Jerk chicken
Brian Reinhart
Jerk chicken

Our city now has a portal to Jamaica, and it's located at a six-table storefront in Mesquite. Owners Chubby Lee and Shelease Forbes are serving authentic Jamaican fare, such as the national dish, ackee and salt fish, a sauté of salted cod, Scotch bonnet peppers and a West African fruit called ackee. Eat it as the Jamaicans do: with a boiled dumpling made from green bananas. Other Jamaican specialties include callaloo (like spinach), escoveitch snapper same as Mediterranean escabeche — marinated in vinegar after cooking) and Mannish water (goat soup). Of course, there is jerk chicken, jerk ribs and jerk wings, but this is a place to branch out from the expected items. It's the oxtails and goat curry that will keep us driving east down Interstate 30 over and over again.

Velvet Hammer, its name means what it says.
Scott Reitz
Velvet Hammer, its name means what it says.

Not for the faint of heart, Velvet Hammer from Peticolas Brewing Company packs 9% ABV. But it's got much more going for it than bang for your buck. The imperial red ale has garnered numerous industry awards since coming on the scene in 2011 for a unique flavor profile that adeptly balances caramel malt with floral hops and a noticeable bite of alcohol. Velvet Hammer can be found at a number of local restaurants and Whole Foods, where you can take it home by the growler. Recently, it became available in four-packs of 16-ounce cans at the taproom.

Khao's boat noodles
Alison McLean
Khao's boat noodles

For too long, Lao food has been lumped into Thai cuisine as one and the same, both in Dallas and throughout the world. But with the opening of Khao Noodle Shop, a small, BYOB kitchen in East Dallas, we finally have distinct and unapologetic Lao food, thanks to chef-owner Donny Sirisavath — also our Best Chef. The signature dish here is the boat noodle, where bone marrow and pork blood come together for a rich, piquant broth hosting a twirl of rice noodles, brisket and herbs. At $5 each and in sample-size portions, there's room both in your stomach and wallet to try Sirisavath's four other noodle dishes. The shareable bites ranging from $7-9 need to be tested as well.

For 3 Nations Brewing, the end of 2018 brought major news. The Farmers Branch brewery announced that it would soon move to a massive former grain storage shed built in 1950, located in Carrollton's bustling downtown. 3 Nations, launched in 2015, has moved forward with construction on the new location while shipping out a series of adventurous beers from across the flavor spectrum. For local stout-heads, there's not a friendlier brewer in town, thanks to its inventive and devilishly delicious Devout series, which has featured offerings of créme brûlée, chocolate hazelnut, bananas foster and even golden marzipan.

Tantuni Mediterranean Grill

Tantuni sits in an incongruously big building at a minor street corner in Richardson, and the parking lot is hidden around the back. Inside this edifice, you'll find the best Turkish food in North Texas. Start with an enormous platter of hummus served warm and topped with spicy Turkish sausage, then move on to an Adana kebab grilled over charcoal, or an appetizer sampler of dips to pair with the restaurant's excellent fluffy bread. Some of the specialties, including a pressed and grilled half chicken, evoke the remote, rural lands of Turkey's far southeast, where sauces come bolder and spicier than they do on the Mediterranean coast.

Ceviche
Alison McLean
Ceviche

The namesake dish couldn't be simpler: finely chopped red onions, tomatoes, cilantro and a whole lot of lime. Get the shrimp, fish or octopus ceviche stacked two inches high on tostadas, with slices of avocado balanced on top. Or go for a fried oyster po' boy that strikes a balance between upscale and classical by adding thick wedges of tomato and real, unshredded lettuce. The kitchen at Ceviche Oyster Bar knows their way around a fryer, and the catfish and okra avoid becoming grease bombs. There's a big patio and Dos Equis on draft, too.

Americano
Kathy Tran

Step onto the small patio space offered by Americano, and you'll think you've stepped into an alternate, slightly Italian, slightly modern universe. The open, airy space is the kind of place where you can enjoy the city's best people-watching while sipping a mean Negroni and popping fried olives. It feels like paradiso, no? Va bene.

Mot Hai Ba
Kathy Tran
Mot Hai Ba

Aside from the sprawling fried pancake that is banh xeo, there's not a lot of traditional, old-fashioned Vietnamese food at Mot Hai Ba, but that's what makes it so fascinating. Ultra-responsive to the seasons, the menu of this tiny East Dallas restaurant features specials that take familiar Vietnamese ingredients and flavors and present them in new settings, whether that means bun cha-style porchetta, tapioca flour dumplings or a sweet caramelized onion tart. The short list of cocktails and wines are chosen to pair perfectly with Mot Hai Ba's style of food.

Boulangerie
Kathy Tran

If "only dull people are brilliant at breakfast," as Oscar Wilde quipped, then skip human company altogether for a laminated brioche and café au lait at Village Baking Co. This sweet bun is spiraled like a nautilus shell — crisp on the outside, soft inside, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and layered with enough butter to expand your belt a few notches. Each bite transports you to Paris faster than a Concorde. Rows upon rows of pastries await the drowsy commuter or weekend drifter: almond croissant, pain au chocolat, palmier, financier loaf, kouign-amann and pain au jambon. Making a decision at the Boulangerie is harder than naming your first child, but once you do, the daydream begins.

Pick a downtime, and it's likely you'll find owners Andrew and Edi Kelley waiting for you behind the counter. They've taken the idea of a counter deli and asked, "What if we made this awesome?" The churning waves of real grape soda will lull you into a trance. Arch your head back to see the faded-yellow menu near the ceiling — it's an original from the joint's creation. Brisket pastrami, rosy on the inside and pepper-charred on the outside, is light years ahead of its sandwich competition. Load it with pepperoncini peppers. The No. 13 is a gem, too: Find turkey, capicola and sharp provolone in between whatever dang toppings you want. Get a cookie and an ice-cold grape soda, for goodness sakes.

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