For the first time ever, Chow, Baby this year will be serving up Christmas dinner for the family. Just to be clear, I have no intention of cooking a thing. My plan is to go to area restaurants, buy my favorite dishes, and present them on festive platters. I’m not going to actively take credit for the cooking, but if no one asks, I’m happy to let the fam think I labored over the meal for days.

On the menu for sure will be tamales, one of my favorite Christmas traditions, but I’m kind of torn between old and new loves. If you’re a tamale aficionado like I am, then you likely already know about Aguilera’s Café (2005 N. Grove St.). The Santos family has been serving up this city’s finest tamales for decades. The tiny restaurant is in a ramshackle house off the beaten path on the North Side. It’s like visiting your eccentric uncle’s house, but without the brown stains on the ceiling from years of his chain smoking, and with vastly better food.

Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen (5724 Locke Ave.) is my new restaurant crush (“Fridge v. Frigid World,” Dec. 18), and it has a tamales menu the size of a Dostoevsky novel. If you’re looking for more adventurous versions, make your way to the Camp Bowie-area strip mall and bring home some pork tenderloin or roast beef tamales.


Instead of going the old mashed potatoes and gravy route for my holiday starch fix, I plan to offer the relatives something with more of a “wow” factor. It doesn’t get more “wow” than the roasted green-chile grits ($8) at Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine (4259 Bryant Irvin Rd.). The buttery grits have a luxuriously rich flavor, velvety texture, and a throat-tickling jalapeño spice. I’ll also swing by Max’s Wine Dive (2421 W. 7th St.) and pick up some of its MAX ’n’ Cheese ($11), a fancy-in-the-pantsy take on the comfort-food classic featuring cavatappi pasta tossed in truffle cream with provolone, Gruyere, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.

Everybody knows that a turkey serves to make the evening bright and all that, but at my place, duck is going to make it positively glow. I’m going with King Chinese BBQ’s (907 E. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington) crispy duck ($9.95), served with a subtly sweet, and aptly named, “duck sauce,” made with apricot preserves (if I correctly understood our server, who was struggling to find the English word for the fruit). On a recent visit, the duck itself was a masterpiece of crispy skin and meat so tender you’d think Al Green had been in the kitchen singing to it. King Chinese BBQ adds a little sentimental spice, too, since it was the subject of my first-ever column as Chow, Baby (“A Disturbance in the Foodie Force,” June 8, 2011).

For dessert, as much as it pains to me to give money to a chain, even a brilliant one, I’ve got to go with the cheesecake with seasonal berries ($10) at The Capital Grille (800 Main St.). The airy, delicately sweet cake is bruleed on top, with a gossamer-thin crust on the bottom, and is served with strawberries and blueberries. That dessert is so dangerous and sexy it should come with a safe word.

Oh, all this work, slaving over a smokin’ credit card. But think of the memories we’ll create in that foodie wonderland — truffle cream stuck to my tiny nephew’s nose, teaching Grandmere to say “Parmigiano-Reggiano.” They’ll start calling me Chow, Baby Claus.

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