Best Cajun Restaurant 2008 | Alligator Café | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Alligator-skin wallpaper, green. Lots of napkins. And helpful hints: pinch the tail, suck the head. Who'd a-thunk Cajun could be so Freudian? Such is the power of the crawdad. And of the Alligator Café with its long ropes of thick and greaseless fried alligator tail, soothing and swarthy gumbo with rings of fresh scallion embedded in this Cajun lava, plates of fried green tomatoes covered with shredded Parmesan on a bed of lettuce, and the heartiest damn red beans and rice your stomach ever rumbled to. Yes, Alligator, blow my Freudian crater.

We used to be satisfied with the greasy calzones at your standard mall food court pizza joints (Famous Famiglia, Sbarro, etc.), but now that we've sampled the Italian staple at Picasso's, we just can't go back. There are those of us who'd argue Picasso's serves up the best pizza pie in town, but fold the crust over and it's just as good, if not better. You can choose from the normal toppings—pepperoni, sausage, olives, etc.—but Picasso's also gives you the added advantage of "deluxe toppings" (artichoke hearts, feta cheese, pine nuts, etc.) and "gourmet toppings" (steak fajita meat, portabella mushroom, smoked Gouda, etc.), allowing you to take your calzone experience to the limit. We highly recommend the large—not only will it feed you for a couple days, but if some freak snowstorm blew up, you could probably crawl in the thing and survive. It's that big, people.

Dallas Fish Market chef Randy Morgan says his goal is to align food with décor, in this case a modern white glass and metal room with repeating geometrical shapes cleansed into near sterility. Thus Morgan, who resuscitated the shuttered Russian Tea Room in New York, works his food into these cues, sometimes by shaping, sometimes by deconstructing and reformulating. His ceviche reflects this mindset, if only subtly. It's an invigorating mound of precisely minced Hawaiian red snapper interlaced with bits of mango and jalapeño that issues bursts of cumin. Morgan has teased out a workable juice formula—roughly 60 percent lime with 40 percent orange—to flash-cook the fish into opacity while moderating the lime intensity as it annuls the orange sweetness and preserves natural fish flavors and textures—flavors balanced with the precision of the mincing. Geometry never tasted so good.

Not that this truck stop needs any more love. Texas Monthly already called their tacos the Best in Texas, and we once wrote a cover story about the truck stop itself, calling it the best truck stop in the world or something like that. It is a delightfully weird place with a swimming pool, a drive-through featuring bikini-clad girls who will buff your car while you buy beer, and a Tejano singer who sets up shop in the parking lot Friday nights and gets the weekend started right. But it's the tacos that keep us coming back, and Texas Monthly had a point: They are damn good. And cheap. We recommend the picadillo and the barbacoa. Just remember: cash only. And if you have a hard time finding the taco stand, just look for the line.

Starting with the décor, Yutaka is impeccable and authentic. Shelves behind the hostess stand bear beautiful Japanese vases, and walls are accented by bright wooden box frames that hold delicate Japanese maples. This place is the best relief in town from the disappointment of cheap, Americanized sushi. Their fish is incredibly fresh—the salmon and yellowtail unagi melt in your mouth—and the chefs use Binchotan charcoal, renowned in Japan for cooking the inside of the food while sealing the outside to hold in the juices. You'll be hard-put to find a better appetizer than the tuna tataki, bathed in an outrageously flavorful cilantro sauce, and they change up the menu with things like roasted eggplant and seared foie gras. Lunch offers affordable bento boxes, and if you want to pretend you're at a Tokyo bistro, you can order the whole squid.

Glen Kusak's chicken-fried bacon won the award for "Best Taste" in this year's State Fair of Texas food contest, but let's give credit where credit's due. Chicken-fried bacon's been served up for years at Sodalak's Original County Inn, located in the small Texas town of Snook. They even serve it with cream gravy—none of the wussy ranch and honey mustard that Kusak's offering. We do, however, want to thank Kusak for bringing the delicacy to Big D, since we'd like to be as close as possible to our primary care physician after forking over our food tickets. But if you're on a diet, don't fret. Downing a few strips of chicken-fried goodness ain't cheatin'—it's doing your duty as a Texan. After all, as chicken-fried godfather Frank Sodolak once said on Texas Country Reporter, "your own body can tell what's good for ya."

Yao Fuzi Shanghainese style blends in bits of Mandarin and even Japanese, keeping it floating atop the mainstream in North Texas. You can savor fried calamari in curry dust, spicy tuna summer rolls, pan-fried duck in Mandarin sauce, and sweet and sour chicken. For the authentically adventurous, try duck gizzard, beef tripe and cilantro, jellyfish sliced from the head. There is even kimchi. Any of these chosen paths leads to serenity.

For meat lovers, the Brazilian churrascaria is the king of steakhouses, although it doesn't really qualify as a steakhouse, not in the traditional American sense of a slab of meat on a plate with some potatoes to the side. In case you haven't been to one of these places by now, it's caveman simple: meat on a stick. But the wonder of the churrascaria is the many ways that meat—and its many varieties, from chicken hearts to pork wrapped in bacon—can be cooked. By now, there are churrascarias all over the place, but if you have the money, the best of the best is Fogo de Chao. And if you're not a meat lover, the salad bar is superb. It's a pricey treat, but well worth it.

Cookouts are a staple of many holidays, but let's face it—between the picky eaters, the charcoal and the bugs, sometimes they can be a real pain in the buns. Lucky for you, Central Market sets up an outdoor grill on most holiday weekends (and for their annual Hatch Chile Festival), serving up gourmet burgers, hot dogs and sausages all afternoon for a price almost unheard of in this town. Forgo the microbrew beer and two people can eat for less than 10 bucks. And it's tasty too—we're still salivating over the Hatch chile burger on the Hatch chile bun with Hatch chile cheese we had a few weeks back. And remember—it's always better to shop for groceries on a full stomach.

Many a weekday you'll find half the editorial and production staff of the Dallas Observer hunkered down at the Original Market Diner, enjoying meatloaf, a turkey club (forget fries—try the homemade potato chips), or best yet, a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy. You see, unlike our other old-school favorite—Mama's Daughter's Diner—the OMD serves the most important meal of the day from open till close, allowing the late risers in our ranks to enjoy the same advantages as the early birds without having to resort to Denny's or IHOP. Throw in the friendliest waitstaff in town and the always-fruitful people-watching and you've got the best diner anyone could ever hope for.

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