BEST MAC AND CHEESE 2013 | Pecan Lodge | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Beth Rankin

Mac and cheese is one of those dishes that is all over the map. There are highbrow versions made with mascarpone and obscure aged cheese, and there are the versions we all grew up on that came out of a cardboard box. There are baked versions that will cause your heart to flutter and there are versions that will cause it to stop. Nearly every mac and cheese rendition made is at least satisfying, but when the variables of texture, flavor and the crucial cheesiness all reach their respective pinnacles in unison, the resultant dish can make a person emotional. Pecan Lodge offers such a mac and cheese and after you wait in line for an hour for the cup of golden sunshine, your first bite will bring tears to your eyes. Thick, cheesy, lactose-laden tears, because you've just realized you should have gotten a second order and the line is now twice as long.

The shame of bad drive-thru starts with the heavy sack. Sometimes it's a plastic bag that's dense in the center like a full diaper. Start is not baby dump. Someone has finally figured out a way to make drive-thru food not shitty. It's this place called Start, and the food isn't all quinoa troughs and garbanzo bean tubs. You can get an honest-to-goodness burger. And tater tots. And sweet-potato tater tots. Here's a plus, and we can't believe we're saying this, they actually have a good veggie burger. It's rich, faux-meaty and loaded with fresh avocado. Fresh, from-scratch and made-to-order: That's drive-thru that doesn't suck. Oh, and the staff sometimes wears cool hats.

There are so many seafood restaurants in Dallas, and a lot of them are very good, but if you were looking for a fine dining experience built on ingredients from the sea, you were out of luck until Spoon Bar and Kitchen opened. John Tesar's Preston Center dining room is sleek and cool, and the plates that grace his tables respectfully showcase some amazing ingredients. Oysters are shucked with such care they appear as if their top shells had just vanished, and fish is treated cautiously, with embellishments that never overpower the subtle flavor of the sea. While some chefs in Dallas have the gall to chicken-fry their lobsters, Tesar gently poaches his crustaceans in butter so the meat is soft, rich and tender. Spoon serves up dishes with the elegance seafood this good deserves.

Since when did the steakhouse become the domain of freshly polished Bentleys, sky-high heels and ... is that a caviar bar? Not everyone can drop a Benjamin when they want a seared hunk of beef, and sometimes you just want to sit in a dark, old-school meat den without waiting for your date to get a mani-pedi. Enter Dunston's, the steakhouse for the rest of us, where the meat is cooked over mesquite, the waitresses have sass and the walls have so much history. You should order a prime strip steak rare (the cooks are heavy-handed) and sip on a cold beer while you bathe in the smell of smoldering wood. When your steak arrives, revel in the papery crispness of the fat and the deep, smoky flavor that eludes most other steakhouses. Then ask for your check and grin — your whole meal set you back 33 bucks.

Kathy Tran

Salads do not have to comprise wilted iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots with the moisture of toothpicks and dressing weighed down with xanthan gum. Yes, some of them can be bright and refreshing. Take the papaya salad popularized in Vietnamese cooking. It's loaded with crunchy fruit, the bright acidity of lime juice and the funky pungency of fish sauce. Mot Hai Ba's take on the classic salad decimates your favorite corner takeout spot. Not only are the central ingredients brighter and snappier, but also an addition of beef jerky adds extra texture and flavor. It's kind of like bacon bits except they don't taste like sodium nitrate and dextrose — they taste like beef and delicious. And they help make this one of the best salads, papaya or otherwise, you've encountered in awhile.

If frozen margaritas are your thing, Mariano's is where you want to be. Owner Mariano Martinez invented the drink, after all, so he should know a thing or two about its construction. Behind the bar, four frozen margarita machines spin like race car wheels, hypnotizing you while whipping frozen tequila and sugar into a velvety froth. Served in a pint glass, Mariano's margarita does not mess around. Drink one and the chile peppers on your plate will start to dance around. Drink two and you'll be the one dancing around until the inevitable sugar crash finally brings you down. When you awake you'll be left with hazy memories of the Tex-Mex meal you previously enjoyed, and you will not be hungry.


Ice-cold beer and a big basket of crisp potato chips scrambled with nuggets of blue cheese, indoors in the A.C. or up on the roof in front of the giant-screen TV: You've never felt this good this close to Baylor Hospital. It all works. Salty chips, savory cheese, washed down with beer. Why don't we have this stuff for breakfast? Stackhouse is a hangout for the scrub-suit set from the hospital, with a growing clientele from the whole Bayloresque region near East Dallas. Remember: When you order the chips and dip, you do have to ask them to add "bleu" cheese, pronounced bluh. Yeah, so, no place is perfect.

There's really only one thing to know about onion rings. Fresh? Or frozen? At Peggy Sue they slice their own fresh onions, batter them up and deep fry them right there in the kitchen, so they taste like sliced battered deep-fried onions instead of chemically enhanced Mylar. Everything at Peggy Sue is pretty much that way. The onion rings stand out, maybe because a good onion ring is such a hard thing to find in this world. Those fake ones must be a whole lot easier to do. That's not what they do at Peggy Sue.

Captain Keith Schlabs, Meddlesome Moth partner and beer guru, precedes the craft-brew revolution. His Flying Saucer was serving up the best beers available in the area before "craft brew" or even the now antiquated-sounding "microbrew" were terms that merited USA Today trend pieces. Flying Saucer, which has blossomed into a formidable chain of franchises in the South, may have more mind-boggling arrays of taps, but the Moth is where you'll most often find Schlabs' most prized trophy brews: cellar-aged kegs, special one-off casks and rarities otherwise difficult or impossible to find in North Texas. Better yet, chef David McMillan's culinary creations are made with beer pairings in mind, helping prove that beer is just as good (well, better, if you ask us) as wine when it comes to elevating a great meal.

A good brunch is a balancing act that has to take a variety of things into account. There’s more involved than just sweet and savory, though these elements are of the highest importance. A good brunch has to cure a hangover while keeping things a little fruity and wholesome. It also has to appeal to the church crowd while being rich and fiery. Bread Winners can straddle all of those at the same time — for example, with the Tabasco hollandaise on the Southern Benedict or the hot sauce and maple syrup on the fried chicken and waffles. Or the Carmen’s French Toast — cinnamon raisin bread topped with fruit — with an added side of jalapeño bacon. Bread Winners has the balance you need in a successful Sunday brunch: the healthy and nutritious parts of breakfast with all the lingering sinfulness from the night before.

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