BEST LOBSTER ROLL 2013 | 20 Feet Seafood Joint | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

If flavors were sounds, the lemon in Marc Cassell's lobster roll would be the faintest whisper. The subtlety should be noted. In a city that has turned lobster rolls into a fetish, most restaurants create versions with way too much noise. Mayonnaise is often used in excess, or they're weighed down with butter. Sometimes the lobster meat comes in frozen. At 20 Feet, everything is as it should be. Lobsters are brought in live and steamed in batches before their shells are picked clean. The knuckles and tails get dressed in the tiniest bit of mayo brightened with lemon, and the simple salad gets tucked into a house-baked bun. That's it. That's the whole recipe. And that's why 20 Feet serves the best lobster roll in town.

It's hard to understand, if you haven't spent sufficient time (it doesn't take much) in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. The hoagie is more than a sandwich; it's a way of life. And once you've learned to love the hoag, its absence will cause a persistent and dull ache for the rest of your life. You'll miss things like shredded lettuce and high-quality cold cuts stuffed into a soft but chewy roll, and white butcher paper stained with oil and vinegar. Carbone's won't completely satiate your longing, but their Italian combo is very good methadone. They get their chewy bread from Padre Vecchio, a bakery out in Arlington, and they stuff it with some of the best cold cuts you can buy. The sopressata and hot coppa are from Molinari, a San Francisco company that's been hanging salamis since 1896, and the mortadella is made right behind the counter. You might as well be in Philly.

The exponential growth of Dallas' beer scene has added so many breweries to the city and surrounding area that it is really hard to narrow the contenders down to a single best. Even better, there's not a bad one in the bunch. Perhaps that's because navigating Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and city regulations is such a hassle that only the area's most dedicated beer makers graduate from homebrewing to doing it professionally. But Michael Peticolas' creations are especially great. Velvet Hammer is an outstanding imperial red ale that is as refreshing as it is potent. Royal Scandal is a multiple-award-winning English pale ale. And we could have lived on the dark and strong Wintervention, spiked with Christmasy spices from Pendery's just down the street. Not only are we yet to be disappointed by a Peticolas beer, we have yet to try one that we didn't absolutely love.

Tiny little Pasadita might be the smallest restaurant in Dallas. Ana Ortiz makes papusas in a postage stamp kitchen in the back of a convenience store on Carroll Street. This might not be exceptional but for the fact that Ortiz's pupusas are the very best in Dallas. For evidence, look at her curtido first. The lightly fermented cabbage slaw has a little extra crunch, when compared with other pupuserías. Then taste the salsa, which is often plain and runny but here boasts crunchy onions, fresh cilantro and big-time heat. Finally, check out of the chicharrón. The rich, shredded pork packs a whole pig's worth of flavor into a morsel not much bigger than a marble. Now combine all of this evidence in one massive bite. The salty pork, the crunchy cabbage, the melting cheese and the bright and spicy salsa — if you're not careful, one of the neurons in your pleasure center could burst.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Hank Vaughn

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.

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