El Come Taco
Catherine Downes

El Come Taco doesn't always have chapulines and escamoles on the menu, but when they do, enthusiasts come out of the woodwork. That's probably because there aren't many restaurateurs willing to put grasshoppers and ant eggs on their menus. Do not be afraid. The grasshoppers have a mild nutty flavor and a crunchy texture that's exciting to eat. Everyone smiles when they bite into a grasshopper taco, especially when they get a leg caught in their teeth, and there aren't too many foods that can evoke laughter. The escamoles are comparatively serious, with a rich, almost livery flavor that's complemented by a dollop of guacamole.

The Local Oak

Spam isn't exactly the most cherished ingredient. It's hard to work up enthusiasm for any meat product that comes suspended in a can full of jelly. But given the right treatment, the right complements and perhaps a little bit of luck, Spam can be turned into some stellar bar food. Just look at the Surfers on Acid served at Local Oak in Oak Cliff. The buns are soft Hawaiian rolls and they're toasted in butter before they receive a modest slice of lightly seared Spam. Add a red cabbage slaw for some creaminess and body, and pineapple minced with chiles for a little sweet and a little heat, and you've got three small sandwiches that can disappear before you can get a few fingers into your beer.

Village Baking Co.

There are times you want a massive slice of cake when you're craving something sweet, and there are times when you'd really prefer something smaller and more understated. Canelés are perfect for this. Like a small gift, they are wrapped in a tough, waxy crust that is a deep mahogany brown. Inside you'll find a dense cake that has a moist, almost custardy texture and the strong flavor of vanilla beans. Just a few bites and it's gone — the cake equivalent to a small cup of espresso — becoming a memory seconds after you've broken one open.

With all the steakhouses and barbecue joints in Texas, opening a meat mecca on Greenville Avenue would seem like a non-event. But Blind Butcher has managed to completely shift animal protein expectations since it opened earlier this year. There are sausages of all varieties, ground and cased right in the kitchen. Get the bangers with the creamiest of mashed potatoes for a worthwhile introduction and branch out your sausage exploration from there. There are charcuterie plates and cheese boards featuring house-made wares and there are french fries like you've never seen, topped with a boatload of gravy, a fried duck egg and foie gras for a decadent poutine. If you've got a vegetarian friend, there are a few things available on the menu, but why?

Mot Hai Ba
Kathy Tran

You're going to want to bring a friend for this one, as Vietnamese pancakes are a touch larger than the sweet breakfast items you doused with Aunt Jemima when you were a kid. They're also savory, and come stuffed with your choice of mushrooms and tofu for the vegetarians, or shrimp and scallions for lovers of seafood. It also comes with a plate of herbs and lettuce leaves that's so big it's almost overwhelming. Grab a lettuce leaf, wrap it around a slice of the pancake and then fill the pocket with as many herbs as you can manage. Dip the resulting roll into the bowl of slightly sweetened fish sauce and then take the biggest bite you can muster. It's even better with a cold, crisp beer.

Mariano's Hacienda

Mariano's has been known for decades as the creator of the frozen margarita, but their more impressive accomplishment is what they've done with fajitas. If fajitas were measured by their sizzle, Mariano's would win based on heat alone, but there's a lot more to celebrate here beyond a hot metal plate. The beef is perfect — a little chewy, a little salty, with a big, smoky flavor that goes perfectly with the sweetness of the caramelized onions that share the plate. What's better is all of these flavors get wrapped up in tortillas that were patted out and griddled moments before at the station at the front of the restaurant.

Pera Wine & Tapas
Catherine Downes

Bread service is presented like an afterthought at most restaurants, if it hasn't been abandoned all together. But all of those napkin-lined wicker baskets filled with stale rolls make the bread served at Pera Wine and Tapas all the more impressive. A length of super-crusty baguette is scored into slices and then paired with a small bowl of olive oil. There's a dollop of thick, creamy labneh, a few dill fronds and some chile pepper in the mix too, making this gratis snack more of a first course than something to kill time while you wait for your drinks to arrive. Bread topped in such a way borders on decadence. And to think, some people are stuck with those months-old pats of butter wrapped in tinfoil.

Pepe's & Mito's Mexican Cafe

Taking kids out to dinner can be a challenge, so you'll need every advantage you can get if you have any chance at having a relaxing evening. Chips and salsa land on the table just seconds after your butts hit the seats, keeping crumb snatchers occupied while you peruse the menu, and margaritas keep your anxiety at bay as more kids stream in through the door. It doesn't hurt that Pepe's is easy on the wallet considering the trend in tuition costs these days, and when you finally hit your limit for shrieks and over-turned salsa bowls, your check arrives just as quickly.

Uncle Uber's Sammich Shop

Lots of sandwich shops have character, but Uncle Uber's is a real personality. Stop by for lunch and you'll have to wait in a line filled with hungry workers from nearby offices, who come for creative takes on classic sandwiches they grew up on. There's a solid cheesesteak made from shaved rib-eye and a roast beef served with salty jus. Don't miss the Cuban that binds pork and ham with plenty of melted Swiss cheese. If you order the chicken sandwich crispy, you'll be ruined for Chick-fil-A, and there's an impossibly juicy burger to get lost in as well. Don't pass up an order of fries that are cooked to a deep golden brown, and relish that your late evening snacking needs are met here too. They're open until midnight on the weekends.

Boulevardier
Kathryn DeBruler

The Tate Farms grass-fed burger excels in just about every category available for burger assessment. The bun is a soft round of pain au lait, the bacon is cured in-house and the pickles are made right there, too. The Gruyere is nutty and melted in a thick slice and while most burgers sport raw onions, here they're caramelized and sweet. That's before you even get to the patty, which is gently formed, cooked over a wood-burning grill and served alongside a tangle of hand-cut french fries. There are only so many things you can do with a burger, and Boulevardier checks off all of them.

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