The real test of a restaurant's wait staff isn't how it handles a noisy group of birthday partiers or a pompous wine connoisseur: It's Restaurant Week. Discount-driven diners and massive guest counts make Restaurant Week a nightmare for even the most disciplined restaurants, and wait staffs usually make sure customers know it. Not so at the always-elegant Al Biernat's, the storied steakhouse where servers this year performed with professionalism most eateries can't match on an average night. Our server was knowledgeable and unobtrusive, and bothered with the littlest touches, such as discreetly rattling the rocks in an emptied martini rather than barking "You done with that?" As it happens, we were done with that drink. We're not quite finished getting spoiled at Al Biernat's.
Yeah, that's right. We said Popeyes. You wants to makes something of it, swabby? Look, we know Babe's and Bubba's are good and all, but the fact is that when we want something hot, greasy and spicy (to eat, not pay-per-view), Popeyes is our chicken choice, and not because we're trashy. Or rather, we may be trashy, but Popeyes is still pretty damn good: just the right amount of crunch, a nice touch of spice, moist but no chin-scalding grease. None of the mysterious, soggy blend of herbs and spices that tastes suspiciously like a ton of salt. It's so good that it regularly makes the guilty pleasures lists of food pros, or as we reported on our food blog, "the famously fastidious restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle has proudly announced his allegiance to the dish. Popeyes is so widely admired by food industry folks that it's perfectly acceptable to ask, upon hearing of a new upscale fried chicken venture, 'Yes, but is it as good as Popeyes?'" As for us—a box of Popeyes' spicy, a couple of biscuits, a little of this to drink and a little of that to smoke, and we're in bliss. We am what we am and that's all that we am.
We're certain this pick will elicit a fair amount of folks telling us that we didn't have to travel to a suburb to find top-notch pizza, and those people are right. There's plenty of it right here in Big D. But when we want the best pizza around, we know it can be found in the old shopping center just east of Central Expressway near Belt Line Road in Richardson. Make no mistake, Pizza Villa has its drawbacks: The interior shows little change from when it opened more than 40 years ago; there's little seating; it charges for drink refills; it won't accept credit cards; and there's no delivery. However, a perfectly crafted and cooked thin crust that's crispy and buttery easily makes up for any shortcomings, as does the homemade sausage and array of other fine toppings. So before crying foul on this one, give it a shot, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse into the past.
No need to wait for New Year's or spend valuable afternoons waiting outside supermarkets for the lady with the cooler. There are perfectly wonderful tamales waiting for you at the easily located Luna's Tortillas. In each of Luna's soft, hand-twisted husks, the filling is ample, the masa tender and well seasoned. Pork tamales are available every day while supplies last, while other varieties (including beef, chicken, spinach, spicy bean, cheese with jalapeño, all meats with jalapeño, and sweet) are available when ordered one day ahead. Tip: Call and ask what people haven't picked up that day, as non-pork flavors are sometimes available for the taking. Prices average about a dollar per tamale, but don't spend it all on one thing. Save some dough for the seriously piquant green salsa, the red salsa and Mexican sweet bread. Add menudo or lengua to your weekend order to use in your favorite hangover treatment.
When you tire of listening to your teenage cousin who's just discovered factory farming yammer on and on at Christmas dinner about how meat is murder (when you know he'll be best buds with Oscar Meyer again come baseball season), recharge at Kalachandji's, the East Dallas Hare Krishna palace with the best vegetarian buffet in town. Kalachandji's isn't about self-righteous posturing and tacky PETA protests. They're vegetarian because it's their freaking religion, which means they're invested in cooking up consistently delicious meat-free dishes for themselves and the steady stream of omnivores who admit that even a little nibble of lamb or chicken wouldn't improve the spicy creativity of the Krishna. In further homage to the power of the plant, Kalachandji's soothing outdoor garden could bring even the most passionate meat eater to a place of veggie-acceptance over a spoonful of saag paneer alongside the temple fountain.
By now we know this new-wave frozen yogurt is healthier for you than ice cream—low-calorie, non-fat, good for your complexion. We've heard all that before, but this new-wave yogurt explosion continues to leave a lasting mark on the face of Dallas. Beyond the novelty of the fro-yo trend, though, there's room to appreciate the yogurt ritual's finer points: a firm pour, a tart plain base, seasonal flavors and late-night Wii on a big TV. Yumilicious has it all. It's not the most efficient setup, but they trust you enough to fill your own cup, which counts for plenty these days. On a Friday night, the place could outdraw the Loon—the line stretches out the door, while 'gurters rightly labor over their choice of flavors. You've got your chocolate, your vanilla, but it's the less common tastes that stand out: avocado, taro, coconut and—God willing, come October—pumpkin.
Northeasterners, as a general rule, like to complain that there's no good pizza—and no good Italian food as a whole—to be found south or west of Pennsylvania. But while Greenville Avenue Pizza Company's pizza capably shuts the haters up, offering them delectable pies with crispy crusts and a wide array of fresh toppings, the restaurant's real treat comes with its other piece of Italian perfection. Really: You've got to try this place's meatball sub—like, yesterday. The meatballs on their own are to die for, made from a passed-down-in-the-family recipe, but when smacked within the confines of a lightly toasted roll and topped off with a healthy dose of smoky marinara sauce and gobs of melted cheese, this sucker is last-meal-on-death-row good. Your doctor probably won't recommend it, but we wholeheartedly do. And for an added artery-clogging delight, we suggest you get yours with a side of Alfredo sauce to dip it in.
As skilled as the cooks are at this pub, sometimes it's nice to just order a big, shareable platter of cheese that you can leave at the table and eat at your leisure. It's easy to customize and choices change weekly as new artisan meats and cheeses are available. The servers are knowledgeable about suggesting something to go with whatever you're drinking, and the savories come with nuts (we especially love the glazed almonds), fruits and vegetables that complement and contrast whatever cheeses you choose.
Where to begin? There is so much to love at Oceanaire, the debonair seafood restaurant that makes you feel you are eating on a 1930s luxury ocean liner in the Mediterranean at the behest of Conrad Hilton—OK, maybe his great-granddaughter Paris. Take the crab cakes, for example—no heavily breaded microscopic crab meat these, but chunks so large you can almost make out the outline of the crab. The seafood hails from every port imaginable; the raw oyster selection alone contains 12 different seafaring mollusks, from such faraway places as Prince Edward Island; Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia; and Taunton Bay, Maine. Yet Oceanaire wouldn't dream of forsaking localism. Its black and blue Texas redfish is a regional favorite. And don't get us started on the matchstick fries or the fried calamari or the iceberg lettuce wedge and clam chowder soup, for starters, which is probably where we should have begun in the first place. We should also have mentioned the fact that the national chain has filed for bankruptcy in Dallas federal court. We can only hope, as has been stated in press releases, that the Galleria location will remain open and viable.