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.
Piggie Pies
There are many reasons Piggie Pies takes home this award, as well as receiving similar ones in the past. Here are a few: the mozzarella cheese, the fresh mushrooms, the pepperoni, the feta cheese, the Canadian bacon, the just-right crust, the goat cheese, the fresh garlic...the list goes on. And that's just the regular, choose-your-own adventure pizzas. Piggie Pies also has a list of gourmet pies that are equally as good. With options such as the meatball pizza, the Mediterranean, the Milano and the pizza al pesto, among many others, the menu is almost overwhelming. Pizza Hut this ain't. Besides all the pies, there's a long list of pasta choices as well. We suggest the blackened chicken pasta: It's Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, penne pasta and blackened chicken in a marinara cream sauce, and it's big enough and rich enough to split. Unless you're greedy, and then you can just save half for breakfast. It's good that way too.
Taj Chaat House
Kathy Tran
We have to be honest. We have no idea what bhalle papdi is. (Or bhel puri or aloo chhole or dahi bhalle, for that matter.) But that's OK. We do know it tastes good, and that's all that matters. Nothing on the Taj Chaat House menu is translated into English, so if you're less than adventurous, you may want to bring along a dining companion who's well-versed in Indian cooking. Otherwise, you can walk up to the counter, pick out a couple of items and take your chances. Either way, you'll probably be satisfied. And, if not, you can toss your Styrofoam plate and plastic fork and try again. Taj Chaat House serves Indian street food out of a nondescript strip-mall unit off of MacArthur Boulevard in Irving, and the interior looks about like you might expect: lots of tables, very little decor (if you don't count the bright yellow walls) and fans blowing from the ceiling and from all sides. It's quick and casual, and the staff is so polite, they don't even get irritated when you stand in front of their counter gaping at the menu for far too many minutes.
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.

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