Do not, repeat, do not let the word "lager" fool you. In fact, in the name "Rahr Blonde Lager," perhaps you should concentrate on the word "blonde," because this beer is more fun to drink than just about any other lager out there. The brewery describes the flavor as "rounded maltiness" with good reason: There's a heft to the sweet, grainy flavor completely unlike any watery, mass-produced lager. Crisp without being sharp. Bright with just a hint...you know what? Just go try the stuff. It's a damn good beer, made right here in the area.
Hibiscus
You can do whatever you want to fries. You can pour industrial Velveeta on them and blast them with bacon bits; you can serve them with 14 varieties of Wishbone; you can braid them with beads of French's and Heinz; or you can cut them as thin as thong string, dust them with herbs and call them frites. But we like them Hibiscus simple: thin-cut, crisp, greaseless, sprinkled with parsley (if you must) and pebbled to hell and back with sea salt. Serve them on a white cloth napkin in a porcelain bowl for that black-tie effect and stomp your carb calculator under your boot heel. Dig in. Is there more to say?


Readers' Pick
Snuffer's Multiple locations
Celebration
Celebration feels like a vacation. It has the smell of a hunting lodge, with lots of wood, stone and simple copper-topped tables. There are no appetizers, so decisions are focused. There are no reservations. Just rib-sticking meals you used to get at your great aunt's house before she discovered Emeril and sank your inheritance into a Viking range. You can even get seconds if you want them. Salads come in big bowls with tongs and an armada of croutons. Mashed potatoes, cheesed-out broccoli and squash come, too, plus rolls with a bowl of butter, the kind you used to get at Howard Johnson's. Dessert? Berry pies and coconut cream are waiting to inflate your spare all-season radial. Take a whiff and wolf down.


Readers' Pick
Celebration
La Duni Latin Kitchen and Baking Studio
The McKinney Avenue La Duni's better known and more crowded, so please, God, whatever you do, don't tell anyone we prefer this location; enough, already, with the crowds. But we're resigned to the fact that the secret's out about this spot, which is a little darker and more cramped inside but somehow a little superior to the other joint. It may have something to do with better service, too; we've had Sunday brunch on McKinney turn into Monday lunch on more than one occasion. The food's wonderful at both, of course, especially owner Dunia Borga's pastries, which she often makes at the public kitchen at the Oak Lawn locale; you haven't lived till you've had her cuatro leches cake (not to mention the homemade gelato and the La Duni Café con Leche Sundae). But we come for the breakfasts: popovers full of egg and ham and Gruyre, the salsa-baked eggs and the cinnamon brioche French toast. There's nothing like La Duni in town; it's one of the reasons we live here in the first place.


Readers' Pick
Blue Mesa Grill 7700 W. Northwest Highway 214-378-8686
Ever since our first visit to Miami, we've been hooked on the Cuban sandwich--not the slab-o'-pork crammed between two slices of cardboard they're serving up at Little Havana but the real thing, which melts in your mouth before it even hits your tongue. See, with a good Cuban sandwich, it's not just about the pork and pickles and melted cheese, but the bread, which has to be tender and sweet, like our high-school girlfriend. At this Northwest Dallas joint, they serve up a proper Cuban--and with a rum punch more powerful than Superman, too, as well as some of the best fried plantains and conch fritters and jerked chicken and coconut shrimp this side of Key West. But see, the thing is you gotta come here on Friday and Saturday to guarantee you'll get the full menu. That's when the place is hoppin', literally, as the restaurant gives way in nighttime hours to a dance hall full of cool vibes and cold punch.
Pollo Campero
Catherine Downes
They say Guatemalans fill duffel bags with hunks of Pollo Campero chicken for import to the United States, filling the airplane cabin with the smell of freshly fried fowl. We know, it sounds like an urban myth, but we read about it in no less a source than The New York Times. It just goes to show you that Pollo Campero plies some serious chicken. You don't need to tell that to the Central American families who fill Pollo Campero's only Dallas restaurant, which opened last year near Bachman Lake. Made with "adobo spices," which means something different in just about every Spanish-speaking culture, Pollo Campero's fried chicken tastes fresh, pleasantly spicy, a little greasy (what did you expect?), and somehow, soft, thin white corn tortillas, chipotle salsa and a rich stew of bacon-spiked pinto beans seem like the most natural accompaniments.


Readers' Pick
Bubba's Cooks Country 6617 Hillcrest Ave. 214-373-6527
Culver's
We've tried all the hamburger joints everyone touts and were disappointed to find places frying up frozen cow chips and trying to hide the paucity of flavor with gobs of toppings, or failing to grill the beef at the appropriate temperature, in effect producing steamburgers. Yuck. It really isn't that complicated. Fresh (never frozen) lean meat, seared at a high temperature and seasoned with plain old salt and pepper--that's all it takes. Like they do it every time at Culver's, a Wisconsin chain with local outposts in Rockwall and McKinney. Trust us, their "Butterburgers" taste different from what you've come to expect. They taste like...beef. Imagine that.


Readers' Pick
Snuffer's Multiple locations

Best Bar, Bakery, Boutique, Restaurant and Coffee House

Cretia's on McKinney

Cretia's really oughtn't work. It's one of those Jack-of-all-trades ideas that could be a mile wide and an inch deep. The thing is, from morning until way after dinner, you can eat, shop, drink and hang out in this bakery gone wild, and it's all good. Start with a cappuccino and croissant in the coffee bar on the way to work. This former army-navy store on McKinney Avenue, offspring of a Duncanville bakery, knows how to treat breakfast bread with European care. Their baking skills shine all day and all night, providing a wealth of breads, cakes, pies and cookies to enjoy on the premises or take home. Lunch includes a variety of moderately priced entrées, and at dinner the big guns come out with an array of fish, steaks and unique entrées. And all the while you can shop in their trendy boutique or drink or watch a ball game or hear a live band in their Ruby's Lounge Bar.
Two words: country store. Kids love Cracker Barrel's country store, which features all kinds of nostalgic toys and confections such as Walnettos (caramel blended with bits of walnuts) and maple sugar candy. There's no escaping the country store without making some kind of purchase for the kids, but most of the items are inexpensive and blessedly low-tech. The restaurant? The all-day breakfasts are popular with the little ones, especially the pancakes featuring pure maple syrup and various fruit toppings. Cracker Barrel also stocks old-fashioned bottled sodas such as Stewart's orange. Afterward, step outside and play a game of checkers from your rocking chair. It's a hokey place, but your kids will have fun, and chances are you'll find something acceptable on the menu, too.


Readers' Pick
Purple Cow 110 Preston Royal Shopping Center 214-373-0037
Nicola's Ristorante
When you settle into a groovy space you just feel a bit more suave. At least we think so. There must be some connection between décor and attitude. After all, the University of Iowa football program painted the visiting locker rooms pink--floors, walls, lockers, everything--just to pacify the opposition. They've won 20-some odd home games in a row. Nicola's prefers a neatly designed array of curtains, pillars, wrought-iron rails and chandeliers to pastel colors. Framed by floor to ceiling windows, the room suggests urban cool. The most prominent feature is a collection of eight distinctly different chandeliers hanging above the bar area. In the dining area, a series of booths pinwheel from a center pillar. Along the edge, curtained alcoves suggest privacy. There are curves and straight lines, rich fabrics and wood. Above, a cool mezzanine drapes elegantly over the main dining area. Simply put, it's a beautiful space.

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