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.