1. 18-ounce prime dry-aged bone-in strip, Bailey's Prime Plus
Admittedly, the circumstances surrounding this particular meal were a bit odd. It was in the blustery depths of January, and the DFW.com crew was shepherding the blindfolded, earplugged Chris Kelly to different area steakhouses, using only his palate to discern which steak tasted best. Those of us able to use all of our senses often followed behind our test subject, sampling quick bites to form our own opinions (and, besides, who would pass up a barely eaten steak sitting right in front of them?). Every other steak has faded from memory over the last 12 months except for this $50 beauty, which our trusty taste-tester aptly described as "exquisitely tender and perfectly cooked." It was a total knockout -- a transporting, almost ethereally delicious bite of beef -- and the handlers even briefly tussled over just who would get to take home the leftovers. Yes, it's that good. Preston Jones
Bailey's Prime Plus, 2901 Crockett St., Fort Worth. 817-870-1100; baileysprimeplus.com
2. Butternut squash burrata at Dough
The burrata at Dough seems tailor-made for girls who like purses. It's like a surprise package waiting to be opened. And it is a surprise at this Neapolitan-style pizzeria in North Dallas, since they change the filling with the seasons. In the summer, it was mascarpone cheese with truffle oil, but the autumn burrata with butternut squash is best of all. The presentation is marvelous. A snow-white sack sits in the center, on a pool of golden butternut squash puree, encircled by a ring of sauteed mushrooms. The hand-wrought topknot is so adorable, you are loathe to break it open. But open it you do, piercing the outer shell of thinly stretched mozzarella cheese until the filling oozes out, a soft puree of butternut squash mixed with mascarpone. Almost too soft, if there can be such a thing. The filling possesses the subtlest hint of cinnamon, not the usual overdose of pumpkin-pie spice foisted upon this golden gourd. That's part of the joy of this dish, is how über-squashy the puree is. You gotta like butternut squash though. Teresa Gubbins, special to DFW.com
Dough, 11909 Preston Road, No. 1444, Dallas. 972-788-4600.
3. California burrito, Salsa Fuego
We went to Salsa Fuego on a cloudy Wednesday, trepidation hanging in the air. How could the tiny Mexican restaurant, located in a forgotten stretch of west Fort Worth, ever measure up to the hosannas it had been getting from foodies far and wide? (Most notably, Texas Monthly had anointed it one of the top 5 Mexican restaurants in the state.) But from the first bite of the California burrito, bursting with succulent shrimp, tender fajita beef and velvety avocado, great expectations never tasted so sweet. Wrapped in a 12-inch flour tortilla that was warm and pliable, the burrito's creamy chipotle sauce provided just the right flash of heat. Inside, we found buried treasure -- a few French fries, lightly crisped and salted, adding an earthy, blue-collar crunch to the more refined tastes of the shrimp and avocado. The $12 price tag might make a burrito lover choke, but this California bad boy is worth every penny, revealing a new flavor and another piece of hulking shrimp with each chomp. Chef Carlos Rodriguez's menu is stuffed with inventive Mexican dishes, and the daily specials board is especially hard to resist. Our roast chicken in red sauce special was heavenly. But for this skeptic, it was the California burrito that made it safe to say this: Believe the hype about Salsa Fuego, and then some. Rick Press
3520 Alta Mere Drive, Fort Worth; 817-560-7888. salsafuegofw.net
4. Ishiyaki, Shinjuku Station
Fort Worth's near southside blossomed as a culinary destination in 2011 -- a tree-lined, sophisticated street dotted with venerable mainstays and exciting newcomers alike. One of the freshmen eateries on the block was Shinjuku Station, a sister restaurant of the beloved Tokyo Cafe. The price tag is slightly higher at Shinjuku, but the trade-offs include a more refined, urban-chic atmosphere and exotic dishes like the ishiyaki, which is as much about the presentation as the actual food. The ishiyaki, which roughly translates as "hot stone cooking," provides a scorching rock upon which paper-thin slices of beef are laid. In the blink of an eye, the edges are curled, the meat sizzles and, dipped in a sweet, green onion-spiked soy sauce and decorated with several varieties of mushroom, you have one of the most transcendent entrees in North Texas. Preston Jones
Shinjuku Station, 711 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. 817-923-2695; shinjuku-station.com
5. The No. 5, Velvet Taco
Velvet Taco, a terrific new upscale taqueria in Dallas with an eco-friendly attitude and late hours, takes full advantage of the ongoing taco trend, but elevates it by using multinational ingredients and flavors in imaginative ways. Our pick: The No. 5, a taco whose key ingredient is paneer, a cheese of Indian origin often used in South Asian cuisine. Wrapped in a warm, flour tortilla, the paneer was lightly fried, but it was far more interesting than simply chicken-fried cheese. The paneer had a firm, meaty texture, and its subtle flavor was heightened by tomato chutney, Thai basil and a faintly sweet, thick cream sauce made with raita, or Indian yogurt. Won't find that at Chipotle. Malcolm Mayhew
Velvet Taco, 3012 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas, 214-823-8358. VelvetTaco.com.
6. Green-chile brisket pizza, Il Cane Rosso
For me, Hatch green chile season is as much about nostalgia as it is about spicy, tangy flavors: Years ago, I lived in Las Cruces, N.M., about 40 miles south of Hatch, and during the late summer/early autumn, the aroma of roasting chiles permeated the air. The closest I've come to that here is when we ran across "Outlaw Chef" Terry Chandler roasting chiles outside the original Fred's Texas Cafe one night, and Fred's has become one of our regular Hatch green-chile season stops in DFW, along with Blue Mesa Grill and Chuy's. All of them were topped this year, though, by the wood-fired green-chile brisket pizza at Il Cane Rosso, the Deep Ellum pizza palace that has turned the Dallas pizza scene on its ear. It was a blistering August evening, but we sat on the spacious patio, surprisingly comfortable even in this summer's ridiculous heat, and I scarfed down the whole thing: Il Cane Rosso's wonderful wood-fired crust, white cheese, chiles that had a good amount of heat but not so much that it blasted away the chile flavor -- and the salty brisket, which upstaged the chiles to become the pizza's star. Purists might scoff, but it was a perfect combination of meat and chile flavors that stirred memories of the past and created new ones in the present. Robert Philpot
2612 Commerce St, Dallas, 214-741-1188. ilcanerosso.com
7. Low country shrimp, Misto Bistro in Carrollton
Once you've tasted it, the dish keeps beckoning you back, like some sort of bayou temptress. Five large Gulf shrimp sit, fresh and blackened, like a tease on top of an ample bed of old-fashioned cheddar cheese grits. But the real seduction lies in what lies beneath: a Ponchatrain sauce made from a New Orleans-style roux, laced with cream and amped up with sassy Louisiana hot sauce. The whole affair is dappled with healthy flecks of jalapeño-smoked bacon, grape tomatoes and chives. One mouthful is a blast of salty, kicky, creamy comfort, and by the end, you'll be grasping for anything that helps you sop up those last smears of Ponchatrain sauce. This tantalizing creation comes from Chef Janet Parr, who owns Misto Bistro, along with her husband, Brad. The husband-wife team has run the DFW-based No Worries Catering company since 1996, but in March they took a giant leap, opening their eclectic restaurant in fine-dining-deprived Carrollton. I've been to the Josey Lane restaurant maybe half a dozen times since May, and each time, I've overheard patrons -- desperate with gratification -- tell the Parrs: "We're so glad you're here." Heather Svokos
Misto Bistro, 3720 N. Josey Lane, No. 118, Carrollton; 972-492-3933; misto-bistro.com
8a. Ribs at Uncle Willie's BBQ
When you think of Texas barbecue joints, Uncle Willie's is the type of place that should come to mind: It's a tiny, family-run restaurant, off the beaten path, where you can taste the time, care and patience that goes into each piece of beautifully smoked meat. Everything here is good, from the brisket to the chicken, but the pork ribs stand out as among the area's best. Smoked for 10 hours in the restaurant's custom smoker, these St. Louis-style ribs are big on size and flavor. During our visits, the ribs were tender but required a bit of a tug, meaning they had been cooked properly, and their edges had been blackened in a peppery crust. Owner Willie Brown used a dynamite dry rub, too -- made of paprika, garlic and white sugar -- that managed to find the perfect spot between sweet and smoky. Get there early; we're not the only ones who love them.Malcolm Mayhew
Uncle Willie's BBQ, 1506 Miller Ave., Fort Worth, 214-554-1954.
8b. Ribs at Sweet Georgia Brown
Back in October, I knew I'd be declaring Sweet Georgia Brown's ribs as my dish of 2011 after just one bite. Pound for pound, ribs typically have the highest cost and the highest letdown, but at this South Dallas barbecue joint, the ribs got game. This sweet meat falls off the bone clean, with a celestial tenderness. Plenty of barbecue joints claim their meats don't need sauce, but as we all know, that's usually a fallacy. Although Sweet Georgia Brown makes no such claim, it sure could. I didn't even bother with the sauce. It took awhile, but I finally found a place that left me in a barbecue-induced bewilderment, mauling ribs like some wild creature from the Serengeti. Joseph Daniel, special to DFW.com
Sweet Georgia Brown, 2840 E. Ledbetter Drive, Dallas, 214-375-2020
9. Coconut cream pie at Malai
Asian restaurants are not exactly known for dessert, unless you like rice pudding and green-tea ice cream. Malai Kitchen is an exception. This Vietnamese-Thai restaurant in Dallas' West Village has a coconut cream pie that is not only outside the box for Asian restaurants, it nearly surpasses any coconut cream pie you've ever had. Note: It's not like the other coconut cream pies; it's more sophisticated. For one thing, the coconut custard has the silkiest mouth-feel, with a firmness to the body that leaves a neat edge when you slice it with a fork. Second, the crust is not traditional flaky pastry; instead, it's made from shredded, toasted coconut, which adds a fabulously chewy texture that enhances the firm custard. Third, it's topped with fluffy white meringue, a refined twist that makes the usual whipped cream topping seem flabby and dull. The plate gets drizzled with caramel, but not just any caramel -- it's flavored with tamarind, the exotic, slightly bitter fruit pulp used in Asian and Latin cuisines. Here, it offsets the sweetness of the caramel and adds complexity. You also get a small scoop of house-made coconut ice cream and slivers of fresh mango for a fresh bright pop. It's a coconut pie like no other. Teresa Gubbins, special to DFW.com
Malai Kitchen, 3699 McKinney Ave., No. C319, Dallas. 972-591-3387.
10. Philly cheesesteak at A&D Buffalo's
Rather than from some up-and-coming, chef-propelled new restaurant, our No. 10 is actually from a small, somewhat obscure franchise that sells wings and burgers. And although 100 wings sounds like a sensible Monday night meal, it's not wings that are A&D Buffalo's strongest offering. That would be its mighty fine Philly cheesesteak ($5.19 or $8.49 with six wings). You can't argue against thinly-cut beef, mayo, green peppers and mushrooms piled on top of a thick roll with slightly crispy edges. It's a hot, cheesy and filling option, and any meat-crazed diner will quickly see why it's A&D Buffalo's flagship menu item. At A&D Buffalo's in Dallas, some local customers go for the Philly not just every month, but almost every single day. Dang, I'm jealous. Joseph Daniel, special to DFW.com
A&D Buffalo's, several DFW locations, including 4005 E. Belknap St., Haltom City, 817-834-1111; 10455 N. Central Expressway, Dallas, 214-234-0449; 1601 S. McDonald St., McKinney, 469-952-2314; www.adbuffalos.com