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Hot restaurants: Our menu of must-eats

Posted 4:00am on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011

No question, the local dining scene is hot right now. Chains like In-N-Out and Carl's Jr. have chosen to expand here. TV cooking shows keep featuring our chefs: Carrie Keep from Nosh in Dallas was a contender on Hell's Kitchen; Fort Worth chef Lina Biancamano was a contestant on this season of Top Chef Just Desserts.

But which are the hottest restaurants in DFW right now? The ones generating all the buzz in the foodie blogosphere? The places at which you must eat -- or, at the very least, be seen eating. Here are our picks for 10 that we think are especially sizzling right now. And if you think we've failed to take an accurate temperature of your favorite hot spot, go to dfw.com/dining and tell us about it.

1. Fireside Pies. There are other Fireside Pies -- Fort Worth is the fifth branch for this Dallas-based pizza chain. And there's plenty of competition on West Seventh's restaurant row. And yet diners line up at Fireside Pies, willing to wait an hour or more while seats go empty at neighboring spots. What kind of magic alchemy transpires here? Is it the electric energy in the dining room? The crowded-even-in-100-degree-weather patio? The egg noodles with Bolognese ($14)? Or is it the pizzas themselves, with must-have toppings like lamb sausage and jalapeños ($14)? Yes, yes, and yes (and yes and yes). 2949 Crockett St., Fort Worth, 817-769-3590; www.firesidepies.com/

2. Alma. Tex-Mex is cool, but hooray for authentic Mexican cuisine, here to deliver us from the tyranny of the enchilada combo plate. Alma replaces Cuba Libre on Henderson Avenue in Dallas, with rising-star chef Anastacia Quinones turning out cool Mexican "street foods": grilled corn ($7), caramelized plantains ($7) and bite-size sopes ($12) -- masa discs topped with crab. Yet Alma is only one in an impressive list of authentic nouveau hot spots, which also includes Hacienda San Miguel, Meso Maya, Komali, Wild Salsa and Mesa. (Oh, and let's not forget Lanny's Alta Cocina in Fort Worth, which embraced the trend first.) 2822 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas, 214-827-2820; www.almadallas.com

3. Shinjuku Station. No longer a Japanese restaurant dead zone, Fort Worth has become sushi central, with options both splashy (Blue Sushi) and quaint (Temaki). Shinjuku, from the owners of Tokyo Cafe, is a foodie spot in a hip industrial setting. You can mix and match small plates such as baked mushrooms ($7) or okonomiyaki ($7), an eggy pancake with cabbage, pork belly and pickled ginger. Ishiyaki ($23) is a DIY ritual where you cook strips of beef on a hot stone. Any place with a hot stone is definitely hot in our book. 711 W. Magnolia St., Fort Worth, 817-923-2695; www.shinjuku-station.com

4. Velvet Taco. Once the merchandise of funky street stands, tacos have moved to upscale digs like Revolver Taco on Seventh Street, and now Velvet Taco in hip Knox-Henderson. Velvet goes "fusion," incorporating Tex, Mex, and Asian -- such as raw tuna with watermelon radish, avocado and pea tendrils, or mushrooms with onion chutney. 3012 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas, 214-823-8358; www.velvettaco.com

5. Lucia. The local dining scene shimmied when Lucia opened in Bishop Arts in 2010. It was our everything: small, artisanal, Italian, with an adored chef and his adorable wife. You expect to find a Lucia in gourmand cities like Portland or San Francisco, but Dallas? What vindication. And then there's the food: nubby corn soup ($9) made with local corn, pork shoulder with lady cream peas ($25), rice pudding ($8) with East Texas blueberries. With only 35 seats, it's booked a month in advance. The New York Times said it was the most important restaurant to open in Texas; who are we to disagree? 408 West Eighth St., Dallas, 214-948-4998.

6. Marquee Grill. The name on the marquee is Tre Wilcox, dreamboat chef and former Top Chef contestant, and for some people that's all it takes. But Wilcox isn't the only story. Owner Brian Twomey gave a stunning makeover to this historic theater in Dallas' most prestigious shopping center, including a showpiece kitchen for Wilcox to do his thing. He's less about innovation and more about comfort food like risotto ($19) with poached lobster and English peas. The restaurant's numerous nooks include a swanky masculine lounge and a second-floor patio where you can overlook all of Highland Park Village. 33 Highland Park Village, Dallas, 214-522-6035; www.marqueegrill.com

7. Pop's/Chop House. DFW.com's recent Burger Battle taste-tested dozens of burgers around Dallas-Fort Worth, and Pop's reigned supreme. Since its triumph, Pop's has been so swamped, it has run out of food more than once. In which case, you may want to keep handy the address of second-place winner Chop House, and its delicious, aptly named brisket burger. Pop's Burgers & Grill, 4400 Benbrook Hwy, Fort Worth, 817-560-1609; www.popsburgersandgrill.com. Chop House, 1700 W. Park Row Drive, Arlington, 817-459-3700; www.chophouseburgers.com

8. Il Cane Rosso. These are golden times for local pizza fanatics. We can choose from Fireside Pies, Coal Vines, Russo's, Cavalli's in Irving and Dough from San Antonio, which just opened in Dallas. But if it's a scene you want, with diners spilling out the front door, Il Cane Rosso is it. Owner Jay Jerrier presides over the oven, one eye on the raging fire, the other on his laptop, where he monitors social media. The pizzas emerge, fragrant and charred, bearing Jimmy's Italian sausage. If the pizza is all you want, then you're in luck: He sets up a mobile cart every Thursday at Times Ten Cellars in Fort Worth. 2612 Commerce St., Dallas, 214-741-1188; www.ilcanerosso.com

9. Bizzi's Wine and Cheese Bistro. Mom-and-pop owners Elaine Vaught and Glenn Stokes started with cheese. Then they added the wine. Then artisan breads made in house. Then salads, house-made pasta and an especially delectable brie in puff pastry with fig jam and maple syrup. Since it opened in June, Bizzi's has become a juggernaut in Bedford, with residents petitioning for longer hours and a bigger selection, and the couple has responded, bringing in extra kitchen help and taking foraging trips to find more great stuff. Bedford never had it so good. 313 Harwood Road, Suite 100, Bedford, 817-281-9500; www.bizzisbistro.com and www.bizzibeestore.wordpress.com

10. Food trucks. Roaming from location to location, always on the move, food trucks are the hottest dining concept of summer 2011. From tacos to barbecue to shaved ice, it seems like a new food truck surfaces every day. They can be unreliable; if they run out of ingredients, what's to stop them from closing up shop and wheeling on out? Fortunately, the city just designated a park off West Seventh where food trucks can perhaps live a longer, more stable life. If you need to find them, they're all over Twitter, and check out our roundup at dfw.com/dining.

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