Cafe Berlin doesn't have to fish for compliments over its pickled herring: The fish, pickled and spiced in-house, is tangy, firm and incredibly refreshing. Does the attractive little eatery do as well by other German specialties? You're darn Teuton! The sausages and schnitzels are superb, even better washed down with something from Cafe Berlin's large collection of German wines and beers.
The servers say regulars know the story, but every time a newcomer walks in, they have to tell it again. The divey Cutthroat Cafe used to be an even divier Butcher Block, but the new owner changed the name to reflect the two most important things for him: fishing and his wife, the real love of his life. Cutthroat trout in many forms -- a stuffed pillow, a real stuffed fish, posters, photos, clocks and signs that say "Gone Fishing" -- decorate the little diner, so there's no getting around that explanation of the name. But then you meet the little lady of the cafe (the owners asked that their names not be used) and see that she has a large scar running from one side of her neck to the other. Stories abound as to its source, including theories that she was in an alley fight, got mugged or tried to commit suicide; she lets out a gravelly laugh every time she hears another whopper. Truth is, she had throat surgery a while back, and it left her with the scar and a voice that she admits "cuts glass."


At Dixons, Goodfriends and Racines, three sibling restaurants and local institutions, the fish and chips entree snags us hook, line and sinker. The bait begins with the batter, which is augmented by Dixons Angel Amber beer, a brew made off-premises that Dixons shares with its relatives. Sweet, fresh chunks of North Atlantic cod are dipped in the batter and then plunged into oil in the deep fryer, where the batter quickly caramelizes, thanks to the beer's sugar content. The result is a dark, sweet crispy shell holding in supple, steamy cod. Served with fat French fries, sweet coleslaw and housemade tartar sauce, it's a catch for any day.


Don't throw this one back: Roasted to order in a brick oven, 240 Union's fish is all crispy, sea-salty, lemon-tart skin and moist, silky flesh that melts in your mouth. The price and type of fish change with the seasons -- sometimes it's a snapper that's big enough for two, sometimes it's a sea bass you won't want to share -- but it's always a keeper. Although 240 Union may have other fish to fry, we toast the roast.


Broasting falls somewhere between roasting and frying, a patented process that was invented by the Broaster Co. back in 1952. Basically, it involves marinating a whole chicken, then putting it in a special pressure fryer that seals in the juices while keeping the oil content to a minimum. The result is one tasty bird: crispy skin, moist meat. The Okoboji Inn -- named after the lake in Iowa, it has a casual atmosphere reminiscent of a dockside cafe -- follows all of the Broaster Co. rules and serves up an unbelievably tender, juicy broasted chicken. A bird in the hand here is worth two from anywhere else.


The Kapre Lounge is a Denver institution, a longtime outpost on Welton Street that serves the best fried chicken in town. This is Southern-style chicken, with a crunchy, oily, peppery, lightly battered skin covering slippery, juice-dripping bird. And since the chicken is cooked in heart-healthy canola oil, go ahead and splurge on sides of buttery collard greens and dense macaroni and cheese.


Fly us to the Moongate, one of this town's best-kept secrets. The tiny, six-table eatery in a tiny, nondescript strip mall cooks up quality Asian fare with big flavors -- and it's equally adept with the most popular dishes from each of the major cuisines in that region. While the tempura (Japanese), chicken satay (Indonesia) and egg rolls (Vietnamese) are all fine, the sesame chicken really soars. For this quintessential version of the quintessential Chinese dish, sizable chunks of chicken are coated in a thick batter, fried until crispy, rolled in sesame seeds and then glazed with a perfectly balanced sweet-and-spicy sauce -- not sweet enough to coat a candy apple, and not so spicy that you can't taste the moist, juicy meat inside that crust. The sesame chicken comes on the perfect accessory: a bed of steamed vegetables that have been tossed on the grill just long enough to caramelize their edges.


The Dire family has been serving good old-fashioned diner fare at this Bonnie Brae roadhouse since 1934 -- when the road outside was still dirt, rather than today's busy University Boulevard. But not much else has changed since those days. Sure, the pizza toppings have gotten more exotic, and microbrews now sit next to Coors at the bar (oh, yes, and the prices have gone up a bit), but the old family recipes are the same. One of our favorites is for chicken-fried steak, a formula that calls for a very large slab of flank steak to be coated in a floury batter, pan-fried in butter and then smothered in peppery country gravy, with mashed potatoes plopped alongside to soak up any excess gravy and juice. The crust, studded with small blackened bits from the pan, is so tasty that you could make a meal of it -- but then you'd miss the meat inside, which is tender enough to slice with a fork.


At Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse, the steaks are awesome. The service is gracious. The wine list is impressive. The dining room is classy. The sides are stellar. The prices are up there -- but you get what you pay for. For the best steaks in town, Del Frisco's is the winner and still the chomp.
Saddle up and head south -- into the heart of suburban sprawl, for pity's sake -- for some of the best steaks in town. Texas Land & Cattle Steak House, a link in a chain out of Austin, serves up a heapin' helpin' of food in low-key surroundings; this steakhouse manages to feel like a Western watering hole without hitting you over the head with contrived cowboyisms. The meat of the matter is beef, as it should be: USDA Choice, well-aged and cut right, then hickory-smoked and mesquite-grilled. The cooking process results in charred little bits all over the steak, which has a deep, smoky taste and tender-textured flesh with just the right amount of chewiness. While the flavor -- and portions -- are big, the prices are relatively small, with a sixteen-ounce ribeye coming in at $19.99. And unlike at higher-end steakhouses, the meat comes with several complimentary sides to keep it company: The chile-spiked beans and garlicky mashed potatoes are tops, and the house salad is just fine (or spring an extra buck for the splendid retro wedge, ice-cold iceberg topped with an avalanche of blue-cheese dressing and bacon bits). Desserts are Texas-sized, too, so you'll want to save space for the insulin-injection Jack Daniel's pie. Yee-haw!


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