El Vecino's Charley's Choice is a combo of three styles of enchilada. From left: chicken mole, brisket in guajillo salsa and shrimp in poblano crema.
Brian Reinhart
El Vecino's Charley's Choice is a combo of three styles of enchilada. From left: chicken mole, brisket in guajillo salsa and shrimp in poblano crema.

All good Tex-Mex begins, and probably ends, with chips and salsa. So when indulging in the fusion food eaten round the world, it's important for the chips to be hot, the salsa fresh and the queso to remain creamy until the end of the meal. The taco bowls must be crispy, flaky and freshly fried. The mole must be made in-house, preferably from around 19 ingredients, and the fajitas need to be next-level good, like the fajitas picosas that place grilled meats or veggies on a sizzling plate of spicy queso, with fried onions on top for good measure. El Vecino meets all of these standards. John Michael McBride, Tex-Mex scion of the El Fenix chain, reminds us why Texas is the only place to eat true Tex-Mex.

Edilycious is a gem, located in the Grow DeSoto Market Place, offering an array of West African fusion favorites. Early this year their jollof tacos created quite the stir, bringing Taco Tuesday lovers from all over to the Southern sector. Edilycious also offers stews, coconut red beans and rice and teas made in-house.

We love a good food truck. Without worrying about service staff, decor, ambience and the like, the food is given ample opportunity to shine. We especially appreciate a barbecue food truck, because it often provides a glimpse into the effort that goes into the finished product. Take Smoke Sessions Barbecue in Royse City as the perfect example. There are no secrets in Smoke Sessions' sublime brisket, just salt, pepper, smoke, heat and time. As good as the brisket is, Chad Sessions' brilliance as a pitmaster really shines in the garlic-pepper jack-habanero sausage. The links are an explosion of flavors unlike anything else we've tried.

Cattleack Barbeque
Chris Wolfgang

"They've gone crazy for it," Todd David says about his bologna sandwich. He fine-grinds wagyu-style brisket, smoothing and emulsifying, adding dry spices and casing it in a classic, bright red ring. It cures for a day or two, "getting happy," he says. Then it's cold-smoked, followed by hot-smoked to finish, and sliced thick to-order. There are days when his smoked bologna is in such high demand — repeat, he's made bologna so good that it's in high demand — that he's forced to ration patrons to two thick slices per order.

Bison Bar and Grill
Nick Rallo

The menu invites you to ask about it. What is it? It's beautiful beef calf balls, deep-fried and jumbled up in an "F.U. Sauce" that's numbed with the enormous heat of Carolina Reaper and ghost peppers. Eat six bull beanbags in four minutes, and you'll get to sign the wall. On a more serious note, 10 bucks of each challenge goes to the Kamil Patel Memorial Scholarship. Kamil Patel was one of bar owner Tim Tremoni's best friends; Patel was killed last year in a horrifying act of violence in Miami. The memorial fund is ready for donations without the challenge of downing Rocky Mountain oysters, of course.

Nate's Seafood and Steakhouse

A staple in DFW, this Addison eatery attracts crawfish lovers and Cajun enthusiasts alike. Nate's Seafood opened its doors in 1988 and has left no dish unturned. From seafood platters, to crawfish etouffée, to red beans and rice, there's enough to go around for everyone to get their fix.

"The Italian with everything, babe?" asks a sandwich hero. She's got the window clacked open. It's a beautiful question, isn't it? Quickly, a box lid loaded up with napkins, a paper-wrapped sub sandwich and Zapp's potato chips passes through the window. This is the breathless, speedy and diner-y service of Great American Hero — a drive-thru deli gem since 1976. The Heroletta — a precision stack of ham, turkey, Monterey Jack cheese, salami, capicola and provolone lashed with oil, dry spices, mushrooms, pepperoncinis and olives — is as comforting and reliable as a long-standing sandwich joint's food should be.

Elotes is a simple dish that packs in the flavor from just a few ingredients: roasted corn, mayonnaise, cheese and hot sauce. The dish that Mexican street vendors made famous quickly moved from small taquerias to restaurant menus across the country. So leave it to Panther City BBQ to bring us an elote cup that's firmly rooted in tradition but with a barbecue twist to stand out from the crowd. Panther City's roasted-corn creation would rock out on its own, but the addition of Panther City's smoky, salty brisket on top is the perfect accompaniment.

Tei An
Kathy Tran
Tei An

Tasting menus are a superb way to sample a chef's range of dishes, even though they can sometimes be criticized for scant portions that don't match up with the bill at the end. But such is not the case at Tei An. Chef Teiichi Sakurai's seven-course omakase hits all the highlights of the soba noodle house with courses such as assorted sashimi, Japanese Wagyu (miyazaki) on a hot stone, tempura burdock root and creamy soba carbonara. Saving room for dessert will require some serious pacing, but the housemade soba ice cream with toasted honey and soba powder is worth the self-discipline it requires. The quality, variety and portion sizes in the tasting menu at Tei An make it one of the few places to spend $100 on a nice dinner in the city that won't exploit your savings account.

Chef Nathan Tate knows how to fry things. Chicken thighs rest in pickle juice for about a day. Next goes the buttermilk rest, amped up by hot sauce. After bathing, the thigh gets run through a dry blend of flour, salt and barbecue seasonings and is deep-fried. The buffalo sauce that cloaks the chicken has the tangy heat of a Sichuan-style mala sauce, exploding with peppercorns. Iceberg lettuce cools things down, along with fresh dill pickles, sliced scallions and an herb-forward ranch dressing. It's easily one of Dallas' best sandwiches.

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