Baby Back Shak
Observer file photo

What started out as a backyard barbecue for family on Sundays has emerged into the best place to gnaw on a slab of ribs in Dallas. Clarence Cohens just couldn't keep it all in the family, so eventually he began selling it just south of downtown in a two-room dive known as Baby Back Shak. His Memphis-style herb-rubbed ribs are so moist, tender and flavorful you don't even need any barbecue sauce to enhance. Since its recent discovery, the downtown lunch crowd swamps this place, which stays open until 5:45. No dinner done here. There are more than ribs, of course: sliced beef, pulled pork, smoked turkey and ham are all served lean but liberally, portion-wise. And for a bizarre barbecue twist there is grilled Cornish hen. But it's the killer ribs that make lunch and life worthwhile and will draw you back to the Shak.

Green Spot Market and Fuels

So you gotta get out of town. The car is packed and ready to go, and now you need fuel and snacks. Don't turn to the usual Fritos and Orange Crush. The Green Spot has even better fuel for the drive. Try some Kashi cookies, Bare Naked granola, a bottled Izze or fountain Blue Sky soda, and don't forget some Seventh Generation paper products just to be on the safe side. Plus, you don't have to feel so bad about the growing bag of trash in the car—the Green Spot's fountain drink containers and straws are all compostable and made from corn. And if you're getting behind the wheel of a diesel, Bruce Bagelman and Alvaro Garza's pumps can supply you with B5 biodiesel, or B100 from a separate straight-to-vehicle pump (they also offer basic gasoline). Add in the vegan options and fresh, gourmet local snacks and you might be in for the healthiest road trip fill-up you've ever had. When it comes to naturals and affordable alt-fuels, Dallas folks can finally stop asking, "Are we there yet?"

Greenville Avenue Pizza Company

We know this guy from Boston. Sort of The Friends of Eddie Coyle meets The Departed. We're not saying he's a wiseguy, 'cause there's a little Fever Pitch thrown in there too, but the dude knows his meatball sandwiches. It's no surprise, really, that he found one at the Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, 'cause whoever runs the place has got a little Goodfellas in him. The restaurant opened last October, and already it has a reputation. More than one person has come up to us and said, "You won't believe this pizza, it's the best pizza you've ever had." And it's nothing compared with the meatball sandwich. Trust our friend from Boston. He knows a meatball when he sees one.

Whole Foods Market

Scones are funny. They're not doughnuts. A good scone has backbone. Scones are morning things. A scone needs to be fresh and hearty. But then, this is America. We don't want scones that taste English—you know, like a mouthful of baking soda. We want some sweets in there somewhere—raspberries, blueberries, cranberries. Give us a break. Something. Once in a while, we might even want a nice, white blanket of sugary icing on top. If the English don't like it, well, they can go eat their own kind of dry, dusty, bitter little scones. Anyway, Whole Foods has got it just right, and at $1.99 apiece, Whole Foods scones are an affordable treat in the morning. An American treat.

Mirabelle

Chef Joseph Mahr's diver is a titillating tango of Latin and Southwestern, its veneer seared into a slight, consistent brittleness shrouding buttery succulence that veers into extracted sweetness on the finish. It's bedded down on a knoll of smooth polenta richened in chicken stock, cumin, cream and orange honey, a pool of lobster broth surrounding the island, the spinach floating in the pool like kelp beds. It's a surf and turf that's wonderful in its weirdness and makes the tongue dance.

Fish City Grill

Fish City is a mid-price to reasonable franchise place, but don't think that it has anything to do with fast food. This is a full-bore seafood restaurant, locally owned and operated, offering a revolving menu of specials including wonderfully succulent salmon dishes, blackened trout and more—everything served by a cheerful, well-trained staff. The decor is informally tasteful. A small patio in front offers a very interesting view of the circus of life in Old East Dallas. This is a neighborhood place you can drop in on without a reservation and enjoy a really well-prepared seafood dinner and great service, all at a relatively modest price. That's a lot to beat.

Funny thing about Mel's Ice Cream: It used to be a Marble Slab Creamery, and the marble slab remains—unlike Mel, who has gone the way of Marble Slab Creamery and is no longer the proprietor. The current owner is Dae Cho, who daily scoops out about 40 flavors of ice cream, many of them overtly delish, especially mixed together with all the holdover slabbish toppings—Oreo cookies, M&Ms, Gummy Bears—you name it. But Cho has added something cool and refreshing—actually cold and refreshing—shaved ice, 40-50 flavors of it, with names like Tiger Blood (strawberry and coconut syrup), Fuzzy Navel (orange, peach and lemonade) and Rock & Roll (blueberry and grape). The fine ice shavings when topped with the sugary syrup of your choice offer a less creamy alternative to the normal, run-of-the-mill Reese's Pieces-infused double-chocolate fudge ice cream fare that can make summer such a dreadful bore.

Gachet Coffee Lounge

Sometimes it's hard to know what you're going to be in the mood to read. A fashion rag, a novel, a good nonfiction narrative or just a book of pretty pictures. Thanks to Gachet Coffee Lounge & Books, there's no need to lug around a back-breaking bag of reading materials to ensure a good coffee break. And you don't even have to settle for the discarded sections of someone else's newspaper—they already took the good coupons anyway. No, the Victory Park café not only has a top-notch latte (DRY sodas and other non-caffeinated sips too), but it has a varied and well-stocked book boutique too. The 500-square-foot area boasts faves like Vanity Fair as well as more obscure monthlies, hardbacks, best sellers and coffee table fare. Sip with confidence—Gachet's got a perfect literary match for whatever flavor you're tossing back.

Pizza By Marco

In the late '50s, Joseph Marco Nuccio started serving pizza at his Marco Pollo Lounge on Carroll Avenue. Then in '62, he moved his pizzeria to its current location at Preston Road and Royal Lane. Not sure how much a piece of pie and a cold drink cost back then, but today Pizza By Marco will serve you up a slice of pizza loaded with three topping of your choice and a soda for a measly $2—yeah, you read that right. A family business since the day they served their first piping-hot pie, Marco's doesn't serve up a greasy, cheap-o slice either. Every morning, Joseph's son, Frank Nuccio gets up early to prepare the pizza sauce and dough fresh from a closely guarded family recipe. The slices are amazing, and the crust is perfectly thin and crispy, and they offer all the standard toppings to choose from plus vegan soy versions of cheese, pepperoni, sausage and hamburger. Frank has recently opened two other locations that offer a one-topping slice of pizza and drink special for $2.50, which we still think qualifies as a best deal.

Gui Korean Japanese Bistro and Bar

It's nearly ubiquitous in Japanese restaurants, but all too often the fried soft-shell crab is a mushy, spindly-legged blob that at its worst assumes the texture of a sodden sponge that sometimes squirts. At Gui, this cliché becomes sublime. It's called spider on a leaf, a panko bread crumb-coated creature burrowed into a sheaf of greens, its claws bared, its legs folded inward like the predator at rest, sprung to pounce if need be, those panko crumbs fried into perfect spider-pelt mimicry. It's crisp but tender, moist but not slushy. The bite crushes the delicately brittle exoskeleton and in floods a gentle rush of arousing marine funk. This might be the best example of the fried soft-shell crab we've ever tasted. If it really is a crab.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of