An impartial guide to the best and worst restaurants in Dallas, and everything in between.

Click on a link below to go to that restaurant's review. To print this page, please go here.

Addison Cafe
August Moon
Bavarian Grill
Black-Eyed Pea
Blue Mesa Grill
Bugatti Ristorante
Cafe de France
Cafe Highland Park
Don Pablo's
El Chico
El Fenix
Fish Monger
Franki's L'il Europe
Gennie's Bishop Street Grill
Greek Isles
Hedary's Lebanese Oven & Grill
Hofstetter's Spargel Cafe
Italian Cowboy
Ivy's Bayou Bistro
Joe's Crab Shack
La Calle Doce
Love and War in Texas
Mamma Ruggeri's
May Dragon
Mercado Juarez
Mi Cocina
Must Be Heaven
On the Border
Paul's Porterhouse
Pei Wei
Pierre's by the Lake
Plato Loco
Romano's Macaroni Grill
Salt Grass Steak House
Sam's Pizza, Pasta and Subs
Spaghetti Warehouse
The Stringbean Restaurant
Tony Roma's A Place For Ribs


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ralph robert moore

contents copyright © 2004 by ralph robert moore, all rights reserved

dallas restaurant reviews

poor | fair | between fair and good | good

I love to eat. I especially love to eat in restaurants, where all the work is done for you. All you have to do is open a menu, make a selection, and say "Thank you" once it arrives.

Dining out can be a wonderful, relaxing experience, a reward for a hard week, or a time for friends to get together, or can be frustrating and unpleasant, depending upon the restaurant.

Restaurant guides too often try to find something good to say about a place that, honestly, is below par. I've read many reviews where an eatery is given four stars, but then in the body of the review it seems most of the dishes weren't that well-prepared. A restaurant should not be recommended simply because it has white tablecloths, a reputation, or an extensive menu. All that should count is the actual reality of eating in that establishment. Too often, reviewers are more concerned in creating a sensual, idealized description of a dish, showing off their descriptive skills, rather than accurately reporting upon the meal he or she was actually served.

In my guide to Dallas restaurants, I offer honest appraisals of my overall dining experience at each establishment. What it's like to walk in off the street and be served a meal.

What to me constitutes an enjoyable restaurant experience? I should be greeted upon entering, and seated within minutes. As soon as I'm seated, a waitperson should come over and ask what I want to drink, and hand me a menu. When my drink is brought over, within five minutes of being seated, the waitperson should take my order, and be prepared to provide me with additional information about a dish, or to recommend a dish to me if I ask for a recommendation. My food should be served at the same time as everyone else's food at that table, within ten to fifteen minutes for most dishes. The food should be what I ordered, it should be attractively presented on the plate, and should taste better than I'm able to do at home. Soon after the dishes have been presented, within five or ten minutes, the waitperson should return to my table to ask if the dish is acceptable, and if I need anything else. Once it's obvious I've finished eating, the waitperson should arrange to have the table cleared. If I ask for the check at that point, it should be brought promptly, and the payment picked up promptly.

The restaurants discussed below fall into one of five categories.

A restaurant rated 'Poor' is not recommended. In my experience eating there, the food and/or the service was so far below par as to be, on some level, insulting.

A restaurant rated 'Fair' should not be shunned. The food is generally uninspired, but competent. It's not a meal you'll remember, but it's a reasonable meal. Most of the meals we eat in life are, after all, 'Fair'.

A separate category was created for restuarants 'Between Fair and Good' to cover those restautrants where the food is enjoyable although not especially memorable, but where the general atmosphere, combined with attentive, friendly service, makes it the sort of place you enjoy visiting.

A restaurant rated 'Good' means it prepares specific dishes better than those dishes are prepared in most establishments. The atmosphere is relaxed, the service attentive.

A restaurant rated 'Excellent' consistently presents superior dishes. The menu includes fare not readily available elsewhere, and a significant portion of its dishes were created for the restaurant by an executive chef. The staff accommodates special requests, and is willing to prepare off-the-menu dishes upon sufficient notice.

dallas restaurant reviews

ADDISON CAFE 5290 Belt Line Road, Addison, Texas (972) 991-8824. Continental. Poor.

The Addison Cafe is an excellent example of hype overtaking actual experience.

The Dallas Morning News says the cafe has "...very fine basic French bistro cuisine with some New American touches." D Magazine congratulates the cafe for "...serving classically prepared French and New American dishes."

The truth is, the food here is of very poor quality. The cafe may, at some point in its past, have been more conscientious about its menu, but it appears now to be in decline. The day Mary and I dined there, nearly all the rest of the tables were occupied by little old ladies who apparently enjoyed the attentions given to them by the male waiters.

What should alert any diner to a potential problem is when a French restaurant includes so many dishes reliant upon another cuisine's trademarks. Nearly half the entrees on the day we visited were based not on French, but Italian, cuisine, serving various preparations over linguini, risotto, etc.

I started with the Fruits de Mar, served in a mustard sauce. The appetizer consisted of a puff pastry vase out of which overflowed several medium-sized shrimp and tiny crab claws. The pastry and sauce were good, competently done. The shrimp had been treated with nitrates to extend its shelf life, giving it an unpleasant, chemical smell and taste. The Addison Cafe is one of only a few restaurants we've eaten at in Dallas where nitrate-treated shrimp has been used. The use of nitrate-treated seafood signals management is not concerned with the freshness or quality of its ingredients. The crab claws were quite small, their mealy texture suggesting they had been thawed and refrozen several times. Mary's appetizer was a mushroom soup. It consisted of mushroom stems only, no caps. She found the taste of the soup to be unpleasant, slightly unwholesome, and stopped after a couple of spoonfuls.

For our entree, we both had the Veal Tenderloin with Forest Mushroom Cognac Sauce. The veal consisted of several small, square, anonymous pieces of meat, of low quality, all of them flavorless and tough. The sauce had very little flavor. The accompanying vegetables, carrots, zucchini, etc., were unimaginatively prepared, seeming to be meant as decoration only.

Service was attentive. Most reviews mention the 'romantic ambience' of the place, but in fact it's simply a large room with tables.

BAVARIAN GRILL 221 West Parker Road, Plano (972) 881-0705. German. Poor

For some reason, Dallas reviewers tend to overrate German restaurants.

As far as we've been able to find, there's only one good German restaurant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area comparable to the great German restaurants of Milwaukee, and that's Edelweiss in Fort Worth (although we've heard they've stopped serving veal dishes, which is a shame if it's true). Edelweiss also has the best ribs we've ever eaten, anywhere, and they don't even come with a sauce.

Bavarian Grill, on the other hand, serves bland, unimaginative dishes with absolutely no oompah to them whatsoever, and yet they've received all sorts of local accolades.

We started with the house salad, which was the best part of the meal. It's a traditional composed plate of beets, green beans, shredded carrot and tomato, each perfectly marinated.

For her main course, Mary chose the Jager Schnitzel, which according to the menu came with "a rich sauce and many mushrooms." In truth, the sauce was bland, there were only a few mushrooms atop, and those were canned. I had the Schnitzel Weiner Art, advertised as "Our Specialty". What I got was a dry piece of flavorless pork covered with an unpleasantly crunchy crust, no sauce. (The restaurant, incidently, uses pork exclusively in its schnitzel dishes - no veal). I substituted potato pancakes for the potato salad that came with the meal. They were flavorless, tasting like they came out of a box.

The apparent owner of the restaurant, a crew-cut man of about fifty, patrolled the aisles with a stern look on his face, asking each party if they were enjoying their meal. We heard a young couple next to us ask the waiter to serve them the same dishes we were eating. We felt sorry for them.

IVY'S BAYOU BISTRO 1861 North Central Expressway, Plano (972) 424-2244. Cajun. Poor

Ivy's is a new restaurant in the metroplex. Its menu lists dishes with names such as, "Lagniappe (Dat's Cajun Fo' Appetizers)" (actually, it ain't), and "Salads Wit' All Dat Jazz".

Smoking is only permitted outdoors, on the terrace. Misters spray constantly to reduce the temperature, but on the day we dined there, even with the misters hissing away, it was uncomfortably hot.

The ambience is poor. While we were there, a middle-aged Oriental man, evidently an employee, sat sprawled at one of the tables, back to it, watching the diners eat, checking out the waitresses each time they went by.

We both ordered a shrimp dish, which was fair. The picnic table we were seated at had two wide holes, into which aluminum pails had been placed, presumably in case we ordered crawfish. The bottom of each pail was dirty.

As we left, a pair of young waitresses sitting on the steps out front asked what we thought of the place. Our impression was they wanted to get some assessment of whether or not we thought Ivy's was any good, to decide if they should continue working there, or apply at one of the other nearby restaurants. Out of politeness, and not wanting to get into a conversation with them, we lied and said we enjoyed our meal.

LOVE AND WAR IN TEXAS 601 East Plano Parkway at Central Expressway, Plano (972) 422-6201. Tex-Mex. Poor

Love and War features an ambitious menu, which includes not only traditional Tex-Mex meals, but also game.

The interior is the typical high-ceilinged barn structure which seems to be getting more and more popular (it reduces conversational noise). During our first visit, I had the Hunter's Platter, which featured a butterflied quail, a rectangle of antelope meat, ribs, and the standard Love and War side dishes of smoked corn on the cob and garlic potatoes. Mary tried the chicken fried steak. She received the same side dishes I did.

The quail was fun to pick apart, and the ribs were better than average. The antelope, which had been marinated, was still a bit tough, and didn't have a strongly defined flavor, but considering it was game, I didn't expect it to be otherwise. The enjoyment was more in the novelty. Mary's chicken fried steak was bland, as was the accompanying gravy. Both side dishes were good.

Our second visit, Mary tried the grilled chicken, while I chose grilled shrimp, each shrimp served atop its own thick, roasted potato slice. Unfortunately, we didn't get to eat this meal, because as soon as Mary cut into the chicken, her knife and fork revealed a rubbery red rawness in the chicken near the bone. We refused to pay for the meal, and left. The co-owner ran out after us in the parking lot, apologizing. He said they had had trouble with that distributor.

I'm assuming the undercooked chicken was a fluke. But it should have been caught before it ever arrived at our table. The real problem with Love and War though is not this sort of gaffe, but rather the service, which is absolutely terrible, and is in fact the worse service we've ever received in a Dallas restaurant (or virtually any other restaurant, for that matter). You get seated right away, and are then ignored. Our first time, we asked for a table in the bar, so we could smoke. The bartender, who was responsible for taking our order, took about twenty minutes to come over to our table, even though he had nearly nothing else to do that whole wait (he wasn't filling drink orders; he was standing behind the horseshoe-shaped bar, staring at a wall). We had to order our drinks three separate times, from three different people, before they finally arrived. Once our food was brought, by a busboy, over a half hour after we had been seated, no one ever stopped by our table to ask if everything was all right, or if we wanted refills on our drinks (which we did, but gave up on). It took about another ten minutes to get our check. Since no one showed up to take our money, I walked the check and the cash over to the bartender myself, so we could leave. Our second visit, and even though the restaurant was not full, we waited about fifteen minutes before a waiter showed up to take our order. Mary ordered a Sprite. Ten minutes later, she got a glass full of seltzer water. There was a large party seated near us. Only half the people got their meals brought to them in the first serving; the other half had to wait ten minutes before their meals were served. If the first half were polite, they ate their meals lukewarm, at best.

The service is not hostile, and in fact, the second visit, the waiter was quite friendly and seemed to want to be helpful. But there's a definite problem here, either with training or adequate staffing. The restaurant does seem to want to be a little more adventurous in its menu, but I can't give it a Fair rating, because of the absolute lack of professionalism when it comes to service.

PIERRE'S BY THE LAKE 3430 Shore Crest Drive, Dallas (214) 358-2379. Continental. Poor

Another restaurant with tiresome pretensions. Like a lot of other pseudo-gourmet eateries, Pierre's provides several visual cues suggesting fine dining (white tablecloths, respectful waitpersons, an ambitious menu), but in truth you're getting inferior food. It's all atmosphere.

The day we went, a Friday afternoon, our waiter informed us our first choices, from the menu, were not available. "We haven't gotten our seafood order in yet." At noon on Friday? Mary started with shrimp cocktail, which arrived impressively arranged around a tall glass cocktail vase, but the first shrimp she bit into tasted rotten. I began with deep-fried oysters, small packets that had virtually no taste whatsoever, served with an unimaginative, standard cocktail sauce. For her entree, Mary ordered Sirloin Beef Tips, in a burgundy wine sauce, which was flavorless (at least it wasn't rotten). I tried what was billed as Dover sole, but I've had authentic Dover sole in the past, and this certainly wasn't it. Service was generally inept and hurried. Our waiter was friendly, but that didn't make up for the poor quality of the food.

PLATO LOCO Various locations south of Dallas. Mexican. Poor

Not a good place to go for Mexican food. Its menu is restricted to very traditional Mexican meals. The atmosphere is rushed, the tables crowded on top of each other, the help rude. The one time Mary and I ate there, our stomachs were upset afterwards.

dallas restaurant reviews

ABUELO'S 3420 North Central Expressway, Plano (972) 423-9290, and various other locations. Mexican. Fair

Abuelo's is one of a large number of barn-like restaurants surrounded by parking lot that have set up along the northern stretches of Central Expressway (Highway 75).

The interior of Abuelo's is more pleasing than most. You enter into a large, high-ceilinged courtyard, murals on the walls, and then are led to one of several over-sized rooms for your meal.

The Plano location has been consistently busy ever since its opening, and often has a wait, particularly on Fridays. It offers a variety of dishes, specializing in Mexican food.

On our visit, I ordered Abuelo's Cena Mexicana, and was served the largest platter of food I have ever received in a restaurant, piled with three enchiladas (beef, cheese, and chile colorado), a cheese chile relleno, a tamale, and a crispy beef taco. Too bad everything was so bland. Mary ordered the Laredo (two enchiladas, beef and cheese, and a crispy beef taco), and found it equally bland. Both entrees also came with guacamole, which was average.

The popularity of Abuelo's appears to be based on the amount of food you receive, rather than on the complexity of the foods' flavors. None of the dishes we sampled tasted truly Mexican. Service was good on our first visit, but poor on a revisit. On that occasion, the hostess was too busy talking to a girlfriend, so that newly arriving diners were forced to find seats on their own, wandering through the different rooms of the restaurant looking for an empty table.

BENNIGAN'S. Various locations. Steak and seafood. Fair

Bennigan's began as a franchise offering Irish food, but has since revised its menu to conform more to what its management apparently feels diners want to eat. As a consequence, there are few dishes one associates with Irish cooking, such as it is, and instead a lot of whatever the owners think patrons might purchase, so that there's a rather comical mix of cuisines on the menu. The restaurant could now just as well be called Pedro's, Antonio's, Fat Louie's, or Tex's.

We started with the Southwest Sampler, which featured Ultimate Nachos, Fajita Chicken Quesadillas, and Southwest Eggrolls. The Southwest Eggrolls were delicious, probably better than you can get in Dublin, the other items less so.

I had the O'Cajun Grilled Seafood Platter (that's its actual name, I'm not making this up), which consisted of two crab cakes, a grilled salmon filet, and eight grilled shrimp served on a skewer. The crab cakes were undistinguished, with little crab flavor. The salmon filet was quite good, a more generous portion than one usually receives. The shrimp were good. Bennigan's in general seems to serve larger portions than found elsewhere.

Mary had the Tavern Shrimp, which were okay.

Service was a bit less attentive than average.

Bennigan's is a good choice if you want a lot of food, most of it at least fair, some of it better than average.

BLACK-EYED PEA Various locations. Home Cooking. Fair

Black-Eyed Pea is a franchise, owned by the same folks who created Denny's.

The restaurant tries to hedge its bet on atmosphere by throwing all sorts of signs, memorabilia and other gee-gaws into its interior design, many of them hanging off the ceiling, but the truth is the ambience of the place, while not bad, is a bit sterile.

We were seated in a timely manner, then brought a basket of warm rolls, which were good, and some whipped butter, but no bread plates. As a consequence, we had to spread our paper napkins on the tabletop while we sampled the rolls, to avoid getting crumbs everywhere.

The appetizers are the standard fare one might get at a college pizza place (buffalo wings, stuffed mushrroom caps), so we didn't bother. Mary ordered the chicken-fried steak, which we heard was better than average. The coating was in fact quite good, but the steak itself was flavorless. I tried a plate of chunked chicken served with a tortilla, topped with monterey cheese and mild green chiles, which appears to be Black-Eyed Pea's version of the classic Chicken Suiza. It was all right, but too close to bland to order it again.

Service was reasonably attentive.

CAFE HIGHLAND PARK 6900 Highland Park Village, Dallas (214) 521-7300. Continental. Fair

Like a lot of restaurants in Dallas, Cafe Highland Park is located in a shopping mall.

Entry from the sidewalk takes you into a small room, nicely-appointed, with about a dozen tables. Additional rooms are available deeper within the establishment.

I started with the Brushetta, ovals of grilled Italian bread upon which had been placed goat cheese, clamata olives, fresh basil slivers, and chopped tomatoes, the bread itself, underneath all that, moistened with a tablespoon of pesto. It was impossible to eat, all the toppings falling off before it ever got to my mouth, but it was flavorful. I would have liked to see it grilled a bit stiffer. As it was, it was warmed rather than toasted.

For my main course, I tried the Veal Picatta. It was prettily presented, several veal scallops draped over a mound of al dente zucchini and carrots. The veal itself was of a good quality, nicely cooked. The overall dish was good, although not as good as the Veal Piccata served at Bugatti Ristorante. It came with the unavoidable, these days, garlic potatoes, which were placed on the plate in an upwards swirl. They were good. Mary tried the Chicken Parmigiana, which was bland, with too much cheese melted atop.

Service was slightly impersonal, and less attentive towards the end of the meal than towards the beginning. No one ever arrived to pick up our check, even after a ten minute wait, although our waiter was usually nearby. The atmosphere of the cafe is not as good as its decor. From where we sat, by the front window, we could hear waiters shouting to each other and arguing. The regular clientele also, to be honest, somewhat detract from the overall mood. There are a few too many theatrical greetings, air kisses, and cell phones.

FISH MONGER 1915 North Central Expressway, Plano 75075 (972) 423-3699. Seafood. Fair

We sat in the bar area, a series of tall tables with high stools, surrounded by pinball-type games.

The food was generally bland. Mary tried the Shrimp Scampi, a small number of shrimp served on linguini. The shrimp itself was fresh and properly cleaned, but lacked flavor. I tried the Shrimp Ettoufee, served on rice. The sauce lacked complexity.

The ambience was poor. Service was acceptable. The restaurant also includes a counter where you can purchase raw seafood to take home. Mary and I took a look at it. It had a small selection. None of the seafoods offered looked fresh.

HEDARY'S LEBANESE OVEN & GRILL 7915 Belt Line Road, Dallas (972) 233-1080. Lebanese. Fair

The interior of Hedary's is pleasant, tall-ceilinged rooms with swirled-plaster walls. Most settings have white table cloths.

Mary started with the house soup, which is really more of a moist mixture of ingredients served in a bowl-- there's little liquid. You can eat it with a fork, as Mary had to, since our waiter failed to bring over a spoon. The soup consists of small cubes of potato and chopped cilantro, lentil beans, and chopped spinach. The first forkful produced an interesting, different-type taste, but the dish itself was uninspired. Mary stopped eating it after about four forks' worth, leaving nearly all of it behind.

I started with the wrapped grape leaves, which are similar to Greek dolmas, in that both contain rice and minced meat, but nowhere near as good. Rather than plump green packets blanketed in a chicken stock and lemon sauce, these were rolled cylinders with a too-strong lemon flavor that gave a flatness to the dish.

For her main course, Mary had the chicken shish-ka-bob, which alternates chunks of chicken with bell peppers and onion. The dish was unevenly prepared. One piece of skewered chicken was cooked the way it should be, so that the chicken was marvelously moist and flavorful. The rest of the skewer had been over-cooked, leaving the chicken dry. Sometimes it seems like only Orientals can properly prepare skewered chicken, catching it at the cusp of "cookedness" without leaving it on the grill an extra two or three ruining minutes.

For my entrée I chose the grilled lamb rib chops. The Hedary family raises its own lamb for its restaurants, which led me to hope I'd get something worth the twenty dollar cost of what the menu suggested was their finest dish. The plate arrived with four chops buried under about a quart's worth of over-browned french fries. Each rib had a startlingly long cleaned rib bone attached to the pocket of lamb, which was a dramatic presentation. Unfortunately, the lamb itself was terrible. It was the toughest meat I can ever remember eating, so tough that I even had a great deal of difficulty cutting it off the bone, like trying to tear one of those untearable envelopes. My jaws hurt after chewing, chewing, chewing each piece of meat.

Service was friendly, but poor. We were seated right away, and our drinks brought within a reasonable time, but after we placed our orders, there was a twenty minute wait before the waiter returned, not only with our appetizers, but our meals as well. He never stopped by afterwards to see if we needed anything else (I could have used another Coke), or to make sure we were satisfied with our meal. We had to ask another waitperson for our check, and I then, after we waited some more, had to hunt down the waiter in order to pay him, so we could leave (I found him in the kitchen).

Hedary's is rated "Fair". However, our meal, with no alcoholic drinks, and a ten dollar tip, came to sixty dollars. That's a lot to pay for "Fair". I don't recommend it.

HOFSTETTERS SPARGEL CAFE (ASPARAGUS CAFE) 4326 Lover's Lane, Dallas 75225 (214) 368-3002. Swiss-Austrian. Fair

Yet another restaurant where management tries to trick you into believing you're having a great meal because you're served on white tablecloths with, in this case, a lovely potted plant of green sprouts in the center of your pristine table.

Mary had the Beef Stroganoff, a special of the day. I had the Veal Scherzos, a menu item. Mary's dish consisted of a large plate of boiled pasta, with a little bit of meat and sauce in the center. It was bland. My veal was of a good quality, but the meat and the sauce were absolutely flavorless.

Service was very poor. Our waiter was hurried, hard to flag down, even though he had very few tables in his charge. Some local critics have raved about this place, but it's a poor choice for a meal.

ITALIAN COWBOY 13935 North Central Expressway at Spring Valley Road, Dallas. (469) 330-8080. Italian. Fair

The day Mary and I visited the Italian Cowboy, the owner was out front, on the sidewalk, talking to another man. He cheerfully ushered us in.

We were seated towards the front of the restaurant, which was less than a third filled. Our waitress asked what we wanted to drink, brought our selections, then returned with a black bowl, a square of plastic wrap stretched across its top. She tilted the bowl towards us so we could see inside. At its bottom was a log pile of plain ziti, tossed in a red tomato sauce. "This is one of our specials today." It looked remarkably unappetizing, like something someone living alone might eat at two o'clock in the morning while watching an infomercial on cable TV.

Mary ordered the Veal Parmigiana, which was bland. The noodles served with it had little flavor. I tried the salmon, which was good.

The restaurant has little ambience. It's not a romantic spot. Service was average. There was a sense that they're trying hard to please, but to do so, they need to improve their menu. Generally, they offer traditional Italian fare, prepared unimaginatively. The best thing about the restaurant is its name.

JOE'S CRAB SHACK Various locations. Seafood. Fair

This chain was rated near the very bottom of a recent Consumer's Reports survey of restaurant franchises, so I had to try it out to see just how bad it was.

In truth, Joe's is not that much worse than a lot of other franchise seafood restaurants.

The atmosphere is noisy. While my friend Dave and I were there, there was a brief flurry of celebration at another section of the restaurant, waitresses giving cheers.

I started with the crab balls, golf ball-sized mixtures of stuffing and crab. They were good, but unpleasantly filling. Dave ordered the stuffed jalapeno appetizers, cooked jalapenos stuffed with cheese and crabmeat, breaded, and deep-fried. They were excellent, and not as spicy as might be expected.

The entrees, though, were uninspired. I had the shrimp scampi, which did not have a strong flavor. Dave ordered a shrimp and pasta dish, getting a wide white bowl filled with pasta, shrimp strewn across the top. He didn't finish it.

Service was attentive.

KUBY'S 6601 Snider Plaza at Daniel, Dallas (214) 363-2231. German. Fair

Kuby's is part of a German delicatessen. You go inside and there's the delicatessen to the left, a wide-doorway entrance to the restaurant on the right.

The restaurant's a large room with booths on both sides and tables down the middle. It serves traditional German fare. I started with the sausage platter, a plate of thin slices of seared German sausage (bratwurst and knockwurst), served on a bed of homemade sauerkraut. It was good.

Mary tried the pork schnitzel. It covered her entire plate, but was bland, without any sauce. For my entree I had the smoked porkchops, which were good, but had no real complexity of flavor.

Like many German restaurants, Kuby's is not big on vegetables.

Service was fair.

LA CALLE DOCE 415 West 12th Street at Bishop Place, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas (214) 941-4304. Mexican. Fair

La Calle Doce is considered to be the first Mexican restaurant in Dallas specializing in seafood. It's built up a loyal following over the years.

The original site is located in an old, blue house which has been converted to a restaurant. Although this conversion imparts some charm to the place, in general, the reality is that tables are crowded into the various rooms, so that you're sitting quite close to fellow diners.

On our visit, the place was full. Service was acceptable, but a bit impersonal. We were served a fish soup that had a too strong cilantro flavor. The salsa served with the meal had an underlying fish taste to it, which was slightly unpleasant. For our main course, we chose the grilled shrimp, which were served topped with a cream sauce, with a baked potato and rice. Various reviewers have gone out of their way to praise La Calle Doce's baked potatoes, but in fact, although they're good, they're no better than you can duplicate at home, if you have an oven. It appears most of the dishes come with the double dose of starch, potato and rice, which help to fill the plate, but struck us as a rather odd combination for the same meal. The quality of the shrimp was fair. The dish itself was fair, but lacked inspiration.

MAMA RUGGERI'S 2500 Central Expressway, Dallas (972) 398-6088. Italian. Fair

The restaurant itself is nicely appointed, with white tablecloths and respectful, middle-aged waiters, but the food is absolutely bland. Mary ordered lasagna; I got chicken parmigiana. Everything tasted the same. We'd have done better buying some frozen food and heating it in our microwave. There's absolutely no complexity or depth to the dishes whatsoever. We expected Kevin McCarthy to come running out of the kitchen yelling, "Keep watching the skies! Keep watching the skies!"

MAY DRAGON 4848 Beltline Road, Addison 75240 (972) 392-9998. Chinese. Fair

May Dragon has gotten good reviews from a number of local critics. It was voted the Best Chinese Restaurant in Dallas by the Dallas Observer and, a little less grandly, the Best Chinese Restaurant in Addison, where it's actually located, by Southern Living Magazine.

As you enter the lobby, photographs of a number of the restaurant's banquet meals are displayed behind glass to your right. They do look enticing. Intricately carved vegetables, carefully-decorated platters.

The average meal you'll order here, though, assuming it's not going to be a banquet, is less impressive. None of the food at May Dragon is bad. It's simply uninspired, and a bit spare on the ingredients.

The menu itself is fairly standard Chinese fare.

Mary started with the egg drop soup. I had the won ton soup. Both were thin in flavor.

For my main course I chose the Three Treasures From the Orient, a mixture of shrimp, scallops and what was billed as Alaskan king crab, in a wine sauce. The shrimp was fresh, but had little flavor. It tasted as if it had been steamed. The menu stated 'scallops' as one of the ingredients, but in fact I probably only got about half a scallop. Rather than whole scallops, the dish comes with thin slices from a scallop. There were two very small pieces of crab in the dish, one of which hadn't been cleaned of its cartilage, but neither piece looked or tasted like king crab. The dish itself had little flavor.

Mary ordered Cashew Chicken, which surprisingly came heavily doused in hoison sauce. The sauce overpowered the subtle flavors of the nuts and the chicken, making it less than satisfying.

Service was fair.

MERCADO JUAREZ Various locations. Mexican. Fair.

Back in the early nineties, Mary and I ate at the Mercado Juarez in Addison numerous times, and always enjoyed our meal. That original location would rate a "Good", but unfortunately, it closed years ago.

We recently visited the Mercado Juarez in Arlington. To be fair, we went twice, on successive Saturdays, because our initial visit suggested the menu had somewhat declined. Unfortunately, our first impression was correct.

As with all locations for this franchise, you're led into a large, high-ceilinged room which is quite comfortable, adobe walls painted with decorative designs, tables spaced far enough apart. The interior is meant to suggest an eatery in a Mexican marketplace.

We started both visits with Nachos de Picadillo, tortilla chips arranged in a circle around a small bowl of sliced jalapenos, each chip topped with ground sirloin, onion and cheese. There are two ways to serve nachos: all of them heaped together helter-skelter on the plate, or neatly arranged as Mercado and most other restaurants do, with each chip by itself on the plate, with its own tidy little mini-pile of toppings. Unfortunately, this arrangement is not the best way to present Nachos. Each chip tends to taste exactly the same as all the others. When the chips are pushed together chaotically, you get some that are so drenched with cheese they're wonderfully limp, with others stiff enough to scoop up all the toppings that can't be supported by their moister comrades. Although Nachos de Picadillo wasn't bad, it lacked any true complexity.

On our first visit, I tried the Sizzling Shrimp and Veggies for my main course, mesquite-charbroiled shrimp served on a sizzling plate with zucchini, onions and broccoli, a rather odd vegetable combination for a Mexican dish, condiments on the side in case you want to roll everything up in flour tortillas. It sounds better than it was. The dish was disappointing, the shrimp lacking any true charred flavor. The Mercado in Addison used to serve an incredibly toothsome, garlic-drenched, butter-based sauce with the shrimp, but that seems to be no longer part of the menu. You can get a better sizzling platter at El Chico.

Our second visit, I tried the Chihuahua Plate, a ground beef enchilada with chili beef sauce and cheese, combined with a chicken enchilada with sour cream sauce. The dish comes with the standard sides of refried beans and Spanish rice. The beef enchilada was good, with a greater depth of flavor than anything else I sampled at Mercado. The chunks of chicken in the chicken enchilada weren't integrated into the flavors of the enchilada, so that the enchilada itself was not that good. I didn't finish it. The refried beans were good.

Service on both occasions was attentive.

Although the Mercado is not as good as it once was, it still serves a passable meal. I've rated it Fair, but of all the restaurants rated fair here, it would be near the top. Mary and I enjoyed both visits, and would go again.

MI COCINA Various locations. Tex-Mex. Fair

We visited the Mi Cocina in Richardson, at Campbell and Coit.

The restaurant is located in a stand-alone building with an adobe facade, high-ceilinged entryway, and inside, a large, pleasant room with plush booths along the walls and tables in the center. Over the course of our time there the restaurant filled quickly, although the conversation level of the room always remained low. Mi Cocina is popular without being noisy.

We were seated right away, and our drinks brought within minutes, but then were neglected for about ten minutes until a waiter finally showed up to take our order. To be fair, we had arrived just as the restaurant opened that day, and apparently, judging by the stream of waiters who suddenly appeared out of a private door within the dining room, there had been a management meeting that ran over. Service, once our waiter did show up, was friendly and attentive, and rated better than average.

Mary and I started by splitting a half order of beef nachos, which came with guacamole, pico de gallo, and jalapeno slices. Each tortilla chip had a large piece of beef on it, too large in fact to eat in one bite. We wound up having to pull the entire piece of beef into our mouths on the first bite, leaving half a chip with melted cheese. It would have been better if the beef had been chopped up, as is customarily done with this dish. The dish itself was average.

For her main course, Mary ordered a combination platter of enchiladas, taco, and pork tamale. The waiter brought so much food it required two plates. Everything tasted the same, unfortunately. The taco itself was so brittle it fell apart with the first bite. The tamale lacked a pork flavor. I wouldn't have known what meat had been used if I hadn't read the menu.

I tried the steak and chicken fajita dinner. Both meats were juiceless, looking and tasting like they had been cooked a day or so before, and microwaved for my order. The fajitas at El Chico are much, much better.

Overall, the food at Mi Cocina appears to not be freshly prepared, but instead cooked far in advance, and then warmed when ordered. Service was quite good, but the low quality of the dishes themselves means we won't go back. Better alternatives would be El Fenix, El Chico, or Don Pablo's.

MUST BE HEAVEN 213 N. Highway 67, 500A, Cedar Hill, 75104 (972) 293-3121. Sandwich and Soup Café. Fair

Must Be Heaven started in Brenham, Texas in 1987, and has since franchised to a half dozen Texas cities.

The café offers a variety of sandwiches, from French dip, to chicken or tuna salad, to multi-meat hoagies, as well as soups, quiche (you can buy a slice of quiche on the spur of the moment, but a whole quiche, the menu mysteriously advises, must be ordered in advance), a few salads, and desserts.

Mary and I tried Must Be Heaven soon after its opening. You queue up to the counter, waiting your turn to order. On the day we went, there appeared to be not enough tables for everyone waiting in line.

I tried a hot pastrami sandwich with swiss cheese and mustard, on rye. Mary tried the French dip sandwich, slices of beef cooked well-done in a slanted French loaf sandwich, with a beef broth dipping sauce.

The problem with both our sandwiches was that the individual ingredients never came together into a unified, "the whole is greater than the parts" sandwich taste. A reason for that with my hot pastrami may have been because the pastrami was heated in the microwave, rather than steamed or put in an oven. Mary's dipping sauce had a pleasantly strong beef flavor, but the sandwich itself was rather blah.

The soullessness of the sandwiches may also be due to the fact that the meat for your order is not carved directly from a side of meat, but instead plucked, pre-sliced, from a bin. If Must Be Heaven wants to live up to its name and provide the ultimate sandwich experience, such as is found in Jewish delicatessens, it's going to have to be more concerned with the quality of its offerings. We both felt we had been served fake sandwiches.

ON THE BORDER Various locations. Mexican. Fair

On the Border is yet another Dallas-based eatery that has since spread across the country. It's owned by the same firm, Brinker International, that also owns Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Eatzi's, and other franchises.

The restaurant serves standard Mexican and Tex-Mex fare. The food is bland, with no surprises. Service is fair. Although its commercials feature excited diners dancing down the aisles with the waiters and waitresses, on our visit everyone was rather subdued.

ROCKFISH Various locations. Seafood. Fair

Rockfish is a new chain started in the greater Dallas area, specializing in seafood.

The restaurant itself has little atmosphere. Booths line the walls around the windows, with tables to one side. Once you're seated, your waitperson gives you a token you can use to play a tune on the house jukebox. Very few people seemed to be using their tokens, and in fact one diner stopped at our table to ask if we wanted hers.

I started with the Maryland Crab Cakes. For about eight dollars I got two of them, taller and narrower than usual. The tops and bottoms of each cake were brown, but there was nothing about them to suggest they had actually been pan-fried at some point. The acceptable crab cake is served with the heat of the pan still moist on its surfaces, but these appeared to have been merely reheated in a microwave. They contained crab, but had little flavor. Accompanying sauces were a tablespoon each of cocktail sauce, tartar, and thousand islands, spread in shallow discs on the plate.

For our entrees, Mary ordered a deep-fried shrimp dish, and I ordered the New England baked fish served with a stuffing on top and a scant champagne sauce underneath. The shrimp were fresh, and had a better than average coating. The fish, while not memorable, was good enough. Accompanying vegetables were better than merely decorative.

Service was below par.

SPAGHETTI WAREHOUSE Various locations. Italian. Fair

Like a lot of other chains, Spaghetti Warehouse was founded in Dallas.

You won't get particularly authentic Italian dishes here, but the fare is generally good. The tall rooms inside are slightly cavernous, with gee-gaws hanging everywhere. The best dishes we've had on a number of visits were the veal entrees, which are good. Service is usually attentive, although on our last visit, when we arrived for lunch at 1:30 (they serve lunch until 2:00), we were ignored by the waitpersons even though we had been properly seated, and finally left to eat elsewhere. There's not a great complexity to the dishes, but they're at least not as bland as what's offered elsewhere.

The Warehouse is a good place to go for an acceptable mall-style Italian meal, but be sure to be seated at least forty-five minutes before service ends, or you may not be acknowledged.

THE STRINGBEAN 7879 Spring Valley Road, Dallas (972) 385-3287. Home Style Cooking. Fair

Stringbean is located in a rundown section of north Dallas, tucked into a strip mall. It does a great catering service, offering traditional fare to local businesses, especially around the holidays.

The restaurant itself is one of the few in Dallas where you get the sense that most of the patrons eat there every week. The waitresses tend to be tall, heavy, middle-aged and jolly. Ours cracked jokes throughout each serving.

Food is hearty and traditional. It'll fill you up, although it's not particularly complex. Stringbean has the odd habit of serving your meal on a platter, nearly all of the platter's space taken up with a plate holding the meat, vegetables crammed between the meat plate and the platter's rim, like a hasty afterthought. You could do worse than dining here. Generally, the more traditional the dish you order (chicken fried steak, turkey, etc.), the better it is.

TONY ROMA'S A PLACE FOR RIBS Various locations. Barbecue. Fair

Tony Roma's has won all sorts of awards, and has a national reputation as being one of the best franchises for ribs, but the truth is a visit to the restaurant is disappointing.

We both ordered the Combo Platter, choosing a mix of Roma's signature St. Louis ribs, and grilled shrimp.

The ribs were tender, meat falling off the bone, but the sauce they had been brushed with was unusually mild. They held less flavor than almost any other rack of ribs we've eaten in Dallas. There was none of that wildness of flavor you associate with a rack of barbecued ribs. The shrimp was all right, but again, the flavor was too mild.

As a side dish, I received coleslaw served in a large red cabbage leaf, prettily presented, but surprisingly bland, considering the trend in recent years to punch up cole slaw; and a baked potato. I asked for sour cream and chives as my topping. I received a scant half teaspoon of sour cream. The potato itself was flavorless.

Service was slightly less attentive than average.

VINCENT'S SEAFOOD Various locations. Seafood. Fair

Vincent's serves classic fifties seafood dishes, full of garlic, cream and butter. Unfortunately, the quality of the restaurant has fallen drastically over the years. Service has always been slow, but the food they served had been worth the wait.

On our most recent visit, where we had to wait ten minutes in the deserted lobby for someone to notice us, and another ten minutes, after we had been seated, for a waitress to come over, during most of which time the restaurant's phone at the unattended cash register rang and rang, like the scene in Once Upon a Time in America, we were brought Vincent's traditional lagniappe, a small plate with a Greek dolmas, a spiced meat and rice confection wrapped in a grape leaf, covered with a chicken broth and lemon sauce, to eat while we reviewed the menu. You used to get two dolmas, and at some locations, you apparently now have to specifically request the dolmas to receive it, but in any event it was even better than before, slightly spicy and full of flavor. It was the highlight of our visit.

I wanted to start with Oysters Bienville, which is what I ordered, but the waitress brought me Oysters Rockefeller instead. Since my appetizer took a little longer to prepare, she brought Mary's appetizer, Shrimp Cocktail, about ten minutes before mine arrived, which prevented us from having our appetizers together, rather than simply waiting until my order was ready so that she could serve both at the same time. The oysters in my dish were much too small, so that the puffed Rockefeller sauce atop was disproportionate. Mary's shrimp had been treated with nitrates, and were slightly off.

For our main course, I ordered Snapper a la Vincent, which was excellent, the fish quickly pan seared, served with a topping of large chunks of moist, flavorful crab meat, the best crab I've had in the metroplex. Accompanying it was a large baked potato mounded with a wonderfully tall slathering of sour cream, teaspoons of butter tucked underneath. If I had finished it, I probably wouldn't have lived to write this review, but it was luscious fun almost finishing it. Mary was less fortunate. Her Scallop Casserole was too salty, and the scallops themselves hadn't been cleaned of sand.

After we finished, we waited ten minutes for our waitress to show up so we could get the check, but she was nowhere in sight. We asked the bus girl who cleared our table for a check, but she clearly did not understand what we were saying. Finally, I had to cross the near-deserted room and ask the eightyish bartender to hunt down our waitress.

Service at Vincent's is terrible. Some of the food is still good, some of it quite good, but you have to be very careful about what you order (don't order any dish with shrimp or scallops), and be prepared for long waits.

dallas restaurant reviews
between fair and good

BLUE MESA GRILL 7700 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas. (214) 378-8686. Mexican. Between Fair and Good

You enter Blue Mesa Grill by opening a door at ground level, walking through a tall, open-ceilinged, narrow courtyard to another door, then walking up a tall-ceilinged flight of stairs (an elevator is also available). The actual dining space, on the second floor, is wide and high, tables stretching everywhere. The general atmosphere of the place is noisy and rather crowded, but in a happy way. Most of the patrons seem to be twentyish or teen-aged, kids with big allowances. The parking lot outside was plush with Mercedes. Blue Mesa offers valet parking.

Service is good, and friendly. Once you're seated, you're brought a mixed bowl of corn tortillas and fried sweet potato slices, as well as two salsas, red and green. The sweet potato tortilla chips had a nice complexity of flavor to them, musky and sugary, with a slight chewiness in the mouth. We ordered appetizers as well as entrees, but our waiter told us it would be too much food for us, as indeed it turned out it would be. Instead, we split one appetizer, steak and chicken grilled on spit sticks. The chicken was wonderfully moist, with a faint lime flavor, the steak tender and smoky. With the appetizer we got a cob of corn, sliced off the ear at tableside, sprinkled with spices and served in a pool of what appeared to be a mayonnaise-based sauce. It was delicious.

For her main course, Mary got a steak soft taco, and a blue corn cheese enchilada. Both were good. I ordered the mixed grill, spit-served steak, chicken, sausage and shrimp. The dish was attractively presented, but the shrimp had been extremely heavily doused with nitrates, the worse we've ever been served in a Dallas restaurant, making them almost inedible. I could smell the chemicals as soon as the plate was set before me. What a shame. Both entrees were served with black beans sprinkled with shredded Mexican cheese.

The Blue Mesa Grill is a fun place to eat, and is recommended. But don't order any of the shrimp dishes.

BUGATTI RISTORANTE 3802 West Northwest Highway, Dallas (214) 350-2470. Italian. Between Fair and Good

The ambience is nice, quiet aisles filled with white tableclothed tables, waited over by polite, middle-aged waiters. We found the service to be very attentive.

What prevents Bugatti from attaining a Good rating is a lack of robustness in its dishes.

Appetizers are not available at lunch. I had the Veal Picatta; Mary had the Veal Parmigiana.

Our visit started with garlic bread, rushed out almost as soon as our waiter had left with our order. Indeed, throughout our meal, its components arrived much faster than we expected. The garlic bread, drenched with a green cover of minced herbs, was not particularly good, lacking any flavor of garlic. After we were halfway through that, our waiter brought our salads. I had what was billed as a Cesar Salad, but of course it wasn't. The greens set before me had no garlicky flavor, no anchovies, and no raw egg. This misdescription of what I would be served might be forgiven in a mall outlet, but was unforgivable in a restaurant purporting to serve authentic cuisine.

My Veal Picatta was quite good, featuring a generous portion of high-quality veal, strewn with plump green capers. Mary's Veal Parmigiana was lackluster, below par. Both plates were served with a tangled pile of linquini, which had no flavor whatsoever, topped with a flavorless spaghetti sauce. The linquini added as much value to the plate as a decorative sprig of parsley.

The high quality of my Veal Picatta suggests Bugatti is probably a nice place to dine if you're careful about what you order. Service and atmosphere were both quite good.

CAFE DE FRANCE Various locations. French. Between Fair and Good

Cafe de France is not what I would consider a true French restaurant, meaning one that carefully builds each dish from the skillet up, but rather a popularization of French cuisine, much like McDonalds is a popularization of American cuisine.

To mention McDonalds in connection with a restaurant can be interpreted as a derogatory remark, but I don't mean, at all, to derog. McDonalds, for the most part, has found a way to serve assembly-line American food that's often delicious, by eliminating some of the complexities of the dishes it offers. A Big Mac is never going to taste as good as a backyard burger, but Big Macs do taste good.

Likewise, Cafe de France simplifies the preparation of a number of classic French and Continental dishes, but with a skill that retains enough of the original that it's an acceptable change of pace from more serious restaurants. It's not as good as the best restaurants, but it is better than fast food. If we compare it to shopping mall food, where I think it belongs, although I don't believe there are any Cafe de Frances actually in shopping malls, it would be at the top of the list. I've eaten there several times, and will return.

The Cafe's menu is dominated by sandwich offerings. I tried the Cafe Supreme, a breast of chicken served in a croissant with monterey jack cheese, sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, and the Cafe's own sauce. It was wonderfully moist and flavorful, the type of sandwich that slides around while you bite into it, your fingertips getting wet. With it came a pile of french fries. I could smell the potato in them as soon as the plate was set down in front of me. They tasted like french fries used to taste years ago. The Supreme at the Arlington location is slightly better than the Supreme at the Plano location.

On another visit, Mary and I tried the Shrimp Scampi appetizer. We were served a white plate with circular wells within it, each well containing one shrimp drowned in a thickened yellow sauce of lemon, butter, and garlic. The shrimp themselves were fresh, but the sauce did not taste as if it had been freshly prepared, and lacked the distinctive flavors of its ingredients. It didn't have that broiled taste.

Ambience at the Plano location, which is larger, with booths, is better than the Arlington location, which I found noisy, the patrons having to sit at ice cream parlour type chairs and tables. Service at both locations was quite good.

DON PABLO'S 9039 Vantage Point Drive, Dallas (972) 231-5212. Mexican. Between Fair and Good

It's amazing how difficult it is to get a good Mexican meal in Dallas.

Don Pablos is a chain which started in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and has since spread east to a large number of states.

When I initially reviewed Don Pablos, it was offering the same bland, characterless Mexican food available at any number of establishments around town, and so received a rating of 'Fair'. On a recent follow-up visit, I was pleased to see the restaurant has redone its menu, and as a result, the food is much more flavorful. This most recent visit, we started with the Thousand Flavors appetizer, meant for two, a platter of rolled, fried, bite-sized tortillas stuffed with various meats, cheeses and spiced potatoes, served with dipping sauces. It was a good way to wake up our appetites. For our main course, we tried the Three Amigos entree, which consists of a cheese enchilada with Santa Fe red chili sauce, a beef enchilada with chili meat sauce, and a chicken enchilada with sour cream sauce, and the usual sides. Whereas previously Don Pablos' food had been rather so-so, this meal had a much more satisfying complexity to its flavors.

We were seated upstairs, in the smoking area, on a wide balcony overlooking the downstairs. The ambiance of the place was comfortable. Service is unusually attentive and friendly, more so than virtually everywhere else we've eaten in Dallas.

EL CHICO 13937 North Central Expressway, Keystone Shopping Area, Dallas (972) 238-0011. Mexican. Between Fair and Good

We've been to El Chico a number of times now.

The atmosphere is comfortable. Service on each occasion has been excellent.

On our initial visit, we ordered standard Mexican combination platters, enchiladas, tacos, refried beans, Spanish rice, etc. The food was fair, but lacked the complexity of the best Mexican cooking.

Since that initial visit, we've ordered the Top of the Shelf fajita platter for two. The waitress brings it to your table with huge billows of steam trailing from the platter. The dish includes generous amounts of shrimp, ribs, sliced steak and chicken, and grilled onions and green bell peppers. You roll up whatever hot meats you want in a tortilla, add some sour cream and guacamole, and eat. It's delicious. There are also a number of appetizers available, including a tableside-prepared guacamole, where you point at what ingredients you want added to the mashed avocadoes.

El Chico would receive a Good rating rather than a Between Fair and Good rating if the rest of its dishes lived up to the Top Shelf entree. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable place to visit.

FRANKI'S L'IL EUROPE 362 Casa Linda Plaza, Dallas 75218 (214) 320-0426. German and East European. Between Fair and Good

Franki's is in an area of town which has declined somewhat over the years. The Friday we went, at noon, for lunch, there was only one other couple in the place. The other fifty or so tables were empty.

Smoking is only permitted outside, on the patio. Since it was a hot day, we sat inside. The ambience is good. For some reason, the restaurant has a model train track which runs around the walls about eight feet off the floor. No trains chugged by during our visit-- this may be something they only do at night, or when the restaurant is at least half-full.

There are no menus. The waitress brings over a tall whiteboard on which all the available dishes are written in colorful magic marker. Appetizers, for some reason, are placed at the bottom of the board.

I started with their homemade pate made with cognac, which had little flavor, and would have benefited from a few more drops of moisture. It fell dryly apart when I forked it. Our house salads consisted primarily of greens, with a slightly tart dressing. It was all right, but not especially good.

By this point, after the pate and salad, I was resigning myself to another indifferent meal. I was surprised, therefore, when my main course, pork medallions in blackberry sauce, turned out as good as it was. The pork itself had a pleasantly strong smoked grilled flavor to it, the blackberry sauce rich and complex. Mary's Hungarian Goulash, the sauced meat served in a dark ring on the plate around the yellow spaetzle, had large chunks of beef which tasted as if they had been long-simmered to bring out their flavor.

GREEK ISLES 3309 Central Expressway, Plano. (972) 423-7778. Greek. Between Fair and Good

Greek Isles features stomach-filling Greek dishes. After you're seated, you're given a small bowl filled with medium quality green and black unpitted olives. I tried taramousalata on one visit for my appetizer (a cod roe spread). It was average. Another time, Mary and I both started with the dolmas, spiced, ground lamb and rice wrapped in big, plump grape leaves, served in a lemon and chicken stock sauce. Although the dolmas weren't as good as those served at Vincent's, they came close.

Greek Isle's pastitso, a 'Greek lasagna', as it's often described, in that it's a baked, layered dish with noodles and meat, had far too many noodles, and not enough spiced meat. I felt bloated after I ate it. The pastitso at Ziziki's is much, much better. Mary tried Chicken Souvlaki, spiced, skewered chicken pieces, which was fair. With our meals we ordered a plate of pita bread, extraordinarily better than any we've had elsewhere, fresh-baked triangles delicate and puffy, with a subtle flavor. On a subsequent visit, I started with Kalamaria Tiganitia, a big platter for two of calamari, bodies only, no tentacles, coated with a delicious crumb covering, served in a lemon butter and garlic sauce. It was wonderful. Calamari is a difficult dish to present, in that it can be easily over-cooked, giving it a gristly texture. In this case, the calamari had been prepared perfectly, so that it had a gentle chewiness. For my main course I tried the mousaka, which was fair. Mary had the Veal Lemonati, scallops of veal in a wine and lemon sauce, adorned with artichokes, with a square of pastitso. It was very good.

Service is very attentive. The general atmosphere of the restaurant is relaxed.

PAPPADIEUX Various locations. Cajun. Between Fair and Good

Pappadieux is considered by many the best Cajun restaurant chain in Dallas, and there's often a half hour or so wait to get into its more popular locations. It's the type of establishment where the waitperson, introducing himself or herself, asks if you've ever eaten at Pappadieux before, as if dining here is a hip experience to which one has to be introduced.

In truth, the food is for the most part below par. This is another restaurant that exists primarily on hype, serving Cajun dishes inferior to what can be gotten at Razoo's or Copeland's. But they still pack them in.

Inside, the place is a pleasantly-decorated barn, with a high noise volume and lots of diners on cell phones.

My first visit, I tried the crawfish plate. Mary had the shrimp platter. Each featured our choice of crustacean prepared three different ways.

None of the sauces my crawfish had been cooked in had any depth or complexity to them. Mary's Shrimp Creole was flavorless, and another of the preparations included on her plate, cream-based, came with a sauce that had broken (the oils had separated from the body of the sauce). On another occasion, I tried the Arlington location with a friend who's an enthusiastic Pappadieux diner. The Greek salad for which the restaurant takes a great deal of pride was overly vinegary. On a subsequent visit, the salad was better. Since the salad is prepared tableside, some of the success or failure of a rendition may be due to the server's skill (or lack thereof) at creating an oil-based dressing. On that same visit, I ordered a side dish of red beans and rice. I got a big plate of rice, the beans that sat atop lacking the smoky, oily flavor of the best red beans, with an extremely large, curved andouille sausage laid across rice and beans in an unpleasantly virile display. The sausage itself had no flavor other than a too-intense spiciness.

My experience in general with Pappadieux is that the signature menu items are frequently bland, or incompetently prepared. The daily specials, usually some type of fish (sole, salmon) served with a cream-based sauce, tend to be better.

Service on the first two occasions was less attentive than average, but good on the third visit. Waitpersons, reciting the daily specials, tend to speak in the sort of robotic, memorized paragraphs not meant to be interrupted. Overall, Pappadieux, despite its popularity, is geared towards people who have never actually eaten authentic Cajun food, in New Orleans.

PAUL'S PORTERHOUSE 10960 Composite Drive, Dallas (214) 357-0279. Steakhouse. Between Fair and Good

Paul's Porterhouse is a charming, old-fashioned steakhouse, the type with planked floors that creak as you're led to your table through the wooden rooms, and dim lights.

From the outside it doesn't look like much, but once you open one of the double front doors, and walk past the waist-high stuffed antelope in the foyer, where you're warmly greeted, you feel relaxed.

We went for lunch, which has a limited menu, and none of the long list of exotic appetizers local radio personality Kevin McCarthy, a regular, keeps talking about, but there were more than enough entrees available.

Paul's specializes in steak, of course, but also offers a variety of seafood and chicken dishes.

Once Mary and I ordered, our waitress brought over a complimentary chicken soup, slightly thickened, with a faint hint of lemon, which appears to be Paul's version of the classic Greek soup, Avgolemono. It was quite good.

I tried the T-Bone dinner, a modestly thick slab of t-bone steak served with a baked potato dressed with butter and sour cream. I ordered the steak medium rare, but it arrived medium to well-done (Texans are notorious for preferring their beef well-cooked). The steak itself had a delicious charred flavor on its top, but the meat itself was close to flavorless. The baked potato was good. I ordered a side of mushrooms, which came in a small au gratin dish with sautéed onions and sprinkles of feta cheese. The mushrooms seemed to have been tossed with a small amount of thyme, but otherwise had little flavor.

Mary ordered a slice of prime rib covered in a brown gravy with sautéed mushrooms, and browned potatoes. The prime rib itself was flavorless, and well-done rather than the medium she had ordered. The gravy tasted somewhat canned. The potatoes needed salt, but were otherwise good.

Our waitress suggested we might like to try a side of their creamed spinach with our meal. It was quite good, with a bit more body than creamed spinach usually has, suggesting it may have been bound (thickened) with eggs. It had a parmesan cheese undertaste.

After our meal, we were brought complimentary desserts, Bananas Foster (sautéed bananas served with vanilla ice cream). This dish is frequently flambéed, though it wasn't here. Nonetheless, it was refreshing.

The meal ended with the waitress bringing Mary a long-stemmed yellow rose, a special touch Paul's apparently does for its female diners.

Steakhouses often try to scoot by on their side dishes, rather than the quality of the steaks themselves, and Paul's is no exception. However, there is a gentility to Paul's, rare among restaurants today, from the club-like surroundings to the service, which is based on civility rather than fawning friendliness.

We both enjoyed our experience at Paul's, and would return.

The menu is pricey. Our lunch, which included two side dishes, but no alcoholic drinks, came, with tip, to $70.

PEI WEI 3001 Knox Street, Dallas (214) 219-0000, and other locations. Chinese. Between Fair and Good.

Pei Wei (pronounced pay-way) offers a slightly different approach to ordering Asian cuisine, in that you choose the main ingredient for a dish first, then choose the style in which you'd like that ingredient prepared.

Ingredients to choose from are chicken, beef, shrimp, scallops, and vegetable/tofu (no pork, for some reason).

Styles of cooking include spicy Korean, Mongolian, Mandarin Kung Pao, Pei Wei Sweet and Sour, and about a half dozen others.

Pei Wei is a chain operated by PF Chang corporation in several states. The location we visited opened a few months ago, and was quite crowded.

Mary and I went with my friend Dave. Once we were inside the doors, we joined a line waiting to get to the back, where you order. Pei Wei is essentially a cafeteria, in that you pay for your food first, then wait for it to be brought to your table. The three of us waited in line about ten to fifteen minutes, during which time I noticed all the tables in the medium-sized dining room appeared to remain full, but Dave assured us the Pei Wei staff manage the line in such a way that by the time you've placed your order, there is available seating, and indeed that was true. Once we had ordered, we were given a large red disc with a black number on it, the disc attached to a tall rod, much like a lollipop. Placing the lollipop on our table let the staff know where to deliver our food. During our meal, I noticed a staff person who would occasionally stand off to one side of the room, gazing out across the crowded tables, obviously trying to gauge which tables would soon be vacated.

We started with two "First Tastes", appetizer portions of Edamame and Crab Wontons.

Edamame consists of a large pile of fresh soybean pods, parboiled in salted water. They looked like sugar snap beans. You pick up a pod, place it all the way in your mouth (they're stubby), pulling the pod out between your close-set teeth so the three soybeans inside pop out into your mouth. It's somewhat similar to the method used for pulling the edible meat off artichoke leaves. The soybeans had a slight salt flavor to them. Edamame comes with a small ramekin of salt in case you wish to brush a pod in the salt before putting it in your mouth. The beans themselves were mild tasting. You could probably eat quite a few of them, as you would potato chips. Their greatest interest, to me, was their novelty.

The Crab Wontons were the traditional crab and cream cheese fried wontons served in a pool of sweet-sour sauce. They were good.

For my entrée, I ordered shrimp for the main ingredient, served "Hoison Explosion" style, meaning a chili-hoison sauce, onion, red and green bell pepper, and almonds. Mary tried shrimp "Honey Seared" style (honey soy sauce, garlic, chili, rice sticks). You get your choice of rice with each dish. We both ordered fried rice, but Mary was served steamed brown rice in error. For the price, nine dollars a dish, there was a generous amount of shrimp, all of it cooked to perfection. Both dishes were pleasantly strong-flavored, but both, despite their different "styles", tasted somewhat similar. Beyond the intensity of the flavors, there wasn't a great deal of complexity.

Since Pei Wei is a cafeteria, there wasn't the individual service you receive at a traditional restaurant, although a waitperson did stop unbidden by our table at an appropriate time to refill our drinks.

Pei Wei was an interesting place to try, but it was very crowded, the noise level loud enough to make it difficult for us to carry on a conversation. You have a sense of being "packed-in" to maximize profits. August Moon would be a better choice for Oriental fare. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere, it offers a wider variety of dishes, and the dishes themselves have a more complex flavor.

SALT GRASS STEAK HOUSE 3000 Dallas Parkway, Plano (972) 781-2202, and other locations. Steakhouse. Between Fair and Good.

Salt Grass Steak House is part of the Landry's Restaurants family of franchises, which includes Joe's Crab Shack, The Charthouse Restaurants, Brenner's Steakhouse, The Rainforest Café, and several others.

Unlike the traditional steakhouse, where the atmosphere is meant to suggest an exclusive men's club, the ambience at Salt Grass is not that different from the fun-themed décor a lot of franchises now use, the only difference being that among the oversized old-time Coca-Cola and defunct flour company ads hanging on the walls, Salt Grass also features several large steer skulls.

Because Salt Grass is popular, Mary and I went for a late lunch on a Wednesday, when most of the booths were empty.

As soon as we were seated, we were brought a small, round loaf of Shiner Bock Beer bread (Salt Grass states on its menu all breads, dressings and soups are made from scratch, daily), and a small metal cup of butter. The bread itself was sweet, with a slight chemical undertaste which was probably the beer. It wasn't very good.

For our appetizer, we shared the Seafood Fondeaux, one of those hot dipping sauces, such as Spinach and Artichoke dip, that have become very popular the past few years. This one had crawfish, shrimp and mushrooms in a cream sauce with Romano and Monterey Jack cheeses, served with mild garlic bread strips. It was delicious.

Mary had eaten here before, and remembered the chicken-fried steak as the best she's ever had, so she tried it again. It was a huge portion (the waiter told us the dinner portion is as big as a dinner plate), covered with the traditional cream gravy. It was quite good.

I tried the BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Gulf Shrimp combo, a half rack of ribs and five grilled shrimp (you can also get the shrimp fried, served scampi-style, or with coconut).

The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and came with a dipping sauce that had an intense garlic taste. It was the perfect complement. I went through the shrimp rather quickly. The ribs themselves were better than average, with a lot of flavor, the meat falling off the bone. The combo was superior to the same combo served at Tony Roma's Place for Ribs, and The Mercado Juarez.

For both meals we had salad and garlic potatoes as accompaniments. The salad was a simple tossed salad, chilled, better than average. The garlic potatoes were good.

Service was friendly, although a little lax in spots. There was a wait between our appetizer and the salad, and a longer wait before our entrees were served. The waiter noticed I needed another Coke, said he'd be back with one, but never showed up by the time I had almost finished my meal. Another staff member, who I suspect was a floor manager, saw me looking around, asked what I needed, and got the Coke for me. Overall though, we were satisfied with the service we received.

In addition to steaks and seafood, Salt Grass also serves chicken, hamburgers, and pork chops. All steaks served in the restaurant are Angus Beef.

Salt Grass is not what I would consider to be a "true" steakhouse, in that it does not feature high-end items such as lobster and USDA Prime beef, and its appetizers are the sort of general appetizers one might find in a variety of restaurants, rather than the more "upscale" servings offered in true steakhouses such as Paul's Porterhouse. Salt Grass seems to me to be essentially a theme restaurant whose theme is "steakhouse". Having said that, the food was of a high quality, better than average. Mary and I enjoyed our visit, and will return.

dallas restaurant reviews

AUGUST MOON 2300 North Central Expressway, Plano, Texas (972) 881-0071, and various other locations. Chinese. Good

D Magazine and the Dallas Morning News have both declared August Moon to be the 'Best Chinese Restaurant' in the Dallas area, and for once, a restaurant lives up to the hype.

The interior of the restaurant consists of a variety of rooms, tables set pleasantly apart from each other. Service is attentive.

August Moon has a large menu, which includes a number of dishes, such as green mussels, difficult to obtain elsewhere.

Everything we tried was superior, with a more complex flavor, to the same dishes offered at other Chinese restaurants.


COPELAND'S 5353 Belt Line Road, Dallas (214) 661-1883. Cajun/Creole. Good

Copeland's is owned by the same man who founded the Popeye's Chicken chain (which has the best red beans and rice available). He lives on Lake Pontchartrain, and drives his neighbors crazy each holiday season by blasting Christmas carols at top volume across the lake.

Copeland's serves food which is closer to the New Orleans dining experience than any other restaurant in Dallas.

I started with a cornmeal cake buried beneath a crawfish sauce. The intensely sweet flavor of the corn was a nice contrast to the complex flavors of the sauce, which appeared to have been freshly made. Mary began with popcorn shrimp, nicely breaded and cooked, with a tasty, unusually sweet dipping sauce. There were so many shrimp she couldn't eat them all. For my entree, I had one of the day's specials, a chicken breast served with diced ham, rice, and a mushroom gravy. It was enjoyable. Mary had the rib dinner. The ribs were unusually tender, but the sauce was a bit too vinegary. On another visit, I had the Shrimp and Red Fish Creole, while Mary tried the Beef Tips in Burgundy Sauce. The creole was good, with, again, a nicely complex sauce that seemed freshly made. The beef tips were somewhat tough, and didn't appear to be of the highest quality. Service on the first visit was attentive, but was poor on the second.

Despite the mixed results from two visits, Copeland's overall is a good dining experience, with better than average offerings. They seem particularly strong in their seafood dishes.

EATZI'S 3403 Oak Lawn Avenue, Dallas. (214) 526-1515. Deli. Good.

EatZi's is an over-sized delicatessen that specializes in what is generally referred to as gourmet take-out food. In addition, they offer a large selection of cheeses, breads, and delicacy items.

The idea at eatZi's is that you can either pick up a pre-made sandwich or salad, or stand in line and have the eatZi's staff prepare a custom sandwich or salad especially for you. For example, if you want a sandwich, you stand in the sandwich line, then when it's your turn tell the server the type of bread or roll you want, the meat(s) to be used, cheese(s), dressings, and sandwich accompaniments. What makes this option so much fun is that eatZi's keeps on hand a truly remarkable variety of baked goods, meats, and cheeses, so that the sandwich you wind up with, assisted by their staff, is your own Dagwoodian creation, and not a generic sandwich.

In addition to sandwiches and salads, you can also purchase heat-at-home (or in the office) meals in hard plastic cartons, and a variety of foods, such as racks of ribs, offered cafeteria-style.

Going into eatZi's can be a bit overwhelming at first, due to the rich abundance of offerings, and the air of mild chaos (eatZi's is not very good at crowd control, so that it's sometimes difficult to tell if you're standing in the right line. The day we went, we arrived at noon on a Friday, probably the store's busiest time. Although we were constantly squeezing around people, who were squeezing around other people, everyone was polite. If you're going there for lunch, you'd probably be better-advised to arrive at eleven, or one).

The day Mary and I visited, with our friends Dave and Reid, the cooks were unloading bin after huge bin of curled, fresh-cooked shrimp from the kitchen as we passed through the front entrance. I honestly don't believe I've ever seen so much shrimp in my life.

We did a slow circuit of the store, orienting ourselves, then decided what we wanted to order.

Because it was so busy, and our first time here, Mary and I decided to stick to the already-prepared items. We got two racks of ribs, something called a chicken fajita sandwich, and a piece of carrot cake.

Dave and Reid, more experienced with the deli, ordered custom meals, Dave an elaborate ham sandwich, which looked delicious, served on a flat, crisp roll called bone bread, and Reid noodles and cabbage.

The chicken fajita sandwich was incredible, hot and moist within an oversized, chewy roll, with a rich complexity of flavors that included, if I'm not mistaken, parmesan. It was wonderful. I wished, halfway through, that we had ordered two of them. Or ten. The ribs were good, although more of a sauce flavor than a char-broiled flavor, and the carrot cake was quite good.

There are a small number of tables set outside the delicatessen for people who wish to eat on the spot, as we did. We had to wait briefly for a free table, but again, we were there during the restaurant's busiest hour. By the time we were ready to leave, around one, most of the tables were empty.

EL FENIX 3128 Forest Lane #240 (Web Chapel at Forest Lane), Dallas, (972) 241-3248, and various other locations. Mexican. Good

El Fenix was started by the Martinez family in 1918, and continues to deliver good, cheap Mexican food.

Most locations include a Senior's night, where the front lobby can become crowded with quiet, polite older Texans waiting to be seated.

El Fenix's food is quite good, and generally captures the complexities of Mexican dishes.

Our favorite is the Mexican steak dish, which consists of two pieces of pounded steak sprinkled with spices, quickly seared, served with the traditional sides of refried beans and Spanish rice, the rest of the platter filled-out with cheese-drenched tortilla chips topped by the green ring of a jalapeno slice. Another good dish is the nachos dinner, a generous supply of tilted tortilla chips laden with cheese, beef or chicken, guacamole, and sour cream.

GENNIE'S BISHOP STREET GRILL 321 North Bishop, Dallas. (214) 946-1752. Cafeteria. Good.

Gennie's has been featured on the Food Network, and singled out for the excellence of its chicken-fried steaks by food critic Calvin Trilling. It is claimed by many that Gennie's has the best chicken-fried steak on the planet (for those of you unfamiliar with this dish, chicken-fried steak is a cube steak coated in batter, deep-fried, served with a cream-based pan gravy ladled atop.)

The restaurant is a cafeteria. You walk in off the street, grab a hard plastic brown tray, a knife, fork and spoon set wrapped in a paper napkin, and get in line, sliding your tray along the steel tubing counter that runs across the front of large display cases, the food sitting in metal tubs, waiting for your pointing finger. Wait staff were very friendly and talkative.

Although Gennie's is known to be busy, and we had arrived right at the rush of lunch hour, we were able to find a booth.

Gennie's specializes in home cooking, Southern-style. I tried the chicken-fried steak, of course, and it was in fact delicious, the gravy that smothered it and the accompanying mashed potatoes full-bodied and surprisingly peppery (perhaps too peppery for some tastes). I chose cooked greens to go with the steak. They were quite good, tangy and sour.

Gennie's is also known for its desserts, and in particular its peanut butter pie, so I picked up a slice. It was light, creamy, wonderful. I also tried a forkful of Mary's lemon meringue pie. It was great.

Gennie's is open for lunch only, and only on weekdays. Most of the crowd appeared to be locals, with a few couples thrown in who had obviously heard of its reputation. Autographed pictures of country western singers, movie and TV actors, and politicians, are hung here and there on the walls and support posts.

RAZOO'S 13949 North Central Expressway, Dallas (972) 235-3700. Cajun. Good

Razoo's is a busy, crowded restaurant with a limited menu (it fits on one side of a card about the size of a hardcover book), but nearly all the dishes we've sampled have been quite good.

Our first visit, I had the seafood fondue, a platter of shellfish served in cheese sauce, with toast points arranged around the plate for dipping. Their standard Cajun dishes (Ettoufee, etc.) are also better than average. One warning: they don't devein their shrimp.

Service was very attentive on our first visit; acceptably attentive on our second.

ROMANO'S MACARONI GRILL Various locations. Italian. Good

Mary and I have eaten at Romano's a number of times, and have always enjoyed ourselves. It's where we normally go these days for a satisfying meal.

Romano's offers about forty different Italian dishes, and also allows you to create your own dish, selecting from columns A, B and C for type of pasta, sauce, and ingredients.

Each time we've eaten there, we've started with their Shrimp and Artichoke Dip, a truly delicious blend of shrimp, spinach, artichoke, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, served with thin strips of garlic bread for dipping. I highly recommend it.

I've had a number of their seafood dishes, both menu items and daily specials, all of which have been good. Mary usually gets the Twice-Baked Lasagna, which comes with a large meatball planted atop, buried under melted cheese.

Service is attentive.

SAM'S PIZZA, PASTA AND SUBS 434 U.S. Highway 67 at Danieldale Road, Duncanville (972) 283-3337. Italian. Good

Although Sam's has a sit down restaurant, which is especially busy after mass on Sunday, most of its business is take-out.

Good pizza is hard to find once you leave the greater New York area. You wind up with a thick, dry crust that's never been drizzled with olive oil, little or no tomato sauce, and a big can's worth of toppings. Sam's pizzas are superior to those obtained elsewhere in the Dallas area, the emphasis placed on the flavor of the dough, and the freshness of the toppings. They also specialize in a wide range of homemade traditional Italian fare, available in steel tubs by the cash register, including lasagna, calzone, various pasta dishes, and garlic twists, small knots of dough suffused with butter, olive oil and garlic. Their subs are also better than average.

ZIZIKI'S 15707 Coit Road #A, Dallas. (972) 991-4433. Greek. Good

For some reason, it's really hard to find good Greek food in Dallas.

Ziziki's serves the best pastitso I've ever had in my life. We're talking fifty years, fifty states. The serving is incredibly rich, wondrously complex. It's an excellent dish, comparable to any meal you'd find in the finest restaurants in America. My first serving of it was slightly better than my second. The first time I ordered it, I got a pile of pale green, ice-cold logs of peeled cucumber, and a limp pile of marinated red onion. The second time we visited, the cucumbers had vanished, and the wedge of pastitso was slightly smaller. But even so, this is Heaven on a fork. Mary ordered Souvlaki on her first visit. The skewered chicken was dry, with a raw garlic taste, so the food preparation is uneven. The site we went to has no romance to it whatsoever. It's a wide open space too brightly-lit, and too crowded with tables. The downtown Dallas location, which we haven't visited, is supposed to be more atmospheric. But to get an idea of an excellent dish, and what food in restaurants should be, please go there and order their pastitso.