Sali's Pizza & Pasta
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.
White Rock Coffee
Here's how you can make a billion bucks in just a few easy steps. First, secure a good supply of cow pies (horse apples will do in a pinch). Next, char those pies or apples (apple pie?) over an open fire until they're black and crisp. When they're done, grind 'em up, force hot water through the grinds, mix the slurry with low-fat soy steam or milk froth and cinnamon, put it in a paper cup, and sell it for a few bucks 'n' change. Then compile music and sell CDs. Bingo, you got a billion. There's a company that actually did this. You may have heard of them. But if you're more into beans than burnt crap in trendy froth, stop by White Rock Coffee. They have a space-age building with rustic rafters. They have a drive-up window and free wi-fi. Instead of CDs, they host live music and open mike Tuesdays, which are more biodegradable. White Rock roasts their own coffee (on the lighter side, keeping the blowtorches at bay) in small batches. White Rock pours certified Fair Trade Coffees whereby farmers are guaranteed minimum floor prices and fair labor conditions. Behold: the ultimate self-congratulatory caffeine rush every morning. The resultant brews are heady, smooth, refreshing and righteous. White Rock also sells cool frills like scones and exquisite, richly colored Chantal teakettles. Praise the bean.
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Most people are born with salty meat urges, the kind of meat with generous sequins of fat. Nove assembles them on a wooden board with timepiece precision, tiny slices of red and pink and blood black overlapping their way toward your cravings. The board hosts salamis and ruffles of prosciutto di Parma, sweet and salt tangy; mortadella folds, reeking of delicate pepper and coriander; and wedges of aged cheese with a little blot of seasoned ricotta. There's a mole, an intensely extracted explosion of cured salami musk from Seattle's Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. These slivery wafers are laced with chocolate, cinnamon and ancho and chipotle pepper gently hoisted on wisps of smoke. It comes with pizza bread. But why muck it thusly? Man can live on salted meat alone.
Crab cakes are ubiquitous. Crab cakes are dull, persecuted into monotony by the terror of filler tyranny. Chef Tom Fleming conquers this heinousness. Fleming's Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes have filler, but there is a precise method to his madness: quarter-cup of bread crumbs to 5 pounds of cleaned crab flesh. To this he adds a dressing composed of brandy, mayonnaise and roasted peppers with plenty of cayenne. The cakes are seared until they form a thick mahogany coat. They're loose and topped with fried potato strings. They rest on a bed of wilted arugula and tomato relish in a lively vinaigrette. Lemon is there too, creating a stiff acidic tension that gradually dissipates in the depths of the sweet cake. Relish that.
La Duni Latin Cafe
"Greed is good," says Gordon Gekko in 1987's Wall Street, and damn if the selfish bastard wasn't right. Greed isn't just good, it's down right saintly when it comes to La Duni's cuatro leches cake. Oh, you could share it with a friend, but the noble thing to do is eat it all by yourself, throwing your expanding body on this live hand grenade of caloric excess. According to the menu, this sumptuous confection begins with layered mantecado vanilla sponge cake, which is soaked in tres leches sauce, then topped with caramelized Swiss meringue and dotted with arequipe reduction and served with extra tres leches sauce and arequipe caramel. Yeah, yeah, dunno what all that stuff is; all we know is that if you reach toward our plate, you'll find yourself with tiny little fork holes in the back of your hand. Don't be angry. We're doing it for your own good.
Four Winds Steakhouse
Four Winds Steakhouse
It rests in the thick of the back country, at the end of a twisty driveway, wood fencing lining its flanks. There's a gazebo, a long porch and a few oaks sulking in the breeze plus a 15-acre pond where bass can be reeled in. This is Dallas steak dining as envisioned by Zeus and executed by former Del Frisco's chef Frank Rumoré. Once a ranch house built by former Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, Four Winds is a rustic cedar tabernacle with obese shrimp in the cocktail, house-made mozzarella in the caprese and charred steaks that look like hunks of cooled Hawaiian lava flow that get the hot flow going in the mouth. Dab that drool. Perched on an 1,100-acre stretch an hour or so out of Dallas, dining here is like a four-hour vacation. Pitch a tent near the gazebo if the wine gets get the best of you.

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