Best Margarita 2012 | Meso Maya | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Lauren Drewes Daniels

Dallas is basically flooded with margarita mix. Actually, the entire country is. It makes you wonder why politicians waste time on health care and jobs when they should be campaigning on platforms of margarita reform in an effort to root out the sharp, tart and cloying versions made with bottled mix. If they needed a figurehead, Meso Maya's cocktail would suit nicely. Served over rocks, or up if you like, the drink garners its sweetness naturally from a small wedge of pineapple, and muddled avocado lends the drink body, viscosity and a creaminess that may look a little odd but goes down smooth. Try one with fried tortilla chips and salsa that actually bring some personality to the table. Fresh tomatoes, roasted chiles and a subtle warm glow will stoke your desire for a second drink before you've even finished your first.

Wits Steakhouse/Kathy Tran

When Oak opened earlier this year it captured the attention of an entire city. Six months later not a lot has changed. Chef Jason Maddy's cooking has been consistently praised, and the restaurant still feels like it's gaining momentum, likely because in addition to great cooking, the menu is relatively affordable. Not that you'd know it by looking at these plates. A daily crudo features a fresh fish that rotates with availability, paired with pickled vegetables and a soy caramel sauce. A pork and octopus dish features tender jowls and tentacles. And a berbere spiced lamb loin accompanies an amazing sweetbread panzanella. That food this good comes in one of Dallas' most comfortable dining rooms doesn't hurt things either.

"Captain" Keith Schlabs, the godfather of craft beer in Dallas, knows a thing about brews, as one can see from the hundreds of beers available at his Flying Saucer locations. It's here at the Meddlesome Moth, though, where he cashes in the connections he's made with breweries over the years. If it's a very rare, limited release, chances are the Moth will be the one bar in Dallas to get it. The well-curated everyday selection, weekly special tappings and blowout festivals make it a regular destination for the area's most dedicated beer lovers.

The Windmill Lounge, located on the cusp of Maple Avenue and Denton Drive, is a tiny and unassuming dive bar that serves some of the best cocktails in town. There's no valet or swanky dress code here. In fact, the bar (perhaps most noticeable by the blue neon windmill perched on its roof) is practically hidden, and if you're not paying close enough attention you'll drive past its gravel entrance. Owners (and ex-spouses) Charlie Papaceno and Louise Owens alternate shifts at the bar, mixing up staples like the dirty martini, Prohibition-era drinks and off-menu concoctions named after the regulars who drink them. Papaceno, who grew up in southeast New York, is eager to show you how he does it, if you're willing to learn, and among his customers are bar maestros Michael Martensen (The Cedars Social) and Jason Kosmas (Marquee).

Go into La Banqueta and do your best to ignore the short man running water through 15 feet of cow intestine in the sink behind the counter. Ignore the grubby floors, the narrow space and the sticky counter you'll have to eat at if you don't want to take your order to go. Walk right up to the register, and order the suaqueso and as many pastor tacos as you think you can handle. Add an ice cold Topo Chico and a modest tip. You won't eat all the tacos, though. You might not even be able to eat two of them once you get all of that delicious suaqueso in your belly. The mixture of melting, stringy cheese and crunchy bits of braised then griddled brisket is enough to lay a man out all on its own.

When The Mecca announced its most recent move to East Dallas from the west side of town on Harry Hines Boulevard, the announcement carried a bit of extra news. The diner that's as old as dirt would kick off dinner service for the first time since opening in 1938. Breakfast all day had been a favorite at the greasy spoon that served up eggs through lunch time, but the expansion into dinner service meant that well after sunset you could get two sunny-side up alongside a savory piece of steak beaten to a pulp, breaded and fried to a crisp. Have you ever dragged a hunk of chicken-fried steak that's already smothered in gravy through the glistening yolk of a perfectly fried egg? Have you ever done it after a long day of work? The Mecca's CFS will make all of those job hurts fade away, blanketed in a greasy sheen of gently peppered pan gravy.

Best Veggie Burger at a Non-Veggie Joint

The Meridian Room

At most non-veg eateries, a veggie burger is a sad, shrunken prospect, some freezer-burned Morningstar cast-off tossed unadorned onto a plate. A non-burger like that can darken the whole dining room. Not Meridian Room, though: If their veggie burger isn't made in-house, they're doing a damn good job fooling us into thinking otherwise. The patty somehow tastes juicy and like whole grains at the same time, and they'll cheerily pile that sucker with avocado, havarti and jalapeños on request. Pair it with their perfectly crispy sweet potato fries for a plate that'll make your meat-eating dining companions jealous.

Beth Rankin

Kalachandji's, the beloved East Dallas Hare Krishna temple and eatery, finds its way onto our list year after year. We're boring, we know. But we'll never tire of sitting in their beautiful garden patio, eating dal and vegetable curry and drinking tamarind tea. And after a fire in another part of the building closed the kitchen for a few days, we're relieved to see the restaurant open and unscathed. No matter how busy the lunch hour, the atmosphere here is always as meditative and peaceful as a museum, and while the food's not fancy, it's healthy, fresh and plentiful. Try the homemade bread, and if at all possible save room for some vanilla-inflected rice pudding at the end (skip the halvah, which tastes exactly like halvah). Afterward, pay a visit to the dim, beautifully muraled sanctuary across the hallway, making sure to remove your shoes first. Om.

Whether you prefer your slaw slathered on a taco or served alongside a burger, the folks behind Good 2 Go Taco and Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House have you covered. These slaws aren't the run-of-the-mill coleslaw typically served around Dallas, often too creamy or too vinegary. Feta slaw is served at Goodfriend, and the chefs (who work at both spots) combine red, white and Napa cabbage with radishes and carrots, and then mix that with a sundried tomato vinaigrette, as well as a generous portion of feta cheese. Good 2 Go Taco's "Afternoon Delight" menu (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) boasts the Swine Bleu — a mouthwatering braised pork and blue-cheese slaw taco that tastes absolutely when-pigs-fly divine. The slaw is a similar concoction (both restaurants share a kitchen) but made with blue cheese.

For the past few years Sushi Zushi has offered up one of our favorite happy hours in town. Offering the option of sitting at the bar or in the main dining room, from 5 to 7 p.m. the San Antonio-based chain serves a selection of appetizers, sushi rolls and "comfort foods" for less than $5, and drink specials that include cocktails for $5, 20-ounce Japanese beers for $4 or 10-ounce carafes of hot sake for $3. It's a great place to people watch at the bar solo, meet friends or even take a date on the cheap.

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