Best Cajun Restaurant 2010 | The Alligator Cafe | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

The Alligator Café doesn't serve hurricanes, New Orleans' most popular cocktail. The chef-owned Cajun restaurant only serves beer and wine, but that's a Big Easy indiscretion easily overlooked because the food is always so damn good. Chef Ivan Pugh has crafted a spot-on menu of Cajun and Creole staples with a few unfamiliar surprises. We like to start with an order of fried green tomatoes or boudin balls and end with bread pudding or sweet potato pecan pie. For the main course, we like everything from the po-boys and gumbo to the muffalettas and jambalaya, but our favorite is the Atchafalaya (two blackened catfish smothered in a rich crawfish or shrimp étouffée). Be warned: Popular items, like the pie, tend to run out by the end of the day, but that's a small price to pay when the menu's made from scratch—even Alligator Café's root beer is "homemade." The restaurant features live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and the dining area of the converted fast food joint tends to fill out faster than Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Luckily, even if the place is packed to the gills, there's always the drive-through.

There's a time and place for fancy gourmet thin-crusts or pricey wood-fired pies with goat cheese and pine nuts. But when you just want a simple, New York-style big, floppy, chewy slice with house-made sauce and fresh high-quality toppings, Oak Cliff Pizza is the place to go. Be sure to get sausage, as the place offers nice thick slices of Jimmy's Italian sausage rather than the crumbled generic stuff so common at lesser pizza joints. Also recommended is roasted red pepper. Best of all, they offer single slices, with two costing you less than a five-spot, or a full meal deal with two slices, a soda and salad for $5.

Tracking down a memorable place to eat outside the friendly confines of Dallas proper can be tricky, but we've finally found a place worthy of a short trip at The Shops at Legacy in Plano. The hickory smoke-filled Artin's Grill is the perfect place for a business lunch or dinner with that special someone, with a dining area that features African mahogany booths, stone columns, dramatic ceilings, abstract art and a wine display that creates the illusion that the bottles are floating. The menu is packed with tasty items, but our fave is the braised beef short ribs. These tender and juicy strands of meat are braised for five hours before they're placed into a cabernet pan sauce and served with haricots verts and a delicious mushroom mac and cheese. Better yet, order the beef short rib nachos as an appetizer so everyone can get a taste.

Browsing Penzeys Spices' selection of more than 250 different herbs, spices, seasonings, sprinkles and blends from around the world is enough to make one's head spin. Especially while trying to choose between numerous different peppercorns, chili powders or cinnamon (they stock more than a half-dozen different varieties of each), but, luckily, as you sniff your way around the store, the knowledgeable employees are always ready with suggestions to help you spice up any recipe from tacos, burgers or curries to cakes, cookies or custards. But the best part about Penzeys is that if you don't have time to make a trip to the store, there's always the expedited shipping from the company's online catalog. Penzeys has sold its world-wide array of spices by mail order for more than 20 years now, opening its first storefront in '97. (The Dallas spot opened in 2005.) Our new favorite purchase is the new salt-free Arizona Dreaming, which is an all-purpose blend that lends a "South of the Border" flavor to any dish. Warning though, once you go Penzeys Spices, you never really go back.

Tiff's Treats
Bob's Steak and Chop House

We could have given Bolsa tons of awards. Best flatbread. Best mussels. Best bartender. Best bartender with muscles. You get the picture. But it's really all those other bests that make it simply the best place to take a date because when you're on a date, you want the best of everything, right? After absorbing the ultra-cool ambiance created by the inspired renovation of a former auto garage, we recommend sitting at the bar for your meal, where "Lucky" the bartender's use of fresh fruit while making drinks is exhilarating to both observe and consume. Bolsa's food menu is all about freshness too, so it changes daily depending on what's available. Look, the best way to ensure that your after-dinner plans go smoothly is to eat someplace where you know the dinner will be a home run every time, and Bolsa's combination of food, drinks, atmosphere and service always clears the fence.

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