BEST CHEF 2013 | Matt McCAllister, FT33 | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

What does it take to have a nationally recognized restaurant scene? A collection of restaurants that offers something you can't get elsewhere. Dallas needs more chefs and restaurateurs who are willing to sculpt the local dining scene and take it in a new direction. Chefs like Matt McCallister, who has shown he's willing to take some risks with his restaurant FT33 in an effort to innovate and differentiate from a culinary landscape that is often bland. There's beef at his restaurant, but no steak (and surely no steak sauce), and dishes combine innovation with time-tested techniques. The results are plates that are both satiating and exciting, and they break far away from what Dallasites typically expect to be served for dinner. Considering the number of steak houses and Tex-Mex restaurants that thrive here, a few more chefs should follow McCallister's lead. Our culinary identity would be all the better for it.

Rich, dark, strong, sweet and silky-smooth, imperial milk stout The Temptress embodies the best qualities of stouts and then doubles them. It's a 9.1-percent ABV dessert in a glass that implores you to savor the deep, luscious chocolate and caramel malts, the milkshake-thick body and the slight coffee-like bitterness at the finish. It's a complex beer, yet we see people who aren't normally craft-beer drinkers seduced by its charms at bars that are otherwise mostly devoid of craft-beer choices. Even better is the seasonal bourbon barrel-aged version, which adds toffee and vanilla notes.

There's so much more to Chinese food than orange chicken and beef with broccoli, and Royal Sichuan is the best restaurant in Dallas to get you out of that mold. Try the ma pao tofu if you want to get to know a new flavor that you won't find at many Chinese restaurants. It's packed with Sichuan peppercorns, which have a subtle, citrusy flavor that lights up your mouth with numbing electricity. Combined with the heat of other chiles, the effect is memorable, and it's just one of many new dishes to encounter here. The menu is massive, and you can indulge in a wide array of curiosities like sea cucumber along with simple dishes like cumin lamb. Even the mainstays you grew up on are available here, should you crave some sesame chicken, but it would be a shame to fall back on an old crutch with so many new things to try here.

If you're bored with casual, suburban Indian restaurants, you'd do well to check out Mughlai. Yes, it's still in a strip mall of sorts, but the similarity to other Indian restaurants stops right there. Inside, a spacious modern dining room is filled with diners and energy. Eating here is like a celebration. The more friends you bring, the more of the menu you'll get to explore. Dishes are served in copper karahis that are perfect for sharing, and you'll want to indulge as much of the menu as you can. You should order multiple curries and multiple breads and rice dishes for soaking up each of them. You can Kingfisher in rounds and lounge over a meal that feels like an event. You'll walk out stuffed to the gills and completely content, and you'll have a new understanding of Indian food.

If you're expecting red-check tablecloths, you should know that Café Urbano's Italian cooking is anything but traditional. This is the un-Italian Italian restaurant, and the dishes are all the better for it. You can get an amazing Bolognese if that's what you're craving, but there are other items on the menu that will challenge your perceptions of what dishes belong on an Italian restaurant's menu. Take the caprese s'mores, which turn a boring and clichéd dish into a fun, oozing grilled cheese sandwich. Or how about the mussels with the surprising addition of chorizo alongside the expected basil and garlic? There's a Hawaiian ceviche, which seems odd, but then a Caesar salad will assure you you're in an unforgettable and creative restaurant with deep Italian roots.

Good service is always important in the restaurant business, as customers take home memories of the staff they interact with just as often as they do the food. The relationships you build with a wait staff or a chef are what keep a customer returning to a restaurant again and again. That's why if you step foot in Kyla Phomsavanh's East Dallas dining room, you'll likely be committing to more than one meal here. Not that there's anything wrong with coming back again and again to feast on stuffed chicken wings, sultry curries and other dishes prepared simply with fresh ingredients. As a bonus, Sakhuu is BYOB. There's no better place to bring a bottle of Belgian beer and devour spicy curry, and maybe even indulge some whiskey for dessert.

Everything about Stratos lets you know that you're in for something that is over the top. The building that holds the restaurant is massive and wrought iron gates painted in sky bird blue jump out from the white exterior walls. The website for the restaurant fills your office with festive music while you check out the menu, and there's just as many special events to choose from as there is food. The meat lovers' gyro is fitting considering the scale of the restaurant. Order one, and the resulting pile of gyro meat served on buttery bread will have you set for at least a day or two. Be careful how much food you commit too, though, because as the night wears on you might be forced to get up and move. The place is overrun with belly dancers and with DJs spinning until 2 a.m. Greeks know how to party. You should think about joining them.

Afrah may be one of the most well-known Middle Eastern restaurants in the Dallas area — a fact that can likely be attributed to its origin as a sweets shop when it first opened in Richardson. The restaurant that followed, though, is anything but a run-of-the-mill kebab house. The breads are freshly baked on-site and arrive warn and soft, while skewered meats come out charred and blackened in spots, yet remain juicy and tender. During lunch, there's a buffet where you can eat tabouleh and hummus till your stomach pops, along with most of the rest of the menu. And the best part about Afrah is they never gave up on those sweets, and have only added to them. How many Middle Eastern restaurants do you know that will serve gelato along with baklava after your meal?


Consider Il Cane Rosso a pizza dynasty. Not even Jay Jerrier himself could top his original creation. His newest pizza shop in Oak Cliff does its best to bring a slice of New York to Oak Cliff, but Zoli's still can't top the carefully prepared Neapolitan pies Jerrier built his name on. The pizzas at Cane Rosso are light, soft-crusted and don't go down like a 12-inch round of lead. Now with two locations serving up pies certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana, Cane Rosso brings a taste of Naples to Dallas in a casual, relaxed atmosphere that's as good for a laid-back date as it is for a family dinner with the kids or catching up with your friends over some beers.

Unfortunately for Dallas there aren't a lot of provincial foods that locals can hang their hats on. There's good food, sure, but not much we can call our own. Except brisket tacos, which are said to have been created at Mia's Tex-Mex before taking over the Tex-Mex world. Regardless of origin, they're done nowhere better than Manny's in Uptown, where the peppers have a little extra crunch, the beef is more flavorful and the bowl of dipping gravy is as big as they come. If brisket tacos aren't your thing (shame on you), there's still plenty to keep you well fed. This is Tex-Mex after all, and enchiladas, tacos, beans and fajitas are all promised in endless combinations here.

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