Royal Thai
A friend of mine once said of Royal Thai, "Oh, THAT place is good." From someone who was born and raised in Thailand and who once claimed she would never eat Thai food if she didn't make it, her statement was as high as praise gets. She has a point, though. Ask someone who has ever been to Thailand, and more often than not they will tell you it's difficult to come back to the States and eat Americanized Thai food. This isn't the case for all Asian cuisines, and it puts Thai food in its own unique category. There are several restaurants in our city that try to re-create the distinctive qualities of old Siam, but Royal Thai succeeds at it. With its solid rendition of the classics, the neighborhood family ambiance and the exceptionally affable service, it is no wonder the restaurant commands consistently large crowds. Outside of that recent burger import that shall remain unnamed, you won't find a longer, more patient or eagerly awaiting queue that side of Central Expressway on a Saturday evening.
Serious Pizza
Choosing a winner for this prestigious category was an exercise in the process of elimination. Fast-food chains were dropped right off the bat. Douchebag meeting grounds were disqualified next. Lastly, places where you could be shot (distressingly numerous) were the last to fall out of consideration. In the end, one of life's very simplest of truths was what determined Serious Pizza as our winner: A slice of pizza and drunken gluttonous yearning go hand in hand. This place is called what it's called for a reason. Few things can kill a drunken craving and sop up all the exorbitant amounts of alcohol as well as a notoriously monstrous Serious Pizza slice. Open until 3 a.m. on the weekends, the lively after-hours atmosphere, HD televisions and interesting people-watching are exactly the stimulation needed for some sobering up. Understandably, with crowds comes a wait, so be patient and don't end up like one of the drunken knuckleheads who are thrown out on the busier nights.
Thai Express Restaurant
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.
Dairy-Ette
Crowning the best hamburger is nigh impossible in this beef-crazy town, but a master of burger basics muscled its way to the top of our list. Dairy-ette, the East Dallas drive-in burger joint, has earned serious street cred since opening in 1956. Car hops serve juicy, old-fashioned hamburgers, fresh-cut french fries and homemade root beer to people in cars parked under the red-and-white striped awning. Top a burger with cheese, chili, or live large with chili and cheese. Heck, go for the double meat layered with bacon and jalapeños. Hot grub and sandwiches are also dished out inside at the counter, near the original soda fountain. Root beer is sold by the gallon for $4.50.
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.

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