Hibiscus
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
Bone Daddy's House of Smoke
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.
Ziziki's
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
Ziziki's
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
Hibiscus
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.
In many ways, the menu at 62 Main is child's play. Example: In the center of the menu is Ryan's warm pecan and rosemary-crusted goat cheese salad. It's a delicious mix of crisp greens drizzled in tomato coriander dressing. The cheese is thoroughly embedded with pecan and herb debris, which contrasts well with the subtle cheese sharpness. Instead of gooey, the cheese is flaky, almost like fine pastry. Ryan, son of 62 Main's chef/owner David McMillan, invented this. Ryan was 5 at the time of this creation. Ryan is different. Instead of video games and micro-racers, Ryan plays with cinnamon, flour and baking powder. Instead of cartoons, Ryan incessantly watches the Food Network. Emeril is his SpongeBob. Salad is his GameBoy.
Fresh, fast and flavorful: salads at Greenz are towering creations that put other greenery concoctions to shame. Spicy Panko Shrimp Salad bests the other menu items by virtue of its height and spice. Skewers with four huge shrimp--panko-breaded and then fried--anchor a mountain of greens mixed with daikon and edamame sprouts, sprinkled with carrots and wasabi peas and dressed with spicy lemongrass vinaigrette, served in a giant clam shell made of fried wonton. Other choices, including Hawaiian Tuna, BBQ Texas Slaw, Grilled Chicken Riviera (with sliced chicken, greens and fresh fruit), "Bar None" (grilled flank steak, lettuce and nuts inside Greenz's "signature" pretzel bowl), Chipotle Chicken and The Wedge, mean a different salad for each day of the week.

Best Way to Fatten Up Too-Skinny SMU Chicks

Dough Monkey

The women at SMU are thin. We're talking Mary Kate Olsen thin. And since the best bakery in town is only a few blocks away in Snider Plaza, we have no idea why. Dough Monkey is a quiet little shop where the offerings are much better than anybody could ever expect. That probably means that the fat and calorie contents are things that we just want to pretend don't exist. Nonetheless, Dough Monkey rocks. The macaroons are tasty piles of coconut and sweet cake, the chocolate chip cookies are better than anything our grandmothers made, and the chocolate cake is so amazing that you'll probably want to buy the largest size even if you'll be the only one eating it. And the prices aren't that bad either. If you're throwing a party or trying to pack on the pounds (SMU chicks, this is where you pay attention) then Dough Monkey is so the place for you.
We admit, we found out about this place in the "Sentence Restaurant Guide," a highly critical survey of local restaurants by a Dallas author we'd never heard of, one Ralph Robert Moore, who posts a moody, authorly pic of himself on his Web site (www.ralphrobertmoore.com/dallasrestaurants.html) as well as personal essays and diary entries that fall in the category of Too Much Information. We have to agree, however, with everything the straight-shooting Mr. Moore says about Sam's Pizza and Pasta, an unprepossessing place in a Duncanville strip mall: "Sam's pizzas are superior to those obtained elsewhere in the Dallas area, the emphasis placed on the flavor of the dough, and the freshness of the toppings." We can add that this is the best we've tasted in Texas, where pizza seems to suffer from a lack of family eateries with the old-world ethos and ethnic connections. Nothing fancy about the range of toppings here; just the usual suspects (except our prized green olives). Straight out of the oven, Sam's pizzas are stunning. Try it for yourself and you'll wonder why more people don't make the short jaunt down to Duncanville for a great traditional pizza. (But please, Sam, would you do something about those scary restrooms?)


Readers' Pick
Campisi's Multiple locations

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