Manny's Uptown Restaurante
In September 2005, we gave the relatively new Manny's Uptown a so-so review. The menu, created by former Mia's chef Javier Hernandez, engendered lofty expectations for our critic, and he came away disappointed by the inconsistent dishes and the spotty service. Perhaps it took a few months to work out the kinks, but Manny's is on top of its game these days, offering an extensive array of Tex-Mex dishes that unlike others in its culinary genre don't swim in a murky sea of cheese and sour cream. Still, at Manny's, the food, while delicious, may not be the highlight of your experience. The fenced-in outdoor patio, haphazardly decorated and oddly lit, makes for a veritable dining playpen practically begging you to come with all your friends and stay all night. On any given Saturday, the place is jam-packed with a random assortment of patrons, from your typical blond-and-beautiful Uptown party set to the middle-aged couples looking to enjoy a rare night of frivolity.
Fat Daddy's Burger House
This Casa Linda joint has a loyal following. On Thursday nights you'll catch the biker crowd; they park their Harleys in the lot and catch up on gossip. They come for Fat Daddy's burgers, giant hand-formed beef patties with a bun that's not too thick and not too thin, accompanied by seasoned steak fries and a generous condiment bar for $5.99. The big surprise: Order the burger at Fat Daddy's, and you get two free beers. Seems the owner decided he'd come out ahead by giving beer away rather than paying for a liquor license to sell it. Decide you want a soft drink or tea? Gotta pay extra for that. It's actually cheaper to drink beer than a Coke. Fitting with the self-indulgence of eating a cheeseburger with fries, there's something decadent about that.
This Vietnamese-Chinese spot packs 'em in on Sundays for an endless parade of carts that offer a huge variety of dumplings and other dim sum treats. Steamed pork buns, barbecued ribs, shrimp rolls and small plates of ever-changing delicacies make Sunday brunch an adventure. Arc-En-Ciel serves dim sum daily until 3 p.m. but really draws people on Sundays. Especially in evidence are people from the local Asian community. Sometimes there's a bit of a language barrier with the waitstaff, but they are friendly and enthusiastic. If you're not crazy about one cart's offerings, another will be along in two minutes.
At the Garland Road location, multiple TVs blare Mexican shows so you know this place is authentic. Pollo Fiesta's specialty is pollo asado, chicken roasted on a giant spit. Rubbed down with Mexican spices and falling off the bone, it's a great alternative to the ubiquitous rotisserie chicken. The charro beans are great, filled with chunky onions and peppers. The arroz has peas, carrots and kernels of corn. With hefty chunks of avocado the tortilla soup is darn good for fast food.
During the day this Lakewood neighborhood spot serves up coffee and legal advice. At night it dishes Greek favorites such as spanakopita and moussaka. It's cozy and intimate and one of the few places serving Greek cuisine on this side of town. It focuses on the traditional: stuffed grape leaves, gyros, grilled lamb and chicken kebabs and pastitsio, with sweet endings like baklava. Word is that on the last Thursday of each month Neenah, the star of the local belly-dancing circuit, performs at 8 p.m. That's what we call a Greek restaurant.
Cheesecake Royale Bakery
Need a happy ending for a dinner party? Try the tiramisu at Cheesecake Royale. The layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, espresso, Kahlua and whipped cream topped with a layer of rich cocoa are heaven in a pan and will give the end of an Italian meal a flourish. No need to order in advance, but give yourself time to let it thaw enough for the ingredients to reach that lovely creamy texture. For 18 servings, it's a bargain at $25. Their three-layer desserts, especially the chocolate mousse, rum and Italian cream cakes, are other good choices. And of course the house special, cheesecake, comes in varieties such as amaretto, black forest, Key lime, raspberry, chocolate swirl and the sinful caramel fudge, and you can mix and match slices. Or just go for the most basic: New York Plain Colossal Cheesecake, tall and rich with hints of vanilla and lemon. Sometimes the simplest desserts are the best.
Aw Shucks
This is the sort of place where you roll up your sleeves, put your elbows on the table and get down and dirty with your crawfish or crab legs. There are no tablecloths here, or napkins for that matter. Instead, grab a roll of paper towels and get to work. Try the shrimp, boiled or fried. Dip 'em in butter, drench 'em in lemon juice or order 'em spicy. You can't go wrong. But if they're in season, order the crawfish. And when they're not, splurge on the summer platter for two. It's more crab legs, shrimp, potatoes, sausage and corn than you can eat, sprinkled with enough cayenne pepper to make your lips burn and your eyes water.
The walls are painted the color of chocolate, and the tables are covered in cloths that looks like caramel. At Xocolatl, everything in the store has something to do with chocolate. Take breakfast, for example. They have chocolate pancakes, chocolate croissants and chocolate pastries; a dinner menu is on the way. The owner and chief chocolatier loves chocolate so much that in addition to opening the store she has started a chocolate club that tours the city to find its best chocolate. It's that kind of obsession that results in the best chocolate around, from pancakes to cakes and candies, all of which are made in-house.
Rafain Churrascaria
Brazilian churrascarias are a meat lover's paradise. The meat is cooked over an open fire on a stick of steel and then carried table to table where it is cut to order by men dressed as gauchos. The best Brazilian barbecue house in the area may be Addison's Fogo de Chao, but it's so pricey it's hardly enjoyable. For meat that's just as good, and not quite as expensive, go to the newly opened Rafain. The restaurant was started in 1959 in Southern Brazil, near the famous Iguassu Falls. The chain has expanded throughout Brazil and has recently opened in the United States, to the delight of Dallas' small but proud Brazilian population.
Sausage makes everything better. And luckily Kona Grill in NorthPark Center knows this. Kona's big island meatloaf is a slab of tasty meat topped with a wild mushroom ragu and served with white cheddar mashed potatoes and a side of vegetables. And all of it is good. Really good. But the best, most awesome, most saliva-producing piece of the culinary puzzle is the andouille sausage the meat loaf is stuffed with. Yeah, that's right. Meat stuffed inside meat. Maybe that sounds wrong, but trust us, it is oh so right. The NorthPark Kona Grill is the chain's first Dallas-Fort Worth location, and the Hawaiian-inspired menu is pretty impressive all around. Supposedly, the macadamia nut chicken is the restaurant's signature dish, but that can't possibly be right. We ordered it, and there was absolutely no sausage to be found, so, clearly, they have no idea what they're talking about.

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