The Year/The Decade: Best Restaurants

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Best restaurants...so many come to mind that we had to put the brakes on, set up criteria that would, for better or worse, help us whittle the list.

Looking back on the past twelve months, it's not such a chore--not really. Stand-outs include Samar, Park, Lumi, Cadot, Bella and some others. Of course, Bella lost their chef and will probably reposition as more of a fashionable drinking establishment. And one of the inspirations behind Cadot also split, although it's unlikely to dampen the quality of that North Dallas kitchen.

For the decade, we decided to focus on those restaurants that said something about the Dallas dining crowd.

So perhaps "representative" restaurants is a more appropriate theme...

Best restaurants of 2009:

1. Neighborhood Services
Sure, we think Samar shows more depth. But the kitchen here doesn't slack, it remains very popular and--more importantly--Nick Badovinus' spot has stood up to the entire twelve months without a flutter. In fact, the chef is looking to open two spinoffs in 2010--not a bad run at all.

2. Ava
Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate's destination in Rockwall seems to define 2009: offbeat location, small dining room, chef-driven menu and a reliance on local, seasonal ingredients. In fact, some of the greens they use in warmer months come from Copeland's garden--that's how local. And their cooking is worth whatever it takes to scale that notorious barrier known as "the loop" and escape beyond its bounds.

3. Five-Sixty
Again, this slot could have easily gone to Smoke, Cadot or Samar. But Wolfgang Puck's installation in Dallas has some of the old Dallas flash, a bit of that 'we love celebrity chefs' spirit--and brilliant cooking.

Best--make that most representative--restaurants of the 00s:

1. York Street
Only about 40 people per turn can squeeze into this space. But chef Sharon Hage's dedication to the local-seasonal ideal informed Dallas. It's now hard to find a restaurant (see Ava above) that doesn't in some way lay claim to some connection to nearby farms.

2. Tei An/Tei Tei/Teppo
Take your pick, for each of Teiichi Sakurai's restaurants inspired diners in this city to stretch beyond the fusion fare so common in the decade and savor simple, authentic dishes. Yes, he sold Tei Tei and Teppo, but with Tei An he added to our sense of global flavors.

3. Houston's
Yeah, yeah--a chain. Many other restaurants could just as easily have fit into this slot, most notably Abacus. But Houston's has always been a 'no reservations' spot, cultivates a well-heeled crowd and (this is the key) packs that well-heeled crowd in, night after night. Suze, The Grape, Tramontana--there were much better places in the 00s, but few more successful. At some point over the decade, almost all of us step through its doors.

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