Zaguán World Bakery and Café
As much as we love Tex-Mex, it's easy to overload on refried beans and queso in this town. So when we want Latin, but are tired of the enchilada platters, we head to Zaguan, a bakery and cafe with a South American flavor. The menu seems to be constantly evolving, but standards include cachapas, sweet corn pancakes with your choice of fillings; arepas, white corn cakes that resemble English muffins, again filled with a selection of meats or cheese; and pabellón criollo, a hearty meal of shredded beef, seasoned black beans, plantains and rice. Our favorite is the pabellón. A freshly squeezed juice (including unusual ones such as watermelon and papaya) completes the meal.
Legal Grounds
Unlike the Starbucks across the street, Legal Grounds is a cozy neighborhood staple with a regular cast of servers and customers who seem as if they've known each other for years. But the easygoing nature of the place would be for naught if the coffee and food didn't come along for the ride. From the delicious and rich muffin tops to the one-of-a-kind French toast that soaks up a medley of fresh fruit, Legal Grounds delivers one of the best breakfasts in town and that rare Dallas blend of good food and friendly people. You don't have to dress up to eat at Legal Grounds or, even worse, look like a hipster. (AllGood Café, we turn our lonely eyes to you.) Instead you can come in after a bike ride around White Rock Lake or 10 minutes after you wake up and still feel right at home.
This is the sort of place that makes a breakfast that will keep you full well past lunch. Try the huevos rancheros, or any one of their omelets; you can't go wrong. But what this place is known for are its breakfast burritos. Filled with eggs, bacon, sausage and whatever else you want them to put on it, they're the best breakfast burritos in town. Plus, the service here is excellent. Come in one time and they already treat you like a regular, which, if you ride DART rail downtown to the St. Paul station, you may well become.
"Your hometown butcher shoppe, in the city" reads Greg Geerts' business card. The tiny shop isn't much to look at. It's spartan and white, with only a few old Samsonite suitcases and end tables to give it charm. But the infectiously engaging Geerts, who learned his craft at the meat counter in Huntsville after a string of DWI charges before moving on to Tom Thumb, is just the man to trim your rib eyes and New York strips. He prepares steaks marinated especially for indoor sizzling on George Foreman grills (because most Uptown apartment complexes don't allow hardwood charcoal grilling in the bathtub anymore). His fresh pork, ruby lamb chops and the sliced free-range chicken breasts look as fresh and wanton as anything you'll see—or wish you'd see—in your grocer's meat case. The Black Angus beef is mouthwateringly delicious. VG's sells Boars Head meats and cheeses and beef frankfurters and knockwurst. Geerts will sharpen your knives by hand on stone and demonstrate (more like insist on) the proper ways to care for and steel the edges. Geerts will get you anything you want. He just recently secured a 40-pound whole pig and a 20-pound whole goat for a Dallas luau. The pig had real blue eyes, he offers. He didn't say much about the goat's face, though.
Nate's Seafood and Steakhouse
Nate's is as plain and shamelessly effective as a good swamp cooler; a Cajun kitchen bog sweating the smoky scent of spice that haunts the spaces between the beer signs. Big slices of slick buttered and heavily garlicked French bread; deep and dirty yet exquisitely balanced seafood gumbo with clean spices discernible through grains of fluffy white rice. Fresh fish, grilled or blackened, brims with savor and is perfect in texture. Spread some live blues on that (they do), and you have a recipe for perfect moments.
Sali's doesn't have much of an atmosphere, despite the large mural of Venice on one wall, complete with canals and gondoliers. You'll see lots of big families and kids' soccer teams, usually there for the excellent hand-thrown thin crust New York-style pizza. But if you want a quick gourmet lunch and you have only a tenner in your pocket, Sali's will fill you up. Start with the salad and spicy house dressing. Peel off a piece of the yummy, garlicky bread. Then dig into manicotti, lasagna, eggplant, stuffed shells, spaghetti or fettucine Alfredo, served in individual casseroles bubbling hot straight from the oven. The bill tops out at $4.75 plus tip, $7 if you get iced tea or a soda.
Little Katana
On its face, busting things up is the antithesis of culinary craft. But Little Katana has mastered the art of creative destruction—deliciously. With mango cheesecake, Little Katana starts with the traditional sour cream-topped cheesecake, mingles it with fresh mangos, busts it up and dumps the debris into a sundae glass before topping it off with whipped cream. The beauty of it is that everything is retained: the mango tang, the graham cracker crumb crunch and the smooth velvety cheese, all in an organized mess of disorganization. Wrecking crew cuisine is the new global fusion. Trust us.
May Dragon
Good Chinese can be hard to find in the land of hedge-fund lucre and cosmetic sculpting. Sometimes the marinated chicken gizzards and pork ears and spicy beef tripe just seem so out of context; where such things are fine and good and tingle the adventure sensors, the consistency stumbles. May Dragon presents Mandarin, Hunan, Canton and Szechwan cuisines plus selected regional delicacies and elegantly coalesces them under one strip-mall roof. It has the usuals, the Ming lettuce rolls, the spring rolls, cashew chicken, kung pao shrimp and Szechwan beef, all with pert freshness and assembled with an acute eye to detail. Yet May Dragon also has assorted delicacies: the Peking-style roast pork, the pickled jellyfish, the dried fish with peanuts, smoked tea duck and Peking duck with crisped skin, juicy flesh, supple pancakes and crunchy scallions—as good as we've had anywhere. This is not a jaunt for the thrill-seeking epicure, though it may dazzle them. It has none of the manic thrills and disturbances of the rigorously authentic. Yeah, May Dragon is safe, but it's still dong gong good.
We were at Central Market once this year—and we love Central Market—but we asked for ciabatta and the person behind the counter held up this big black hank of bread that looked like some old lady's work boot. And we thought, "If that's ciabatta, we gotta say notta." But that's also why the smaller, more intimate scale of the city's original Whole Foods on Lower Greenville will be so sorely missed when the store closes some time later this year or early next. The ciabatta loaves at the Greenville Avenue Whole Foods are always fresh and steamy in a little bin right off the bakery. You can tong them into that brown paper bag yourself, and the best thing is they're still hotta. We buy a lotta ciabatta there. You didn't know we spoke Italian, did you?
Houston's Restaurant
For a casual restaurant, Houston's is a bit pricey ($17 for a French dip sandwich? Ouch.) And there are places that for a similar price serve a much better steak. But there's one thing on the menu that is well worth the price: the apple walnut cobbler. As one friend put it, "It was the most divine combination of fruit and nuts and crumbly topping and ice cream I have ever laid upon my tongue." That might be overdoing it (just a bit), but the dessert is good. The only downside: The restaurant is usually busy and they don't take reservations, so be prepared for a wait. But remember, you're grown up, so when you do get a seat, no one's going to tell you to save dessert till last.

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