Avila's Mexican Restaurant

Chances are, if you eat at most of the Tex-Mex restaurants around town, your salsa is for sissies. Most places keep their table salsa on the mild side, for fear that tepid gringos will cry. Not so at Avila's. Here the salsa looks like it's dominated with tomatoes but it tastes like the pain train as a number of chiles bring on the heat. Maybe this is their way of keeping customers from asking for that third bowl, but for whatever reason their salsa is unapologetically piquant. And don't even think about asking for the mild version because spicy is all they got. Anyone have milk?

St. Pete's Dancing Marlin

You can get hot dogs at many bars, but most of the time you will be served a commodity wiener that tastes like a tube-shaped shoe. Not so at St. Pete's, where the link comes from neighboring Rudolph's Meat Market. The pedigreed dog is tucked into a plain, white bread bun, and then slathered with a nearly obscene amout of chili. There are onions in the fray, and a fistful of shredded cheese, and then because nobody cares about your well-being there's a massive serving of french fries too. Don't even think about ordering a light beer with this mammoth calorie bomb. You're in it to win it.

Pecan Lodge
Beth Rankin

For the past few years, it has been common convention that Pecan Lodge serves the best barbecue in Dallas. What nobody knew is that it was about to get so much better. A hastened departure from the Dallas Farmers Market threatened to ruin a great thing, but Pecan Lodge feels right at home at its new address in Deep Ellum. They even brought their notoriously long line, but now there are more smokers turning out stellar brisket and things move a little faster, and there are more tables, inside and outside. Pecan Lodge, Deep Ellum edition, has longer hours for extended brisket dining, and it has bands on the patio, so you can blow out your eardrums while you bury your face in a hot mess. And sweet, sweet Jesus, most important of all they have beer — the very best complement to brisket.

Peggy Sue BBQ

Peggy Sue BBQ has a wall covered in denim and some passable brisket. Another thing it has, though, is the finest, most tender, most delectable and juicy baby back ribs in a 200-mile radius. If your idea of barbecue is that ribs are king, then you should a) leave Texas and b) go past Peggy Sue's on your way, because the potentially fictional lady knows her ribs.

Deep Sushi

Sushi can be intimidating for novices, even for those who are open-minded and have no qualms about chowing down on uncooked fish. The menu cards often have dozens and dozens of items, most of which have names that have no meaning to the uninitiated non-Japanese speaker. And then there's the fear of ordering an expensive roll expecting it to be worthy of a meal only to get a few bites out of it. The Deep Sushi Dinner takes the guesswork out of it, offering an affordable meal with an interesting selection of seafood. It's all tasty and fresh, and lets you enjoy your pre-dinner drinks talking to your date or friends rather than Googling the names of the rolls. And now that you know the names of a few items, you'll be more confident next time.

Toms Burgers & Grill
Catherine Downes

It's rare you'll encounter a chicken-fried steak that's as interesting as the one served at Tom's Burgers & Grill. It starts out with the breading, which replaces everyday seasoned flour with crushed potato chips that pack a serious crunch. There are flecks of herbs strewn about and the whole thing is fried until it's a deep, rich brown. Ask for your gravy to be served on the side to preserve the crispy texture and then get to dipping until heart palpitations tell you it's time to quit. Chicken-fried steak has a whole new lease on life at Tom's, and so will you while you're eating it.

Knife

Steakhouses are a dime a dozen here in Dallas, but none of them will let you get out of door for loose change. Knife is no different, but it can be significantly more affordable if you know how to navigate the menu. Look for the section of affordable bistro cuts that can be had for $25 each. You might not recognize names like tri-tip, culotte and chuck flap but you'll recognize the flavor as big and beefy. Each is cooked sous-vide and then finished over an oak fire. Pair yours with any of the sides such as creamed spinach and super crunchy onion rings and you'll have a steakhouse meal for well under 50 bucks.

Normally you expect to eat fried chicken at an outdoor table made of pine or maybe on a picnic blanket, not at an elegant marble bar at some hoity-toity Henderson Avenue restaurant. But the bar stools at Sissy's turn out to be the perfect chicken perch. Order a cocktail, or maybe a glass of bubbles, and request an entire bucket, even if you're alone because fried chicken served cold the next day is one of the greatest things you can eat for lunch. It's better that you bring a friend or two, though, if only for help with the sides. Don't skip the deviled eggs and if you can spare the room, the chocolate cake before you're done. Some say it's better than ...

Ten Bells Tavern

Ten Bells makes marvelous pub grub, so it stands to reason that their take on wings, the ultimate bar food, would be great. They're also quite a departure from the pedestrian Frank's-slathered slabs of gristle served with a ramekin of Kraft blue cheese dressing and a scattering of limp celery. These instead are big and tender, crispy and coated with a tangy spin on barbecue sauce that's just spicy enough, with a bowl of dank, musky "blue cheese fondue" in place of the usual dressing. You'll still need plenty of napkins, though, no matter how upscale these wings may be.

Start

It's 8 a.m., you're late for a meeting, you're hungry and last night you had a steak and creamed spinach for dinner. You need breakfast, you need it fast and you need it not to suck. That's why you're in line at the drive-thru at Start, perusing a menu of whole wheat breads and tortillas, baked goods and fresh fruits. You can get a smoothie if you need some extra nutrients, and the coffee is black and strong. There's oatmeal if you're inclined, and if that steak dinner doesn't have you too far down, plenty of sunny scrambled eggs and bacon. Don't feel bad about it — bacon makes everything better. And at Start it's just one of many ingredients that are responsibly sourced and carefully handled.

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