Meridian
Eric Mayne

Meridian is a possible future fine-dining landmark and a bona fide contender for our best new restaurant award. But we also can't stop thinking about its side order of potatoes. Chef Junior Borges and his crew fry these nuggets until they're the dark gold of a beach tan, with crunch on the edges and a creamy softness in the middle. Then the taters get dusted in dehydrated vinegar, which adds a tart fish-and-chips note of flavor, and pollen, which looks cool. It's hard to come up with a new, let alone iconic, spin on frying a spud, but those geniuses at Meridian have done the trick.

Best Patio
Courtesy of Oak Cliff Brewing

Oak Cliff Brewing had an unusually steep challenge when the pandemic set in: Almost all of its revenue came from bars and restaurants. The brewery didn't sell cans or bottles and made nearly every dollar on kegs. So they improvised, and with help from their landlord, built a spacious, leafy beer garden out back, next to a creek and in a glade of trees. The picnic tables, old-timey chains of lights and tin signage make the whole thing look like a very nice backyard party. And, since it's not really a cookout, there's a taco truck onsite. Our favorite touch: A converted snow cone van now functions as an outdoor bar, selling plastic cups of fresh beer. Though, we won't lie, sometimes we wish it had snow cones, too.

Best Taqueria
Alison McLean

If 2020 was the year of the quesabirria, Maskaras was the Dallas-area leader of the trend. With an ownership team from Guadalajara and years of birria-making experience, it was a natural fit. Quesabirrias may have saved the business; the ultra-trendy taco, which diners love to show off on Instagram, became such a runaway bestseller that Maskaras has closed early some nights and once even shut down for a short vacation to recover from demand. But there are other tacos here, too. Don't leave without trying the steak-topped Taco Maskaras or an order of tacos ahogados, fried tacos which are then "drowned" in a dusky red salsa. The way they still have their fried crispness, even under all that flavor, is a thrilling little miracle.

A longtime Duncanville institution, Thibodeaux's has everything you need in a good po boy: good bread that's not so good it steals the spotlight, fresh veggies and crispy deep-fried seafood. The catfish and shrimp options are both good, and while we're a little heartbroken that fried oysters aren't an option here, the sheer generosity of the po boys are a full consolation. There are two pieces of fish wedged into the loaf, for example. The only thing you'll need alongside is a basket of the terrific onion rings. Thibodeaux's online ordering system pairs well with a pre- or post-hike picnic at Cedar Ridge Preserve.

Best Torta
Brian Reinhart

If all the restaurants in Dallas got together to recount their pandemic woes, El Rincon del D.F. could one-up them all. First, before anyone ever got sick, the October 2019 tornado severely damaged the restaurant, forcing a temporary closure. The virus hit and infected many of the family members who own the business. As construction workers continued to make tornado repairs, a driver attempting suicide plowed a car into the restaurant, partially destroying it again. El Rincon reopened a year after the tornado, only to lose another week to February's power outages. And yet it's still here, still serving the city's best tortas with flavors as big as Mexico City. The torta Cubana is big enough for a family, so start with one of the other sandwiches, which will still be one of the most generous lunches in the region.

Best Charcuterie Board
Alison McLean

In a city obsessed with smoked, cured and spiced meats, nobody does a charcuterie spread better or more generously than Petra and the Beast. Expect six kinds of meat in a rich variety, some spreadable on toast or crackers, some in terrines speckled with fruit or nuts, some sweet, some spicy. There will be big, bubbly crackers, too, and pickles, and jam. Petra's house-made spicy mustard makes everything better and can be purchased in a jar as a souvenir. This charcuterie board runs at the expensive end ($40), but it's so bountiful that a table of four people will have to work hard to finish it. And it's so delicious that the effort is worthwhile.

Best Vietnamese Restaurant
Alison McLean

There are many things to love about Ngon, which opened during the pandemic on Lower Greenville. We love its spring rolls, which come in many varieties, though "regular" might secretly be our favorite. We love the soups' richly seasoned broths, like the 24-hour pho and shrimp-topped banh canh. The meatballs on a platter of bun cha Hanoi smell like they've just come off a backyard grill, and the curries come with baguettes for dunking. Ngon is women-led, packs up takeout orders to perfection (soup broths are packed separately to prevent everything else overcooking) and the restaurant itself is comfortable, quiet and blessed with a tiny but nice patio. We couldn't ask for anything else.

The GreenHouse Restaurant & Bar

One needn't really be all that brave to tackle the Brave Combo burger at The Greenhouse if you can stand a little heat from a double-barrel blast of jalapeño piquancy. The burger's patty is flame-kissed over Mesquite wood before being placed on a brioche bun and topped with a thick slice of Gouda cheese and two crisp slices of bacon, then the heat comes from a mouthwatering mix of roasted jalapeños and onion. Before sending it to the table, the kitchen slathers one side of the bun with a generous smear of house-made jalapeño aioli made with fresh garlic cloves and roasted jalapeños. It's served with a side of wedge fries, which can be swapped out for sweet potato fries. It's named after long-time vegetarian Carl Finch's Grammy-winning nuclear polka combo, so the menu offers a black bean patty substitution upon request.

Best Dessert Shop
Matthew Martinez

BigDash's Middle Eastern pastries have no equal in North Texas. There's a joyous variety of baklava alone: pistachio, almond, hazelnut and more. (The hazelnut, new in summer 2021, includes a Nutella-like drizzle.) There are pastries in beautiful shapes, including little folded flowers and pie-like wedges. There are boxes of cookies to go. At one of BigDash's stores, the star attraction is kinafa, an indescribably delicious shredded pastry concoction filled with gooey cheese, pistachios and sweet syrup that gets heated on a special-made skillet. If that all isn't enough, BigDash serves ice creams, too, and they've been praised as far away as the pages of The New York Times.

Best Food Inspired by a TV Series
Lauren Drewes Daniels

Who couldn't use an infallible sense of optimism right now? If you haven't seen the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso that doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy these wonderful "biscuits" that play a sweet role in the show. Lemma's Bakeshop in Dallas had a clever idea and is selling quaint boxes of these Southern tea biscuits, mimicking the packaging and shapes of the ones on TV. Any boss would swoon over these. As a bonus, they're adorned with quotes from the show such as, "Be a Goldfish" and "Be Curious, Not Judgmental." Follow Lemma's Bakeshop social media and website to find these cookies around town.

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