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Shiny, new and surrounded by buzz: Dallas restaurants love being all three, and with a sprawling metroplex in which to spread out, classy strip mall dining isn't even an oxymoron these days. But we promise we're not just being contrarian when we give this year's best new restaurant award to an old one—The Green Room. Throughout the '90s and early aughts, the upscale Deep Ellum restaurant served hordes of live music fans before shutting down. Its empty shell loomed over Elm Street for four years until this summer, when managing partner Taylor Allday brought the place—and the block—back to life with a seasonal menu that pays respect to old favorites (mussels!) and cooks up brand new ones (root beer crème brûlée!). Trust master chef Joel Harloff with a "Feed Me, Wine Me" tasting menu. Soft-opening samples of quail, pork tenderloins and spinach salads have inspired us to happily hand over our palates to Green Room experts.
You remember Victory Park don't you? (Crickets chirp.) In Dallas? Downtown? Going to remake the city? Remember? (More crickets chirp.) C'mon, it's that place you walk through to get to a Mavs game (a sudden burst of "oohhh"). OK, so things haven't quite worked out for the shiny—and frequently empty—development. But now there's a reason to go down there that doesn't involve basketball. Naga Thai is bravely treading where angels pick up their skirts and scarper, offering a sleek, modern take on traditional Thai food. Crab Rangoon is a tasty blend of crunch and creamy cheese. The brightly sauced sweet chili sea bass is crispy outside, flaky and tender within. A fresh, expansive lunch buffet lets you sample a variety of curries and entrées showcasing Thai food's unique mix of spicy, sweet and tangy. Better still, it's all surprisingly affordable, unlike dishes at some of the other restaurants that once upon a time filled space in Victory, God rest their souls.
Most places that serve fried cheese offer the same tired, chain restaurant examples of the dish straight out of the freezer, but the Porch elevates this, the trashiest of apps, into something fantastic and, dare we say it, highbrow. They start with a creamy and mild Port Salute cheese, doing the French monks that first produced it proud with an amazingly light, crispy batter and a warm pomodoro sauce for dipping. Sure, the dish will set you back considerably more than an order of mozzarella sticks at Sonic ($9, to be exact), but the taste will stay with you forever. Seriously—in our dreams, this is what clouds taste like.
Although there are several notable dining spots in the Bishop Arts District, Tillman's Roadhouse—an Oak Cliff staple since it opened as Tillman's Corner in 1992—is one that's sure to lasso you in. The décor and menu are about as Texan as it gets, which is nice for those of us who, well, love Texas. You see, Tillman's knows Texans can be picky about things as simple as mac and cheese, so it went the extra mile to ensure folks don't drop five bucks for something that tastes like the crap you can buy at the store. Nope, they turned simple into stellar with a white cheddar that will make you wish you hadn't agreed to share.
You won't find many bottles of Listerine in the bathroom of a restaurant, but after a taste of the hummus at Cafe Izmir, you know exactly why it's there: The hummus is packed with so much garlicky goodness that only a true aficionado can appreciate it. But rest assured that if the garlic is too much for you, "date night" hummus is available, and it's the same blend of sesame seed butter, whipped garbanzo beans, olive oil and spices that makes the regular hummus so smooth, creamy and delish. And if you really want to impress your date, bring them by during one of the many art shows at Cafe Izmir. Just don't forget a swig of the Listerine on your way out.