Buenos Aires Cafe
Seven tables, low-key decor, interesting mix of diners, excellent Argentinian food—this modest spot in South Austin right next to a pawn shop turned our expectations upside down. Flaky empanadas (we liked the jazzed-up chicken and the creamy spinach) got us started. The special, pork tenderloin with steamed asparagus, was good, but no match for the pastel de papas (shepherd’s pie), which our companion all but inhaled. We savored every bite of the tres leches cake—the best we’ve ever had. Liquor license pending, so BYOB (there’s a decent liquor store two doors down). 2414 S. 1st (512-441-9000). Open Mon—Thur 8:30—9:30, Fri & Sat 8: 30—10. Closed Sun. $—$$ 

Tour Brazil’s multifaceted cuisine at this snazzy reincarnation of a humble cafe formerly located near UT. Some dishes are resolutely homey, like feijoada (the tasty black-bean-and-smoked-meat stew that is the country’s national dish). Others have an upscale edge, such as jumbo shrimp deliciously sautéed with tomatoes in (way too much) garlic butter spiked with cachaça, Brazil’s famous sugar-cane liquor. Still others, like sweet starchy-sticky mandioca (yucca) cakes, lightly fried, will expand your culinary horizons. Absolutely worth a try. Bar. 4800 Burnet Rd (512-469-9988). Open 7 days 11 a.m.—11 p.m. $$ +


Kitchen 1924
The chef hails from Atlanta, and Southern pride is evident in the pork braised in Coca-Cola and the lobster atop stone-ground grits. And not since Grandma’s have we had such good deviled eggs; we’d return just for these tasty treats. The chopped salad was unique, an all-vegetable concoction with a vinegary dressing, and initial skepticism about a citrus-marinated-shrimp pizza with red onion and an orange-honey reduction vanished with one bite. Bar. 1924 Abrams Rd (214-821-1924). Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2:30. Dinner Mon—Thur 5:30—10, Fri & Sat 5: 30—11. Sun brunch noon—3. $$—$$$ +

Tarantino’s Deep Ellum
For brothers Peter, Matthew, and Patrick Tarantino, this casual but nicely turned out restaurant must feel like a Deep Ellum homecoming. The focus is traditional Italian dishes—with surprises like prosciutto-wrapped duck. More predictable, a sizeable hunk of lasagne had plenty of meaty flavor, and a Greek salad was an honest presentation of mixed greens with cucumber, red onions, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and banana peppers. Buttery shrimp scampi blew the top off the garlic meter. Bar. 2708 Elm (214-651-0500). Lunch Tue—Fri 11—2. Dinner Tue & Wed 5:30—10, Thur & Fri 5:30—11, Sat 5:30—11. Closed Sun & Mon. $$—$$$ +

Urban Market Cafe
What a boon for downtown loft dwellers. Take an elevator or the stairs down to the first floor, order a stick-to-the-ribs breakfast of ginger-cinnamon pancakes sided with thick-cut bacon and a slice of fresh orange, gulp down a cup of excellent coffee, and be out the door in short order. And that’s just mornings. Lunch and dinner are served too. Bar. 1500 N. Jackson (214-741-3663). Open Mon—Fri 6 a.m.—10 p.m., Sat & Sun 8—10. $—$$ +


Bamboo House
A simple, attractive setting, with a curved bar and banquettes, suits straightforward pan-Asian fare. Plump fried pork dumplings started us off well. Tempura shrimp, perfectly cooked in an airy batter, made a fine light entrée for us, especially when we supplemented it with bites of our friend’s Thai red curry with chicken, eggplant, onion, jícama, and assorted peppers. Beer & wine. 540 Waugh Dr (713-522-3442). Open Sun—Thur 11—9, Fri & Sat 11—10. $—$$ +

Dolce Vita
See Pat’s Pick (above). Bar. 500 Westheimer Rd (713-520-8222). Dinner Tue—Fri 5—11, Sat 5—midnight, Sun 5—10. Closed Mon. $$ +

Maloney’s Steakhouse
This attractive steakhouse in the burbs blends cozy and contemporary, making it a hot spot for intimate dinners and large parties alike. Starters include crabmeat with caramelized pears and candied pecans. We approved equally of our beef filet and our blackened mahimahi with grilled shrimp. A shared slice of New York—style cheesecake and a trip to the piano bar for music and dancing ended an enjoyable evening. Bar. 14641 Gladebrook Dr (281-440-6500). Dinner Mon—Thur 5—10, Fri & Sat 5—11, Sun 5—9. Reservations recommended. $$$ +

Thai Spice
Located in an attractive strip center in the rapidly developing Heights area, Thai Spice packs them in for tom yum goong, loaded with shrimp and lemongrass. We’d also order the pad Thai again, with noodles, egg, peanuts, and shrimp in perfect proportion. And the tender, high-quality beef in the panang curry elevated it a step above most versions of this classic. The service is attentive and the setting serene, despite the crowds. BYOB. 460 19th (713-880-9992). Open Tue—Fri 11—2:30 & 5—10, Sat & Sun 11—10. Closed Mon. $$ +


Lisa West’s Double Nickel Steakhouse
If the name, elegant decor, and high-quality steaks remind you of a popular eighties chophouse, there’s a reason. The creator of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Dallas consulted with Ms. West on the concept and design. And we love the results, so much so that “the best steak I’ve ever had” was uttered at our table and not one parsing argument followed. As for the side of creamed corn we had with our perfectly prepared New York strip, it rivaled the signature fried cheese. Bar. 5405 Slide Rd (806-792-0055). Dinner Mon—Sat 5—10. Closed Sun. $$$ +

San Antonio

Massimo Pallottelli has imported a new chef and opened a second restaurant, elegant and be-columned, in the boutique Fairmont Hotel. A well-prepared preliminary menu augured well. Our appetizer of marinated goat cheese with asparagus and mushrooms was intensely flavorful, and a Mediterranean treatment of halibut with olives and tomatoes scored high. So did a creamy seafood risotto. Crisp service made for a most pleasant evening. Bar. Fairmont Hotel, 401 S. Alamo (210-212-5820). Lunch Mon—Fri 11—2:30. Dinner Mon—Sat 5—10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations recommended. $$$ +