Bistro Watel's

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.

Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek

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.

Roti Grill

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.

Dunn Bros.

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.

Bubba's Cooks Country

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.

Dallas Farmers Market

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.

Dallas Farmers Market

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.

J's Breakfast & Burgers

The closest thing to actually stepping into a time machine for a visit back to the early '80s has to be a trip to J's. It doesn't look like much has changed in the more than 20 years since the restaurant first opened. The seats are covered with sparkly green vinyl, the smoking section is right up front, duct tape is holding a vent together, old water stains are on the ceiling, one of the saloon doors headed to the bathrooms is stuck open, and green and white wallpaper covers the walls. The waitresses know the regulars by name, and most have been working there for longer than they can remember. J's is open 24 hours, and it features a breakfast menu that rivals any other in the area. And no greasy spoon could be the best without outstanding chicken-fried steak, and the one here tastes like home-cookin' at its finest.

That guacamole might be allowable on a strict diet plan seems at best ludicrous, but we have been consuming guac all over town and still losing weight. Might have something to do with the two hours of aerobic activity we do every morning and the fact that we're forced to slather the Mexican munchie on celery sticks, but hey, it's tasty, good for you and most important: no prohibido. So we feel qualified to make the Best Of call on this appetizer, which has gone considerably upscale (read: expensive) throughout the onset of our fat years. Trece's guacamole is every bit as expensive ($12) as it is exemplary, which is evident from the restaurant dedicating several cart-wheeling guacamole chefs to perform its Guacamole Live programming. Avocados are sliced, diced and mushed together with cilantro, serrano and habanero peppers, lime and garlic. Also mixed into the brew are onions and tomatoes, roasted, not raw, which may make the difference in flavor (smoky) from your run-of-the-mill expensive guacamole—also the long, narrow homemade chips—yes, we tasted a few despite violating the sacred covenant of our diet. But it was for the best, right, and 15 extra minutes on the treadmill took care of those crispy dippers—though their memory will never, ever be erased.

Best Of Dallas®

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