Despite the bizarre early-morning hail and the nip in the air, the Dallas Observer’s Iron Fork competition still had a solid showing of folks eager to sample signature dishes and drinks from establishments all over the Metroplex. This is a well-organized and worthwhile event, for anyone looking to tantalize their tastebuds without trampling their wallet.  With over 40 restaurants bringing their A-game and many “adult” beverages thrown into the mix, it was hard to choose a favorite dish. So we’re going to count down our top five eats and sweets from this year’s event.

5 Hash House A Go Go – Meatloaf Burger

Hash House has been on my radar for a few weeks and now I know why. At first taste, my brain couldn’t figure out what this mystery meat was but my mouth was absolutely on board with seconds of this simple burger boasting roasted red peppers and smoked mozzarella.

4 Amberjax Fish Market Grille – Creole Crab Cake Mini

Superbly fried with just enough heat to make you notice, this crab cake made you wished for a bigger one.

3 Asador – Rabbit Stew with Watermelon Relish, Topped with Sweet Potato Chip

This dish had all the makings of a soon-to-be-favorite but the layering of the ingredients had me pausing. The rabbit was tender, the relish was sweetly tart with the sweet potato providing the needed crunch. However the relish sat on the bottom of the bowl, leaving most of the stew to languish on top in I-Could-Be-Better-ville; fantastic flavor party undiscovered.

2 Meso Maya – Handmade Corn Tortilla with Cochinita Pibil

Yes, this was a taco. However, it was the finest braised pork with zesty red, achiote sauce (also known as Recado Rojo and I want that sauce on everything), balanced by pickled red onions, white rice, and habanero salsa on a homemade white corn tortilla.

1 Pudding On Smiles – Banana Pudding

I had concede my top pick to this delectable dessert. It’s the simplest foods that are the hardest to get right. This banana pudding had a powerful combination of full-on flavor packaged in a deceptively, airy texture. I could not stop grinning after just one spoonful.

Honorable Mentions:

Y.O. Steakhouse’s Bacon Wrapped Venison Bites were certainly the crowd favorite, winning the most votes. The flavor was seductive and fascinating (as anything including bacon tends to be) but if you like a little less grease with your food, this appetizer may fall short of the mark. Between munching, I immensely enjoyed On the Rocks’ Jalapeno Pineapple Margarita, helping me wash down Cane Rosso’s admirable Sautéed Brussel Sprouts accompanied by—you guessed it— bacon aka pancetta bits, creamy stracciatella di bufala (buffalo) cheese, and almond slivers. Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen skipped the bacon and choose a different piece of the pig, serving the extremely popular, bite-sized Sugarbacon pork belly sandwiches that literally melted in your mouth when hot out of the fryer. And finally, Old Town Creamery gave me life with a seriously fluffy but smooth mango ice cream. My mouth is already salivating at the thought of next year’s Iron Fork.