La Popular Tamale House
Taryn Walker
Christmas tamales are any kind of tamales you eat at Christmas. Long a Texas tradition, Christmas tamale-making used to be a family affair, called a tamalada. Now the closest most of us can get is buying our Christmas tamales from the city's best-known tamale-making family, the Morenos. They are the longtime proprietors of La Popular, a shop that moved up the street a bit a few years ago, and now also a cool little sit-down restaurant at the Farmers Market. La Popular is a great place to buy tamales year-round, but if you're counting on them for Christmas, you need to get your order in early. You wouldn't believe the demand, and sometimes they run out. By the way, tamales are easy to freeze.
Shipley Do-Nuts
It takes a lot for us to admit that something good can come from Houston, but we've found the greatest import from our sister to the south in Shipley's Donuts. Krispy Kreme lovers take note: Real doughnuts contain more dough than air, and that's exactly what you get in a Shipley's doughnut. Whether you keep it simple with glazed favorites or go all out with an iced-and-sprinkled creation, the doughnuts are always moist and melt-in-your-mouth amazing. They also have more options than your standard mom-and-pop shop or that chain, but nothing is quite better than the simple glazed doughnut, especially right after dawn when they're still warm. And if you don't have a sweet tooth, go for the Big Earl kolache, named for former pro-footballer Earl Campbell. Fair warning though: Make sure you're really hungry.
Tacos La Banqueta
It's the one question that newly minted Dallasites always ask: Who has the best tacos? It's an oft-argued subject, but those in the know will tell you that Tacos El Guero, tucked away on Bryan Street, serves the best tacos in town. First-time visitors are treated to a complimentary al pastor taco, which is the most flavorful and tender rendition we've sampled here. The barbacoa is a real stand-out, and so are the lengua, tripas and bistec tacos. The small taquería has only a few counter seats, so get your meal to go.
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Sara+Kerens
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Since opening in April, John Tesar's new restaurant has been slinging out burgers and fries to the stylish crowds that frequent One Arts Plaza, but the best item on the menu isn't one of the burgers. The Tail End Sandwich is a gluttonous mix of ground beef, ground pork and pig tails, but wait, it gets better. The sammy's topped with a zesty green tomato chutney and a fat piece of roasted pork belly, and it's served on a brioche bun smeared with jalapeño mayo. It's like a major upgrade of the Sloppy Joe. Don't forget to order a side of sweet potato fries. That'll make you feel better about eating such a decadent sandwich.
The Common Table
For serious beer lovers, The Common Table is a fine place to stop by any night of the week to see what's new. Manager Jeff Fryman, a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent to a sommelier), always has something interesting bottled up or on tap, and while the selection is modest compared with behemoth lists like those at the Flying Saucer or Meddlesome Moth, you know that whatever they have is fresh. But Tuesdays are our favorite, as the bar always taps a new keg or two and lowers prices on 20-ounce drafts by a couple bucks. Our favorite discount, though, is $3 off flights. You can pick and choose the five sample glasses or go with a themed recommendation. Since it opened, we've fantasized about looking at the draft menu and saying, "One of everything, please." This is as close as we'll get.
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Sara+Kerens
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"No Forks! No Sauce! No Kidding!" was the slogan when Lockhart Smokehouse opened in the Bishop Arts District in February. That's the way things are at legendary smokehouses like Kreuz Market down in Lockhart. Gradually, though, the owners accepted that there's not much overlap between the yuppies and art patrons who patronize the Bishop Arts District and the educated, dedicated brisket fiends who make pilgrimages to the mecca of meat that is Central Texas. Dallas diners mostly grew up on Dickey's and Sonny Bryan's, chains where sauce is all too often necessary, and are simply puzzled by the Medieval Times-like forklessness. And so Lockhart compromised first on the fork stance, offering the utensils in exchange for charitable donations. Then, after successfully experimenting with sauces on Father's Day, they came to accept that Dallas is simply a sauce town, Texas tradition notwithstanding. We mostly abstain, though we'll put a dab of the sweet and tangy red sauce on the occasional dry slice or on fridge-desiccated leftovers, and the "Texabama" sauce, which could almost pass for honey mustard, is great on pork sandwiches. The slogan switch to "No Forks, No Sauce Needed" doesn't quite rank up there with "Four legs good, two legs better" when it comes to traitorous about-faces, and we certainly aren't going to gripe if it keeps the place in business.
The Franconia Brewing Company
Franconia brewmaster and owner Dennis Wehrmann is a native of the Bavarian region of Germany, home to some of Europe's finest beers and the reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law. He comes from a family with centuries of brewing experience, and you can taste it in every drop of Franconia's German-style beers. The brewery doesn't go wild with extreme styles, hybrids or knock-you-on-your-ass levels of alcohol, instead sticking with a few traditional styles like the crisp and smooth lager, the rich and malty dunkel and the refreshing wheat. Almost as refreshing is Wehrmann's insistence on environmentally friendly production. The mash spent in the brewing process is recycled into cattle feed, the brewery is housed in an energy-efficient building and Franconia is encouraging the reuse of bottles by working on the implementation of a refund system for the return of 1-liter flip-top vessels in a handful of local stores. We'll prost to that.
The Libertine Bar
A touchstone gastropub since before people started using that silly term around these parts, the Libertine offers upscale cuisine at bar-food prices and has a great selection of craft beers and imports. It manages to do so without succumbing to the pitfalls of a stuffy atmosphere or high prices. So it makes sense that its monthly beer dinners (7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month) would offer great food with well thought-out complementary suds and, best of all, generous pours. Even though they're on the cheaper end of the beer-dinner spectrum at $50 per person, we've gotten way drunker at Libertine beer dinners than at others around town that cost considerably more.
Babe's Chicken Dinner House
While kids may clamor for a trip to Chuck E. Cheese and other shrines to sensory overload, it's hard to call such establishments "restaurants." "Arcades that happen to serve pizza" is more like it. But Babe's — a perennial Best Of candidate for its fried chicken — definitely qualifies. The unlimited refills of sides, including the sweet creamy corn and green beans with enough salt to get kids to actually ask for seconds, let them enjoy opulence on the cheap, while the catfish, enormous chicken-fried steak and crispy, moist chicken ensure that parents enjoy it just as much. Kids can distract themselves counting chickens in the eaves, reading the country-fried signs hanging everywhere, trying to find the "hidden" bathroom doors or watching the creepy man-sized stuffed Easter Bunny costume morph into an equally uncanny cat costume. Most entertaining of all is when the servers serenade birthday boys and girls (of all ages) and make them put on a stuffed chicken hat and beak, flap their arms and dance like a yardbird.
The Libertine Bar
In three years of watching and competing in the Libertine Bar's annual corn-dog eating contest, we've seen contestants order and down shots mid-bout, seen a drunken "pregnant" girl give birth (to a balloon, but still) under the table in the midst of the action and watched a contestant run outside to vomit and return to finish the match. Intoxicated and nitrate-maddened spectators will intimidate and threaten physical violence against rivals. And God forbid you should tie with anyone, as that is settled with a triple-shot tequila shoot-off — rotgut, dirt-cheap well tequila, that is. Exactly the last thing you want in your belly following 15 grueling minutes of two-fisting corn dogs. A $100 bar tab for first prize may not make it the most lucrative eating contest, but we have yet to witness one that can bring together seasoned gurgitators and wide-eyed newcomers alike in such a wild-ass, fun-loving and, by golly, patriotic contest.

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