Our Favorite Dallas Dishes of 2012

A fellow food writer recently told me that food is one of the greatest pleasures of life you get to experience three times a day. If you followed this convention, you'd have more than a thousand opportunities to consume something beautiful every year. Our daily meals seem like an almost endless opportunity for culinary exploration.

The thing is, most of us don't unearth even a fraction of this potential.


Dallas Dishes of 2012

RELATED: Our 100 Favorite Dishes in Dallas

Breakfast is almost always forgotten. If we eat at all, our mornings are often mired in microwavable oatmeal or a terrible bagel sandwich purchased and devoured on the run — hardly inspirational eating.

So many lunches are squandered on mindless meals we bulldoze in a hurry, collecting our calories at drive-thru windows, munching sloppy sandwiches on bad bread from the cafe in an office basement or wolfing down lukewarm Chinese takeout during a quick afternoon break.

Dinner seems more sacred, but even this meal falls victim to the countless intrusions of other important activities in our lives. Our ultimate barrier to pleasurable dining is our demand for convenience.

Unless you have a lot of free time, you probably get only a handful of opportunities a month to go out and eat something wonderful, and those experiences often fall victim to a restaurant rut. Overwhelmed by recommendations offered by newspapers, magazines, blogs and friends, we fall back on our old familiar favorites and then wonder how we ended up stuffed with mediocre Tex-Mex again.

Even as a professional food critic with a dining budget, I'm not immune to the occasionally uninspired meal. If you ever see me stuffing a 7-Eleven egg-salad sandwich into my face outside the office you'll know I'm really behind on a deadline. This is how we end up trying to wrap our faces around another burrito at Chipotle (which is a fine enough meal, but hardly an exciting one) or at the prepared foods section of Whole Foods. This is how that frozen pizza ended up in the fridge.

The richest dining experiences require us to let go of our comfortable restaurants and venture to try something that will often turn out to be a disappointment. If you gamble enough, every now and then you'll stumble across the undiscovered treasures that drive the best food lovers to constantly seek new dishes. This is how you find the small-batch, hand-crafted cooking that gives any food scene its core identity.

Not all of the following dishes, gleaned from my year eating out in 2012, are gems, but they all bring something significant to the table. If you dig deeper and learn how they're inspired, prepared or made, you'll find they're all interesting in some way. They all have a story.

Use a single dish for your launching point to check out a new restaurant you hadn't previously considered, or as a stepping stone into a neighborhood you'd never otherwise have visited. There are hundreds of culinary treasures to be discovered in and around Dallas. This list barely scratches the surface.

RELATED: Our 100 Favorite Dishes in Dallas

Suadero Tacos at La Banqueta

Fanned out on a plate like daisy petals with two limes where the yellow center should be, La Banqueta's suadero tacos look just as good as they taste. They're a little salty — good salty — and sparsely seasoned. The brisket isn't muddied with too much cumin or other spices but flavored simply by the heat of a flat grill instead. Some pieces are tender and fatty, others have a bit of chew, and still more get rendered down into crunchy, desiccated bits of salty meat like brisket bacon. With a hearty squeeze of lime and a squirt of bright green tomatillo salsa, this is one of the best bites you can buy in all of Dallas.

Turkey Sandwich at Bolsa Mercado

Turkey sandwiches are usually dry and bland, so I'll only order one when I feel as though I've hit my burger quota on any given week. Bolsa Mercado's smoked turkey sandwich could change this. The soft, freshly baked ciabatta roll is springy and supple, while an avocado spread keeps it from eating like a sack of sand. The turkey is smoked in house, and a pepper spread brings brightness.

Chicken Shish Kebab at Pepper Smash

Put aside the skewers and roll up your sleeves. You're about to make a killer sandwich. Pick up a huge, tender hunk of juicy chicken, blistered in a hot tandoor oven. Fold it into a hunk of freshly baked naan bread. Smear a little tahini dip and yogurt on your makeshift sandwich before topping it with a little tabbouleh laced with lemon. The people at Potbelly in the same plaza have absolutely no idea what they're missing.

Babaganoush at Baboush

Typically, babaganoush is about a point or two higher than hummus on the boring scale of Mediterranean dips. Baboush's dish is more sturdy, based on a simple blend of roasted eggplant given personality with the subtle heat of fresh jalapeños. A dollop of creamy basil pesto adds unexpected flavors that are offset by bright bursts of fresh pomegranate.

Jerk Chicken at Island Spot

Most Jamaican restaurants make use of pre-made seasonings (Walkerswood is the most popular) and Island Spot in Carrollton is no different, but a waitress there told me the jarred spice blend is only the start. They add spices and aromatics to hop up the flavor and amp up the heat before letting chicken parts soak in the marinade for days.

Barbacoa Tacos at Restaurant Y Taquería Cristina

The tacos may be greasy as hell, but it's hard to argue against some of their fillings. Lengua and carnitas are woefully bland, but pastor is full of flavor. The barbacoa taco, however, is outstanding, at once beefy, bright and juicy enough that you have to eat it directly over your plate.

Jhinga Masala Nizami at Mughlai Fine Indian Cuisine

Sure, the shrimp are tender and plump, and the curry itself is thick and heady, but it's the fresh ginger and herbs the kitchen tosses into the dish at the last second that really round out the dish. The thin matchsticks are cooked only by the residual heat from the sauce, and they explode with spicy, fresh flavor. The herbs do the same. You might want to consider ordering a second naan. You're going to want to mop up every last drop of this dish.

Schwarma at Samar

Order the schwarma sandwich with a very important caveat. Tell your waiter you have no interest in their store-bought, pallid pita. Request your sandwich be made on freshly baked naan and all will be right in the world. Small strips of flavorful hanger steak mingle with tabbouleh so lemony it's almost a sin. All sandwiches should taste this great.

Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich at Highland Park Pharmacy

It's a simple sandwich of soft, melted cheddar the cooks griddle on a press that looks just about as old as as the bar stools that line the counter in this drugstore, which first opened in 1923. Who knew grilled cheese could be so punk rock?

Cochinita Pibil at Meso Maya

The pork may not be Berkshire, but it's braised into juicy succulence, and while I wish they used more achiote for pungency and earthiness, vinegar is used so aggressively this dish will almost make you pucker before a smile slowly spreads across your face. Pick up a huge hunk of tender pork and drop it into a handmade tortilla, pressed from freshly ground corn. Top it with a few strands of pickled onions. Take a bite. If it's not hot enough, the smoky habanero sauce served alongside will take you as far as you need to go.

Berkshire Pork Belly with Japanese Plum at Sharaku

Watch as the cook stokes the coals with a bamboo fan before balancing a thin skewer holding two rolled strips of meat cut from the black pig's belly. Inside the pinwheels of pork, a small Japanese plum waits to burst with fruity flavor. The soft morsel is actually quite tart. Acid's the perfect foil for fatty swine, among other things, and here it works perfectly.

Breakfast Burrito at La Victoria

The small counter with a handful of bar stools may be one of the best places in Dallas to drink a warm cup of coffee out of a thick-rimmed mug, and fork and knife a burrito stuffed with eggs, potatoes, cheese and roasted chiles. You must top it with plenty of Vicky's red salsa. The fiery puree pushes a normal breakfast burrito experience into a hangover miracle cure.

Enmoladas at Mesa

A freshly made tortilla is carefully dipped into a hot pan of mole. The sauce softens the tortilla, which the cook folds and dips again before folding the tortilla a second time. Now the tortilla is shaped like a fat slice of pizza, and the cook plates up three of them, tucking a little braised chicken inside each soft corn-laden envelope. Some cotija and micro cilantro finish out the plate. Enjoy. Tex-Mex will never be the same to you.

Arepas at Zaguan Latin Café

Stuffed with your choice of beef and cheese, chicken and cheese, mushrooms and cheese or my personal favorite, reina pepiada (pulled chicken and avocado), the little baby sandwiches pack in big flavor. And if a gut bomb is what you're going for? Just order two.

Oysters at Rex's Seafood

Unlike those served elsewhere in Dallas, the oysters at Rex's Seafood are perfectly consistent. A dozen Wiannos will set you back only $22, but you're better off shelling out an extra four dollars for the East Dennis Bay oysters that blew my mind at lunch. Medium-sized and briny as a salt lick, these oysters need nothing more than a drop or two of lemon juice.

Potato Pancakes at Kuby's

Kuby's doesn't lean heavily on mashed potatoes for its pancakes, but instead use coarsely grated raw potatoes. The tubers are lightly accented with herbs, molded into perfectly round cakes and fried to order. Often, potatoes fried in oil become greasy and heavy, but these are as light as potato cakes can possibly be. The crunchy bits on the exterior explode with subtle, savory flavors.

Wings at Ten Bells Tavern

If you're a Buffalo wing purist, you're not going to like this. At least at first. The wings at Ten Bells Tavern aren't sauced with Frank's Red Hot alone, and that blue cheese dressing is a curveball too. The kitchen calls it blue cheese fondue, which is odd, but they certainly need to call it something other than blue cheese dressing. Go on, taste it. That's Point Reyes that's filling your nostrils with its dank and musky footprint.

Brisket Enchiladas at ME Lounge

The whole plate is heaped with crunchy fresh lettuce and cotija cheese. Beneath the greens two brisket enchiladas lie under a blanket of dark, mildly spicy mole and fried potatoes. Carrots and onions round out a plate that sticks to your ribs. Make sure you take it easy on the chips and salsa while you wait, or you'll never be able to finish this dish.

Smoked Salmon Potato Skins at Nova

Potato skins are usually a snooze. Most restaurants fill dried-out hulls with oily cheddar, flecks of bacon and green onion slices. Not so at Nova, where smoked salmon as a topping could be innovation enough to break this tired bar snack out of its mold, but that's just the start. The lightly smoked fish plays nicely with the crunchy, salty bacon but it's the crème fraîche, lightly spiked with horseradish, that pushes this dish deeply into must-eat territory.

Fried Chicken Sandwich at Union Bear

This may be Dallas' best fried chicken sandwich. The bread is light and fluffy and sports a fresh brand of hatch marks from the grill. The chicken itself is tender, hyper-juicy and has a thick, crunchy crust. But I think it's the pickled slaw and spicy mayo that make this sandwich so persuasive. Every time I write about it, I'm inclined to go get another.

Tom Kha Gai at Bambu

The soup is clouded with coconut milk, but still as bright as lemon tea, and loaded with tender shreds of chicken breast and the occasional straw mushroom that bursts in your mouth when you bite. Bambu may be a bit of a drive — the restaurant is buried in the back of a Richardson strip mall — but this soup is more than worth it.

Crispy Duck at Bangkok City

Subtle flavors and textures made this dish one of my favorites. The duck skin is so crisp it stands up to the sweet brown sauce it swims in, and reminds me of the skin on Southern fried chicken. The crispy basil leaves were so aromatic they scented the entire dining room.

The Cubano at International Bakery Cuban Dulceria

I took my first bite, and tried to figure out why Rita and Sara Vasquez, the owners of International Bakery Cuban Dulceria in Carrollton, would neglect mustard from their otherwise very traditional Cubano sandwich. I was told it hid the flavors of the mojo-marinated pork, roasted till it falls apart into strings. No matter. All you have to do is ask for mustard and you'll get it. And mustard or no mustard, this is without a doubt the best Cubano you can buy in the area. They bake the bread right there. It's soft as a cloud and the hot press toasts the exterior into a thin eggshell of crisp crust that snaps when you bite it.

Coffee and Doughnuts at Rosemont

Remember that paper bag of over-sugared mini doughnuts you bought from the grocery store? Forget them. Rosemont has a refreshing take on the tiny cake grenades that are more moist and flavorful than what you're used to. And remember the last time you had a cappuccino topped with a dash of cinnamon from a shaker bottle last filled months ago? Not here. A fresh stick is grated right over the top of each cup. Expect the real deal from now on.

Chile Relleno at Avila's

Breaded, eggy, fried versions often eat like a wet sock after they swim in a soupy sauce, so the folks at Avila's were right to keep this poblano pepper naked. Stuffing it to the hilt with tender shredded brisket wasn't a bad idea either. Add a restrained blanket of melted cheese, a fresh salsa with crunchy onions and peppers, and a side of hot sauce that packs a respectable punch and you have one of the better Tex-Mex plates in Dallas.

Large Tabouleh at Ali Baba

Leave it to Ali Baba to deliver a Texas-sized portion of parsley salad. I might make a dig at the place for the over-the-top serving, but the tablouleh is nearly perfect. You can smell the lemon juice wafting up from the bowl as they bring it to the table and it's full of coarsely chopped parsley you really have to chew on. The cracked wheat isn't overwhelming and the whole thing tastes like summer.

The Nooner at Jonathon's Oak Cliff

Jonathon Erdeljac's gut grenade is almost a parody, it's so overloaded with farm animals. Topped with American and Swiss cheese, mayo, an egg, tomato slices, ham, bacon and shame, this burger is the pinnacle of over-indulgence.

Kimchee French Fries at sSahm Food Truck

Kimchee fries: They should be spicy, fermented cabbage and french fries right? It's so much more. The fries are hand cut, the kimchee is caramelized, and the whole mess is topped with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese, cilantro, onions and spicy mayo. Oh, and why not? Let's throw in some spicy bulgolgi too. Order yours with a smock and a shovel; you'll need both.

Just About Any Burger at Off-Site Kitchen

Burgers are the everyman's food we can't put down, and our ravenous quest for bovinity has spurred the opening of countless burger chains. The thing is, burgers aren't good for us, which is one of the reasons why I'm so smitten with the offering at Off-Site Kitchen. (The other is they rock.) The burgers here are diminutive, yet still filling. They're juicy and flavorful, but leave me with a sense of well-being instead of shame and guilt.

Dan-Dan Noodles at Royal China

The Dan-Dan noodles here are a must-order. I prefer the Lanzhou version: The long, thin noodles are easier to wrangle with chopsticks. Served cold, the noodles balance sweet with a spicy heat heightened with the spark of Sichuan peppercorns. Sprouts add freshness and crunch. So, so good.

Roast Chicken at Bolsa

Jeff Harris' dish solved a cooking conundrum I've wrestled with as a home cook over and over again. If the flesh of a cooked chicken is moist enough, the skin that surrounds it often becomes soggy by the time it gets to your table. Crisp skin at the table, on the other hand, tends to be a harbinger of dry meat. Harris' chicken was so juicy it wept and the skin was so crisp it broke like glass. The plate made me smile and lifted my mood.

Ramen at Tei-An

The broth is a perfect savory soup based on pork bones that's adorned with seaweed, green onions and bamboo shoots. Each is carefully added to the bowl so it looks as good as it tastes.

Scotch Egg at Central 214

Graham Dodds' version of the British bar snack is everything most versions aren't. The breading is so crunchy it reminds me of excellent falafel. The coarsely ground sausage packs serious flavor and encases a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg. Finished with a small dusting of sea salt and a tangle of lemon-kissed greens, Central 214's version is a serious upgrade in Scotch egg cookery.

White Clam Pizza at Nonna

A New Haven fan would not be pleased. There's not enough garlic, not enough oil and what's with this funny, runny sauce on my pizza? We're not in Connecticut, though, we're in Dallas. Julian Barsotti was on a quest to pay tribute to one of America's classic pies, but he couldn't help but to tweak things a little at his Highland Park Italian restaurant Nonna. And while the "clam pizza" on the menu borrows elements from the Northeastern classic, it's decidedly a whole new beast. Barsotti steams the clams in a mixture of sweet onions, wine and olive oil, removing the clams as they pop and then reducing the liquor they yield into a thick sauce he fattens with a little cream. When you order a clam pizza, the cooks fold the reserved chopped clams back into the creamy sauce along with some fresh herbs and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and pecorino cheese. The results are a compelling topping for a chewy, slightly blistered crust.

Pork Banh Mi at Nammi

You could drive all the way out to Richardson and buy an authentic banh mi, but it will cost you three or four bucks for the sandwich and twice that for gas. Why not let Nammi do the driving for you instead? For $7, they throw together a massive handcrafted number that should be considered one of Dallas' greatest sandwiches. All you have to do is find out where in Dallas they've parked when your craving strikes. The pork version packs the most flavor. The meat is marinated and then cooked each morning before the Nammi folks heap it into each baguette to order. Pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, a few jalapeño slices and a healthy slather of mayonnaise complete what is a really well-balanced sandwich.

Fried Bologna Sandwich at Maple and Motor

Maple and Motor gets a lot of attention for its burgers, but it's the ultra-humble sandwich fashioned from bad deli meat that really strikes a chord with me. I'm talking bologna. Except that the bologna isn't cold here, it's sliced thick and grilled hot. Little nicks cut into the perimeter of the slice keep it from curling up. The slice lies flat when it cooks and develops a deep, rich crust across the exterior, while hundreds of burgers searing nearby lend their fatty flavor. It's a humble sandwich for sure, but lettuce and a tomato slice freshen things up a touch.

Sloppy Taco at Off-Site Kitchen

The crunchy taco shell invokes the taco dinners your mother used to make for weeknight meals. The sweet barbecue-sauce-soaked meat recalls the Sloppy Joe meals that probably graced your childhood table too. Pick the taco up and you'll even feel like a little kid: The shell is wider than your head. Grab a few hundred napkins or you'll look like a toddler when you're finished eating.

Dolmas at Pera Turkish Kitchen

Dolmas get a bad name because so many premade versions are passed off as food at Middle Eastern restaurants. At Pera Turkish Kitchen, the grape leaves are rolled by hand in the kitchen and stuffed with rice, pine nuts, currants and onions. The dolmas have a nice texture that really gives you something to chew on.

Sampler Plate with Samoon at Judi Bakery

Judi Restaurant and Bakery turns out a football-shaped Iraqi samoon that is almost good enough to feature on its own as a favorite dish, but when it's paired with their veggie sampler plate, the chewy, fresh-baked loaves are no-brainers for anyone's list. Tabouleh, hummus in multiple varieties, baba ganoush, cucumber and yogurt salad, and other dips get plated up with olives, pickles and dolmas that make for a compelling meal.

Fried Chicken at Sissy's

Usually when I'm done with a review, I'm done with a restaurant. The day after my review of Sissy's ran in the paper, however, I went back to the restaurant and grabbed a seat at the bar. I did not order an entire bucket, but I did order fried chicken. I'm not saying it's the best in Dallas, but if it can draw a critic in for a rehash long after he's filed his copy, then it's definitely a worthy addition to our list of favorite dishes.

Italian Combo at Carbone's

If you're from Philly or the surrounding area and love hoagies, Dallas' sandwich scene will make you very sad. Go cheer up a little at Carbone's. The roll comes from Il Vecchio Fornaio in Arlington and is shaped wrong, but the texture is pretty close. It's a crusty and tough number that holds its own against a vinegary Italian dressing. "Combo" refers to three meats: house-made mortadella, coppa from La Quercia in Iowa and soppressata from Fra Mani in California. It's a son-of-a-bitch that you must pay $11 for the sandwich, but when looking for reminders of home, you pay for what you get.

Guisado Verde Tacos at La Nueva Fresh And Hot

The storefront where you'll be waiting for your guisado verde tacos is stifling in the summer. Never mind that. It's worth it the second you get a double-stacked tortilla bursting with braised pork simmered in a light green tomatillo sauce. Hit it with a little onion and cilantro for some crunch, and a little of the red salsa you'll get on the side for heat.

Patty Melt at NHS

This thing is an all-out monster. I wish NHS would slice the bread more thickly, so the sandwich wouldn't need four slices to keep from falling apart, but the patty hidden between the bread is not up for debate. It's fatty, flavorful meat, cooked exactly how you tell the kitchen to cook it, and then topped with cheese, Russian dressing and a black jam-like condiment made with onions and bacon. It's absurd. It will give you level nine food shame. And you will like it.

Bistec Con Queso at El Tizoncito

El Tizoncito can call it whatever they want, but this is a cheesesteak. It's not a Philly cheesesteak for sure. The bread has been replaced by tortillas, and the provolone by Monterey Jack, but the steak and onion combination with melting, oozing dairy stays true to the flavors you've grown to love.

Falafel at Fadia Bakery

The falafel served in this small storefront in Richardson may be one of the area's best kept secrets. Owner Charbel Hamad soaks dried chickpeas overnight and then runs them through a meat grinder. Then he folds in minced cilantro, parsley, onion, jalapeño and garlic. It's not until you place your order that he grabs some of the falafel dough and folds in baking soda and a blend of spices. These savory little fritters pack a lot of punch into a pillowy, fluffy package encased in an impossibly crunchy and savory exterior.

Deviled Eggs at R&D Kitchen

At R&D Kitchen, this simple snack gets elevated a touch while remaining true to its picnic-basket roots. The kitchen uses a sweet house-made relish that gives these eggs a distinct personality. A tiny dice of celery offers a final twist, lending cool, watery explosions to every bite.

Spicy Fish Soup at Korea House

If I hadn't passed the old man's table, littered with little bowls of interesting condiments such as pickled vegetables, salads and funky fishes, I'd have never ordered the soup. Huge chunks of fish floated like icebergs in the bowl, which literally boiled when it arrived. Clams and shrimp swam about and I took every bite in a different direction than the last because of that endless array of condiments. Bright, then salty, then sweet, then fishy — I'd never get bored eating like this.

Spicy Crispy Wings at Malai

These wings take cultural cuisine to the next level — at least for Uptown. They might even be dangerous. I ordered them as hot as the kitchen would make them, and a steaming bowl of deep-golden chicken flecked with red chiles and green cilantro came to my table. They were sticky, sweet and left whole. These wings are seriously good. How hot were they? Pretty hot. Two cold beers for four double wings hot. A slightly tacky forehead and a couple of deep breaths as you ate hot.

Chili Dog at St. Pete's

St. Pete's chili dog easily won our chili dog smack down, trumping the Angry Dog and securing its spot in this year's favorite dishes list. High-quality ingredients are key here, and a hot dog made at Rudolph's Meat Market just down the road packs a lot of flavor into an already intense dish. It's almost possible to pick this puppy up and eat with your hands but I wouldn't recommend it. A fork and knife will help.

Cabrito a la Parrilla at El Ranchito

The first time I ate cabrito was at El Ranchito, a glorious palace of Mexican food specializing in the regional dishes of northern Mexico. I brazenly tore a fatty chunk of meat off the mini-goat carcass splayed on the parrilla in the middle of the table and tucked it into a warm flour tortilla with grilled onions, guac and pico. The baby goat was rich and tender, less gamey than lamb but exponentially more flavorful than chicken, with a touch of smoky flavor from the grill. In a word, delicious.

Breakfast Schnitzel at Crossroads Diner

The pork was pan-sauteed into a deep-brown crust and came perched on a bed of wilted spinach in a swamp of thick, cheesy, gritty grits. It was crowned with a perfectly cooked egg, laced with lemony Hollandaise that jiggled in anticipation as it hit the table. The yolk gushed when urged to do so with the edge of my knife, washing my plate in a slow-motion tide of yellow that tied everything together.

Panamericana Torta at Tortas la Hechizera

The sandwich pairs a pounded and fried pork cutlet with sliced ham, avocado, tomato, diced onions, cheese and a serious slathering of mayonnaise. It's a sandwich that's big enough to satisfy two people if you're not starving. Bring some backup, or you'll likely have to skip your dinner.

Fish and Chips at the Londoner

The Londoner's version sports a thick, crispy crust that's not too oily, which encases dense cod that breaks apart into massive, meaty flakes. Chips play more than a supporting role with a generous portion of potatoes cooked just right. The results are a plate that eats heartily while leaving you feeling (mostly) guilt-free.

Sopa de Atlahua at Veracruz Cafe

It's a bit like a French bouillabaisse but with Mexican leanings. Veracruz Cafe's Sopa de Atlahua is anchored by a broth loaded with shrimp stock and chili flavors. Scallops, tilapia and whole shrimp round out the seafood components, and carrots, Mexican squash and zucchini assure Mom you're eating healthy. Fresh epazote, a bitter herb that looks a bit like dandelion greens and tastes of anise and coriander, finishes off the dish.

Pepper Bomb at Goodfriend

The mix of serranos, habaneros and Thai bird chiles on this burger packs wicked heat, but it's nothing once you've tangoed with the Trinidad chili. And if flaming lips are not your thing, that's OK. There are other burgers on the menu that make use of the same great beef.

Shanghai Buns at Jeng Chi Dumpling House

Some people tear a little hole in the little parcels of pastry to let the soup fill their spoon before slurping. Others make a little nick with their teeth and suck the savory broth directly from the dumpling. Not me. I may eat one or two like that, waiting for the magma-hot broth to cool, but as soon as they're tepid I lose control. I pop the whole thing in my mouth and bite down hard into a gushing, briny sea of porcine flavor.

Sweet Shrimp at Yutaka

My meal at Yutaka is months old but one memory is firmly with me. I've been trying to find better shrimp heads at every sushi restaurant I've visited and am still coming up short. The batter on these babies was amazing, shattering like glass as I took a bite. I popped each head in my mouth like an over-sized potato chip and a smile crept over my face as I crunched away. Their insides were meaty and textured and tasted of custardy cooked shrimp. It was a fresh and simple flavor I can't shake.

Pulled Whole Hog BBQ Eggs Benedict at Smoke

Tweaking a classic, Smoke swaps out the Canadian bacon for Smoke's elevated version of pulled pork. The char job on the English muffins brings a smoky aroma, and two perfectly poached eggs come in a Hollandaise sauce with a prominent citrus twang that cuts through the richness of the sauce, oozing yolk and mound of slow-cooked pork.

Italian Beef at Jimmy's

Sure, it's made of prepackaged products shipped down from Chi-town, but they come together in an honest rendition of the sandwich that works really, really well. Order yours with extra giardiniera. The spicy and acidic pickle of carrots, celery and peppers makes the sandwich.

Brisket Tacos at Manny's

I ate so, so many versions of these heavy little gut bombs on my quest to find Dallas' best that now I'm certain. These are it. The poblanos and onions are full of life and crunchy rather then drenched in oil and soft — plus, they give you a huge bowl of gravy for dipping. Manny's for the brisket taco win. It's a no-brainer.

Chicken-Fried Egg at Union Bear

Union Bear's beer list is a reason to go all on its own, but its chicken-fried egg is one hell of a bonus. With a salty, crunchy exterior, wrapped around a tender egg white, wrapped around a oozing yolk, this number owes as much to its sourcing as it does to the chef that handles the dish. Yellow Prairie Farm in Caldwell supplies the eggs, and the kitchen consistently turns out golden gushers.

Brisket at Pecan Lodge

I was blown away how the fat in Pecan Lodge's meat melted away in my mouth and how simple ingredients — salt, pepper, heat, smoke and beef — came together to create something so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Regina Margherita at Cane Rosso

Last year Cane Rosso's pizza made our favorite dishes list when it was still a humble mobile oven, wheeled around the city behind a pickup truck. Now the pizzas are available in a full-service sit-down restaurant and have only gotten better. The crust is more airy, delicate and less filling because Dino Santonicola, an Italian-born pizza pro, increased hydration and the temperature at which he ferments the dough. Sit at the bar with a cold Peroni draft and watch the master work. You're eating Dallas' best pizza.

Chicken and Waffles at Jonathon's Oak Cliff

There's something about that deeply honeyed skin: Just looking at it, you can almost hear the crunch and crackle it makes, even before you stab it with your fork. The gravy is rich and full of flavor and trickery. (I was convinced there was pork fat in the mix, and I was dead wrong.) The chicken is packed with flavor, too, and moist from a bath in a Tabasco-laden buttermilk.

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