Best Jerk Chicken 2012 | Island Spot | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

While Dallas celebrates its recent barbecue renaissance with newcomers Lockhart Smokehouse and Pecan Lodge, a sleeper has been quietly smoking away in Carrollton. Island Spot's jerk chicken may not be as prized as a perfectly smoked brisket, but it's the best Jamaican 'cue in Dallas, for sure. Most spots use gas grills to cook their chicken or even (gasp!) bake it in the oven. Island Spot's version is indeed burned over petroleum. But they still manage to wrangle smoky flavors out of chicken as bits of spice and rendering fat drip down to the hot elements below. The results are a burst of perfume that starts as a wisp and builds to a billowing smokescreen. What's better is that the restaurant uses a coal-fired grill occasionally at large events like Taste of Addison and Taste of Dallas. The results may be hard to come by but they're worth seeking out. It just might take you all the way to Jamaica.

The suburbs have always been known for superior ethnic restaurants. And superior suburban ethnic restaurants have always been known for their grittiness. With Pera Turkish kitchen you get all of the flavor, intensity and passion of real ethnic cooking, and you don't have to eat off of Styrofoam and wipe your mug with a paper napkin. The kebabs are great options for big, grilled flavors, and ezma brings a host of new, interesting flavors — if the ezma's tart pomegranate and sweet molasses don't do it for you, there are always hummus, tabouleh and baba ganoush to fall back on. Order all three and tear into as much pide bread as your stomach can handle. The waiters bring the freshly baked loaves out a few at a time and they're thicker and more puck-like than the pita breads you're used to. Use them as a bulldozer to plow through as many of the meza as you can fit on your table and then order a few more.

Are you kidding? It's not that it's the oldest (though opening in 1895 doesn't hurt). Rudolph's meat market is the best butcher in Dallas because it's simply badass. See the links in the case? They're made right there on site. If you don't want to cook them at home you can try one doused in chili and cheese down the street at St. Pete's. You see the beef dangling in the walk-in? Those are whole sides of beef hanging on huge meat hooks, not vacuum-packed, pre-portioned primal cuts for baby butchers. You see those wood blocks? They're dished like warped vinyl because they've supported the craft of butchery for decades. Rudolph's is a no-nonsense butcher for people who still like to buy high-quality meat. Walk in and tell Brandon Andreason what you're in the mood for. He'll give you the right cut, and if you have a question, he'll tell you where it came from and how to cook it.

Unless you're a total fromage freak, you need a really enthusiastic staff to keep cheese shops from getting dull. Scardello's employees are more than just cheese nerds. They're actually fun to hang out with. Lance Lynn knows his beer pairings and Ali Morgan can talk brie all day. And while owner Rich Rogers will happily debate the merits of affinage, he's most exciting when he cracks open a massive wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. You think you know what fresh parm smells like, but can you believe it really smells like pineapples and heaven? Many wines are available by the glass, and you can grab any bottle off the wall and swill till it's empty. It won't hurt things that new-hire Marco Villegas is a certified sommelier. We bet the wine list only gets better. ------------------

Forget the Velveeta-Ro-Tel blend that many lesser chain restaurants call "queso." Even the best creamy, spicy, fresh quesos can't stand up to Queso Maya at Cafe Maya. It's loaded but not overloaded with black beans, beef and pico de gallo, and floats a few slices of fresh jalapeño. Spicy but not too spicy, beefy but not too heavy, it's one of our favorite appetizers in town. Stir it or leave it be, but be sure to share unless you want to ruin your appetite with the generously sized bowl. Or you could just slurp it up like soup. Tempting ... very tempting.

Far North Dallas is a desert of corporate coffee shops and breakfast joints. Rising from the dust is Coffeehouse Cafe, a sleek bar and restaurant with a massive pet-friendly enclosed patio. Even in the summer, it feels cool. And in the winter, a massive outdoor fireplace keeps patrons warm. Forget ordering from a large batch of coffee that's been sitting on a burner for hours; a fresh coffee press brews at your table while you wait for your well-cooked omelet. And while the place seems like a four-star joint, you only have to shell out a few bucks for a mimosa or a bloody mary.

Nonna may also deserve an award for best strip-mall conversion. While the exterior of the restaurant is frighteningly dull, as soon as you step through the doors you forget that a liquor store and a tailor flank the restaurant and realize you're in one of Dallas' more romantic restaurant spaces. A white pizza with clams and a reduction sauce will always please, but Nonna may be best known for its tender and delicate pasta dishes. Chef Julian Barsotti's most popular creation is likely the lobster ravioli, which stuffs sweet crustacean into pasta purses rolled so thin you can almost see the contents. Pappardelle al ragu Bolognese and a lasagna are also winners, as refined as they are hearty. Save room for dessert, though. Barsotti's sweet creations show restraint in the sugar department, resulting in closers that are almost guilt-free. Anything with semifreddo in the description is a guaranteed win.

There's no reason Besa's should be good. It's tucked into the farthest corner of an obscure North Dallas shopping strip, sandwiched between a vacant storefront and a Hobby Lobby; the prices hover just above Little Caesars levels; the guys who run it are Armenian, not Italian. Ignore all that. Order the baked ziti. Eat it. Find yourself in a state of bliss. Besa's menu is a no-nonsense collection of Italian standbys, many of which, like the baked ziti are hit out of the park. Matter of fact, the only thing about Besa's in keeping with its humble exterior is its prices. Try finding a $6 Italian dish somewhere else that even comes close to Besa's. You won't.

A snow cone's a snow cone, just some finely shaved ice swimming in flavored syrup. There's not much room for a snow cone joint to distinguish itself from the competition — or so you assume until you hit up Aunt Stelle's. Somehow, the Oak Cliff landmark makes its just a little better than anyone else. Maybe it's the history, all 51 years of it on the same corner. Maybe it's the way the whole experience makes a summer afternoon seem so luxuriously carefree. Maybe there's something extra in an Aunt Stelle's cone. Whatever it is, get your fill while you can. Lee Albert and husband Ed Schwartz, who have run the stand since taking over from her mother, have promised to keep it open only as long as their health holds up. The Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, after Aunt Stelle's cut its hours to weekends only, saw fit to put it on last year's Architecture at Risk list. Here's wishing the couple eternal health.

Kathy Tran

El Ranchito may not bill itself as a Tex-Mex restaurant, but there's a Tex-Mex section on the menu with tacos, burritos and enchiladas. The fajitas turn heads with a trail of smoke and steam wafting behind the cast-iron plate like an old jalopy with bad valves, and most things are flanked by go-to rice and beans. Semantics aside, this place serves up all the classics you expect when dining at a Tex-Mex restaurant, with lots of other dishes waiting to tempt you out of your comfort zone. Try the cabrito, grilled baby goat you can strip clean from the bones before using the meat to stuff warm pliable tortillas. Wash it down with enough of their margaritas that you can really join the party. The mariachi band here plays loudly as they bounce from table to table and stir up the crowd. And if that's not festive enough for you, come back when an Elvis impersonation competition turns the whole place into Las Vegas meets the Mission.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of