There's a curvaceous bar with a top made of stained concrete. The sector containing the bar is separated from the dining area by a screen made of chain mail, which kind of makes you wonder what the staff does with the cutlery when the barflies get riled. Chow Thai Pacific Rim also has a natty little entrance chamber, a kind of acclimation zone to help your body transition from the stylized asphalt strip-mall wasteland into this fusion fashion. Chow Thai Pacific Rim is a mishmash of Asian influences embellished with...God knows what. Slipped in there with the Pacific Rim rolls, ahi tartar, miso soup, and Hoisin-marinated chicken are New American dishes such as grilled lamb chops and frog legs with chilies. What's surprising is the number of thrilling risks they'll take.

If all else fails and you'd rather hang among tourists than Dallasites, go to the West End. Let's rephrase: If there's a cool joint in the West End, then it's Spiatza's Italian Grill and Bar. Tucked between a shack full of crabs and the infamous neon rainbow walkway, it's a bit hard to find, but the ample-sized servings along with a down-to-earth bar atmosphere make it worth the search. Rumor is that in the near future, the walls will evolve from heroin-chic paintings to flat-screen TVs, and the waitresses will begin wearing baby tees bearing a Nick's Sport City logo. But in the meantime, what's so cool about this West End secret? They accept DART Pass coupons, Southwestern alligator pasta is on the menu and the kitchen stays open until at least 1 a.m. on the weekends. Whether the name changes, it gets the big thumbs up: It's the most convenient spot to hit before or after an American Airlines Center event.

This is hands-down the best bowl of lime-seared seafood in Dallas. Scraps of tender, firm octopus, conch, and shrimp are crammed into a margarita glass with key lime, cilantro, diced tomato, papaya, pineapple, and mango. The flavors are prodded with vanilla and a little clump of pickled onion that adds a jagged edge of raciness. It's as sexy as it is satisfying.

This ain't no misnomer. You've got your brown rice; you've got your organic black beans. It's a virtual one-two punch of grains and legumes, providing the protein needed without using meat. Then there's the pile of steamed veggies, fresh and crunchy, satisfying the colorful part of the food pyramid, and a cup of Dream Café's tahini miso sauce, a tangy, oily creation that adds a hint of flavor without overpowering the three basics of this square, but not unhip, meal.

Not mushy, not crunchy, just right--even Goldilocks would be satisfied (if she were into french fries). These golden beauties are always warm and crisp, like great fries should be, but the real secret is in the seasoning. The spicy, salty blend has made Burger House fries famous since 1951, and with good reason. Even the thought of their aromatic deliciousness makes us salivate. If you're wavering in your Atkins diet conviction, this is the place to cheat. Do it up right, too: Don't forget the ketchup.

Best Cachapas and Other Things Filled with Cheese and Caramel

Zaguán World Bakery & Café

Venezuelan Carlos Branger is an evil, evil man, and we love him for it. Since opening a few months ago, this Latin restaurant-bakery on Oak Lawn Avenue has become our go-to restaurant whenever we crave sweet corn tortillas filled with meat and cheese...and cheese; this is a delicacy called cachapas, incidentally, which we believe is Venezuelan for "happy heart attack yummy delight." There are also the arepas, stuffed but not sweet; we prefer the former, though, because there's something about getting that corn-cheese-etc. stuck in our teeth--the lunch that keeps on giving. Branger's cut back a bit on the free-sample smorgasbord that lined the countertops for months, which is fine; we were loaded up on fresh breads, most filled with cheese and/or caramel, well before our lunch arrived anyway, and we needed to save room for those plantain chips and sweet-bread desserts, which give us full belly and tight, but happy, pants. We haven't quite mustered up the courage to order the ham-and-cheese bread loaves--it's been weeks since we've been to the gym--or myriad other fresh-baked delicacies taunting us from the glass cases and oven racks, but we will. It's not like we're not at Zaguán once a week. Or twice. Or thrice, dang it.

It's all about payback, or so we've heard. Maybe that's why La Madeleine, wherein some of the best breads on earth are made, fills a handy yet surreptitiously placed rack with homemade slices or half-loaves several times a day. On a little shelf, the bread fairies also put out pats of butter and little bowls of fruit preserves. The preserves have earned the right to be called something other than jelly, since they appear to be real, fresh fruit that has been simmered with a bit of sugar long enough to soften up, break down and then thicken to a pleasing, goo-like consistency. This simple buffet runs by the honor system. La Mad's idea is that diners--that is, people who have actually purchased something from the menu--can help themselves to more bread to go with the meal as they need it. People we've known who always run out of money before payday can usually spring for a cup of French roast at La Madeleine; then, with only a smidgen of guilt, help themselves to six or 12 bread, butter and jelly sandwiches, on the house. It's the best free breakfast in Dallas.

Want the best pancakes? You'll have to go to a four-star hotel to get them. The 92-seat, award-winning Landmark Restaurant in the Melrose Hotel serves the best stack--tall, fluffy, and never mushy, with indescribably light and aromatic fruit flavors. To those further inclined, check out the restaurant's breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, featuring foods from Asia and the Americas.

We've been known to watch Sunday morning turn to Sunday evening at this McKinney Avenue eatery, where our cups of awesome coffee always manage to turn into tall mojitos; somehow the thought that Monday's around the corner goes down better with a gulp of rum poured over crushed ice, sugar and lime. Against our better judgment, we always start with the basket of exotic breads--carbs schmarbs, and just look at what happened to Dr. Atkins, anyhoo. Then it's on to the dishes of eggs and ham and cheese and sauce so rich you'd swear the whole plate could buy Mark Cuban. When the weather's nice we sit outside, though parking-lot fumes are a bit hard to choke down unless you're on your third caipirinha. Which we are right now, as a matter of fact.

Maxim's
Got a couple of hours to kill on a Sunday morning? (Or any other day of the week, for that matter?) Try this Chinatown wonderland off Greenville Avenue and Main Street in Richardson, where the waitstaff strolls through this gargantuan restaurant with wagons full of goodies familiar (shrimp-and-scallion dumplings, fried rice, sautéed Chinese broccoli) and mysterious (soup with "1,000-year-old eggs," we kid you not) and always delicious. Maxim's, so named for a legendary Hong Kong eatery, offers the best dim sum experience in town: Eat till you can't talk, and wash it all down with the pur tea that seems to make room in your tummy for more of the pork barbecue-stuffed buns or the steamed shrimp balls (yeah, yeah--who knew they had 'em, got it). Arrive early, before the 11 a.m. rush, and stay late or just move in; you'll be back next weekend, anyway.

Three things you can never get people to agree on: whether Polyphonic Spree is gimmick or salvation, just what is the best advertorial in the history of D magazine and who has the best Chinese food in town. Everyone has his fave, and though we've tried many, many of them (August Moon, P.F. Chang's and others rank high on the list), we can't tell you whether this Preston Royal Shopping Center eatery is definitively the all-time greatest. We can, however, inform you that the best dishes here are some of the best dishes anywhere and in any cuisine; dare you to find prawns more fearsomely flavorful than the General Shrimp, which commands a mighty plate. Same goes for the dry-stirred beef, which whets our appetite and then some. Royal China's also expanding its menu to include edamame and cold, rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls--a little Japan and Thailand, in other words. Owner George Kao, who runs the place papa Buck opened years ago, and wife April make every stranger feel like friend and every friend feel like family. One thing's for sure--you will not find a friendlier restaurant in Dallas.

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