BEST GREASY SPOON 2013 | Norma's Café | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

Sometimes, in spite of the advice of doctors, we don't want to eat kale and sustainably caught salmon. Sometimes the only food that can fill our souls (and our arteries, with congestive levels of cholesterol) is served by the greasy spoon. Norma's Café has chicken-fried steak swimming in cream gravy. They've got fried catfish, pot roast, chicken pot pie and sweet tea to wash it down — the stuff Mom used to make, if you grew up in the South. Their Mile-High Cream Pie is the stuff of diabetic dreams. What's more, it's served to you by the kindliest, most matronly women. They're the kind of ladies who call you "sweetie." We swear, "being grandmotherly" must be one of the chief qualifications for becoming a waitress at Norma's.

On the list of foods destined for artisanal rebirth, ice pops would seem to hover in the vicinity of fish sticks. But John Doumas, with the stand converted from a VW bus, has managed to lift the humble popsicle into the quasi-foodie realm. We say "quasi" because Doumas' take on the frozen treats, which include flavors like cucumber lemon mint, coconut lime and apple rose, appeal to palates both sophisticated and young and sugar-crazed. Except for the Noble Coyote cold-brew coffee. The kids tend to steer clear of that one. Thank God.

It doesn't matter which one you order. Every flatbread at Bolsa is a flavorful and delicious dish that's great for splitting as an appetizer during happy hour or scarfing as a main plate for dinner. The margherita flatbread with amazing smoked tomatoes and fresh basil makes for a safe, favorite starter for any pizza — er, well, flatbread-lover (we all know these crusty, salty bread and cheese things are just a thin-crust pizza, right?). And while the sausage and shishito pepper flatbread and the bacon and blue cheese one with charred pineapple and kale make our mouths water, our favorite is the "Twig & Branch" topped with wild arugula, caprino chevre and roasted grapes.

Nick Rallo

The North Dallas Chinese restaurant opened in 1974 and has since won "Best Chinese Food" several times for serving up some of the best food in town. And while most everything on the menu is worth a try, the xiao-long-bao or "soup dumplings" at Royal China especially deserve praise. The handmade morsels come in a handful of varieties. There's the pork, which they claim is their most popular dumpling, chicken, shrimp and vegetable. There's also a gluten-free dumpling which comes wrapped in a steamed napa cabbage leaf, for those with allergies.

There are two kinds of late night food in Dallas: the kind that you don't need alcohol to eat, and the kind that leaves you contemplating the faulty lock on your workplace bathroom stall come morning. Velvet Taco is very much the former. Get past the lengthy wait time and the "I'm paying how much for a single taco?" attitude, and you're well on your way to hangover splendor. Order the elotes — roasted corn in a spicy cream sauce with queso fresco — and tack on one or two of Velvet Taco's larger than life fish or Indian concoctions and you've already forgotten about the mandatory karaoke at your company Christmas party that night.

Brewery tours are strange. The name implies a guided exploration through the processes and equipment a brewery uses to produce beer, when in reality the tours provide little more than an excuse to consume it. Not that anyone is complaining. We could probably use a few more excuses. The best “tour” by far can be found at Lakewood Brewing Co. in Garland, where a $10 admission gets a generous four pours. Owner Wim Bens gives a blessedly short talk about the brewery, and then he lets his guests get back to what’s really important — drinking more beer. Most Saturdays there’s a food truck parked out back, and musicians fill the brewery floor with energy and music. There may be no finer place to sip from a glass of Hop Trapp or Rock Ryder. It certainly won’t get any fresher than this.

Really, it’s the only beer shot. Can you think of another in Dallas? But that isn’t the point! Combine two chilly draft favorites, Maredsous 8 and Ace Pear Cider, and you have the crispest, most refreshing beer combo since beer plus your mouth. They tout this mixture as “The Ginger Man Special,” a sweet and sour juncture that takes place on the tip of the tongue. Just be careful, because two of these and you’ll never know what hit you — or whom you hit.

To borrow a note from Jeffrey Tambor in Arrested Development, eating an ice cream sandwich should be a love affair. Indulgent, satisfying and sometimes weird. Bizarre even. And in combinations you wouldn't have dreamed of before the options were suddenly placed in front of you. And CoolHaus has more flavors of both cream and cookies than the Kama Sutra has ways to throw out your back — like olive oil gelato on butterscotch and potato chip cookies. Rice milk and cardamom sorbet on double chocolate sea salt cookies. Or brown butter ice cream filled with chunks of real cooked bacon on, why the hell not, vegan carrot cake cookies. The food truck lines at Klyde Warren Park can get fatally long on sunny summer days, but the blood orange sorbet on rosemary cookies are worth any sunburn. Also, all the sandwiches come in edible wrappers.

Taylor Adams
Dumplings in broth

Cosmo's is a beautiful mystery. Right next door to one of Dallas' greatest dives (see Lakewood Landing), is a place that can pull off the terms "'80s" and "swank" in the same breath. The drinks are as strong as Terminator here, but are softened by whatever is happening in the kitchen. Their Vietnamese options are surprisingly top-notch. The swift crunch of their egg rolls is nice, but pales in comparison to the dishes they serve up on Banh Mi Mondays.

Here's the scene: You're saddled up to one of Elbow Room's two ancient pool tables and you're about to knock in that critical black ball when shots arrive at your table, ordered by the girl who thought that was a good idea. Clearly she's never had a shot at Elbow Room. At Elbow Room, shots come in squatty cocktail glasses, not shot glasses — that's because this bar serves shots so big they inspire yo-mama jokes. Order with caution if you had any plans of driving anywhere ever. And remember: Yo mama's so fat she thinks Elbow Room's shots are normal-sized shots.

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