Best Appetizers
Alison McLean

Encina's tiny kitchen is notorious in the restaurant industry. It's got just eight burners, one pizza oven and a portable home-cook-sized deep fryer. Maybe that's why the appetizers are so creative and versatile. Take the mezze platter: It's got pre-made items like white bean hummus and goat's milk labneh dips, plus a big handful of addictive fried olives. There's a sampler of pastrami and pimento cheese, too, and a fabulous steak tartare with cutting vinegar action from pickled celery, served on big chunks of toast. To save kitchen space for the main courses, Encina has to get creative, combining fresh items, salads and deep-fried goodness, and that strategy means that the restaurant's appetizers are as cool as its cocktails.

Since 1983, Herrera's on Illinois Avenue has been pushing out plates of quintessential Tex-Mex. Generations of families have sat at their tables slurping down the complimentary bowl of charros beans and, hopefully, this family tradition keeps going for a long time. Many grew up on the No. 7: two cheese enchiladas and rice and beans. It might even be in some local's DNA. The Hangover with two eggs smothered in pork guiso with a side of refried beans will make Sunday right again.

The Charles
Alison McLean

Design District restaurant The Charles is known for its excellent menu, ingenious design and dimly lit ambiance, but it doesn't get enough credit for its great restrooms. These are the safe havens where we regroup ourselves before heading back to the warfare known as first dates, not to mention the best spot to take selfies with some privacy. The Charles' toilets happen to be the best seat in the house. The bathrooms' tile and countertops are a decorator's top tier choice, and the walls are covered in fashion photography, giving it a decadent glam rock 'n' roll edge — and exactly the life we crave, even if for a quick moment in a bathroom stall.

Best Burger
Kathy Tran

The Lee brothers opened the first LA Burger with zero experience in the restaurant business. Their inspiration came from the Korean-Mexican fusion food truck scene in their native Los Angeles. They've created a few fusions of their own and now have six restaurants across North Texas. While we do recommend the K Town (grilled kimchi, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato and Sriracha mayonnaise), start with the simple beauty of an OG: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, American cheese and their house-made homespread. The soft, slightly sweet buns, butter-kissed on the grill, are the crowning achievement here. Food vlogger Mikey Chen likes it! On a recent visit, he swooned over the spicy chili burger.

Jose
Alison McLean

A good drink starts with good ingredients, no question. But a great drink is about time, place and ingredients. And when we think about margaritas in Dallas, there is a cornucopia of options. At José on Lovers they keep it simple with Avión, their top shelf, with Cointreau, lime juice and gave nectar. With an amazing menu, a large patio with a fountain in the middle, José has it all. Be sure to inquire about their seasonal frozen margaritas and enjoy beautiful food in a beautiful space.

Best Late Night Hotdog
Courtesy of Mike's Gemini Twin

Mike's Gemini Twin in The Cedars is a swanky dive bar that's struck a perfect balance for an ideal night of drinking: it's elegant enough for a dressed-up evening out, but forgiving if you spill Champagne on yourself. We imagine it's the kind of spot where Jack Kerouac would've shot back several tequilas (after his go-to, margaritas) while talking incessantly about jazz and women. But the "gem" in "Gemini" is its bar food, a late-night snack offering in the form of a simple-but-delicious hot dog. The all-beef delicacy has mustard options and fixings such as relish and can be ordered solo or as part of a meal with two hot dogs, plus two beers, two shots, candy and dessert — a prime choice for a laid-back date night or for those who know what's good.

Niwa Japanese BBQ
Nick Rallo

Quality is king at Niwa Japanese BBQ. With a wide selection of meats, veggies, and other sides that customers grill up at their table and Japanese sake, beer, and craft cocktails ready for imbibing, Niwa doesn't disappoint. The intimate, yet relaxed dining space makes for a prime opportunity to dive in family-style to experience a little of everything and to explore the range of dishes on the menu. With COVID-19 ravaging the Dallas restaurant world, owner Jimmy Niwa has set a prime example of how amazing food can bring and keep a community together.

Drake's atmosphere is as equally important as the food and drinks they serve. Sitting in a booth or table in the moodily lit and elegant space can almost make one feel like they're having a secret dinner meeting with producers and talent from old school Hollywood. They're a perfect excuse to try on that new dress or to steam out those wrinkles on the old three-piece suit to enjoy a classic cocktail and a lavish multi-course meal.

Best Monday Night Dining
Alison McLean

We invented this category a few years ago when our restaurant critic had his birthday on a Monday — the day of the week on which most of Dallas' best restaurants take a break. But some are still serving food on Monday nights, including Partenope, downtown's terrific Neapolitan pizza and pasta spot. Chef-owner Dino Santonicola grew up making and eating pizzas in Naples, worked at Dallas chain Il Cane Rosso and now has his own place to show off his skills. You can have a fancy night out with fine wines and pastas, or you can grab a pizza to go. In the early summer, Partenope served a Neapolitan traditional delicacy called the "Pizza Americana," topped with hot dogs and french fries.

Let a British ex-pat tell you about the first time they ordered up sausage in this country and ended up with a big ol' mouthful of Jimmy Dean. It's probably one of the most painful transitions that come with a trans-Atlantic move; the savory, herbal comfort of your stout bangers are replaced by a dry, aggressively sweet yet strangely spicy patty. Until The Proper Baking Co. and their legit sausage rolls came along, we were still mourning this reality. Luckily, pastry chef Tina Miller has put together a brilliant menu of British standards that satisfy the homesick Brits among us and appeal to Yanks alike. Try Miller's perfectly executed takes on steak-and-ale or chicken curry pies, and make sure you add in a few miniature Victoria sponge cakes or jam dodgers. The best part? The Proper Baking Co. delivers in and around the DFW area. You'll also find them at pop-up markets and events across the area.

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