In a city as big, diverse and hungry as Dallas, it's hard to be the best at anything. With dozens of restaurants often serving up the same genre of food (ahem, Southern), it's not easy to stand out. This city has a lot of restaurants, and everyone's vying to become the next big thing. In this year's Dallas Observer Best of Dallas, we had 75 different categories in food and drink alone — and understandably, most of the winners were established institutions that have proven their worth over years of serving the Dallas market.
But there are, of course, some rookie standouts in the city right now, the kind of spots that, even in their first year, wowed us enough to make the cut. These are the Dallas dining newcomers that we expect big things from in coming years:
Best New Restaurant: On the Lamb
Well, sure, the Best New Restaurant is, by definition, awarded to a newcomer in the Dallas dining scene. But it's certainly not an easy choice. Solid contenders this year included Sprezza and Wayward Sons, but it was On the Lamb's quiet sophistication and creativity that really caught our attention. This small Deep Ellum brasserie with an even smaller kitchen is putting out some of the city's most interesting dishes right now, and their inventive charcuterie program is a great fit for the neighborhood. In a city inundated with tartares and burrata, On the Lamb is a place where you can be assured you'll try something you've never had before — particularly considering that this spot serves up modern dishes with a South African influence. Pastry chef Francisca Lang's stunning and inventive desserts are the icing on this particularly tasty cake.
Best Desserts: Everett and Elaine
It's quite possible that you've never heard of this year's Best Desserts winner, but if you've hit up the Dallas Farmers Market recently, there's no way you missed these stunning sweets. Co-owners Kevin Lampman and Yang Wu create beautiful, sophisticated desserts: cloud-light cheesecakes, velvety sorbets and inventive treats like pumpkin brûlée pie. Despite their inherent fanciness, these are approachable desserts served by approachable fellas. There's no ego here; just good food. If you can't make it to the market, try their take on the lamington, a classic Australian dessert, at Ascension.
Best Italian: Sprezza
This bright, modern Oak Lawn restaurant from Julian Barsotti has become one of the hardest reservations to get in Dallas right now — and for good reason. Affordable Italian wines, inventive pizzas and fresh-made pastas with seasonal ingredients alongside haute snack food like stuffed squash blossoms make this menu fun to explore. Don't skip the cocktails at Sprezza; they're something the restaurant does quite well.
Best Sunday Brunch: Wayward Sons
Wayward Sons, which opened in Lower Greenville in late 2015, hardly feels new anymore; it already seems as much a part of Dallas as Big Tex or T-shirts poking fun at Oak Cliff. Chef Graham Dodds describes his fare as "local-focused, modern Texas cuisine" with an emphasis on seasonal produce and high-quality proteins from local farms. The homey rustic eatery with a beautiful outdoor garden is filled with the meat Texans love but is also refreshingly vegetarian-friendly. In just a few short months, it's also become one of the city's best brunches — don't miss the simple but elegant brûléed grapefruit.
Best Juice Bar: Roots on Tap
This new Expo Park juice bar offers more than cold-pressed vegetable juices. The small, modern shop also makes their own nut milks and "spa waters," which means it's easy to blow your entire week's latte budget on one trip to Roots on Tap. Pop over to Roots on Tap during the State Fair of Texas to ensure you get at least one serving of veggies in your system in the next month.
Best Seafood: Montlake Cut
This new Preston Center restaurant from chef-restaurateur Nick Bodavinus pays serious attention to quality seafood, yet the whimsical spot definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. With a playful menu of tiki drinks and a lighthearted design theme, this Pacific Northwest-inspired eatery delights with a great oyster selection and beautifully simple fish preparations.
Best Bar Food: Independent Bar & Kitchen
If you're sick of the same old bar food, hit up this new Deep Ellum spot that specializes in homey, stick-to-your-ribs fare with a European flair. IBK's Scotch eggs, bangers and mash and shepherd's pie are likely to become your favorite dishes when winter rolls around.
Best Taqueria: Tacos Mariachi
Dallas has a lot of taquerias, but this happy West Dallas spot stands out with creative and colorful taco fillings. Grilled marinated octopus, smoked salmon, fresh veggies — there's so much more than barbacoa on this menu, and the service is so friendly, you can't help but want to come back for more.
Best Sandwich Restaurant: Goodfriend Package
The team behind Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House branched out with Goodfriend Package, a craft beer bottle shop and sandwich spot that gives simple sandwiches a little extra attention with house-cured bacon and inventive touches like mushroom pastrami.
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Best Icy Treat Shop: Cow Tipping Creamery
Right across from Goodfriend Package in East Dallas, Cow Tipping Creamery, which started as a food truck in Austin, opened its first brick-and-mortar spot thanks to its new owner Jay Jerrier, the pizza maven behind Cane Rosso and Zoli's. The creative "artisanal" soft serve flavors are complemented by fun toppings like crushed tea biscuits and black velvet cakeball chunks.
Best Healthy Eatery: Mudhen Meats & Greens
A weekend visit to the Dallas Farmers Market is no longer complete without a healthy, vegetable-filled brunch from Mudhen, a sprawling concept from the folks behind Meddlesome Moth and Rodeo Goat. This hearty, feel-good fare is based heavily on what's in season, and the sizable menu will keep you from getting bored, even if you're in the middle of whatever trend has swept Uptown that week.