Ten Bells Tavern

The term pedestrian is often used to describe humble dishes. Burgers, wings and sandwiches are all pedestrian foods. They are common, familiar and soothing. Too often, though, what is pedestrian often tastes stepped on. The ubiquitous snacks served at countless bars and restaurants are prepared carelessly with frozen ingredients. It was almost unthinkable that a bar would actually hire a chef and properly feed people instead of pandering to drunk customers who are thought to eat anything. When Ten Bells Tavern announced Carlos Mancera would be manning the kitchen of this Oak Cliff gastropub, it was a revelation that turned out to be worthy of extended celebration. Who knew the blue cheese served with wings could actually be a desirable condiment, or more shockingly, that brunch didn't have to suck? Bar food menus in Dallas have been given notice. Change is in the air.

El Rincon De Villa

You'd given up on them, hadn't you? Chicken tacos are dry, mealy and miserable — the absolute bottom of the taco echelon and suitable only for the drunkest of drunk food. Steady yourself. El Taco del Rincon de Villa is a small taco house on Greenville Avenue, and its chicken tacos will completely revive the genre for you. Tinga de pollo is your new go-to taco order. Grab several and wait for chicken meat stewed till it falls apart with a slightly spicy, slightly smoky sauce. Even better, they're tucked into tortillas that are made right there. They're soft and pliable and ready to receive all the salsa you can handle. This is anything but yet another chicken taco. It's your go-to lunch.

Tacos La Banqueta
Scott Reitz

Suaqueso, like Texarkana, is what happens when you run out of names for things and just start squishing words together. Fortunately, suadero and queso are extremely complementary. Not only do the words have a nice ring when assembled, but the ingredients they describe taste delicious in tandem too. Picture the best quesadilla you've ever had and then throw that thought straight in the garbage. Suaqueso is going to give you a whole new perspective. Suaqueso pairs an obscene amount of oozing, melted cheese with bits of beef that have been braised until they're tender before they're crisped up on a flat grill. The best part is the suaqueso provides another excuse to indulge La Banqueta's green sauce. And since the suaquesos are much larger than the tacos, you get to use more of it.

Joyce and Gigi's

If you've had enough of ceviche swimming in a saucy concoction with too many embellishments, you should get to Joyce and Gigi's soon. It may be the only place in Dallas where you can get such a hefty portion of Chilean sea bass treated so respectfully. The rich, firm-fleshed fish is perfect for this preparation, and the appetizer is a great opening act for larger, heavier dishes. The kitchen treats the fish to a bath of apple cider vinegar, which firms up the flesh. Tiny currants and fennel lend sweetness and red onions offer texture and pungency. Then there's the crunchy snap of plantains shredded into strings and fried till they're crisp — they make the dish seem almost celebratory. Order a crisp lager and tear in with a friend. This ceviche deserves to be shared, even though you'll want each and every bite for yourself.

Ascension Coffee
Catherine Downes

They're almost insufferable with their coffee nerdery at Ascension Coffee. They even admit on their website: "We are fanatics!" You'll almost want to smack them till you have a sip of pour-over brew expecting it to taste like your coffee at home. Now you're in trouble. Now you're talking about single-origin beans, water ratios and extraction times. You better figure out how to upgrade your home-brew process or you'll be on the hook for $5 cups of java the rest of your life. Except you'll never pull it off. There's something special that happens when a true coffee nerd makes hundreds of cups of coffee a day under the exacting specifications of an ownership devoted to quality and consistency — they get really, really good at it.

Louie's
Taryn Walker

What in God's name happened to the martini? You remember James Bond? It wasn't long ago that your only choice was gin or vodka and whether you wanted it shaken or stirred. If you were in a fancy place you might have had the choice between an olive, an onion or a twist of citrus peel. Now martinis come in more flavors than bubble gum and taste about the same. Thankfully, Louie's has continued to offer martinis that would keep 007 happy, and they're served up by one of Dallas' best no-bullshit bartenders. Louie sugarcoats nothing. If you're wrong about something he'll politely correct you, and since he's a walking Encyclopedia Britannica it can happen often. You might do your homework here if you need some good fact-checking, but the martinis are so strong you'll lose your motivation. It's just as well. You're in a fine bar, and deadlines are as malleable as your brain on vodka.

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

If you've been to any other Babe's but the original, you're going to need to start all over. They're all great, sure, but the Roanoke location is exceptional. It's not just the customers waiting out front, drinking beer while they wait on a table (though that's not a bad thing). It's the that this particular location boasts unparalleled specialization. When you finally get your seat you're faced with a seemingly dire decision. "You want chicken-fried steak or chicken," your waitress will bark. And while you will undoubtedly want both, the right choice is chicken-fried steak. They're both delicious because this kitchen turns out the same two dishes over and over again, but the chicken-fried steak is an order of magnitude better because it comes with gravy served on the side, so the crust doesn't get soggy.

Sushi-Sake Japanese Restaurant

Sushi Sake dwells in the house that uni built. After a solid run in a Richardson strip mall, the popular sushi restaurant moved to a large standalone building that's become a temple to raw fish. You're more than welcome to come and order all the spicy tuna rolls you can fit in your belly, but you'd be doing yourself a major disservice — there are amazing cuts of fish here. And they're all prepared with an old-school flare that pays homage to sushi tradition. Just look at the place, with its Japanese architecture, low-slung tables and dim lighting. Drink enough Japanese beer and you could picture yourself on some strange island in the Pacific. Confidently sit at the bar and cast your menu aside. Instead, ask your sushi chef what came in today. Your sushi expectations will never be the same.

FT33

What does it take to have a nationally recognized restaurant scene? A collection of restaurants that offers something you can't get elsewhere. Dallas needs more chefs and restaurateurs who are willing to sculpt the local dining scene and take it in a new direction. Chefs like Matt McCallister, who has shown he's willing to take some risks with his restaurant FT33 in an effort to innovate and differentiate from a culinary landscape that is often bland. There's beef at his restaurant, but no steak (and surely no steak sauce), and dishes combine innovation with time-tested techniques. The results are plates that are both satiating and exciting, and they break far away from what Dallasites typically expect to be served for dinner. Considering the number of steak houses and Tex-Mex restaurants that thrive here, a few more chefs should follow McCallister's lead. Our culinary identity would be all the better for it.

Lakewood Brewing Co.

Rich, dark, strong, sweet and silky-smooth, imperial milk stout The Temptress embodies the best qualities of stouts and then doubles them. It's a 9.1-percent ABV dessert in a glass that implores you to savor the deep, luscious chocolate and caramel malts, the milkshake-thick body and the slight coffee-like bitterness at the finish. It's a complex beer, yet we see people who aren't normally craft-beer drinkers seduced by its charms at bars that are otherwise mostly devoid of craft-beer choices. Even better is the seasonal bourbon barrel-aged version, which adds toffee and vanilla notes.

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