The French Room (Dallas; tel. 214/742-8200): This formal but not intimidating restaurant in the historic Adolphus Hotel is dreamy -- like dining at Versailles. Indulge in superb classic French cuisine and museum-quality wines surrounded by a rococo-painted ceiling, flowing drapes, and crystal chandeliers.
Fearing's (Dallas; tel. 214/922-4848): Legendary, cowboy boot-clad chef Dean Fearing made his name as an innovator of Southwestern cuisine at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. At long last, he has opened his own place within the swanky new Ritz-Carlton uptown. Named Esquire magazine's New Restaurant of the Year in 2008, it may just be the finest thing about one of the most buzz-worthy new destinations in Dallas -- something to see, and a place to be seen. And the food? Outstanding.
Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek (Dallas; tel. 214/443-4747): After the departure of its famous chef Dean Fearing, a head-to-boot makeover, and a new whopper of a name, the Mansion is back, and maybe just better than ever. The tried-and-true but a little tired Southwestern menu was scrapped, replaced by a more cosmopolitan and sophisticated New American cuisine. The restaurant is more contemporary, relaxed, and inviting.
610 Grille (Fort Worth; tel. 817/332-0100): The creative New American bistro fare at this swank restaurant, in a boutique hotel of the same description, quickly shot to the top of everyone's best-of lists in Fort Worth. Hotel dining is rarely this good or this intimate.
Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana (Fort Worth; tel. 817/850-9996): The great-grandson of the man behind Fort Worth's standard for Tex-Mex, Joe T. Garcia's, has struck out on his own with this sensational fine-dining take on Mediterranean cooking with Mexican sensibilities. Sophisticated but unfussy, it's the place to dine in downtown Fort Worth.
Mark's (Houston; tel. 713/523-3800): No fussy French nouvelle here, and no boring steak and potatoes either. Mark's serves up dishes that satisfy while they fulfill our eternal quest for something new and creative. This is New American cooking as it should be.
Cafe Annie (Houston; tel. 713/840-1111): No other restaurant in Houston garners the attention that this place does from foodies and food critics alike. With innovative Southwestern cooking, the best wine list in the city, and a master sommelier (the only "master" in Texas), the restaurant has its credentials. Chef/owner Robert Del Grande offers up wonderful dishes that show just how fertile the crossbreeding of Mexican and American cooking can be.
Le Rêve (San Antonio; tel. 210/212-2221): Regularly designated the best restaurant in Texas, Le Rêve never disappoints. Owner/chef Andrew Weissman is exacting in the practice of his craft and produces a dining experience that is close to being otherworldly.
Uchi (Austin; tel. 512/916-4808): Don't think of this restaurant as just a good place for sushi and Japanese cuisine. It's a great restaurant, period, with creative cooking that transcends its humble roots. The setting, in a beautifully revamped 1930s house, is transcendent, too.
Café Central (El Paso; tel. 915/545-2233): Well worth the splurge, Café Central is a sleek urban bistro serving sophisticated international cuisine. The menu changes daily, but always offers a wide range of standout fare -- most notably creative Southwestern interpretations of traditional Continental dishes. The wine list is one of the city's best, and desserts include the best leches (Mexican milk cakes) in all of Texas.
The Best Texan Dining
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse (Dallas; tel. 214/357-7120): Sonny Bryan's has been turning out sweet barbecue since 1910, and the little smoke shack has acquired legendary status. Salesmen perch on their car hoods with their sleeves rolled up and wolf down hickory-smoked brisket, sliced-beef sandwiches, and succulent onion rings. Thinner sorts squeeze into tiny one-armed school desks and get ready to douse their brisket with superb, tangy sauce. A classic.
Bob's Steak & Chop House (Dallas; tel. 214/528-9446): Bob's will satisfy the steak connoisseur -- the real Texan -- in you. With a clubby but relaxed mahogany look and behemoth wet-aged prime beef and sirloin filets, this is a place for the J. R. crowd. Even the accompaniments -- "smashed" potatoes and honey-glazed whole carrots -- are terrific. And the meat-shy need not fear: The chophouse salad is a meal in itself. Cigar aficionados should keep their noses trained for Bob's cigar dinners: Every course is served with a different cigar.
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (Fort Worth; tel. 817/740-8810): This friendly and eclectic restaurant challenges Cowtown to broaden its horizons. The Southwestern menu at this Stockyards eatery successfully stretches the popular theme in new ways, adding unique Texas touches that are both avant-garde and comforting. Pop in for the inexpensive Stockyards lunch special or dive into a blowout dinner.
Angelo's (Fort Worth; tel. 817/332-0357): Fort Worth's classic Texas barbecue joint is as unpretentious as they come: Its wood paneling, mounted deer and buffalo heads, metal ceiling fans, and Formica tables might have come from a Jaycees lodge. That's kitschy cool to some, meaningless to everyone else. What is important is the fantastic hickory-smoked barbecue.
Loma Linda (Houston; tel. 713/924-6074): Bursting the bubble of a perfectly puffed tortilla smothered in chile con queso is the moment where anticipation meets realization in the Tex-Mex experience. The aroma, the texture, the taste . . . words fail us. You can scour the borderlands a long time before coming up with an old-fashioned Tex-Mex joint like this one. The restaurant even has its own special tortilla maker for producing these puffed-up beauties.
Gaidos (Galveston; tel. 409/762-9625): Offering traditional cooking as it is practiced on the Texas Gulf Coast, Gaidos is the keeper of the flame for seafood devoid of fads and trends. The family has been serving up stuffed snapper, gumbo, and fried oysters for four generations.
La Playa (Corpus Christi; tel. 361/980-3909): For a Tex-Mex restaurant to be considered truly great, it must, of course, do a good job with the traditional enchiladas in chili gravy, have excellent fajitas, and pay attention to the details in cooking the rice and beans. It helps if it has a signature dish or two. In this case, it's deep-fried avocados.
La Playa (Port Aransas; tel. 361/749-0022): This place is in no way connected to La Playa of Corpus Christi. But the cooking is just as local, with Tex-Mex-style seafood dishes such as campechana cocktails and fish tacos. The margaritas transcend cultures. La Playa has that hominess and welcoming feel that is as much Texas as anything else.
Mi Tierra (San Antonio; tel. 210/225-1262): Some people dismiss this cafe as touristy. Not so. It is the practitioner of old San Antonio cooking traditions. Order any of the Tex-Mex specialties and sit back and enjoy the ambience -- both the food and the decor are expressions of local tastes when celebrating is called for. And travelers may celebrate once they've hit upon this gem.
Shady Grove (Austin; tel. 512/474-9991): This is the most quintessentially Austin restaurant in town. It offers a laid-back Texan menu, a huge outdoor patio, and an "unplugged" music series.
L&J Café (El Paso; tel. 915/566-8418): An El Paso landmark since 1927, the L&J is inexpensive and offers some of the best Tex-Mex food you'll find anywhere. The chicken enchiladas, overflowing with fluffy meat and buried under chunky green chile and jack cheese, approach perfection. It doesn't hurt that the salsa is spicy, the beer is cold, and the service is quick and friendly, even when the place is filled to capacity -- as it is most of the time.
Starlight Theatre (Terlingua; tel. 432/371-2326): A 1930s movie palace abandoned when the mines in Terlingua went bust in the following decade, the Starlight Theatre was reborn as an eatery and watering hole in 1991. The stage is still here, but the silver screen takes a back seat to the food (especially the trademark enchiladas, filet mignon, and sautéed chicken), drink (namely Texas beers and prickly pear margaritas), and desserts (the cobbler for two is legendary).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.