Best New Neighborhood Lunch Spot 2005 | Highlands Café | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
The owners of Highlands Café were fed up with the dearth of non-chain restaurants in Lake Highlands, so they decided to start their own. Almost instantly, the place became the local lunch hangout. Nothing fancy; the walls are decorated with kids' art. The burgers, sandwiches, salads and homemade soups are fresh and inventive; kid-sized meals come with fries or raw baby carrots. The nachos are worth a special trip. Yeah, you can get plain cheese nachos, but try one of their specialties: a plate of tortilla chips piled mile-high with beef, chicken or pork topped with sautéed mushrooms and red onion or artichoke hearts, green olives, feta cheese and diced tomatoes. Each overloaded plate is served with homemade salsa and pico de gallo, or order extras such as jalapeños, sour cream and guacamole. Highlands Café is also open for dinner, serving grilled steak, chicken and fish. It's an excellent start for a neighborhood starved for something besides fast food.
Why is it so many restaurants don't understand why people order BLTs? Is it for the bread? No. The tomato? Not really. The lettuce? Please. You buy a BLT because you're in the mood for bacon, and the best place to buy a BLT with a hefty rasher on it is Café Brazil. Everything else on a Café Brazil BLT is great, crunchy and fresh, but the bacon is what it should be and more, crisped hard but not burned and, best of all, spilling out of the sandwich. BLTs are funny. A bad one can put you off your feed for the rest of the day, but a really good one can make your day. Café Brazil is the place to go for the kind you're yearning for.
It's too far for a workday lunch for up-and-downtowners, but you'll find many of us trekking there on Saturdays to sample the lunch buffet. Did we say "sample"? Strike that, we mean "gorge on." For about $6, a hungry vegetarian or vegan can get bottomless iced tea and a shot at Suma's all-you-can-eat buffet. The buffet varies somewhat week to week, but you can expect fried rice, flat noodles, a tasty green curry, egg rolls, sweet and sour "chicken" and a tofu dish. There are some vegetables, but the carbs are glorious and abundant. Often, we can eat lunch at Suma on Saturday and not need to eat again until Sunday brunch. Now that's filling.
Never pit a cooking mom vs. a canned good. There's no point. Especially when it comes to split pea soup. Bordering on stew, it's a tough soup to get right (not too salty, not too chunky) and it'll never be right if it comes from a can. Mom will always win. Christine Vouras proves this with a hearty, savory concoction that sticks to your ribs in a way that somehow feels healthy. It may be the fresh ingredients she uses each day to prepare her two or three soup selections for the Main Street breakfast and lunch spot, or it may just be that something extra that comes from Mom. We don't know the magic that spouts from her ladle, and we don't want to know. We just want that perfect puree of peas sliding down our gullet whenever we can get it. She's no Seinfeld Soup Nazi, she's Souper Mom.

Readers' Pick
Tomato basil at La Madeleine French Bakery Multiple locations
When we bite into a bagel, we want dough so fresh that the shiny outer layer sticks to our teeth. We want chewy goodness that's fresh-baked whether it's sweet or savory. No truckin' it in. And schmeared or not, we don't want overwhelming spice from our cinnamon raisin round, and we don't want devastating heat from the jalapeño kind. We want the dough to stand out and the flavor to just serve as a nice highlight. Our Park Cities bagel experience went just that way. The chocolate chip variety was seductive but not too sweet. The cheese was sturdy but not overpowering. The blueberry offered wonderfully delicate fruit sensations. But in each, we never forgot that what we were eating was a bagel. Not a muffin, not a sweet roll, but a good, hearty bagel. Our final taste test ultimately proved why this strip center bakery/deli gets the win: the plain jane--no jam, no lox, no cream cheese--was the star of the show.

Readers' Pick
Einstein Bros. Bagels Multiple locations
Except in some diners and French restaurants, liver and onions has gone the way of Salisbury steak or chili mac. But in this era of retro, you know some smart-ass is going to come up with Salisbury squab steak or habanera chili mac ziti. Hector's gives us chicken-fried chicken livers and caramelized cipolline onions. This trio of crispy chicken livers with onions is not grand because it merges exotic flavors from Taipei with seasonal heirloom beetle nits from Crandall. It's grand because it combines an old dish with an old frying technique in a new dress that still reeks of Southern charm (they throw blackstrap molasses in there, too). Three coated and fried livers rest near a pool of thick molasses vinaigrette, where droopy onions swim, hemming and hawing their sweetness right at the base of the liver crust. Snare a few sprouts with your forkful of organ and onion to broaden the dimension with a slight aromatic pungency. Where can you go from here? Well, there's always the gizzards.

Readers' Pick
Snuffer's cheese fries Multiple locations
A sign on the wall says this: Blonds, our other white meat. Fondle the pork substation and do what you will with it. Our concern here is the white meat that isn't the other, whether oinks or squeals. Bone Daddy's messy grilled chicken wings aren't exactly white. They're more of a barbecue bronze with jet-black wing tips. These wings are juicy; the barbecue sauce throttles the sweet and turns up the tang before the spice slaps you as hard as a blonde with whom you've been fresh. The edges are crisp, so you don't get any of that wing Jell-O that sometimes forms when the sauce melds with the slime from barely cooked chicken skin.

Readers' Pick
MD Plucker's Wing Factory & Grill 5500 Greenville Ave., #406 214-363-9464
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

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