Chubby's Family Restaurant
We generally don't make it to Chubby's until 2 p.m. or so on the weekends, at which time we're enjoying a late breakfast. Most of the clientele, however, seems to be enjoying an early dinner before they watch JAG and turn in. Whether they come for the excellent omelets, the chicken-fried steak or the freshly baked pies we're not sure, but there's no doubt about it--this place is a mecca for the old-timers of Northeast Dallas. We've never been up early enough to see it open, but it's easy to imagine: a hungry mob of seniors crawling out of their Buicks and Lincolns, their walkers and canes banging against the doors, the sun rising in the distance...OK, maybe it doesn't go down quite like that, but if we were old, we'd sure as hell bang a walker for some of that French toast.
Ham's, the little roadside stand that could, is already fairly famous for its pick-your-own or just-buy-it fruit, especially the peaches. But people need to know more about the "homemade" ice cream they sell. Both flavors, peach and strawberry, are delicious, but our particular favorite is the peach. Maybe because they use peaches to make it instead of Soviet-era surplus chemicals, Ham's peach ice cream is incredibly peachy without being too strong-tasting. Because Ham's is a fur piece from Dallas, there are some tricks: You need to take your own cooler with ice in it, and even at that, on a typical Texas summer day you have to hightail it home to get that stuff in the freezer. But it is so worth it! They're open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, from mid-May to mid-August.
Jimmy's Food Store
Nick Rallo
Second-generation owners of Jimmy's Food Store, one of the true treasures of Old East Dallas, weren't defeated by a fire in 2004: They reopened a year later, and now they're doing better than ever. People come from all over North Texas to buy sausage handmade behind the counter, imported Italian groceries and wonderful cheeses. And now the store has a little table where you can eat. They're selling, among other things, the best muffuletta sandwich this side of Central Grocery in New Orleans. Another interesting thing since the fire: The area all around them, which used to be dauntingly seedy, is sprucing up a little. Little Italy reborn? If not, it's still one hell of a muffuletta.
Tacos Y Mas
Here at the Observer, we're precise in our word use. So when we say stand, we mean a walk-up, no-indoor-seating, honest-to-goodness free-standing stand. And if there's anything we'll stand for, it's the torta al pastor at Tacos y Mas, which may be the best spicy pork sandwich any side of any border. As for the first part of the name, the tacos are mouth-watering and easy on the wallet besides. And while we may be sticklers for precision, we don't mind taking advantage of the covered outdoor seating in front.
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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