Highland Park Cafeteria
Though no longer in Highland Park, the legendary cafeteria, founded on Knox Street in 1925, reopened this spring and has reconnected with devoted customers at its new location in Casa Linda. Face it, sometimes you need a cafeteria. Maybe grandma's visiting and the discussion about where to eat Sunday dinner took an ugly turn. Or maybe you're just in need of a little comfort food. Smothered steak, macaroni and cheese, squash casserole and other cafeteria classics like baked fish fillets can appease. Don't forget HPC's famous baked goods such as zucchini muffins and chocolate meringue pie. Walk down the line and pick up a little of this, a little of that. Jell-O! Sorry, "lime whip congeal." The line may move kind of slowly—hard for some gray-haired diners to hustle on their walkers—but that's part of the charm.
Clay Pit Grill & Curry House
Founded in Austin in 1998, Clay Pit is a modernization of this ancient exotic cuisine of hundreds of potent and sultry aromas and flavors somehow subdued into harmonious beatitude. Indian cuisine is a marvel that sorts through coriander, fennel, cumin, cilantro, turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, cocoa, nuts, garlic and chilies, somehow keeping them from erupting into Diet Coke-Mentos chaos. Chef and managing partner Tinku Saini once slandered his creation, referring to it as the P.F. Chang's of Indian cuisine, but Clay Pit is not as overtly mainstream as all of that. Sure Clay Pit has a Caesar and naan pizzas; it has naan wraps busting seams with lettuce, rice, cilantro and onions plus either chicken or lamb; it goes Indie-Mex with naan quesadillas with three cheeses. But it also has well-crafted tradition such as moist tandoori chicken that is more bird than burlap; mushroom and pea paneer simmered in smooth onion curry; moist beef vindaloo; and samosas and pakoras along with match and mingle curries and sauces for the meats, which include a nicely done bone-in goat—a thing P.F. Chang's wouldn't touch with 10-foot training chopsticks.
There's a joke among Dallas' culinary gentry that the best place for decent Italian is York Street, Sharon Hage's jewel where only the holy spirit of Tuscan cookery haunts her menu. That's why Riccardi's is such a surprise. It not only serves distinctive cuisine from owner Gaetano Riccardi's hometown of Avellino (near Naples), it bottles three of its own wines from the province of Avellino: a Greco di Tufo (white); the oldest variety of Avellino, the nutty and fruit forward Fiano di Avellino (white); and the rich and earthy Riccardi Taurasi, a red wine made from the Aglianico grape that is flush with food-friendly sharpness that unravels layers of balanced complexity. The menu includes spectacularly executed crimson sheers of carpaccio strewn with capers, and a creamy risotto mare blooming with plump shrimp, sweet lobster and tender calamari rings. It also has the unexpected, like the sausage- and pistachio-stuffed quail in a rich brandy sauce. Savor this in understated elegance that pools crisp contemporary edges with smooth traditional slopes and curves expressed in frescos, columns and wrought iron loops.
La Madeline
You can get a heart attack just reading about it: A baked ham and Swiss sandwich soaked in rich cream sauce. But La Madeleine's Croque Monsieur, which is French for "Mister, you're going to croak if you eat this," is worth the year or two it will take off your life. All the main ingredients work perfectly together; the ham doesn't overwhelm the Swiss, which co-exists peacefully with the sauce, which seeps just right onto the warm bread. Like most of La Madeleine's fare, the Croque is a little pricey, but, then again, it's also filling enough to tide you well past the dinner hour.
Metro Diner
We've neglected our old friend of late, and it has made us sad. Long ago, during the beginning of Bill Clinton's age of prosperity and peace, this place was our home-away-from. Late at night, the din of Deep Ellum still ringing in our ears, or early in the morning, on the way to our battered former HQ on Commerce Street, this diner—its seats sparkly red, its walls wooden brown, its surfaces covered in a fine sheen of...something—this diner would be our coffee-and-cigarettes-and-big-effin'-grin be all and end all. Bacon and eggs and burgers and fries and ham and steak and everything else, that was extra, the greasy solutions to the hangover brewing all over. But the coffee...it was good, cheap, something with which you washed down the Chess Records blues and the occasional slice of radio cheese squawking out of the jukebox. There's nothing better than 2:52 a.m. coffee, couple of sunny-side-ups, three sticks of crispy bacon, a mound of greasy potatoes and a biscuit or two. Nowadays, course, you can't smoke at the Metro, but it's still there, still surviving and thriving despite the demise of Deep Ellum and the expanse of DART-board construction threatening to drown the joint in rebar and torn-up concrete. Nothing fancy here. Just home.
Carmine's Pizzeria
There's nothing wrong with trendy upscale pizza restaurants, but sometimes all you want is a classic, simple slice that doesn't stray from its roots or require an hour-long wait and valet parking. Carmine's, like any self-respecting New York pizza joint, has red and white checkered tablecloths and pizzas displayed on those round silver platters by the register. Best of all, of course, is the pie itself—the crust is relatively thin but incredibly soft, with just the right quotient of chewiness. We recommend the cheese and pepperoni, which is flavorful, a little spicy and a lot garlicky. And since there's rarely a wait, you can grab a slice on the run.
Forty-five bucks worth of mindless tribute, that's what it is. Named after "famous for being famous" Dallas "barrister" Steve Stodghill—who gained fame partly by investing in Mark Cuban's Broadcast.com and partly by flaunting the demeanor of a cuddly pit bull of a lawyer—the Stodgerita is billed as the ultimate margarita experience. That isn't all bark. The Stodgerita is formulated with Herradura Seleccion Suprema, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and a touch of Red Bull. It's surprisingly silky and refreshing with remarkable balance. It goes down so smooth and easy, you'll find yourself ordering another just to make sure you're properly refreshed. But isn't that the idea in the rarefied world of billable hours?
Yutaka Sushi Bistro
There are innumerable ways to formulate a martini. Fuel it with vodka, gin or tequila. Treat it with green apple, cranberry, chocolate or whatever chick drink accoutrement you can dream up; or kick it with pickled okra and a Nicorette patch for the ultimate anti-Dean Martin refreshment. But to really finesse the martini, skip the hooch and go sunomo. Yutaka's martini sunomo salad arrives in billows of fog dissipating from the frosted martini glass. Underneath is a meticulously assembled medley of vegetables and fresh catch: octopus, shrimp and fish huddled in the cool fog with seaweed, daikon sprouts, pickled carrot, cucumber and crab. Real crab.
Chalk it up to climate change—everything else is—but it's getting increasingly difficult to stir up deft authentic Mexican cuisine in Dallas. Most of the stuff that tries passes muster, but it won't spark the Pavlov reflexes. That's why Trece—or thirteen—is just our luck. Here you can get the most virile tableside guacamole known this side of the Minute Men; at a place where haute Mexican regional cooking unfurls in fresh clear flavors, from the "mucho frio" grilled green tomato gazpacho, to the pepita-crusted Alaskan halibut in tangerine hoja santa sauce, to the shrimp, spinach and goat cheese stuffed chile rellenos in clean, refreshing tomato broth. Trece is where good Mexican lives in Dallas. Here's hoping the others catch up. And fast.
Tin Star
Our favorite foods include eggs, fried potatoes and bacon. Did we mention we love breakfast? And, yeah, we're from Texas, so all the better when you wrap up those breakfast classics in a flour tortilla. Sadly, many taquerias don't serve their breakfast tacos during the day, but Tin Star does. Whether you favor the traditional bacon, egg and cheese taco or you're craving a migas taco or Taco Blanco (egg whites, mashed black beans and pico de gallo), Tin Star has only one question: Do you want one taco or two?

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