Best Of :: Food & Drink
Dallas doesn't exactly have a reputation as a baking town. A sea of sandwich shops selling hoagies on flaccid rolls, a dearth of bagels and a general lack of Old World bakeries have cast the city in a negative baking light. The folks at Empire Baking Company are trying to change that image, though, crusty baguette by crusty baguette. Forget the soft, lifeless bread you find at most grocery stores and get ready to embrace bread with personality. Their baguettes sport a crisp dark brown crust that takes real work to get through, but grab a knife and take a look inside the loaf. See all those irregular holes? Smell that complex bouquet of grain that's not hindered by too much yeast? This is the bread that artisans in Europe have spent centuries perfecting. That this much quality comes from the hands of Chris Cutshall makes the bread even more amazing; he's trained as a chef, not a master baker, and he produces the best loaves in Dallas.
When Oak opened earlier this year it captured the attention of an entire city. Six months later not a lot has changed. Chef Jason Maddy's cooking has been consistently praised, and the restaurant still feels like it's gaining momentum, likely because in addition to great cooking, the menu is relatively affordable. Not that you'd know it by looking at these plates. A daily crudo features a fresh fish that rotates with availability, paired with pickled vegetables and a soy caramel sauce. A pork and octopus dish features tender jowls and tentacles. And a berbere spiced lamb loin accompanies an amazing sweetbread panzanella. That food this good comes in one of Dallas' most comfortable dining rooms doesn't hurt things either.
Jay Jerrier just may be building a dynasty if his recently expanded Deep Ellum pizza restaurant can continue its run. His traditionally topped rounds are as authentic a Neapolitan pizza as you can get in Dallas, while more aggressively topped pies resonate with the pizzas we all grew up on, and occasional special pizzas are works of real culinary creativity. The best seat in the house is always the bar, where you can watch Dino Santonicola, the Italian-born pizza master, work his magic with hundreds of soft and pillowy dough balls. Ninety seconds later that fragile round of dough is a perfect leopard-spotted pizza pie you can pound completely on your own. Swill back a few Peronis while you're at it and take in a Rangers game on the big screen. You'll have a fan to either side of you.
Sharaku, the izakaya next door to Yutaka, only adds to the latter's attraction. Have a seat at Sharaku and grab a cold lager and a skewer threaded with crunchy, gritty chicken cartilage. If you're not inclined toward gristle, you can have a regular piece of chicken instead, but either way the salty grilled snacks are the best way to wake up your palate while you wait for your friends to arrive. With your party assembled, walk next door to Yutaka and hope for seats at the bar. There you'll watch a serious team of sushi pros perch short, thick ribbons of gemstone-fish on rice seasoned with enough sugar and rice vinegar to let you know it's there. Don't order grocery store tuna rolls here. Mackerel, uni and sweet shrimp served with impossibly crunchy, deep-fried heads are where you should spend your time. Finish your meal with a hand-roll. Now you're a sushi professional.
David Chang did a great thing in bringing ramen into new popularity, but he also spurred a lot of idiots who think any bowl filled with noodles, topped off with steaming broth and decorated with condiments will make the grade. Now trendy restaurants offer shoddy bowls of soup that are giving proper ramen a bad rep. Thankfully, Tei An offers a bowl that sets the ramen record straight. Fresh noodles cooked perfectly retain a subtle bite, and broths made from bones and not soup bases taste light but flavorful and are a real pleasure to slurp. Heat it up with a little of the neon-colored chili oil and watch it disappear into the murky bowl. A thin sheet of seaweed adds scents of sea and vegetation while bamboo shoots lend crunch and a chewy texture. A slice or two of roast pork is your reward for making it to the bottom of your bowl, which you certainly will do.
For some reason, seafood restaurants in Dallas generally fall into two categories. The first, like Dallas Fish Market and Oceanaire, peddle high-end fresh grilled fish, seafood towers and $7 beers. Then the hole-in-the-wall restaurants answer with menus that feature an entire aquarium breaded and deep-fried. These places are affordable but they leave a lot to be desired for true seafood lovers. Rex's comes in right in the middle with a casual, open and bright space that features great seafood at decent prices. It's the best place in Dallas to eat oysters from the Gulf and both coasts, and on Fridays serves the city's most promising lobster roll. Lunch service is packed here most days as customers wait for tables to indulge in sauteed fish sandwiches on Empire baked bread topped with crisp salty bacon. Not too bad for a strip mall restaurant in Northeastern Texas.