Loft 610 Urban Restaurant & Lounge

Forget the rice or the ribbons of seaweed binding tight around the precious little bands of meat. Loft 610's rolls are loosely bound in long, thin ribbons of cucumber with generous strips of tuna, as dark as a blood blister, woven with slivers of carrot to slip in some sweet. Cucumber is the air conditioner of the culinary canon, thus this composition is cool, moist and revitalizing. Plus it crunches. Use them to smear the dribbles of sweet soy on the plate. Refresh with fresh ginger shavings. Repeat. Lofty.

Texas Caribbean Foods

This locally owned nook in the shops of South Side on Lamar seems an unlikely place for a campaign hub or monument to black political history. Yet the bright orange walls are covered with framed paintings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as local art that portrays black history. Owner Jan Gore, who was born and raised in Dallas and once worked for Ann Richards, was a passionate Barack Obama supporter during last spring's primary and turned the place into an unofficial campaign headquarters. No matter your political leanings, though, you'll enjoy the inexpensive food in a bright, casual atmosphere. There's a quarter jerk chicken served with salad and side for $8.50, spicy grilled shrimp for less than $7 and smoked jerk turkey legs for $5.50. You can even order whole jerk turkeys and chickens to go, and we can't forget the hallmark of any Caribbean place: the delicious baked plantains.

Houston's Restaurant

A staple in Israel and North Africa, couscous has long been a side dish at Middle Eastern restaurants, but now it's making its way onto menus at places like Houston's. The weird thing is, Houston's does it as well as anyone (like a lot of things the restaurant does). With sliced radishes, golden raisins, almonds, tomatoes, green onions and parsley, it's a perfect side dish to a plate of chicken.

Jake's Old Fashioned Hamburgers

The decision to upgrade to sweet-potato fries with your next meal at Jake's Hamburgers is not one to be taken lightly. Not so much because they cost a buck or so more than french fries, but because plain old french fries will never hold quite the same appeal after you've experienced Jake's sweet potato fries. Dusted with a mixture of sugar, salt and cinnamon, they're a wonderful balance of sweet and salty, crispy and soft. They hold up whether you dip them in ketchup, Tabasco, ranch or your chocolate malt, or even if you eat them dry. Sure, Burger House's seasoned fries and Steak 'n' Shake's crispy thin slivers make a case for the traditional french fry. But there's no going back after grabbing a handful of yam at Jake's.

New Start Veggie Garden

We love seitan. We also love tempeh, tofu and textured vegetable protein. But occasionally, we do feel the need to break out of the stir-fry and pasta dish routine. So we head to New Start Veggie Garden, which offers an all-vegan buffet that's a mix of veggie favorites (fried rice, tofu lasagna) and offbeat Asian food. The lunch buffet begins with "mountain-grown mushroom" tea, and then it's on to miso, veggie sushi, broccoli tempura and two kinds of veggie burgers. The more adventurous will want to try the wild fern, sesame greens and a bibimbap bowl topped with seasoned seaweed and kelp powder (and washed down with sweet rice drink). For dessert, expect fruits, tofu cheesecake or cookies with flaxseeds. And as far as adventures go, this is a pretty inexpensive one—two can eat for less than $20.

Spiral Diner & Bakery

Longtime vegetarians are resigned to the fact that, when dining out, they usually have one or two choices on the menu. Lack of excitement washes over you as the server brings your steakhouse selection: a plate of iceberg lettuce with carrot shreds and a cherry tomato. So when you are presented with the abundance of choices at Spiral Diner—everything on the menu is vegan—prepare to feel a little overwhelmed. Sure, they have salads, if that's what you're into, but they also have delicious wraps (the Parmigiana is warm and delicious), sandwiches, burgers, and pasta and other hot plates. Try "The Mitch," a savory tofu club sandwich, or for a heartier entrée, there's Viva Las Migas or Sketti & (Soy) Meatballs. Organic juices and coconut limeade are a delight. Desserts are plentiful, including "I-scream," cupcakes, cookies and brownies on our last visit. Blue Sky natural sodas are on tap, and you can indulge in some reading material while you wait—The Sexual Politics of Meat, anyone?

Mai's Vietnamese Restaurant
Taryn Walker

How do we love Mai's? Let us count the burn scars on the roofs of our mouths from all the times we couldn't wait to dig into our chicken clay pot because it smelled too damn yummy. Yeah, we're stupid that way, especially when it comes to Mai's fiery baked blend of vermicelli noodles, black mushrooms and spicy chicken, which comes out of the kitchen at approximately 875 degrees. We just can't wait. Luckily the burns heal in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime we can take a break from the pain by making a meal on two or 20 of the shrimp imperial rolls, fat tubes of soothing crunchy lettuce, rice noodles and chilled shrimp in rice paper wrappers. A little agony, a little comfort, a lot of spicy deliciousness—a meal at Mai's is like love.

Lucky's Cafe

So, we've been on this diet since—oh, what's it been now?—1973, seems like. That means nothing but veggies, and hold the bread. It also means we're very, very cranky at mealtime. The kindly staff at Lucky's understands. They gently wave us to our table and fetch a giant Diet Coke before we've even unrolled our napkin. "Still dieting?" they ask sympathetically with a smile as they take our usual order of nothing but veggies, bringing us the one cheating biscuit we request and promising not to bring another one even if we beg. Truth be told, we think they would give us another if we begged, but lucky for us, the service at Lucky's is so kind, welcoming and friendly that one is enough to take the edge off our 'tude. Someday soon, the diet from hell will end, and we'll surprise them by ordering that gooey cheeseburger and fries we crave. When we do, they won't judge. Shoot, they may applaud.

Kathleen's Sky Diner
Alex Scott

Prepare for battle. Kathleen's Sky Diner (formerly Kathleen's Art Café) is known for fantastic cakes. Chances are, your dining companion knows this—or can tell from the dessert display—and will challenge your suggestion of the hot chocolate chip cookie. Do not back down. Order the cookie and wait. Be patient though: Each cookie is baked to order. When it arrives, the hot steamy dish of oatmeal, pecans, chocolate chips and a scoop of vanilla ice cream will convert any naysayer. Go ahead and share—for the sake of your hips and ass—but be certain there will be one final duel. You may have played fair for the most part, but that cobbler-like concoction will have taken on melty ice cream and seduced you with rich, absolutely decadent mouthfuls. And when it comes to that last bite, both parties will fight, forks brandished, to claim the final delectable morsel.

It's a new age, when cell phones navigate and home theater experiences can be had on media players barely larger than credit cards. Enter the touch-screen tablet wine list. Charlie Palmer's wine list is an ingenious harnessing of technology to help newbie drinkers overcome their fear of coming off as a vino-imbecile. The Charlie Palmer wine selection experience is self-directed via an electronic touch-screen e-book that permits perusal by bottle, glass, region, varietal and style. Check the boxes next to your curiosities and wrestle over the pros and cons of each with a sommelier, suited-up for upscale battle. Added bonus: Charlie Palmer sells its 700-plus bottle list at markups of just $25-$35 over retail, so you won't get corkscrewed. Added double-plus bonus: The restaurant is fronted by the Next Vintage Wine Shop stocking a third of the wine list, ready to tag and bag for home.

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