Stacy's Smoke Dem Bones Pit Stop
Sarah Whitmire

How nice to see a familiar face back on the local dining scene. Stacy Phipps, who owned the now-defunct Stacy's soul food restaurant on Jefferson, opened his new barbecue place earlier this year, and we were there just as soon as we could smell that mouthwatering almond and hickory smoke wafting from the meat smokers out back. The atmosphere is no-frills, but what the heck — it seems half the people in here are getting their goodies to go anyway. And once we finally get our feast in front of us, we're not paying attention to anything but the smoky pulled pork sandwich, the tender brisket, and the incredible beef ribs, which have a rich, caramelized taste that makes gnawing on the bone all the more pleasurable. As a bonus, there's plenty of soul food to go along with the meat, from savory greens to buttery candied yams. Wash it all down with a large cup of sweet tea, and see if you're not inspired to indulge in some sweet potato pie, too. Good barbecue will do that to you.

Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen

Cajun restaurants are few and far between in these parts, but thankfully there's one place we can count on when we're ready to let the good times roll: Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen. It's the kind of place you have to seek out, since it's planted in the middle of the Town & Country Shopping Center, but trust us — once you get a taste of the killer Cajun cooking at this friendly, laid-back joint, you'll put it on your mental map (and you'll probably kick yourself for not going there sooner). Bring a big appetite, and bring some friends while you're at it, because the food is luscious and the portions are downright huge. Start off with Louisiana crabcakes, shrimp remoulade, or maybe a cup of duck and andouille sausage gumbo, then try some red beans and rice, crawfish etouffée, or jambalaya. There are several kinds of po' boys, all served with homemade chips, and daily specials like beer-battered shrimp and Cajun fried chicken are worth a look, too. If it sounds like an over-the-top way to blow your diet, it sure is. Don't worry, though — you'll be in good company.

Ranch House Grille
Jackie Mercandetti

It seemed there was a revolving door for restaurants at this vintage strip mall until Ranch House Grille came on the scene, tempting locals with cheap, old-fashioned eats at bargain prices. From huevos rancheros to Philly cheesesteaks, there are plenty of things to splurge on, but the hands-down star of this show is the chicken-fried steak. They call it "country fried steak," but nevertheless, it's an exemplary rendition of an American classic, with tender beef and golden, crunchy coating. Slathered in creamy, peppery country gravy or luscious pork chili verde, it goes down way too easily. And boy, what a portion — the thing takes up half the plate, but somehow we always manage to scarf it all down before we stop to think about the caloric repercussions.

Brothers Otis and Nick Lara only opened this second branch of their father's fry bread place a few months ago, but it's already becoming a neighborhood fast-food staple. Why? Because, seriously, who wants to eat a stale burger or a taco with questionable meat sources when you can watch the Laras hand-make a fresh fry bread Laguna and fill it with your favorite toppings? The basic recipe comes from their Native American roots, but the pair ventures outside tradition with innovative couplings like the Gourmet Laguna with grilled meats and peppers, or our personal favorite: the sweet variety with honey-butter or cherry topping. Fry bread purists might balk at the thought of the Native American foodstuff smothered in refried beans and salsa, but that's because they haven't tried it. Once you do, trust us when we say you'll be hooked.

Pizzeria Bianco
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The menu is modest: half a dozen pizzas and a handful of starters. The ingredients are humble, and mostly local, with a few standout imports like mortadella from Modena, Italy. The atmosphere's low-key, too, with a blazing wood-fired oven as the main focal point in a rustic, brick-walled dining room. But as much as Pizzeria Bianco tries to be down to earth, it remains a dining destination for pizza fanatics, Slow Foodies, and the generally curious, who might've heard about chef-owner Chris Bianco's fantastic pies from Martha or Oprah or some other national media source.

The hype has created constant crowds, no matter what night of the week it is, along with critics who contend that no pizza is worth waiting hours for. But this is no ordinary pizza, and contrary to urban legend, nobody else in town comes close to creating a crust with such character, all bubbly and blistered, crisp and a little chewy. Toppings are just as memorable, from the sublime marinara — a cheeseless pie that celebrates garlic, oregano, and sauce redolent with ripe tomatoes — to the legendary Wise Guy, topped with fennel sausage, roasted onions, and house-smoked mozzarella. Sure, waiting for a table at this downtown landmark takes patience that borders on religious devotion. But one thing's certain: The faithful eventually get a taste of heaven.

Jimmy and Joe's Pizzeria
Jackie Mercandetti

All right, we get it. Jimmy & Joe's calls its pizza slices "serious slices" for a very good reason. These things are seriously huge, and seriously delicious. Cut from what must be a three-foot pie, and served on a wide metal pizza pan, each piping hot piece is big enough to require two hands to hold it. Luckily, that's nothing to worry about, since they give each customer a handy pizza cutter to slice it into more manageable pieces. We're fond of the garlicky Hawaiian pizza, the meat-laden Carnivore, and the zesty Popeye, topped with spinach, basil, garlic, tomato, mozzarella, and feta. Even when we attempt a diet, there's the cheeseless Healthy Choice, smothered with veggies. And no matter what we choose, the New York-style crust — miraculously thin and crisp on the bottom, with fat, chewy edges — tastes great. Seriously.

Half Moon Sports Grill
Diana Martinez

Considering how many TVs are tuned to sports in this place, it's probably safe to say that it's always game day at Half Moon Sports Grill. But even if it weren't, we'd still come here just for the chicken wings. We get a hankering for a good batch of wings more often than we'd like to admit, and at Half Moon, there's no need to keep track of how many we're actually eating. These are sold by the pound instead of the dozen, so it's easier for us to gorge on these plump, juicy snacks (almost) guilt-free. Seven kinds of sauces keep us happy, from sambal (hot sauce) and barbecue to Thai peanut and honey chipotle.

And there's even a boneless version, all crispy, golden fried meat, no need to gnaw. Really, these scrumptious wings give us reason to cheer — and since it's always game day, no one will even mind if we do.

Welcome Diner
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Simplicity is underrated, especially in the case of potatoes. You can do just about anything to a spud — purée it, bake it, dress it up with fancy toppings — but sometimes the best thing you can do is just revel in its delicious flavor. That's why we love the French fries at Welcome Diner, where they cook them up the old-fashioned way. There's no doubt these taters are fresh, since the tiny row of counter seats in this cozy vintage restaurant affords an unhindered view of the potato slicer. (And we can definitely attest to how much use the thing gets, partly thanks to our own French fry fixation.) Fried up to a mouthwatering golden brown and sprinkled with salt, these crispy, skin-on beauties are nothing short of potato perfection.

Delux Grill + Sushi
Lauren Cusimano

Lately, we've noticed that we hardly ever order burgers anymore — unless we're at Delux. Why settle for less? The signature burger at this sleek, stylish bar and grill is the only one we truly crave when our carnivorous instincts kick in, and apparently we're in good company, seeing how busy Delux always seems to be. Dripping with juices and cooked to order (we like ours medium-rare), the Delux burger is a huge patty of freshly ground Harris Ranch beef on a toasted demi-baguette, topped with Maytag and Gruyère cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, applewood-smoked bacon, and arugula. It's a heady combination of flavors that gets us moaning with delight from the first to the last bite. No wonder this burger gets so much buzz.

Ted's Charcoal Broiled Hot Dogs
Natalie Miranda

Some people think hot dogs are meant to be eaten only at a ballgame or a backyard barbecue — but those folks obviously haven't been to Ted's Hot Dogs. Too bad they don't know what they're missing.

These charcoal-broiled wienies are plump and smoky, tucked into fresh, soft buns that are just sturdy enough to hold up under whatever toppings we might be craving, from relish, onions, and mustard to chili and cheese. Whenever we're in the vicinity of Ted's, just the thought of sinking our teeth into one of these beauties is enough to make us stop by for a snack. Add some homemade onion rings and a chocolate shake, and we'll call it one of the best meal deals in town.

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