or ham and lots of hot sauce. It's a breakfast dish, but you can get it anytime at this venerable clinic for hung-over hipsters. Tell you what, Pilgrim: You polish off a John Wayne, you're gonna be ready for your siesta.

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