Cosmic Café
Catherine Downes
If you need a break from the corporate humdrum and find yourself craving some killer meat-free food in a Zen atmosphere, this isn't just your best bet, it may be your only one. The atmosphere is decidedly bright and colorful, with a building reminiscent of a Buddhist temple, complete with prayer flags, Krishna statuettes and brightly painted walls. There are hearty soups, appetizers like hummus and samosas and a well-rounded menu of "big-bang entrees." You can't go wrong with the Cosmic Stir, a tofu and vegetable stirfry, or the Socrates Plato, a pile of flavorful portobella mushrooms over basmati rice. It all comes with naan, a fluffy and delectable Indian bread, and you can select a refreshing herbal cooler or hot chai tea to accompany this meditative smorgasbord of culinary bliss.
Like any good ethnic restaurant, Quán Kiên Giang has a near inscrutable menu; one that helpfully offers color photos embedded in the plastic-coated, spiral-bound menu. Here you'll note spring rolls as plump and virile as kielbasa; stir-fried Alaskan crab, red and bulbous; pinwheels of stir-fried frog legs dipped in fish sauce; and catfish steaks in a clay pot. On the table you'll see the pho ensemble. Pho, the traditional Vietnamese beef rice noodle soup, is served with a plate of vibrant multi-leafed stalks of basil, crisp bean sprouts, thin slices of jalapeño and half a lime, plump and dripping. Its broth is rich, the beef as thin and puckered as seersucker, the noodles separate and tender. Squirt bottles of sriracha, chili sauce and hoisin sauce saddle up for more intensity. Charred beef is served over tender rice noodle cakes hugging a mound of mint leaves topped with slivered carrot, cucumber and jicama. Ladle the strong fish sauce condiment over all of it and watch the rice drink it in as it adds an extracted fishmonger fume and tangy bite. In the dining room you'll see streamers and a mirror ball hovering over high-backed chairs upholstered in patterned bordello red. Their motto: "In order to respond affection and enthusiastic support from you, we have been using up ability, 5-year experience to serve you with satisfied and delicious meals." Because ultimately, a meal that isn't satisfied isn't worth the plate it is written on.
Twin Peaks
Friendly, curvy waitresses in tiny outfits are hardly a unique restaurant theme. Or a good one, honestly. But if you like Hooters, you're going to love this place. Why? Hi-def plasma TVs on the wall. Free wireless Internet. Expansive menu. Modern music. And, most important, hard liquor. Look, it's your choice. But if it's batter-fried chicken wings and a pitcher of flat beer served by a girl in pantyhose to the beat of Mack Rice's "Mustang Sally" vs. pulled pork nachos and a vodka tonic delivered by a girl in a lumberjack flannel midriff top to the beat of U2's "Beautiful Day," then, really, do you have to choose? Use your imagination and you can probably come up with two bigger reasons.
Times Ten Cellars
A winery inside the city limits? Times Ten Cellars is the venture of three men, Christopher Lawler, Rob Wilson and Kert Platner, who took their love of wine to the next level and beyond. Walk through the wine-tasting rooms decorated with an eclectic mix of modern and antique furniture and local art and check out the barrel room where the trio makes wine from grapes grown at vineyards in California and, starting this year, at their 100-acre Cathedral Mountain Vineyard near Alpine. When the right moment of perfect fermentation arrives, a mobile unit backs up to the building, an old post office, and the bottling begins. The bottles get labeled—all the labels feature different chairs, the better to imply a relaxing experience—and are served either in four-wine tastings or single glasses. Visit Times Ten Cellars before dinner for an appetizer such as pâté, gourmet cheeses and smoked salmon, or visit after dinner for wine and desserts made by Doughmonkey. On a recent Saturday night, the place was hopping with wine lovers there for the select wines by the glass or bottle, all half-price.
India Chaat Cafe
Kathy Tran
If only all fast food tasted this good. The wraps at Chaat Café are truly innovative. Made with naan bread and tandoori chicken, they are prepared on the spot, like everything else at the restaurant. The meat is marinated in yogurt and spices in a clay oven until it is tender and juicy. The best part, besides the taste? The fast-food prices. Chaat Café, the first fast-food Indian restaurant in the United States, is already well-known in the Bay Area, where there are multiple locations. A second DFW location, in Irving, is coming soon. They get the high-tech jobs, and we get Chaat. That's fair enough.

DRINK ME. EAT ME. These are the words Alice confronts down the rabbit hole. All of the other thickly woven strands of logic and nonsense and satire and the criminal court packed with cards are mere Wonderland sideshows. Just after Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she finds a bottle with a paper label marked DRINK ME in large, beautiful letters. She examines the bottle, and after noticing it has no warnings or impenetrable child safety caps, she opens the bottle and drinks. She savors the complexity of the bouquet and palate as it courses through essences of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast. She finishes it off. "What a curious feeling," she says. Next she stumbles upon a small cake. The cake is marked with the words EAT ME scrawled in currants. She finishes that off too.

When you boil it down, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is little more than a gourmand guide.

One Arts Plaza breathes a similar essence; it's a kind of rabbit hole in reverse, a retreat from the typical downtown netherworld of empty retrofitted old buildings and sterile, glassy new ones. The 24-story, $150 million structure rests on the eastern edge of the Dallas Arts District. It has spaces for retailing and dining. It has expansive office space, 68 plush modern residences and a six-story cube traced in lights to illuminate the outline of its penthouses. The cube can be programmed to display colors and patterns—a ticking clock for instance. To mark teatime.

One Arts Plaza is the new U.S. corporate headquarters for Southland Corp., the mother ship of 7-Eleven convenience stores. Taking shape in its front yard will be the Winspear Opera House, the City Performance Hall and the Wyly Theatre plus Booker T. Washington High School.

"Piazza is not a real Texas word," developer Lucy Billingsley of the Billingsley Development Co. says. Yet a piazza it will have. It's filled with fountains and green spaces. It will be threaded with caricature artists, mimes and saxophone players, species that are as foreign to downtown Dallas as talking caterpillars and dancing lobsters are to English pubs.

"What we've got the chance to do here is to create a downtown place for humanity," Billingsley says. "I've been calling it the living room of the arts district. I should be saying it's the dining room for downtown Dallas."

EAT ME, DRINK ME blooms. This fall, One Arts Plaza will introduce a strange troika of restaurants. These will not have cherry tarts, roasted turkey or pineapple. But they will have niche wines from all over the world, pot pies, signature mint juleps and soba noodles.

Enter former actor and famed restaurateur Paul Pinnell, last of Nana atop the Hilton Anatole. Pinnell will introduce Dali Wine Bar & Cellar, where California wine country cuisine will blend with contemporary urban food. Café Italia founder Scott Jones and former Melrose executive chef Joel Harloff will open Screen Door, a contemporary take on classic dishes from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas. Indirectly launched from Tokyo, Tei An will also take shape in the plaza. It's a soba noodle emporium from Tei Tei Robata Bar and Teppo creator Teiichi Sakurai.

Sakurai studied at Tokyo's Tsukiji Soba Academy to master the art of crafting buckwheat soba noodles by hand. "Handmade soba is very fashionable in Tokyo right now," Sukurai says. He notes Southland CEO Toshifumi Suzuki is an avid soba noodle aficionado, thus making Tei An in One Arts Plaza hand-in-glove snug.

Named after Wonderland-ish artist Salvador Dali, Dali Wine Bar & Cellar aims to turn wine bar rituals, as they have been practiced in Dallas, on their ear. Dali will house a custom wine cellar designed to mimic the sensuality of floating Champagne bubbles. The bar itself will be illuminated from within to fill the glassware with light. Thus the serious geek can gauge wine color and clarity. Rather than a parade of pricey brand names from California and France, Dali will feature elusive wines at approachable prices.

Designed to mimic a thoroughly modernized Southern mansion, Screen Door will take Southern staples and breathe into them Euro-style vivacity.

But what is DRINK ME, EAT ME without some SEE ME, especially in Dallas? Praeda Ultra Lounge, a private VIP room-laden night club by former Candle Room manager Aaron Latus, will feature a 360-degree viewing screen with projectors that can scan your visage and insert it in the middle of the Sahara desert, a sloshing ocean or in free fall from a cliff. Also gracing Praeda will be a massive aquarium stocked with sharks. The creatures. The looking glass. The Clock. The drink and cake.

When Alice drinks from that bottle, she shrinks down to 10 inches. When she finishes off the cake, she grows so tall her feet disappear from view. Distraught at the disappearance of her feet, she sheds gallons of tears. Hence Alice personifies Dallas. For who among us doesn't sob out a full reflecting pool when we can't see our Jimmy Choos and Guccis? — Mark Stuertz

Asian Mint
Thai noodle houses and sushi bars are popping up around Dallas as if this were California or something. But Asian Mint is a different kind of café. The atmosphere is modern and bright, stylish with nary a travel poster in sight. The fusion cuisine leans toward Thai, with Chinese dishes second. But whatever the dish, it's reinterpreted in way that brings out subtle flavors that can sometimes get overwhelmed in hot and spicy dishes. Asian Mint's specialty is usually ignored by most Vietnamese and Thai restaurants: dessert pastries married to Asian flavors, like green tea ice cream cake and pa tong ko, Asian beignets. Try the jasmine crème brûlée. Heaven.
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While men on stage blow altos and beat snare heads, women and children moisten their lips in crawfish etouffee with a creamy sassafras sauce. Their lips purse. Their eyes close. Their jaws do an Elvis swivel. Why is this so ridiculously good? Is it the perfect cook-down of onions and celery and peppers blended into roux? Is it the serrations of cayenne left on the tongue as the silken stew rolls down the throat? Is it the plump tight curls of crawdad tail? This etouffee has terrific balance that leaves the mouth pulsing and then quickly, somehow, lets it reset, readying for the next spoonful. It's nutrition for jazz ears.
Kasbah Grill
Africans eat here—from both north and south. Middle Easterners eat here. On Sunday, you'll find an after-church Anglo crowd. During Ramadan, the place packs at sundown for multi-course specials. What brings these disparate populations together is Moroccan home cooking in the form of rich, warmly spiced stews, or tagines, and excellent couscous and kebab dishes. The proprietors are exceptionally welcoming; everyone feels comfortable at one of the booths or metal tables, housed in what used to be a 7-Eleven store (a recent re-decoration has exorcised most of the convenience-store vibe). We love the royal couscous and its mélange of earthy flavors: roasted vegetables, couscous steamed in broth and a tender braised lamb shank. Kasbah is also one of the few places in the area where you can get the traditional Moroccan dish bastella, which is a phyllo-dough pastry concoction with ground chicken, eggs and almonds topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon. C'mon, there's a reason why it's a national delicacy; this odd mingling of flavors somehow creates an exotically spiced, savory whole. All this, plus there's a good chance you'll get out of here for $10 a person or less.

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