Best Of :: Food & Drink
Lebanese club music throbbed through air tinged with hookah smoke. A comely and curvaceous belly dancer writhed through the restaurant, finger cymbals ringing to the beat of the music. Diners took in this sumptuous visual delicacy as waitstaff brought platter after platter of tender lamb, chicken and steaming rice. They brought bowl after bowl of hummus and olives and creamy baba ghanoush. Once sated, the diners on a recent evening, many of them Indian, danced alternately in their own cultural way and in the booty-shaking style found in any club. And in a way, it was fitting. At Al-Amir, it's a taste of something familiar or something exotic, delivered — from the valets to the restroom attendant bearing a selection of cologne — in a very Dallas way.
“I would like to do an in-your-face Texas concept,” Stephan Pyles said when he was interviewed in the Observer about the state of Dallas dining in 2010. “Maybe it’s a little Disneyland-like.” Pyles lamented the lack of “Texas” in local Texas cooking and suggested that Dallas chefs had gotten off track. As he spoke he was sowing the seeds for his latest restaurant, Stampede 66, which delivers Texas custom tailored to downtown Dallas with the volume turned up to 10. From the color-shifting lights and quirky artistic sculpture to the images of cowboys branding calves, and the wall-mounted longhorns, Stampede 66 is as in-your-mug as it gets. If there’s one restaurant to take an out of town guest to show them everything Dallas is about, Pyles’ latest creation is it.
Barbecue is a humble art, and there's something special about brisket procured from a barbecue shack on the side of the road. Trouble is, most of the ramshackle joints across Texas don't serve very good smoked meats — that is until Travis and Donna Mayes first fired up their brick smoker in 2009. They've been serving up exceptional barbecue in this modest, smoke-stained building ever since. And it's the best "shack" barbecue you'll find around. The menu is hand-painted on the brick exterior next to the take-out window, and parked cars compete with massive piles of wood for real estate. There's no pretension here, and there's no seating either. All you get is smoky, tender brisket, ribs that pull from the bone. The smoky understand that this is precisely how barbecue was meant to be experienced.
You're finally up to order at Lockhart and despite how much time you spent in line you still haven't figured out what you want to eat. So you ask the guy taking orders because he works here and his epic beard conveys a lot of authority about meat. He tells you that if you're going to try anything today it should be the special, turkey breast, and your first impulse is to think that's absurd — you came for barbecue, after all, and barbecued turkey just sounds like a waste of good sides. But you know it would be rude to not take his suggestion, and he still has that authority-commanding beard. And thank God you listened to him. After that first spicy, tangy, juicy bite and the decadent blue cheese coleslaw you can't believe that for a moment you doubted that guy or his beard.
Get it? Because you smoke barbecue slowly, and ... OK, you get it. Fortunately, the meat is even better than the innuendo, with brisket that can be falling-apart tender and smoky, great sausages and ribs, and daily specials that can be hit-or-miss but always creative. Also noteworthy for those who aren't solely focused on the meat, the sides — often an afterthought at great Texas barbecue joints — are outstanding: green-bean casserole that doesn't come from a can, dessert-like sweet potatoes and even hush puppies. The meat alone puts this place among Dallas' best barbecue restaurants, and the quality side dishes make it one of our favorite restaurants period. Huh huh, we said "period."
It looks like a hot dog, even though it's too long and too skinny. It smells like a hot dog too. But as soon as your teeth snap through the casing on a Post Oak Red Hot, you're bathed in endorphin rush that's transformative. It's as if all your childhood memories — the dog your old man bought you at your first baseball game, the wiener you grilled on a stick at camp — are simultaneously unlocked in your cerebellum to set off a hot dog euphoria. The link is a perfect example of pedestrian charcuterie, and creator Brian Luscher adorns it with handcrafted condiments that only enhance the magic. Spicy mustard, pickled peppers and cucumbers, onions and tomatoes are all nestled in a pillow-soft bun speckled with poppy seeds. The only rub is you have to hit the White Rock Farmer's Market to get one until Luscher's opens in East Dallas late this fall.