We already feel guilty enough eating at Chick-Fil-A, given the company's notoriously right-wing beliefs. We don't need to constantly be reminded by a bunch of Bible- beaters loudly and publicly praying every time we sit down with a delicious No. 1 combo (value-sized with a sweet tea and a golden wheat bun). If God really is all-powerful, don't you think he can read your thoughts? Heck, you probably don't even need to bow your head anymore, prayer technology being so advanced and all. It's not that we don't necessarily pray, either. Think of it this way: If you're God, and you're checking your e-mail, don't you think you'd find it annoying if you had to find the important prayers (say, a crisis in the Middle East or a relative with inoperable cancer) amongst thousands of "Thanks for the Chick-Fil-A" prayers?
People may want to "keep Austin weird," but up north, we try to "keep Dallas plastic." Jags and Hummers speed up and down Central Expressway as big-name suits broker real-estate deals and wage high-dollar lawsuits in glassy office towers. But in a tiny white shack at the edge of Deep Ellum, a crew of home-cookin' connoisseurs at Vern's Place fix up Texas-style meals from 7 a.m. till 4 p.m. The food's great, from the chicken-fried steak to the mac 'n' cheese, but Vern's Place is as much about actual soul as it is about soul food. Folding tables are covered in red-checkered plastic tablecloths. If you want somethin' besides sweet tea, sonny, you're going to have to get it from the Coke machine. Chances are you'll end up waiting in the line next to a family of six from Pleasant Grove, a couple of cops on lunch break and some lawyers in Armani aiming to get a head start on a clogged artery or two. When people from all walks of life in this town unite in the holy name of deep-frying, well, that's soul.
Angry Dog
America's fatter than ever. Obesity epidemic. You've heard it all, and maybe you've been guilted into reducing your burger intake as a result. So why half-ass your occasional indulgence with a skinny patty or a charred hunk of grease? Don't settle for less: No hamburger patty in town has more flavor than at the Angry Dog. Certainly, a hamburger is the sum of its parts, and Angry Dog's half-pounders are well-equipped: The veggies are fresh and full-sized (none of those too-tiny slivers of lettuce and onions), the cheese variety is tops (pepper jack!) and the bun, at the very least, is large enough to sop up the juices. But lettuce isn't why people come back to the Dog. Their hunks of lean beef, especially when served medium-rare, have a sweet, juicy, full-bodied flavor that sticks in your memory for days--even weeks--after downing the huge beast. So why get upset about the obesity crisis? Get Angry instead.
We know at least one managing editor around these parts who doesn't dig Casa Navarro, which works for us; one less person crowding up the joint, which gets more and more packed 12 years after Blanca Navarro moved from downtown El Taxco up to Northwest Dallas, where this place has since become a fixture in a strip mall known for its discount, well, everything. Funny thing is, we didn't realize how popular the place was till two Yankees--which is to say, two guys we know who live in Richardson--told us it was on their spot of rotating regular eateries; see, Mr. Managing Editor, it is worth the drive. For what? Well, maybe the green-salt-rimmed top-shelf margaritas, which somehow always seem to help us wind down the week; or maybe it's the gratis pinto bean soup, which we're always tempted to super-size; or the chicken mole, which goes down like melted chocolate; or the basic Tex-Mex dishes always heavy on the cheese and light on the grease (or so we tell our stomachsand hearts). And we dig the Christmas lights that stay up year-round; nothing cheesy about it, but have you tried the enchiladas?
Twisted Root Burger Co.
After telling a customer off and getting fired from his corporate job, proprietor Jason Boso turned to culinary school and found not only a new partner in Quincy Hart but a dream for a top-notch burger joint. Enter their brainchild Twisted Root. Hand-crafted patties of beef, turkey and occasionally ostrich and other specialty ingredients join forces with homemade root beer, original condiments, Chef Steve's ice cream and incredible fries. All delicious. We're talking lick-your-plate good. But that's not the awesome part. After ordering, customers are given a slip of paper with a film or TV character's name--Hot Lips Houlihan, that sort of thing. Customers read them and giggle, generally dismissing them until a booming voice calls them over the loudspeaker. This is no time for the timid. Boldly claim your name (we got Ivana Humpalot, and responded to our addresser with "Oh you do, huh?" garnering some applause from fellow diners), proceed to the counter and get rewarded with a completely satisfying meal...Or, be like our friend, shy and sheepish, and have them rib you until you get there. Either way, it's gourmet abuse we fully appreciate.
Coal Vines
We love the pizza; it just may be the best in town, come to think of it (and we often do think about it--like, every other day). But, look. We hate to give this away. It's a pretty well-kept secret. It's not like we've seen you there at 11 a.m. on Sundays. We've looked, danged near every weekend. But, like, Coal Vines has a pretty extraordinary brunch. Three words: eggs Benedict pizza. Three more: sunny-side up pizza. Who woulda thunk it? Eggs on a pizza; almost sounds like a Sam Jackson movie. The sausage-broccoli rabe-banana peppers frittata's almost extraordinary; same goes for the one with crab and spinach. And we know one 3-year-old who can't get enough of the French toast; he thinks it's dessert, since it probably would pass as such at most other places. And did we mention the mimosas? No? Probably because after we have a few, we kinda get all quiet and reflective. Full, I think you call it. No--buzzed. Actually, they're kinda the same thing at Coal Vines.

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Upscale

Caf� Istanbul

Café Istanbul
A little line on Caf Istanbul's menu offers a telling piece of information: The owner imports charcoal all the way from Turkey for his grill. It's that kind of attention to quality and detail that sets this attractive eatery apart from most other Middle Eastern restaurants in Dallas. We've eaten there many times, and we realize Turkish food isn't for everyone; oftentimes the meat here isn't embellished (or drowned) with fancy sauces. Instead, the rich, earthy flavors of lamb and beef, for example, are allowed to stand on their own, accented with parsley and pickled cabbage in the house specialty, Istanbul doner. Some standouts on the menu are acili, an appetizer dip-type thing made from tomatoes, bell peppers, mint leaves and a lot of garlic that goes well with Caf Istanbul's outstanding fresh-baked bread and the "ezogelin corba soup," which is simply the best lentil soup we've ever had, spicy and full-flavored. We can't say we tasted anything different about the charcoal-grilled items with that exotic Turkish wood, but they were good nonetheless--like everything at Caf Istanbul.

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Inexpensive

Kasbah Grill

Kasbah Grill
We kind of don't want to tell them, for fear they'll raise the prices, but Kasbah Grill's Moroccan cuisine is a steal. You can easily get out of here with a sumptuous meal for $10 a person or less. The focus is on tagines, rich stewed dishes such as beef with onions and prunes, or lamb shank in a sauce dotted with carrots and onions, served over rice. The portions are quite large, though you still wouldn't want to miss the slightly piquant harrira soup or a pot of mint tea to finish things off. The owner and staff are gracious and friendly, and you'll dine with an interesting slice of the Mid-Cities' immigrant population--including Africans of many countries. They found out something we knew: Kasbah Grill serves up some of the best ethnic home-cooking you'll find, wherever your home might be.
Zorba's
We know Ziziki's is a great place. It wins "Best Greek Restaurant" just about every year in Best of Dallas--as well as in other, inferior "best" lists compiled by competitors. Oh, and we know Ziziki's is much more than a Greek restaurant, that its owners weave in influences from all over the Mediterranean, all over the world. And we applaud that because we should. But you're gonna be out some bucks if you dine at Ziziki's. And one thing we've always thought, right or wrong, is that a Greek restaurant shouldn't be overly pricy. That's why Zorba's now tops our list for best Greek cuisine in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Zorba's menu is more traditional than its upscale counterpart on Travis Walk, but it's no less well-executed. Everything we've tried, in fact, is superb--no wonder this immaculate, homey space is full on weekend nights. The Greek chicken? A crisp-skinned leg quarter, somehow imbued all the way through with the flavors of lemon, pepper and oregano. The kleftiko special? An enormous pastry filled with tender chunks of braised lamb, Greek tomato sauce and green peas. The Greek-style skirt steak? Marinated in lemon juice and other seasonings, served sizzling on a cast-iron skillet, kind of like fajitas. And the bill? Very modest indeed.
The genius of this assembly is that it is subtle yet dramatic; decidedly Texas, without slipping on its kitsch; it's sensual, without tripping over clumsy clichs. Stephan Pyles--the restaurant, not the chef--is a gentle conglomerate of modern geometric shapes, metal, rich wood, stacked Texas flagstone and terra-cotta brick swaddled in Southwestern sunset and desert hues. At the portal, a lit bridge path is flanked by a black granite reflecting pool, where a small waterfall burbles over a sculpture. The greeting chamber is separated from the rest of the restaurant by a 4-foot-high wall of copper bands woven through steel vertical ligaments. The focal point, visible from almost any point in the restaurant, is the 1,500-square-foot glass-enclosed display kitchen--a display case where steam, flame and smoke billow and coil. Like Pyles' distinctive food, this ambiance has impact, yet the senses remain nourished.

Best Of Dallas®

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