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.

Celebration

How do we know that Celebration has the best home-style cooking in Dallas? Listen, we live with our 86-year-old mother-in-law, a woman who wouldn't leave the house if it caught fire. But let her know we're heading out to Celebration on a Sunday afternoon—with about 70 percent of all the church-going families in North Dallas, apparently—and the old broad fetches her purse and slaps on some lipstick. Celebration's ever-rotating selection of fresh, seasonal veggies—many of them locally grown—crunchy fried chicken, sautéed fish, pot roast and pork chops are served family-style, which means eat all you can. Granted, in her case that's not very much, and eating it takes forever, but she's buying, so we'll let that slide. Celebration—it's like Luby's, only hot, tasty and fresh.

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House salads ain't rocket science, yet they're so often afterthoughts—a loose bit of greens and garden things to fill a menu slot with no sense of the house in them. Chef Brian Olenjack takes the house part of the name seriously, making sure a good dose of personality goes into every bowl. It's a simple salad in a curvaceous metal bowl, a nest of greens batted down in tomato vinaigrette, slices of grape tomato and fragments of candied pecans. Elements strike a balanced pose and pique with such uncommon precision, it behaves like an aperitif, the starter equivalent of Manzanilla sherry. And that goes down good.

Natsumi

There's a scene from 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in which Charlie and company taste Wonka's new lickable wallpaper while he boasts, "Lick an orange, it tastes like an orange. Lick a pineapple, it tastes like a pineapple. Go ahead, try it!" Ol' Willy Wonka was onto something—not the lickable wallpaper necessarily, but the idea that treats should actually taste like the flavors used to describe them. Enter the mod blue and white frozen treatery of Natalie Nguyen, Henderson's newly beloved Natsumi. Pick a flavor of gelato—we suggest the greens: green tea, avocado or pistachio (flavors vary daily). What you'll taste is the sublime almost-chocolate green tea flavor, a smooth hint of the green fatty fruit or that distinct, unmistakable nutty essence. These dead-on flavors are assuredly a result of Nguyen's use of organic dairy and sugar...and her use of authentic fruits, nuts and spices. The real deal, people. Using actual food instead of artificial flavors might not scream innovation, but it makes for gelato so good it's not only brain-freezing, it's mind-blowing. We all scream for Natsumi.

Royal China
Nick Rallo

No doubt about it, the Preston Royal mainstay since 1974 needed a sprucing up; no matter the quality of the food, always high and occasionally top-notch, the place felt and smelled its age. Not even a sneak peek at the plans for the redo could have prepared us for what we found upon the eatery's reopening in late August, following a two-month shutdown. The place feels absolutely modern—marble and steel and glass, all polished to perfection. But even better is the updated menu, which brims with dumpling specialties and tea choices that have turned Dallas' most beloved Chinese restaurant into a dim-sumptuous alternative to our former fave Maxim, way up in Richardson's Chinatown and now off the menu when we need a quick fix of Far East cuisine closer to home. And the regulars have spoken: The place is more packed now than ever before. Thank God there's now a full bar right inside the door, so we can sake before we sup.

Bengal Coast Spice Traders

In the strictest traditional sense, Bengal Coast is not an Indian restaurant at all. But it is Indian-inspired, and that's close enough when the food's this good. Bengal Coast roasts its own spices and simmers more than 27 distinct sauces and marinades. The startlingly fresh dishes blend Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai influences with an Indian center. The result is not your typical Dallas Indian cuisine—that is, it's not dry and indistinct. Our faves include the Thai lobster samosas, satay-like sticks and kebabs, curries and naan wraps. Or try the fish and chips Masala, fish coated in chickpea-Kingfisher beer batter.

Nonna

This isn't strictly authentic regional Italian food. Instead, Nonna—carved out of the foyer of The Food Company catering firm—employs a strict Italian approach (freshness, simplicity) while borrowing and combining ingredients and influences and techniques from all over the Italian landscape. House-cured salumi. Fresh-kneaded and -extruded pastas. House-ground and -cased sausages. Wood-fired meats and pizzas and breads. The best inauthentic authentic Italian in Dallas, which means we can finally say goodbye to spaghetti Western dining.

Fuji Steak House & Sushi Bar

Don't let the kids sidetrack you to the Chili's next door or the Goff's across the parking lot. The real deal in kids' meals is the far pricier Fuji's Steak House and Sushi Bar. Yes, this is one of the best sushi bars in the city, thanks to chef Son Le, formerly of Steel fame—one that you and the spouse could easily enjoy on your get-the-hell-away-from-the-kids date night. No matter. Plunk your antsy kids down at one of Fuji's many teppan grills and prepare to be amazed at them being amazed at the slice-and-dice antics of the knife-wielding hibachi chefs. Maybe it's the oil fire that flares in their warmed faces, the flying shrimp tails that land artfully in the chef's tall hat, the smoking stack of onions shaped like a volcano, the bottle of Ramune (Japanese Sprite) with the marble inside, or the actual food—steak, chicken, shrimp, lobster and calamari—that tastes as good as it looks cooking. Whatever. A good time will be had by all ages. And the kids might not even bitch and moan about eating their vegetables, not with a big honker of a knife pointing the way to health.

Best Kosher-Vegetarian-Indian Restaurant

Madras Pavilion

Madras Pavilion

Not that trying to locate an Indian restaurant that serves only kosher vegetarian fare is something many people struggle with, but Madras Pavilion offers diners enough options that you can find something savory enough to satisfy within the bounds of any dietary restrictions. They have several sampler-style entrees that make for easy grazing, and there are several safe items to start with, like the flawlessly flaky samosas or the tasty uthappams, which are often referred to as Indian pizzas. But if you want to be sure to find something you'll like, then show up for the lunch buffet, the shining star of the restaurant. Seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. an immense buffet table, nearly the entire width of the dining area, is continuously filled with items from veggie curries and naan to soups and dosai. Everything they serve is prepared fresh daily, and make sure you order their mango lassi. Theirs is one of the best we've ever had and the perfect sip to soothe one's stomach after the spiciness of the food.

Fearing's at the Ritz Carlton
Fearing's at the Ritz Carlton

Though his namesake restaurant might in time be best known for its lush, smoky prime rib served on Sundays or its "mopped" rib eye slobbered in a slop of molasses, German beer and vinegar during mesquite-firing—a welcome departure from Dallas steakhouse monotony—Fearing's wood-grilled coriander lamb chops might take the cake in some minds, as it does ours. These chops tease with a raciness that never unravels into gamy chaos. They whet with clean juices and deep red flesh and luxurious, silken chewiness. Seasonings and treatments serve only the meat; the meat serves only the tongue. And that tongue is verrrry happy.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of