Another delicious year is in the books. 2016 was pretty crappy in a lot of ways — geopolitically, celebrity-deathically — but we’re not here to complain about that. We’re here to celebrate the best new restaurants in Dallas. It’s a diverse collection, and what’s notable is that most of this year’s best new restaurants were casual, approachable and easy on the wallet. The high-dollar 1-percenter openings often failed to match the hype, but small eateries opening under the radar picked up the slack.
The Observer doesn’t really award a “Restaurant of the Year,” but we do have some favorite new openings from 2016, and we’re going to honor them here. Along with two honorable mentions, these are the top five restaurants we’re most excited to continue visiting in 2017.
Honorable Mention: Best New Restaurant That Has Already Closed
On the Lamb
On the Lamb was a contender for the No. 1 spot on this list — indeed, in September we named it the Best New Restaurant for the year to date, one of the highest honors in our annual Best of Dallas awards. It was a welcome change of pace for Deep Ellum: an elegant bar, quiet enough for date night but boozy enough for a good time, with an innovative kitchen that could also grill a great cheeseburger. Chef Ross Demers, pastry chef Francisca Lang and their tiny team gave us outstanding duck confit, lamb pastrami, expertly prepared fish and simply extraordinary dessert “concoctions” that were also some of the most visually stunning desserts in the city.
But it all fell apart this holiday season; first Lang departed, then potential new investors lobbied for a dumbed-down concept to better fit in casual, cheap Deep Ellum. Demers quit and the restaurant closed without notice, without putting up a sign and while still accepting reservations. It was an ignoble end to a delightful culinary experiment.
Honorable Mention: Best New Restaurant That is Also an "Old" Restaurant
2901 Elm St.
Yes, Kitchen LTO’s chef, menu and décor change every six months. But this year’s switch was even more dramatic: The restaurant closed down entirely in July, a victim of slow traffic and the high cost of doing business at Trinity Groves. Owner Casie Caldwell talked about a crowdfunding campaign to help the restaurant reopen elsewhere, but many assumed it was gone for good.
Not so. In October, Kitchen LTO opened in new Deep Ellum digs, under chef Josh Harmon — and, even on the very first night, Harmon’s kitchen was turning out some of LTO’s best food ever. His passion for Korean food (be sure to order all the available banchan snacks) and his obsession with balancing all the major flavors (sweet, sour, savory, etc.) on a single plate resulted in unusual, and unusually delicious, takes on American comfort food.
Harmon leaves at the end of April. Don’t miss him.
The Top Five:
5. Montlake Cut
8220 Westchester Drive
This space must be conducive to seafood: What was once the beloved Spoon is now Montlake Cut, an homage to chef-owner Nick Badovinus’ native Seattle. Slurp up one of the city’s best fresh oyster selections, then move on to a list of fish dishes and Dungeness crab, all prepared simply but with great skill. You don’t need to get crazy with the recipes if your ingredients and technique are this good. Montlake Cut also keeps it simple with a good list of light, seafood-friendly wines and cocktails.
4. Hon Sushi
1902 E. Belt Line Road, Carrollton
The most Instagrammable restaurant of 2016 is in a Carrollton strip mall, where Charlie Yun is turning apples into swans, freezing parsley into blocks of ice and presenting sushi rolls in little landscapes complete with hand-carved trees made from cucumber skins. His food is outstanding, too: Alongside great specialty sushi rolls and fresh sashimi, don’t miss the terrific salad of crispy salmon skin, avocado and apple.
The dining room is still fairly quiet and prices are affordable for sushi of this quality. Until the crowds discover Hon Sushi, it represents one of the biggest bargains in north Texas, and it’s the best new suburban restaurant of 2016.
3. Wayward Sons
3525 Greenville Ave.
Graham Dodds’ new restaurant on Greenville Avenue has been gaining confidence and a following as the year goes on. It started off well enough, of course, with attention-getters like the completely vegetarian charcuterie board. But Wayward really hit its stride with summer’s fresh produce, like an alfredo pasta that used corn puree in lieu of cream, or a last-of-the-season tomato salad that, after a hot day at the state fair, tasted utterly sublime. The mix-your-own-mimosa brunch, with its brightly colored and just-as-brightly flavored shakshouka, certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
4010 Maple Ave.
This fall, Sprezza looked to become a victim of its own success. Two-hour waits, frantic staff, forgotten orders: The crowds hit this place hard. Those service problems seem to have eased a bit, but Sprezza is still just as popular as it ever was. We hardly need recommend it.
The crowds are right. This is one of the best Italian restaurants in Dallas. The Roman-style pizzas, with ingredients that change regularly based on seasons and chef's whims, are crisp and full of vivid flavors; the house-made pastas are utterly delightful and equally creative in their ingredients. Sprezza helped make squash blossoms one of the most-talked-about dishes of the year, too. The wine list is completely composed of wines from Italy, and specifically from south of Rome.
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1. Tacos Mariachi
602 Singleton Blvd.
In our original review, I noted that right after filing the article, I’d be going back to Tacos Mariachi again. As luck would have it, I plan to get some more tacos there right after filing this article. And I went last week for their birthday party. And, when a friend flew in from New York this fall, guess where we went for her first Dallas meal?
The key here is that Tacos Mariachi supplements its barbacoa and carnitas with imaginative tacos mostly built around seafood: a cochinita pibil taco with mahi mahi instead of pork; a taco with perfectly cooked shrimp, pickled onions and hot salsa; a Tuesday night special in which the fish filet is battered in chicharrones; a surprisingly delicious taco of smoked salmon wrapped up in cheese.
There’s a brand-new Wednesday night special: the ‘Vickie Oh,’ a taco with roasted portobello mushroom, poblano peppers, avocado and house-made chorizo. Vickie is a knockout. Almost everything here is. Tacos Mariachi isn’t just the best new restaurant in Dallas — it’s one of the most consistently satisfying and joy-giving restaurants in Dallas, period.