Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

The spring rolls at Green Papaya are like little pieces of heaven wrapped up in rice paper. Stuffed with vermicelli, lettuce and cilantro, these rolls come with your choice of shrimp, chicken or pork--known as goi cuon tom, goi cuon ga and goi cuon heo, respectively--and they're served with a dish of peanut sauce that makes these appetizers even more appetizing. This tiny restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue does other dishes well, too. We suggest the flat noodles, the cabbage salad and anything made with the garlic sauce. Above all, don't forget the spring rolls. They're the perfect start to a near-perfect Vietnamese meal.

Best Reason to Think You're in Brooklyn

Sal's Pizza

It's the kind of neighborhood family spot you find all over the outer boroughs of New York: bright, bustling and filled with good smells and foreign, friendly waiters. In fact, Sal Jakova brought his family and recipes to this location (inevitably, a second Sal's is opening in Plano) from Queens 21 years ago. Some of the best pizza around, Neapolitan and Sicilian, bubbles in Sal's ovens to be sold by the slice as well as in pies of four sizes. The heroes are heroic, the calzones flaky and tongue-searing, the pastas more than passable, and the stromboli has, in previous years, been recognized in these pages as the city's best. The menu is rounded out by an ample selection of veal, chicken and seafood dishes. Sal's is also probably one of the safest places in town, because you'll almost always find cops eating here, testimony to the large portions and working-guy prices. Go on a Sunday night, when Sal's is presided over by colorful son Kenny, and you'll find a cross section of the community chowing down like straphangers.

Popeye's straight-from-the-can approach to spinach has nothing on Taj Express' creamed spinach, and neither does any other spinach dish we've tried. Almost always available on the buffet, this spinach creation isn't bitter or oily and is mixed with chunks of soft cheese. We prefer it slathered on Taj's warm nan. Fortunately for those who dare not like the steamed greens, the buffet is also stocked with rice and dishes such as fried potatoes, tandoor chicken, chickpeas in sauce and curried vegetables.

At the risk of never getting a table again, we'll impart our knowledge of a supreme lunch special. Monica Greene and her gang offer one of the most affordable lunches in town without skimping on flavor or quality ingredients. For a teensy $4.99, lunch patrons can have their pick of various enchiladas, Cha-Cha burritos, quesadillas, cheeseburger, Mexican lasagna (filling and flavorful) or, our favorite, Greene Pasta made with spinach jalapeño pasta. The portions aren't measly or humongous--just right for midday when there's still office work waiting. Monica's provides chips and salsa as well, so there's no leaving hungry. Even with a beverage and tip, the tab is still under 10 bucks.

Readers' Pick

Sumo Steak & Sushi

7525 Greenville Ave.

214-987-2333

It isn't one of the swankier steer temples. It isn't showered in the kind of swarthy wood paneling you thought was only used in confessional booths. It's well lit so that you can tell the difference between the creamed spinach boat and the iceberg lettuce wedge without tripping over the fork. It has 105 wines by the glass that can be used to patch together tasting flights. Their meat isn't even dry-aged (it's wet-aged, which is kind of like spending your 30s and 40s with your fingers in a Ponds jar). And it doesn't do everything well. The fish seems more pummeled by steer hoofs than scorched by grill bars. But what kind of fool eats tuna in a beef bordello anyway? Fleming's hits it where it counts: in the meat, primewise. Bone-in New York strip, a craggy piece of thick black meat, is so juicy, tender and rich that modifiers like "buttery" and "silky" fall flat on their face. It's prepared simply, with a little salt, pepper and butter, and served on a plate heated to 350 degrees. Yet the meat and its effect on the mouth are hard to describe. It's chewy without being gristly; it's packed with flavor without being fatty. And these steaks don't cost as much as Botox injections. Sometimes aging is cheap.

Even people who aren't fans of pizza will surreptitiously try to sneak a slice of Scalini's. It's thin, not too delicate and the options for topping allow creative license for personal pizza heaven. For dining in, delivery or carryout, the family folks at Scalini's serve up the best thin-crust pie we've ever masticated. Although incredible when direct from the oven, the cheesy goodness is never compromised by a quick car ride. A favorite with us is one with sausage, fresh basil and fresh tomatoes (for veggie-lovers, eighty-six the sausage and add pine nuts). The flavor is robust, and the aroma is divine. Order up; just don't forget a side Greek salad.

There's a lot of all-you-can-eat lunch buffets out there, the kind that let you dump ladle upon ladle of quick-set cellulite mix onto a plate and then go back for more after you've licked it to a sheen. The pity is that these places don't offer forklift service to your car when you've exhausted the "all" part of the you-can-eat designation. Well, you won't have to worry about being propelled by a Clark after you pay the check at Chef Hsu--which rings in at $5.25 for all your little paunch can hold without popping a rivet. Chef Hsu's "super buffet" actually contains food you'll want to dabble in two or three times: bright and crisp fresh vegetables, juicy fresh fruits, near-greaseless fried foods, terrific hot and sour soup, delicious heads-on prawns and great fried rice, just to mention a few of the foods slumped in this enormous set of binge beds. This has more buck-bang than a six-pack of Hormel hash.

You may think you need to live near this White Rock eatery to order its pizza, but we would argue that the trip is worth it unless you live in Wylie or Red Oak--and even then, it may be a good idea to give it a go. Alfonso's is a small Italian restaurant that serves pretty good pasta, but it's the pizza that distinguishes this place. Generous portions, fresh vegetables, enough (but not too much) tomato sauce, sausage to die for...oh, sweet Mama, we're gettin' hungry. Our fave? Difficult to say, but it's hard to go wrong with a large sausage, onion and mushroom.

Best Early-early-morning Cup 'n' Crepes

Café Brazil

Café Brazil now has a half-dozen locations, but this location is our favorite spot to stop for a pile of crepes and a bottomless cup of coffee for those nights when you're not quite ready to go home after the bars close. Come 2 a.m., especially on a weekend night, the place is wall-to-wall with people. The band may be done playing, but this crowd makes the show go on.

The title Best Hamburger is not limited to the burger alone. It encompasses the atmosphere and the options as well as flavor. When we want a burger, chances are we want a drink, too. (Hey, we're going for the full-blown unhealthy beef and brew combo.) Enter the Landing, as we neighborhood dwellers are prone to call it, and they've got the atmosphere and the options for our dietary delinquency. It's dark, cool and no one's easily identifiable should our running partner happen to saunter by. Plus, there's a selection of cheeses (go with provolone) to heighten the caloric content of our edible sin. The taste is slightly charred, not too salty and fresh with all the veggies piled on. And the bun...the bun is sheer toasty goodness. Fries abound, and there's even a veggie burger for the meat-free. Order a beer and burger, hit one of the best jukeboxes in town and choose a well-worn seat for a real red-meat treat.

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