Best Of :: Food & Drink
It's small. It can get really hot. It is in possibly the most unappealing shopping center ever. But boy, is it really, really good. Thai Express is a speck in the blemish of a shopping strip on Inwood by Southwestern Medical Center. It's long been an old popular standby for workers at the nearby hospitals, particularly during the $6.99 lunch buffet. Labeling it as a greasy spoon would have been highly accurate in the past, but the restaurant went through renovations six months ago under its new management. The buffet remains intact, and the digs are nicer, but most notable is that the food has gotten even better. The head chef is sister of owner Somchai Kongnuan, and the woman has some serious skills. In a city where Thai food can become formulaic and homogenous, every dish at Thai Express is distinct and stings with palate-pleasing flavor. While attention to the food is certainly important, the other little details that the new regime added tickle as well. The Muzak/bossa nova covers of songs ranging from Nirvana to the Bee Gees playing over the restaurant's speakers are the same tunes popular everywhere in Thailand. Thai Express is the classic hole-in-the-wall find — memorable food and cheeky atmosphere.
Sure, their bright-ass paint job is obnoxious, but the barbacoa, picadillo and pastor tacos at Cool & Hot are freaking delicious. And if the fact that they offer their tacos for just over a buck each isn't enough for you, the menu also includes snow cones and ice cream. That's right: tacos and snow cones, y'all. Welcome to the intersection of awesome and hell yes. The atmosphere at Cool & Hot is exactly what you want when you're eating a street taco: It's a little trashy, a lot shaded. This place isn't slick or manufactured like so many of the taco spots in Dallas; it's just a great, unassuming little taco shack. Most days Cool & Hot is open 24 hours, so next time you have a late-night craving for tacos, skip that nasty Taco Bell Bueno and get yourself some Cool & Hot with a side of Pimp Juice or a scoop of Rocky Road.
Spiral Diner, the kick-ass vegan restaurant in Oak Cliff, has more than just delicious veggie-monster-friendly meals: They have Oogave natural soda on tap. Oogave offers a variety of yummy flavors, including mandarin Key lime, cola and ginger ale. But none compare to their watermelon cream soda. It's sweet, pink, no-high-fructose-corn-syrup, all agave-sweetened hippie happiness. Watermelon cream soda from Oogave is about the best thing that this planet has to offer, non-alcoholic bev-wise, and it's pretty expensive if you buy it at Whole Foods in a bottle. So, when you're getting your herbivore on at Spiral Diner and you have access to free refills of the stuff, take full advantage of that situation, friends. Order your veggies, pass on the regular water and roll up to that self-serve Oogave soda fountain ready to chug some delicious watermelon-flavored agave angel nectar. Mmm.
The only thing better than the spicy basil rice from Thai 2 Go (not to be confused with Thai2go in the Medical District) is the spicy basil rice from Thai 2 Go when it's delivered straight to your doorstep. If you're buying a new house anytime soon and you're not basing that purchase on whether or not the house is in Thai 2 Go's delivery area, you're doing it wrong. The delivery from Thai 2 Go is always on time or early; they always get your order exactly right; and did we mention that for a small fee, they're bringing you freaking delicious dinner that they made for you so you could spend your evening watching Flipping Out instead of cleaning your dirty kitchen? When the delivery guy from Thai 2 Go knocks on our door, we run screaming toward him like it's Thai Food Christmas. "Sweet! Potstickers!!! Thanks, Spicy Basil Santa!" You should probably hug him. Or at least give him a good tip.
Waiting for your food at the counter of Lockhart Smokehouse is like something straight from the beeftacular dreams of Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain. You're waiting, watching the barbecue masters cut through the bark of a hunk of meat, and then they hand it over — a slice of wax paper heavy in the center with fat-shimmering meat. If you've ordered right, you've ordered the shoulder clod. The clod is a lean cut from the shoulder, but don't let that fool you: Lockhart's shoulder meat has got bigger, better flavor and texture and is the same price as the brisket at $7.50 per half pound. If you're scared by ordering something with "clod" in the title: Suck it up, watch an episode of No Reservations and head to Oak Cliff's best meatacular for a sample.
Under moonlight, these onion rings may look like crispy wristbands. They sure don't taste like wrist-wear. Order extra. Like, 14 baskets extra (hey, they're only $5.25 per order). Paired with their creamy chipotle aioli and a ridiculously cold beer, the gates of heaven approach faster than you could ask. This is one of those dishes you buy for an out-of-towner because you want to look cool. Every year, we here at the Dallas Observer yammer about eating Lee Harvey's burger on the beautiful porch, and forget to mention its crispy companion. Everything needs a sidekick. Dallas Police headquarters is right next to Lee Harvey's, you know. The onion rings — they're no different. They're Robin to Burger Batman, and they come with plenty of aioli sauce.
Much debate has occurred over the varying brilliance of Jay Ferrier's pizza pies. Their crusts range between crispy and cooked-seconds-ago soft. It's kind of a fickle oven. What's immune to criticism, however, is the perfect, creamy Caesar salad. It doesn't go anywhere near the temperamental oven, and they put fresh white anchovies on it. A pretty little chorus line of salty goodness sitting on top of field greens, Parmigiano and crostini. (Food's so much better with ini as a suffix, isn't it?) Ditch those awful grocery salads and stop through Deep Ellum before the sun goes red. Oh, and ask for extra dressing — you'll want to dip your finger in it later.
Stop, hammer time. Not kidding. Stop being lame by counting calories because you ate that "everything" bagel and get to Anvil Pub on Elm Street before you croak. This dish is sublime comfort food: pornographically dripping macaroni and cheese combined with chili. Thhhhat's right. We recommend eating the dish by yourself, sitting alone and near the back just so no one sees you clean the bowl by bringing the whole damn thing to your face. There should be a cheesy frown shape on your forehead. Never mind the thought that passes: "Did I just order a wrestler who's going to come to the table and rip my scalp off?" This is no barbaric wrestler. It's a bowl of your new favorite thing.
Maybe it's annoying to say it, but Local is old-school. Real old-school. There are no moose heads on the wall or annoying string quartet playing the Titanic theme on repeat. It's honest. Also, they have small but perfect portions of dishes such as fried green beans and pan-seared Maine lobster cake. Another old-school (and awesome) move by chef Tracy Miller: Hudson Valley foie gras. This isn't a little pâté spread on a tiny cracker: The foie gras is presented whole and seared as right as any meat you've ever had, served with house-made Texas toast and drizzled lightly with blueberry compote. Bring your vegetarian friends and show them what they're missing. Show them by changing your order from the guilt-free heirloom tomato thing at the last minute, just as they're getting their three-cheese scratch ravioli or balsamic roasted beets. They'll love theirs, sure, but you'll be evil and right.
Nestled into the sterilized, gentrified corner of a strip mall in Plano, close to the lauded burger joint Five Guys, is the Holy Grail. (No. Not literally. That's the joint's name.) The Observer has blessed Holy Grail's dishes like the fried goat cheese balls and burger, but we've managed to leave out something simple: the soft pretzels. No, oh no, these aren't those bullshit things you get at Auntie Anne's. These are house-made, butter-brushed and kosher-salted bread twists. And they come with béchamel cheese sauce and spicy stone-ground mustard. Two people can take this appetizer down, or maybe one person with a sick hangover. Either way, one bite of buttery, soft, oven-hot bread with the cheese sauce, and you ain't leaving for a while.
When you see the Big Rib, Smoke's giant-honking meat shank with its hominy casserole and fresh herb chimichurri, you'll shout something reminiscent of Denzel Washington in Training Day: "Fred Flintstone ain't got nothing on me!" It's so big and meaty, you'll think first of how you'll conquer the dish — "hominy first, with meat?" Then, the walls drop away, and you're left in savory bliss because you've waited no longer. Dear readers, Oak Cliff's tenderest meat is this rib. It's the rib you've always been imagining when you utter the word "rib." Certainly there's no shortage of conversation on the subject of Tim Byres' unique pork creations, like his succulent guanciale or bold pulled pork. The Big Rib, at $24, isn't cheap "barbecue," but it's the best rib in Dallas, hands down.
Don't be scared. It's OK. Sure, it's one of the hottest peppers on the planet, but it works. In some sort of sweet, spicy symphony, this chili builds — Vivaldi-style — into a perfect climax of flavors. Several bites in, just when the scalp and the backs of your ears start burning, you'll confidently whisper, "It's delicious." Also, it's really hot. Like, a pepper punched you in the nards hot. The pepper melds, however, in a genius way with the ground beef, sausage, onions and Stone Smoked Porter (yay beer in the chili!). Who knows how it'll come out for you later, but worry about that when you're dead.