PARK

First the chefs at AVA, one of whom worked at the Green Room, brought back that long-lost restaurant's mussels recipe. Then the man himself announced his return. Years ago Marc Cassel guided the little Deep Ellum bar/restaurant to greatness. His style? Collision cuisine—the happy smashing of contrasting flavors and techniques into something that worked, and magically so. In July, Dallas' prodigal chef returned, opening Park on Henderson Avenue to almost instant success. The Dallas Morning News reported guests raising toasts to Cassel's chicken-fried steak. That's big news.

Best Blast From The Past, People Edition

Cobb Switch BBQ

Cobb Switch Barbecue

Phil and Janet Cobb you know from the Black-Eyed Pea chain (Phil's doing) and Mi Piaci (Janet), as well as some other once-famous stops. The name Chris Andrews is associated with Holy Smokes, a once well-regarded barbecue place. And then there's Dotty Griffith, former restaurant critic for The Dallas Morning News. All of these familiar names have come back to life and converged, like culinary zombies, on a small bit of real estate in Carrollton. The meat's pretty good. The names behind it are impressive as hell.

Bread Winners Cafe and Bakery

Sure, you could argue it's a bit pricey for these trying times, but there is value in them there eggs—especially the way Bread Winners serves 'em. You got your three-egg "scrambles" like the Southwest migas and the healthful veggie. There is a to-die-for egg sandwich, three kinds of eggs Benedict and several egg dishes with Tex-Mex accents (burritos, enchiladas and breakfast tacos). And don't get us started on the pancakes and French toast, and the baked goods—breads and muffins and cookies, oh my—baked right on the premises, with bits of them brought to your table free before you even order your morning coffee. We love the McKinney Avenue location (not to disparage the Inwood Village and Plano locations) with its French Quarter feel and friendly service.

Taco Joint

Ever since our college days in Austin, we've found Dallas severely lacking in the breakfast taco department. Sure, you can find them, but they rarely live up to the expectations one is burdened with after living in the Breakfast Taco And Live Music Capital of the World. The Taco Joint does the breakfast taco right, however, serving up eggs and cheese with bacon, sausage, potatoes, chorizo or beans on flour tortillas along with delicious homemade salsas that tickle the palate but don't annihilate your taste buds with heat. Most important, they serve them till 10:45 a.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on Saturdays, which makes them the perfect breakfast for late-rising, hung-over-and-on-the-go Observer writers.

Rathbun's Blue Plate Kitchen

No one does a plain old Caesar salad anymore. Well, Bella does, but few others. Instead, restaurants toss on a lot of fancy stuff—lobster nuggets and such. Kent Rathbun's new place dresses up the salad right: kernels of parched corn, toasted pepitas, crumbles of Mexican cheese. Yeah, sounds like just another gussied-up Caesar, except that all the ingredients work so beautifully together, the mound of lettuce becomes like a carnival, with flavors and textures swirling and twirling, yet starting you from one place and bringing you back to the same spot. Hell, if you're gonna order greens, why not have fun with them?

Alligator Cafe

What can we say? There's a lot of half-assed gumbo sold in this town, but Alligator Café ladles out a rich, reeking stew that oozes bayou. Their red beans and rice remind you that this was never meant to be an elegant dish, but something to fill working-class bellies. And, of course, there are mudbugs in season and gator meat if you wish to venture in that direction. Their fried green tomatoes feel like they were made in some old skillet by some old grandma. It's a straightforward, down and dirty, messy festival of Louisiana-ness. We don't know how to put it better.

Jason's Deli
These days it can be painful to spend more than $12 on lunch, but driving through Wendys and scarfing down a double cheeseburger in your car is often equally unappealing. Such times call for a place like Jasons Deli, where you can find healthy lunch fare and at the same time be economical with your time and dime. There are sandwiches and a great salad bar complete with myriad varieties of lettuce, veggies, and other add-ins like tuna, pasta salad and cottage cheese. If you must, you can even have ambrosia without having to deal with the nursing home atmosphere of Furrs Cafeteria. Also available for your dining pleasure is soft-serve ice cream and that tasty, old-timey banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
K-Tokyo

The black walls and dark carpeting of this two-room restaurant explain the reputation as a hole in the wall. But don't be fooled by the drab decor. The fish is so fresh! And it's a fraction of the price compared with the raw fish served at more upscale Japanese joints, like the Blue Fish up the street. The staff bangs a gong when you come in and again when you leave. The place is BYOB, but we were served sake one Saturday night when no other customers were around. Our favorite specialty roll is the New Zealand, which combines tuna, salmon, cucumber, avocado and cream cheese for $11.99. And the 10-piece tuna roll is just $6.99.

Cindi's NY Delicatessen Restaurant & Bakery

We were worried...a little bit worried...several years ago when Cindi's New York Deli, that quintessentially Dallas landmark on North Central Expressway, began rolling out to multiple locations, everywhere from downtown to Carrollton. How do you replicate such an oddly and perfectly Dallas institution—a Jewish deli that looks and feels more like a Denny's, owned by a Vietnamese lady? And everybody—from Jewish to Vietnamese to Denny—loves it! Veeery carefully, it turns out, carefully and well. Our own favorite is the one downtown, in spite of its proximity to the Belosphere. And the chicken and dumplings on Mondays? They're the best Jewish, country-and-western, Vietnamese, let's-go-shopping chicken and dumplings in America.

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We don't frequent Al Biernat's often, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the food and everything to do with sucking sound we hear from our bank account after paying the bill. With lunch entrees running up to $25 and salads topping out at $23, we only tend to stop by on special occasions. But after trying their grilled chicken sandwich at lunch recently, we're thinking about increasing our visits, even if it means cutting back on expenses like, um, electricity. Yup, it's that good. Succulent slices of chicken breast sit on toasted bread, topped with pepper jack cheese, crisp bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato. We just love when cheese and bacon are added. Heck, bacon should always be added as far as we're concerned. Biernat's creation is the best we've had, and at $12, it's one of the cheapest lunch items on the menu.

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