Best Smash Burger
Dallas Observer

Barbecue destinations made a big splash this year, but the bigger splash has been the smash burger craze: Burgers aggressively smashed to a thin patty leave you questioning every traditional burger you've ever had. Why was it piled so high? Was that really how a burger should be made? Well, the crew at Dayne's Craft BBQ in Fort Worth is also a believer in the smash burger. What was initially an attempt to cut down on waste turned into one of the best smash burgers you will eat. Two patties composed of prime beef trimmings are smashed and enveloped with white and yellow cheese, topped with crisp vibrant red onions and covered in a house special sauce.

Best Fried Chicken
Nick Rallo

At Mike's Chicken, they keep it simple, and we think simple is best. Fried chicken pieces or tenders are always served hot and fresh here in a variety of combos with equally fresh and flavorful scratch-made sides. Frying in peanut oil yields crispy chicken with no greasy taste, and the meat inside is juicy and flavorful from an overnight marinade. At this small chicken joint, the only downside has been trying to get through on the phone to place an order or waiting for it to be ready. This year, Mike's added online ordering, making it easier to pick up fried chicken to go.

Best Place to Get Boudin for Breakfast
Kristina Rowe

When you crave Cajun flavors, you're probably thinking of seafood and might head somewhere for lunch or dinner. But if you need something spicy with your coffee, Cajun Donuts II has boudin for breakfast. It's one of several meat choices wrapped up in their house-recipe dough and baked to golden deliciousness. There's no casing on the sausage, all the better to enjoy that spicy mix of meat and rice dressing and slightly sweet bread. If the boudin roll activates your sweet tooth, the doughnuts (especially the maple bacon) are there to satisfy, and you can get beignets fried to order.

Best Frito Pie
Beth Rankin

When our food critic Brian Reinhart polled 75 foodie insiders (chefs, restaurant owners, sommeliers, bartenders, etc.) in 2018, he surmised that Slow Bone BBQ was the most underrated restaurant in Dallas. That's not surprising given Slow Bone's tender brisket, flavorful ribs, out-of-this-world smoke-brined fried chicken and abundant assortment of succulent sides. With so much to recommend, you might never think to order the Frito pie. But if you want the best one around, it starts with chili made from Slow Bone's smoky brisket. That first-rate chili gets ladled onto a pile of corn chips and generously topped with cheddar and onions. For Frito pie fanatics, it's heaven in every bite.

Best Ice Cream Shop
Paige Weaver

Botolino is already becoming a local legend for its top-notch gelato, created by genuine Italian Carlo Gattini. The shop's big year this year includes a second location and a short documentary film called Gelato Man, which was submitted to the Dallas International Film Festival. All the hype is backed up by gelato flavors so intense that the tiny spoon makes sense. Eat too much at once, and your taste buds will be overwhelmed by goodness. Don't miss the scoop flavored with Sicilian pistachios, the coconut stracciatella or the gelato ribboned with mascarpone and chopped, caramelized figs. If those flavors sound too Mediterranean and you want a more all-American ice cream cone, a Texas pecan scoop beckons.

Best Rotating Menu
Felicia Lopez

When you think of places with chef-driven, rotating menus, a doughnut shop is probably not the first spot that comes to mind. But Jinny Cho creates new doughnut flavors on the regular, and unlike doughnuts that are just prettied up basic flavors, these are worthy of being called gourmet. Think Key lime, which is a yeast doughnut filled with lime-infused cream and topped with graham-cracker coating and meringue. Other flavors have ranged from mango-basil shortcake to matcha sesame seed and a savory everything doughnut. Flavors rotate seasonally, and weekly doughnuts pop up frequently along with the shop's signature crème brûlée and cookies and cream flavors that are offered daily.

Best Pumpkin Pancakes
Courtesy of Maple Leaf Diner

When late summer rolls around, some people can't wait for pumpkin spice season to arrive (while others wish it would never come). But the wise among us who love pumpkin flavor year-round know that we can satisfy our craving at Maple Leaf Diner. Order pumpkin pancakes on the diner special with all the meats, two eggs, breakfast bread of your choice and a signature cream puff. Breakfast is served all day here, along with several types of poutine and other homestyle dishes. Don't skip the baked in-house desserts; the cream puffs, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts are to die for, even after a sweet breakfast showcasing your favorite fall flavor.

Haywire
Alex Gonzalez

Here in Dallas, there's no shortage of restaurants that serve the iconic Texas dish, but Haywire's fresh, sourced-from-Texas ingredients pay off in a big way. Wagyu beef makes for a fork-tender steak, and jalapeño-sausage gravy heightens the flavor. Buttermilk chive mashed potatoes and so-fresh-they're-crunchy green beans round out the meal. It's one of a handful of signature dishes on Haywire's lunch, dinner and brunch menus, so you can order it any time the mood strikes. Dine-in for a Western vibe that's as strong as the drinks, which include specialty cocktails, Texas beers, a notable wine selection and rare whiskeys.

Best Chef
Beth Rankin

Sandwich Hag's food is delicious, but what really stands out about Duong, what's made her a role model for many younger chefs, is her restaurant's attitude. Anti-maskers and other pandemic malcontents tested Sandwich Hag's "No Assholes" policy this year, but the restaurant persevered, determined to serve a community of its own creation and choosing. There's a lesson here for everyone else in town: The customer is not always right, workers have dignity and sometimes doing the right thing means losing a potential sale. As the service industry deals with a labor crisis caused in part by low wages and customer disrespect, Sandwich Hag's willingness to charge a couple of bucks more for a good working environment is an example of the path forward. Chefs don't just make food; they're leaders, too.

Jettison

During the pandemic, Jettison expanded into two cocktail bars. In the space Houndstooth Coffee occupies by day, the bar began offering classic cocktails and seasonal inventions (think light, shaken drinks with mint or citrus in summertime). In the dimly lit original room, with its soft jazz soundtrack and comfy seating, Jettison approaches the cocktail with a combination of craftsmanlike seriousness and winking self-awareness. This is the kind of bar where the bartenders serve a drink with a wild flourish like a quick blast of fire, but then chuckle about it afterward. Jettison's quiet, dark, but upscale vibe is perfect for date nights, and its cocktails range from classics done properly to avant-garde creations like a Parmesan sour, a matcha-based drink and the Tom Kha Gai Guys, which uncannily mimics Thai curry but in shockingly delicious alcohol form. There's nowhere else like this.

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