Dining Out

Having friends and family over for a special dinner together is all well and fine, but let's not forget that it's our duty as Americans to get out of the house and eat and drink. You know, for the economy. Here are a few of the best places in town to let someone else do the cooking and pouring.

Todai (6121 W. Park Blvd., 972-202-8433) serves up the freshest all-you-can-eat sushi buffet in the Metroplex. Besides cooked seafood, tempura, and noodles, the buffet features 40 varieties of sushi. "Todai" means "lighthouse" in Japanese; if you're lost in the new Willow Bend Mall, seek refuge here.

Maggiano's Little Italy (205 NorthPark Center, 214-360-0707) is all about the family. The two-story restaurant has only a few tables for two. Parties of four or more can order family style. Try the veal Parmesan and salmon oreganata. Pass the plate!

Monica's Aca y Alla (2914 Main St., 214-748-7140) is a delicious and affordable mainstay in trendy Deep Ellum. Try my favorite, the Mexican lasagna, with its chunks of chicken, black beans, and corn layered between corn tortillas. On Tuesdays, food is half price. Sundays bring the dancing crowd with salsa night. And margarita-lovers shouldn't miss Wednesdays, when Monica's concoctions cost only 50 cents with dinner.

Ciudad (3888 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-219-3141) is the perfect place to go cut loose after kicking out your uptight in-laws. It's always alive and hopping. Try the chile relleno stuffed with pork, Chihuahua cheese and mole verde; or the duck-filled flautas with a fruit pico de gallo. Then repair to the candle-lit cigar room with a delightful Green Bellybutton margarita.

Studio Movie Grill (4721 W. Park, No. 100, Plano, 972-964-3789; or 5405 Beltline Rd., 972-991-MOVIE) is the best place to make the whole family happy. Your kids can see Harry Potter (opens November 16), and you can drink enough to get through the 142-minute runtime. Oh, you can eat a good meal, too.

After Dark on Cedar Springs (4026 Cedar Springs, 214-219-1099) is the ideal place to wind up the evening. After dinner, but before you go home to relieve the baby sitter, have a nightcap at this intimate piano bar. A martini sipped to the tinkling of the ivories is just what Santa ordered.