American cheese should be the unofficial flag of Dallas in 2017. It could hang in the sky like a glittering yellow square, stiff and proud as the American flag on the moon. American cheese is the sigil of house Dallas, and it symbolizes, all jokes aside, a real movement in the city limits. Young chefs are piling on the cheese that reminds them of the Kraft Singles, the Velveeta and the slices of American they devoured as kids. It’s a bolt of nostalgia to remember food before food was a social network.
It’s true that Dallas has always been an all-roads-lead-to-Rome for some of the cheesiest dishes. Recently, a wave of new ideas — old-fashioned homages, really — inspired what we’re calling the Golden American Cheese Awards. (The physical award should be a golden tater tot.) In short, these are cheese awards of the year. You’ll see new dishes, some less new and some that simply are tried-and-true cheese masterpieces.
The Golden Cheese Awards go to ...
Best Cheese Sauce
Angry Bird at Sumo Shack
It’s 2 in the morning, and your brain is thumping after a night at the bar. Here’s what you need: a bao, a steamed cloud acting like a bun, with flash-fried chicken and a molten American cheese sauce that will cause visions. Chef Dien Ngyuen is your guardian angel of late-night hangover food. A plank of chicken bathes in soy sauce, peppercorns, salt, sugar and vinegar before getting panko-breaded. Pickle discs cut through the lava of American cheese sauce. And, listen, it’s open until 4 a.m. on weekends.
5629 SMU Blvd.
Best Cheese Covered Potato to Dip in Ranch
The Bad Pennies at Blues Burger
Each tot is cared for — this isn’t a scatter of loose cheese or bad bar nachos. A jalapeño sliver sits against the tot before it's wrapped in smoked bacon around the potato, preserving it in pork like you’re taking it on the Oregon Trail. The tots are skewered, eight to an order, cheddar rained and melted over everything. Dunk and swipe in ranch to go full-tilt Dallas comfort food.
1820 W. Mockingbird Lane, No. 44
Best Use of Scratch-Made American Cheese
Late Night Bao at Bun Stop
At the corner of Malcom X Boulevard and Elm Street in Deep Ellum on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a food cart handing out bao. One of these soft, puffy sandwiches features a cheeseburger inside the bao bun with made-from-scratch American cheese. A seared Akaushi-beef patty finds American cheese, a “kimchi comeback sauce” and housemade pickles. Chef Joshua Harmon is the mind behind the bao cart; it’s great late-night eating that Deep Ellum has sorely been missing from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Best Cheese Island
The Cheese Island at Ddong Go
Observer food critic Brian Reinhart knows how to find the good stuff. At Ddong Ggo — Korean for “butthole” — you’ll wade into an ocean of glorious yellow. Stretchy American-style cheese merges with Korean food. In other words, you’ll find yourself at a sensational dive bar. What’s Cheese Island? It’s the King Kong of cheese cauldrons. A cast-iron skillet, placed nicely over a burner, bubbles with cheese. Another is brimming with a stir-fry of chicken, onions, bell peppers and potatoes in a spicy chili sauce. It’s mystery cheese, and you dip and go. It’s like outrageous fondue. It’s Cheese Island.
2625 Old Denton Road, No. 322
Best Patty Melt
The Patty Melt at Parlor on Commerce
Both sides of the bread, after they’re brushed with butter, get slices of bright yellow cheese. The patty melt at Parlor is sublimely executed, with simple caramelized onions pressed into medium rare flat-grilled patty, like a grilled cheese that happens to feature Angus beef. The sandwich shows up as golden as an Academy Award. It’s righteous with cold beer.
2651 Commerce St., No. 100
Best Burger with Two Slices of American Cheese
The Ozersky at Knife
There are many near-perfect burgers in Dallas, but none is as consistent, beautifully straightforward and drop-dead delicious as the Ozersky. In an homage to the patron saint of simple cheeseburgering (RIP Joshua Ozersky), one that focuses on the beef and not a bunch of cumbersome toppings. You’ll get 44 Farms beef, salt and peppered and grilled immaculately, two slices of melted American cheese, a store-squishy bun and sheared onion. That’s it, and that’s all you’ll need.
5300 E. Mockingbird Lane
Best Hidden Cheese
Tater Tots at IdleRye
Chef Ray Skradzinski starts with a potato hash shred. Then, he shaves Gruyère cheese into the hash and dashes in nutmeg, cayenne and a pinch of salt. He lets that sit with some cornstarch, scoops the mixture and hand-forms mini barrel shapes. To order, the barrels get a light coat of cornstarch and head into the deep fryer. A crisp shell forms. They will put every other tater tot in city limits to shame.
2826 Elm St.
Best Grilled Cheese
Chicharrón de Queso at Las Almas Rotas
Forget buttered, pressed white bread with American cheese for a moment. Las Almas takes a pancake of stretchy Oaxacan cheese and grills it until it’s crisp and shattering. The restaurant creates a giant cheese tube that’s brittle and lets you dip busted pulls of it into bright salsa. It’s a tortilla chip made of cheese, which means it’s better than any tortilla chip.
3615 Parry Ave
Best Texan Queso
The Brisket Loaded Queso at Lakewood Smokehouse
A true Texan eats a cauldron of cheese from a cast-iron skillet every now and again. Lakewood Smokehouse adds chunks of juicy brisket to a cast-iron bath of bubbling queso. It’s spicy and heavy, while fresh pico de gallo razors through everything with some acid.
1901 Abrams Road
The Cheesesteak at the Cheesesteak House
The best cheesesteaks aren’t ready for Pinterest posting. They’re not neat, and they may look like monstrosities that even Guy Fieri would swerve away from. The Cheesesteak House in Oak Cliff has a boat-sized, unapologetically true cheesesteak. Don’t think; just order. Each bite is charred steak, heaping with onions and melted Swiss meets American. Vegetables can take a back seat for a day.
2015 W. Davis St.
Best Bar Version of Kid Food
The Bologna Sandwich at Shoals
Mortadella is bologna that’s lost its innocence. Ordering the bologna sandwich at Shoals does not mean you’ll get a microwaved, oddly pinkish circle. It means you’ll get a fresh bolillo bun piled absurdly, beautifully with thin slices of mortadella, popping peppers, mustard, mayo and cheese. It’s a mess, like the sandwiches you made at home and pressed down with your palm, and it's worth every dollar.
2614 Elm St., Suite 110
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Best Delivery Pizza
18-Inch NYC Sausage or Pepperoni Pizza at Zalat
One of the worst let-downs in food history is a bad, mangled delivery pizza. Your food sad scale will break with the weight of a poorly done pizza brought to your door. Zalat gets as close as Dallas can get to a New York pie. Its NYC pies have thinner crust and come seasoned with more oregano. It's open late, it’s inexpensive, and the mozzarella mixture pulls and melts and stretches. It’s bubbly and crusty all at once.
Original location: 2519 N. Fitzhugh Ave
Best Tenderloin Sandwich
The Beef Tenderloin Sandwich at One90 Smoked Meats
The beef tenderloin sandwich is your forever cold-weather sandwich. Whole tenderloin, seasoned with kosher salt and coarse black pepper, smokes over One90’s pecan and oak wood grill. The beef is shaved thin before touching the flat-top grill. so it's tender and slightly crusty. It’s piled under grilled, paprika-dusted onions. The grilled onion oil, dark and autumnal maroon from the paprika, runs into the steak and the mayo. Monterey Jack drapes over everything, and it’s one of a lineup at Dallas’ newest, and possibly best, sandwich spot. Pro tip: Ask for it medium rare.
10240 Northwest Highway