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 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.

There's so much more to Chinese food than orange chicken and beef with broccoli, and Royal Sichuan is the best restaurant in Dallas to get you out of that mold. Try the ma pao tofu if you want to get to know a new flavor that you won't find at many Chinese restaurants. It's packed with Sichuan peppercorns, which have a subtle, citrusy flavor that lights up your mouth with numbing electricity. Combined with the heat of other chiles, the effect is memorable, and it's just one of many new dishes to encounter here. The menu is massive, and you can indulge in a wide array of curiosities like sea cucumber along with simple dishes like cumin lamb. Even the mainstays you grew up on are available here, should you crave some sesame chicken, but it would be a shame to fall back on an old crutch with so many new things to try here.

Mughlai

If you're bored with casual, suburban Indian restaurants, you'd do well to check out Mughlai. Yes, it's still in a strip mall of sorts, but the similarity to other Indian restaurants stops right there. Inside, a spacious modern dining room is filled with diners and energy. Eating here is like a celebration. The more friends you bring, the more of the menu you'll get to explore. Dishes are served in copper karahis that are perfect for sharing, and you'll want to indulge as much of the menu as you can. You should order multiple curries and multiple breads and rice dishes for soaking up each of them. You can Kingfisher in rounds and lounge over a meal that feels like an event. You'll walk out stuffed to the gills and completely content, and you'll have a new understanding of Indian food.

Urbano Cafe

If you're expecting red-check tablecloths, you should know that Café Urbano's Italian cooking is anything but traditional. This is the un-Italian Italian restaurant, and the dishes are all the better for it. You can get an amazing Bolognese if that's what you're craving, but there are other items on the menu that will challenge your perceptions of what dishes belong on an Italian restaurant's menu. Take the caprese s'mores, which turn a boring and clichéd dish into a fun, oozing grilled cheese sandwich. Or how about the mussels with the surprising addition of chorizo alongside the expected basil and garlic? There's a Hawaiian ceviche, which seems odd, but then a Caesar salad will assure you you're in an unforgettable and creative restaurant with deep Italian roots.

Sakhuu Thai

Good service is always important in the restaurant business, as customers take home memories of the staff they interact with just as often as they do the food. The relationships you build with a wait staff or a chef are what keep a customer returning to a restaurant again and again. That's why if you step foot in Kyla Phomsavanh's East Dallas dining room, you'll likely be committing to more than one meal here. Not that there's anything wrong with coming back again and again to feast on stuffed chicken wings, sultry curries and other dishes prepared simply with fresh ingredients. As a bonus, Sakhuu is BYOB. There's no better place to bring a bottle of Belgian beer and devour spicy curry, and maybe even indulge some whiskey for dessert.

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