Question: If you're dining out on a Friday or Saturday, where do you go if you're suddenly flush with cash? A Destination Restaurant? Perhaps. Breaking bread at these palaces certainly can make for some memorable evenings, plus they are good for stretching our palates. But what about Sunday through Thursday nights, or anytime your pockets are not bulging with bread? Where do you eat if you want to go out? Well, many of us turn to our favorite places close to home, the joints where the waitresses call you Honey (especially if they are old-school Texas establishments), or at least the waiter will recognize you and maybe even have your noshing habits memorized. During the past year, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I have been privileged to dine at many such places, sometimes by invitation, most often on our own dime. If we've had stellar experiences, then it is unimportant who pays. I'm going to write about it. If not, I won't. It's as simple as that. So, without furthur ado, here are the Food Czar Top Ten Neighborhood Gems (and honorable mentions) of 2009:
ZORBA'S GREEK CAFE (Jan)
Classic Greek dishes delivered in a lovely gem of a location, served by perpetually happy people. Plus Zorba's is BYOB. What's not to love?
RED'S PATIO GRILL (Mar)
From the Cowboy Meatloaf to the Montana Legend beef burgers to the Double Cheese Potato Cakes, Red's defines comfort food for 2009. As a bonus, they serve some of the best margaritas in town, not to mention tequila flights.
FINO'S ITALIAN BISTRO (Apr)
Every neighborhood should have at least one New Jersey or New York-style Italian joint, don't you think? Finos ups the ante with fast free delivery, and they are BYOB as well.
SCREEN DOOR RESTAURANT (May)
Speaking of upscale, Screen Door is all about Southern comfort food with class. The free-range chicken and lamb shank were marvelous, but the grits and black-eyed peas stole the show. Plus, the milk and cookies dessert is a wonderful twist on an old standby.
MATT'S RANCHO MARTINEZ (May)
Although he recently passed away, the spirit of Matt lives on in the Bob Armstrong Dip, famous chiles rellenos, and excellent Chicken Fried Steak Tampequeno Style served at his lovely Lakewood establishment.
FIN SUSHI & SAKE BAR (Sep)
The sushi is fresh and most beautifully plated, the space is gorgeous, and the staff is marvellously welcoming and attentive. Don't forget to try the sake boxes.
CAFE AMORE (Oct)
Another American Italian gem. My sister-in-law the Wild Thing has lived all over this great nation, and chooses BYOB Cafe Amore as her location for special celebrations.
EL RANCHITO (Oct)
Many places in Dallas tout top-notch Tex-Mex, but El Ranchito delivers, with savory caldo de res and substantial milanesa. This gem is one of the shining stars of the venerable Oak Cliff Mexican scene that deserves more support if it is to thrive and survive.
ALAMO SPRINGS CAFE (Nov)
Ten miles south of Fredericksburg and smack in the middle of nowhere, this tiny cafe offers one of the best cheeseburgers ever devised by the hand of Man. Don't believe me? Texas Monthly voted it the third-best cheeseburger in the entire state in their August 2009 issue.
French bistros were some of the original neighborhood gems, and Maguire's chef was classically trained in La Belle France. As in all great French establishments, the beef at Maguires is treated with loving care, and at a price far less than many of the nearby steakhouses.
2009 Honorable Mentions Worthy of Mention:
-El Fogon (July)
-McSwiggans Irish Pub (Nov)
One final note: This list only covers establishments I've written about on this blog in 2009.
Needless to say, I'll be compiling a list of Top Ten Restaurants for 2009 very soon. Support your own neighborhood gems soon, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!