Best Cookout 2008 | Central Market | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

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.

From one of the maybe two French restaurants left in Dallas after the Franco-genocide that followed in the wake of the great "freedom fries" skirmishes comes Watel's escargot, an assortment of Thai snails sautéed in Chardonnay, onions, garlic, tomato, and a lasting touch of cream before they're finished with basil and olive oil. They're rambunctiously plump and earthy, without any of that musty temperament. You're never left wondering what feedlot fodder got them to fatten up just so. A shit-kicking blessing, that.

New Mansion chef John Tesar is the dark horse on the Dallas dining terrain, the diamond in the rough. This outsider could not compete with or build upon the traditions that unfolded from The Mansion through the decades under the Lucchese-booted Dean Fearing. So, he wisely chose to focus on foodstuff and flavor with laser precision as the restaurant received a much-needed multimillion-dollar makeover. Its dusty, cobwebbed Southwestern appointments have largely disappeared, though Mansion tortilla soup remains. The room is richly understated with immaculate lines and lush artworks that whisper of its past formality. And what can you say about Tesar's flavors, a near unclassifiable Euro-Yankee mosaic harmonized with thin threads of Asia? Tesar's flavors are almost universally compelling and articulate—from seared Hudson Valley foie gras with braised rhubarb, to arctic char graced with fennel puree and soy and orange, to roasted Texas guinea fowl with lentil and bacon. Rest in peace, O lobster taco.

Truth is, we could dine on Indian every day of the week—man and woman, we're so totally hoping, can live on samosas alone. And if so, Roti Grill's the place to get 'em hot and fresh once you place the order at the counter...if, that is, you can keep your mitts off everything else on the menu at the joint started three years ago by Pardeep Sharma, owner of the equally delish India Palace, which this place resembles, but without all the pomp and circumstance. The tandoori's to die for; the garlic naan's divine; the biryani's the best we've had anywhere in town. The only thing we tend to avoid is the paneer pakoda; cheese isn't meant to be shoe-leather tough, sorry. Still, one item out of, oh, 100 ain't bad at all.

This year, Starbucks Coffee instructed their cafes to start prominently displaying the date that the coffee beans they are serving as their "freshly brewed coffee" was actually roasted. Helpful for coffee connoisseurs, but the problem is that Starbucks, like most coffee shops, still brews up coffee that was roasted weeks, or sometimes months, before the baristas grind and serve it to their customers. But Dunn Bros. Coffee doesn't think that coffee roasted last month is "fresh" enough. That's why they roast their coffee beans in house every day. So every cup of coffee you order or bag of beans you buy is always freshly roasted. Their seasonal Tanzanian peaberry is exceptional. The food menus differ between the two locations, but the Addison location also serves beer and wine. Oh, and unlike that coffee shop with the frap-a-smoothies, at Dunn Bros. you don't have to jump through any hoops to get your free Wi-Fi on.

The Observer has given this place plenty of attention in the past, but still, after all these years the Texaco service station turned Art Deco restaurant remains the best place to get some authentic fried chicken. Like all comfort food, including its sister restaurant Babe's Chicken Dinner House, Bubba's fried chicken recalls Sunday dinner at home. The batter is gold, thick and crunchy, the chicken tender and juicy. The side vegetables could stand a little more attention, but there's not a whole lot to complain about at Bubba's, which is why we still love it.

There is something so Cape Cod-ish about fried clams—the smell, the tartar sauce, the rubbery taste that rebounds the mouth with each chew—it makes you want to cozy up to a boiled lobster and suck out those green guts without questioning what the hell you're eating. Oh, of course, we have never been to Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard or anyone's vineyard for that matter. So maybe our memory is more primal, something from our youth—yes, that's it—it's from the fried claims at the Howard Johnson's on North Central Expressway that closed in, what, the early '70s? That's the memory that's triggered when you order fried clams at New Top's, which is the same as the old Top's, only newer, and relocated next to the downtown library after the lease on the old Top's Main Street location was not renewed. Hang the cholesterol count, the clam strips at New Top's are fried but not greasy, likely frozen but fresh-tasting, inexpensive but not cheap-tasting. The owner, who doubles as the order-taker and triples as the cook, will fry just about anything: shrimp, chicken, beef, fish, hush puppies, and her burgers are downright delish. But it's the clams that keep us coming back for reasons only our inner HoJo can comprehend.

So, yeah, on the very same day we stumbled across Savoy Sorbet, we landed knee-deep in La Cuesta Farm's goat cheeses, for sale right across the shed from the sorbet people. And we're picky about our goat cheese: It's gotta be this salty and this spready, which isn't a word until you get your hands on the flame-roasted green chile and garlic goat cheese that's just soft enough to turn a cracker into a canvas and just spicy enough to demand your respect. There are other varieties available as well, including the crumbly goat cheese. But that chili-and-garlic cheese is spectacular, so much so that we found ourselves in a face-off over the remaining two tubs recently; blessedly, The Man from La Cuesta found an extra in the cooler, keeping the peace amongst two men who stuck out their 10s at the exact same moment and hoped, prayed, they'd hit the buzzer first.

Texas Meats Supernatural is a consortium representing several North Texas farms that raise cattle and other animals and crops by organic, humane methods. The consortium sells beef, lamb, pastured poultry, pork and farmstead cheeses at the Farmers Market. But you have to go look for them on Fridays or Saturdays, because those are the only days they'll be there. Grass-fed, organic beef is free of most of the hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides that work their way into supermarket beef. The meat also doesn't come from the downer cows on fork-lifts that you see on the evening news. But mainly, as most people who eat it will tell you, it just tastes better. And all red meat these days pretty much costs its weight in rubies, so if you're going to eat it, might as well eat the very best.

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