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Chef Michelle Carpenter doesn't just have casual fans; she has devotees. The half-Japanese/half-Cajun sushi expert is known for her elaborate Omakase dinners, which grant her the freedom to serve whatever she feels like making (get ready to be wowed by such items as popcorn-sized fried octopus, smoked apple and bacon yakitori and a miso-marinated black cod that's worship-worthy). Her sushi-making skill has been called performance art, with impeccable slices of raw fish molded like tiny sculptures over rice. She's known for adding touches of Southwestern flavors to her sushi, strips of lime, speckles of jalapeño or cilantro. Our own critic commended her for her raw fish respite blazing trails in Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts District.

Let's say you have the sudden need to throw a party for 50 at your home and most of the guests are from the East Coast where the chance of them experiencing genuine Tex-Mex is not only unlikely, it's unheard of. You are short on time, and your spouse is no damn help, so you call Pappasito's Cantina and book the evening and food and watch as they do the rest. On the appointed evening, they swoop in, set up tables, chairs, festive decorations. They man a frozen margarita machine, which you sample for taste. A lot. A cook stands over an industrial strength mesquite grill, preparing tasty chicken and beef fajitas. Several more staff work the quesadilla station that will rock your world. Their professional servers offer just that, professional service, and best of all, after the party peaks and the guests begin to leave, they clean up after themselves. Which is its own blessing, because it's late and you're too smashed to even try.

Mama's Daughters' Diner
P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Picasso's Pizza & Grill
Inwood Lounge
Starbucks Coffee Company

This Gulf-style seafood shack is about as basic as they come—especially in this neighborhood—with a counter-service interior that's so cramped that the patio's picnic tables can look attractive on even the hottest of days. The menu isn't much more complicated than the design, offering only a few items (seafood cocktails, gumbo and, of course, raw oysters) that don't get a dunk in the deep fryer. But by keeping it simple, Aw Shucks manages to get the fried food right. Shrimp, oysters, crab cakes, catfish and various combinations are all served sizzling hot, crispy and with enough batter to give the protein a fun wrapping but not enough to bog the seafood down with grease. Lord knows there's enough oil in the Gulf as it is. Get a side of the jalapeño-studded hush puppies and coleslaw and the basket suddenly becomes a meal for two.

There is no doubt that Pappas Bros. Steakhouse leads the market in dedication to wine. With four staff members (one master, one advanced and two certified sommeliers) dedicated to its wine program, the Houston based steakhouse considers wine a priority for its customers. Pappas Bros. also has a weekly continued education program in wine for its staff members. Pappas stocks 36,000 bottles and 2,800 labels of wine with price points beginning at a comfortable $36 to an astronomical $70,000. What makes selecting wine at Pappas so incredibly easy is that you can select a price point and they will always choose an appropriate wine suitable for your occasion—often for less than what you might suggest.

Sure, it's possible: You could drive an hour and a half to a small town or distant suburb and find better barbecue. But if you're gonna drive that far you might as well keep on truckin' to Lockhart. For those seeking a barbecue lunch without needing a whole tank of gas, Mike Anderson's will be there waiting, serving up the same delicious ribs, pulled pork, hot links and sides they've been serving since 1982. The brisket can be hit or miss—no barbecue joint in the city limits can really work that Central Texas magic with the cut—but when it's on, it's really good. And when it's not, a dip in the best barbecue sauce in town will bring just about anything to life (we especially recommend the spicy jalapeño version). Just make sure to check out the online menu before you pop in—the mouth-watering smell of smoke hits hard as soon as you reach the door, and if you dawdle too long at the ordering station, the rest of the line's liable to get restless, as well they should. After all, there's eatin' to be done.

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