Best Latin American Restaurant 2008 | Aló Cenaduria and Piqueos | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Aló Cenuduria and Piqueos serves the sort of street foods sold off carts and from stands along the thoroughfares of Mexico and Peru. Founding chef Taco Borga (La Duni and its offspring) accentuates the Japanese DNA inherent in his Peruvian creations, like his cebiche, diced bits of shimmering halibut tossed into lime and orange juices blended with a fish broth called tiger's milk for just a few seconds and then served immediately. Peruvian sashimi is strips of yellowtail or tuna percolated in a pool of sour orange runoff blended with Peruvian peppers, onion, cilantro and garlic with a squeeze of lime. There are beef picadillo burritos, enchiladas rolled with tortillas in a choice of mole or roasted tomatillo/pinto bean sauce, and crispy tacos with Peruvian pineapple salsa wadded with coarse cabbage shreds and threads of jicama. There are Peruvian brochettes (anticuchos) and the Afro-Peruvian peasant tacu-tacu, a sticky black bean and rice pie served in a cast-iron skillet topped with hash brown-like shreds of radish and tufts of frisée plus a crowning choice of scrambled egg, seafood or a "pork wing."

It's difficult to stay energetic and productive without a bit of something in the tummy and a break from the office. That's why so many people nix the brown bag and spend the cash dollars on the weekday lunch. But those hard-earned bucks don't have to be wasted on greasy grub or even four-star noshes. Luna de Noche has the cure for a bad day and more in its Xochitl soup. The dish is an event from start to finish. A server first presents a bowl of rice, chicken chunks, pico, avocado and tortilla strips. Then comes a shower of white peppery chicken broth over the top. The aromatic effect is exhilarating and enticing. The bites and slurps, however, exceed all expectation. The combination of fresh pico and avocado in the broth amps up spice and richness while the chicken offers an additional level of savory wholesomeness. Sodium aside, the warm and soothing concoction offers a rejuvenation of soul while being healthful, and finishing a bowl makes for a full-but-not-bursting satisfaction. This is what chicken-and-noodles wants to be when it grows up.

In the new shopping center across the street from the old Divino's location, on Gaston between Peak and Haskell a few blocks from Baylor Medical Center, the new Divino's sells a lunch that's one slice with two toppings and a drink for $2.30. How can you beat that? And this is not lukewarm pizza that tastes like it came frozen from Tom Thumb. This is real-deal, oven-baked Italian pizza—rich, creamy cheese on thin, crisp crusts with all the standard topping choices. They also offer a good Italian menu including baked ziti (five bucks), linguini with white or red clam sauce, $5.95, and other dishes, served with salad and bread. That's cheap.


Forget all of the goo-stricken, haute renditions. This mac and cheese is simple: elbows, house-made cheese sauce, basil. That's it. A gooey, muddy-yellow spread of macaroni is tarred in Gruyère and queso touched with finely minced and sautéed purple onions, garlic, and essences of basil and tomato plus sparks of black pepper and an unexplained halo of smoke wafting from the alchemy. This is transcendent rib adhesive.

The main problem with Tex-Mex restaurants lies in the free chips; it's difficult to pace yourself so that you're not already loosening your belt when your meal arrives. Avila's provides a delicious plate that's a perfect-sized complement to three baskets of their delicious chips: the enchiladas de frijoles negros (that's black bean enchiladas for all you white folk). Two corn tortillas are dipped in an ancho chile wash, filled with refried black beans, rolled and topped with Monterey jack cheese. (And a bonus that the menu doesn't even mention is a dollop of guacamole.) Sides of rice and pico de gallo keep it light. Just think of it this way: While your dining companions are painfully stuffed, you still have plenty of room for sopapillas.

Taryn Walker

Gone are the days of huddling inside the tight quarters of Ali Baba's teensy Lower Greenville location waiting for a table to open up so you can chow down on falafel, kebabs and hummus. But we can't forget those days. No, those old cramped memories make us truly appreciate the spacious new Abrams digs that allow Ali Baba to provide the residents of Dallas with comfy booths and a grand lunch buffet. The sneeze-guarded beacon offers up affordable, eat-to-excess combinations to suit your Mediterranean fancy. For the most part, any regular menu option is steaming and waiting for a tong-grab, giving the opportunity for a little experimentation, which pays off when you return for dinner already educated on the entrees. The newer, bigger kitchen has also proffered better tasting food on the whole—the fried kibbi is crisp on the outside and nutty and nourishing on the inside, the tabouli is bright and clean, the gyro is savory and heavenly with fresh pita. And oh, the kafta kebab. Now, buffets and comfortable seating may not seem like the wave of the future, but for a Dallas staple, it can mean a more satisfying lease on life.

Thank Allah for impatient landlords and generous chefs. Without them Dallas would have missed out on the best food on a stick outside the State Fair. In Pakistan, Afghan Grill chef and founder Asmat "Matt" Pikar paid off a landlord who was hassling an Afghan refugee over two months of late rent. In exchange, the refugee, a former Kabuli restaurateur, taught Pikar the secrets of the kebab as repayment. That was lucky for us. Pikar has brought his learning to Dallas, serving up coal-fired bulanee (fried, leek-filled turnovers); kadu buranee (sautéed pumpkin with garlicky yogurt); and aushak (leek dumplings with yogurt). Saffron and coriander add heady aromas to this Kabuli comfort food. War may be hell, but it has its benefits.

If it was a brave man who ate the first oyster, imagine the cojones on the guy who slurped down the first mussel. Its shell, black and pointy, opens to reveal an orange, amorphous mass of meat. Sometimes the smell ain't so great either. But put enough culinary goop on it, spice it and butter it and let it stew in something saucy, and the result is a feast for the senses. Toulouse Café and Bar offers five—count them, five—variations on the mussel theme, in both appetizer and entrée portions. There is our traditional French fave—marinière—which slathers the little critters in garlic, white wine, butter and shallots. For the more adventurous, there's the Thai—coconut milk, yellow curry, tomatoes, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and lime. Sopping up the sauce with Toulouse's crispy French bread is a culinary imperative. As is a side order of pomme frites—aka french fries with attitude. Nothing brave about eating the last two items unless you use them to chase the taste of the Green Room mussels—jalapeño, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, Champagne and garlic.

Best Never-Knew-It-Was-a-Restaurant Restaurant

The Cock and Bull

Like its nearby Lakewood neighbor The Lakewood Landing, The Cock and Bull hardly screams high class from its exterior. In fact, you're far more likely to walk on past it and never even know it existed unless you walked this block of Gaston with a watchful eye. When you get inside, there's nothing too fancy about the place either—looks like a dive bar, really. But then you glance to the back of the room and notice the chalkboard: Wow, a steak special...for $22? What kind of place is this? So you ask for a menu, and you look at your dining options. Hey, you think to yourself, some of this looks pretty good! And, boy, is it—although some of it can get a little pricey. For the most taste bud pleasure for your buck, your best bet's the Blue Bell Burger. Trust.

Yes, it tortures us to select a foreigner for this honor—a chain no less, with installments in New York, Las Vegas, D.C., Sonoma, California and Reno, Nevada, among other locales. Chef Charlie Palmer's Dallas increment sits in the Joule Urban Resort in a rehabilitated Main Street building in all of its Texas handsome, breezy-themed glory. So it at least has a Dallas pedigree. Chew on the house-cured artisan salumi or the simply prepared vegetables dripping in brown butter. Savor seared foie gras or spoon bone marrow flan over a dry-aged sirloin. Dine on lentil-crusted monkfish or crisped arctic char. Or duck. No restaurant has brought so much to such a stylishly cozy space.

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