When you consider "home-style" food, it can be blue-plate or family-style, but something about it has to place you back in Mom's/Granny's kitchen (not the other rooms where there were creepy paintings and random chores to be done), strategizing how best to eat another roll, another spoonful of starchy side and still have room for pie. Norma's has been around since 1956, and the recipes taste as though they haven't much changed. The open-faced roast beef sandwich is slow-cooked like it would be at home on an old Hotpoint and the meatloaf is made with an original tomato sauce that, as a child, you probably wished they'd bottle and sell instead of ketchup. Value a good turnip green or pinto bean just as much as a mashed potato? So does Norma's. Now, as far as desserts, there is really nothing that Norma's makes that isn't incredibly familiar—in a good way. "Mile High" cream pies, fruit pies, cobblers and cakes all exceed expectations in size and that throwback flavor. You wouldn't necessarily want to go home again, but you definitely want to go to Norma's
Sure, people usually go to this Deep Ellum spot to chow down on the chicken-fried steak and jam out to some local music, but what about the grilled cheese? The magical concoction of cheddar and pepperjack cheeses, green chiles, roma tomatoes and chipotle mayonnaise served on sourdough bread should really receive some recognition. This ain't your momma's grilled cheese served with a can of tomato soup either, folks. AllGood serves the lunch-only dish with a side of Auntie Grace's coleslaw, tortilla chips and house salsa all for $6.99. Considering AllGood recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, we think they know what they're doing when it comes to pleasing patrons and their bellies.
It's really hard to single out one Dallas taqueria as the best, 'cause they all have their strengths (and weaknesses). For example, Fuel City's picadillo tacos are still some of the best in town, but their other varieties, not so much. When it comes to La Paisanita's tacos, we can't speak for anything except the al pastor, because that's all we got on our first visit, and all we've been able to bring ourselves to order on subsequent visits. Not because their other tacos don't look good, mind you, but because the al pastor tacos are just that addictive, dripping with spicy red juices and stuffed into small, oiled tortillas that crisp up ever so slightly on the tiny shack's griddle. La Paisanita tacos come with lemon instead of the customary lime, which seems strange at first, but just go with it. Washed down with a tall Mexican Coke, there's not a better taco in the city.
Neighborhood Services Tavern has a good thing going with New York import and general manager Jason Kosmas. He knows cocktails—from muddling to infusions, from classics to innovative recipes. In a restaurant where the food is notoriously top-notch, drinks should be just as good. Seems like common sense, but it's not often accomplished as deftly as by Kosmas' hand. The Domino Fizz is a perfect example. Essentially, the cocktail is just a Tom Collins with sprigs of lavender, but the difference is in the details. The recently re-released Old Tom gin, specifically, is used for its smooth, sweet flavor. Fresh lavender isn't muddled or torn, it's simply shaken with the other ingredients and topped with soda in order to preserve its integrity and keep the flavor subtle, aromatic but not perfume-y. The care and thought are evident and the result is easily one of the most refreshing, crave-able summer drinks we've had. And we've been drinking in Dallas a long while.
Let's be absolutely clear on this point: Do not touch the sizzling clay pot of curry at Mai's. Yes, it is as hot as it looks. Here's a clue: Your food is still bubbling 10 minutes after it landed on your table. Rice stuck to the bottom of the pot melds into a blackened cake with a satisfying crunch. It's just one of the standout dishes at this unassuming house on Bryan Street. Some swear by the northern suburbs' pho shops, where the mood lighting is fluorescent, and "branching out" looks like ordering the same old soup, but with beef tripe. For its dark, cozy atmosphere and a menu that rewards repeat visits, Mai's wins.
Named for Vicky Zamora, who runs the two-woman operation with the help of her cousin Lupana, La Victoria just celebrated its fifth anniversary. A popular spot for Baylor folks on break, the little restaurant is only open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Expect a crowd on a Saturday morning, but the wait is worth it for the amazing breakfast burritos. The burritos are $2.25 for a 10-inch tortilla stuffed with eggs and your choice of bacon, ham, potato, beans, sausage or chorizo. It's only 25 cents apiece to add extras like cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, fresh avocados or roasted poblanos (highly recommended). Vicky says up to seven ingredients can fit safely into the 10-inch standard tortillas, but for those of you who wake up with a hole in your stomach, there's always the massive $4.50 Super Breakfast Burrito, which is rolled up in a 15-inch tortilla. While you're there for breakfast, pick up some gorditas and tamales. At La Victoria, both are made from scratch.
Surely you've noticed that there has been a veritable explosion of boutique yogurt shops in this city. They have landed here from New York and California and points in between and go by names such as Pinkberry, Yogilicious, Orange Cup, I Heart Yogurt and Red Mango. They are self-serve or counter serve, offering exotic flavors and fresh fruit and decadent toppings too numerous to mention. They tout probiotics and no fat and no sugar added—a way to eat yourself to better health through more dessert. Yet among all the new and the hype, there remains that little shop on the corner (Mockingbird and Abrams) and it's known by the odd acronym TCBY (The Country's Best Yogurt). Yes, it may be your dad's yogurt shop, but it has great service and maintains long hours and a drive-thru window and picnic tables, and reasonable prices and damn good yogurt, which you can still frou-frou up if you're inclined. For those favoring good taste over active cultures, it's worth going retro and returning to the Country's Best.
It's rare that a meatball not of the Italian or Swedish persuasion would rise to the level of a "best" anything, particularly a meatball not swimming in sauce, be it spicy or sweet. But Neighborhood Services defies convention and meatball mentality and brings you its BBQ Spiced Nimon Ranch Brisket Meatballs with crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese. The presentation is simple enough. Seven beefy balls, lined up like soldiers, one following the next, each pierced by a wooden pick to make for ease of eating. Nothing fancy here, other than the blue cheese addition, a great taste enhancer. It's a bit steep at 10 bucks—that's $1.43 a ball—but don't think for a minute that it's anything more than an appetizer. And yet it's a damn fine one at that. Quality adds value to them there balls.
If you haven't heard of Hypnotic Donuts, we don't blame you. There's no sign at the storefront it shares with The Pizza Guy in far North Dallas, and it operates from only 7 to 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Heck, even when you find it and it's open, Hypnotic can be frustrating, as it only accepts cash, and owner James St. Peter prepares the doughnuts while you wait. But we knew this upstart was on to something when we heard St. Peter was making doughnuts with bacon and jalapeños, and we soon realized he offered the best-tasting doughnuts we've found, highlighted by an imaginative menu that includes The Hypnotic (featuring crushed Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch cereal and pretzels), Lucy in the Sky with Lemons (topped with Lemon Heads candy) and Special High in the Mountains (chilled to 40 degrees with fresh strawberries).