When you eat out as often as we do, there are occupational hazards: The food isn't always cooked to our liking; service sometimes goes screwy. Most tragically, we haven't been able to fit into our skinny jeans since the mid-2000s.
But what makes it all worth it is when we bite into that exquisite dish that brings our tastes buds alive. Our 10 favorite meals of 2010 run the gamut from fish to fowl, cheap to expensive, down-home comfort food to gussied-up gourmet, hearty sandwich to light snack. But the one thing that all these superb dishes and restaurants have in common: We're still thinking about them days, weeks and sometimes months after we've cleaned our plates.
1 Mash tater parfait at Cowboy Chow
We needed an afternoon away from the office to feed our souls (and our bellies), so we pointed the GPS north to Roanoke, a charming town of 6,000 that has a restaurant row to rival the best in DFW. After some menu snoopin', we settled into some stools at the open-air bar at Cowboy Chow, chef Jason Boso's juke joint-style restaurant. And for about two hours, we drank in cool breezes and mason jars of sweet watermelon tea and indulged in some of the most creative cowboy cuisine we've found in a region overrun by it. Everything we tried, from the Navajo fry bread to the cast-iron chicken pot pie to the succulent seven-hour baby-back ribs, was flawless. Best of all was the mash tater parfait, a veritable comfort-food sundae layered with tender brisket, spiced cowboy caviar (black beans and corn), sturdy mashed potatoes and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and tortilla strips. The sinfully good combination gave us a warm feeling inside, like a great shot of whiskey. Cowboy Chow, 101 S. Oak St., Roanoke, 817-491-4442; www.cowboychow.net.
2 Chorizo empanada at Empa Mundo
It's tucked away in one of those ubiquitous shopping centers in Irving, but Empa Mundo deserves to stand on its own. In just a year, it has become a favorite of casual and professional foodies alike. Five stars, thumbs-up, hot-listed -- whatever award you can think of, Empa Mundo's got it. True to the name, it's all about empanadas. And for me, it's all about the chorizo empanada. It's stuffed with juicy chorizo, potatoes and peppers, compressed into the equivalent of a culinary gemstone. It's pound-for-pound the best option and undeniable proof that good things do come in small packages. Empa Mundo, 3977 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-746-4516; www.empamundo.com.
3 Chocolate spring roll at Blue Sushi Sake Grill
In an atmosphere you'd expect to find in midtown Manhattan, not west Fort Worth, the plates of sashimi and sushi arrived in rapid succession. We were still finishing the signature appetizer -- edamame hummus, more delicious than the name might suggest -- as the maguro (tuna) sashimi landed on the table. Grasping the metallic chopsticks, we dug in. With that first clean, delectable bite, our eyes rolled back in our heads and the remaining slivers of fish disappeared. The hand-rolls -- creamy, crab-laced California and heat-spiked spicy tuna -- were gone in a flash, too. But as mesmerizing as the meal was to that point, nothing could've prepared us for the sticky-sweet apocalypse that was the chocolate spring roll. Seasoned with macadamia nuts, shot through with raspberry purée and served atop raspberry ice cream, this transcendent treat -- and nothing else -- is what we want for our last meal. Blue Sushi Sake Grill, 3131 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-332-258; www.bluesushisakegrill.com .
4 Brioche French toast at Lambert's brunch
At first glance, Lambert's Sunday brunch menu doesn't look that thorough. It's deceptively slight (20-30 items), ranging from the standard (eggs Benedict, Bloody Marys) to the slightly exotic (migas, green-chile grits), but try telling anyone who's a regular that Lambert's doesn't offer the best brunch in town. Never mind the endlessly refillable mimosas; the food is the main attraction. And it's good: The brioche French toast will elicit moans of ecstasy, those aforementioned migas should be christened as a major food group, and the biscuits and gravy aren't too shabby either. It's not a bargain-basement affair, but you'll get your money's worth and then some; it's a delightfully gluttonous way to welcome a new week. Lambert's Fort Worth, 2731 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817-882-1161; www.lambertsfortworth.com.
5 Chicken and dumplings at Madea's Down Home Cooking
On a cold, depressing day in November, we headed to Everman, just south of Fort Worth, in search of what we had heard was some of the best comfort food in town. It took a while to find -- Madea's is on an out-of-the-way street, surrounded by pretty much nothing -- but this is food worth getting lost for. We tried a dozen items, including chicken-fried steak, meatloaf, mac-and-cheese, and mashed potatoes, all of it fresh and satisfying. But the star of the day was the chicken and dumplings, which features plump, not-too-floury dumplings and juicy chunks of braised chicken in a thick, peppery stew. We'd like to say it was just like Grandma used to make, but, let's be honest here, Grandma never cooked anything this good. Madea's Down Home Cooking, 1019 W. Enon Ave., Everman, 817-551-9295.
6 Lemon and rice soup at Café Medi
For years I've searched for a Greek restaurant that serves an avgolemono soup that comes even close to the brilliance of my yia-yia's. That egg-lemon soup was her crowning glory, and my brother and I joked that it gave us good dreams. I never imagined that my ages-old quest would take me to Hurst, but a June trip to Café Medi turned out to be a Greek and Middle Eastern delight. The moussaka was packed with a lively medley of flavors (mmm, nutmeg). The shawarma -- strips of juicy marinated beef and chicken, served with a side of tahini and garlic sauce -- was filling and flavorful. And to my delight, Café Medi's version of avgolemono soup was sublime. At first, I had reservations (the color was a kind of electric greenish-yellow), but as I waded in with my spoon, I couldn't believe my taste buds. The lemon was present but not overwhelming, the broth was frothy and sturdy, and a sprinkling of dill provided a surprisingly lovely complement. I doubt any version could ever surpass the "good dreams" soup of my youth, but this has now become the living standard-bearer. Café Medi, 420 Grapevine Highway, Hurst, 817-788-5110; www.cafemedi.com.
7 Bacon cheeseburger at Pop's
At DFW.com, we know a thing or 32 about burgers. So when a loyal reader called with a tip about a new, juicy number that rivaled the likes of Fred's and Kincaid's, well, we had to check it out. Pop's, which opened in March in west Fort Worth, dishes up burgers that are confoundingly simple: a peppery half-pound patty resting on a lightly buttered bun. But there is magic in that thar grill, and after the first melt-in-your mouth bite, you'll be flooded with memories of the first purely great hamburger you ever tasted. I certainly was, especially when the perfectly flavored beef joined hands with thick bacon slices and melted cheese and started harmonizing like a church choir -- in my mouth. My friend tore into a mushroom-Swiss burger, and she, too, had a moment of burger ecstasy. Pop's may be a new player on the competitive Metroplex burger scene, but it's already staking its claim as one of the best. Pop's Burgers & Grill, 4400 Benbrook Highway, Fort Worth, 817-560-1609.
8 Fried green tomatoes at Go Fish Ocean Club
Reminiscing about this meal is bittersweet, because -- groan! -- Go Fish in Dallas is now closed. That leaves Tiffany Derry, its celebrity chef, temporarily without a culinary home. The funny straight-talker from Beaumont pan-fried her way into our hearts on Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars. Our meal at Go Fish was blissful through and through, from the fresh Alaskan halibut roasted in a soy chili sauce to the crispy red snapper on a bed of Spanish chorizo and crawfish. And the creamy, Parmesan-y spring risotto -- dotted with fava beans -- nearly caused a fork fight to the death. But the dish we still swoon over is Tiffany's fried green tomatoes. Covered with a whisper-thin veil of buttermilk batter, the pair of them stood towerlike, each topped with radish pico de gallo and shrimp ravigote (a French creole emulsion of mustards, cayenne, capers, herbs and shrimp), all sitting atop a remoulade. If that sounds a little complex for a fried green tomato, just thank heaven it was all in the hands of a maestro. Here's hoping Tiffany is cooking in North Texas again very soon.
9 The SummerSanta.org at Weinberger's Delicatessen
It's a Chicago-style delicatessen, but honestly, I have no idea what that means -- I'm a Texan. What I do know is that Dan Weinberger is a sandwich craftsman. His SummerSanta.org is like something out of a Top Chef challenge: a veggie-only sandwich of basil, mozzarella, oil, olive salad, onions, tomatoes and vinegar with a texture similar to a turkey sandwich. It's the one dish that'll challenge all your meaty perceptions. And while I typically sneer at such sandwiches, with the SummerSanta, it's all cheers. Weinberger's Delicatessen, 601 S Main St., No. 100, Grapevine, 817-416-5577.
10 Moules pommes frites at So7 Bistro
We had just returned from Las Vegas, where we ate at the superb Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Casino. We kept asking ourselves: Why can't we have French food like this in Fort Worth: simple, unfussy, inexpensive? Funny that our first dinner back should be at the newly opened So7 Bistro, and that we would swoon for that most classic of all French dishes, mussels and fries (or pommes frites, as the French snobs call them). The plump mussels float in a tomato-flavored broth with just the right balance of acid and sweetness; the flat, fleshy frites had us licking the salt and oil off our fingers. The $11.95 price was right, too, especially for two people who had just lost a bundle on the slot machines. All we could say was: merci. So7 Bistro, 2401 W. Seventh St., No. 117, Fort Worth, 817-878-4311; www.so7bistro.com.