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It wasn't that long ago that the Dallas dining scene was pretty unexciting: It was mostly run-of-the-mill Mexican and Tex-Mex, undistinguished steakhouses, and halfhearted Southwestern themes. That has changed drastically, and today the Dallas restaurant scene has exploded. While you can still get home cooking, Tex-Mex, and barbecue in abundance, Dallas has suddenly become resolutely cosmopolitan, with chic and sophisticated Pan-Asian, Italian, and Southwestern newcomers injecting life into the local dining scene, a vigor that has even jolted the old stalwarts. Some of the hippest new spots are in fashionable hotels, including the excellent restaurants Fearing's at the new Ritz-Carlton Dallas; Central 214 at Palomar Dallas; Hotel Lumen's Social; and Craft at W Dallas-Victory. The Dallas Visitors Bureau once claimed four times more restaurants per capita in Dallas than New York City; since I'm from the former and spend much of my time in the latter, I'm more than a bit dubious about such a claim, but it's certain that you won't suffer from lack of choice.

Picnic Places

Dallas isn't really the kind of place with great public spaces ideal for mounting a picnic lunch. Mostly it's either too hot or too cold, and people stick to their offices and cars. However, picking up some foodstuffs on your way over to the Dallas Arboretum and White Rock Lake is a fine idea. One of the best places to pick up some healthful eats is Whole Foods Market, 2218 Greenville Ave. at Belmont (tel. 214/824-1744). The market, which started in Austin, has a great selection of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads, as well as a cafe serving prepared foods and sandwiches. A superb gourmet takeout market is Eatzi's, 3403 Oak Lawn Ave. (tel. 214/526-1515), which has made inroads into New York City and stocks literally thousands of items, including dozens of prepared entrees and enough cheeses to make a Frenchman weep. The time to go is after 9pm, when the day's prepared foods that have to go are half-price.

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