But outside of the steakhouse scene when he first arrived here, Simon says, the best restaurants in Dallas were not worthy of a top-tier city. In dining terms, Dallas has progressed from a regional player to a national one and, he adds, "there are some arenas where Dallas is more evolved" than Los Angeles and other cities.

"There's a far greater level of sophistication amongst young professionals now," Simon concludes. "It's really exciting—you don't have to dumb things down for the Dallas palate any more."

It's a transformation that Chris Zielke, an owner of Bolsa and Smoke also recognizes. "Everybody cares more about food than they did 10 years ago," he says, pointing to the growing awareness of local farms, ZIP Code Honey and seasonal imports. "And there's far more commentary about it."

By that, he means the flood of information shared by local food bloggers, the instantaneous food-related thoughts posted onto Twitter accounts and the growth of food programming on television. Do something right, wrong or indifferent, and local diners are much more likely to hear about it than in decades past.

"The flow of communication has changed," Badovinus agrees. "We're dealing with a much better-educated consumer—that part of our business is the most significant change."

So the '90s boom waned and the dot-com bubble burst, the city grew wizened by a flood of information and weathered in the crucible of war and recession, and Dallas has emerged from the decade a more aware, more complete dining city.

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