Taj Express
This hidden treasure is tucked between a 7-Eleven and Titlemax on an unremarkable stretch of Lemmon Avenue, but our mothers taught us to not judge a book, or restaurant, by its cover. Taj Express, owned by the Ram family, offers authentic Northern Indian cuisine crafted from the chef's own recipes. The friendly staff will take orders from the menu, but the best deal is the $7.99 lunch buffet ($9.99 for dinner). On any given day, fresh batches of chicken tikka masala and saag paneer beckon from the buffet. Baskets of hot, fluffy naan are brought to the table. Finish off the buffet with a bowl of badami kheer that's sweeter and smoother than vanilla ice cream. The restaurant also takes to-go orders and offers catering.
Debt ceilings and the predicted apocalypse don't seem to have any effects on our appetites or schedules. We have to credit Michelle Dudley of Wylie for making it easier to feed five mouths (and yes, that can mean one or two mouths, for two to five meals in a row) on a budget. With a three-month subscription for $15, meal planning maven Dudley sends a monthly newsletter including weekly dinner menus and complete shopping lists for five nights of entrées and suggested sides that can all be prepped and stored in one hour during the weekend. Each weeknight, grab one, follow heating instructions and a homemade dinner is ready for four to six people. Shockingly, the entrées aren't just tuna casserole-types, but simple, tasty recipes for Greek steak, fun sliders and even fish. Ingredients add up to around $65 at typical groceries, but with all the tips Dudley offers on her blog — posts on prepping lunches, coupon hints and varying recipes — you could spend even less money and time. If the end is near, you won't be wasting time cooking dinner.
Good 2 Go Taco
Good 2 Go Taco co-owners Jeana Johnson and Colleen O'Hare once set up shop in a gas station, offering daily specials. After a brief hiatus from serving (spent prepping a new location), the duo opened up the Good 2 Go storefront near the corner of Peavy and Garland Roads in January. They offered a few favorite lunch and breakfast selections along with a BYO breakfast taco option. In May, however, some old favorites from the Green Spot days made it to their rightful permanent places on the menu boards. The Navin R. Johnson (jerk chicken, naturally), Minnie Pearl (veggies and couscous) and School Daze (Sriracha-glazed meatloaf and mashed potatoes) joined Swine Bleu, Hotlanta and others. Breakfast tacos expanded from four to six, and salads, sides, wraps and daily specials further amped up the offerings. To top it all off, Cultivar Coffee's bar adds a classy caffeine buzz to taco time.
Central 214 and Hotel Palomar are the "it" couple of room service, what with the American restaurant helmed by chef Blythe Beck providing vittles for hotel guests 24/7. And the chicken-fried Kobe steak is the best meal (aka "food tryst") we've ever had in a hotel room. We're talking legit last meal material. A Beck signature dish, the chicken-fried Kobe steak is home-style Americana uplifted to fine dining. It's perfectly decadent and totally accessible. The Kobe is tender beneath the crispy batter and pour-it-yourself bacon red-eye gravy. After the accompanying mustard greens and butter-whipped potatoes, the perfect dessert is knowing that once the dinner cart is wheeled out, unbuckling (or ditching) pants doesn't require driving home first.
The Grape
Beth Rankin
Since its burger garnered statewide attention from Texas Monthly, The Grape has become a popular spot for casual Sunday brunch, but that decadent burger, as tasty as it is, is just one of the mouth-watering menu items that make this the best brunch. Whether you're in the mood for a perfectly poached egg and house-made hollandaise in your eggs Benedict or a plate of warm, gooey sticky buns made with love, The Grape always delivers superb food and equally praiseworthy service. Even the most boring of brunchers will appreciate their classic American breakfast platter of eggs any style, bacon or sausage and hash.
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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