Sprezza

It's been a big year for the man leading Dallas' Italian restaurant empire. In spring, Julian Barsotti opened Sprezza, crafting a menu of inventive Roman-style pizzas, highly seasonal fresh pasta bowls and the standout squash blossoms in tomato-anchovy sauce. Business at Sprezza has been booming ever since it opened, and justly so, since it treats Italian country cooking with such a sense of fun. Barsotti's first restaurant, the more formal Nonna, took a vacation from serving fresh fish and lobster ravioli to go through a full remodel. Only at the third of Barsotti's landmarks, Carbone's, does it feel like nothing has changed; they're still lavishing unusual care on red-sauce comfort foods like eggplant Parmesan or spaghetti and meatballs. Barsotti, who is shy about the spotlight, now offers Dallas expressions of Italian food as eaten in both the trattorias of Rome and the checkered-tablecloth eateries of New York. In May, he told the Observer that "the whole idea" of Sprezza "was to create something fun and energetic but with no compromise in the seriousness of the food and hospitality." Dallas could use a little more of that thinking.

Readers' Pick:

Brian Luscher, The Grape and Luscher's Red Hots

Sprezza

Sprezza brings true Roman flavor to Dallas, and it turns out to be a cuisine the city badly needed. Fresh-made pastas are prepared with seasonal ingredients, like tortellini alla primavera, capturing the essence of spring, or an unforgettable bowl of fusilli tossed in brandy cream sauce and served with sausage and greens. The pizzas, with crisp crusts, inventive toppings and one-hungry-person sizing, might be even better still. Desserts are not Sprezza's strong suit, which is all the more reason to binge on snacks like the fried squash blossoms, graceful salads and the restaurant's addicting fresh bread. Everything on the affordable wine list is from southern Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia.

Readers' Pick:

Campisi's

Spiral Diner & Bakery

Everything about the Oak Cliff location of Spiral Diner makes it seem like a regular greasy spoon. The tables, chairs and decor recall burgers-and-fries diners from the '50s. What makes this place the best diner, though? The food. Only a few bites into almost anything on its menu, and you're in a better place. You don't have to disavow meat to appreciate how great the food tastes at this vegan-only diner. Whether you're munching a Nachos Supremo, The Mitch Tofu Club or Viva Las Migas, the flavor is tremendous. The cakes and pies are unreal, too. Think of it as a vegan restaurant for people who don't normally like vegan food. Simple in approach, but it, along with its Fort Worth location, makes for one of the best places to eat in DFW.

Readers' Pick:

Norma's Cafe

Olivella's

Thin-crust Italian-style pizza is asserting its dominance of the Dallas dining scene, with local chains Il Cane Rosso and Olivella's duking it out for supremacy, and late entry Sprezza introducing us to Roman-style pies. Olivella's gets the nod here for its sublimely crisp "metro" pizzas, especially the black truffle, with salty ham, black pepper and truffle oil, and the Dream, a fiesta of chicken, gorgonzola and jalapenos. With Peroni and a good selection of Italian wines by the glass, the Lakewood location's spacious patio will beckon come fall.

Readers' Pick:

Cane Rosso

Knife

Declaring Knife best steakhouse seems unfair. It's a palace of steak, a meat-lover's shrine, complete with dry-aging cabinet for diners to look upon in awe. A rib eye here, after a few months of dry-aging, turns into an ultra-focused face-punch of rib eye flavor, so rich and so funky that it's almost as if a ribbon of blue cheese has been stuffed inside. The lamb chops are resplendent and, as every cut of meat is, flawlessly cooked. Servers have an unerring knack for arriving at the table just when they're needed. When a steakhouse respects its ingredients this highly, the animals have died for a noble cause.

Readers' Pick:

Bob's Steak & Chophouse

Bangkok City

Bangkok City looks and acts much like a dozen other Thai restaurants in the area, but its results are so reliable, and its food so hearty, that it can satisfy the cravings of the entire Greenville and SMU neighborhoods. The takeout game is especially strong, with enormous, well-spiced curries so generously filled with meat and veggies that they can easily feed two. Dine in, though, and that fried whole red snapper in chili sauce starts to look mighty tempting.

Readers' Pick:

Royal Thai

Yia Yia's House of Gyros

Finding House of Gyros is part of the fun. On the way out of downtown Mesquite, to the east, the restaurant announces itself with a wooden roadside sign and a sudden flurry of cars parked on the grass. Inside, the Kaprantzas family is serving perfectly seasoned souvlaki, soul-warming moussaka, generous gyro wraps, legit steak fries and some of the most perfectly breaded calamari in Dallas. It won't be easy, but try to stay hungry enough for loukoumades, the Greek version of sopapillas.

Readers' Pick:

Ziziki's

Wayward Sons
Kathy Tran

In a town where brunch has become ubiquitous, it can be difficult for one to stand out. Not so for Wayward Sons, Graham Dodd's restaurant that emphasizes seasonal ingredients and local sourcing. This Lower Greenville spot has everything you could want for brunch: a sunny patio perfect for people-watching, a killer cocktail list and a well curated menu. Start things off with The Wayward Son, a light and bright gin cocktail with chartreuse. Next, order the crème brûléed grapefruit, with its shiny, sugary top just waiting to be cracked. And finally, order a plate of the eggs Benedict, in which crumpets, lamb sausage and amber-orange duck eggs combine to create one of the finest iterations of this classic dish you'll ever have.

Readers' Pick:

Bread Winners Cafe and Bakery

Eating at Dal Dong Ne feels like belonging to an underground club. The restaurant's signage is in Korean, with its westernized name in small letters next to the door. Nobody seems to have told the staff that Google thinks the restaurant is "permanently closed." Thankfully, Google is wrong and Dal Dong Ne is still around, serving up oyster pancakes, fried mackerel that would make a Cajun salivate and a whole host of family-style soups. There are dishes better-known to Westerners, too, like bulgogi, but this is a place to branch out and fall in love with something new.

Sara's Market & Bakery is the most comprehensive Middle Eastern grocery in the area, with a full selection of foods from the Mediterranean and Muslim worlds. Stock up on a half-dozen kinds of feta cheese; sample unusual deli meats; browse the tea and sardine aisles; grab all the ingredients to make hummus at home. Sara's also carries several lines of pastries and sweets from local bakeries, in case all those things sounded too healthy. One caveat for rookie shoppers: Middle Eastern candy bars tend to be far less sweet than the American rivals.

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