Perhaps it's not a good idea to present a list of the best restaurants of 2008, simply because such a list must needs engender rules, and as both my readers know, I don't particularly care for rules. For instance, do you only include fine dining establishments, or are casual places fair game as well? For me, great food is great food, and as my lovely wife the Rock Star and I have just agreed, fine dining places are fabulous for Saturday night, but where are you going to eat the other six nights of the week, not to mention lunch and breakfast? Also, some of the places I favor have received decidedly mixed reviews from other sources. Well, to thine own self be true (as Polonius would have it), and I must report on my own experience, community consensus or not. Finally, just when I had concocted a bang-up list, I realized that I had left two places from my Las Vegas roadtrip off by accident: Mon Ami Gabi and Yolos Mexican Grill. Faced with such a quandry, I made an executive-level decision: Since I actually hadn't reviewed them in 2008, but had merely dined at both establishments, I am leaving them off the 2008 list, and hope to review them and possibly see them on next year's list. So, without furthur ado, here are the Food Czar Top Ten Restaurants (and Honorable Mentions) for 2008:
THE MECCA RESTAURANT (Jan)
When you've been in business for God-knows-how-many years, and are only open for breakfast and lunch, you must be doing something right. The Mecca does breakfast and lunch right. Don't forget the chicken-fried-steak, fabulous no-frills breakfasts, and those oh-so-marvelous biscuits. Come early (or late) to get the best parking.
BLUE CANYON KITCHEN, TAVERN, & WINE BAR (Feb)
Brandt Evans is the best Dallas chef you've never heard of. His Cedar Plank Tasmanian Salmon was my favorite seafood dish of the year, period. Very affordable prices as well, and a recently-unveiled brunch menu guarantees that I'll be a repeat customer in 2009.
The Rathbun Brothers show their casual side with upscale-comfort food to die for. Start with the Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips, then progress to the Daily Business Lunch, one of the best bargains in town. On my visit, creamy meat lasagna made me almost sing with pleasure, and my wife loved her smoked ham and gouda grilled cheese, which (pardon the pun) she thought was very gouda indeed.
ISABELLA'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT (Aug)
Recognized by D Magazine and Zagat, our Restaurant Week choice did not disappoint with their Colorado Lamb Chops and Pecan-Crusted Mahi-Mahi. Also enjoyed a return visit in November with a very dear friend who is, alas, moving out of the area. I shall miss him terribly, but will drown my sorrows in future visits with wine from Isabella's innovative 25 Wines for $25 list, a practice other establishments would do well to emulate.
KELLY'S EASTSIDE (Aug)
A quintessentially Texas neighborhood restaurant, Kelly's delivers all matter of fabulous fare from BBQ to juicy burgers to one of the best chicken-fried-steaks in town. Kelly's is truly a guiding light in the downtown Plano revival.
PEPE'S AND MITO'S MEXICAN CAFE (Oct)
In a year of fantabulous Mexican meals, Pepe's and Mito's gets a slight nod over the worthy competition. Beef Fajita Tacos are absolutely addictive, and Brunch Tacos are a great cure for morning hangovers. I don't always go along with the crowd, but a tableful of picky food bloggers were all impressed by Pepe y Mito's cuisine, and I don't think we can all be wrong.
THE SECOND FLOOR BISTRO-BAR (Oct)
How can you not love an erstwhile hotel coffee shop that serves dishes which feature truffles? The Rock Star certainly does, for when she first tasted The Second Floor's Roasted Corn Chowder with truffles, she declared at once her intent to become a chef, an assessment from which she has not wavered in the ensuing months.
DUNSTON'S STEAKHOUSE (Nov)
Yes, there are argueably better beef palaces in Big D, but if you love true campfire-tasting steaks in a pure old-school-Texan atmosphere, you'll love Dunstons. Legions of mostly gray-haired devotees obviously agree. Don't pass up the jalapeno cream soup either.
As I remarked when I composed my original review, if Bijoux isn't the best restaurant in Dallas, it sure don't take long to call the roll. Be sure to try the Crispy Pork Belly. And the English Pea Angnolotti. And the Filet of Beef. And the Veal Tenderloin. And the Chocolate Bananas. And, as Yul Brynner once remarked, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
BOBBY FLAY'S MESA GRILL (Dec)
Folks, he's not just a Food Network staple, the Redheaded One can truly cook. Sample the Wild Mushroom Quesadilla and the Cornmeal-crusted Chile Relleno, washed down with one of Bobby's Signature Margaritas, and prepare to be won over. You must try Mesa Grill the next time you're in Las Vegas (or NYC).
2008 Honorable Mentions Worthy of Mention:
-Gruene River Grill
-Hondos on Main
-Hard Eight BBQ
-Zea Woodfire Grill
Again, if you don't agree with my opinions, please try to remember that I'm as entitled to them as you are to yours. Formulate your own list soon, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!