By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 7, 2001

Dallas brags that its restaurant-to-resident ratio is one of the highest in the country; alas, many of the city's dining destinations are commonplace chains. Here are three winning exceptions.

SONNY BRYAN'S SMOKEHOUSE (2202 Inwood Rd., 214-357-7120)

The original location of this venerable barbecue purveyor has been fueling customers for more than 40 years. One taste of the tender sliced brisket or meaty pork ribs and you can see how this scrappy drive-in -- perfumed with smoke and furnished with old school desks for seating -- has become the stuff of legend in Texas. Onion rings the size of bracelets and punchy coleslaw turn the 'cue into a feast. Your choice of meat plus two sides runs about $8.

STEEL (3102 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-219-9908)

Sushi, Korean-style beef, clay pot-cooked soups -- there's a bit of everything on the pan-Asian menu of this honey-colored dining destination. More than just a citrusy beef carpaccio and a fragrant lotus-shrimp salad set Steel apart from the pack, though: The teas are custom blends, the china is hand-painted in Japan and the glam bar looks to be the most happening watering hole around. The welcome is pure Texan. But what's with that pulsing techno music at lunch? Dinner entrees $20-$36.

YORK STREET (6047 Lewis St., 214-826-0968)

Dinner in chef Sharon Hage's intimate, 42-seat restaurant starts with a complimentary glass of sherry, some salted almonds and herbed olives, and moves on to such quiet pleasures as eggplant soup, swordfish with a gingery carrot sauce and savory vegetables (creamed corn and roasted beets with oranges both disappear in a flash). Set in Old East Dallas, here's the place to come for inspired seasonal cooking in a spare yet smart environment. Dinner entrees $21-$32.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company