Coffee House Cafe

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

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.

Besa's Pizza & Pasta

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.

Aunt Stelle's Sno-Cones

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.

El Ranchito
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.

Pecan Lodge
Beth Rankin

Hey, you two guys. You really want to win this election? I have one name to drop and she's a real momentum builder. Lurlene, Pecan Lodge's smoker, may not look that great — she's caked with grease and smoke, and is maybe even rusting in a few spots — but strap her to the back of your tour bus and let the great aroma of Texas barbecue leave a scented campaign trail in your wake. Adults will chase you through suburban neighborhoods for a mere taste of your brisket. Their children will run behind hoping for a morsel of smoked sausage. And puppies will run behind those children, galloping with tongues unleashed while hoping to lap up the smallest dripping of grease. Film all of this. Run it in slow motion. You'll have the greatest campaign commercial of all time and people will vote for you based on the image alone.

Fried chicken is an all-American food for an all-American candidate. Grab a take-out bucket and stage it with a blanket on a grassy knoll for your next photo op. The best part is, this bucket is not a prop. Grab a drumstick and squeeze a little house-made sriracha on it. Take a bite and feel the crisp skin and taste the vibrant heat. Sure, the fried chicken's fancy, and you'll be branded as an elitist (just wait till you're seen with Sissy's caviar-topped deviled eggs) but you have staffers who can put a spin on anything and this fried bird is too good to worry about it.

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