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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Stephen+P.+Karlisch
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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.

Pollo Campero
Catherine Downes

You'd be hard pressed to find better fast-food chicken than what they're serving up in the Dallas branches of this Guatemala-based chain. If you're used to KFC and Church's, the pressure-cooked fried chicken is a revelation, from the crispy, nearly greaseless batter to the juicy, tender meat within. Unlike many chicken chains, Campero also does rotisserie chicken well, with hints of citrus tang hinting at the restaurant's "secret formula" marinade. Served up with a couple tortillas and some Campero beans (pinto beans stewed with bacon, sausage, tomato and onion)—on real, actual dinner plates if you dine-in—this pollo is easily one of Big D's best fast-food offerings.

Shanghai Restaurant

If you like Shanghai cuisine (a little richer and more complex than other Chinese food), you will find what you're looking for at Shanghai Restaurant. Try the preserved duck, jellyfish with radishes, yellowfish soup or seafood in beer sauce casserole. Everything here is good, and a lot of the fare is excellent. This restaurant on the edge of the vast Dallas-area Asian community serves as a family gathering spot on weekend nights. It's mid-formal—white tablecloths beneath clear plastic. And, of course, the Asian-American children don't run around the restaurant screaming and throwing food, which makes them almost bearable. The waitstaff is happy to explain unfamiliar dishes to first-time visitors. It's a happy, open place with food you won't soon forget.

Bolsa

Don't tell food critic Dave, but we stole the bag of Bolsa Blend that landed on his desk a few weeks back. Because, see, we finished ours in a week—should have gone much longer, damn our addictions! And, truth told, we'll drink any of the blends poured by Shannon and Jenni Neffendorf; we've had them all, in no small part due to the roasted-on date stamped on the back. (So sorry, Central Market, and your big barrels of who-knows-how-old beans.) But something about the Bolsa blend—available, um, at Bolsa, natch—hits us just right: smells like cocoa, tastes like blueberries, but it's never so overpowering that you're thinking, "This is way too sweet." A drop of milk, a hint of sugar and it's like caffeinated candy best served before breakfast or after dinner or any other time you're awake and alive and...really need to stop drinking this.

Tart Bakery

Each cupcake is a sugared jewel that's so beautiful it's almost a shame to take a bite. Until you do. And then you quickly have no problem gobbling down the rest. Try the vanilla stuffed cupcake with Key lime filling for $3.25 each (or a non-stuffed cupcake for $2.50). The 9-inch red velvet cake for $43 feeds 12 to 15 friends and makes a gorgeous display at the table after dinner. The two locations of this dessert shop and paper boutique are owned by two adorable sisters, chef Kristen Rahal and graphic designer Stephanie Weibring, who opened the first candy land in 2004.

Five Sixty By Wolfgang Puck

When Wolfgang Puck came to Dallas, he did so in a big way—erect, throbbing with passion and...OK, he put Five-Sixty in Reunion Tower and we can't resist the phallic commentary. Whatever you think about celebrity chefs overseeing from a distance, this rotating restaurant is impressive. Sleek, modern décor? Check. Attention-grabbing view? Check. Spacious bathrooms of glazed tile? Um, no. There's hardly room in the tower for amenities other than a cool bar and solid kitchen staff serving dishes to match the glitter. The menu changes from time to time, but imagine suckling pig with a crispy skin and crackling citrus-sweet sauce. Or arctic char, impressive under a veneer of skin as light as a feather. Even cutesy items like General Tso's quail will leave you mesmerized.

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