Lucky's Cafe
What is it that makes a good diner? Grease? Lucky's has that. Kitschy memorabilia? The walls are groaning with it. Quirky neighborhood characters? Ever been to the Oak Lawn Halloween Parade? 'Nuff said. In other words, you'd never guess that this friendly retro joint is run by Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc. (could you find a more impersonal name, please?), the company that runs Cool River Caf and Cantina Laredo, among others. Still, the pecan French toast is enough to make you forget your money is going to the suits.
You can get Jarritos, the Mexican fruit-based sodas, in most major grocery stores now, but the best selection is at Fiesta. Something about these sodas makes them much more flavorful than American sodas, maybe because they try to taste like real stuff, as opposed to, say, Coke? What does Coke taste like? Can you imagine whatever Coke comes from growing on a tree? Yeah, maybe one of those scary trees in Wizard of Oz that could talk. They could wave their arms, but they couldn't chase you, right? Where were we? Oh, Jarritos! Go to aisle three where the Mexican drinks are, not aisle 10 where all the gringo soda is. They've got Jarritos in guayaba, fresa, mandarina, mango, tamarindo, pia and best of all, tutifruti.
Bangkok Inn
Taryn Walker
Dumplings are touch-and-go. It's easy for a dumpling to be a little too dumpling or not quite dumpling enough. The shell has to be cooked but not overcooked, and of course the filling needs to be warm when the dumplings arrive at the table but not cooked solid and certainly not cold. If you've never been to Bangkok Inn before, don't start complaining about the modest dcor. All of that energy and concentration is going into getting the Thai dumplings just exactly right, to say nothing of the perfectly prepared dunking sauce that comes with them. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.to 10 p.m. and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Thai Thai Restaurant
An all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $6 is a deal good enough to set off warning bells. How good can the food be if they can give you so much of it for so little? At Thai Thai, the answer is pretty damn good. The spicy basil beef is truly mouth-watering while the masaman curry is sweet and zesty. The secret lies in their no-frills dcor and location: They invest in their food and not much else. The result is the perfect lunch destination for those who want delicious, exotic cuisine and a lot of it.
The Gold Rush Cafe
When you have a hangover, you don't want to cook. Nor do you want to shave, shower or have to be fit for human contact. You just want some basic greasy breakfast fare to soak up the toxins your evil twin guzzled the night before. That's where the Gold Rush comes in--no pretension, no dress code, just fantastic pancakes, eggs and sausage served fast and hot. Once you're feeling a bit more lifelike, you can pretend to pore over the paper as you snicker at the other East Dallas regulars dragging themselves about in even worse shape.
Nicola's Ristorante
Like the best Plano-Friscovic mansions, Nicola's has a ceiling that vaults high in the entryway above the bar dangling glitzy chandeliers. It's a hall of opulence. On a fat post behind the back bar, a gentleman who bears a striking resemblance to David Niven holds a rod draped with freshly made spaghetti strands. Perhaps this is to subliminally press the point that Nicola's makes its own fresh pasta from organic semolina flour. Nicola's grinds its own sausage too. Veal is juicy and tender, pasta is firm and supple, and carpaccio is rich and crisply dressed in celery shavings, thick Parmigiano-Reggiano filings, blooms of arugula and capers in spicy olive oil. Handbags and shoes aside, Dallas seemingly possesses an aversion to authentic Italian. Those that attempt it usually go the way of fresh-caught bronzini left to flop out its existence on a hot sidewalk. Nicola's is a blissful medium: It doesn't stray too far from the centerline even as it executes nearly perfectly--in a Gucci with spurs sort of way.
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A lot can be said (hype) about Bice (beach-aye, beach-aye you ice heads) Ristorante, the circa 1926 Milanese trattoria opened by Beatrice Ruggeri that later found its way to New York, Chicago, Houston, Orlando, Latin America, Saudi Arabia, Beirut, Singapore and numerous other locales. Much more should probably be left unsaid. But what should not be left unsung in this Dallas version of this Milanese marvel is the beef carpaccio. It's like the tatters of a fine camisole, nearly sheer sheets of rose networked with a wavering weave of fat channels. Covered in dribbles of black truffle Dijon mustard sauce, these sheets fray and unravel as the fork upends them and attempts to peel them from the plate. In the mouth, they're reduced to mist, filming the tongue with richness: A French kiss in Italian lip gloss wreathed in Dallas ersatz refinement.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
"To eat an oyster is to kiss the sea on the lips," reads a quote posted on Oceanaire's Web site. It's fitting this quote should be used to shill Oceanaire, a seafood-intensive dining room (oh sure, there are pork chops and rib eyes for chumps) saddled with a menu in continual flux on account of the fresh fish shipments shuttled in daily, sometimes more often. Species loaded into the Oceanaire torpedo tubes (like opah or moonfish, savor it with a Sonoma Coast Pinot) are checked off on the "fresh today" list at the top of the menu. But it's those oysters in the raw that get you, glistening with marine wetness like beads of sweat on the upper lip.
OK, so it's not really Mexican, technically speaking. It's "high Mexican" or chichi-Mex, or froufrou-Mex--though it's more like global haute cuisine with a Mexican accent. There are no sombreros or mariachi posters on the walls. Instead, the interior is crisply contemporary with river stone, rich wood beams and contemporary art in a room washed in hushed tones. Still, Lanny's (Lanny Lancarte of Joe T. Garcia's fame) cuisine sings, even if the Mexican notes are often just little ghostly hints. Take the arctic char crusted in pulverized pumpkin seeds. It rests in a tomato jalapeo beurre blanc. Mental circuits blow contemplating the fish taco possibilities. Trout, served with warm cucumbers and dampened with a butter almond sauce, straps you into a similar state of sublimity. Achiote-roasted lamb chops are lurid. Rubbed and marinated in achiote, garlic, oregano, citrus and fresh herbs, the glistening orbs of meat are silky and rich. A flap of bok choy patiently rests nearby, waiting for the Tsingtao to make an appearance on the beverage menu. Ya gotta lime for that?
Pappas Brothers Steakhouse
Once you get beyond the wine, you'll find Drew Hendricks is little more than a grunt. Joining the Army straight out of high school, Hendricks scored a tour on a family vineyard in the Baden region of Germany (it was part of an Army cultural exchange program). Here, Hendricks participated in war games where each side attempted to vanquish the other with weaponized Sptburgunder and Rulnder. Mesmerized by the tools of modern wine-fare, Hendricks decided to devote his life to stockpiling heavy weaponry: Cabernet, Syrah and Nebbiolo, for instance. Along the way, he's developed a special ops nose, an uncanny taste sensibility and a lethal memory that can extract the most stubbornly covert wine details--all without the use of sleep deprivation, loud Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rap or Victoria's Secret lingerie stretched out over the head. Stripes: co-founded the Texas Sommelier Association, was named one of the best young sommeliers (he's 29) in the country by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 2005 and scored second in the Young Sommelier competition put on by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Hendricks hates getting questions he can't answer, so be sure and brush up on your obscure Mller-Thurgau trivia. And don't forget to pack your water pistol loaded with some good Sptburgunder.

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