Best Of :: Food & Drink
If you were just to read the list of ingredients off the menu, many of the salads served at Gemma would sound like abstract art. A bok choy salad features thinly shaved cabbage, paper-thin radishes, mint, fennel, cashews for crunch and peas for sweetness. A salad of heirloom squash features more of those windowpane radish slices, pine nuts, Pepato cheese and lemon. If either of these sounds like they'd eat more like a Mondrian or a Picasso, relax. They're just like the salad you'd expect served alongside a hearty steak, only much prettier. And because of top-shelf ingredients that taste like they were just plucked from the garden, those salads that you're used to will fall into a very distant second place.
As new chefs and restaurants shape the Dallas dining scene, it's important to celebrate the chefs who keep old traditions alive. Tim Byres' Smoke is often called a barbecue restaurant, and it is, but it's also much more. The kitchen is fueled by wood — a primal heat source that drives bubbling stockpots as much as it sears meats and fish on the grill. This is cooking as it once was, long before immersion circulators and fancy foams took over our finest kitchens. The old-school approach is being used to fashion some of the city's most delicate and simple dishes, and that makes Byres' restaurant all the more special.
Do you want to know how to win any outdoor cookout? Before you say "it's not a competition," we're here to tell you that life is a competition, and with your attitude, you'll never win at it. Think back to your last cookout. Did you bring the best piece of meat? Were you the toast of the party? Of course you weren't. There's that attitude again. So here's how to win. Go to H Mart. Purchase a pound or two of extraordinarily reasonably priced bulgogi pork belly from their convenient cookout section. Take to party. Win the accolades of everyone else there. This is the first day of the rest of your life.
For the past few years, Cane Rosso has reigned as the best pizzeria in all of Dallas. Leave it to owner Jay Jerrier to shoot himself in the flour sack, opening a New York-style pizzeria that would dethrone his very own pizza dynasty. Zoli's is everything a pizzeria should be, and that's forgiving the fact that they don't serve pitchers of beer. You can get cans, though, and you can get crisp-crusted pies that you have to fold in half to get to your face without mucking up your shirt. There's a Sicilian pie if you want something with a little more heft, and a grandma pie if you're looking for square-shaped pizza with a thinner crust. Order by the slice if you must, but Zoli's is the most fun when you bring some friends and work your way through an entire pie.
You can get sushi all over Dallas, but when you start spending a lot of time in one sushi restaurant, you start to realize a whole new sushi experience. Teppo is a great place to plug in for the long haul, and it's not just because their fish and other ingredients are consistently fresh. Teppo is the ultimate neighborhood sushi spot, where the person to your left and right often walked to get there that night, and you're likely to bump into them again and again. Start with the specials, or just ask the people sitting to your side what's good that night. Whatever you do, don't get in a tuna-roll rut. The yakitori grill turns out amazing grilled meats, and the seaweed salad will stay in your memory for a long time.
Attempting to tackle the cuisines of Mexico and farther south all the way to Argentina, seems like a risky undertaking because there are so many ingredients and cooking techniques present in the Central and South Americas. But in tackling so much, veteran chef Stephan Pyles accomplishes the impossible, offering consistently executed dishes across a vast menu that offers almost endless exploration. Where else in the Dallas area can you find a causa limoña, a potato and shrimp terrine that hides a softly cooked quail egg? Where else can you try a fish that looks like Bob Marley — dreadlocks and all?
Biryanis, pilaus and other rice dishes are often overlooked by diners in Indian restaurants in favor of more familiar curries like chicken saag and lamb vindaloo. That move would be a mistake at Chennai, where some of the best baked rice dishes served in the DFW area fill the dining room with their spicy perfumes. On the weekends a young goat version is available, provided you get to the restaurant early enough, because it sells out regularly. If it does, console yourself with a heady chicken curry and make a note to come back soon. Trust us, the return trip will not feel like a burden.
Dallas doesn't exactly excel in the red-sauce Italian category. There are a number of Italian restaurants that will serve you up pasta dishes inspired by the hills of Tuscany, but if you're looking for exemplary spaghetti and meatballs, you were out of luck until Carbone's came along. Stop by for lunch and nab yourself a high-end hoagie, just like the ones you can get in Philly, but with better charcuterie. There are cannolis piped to order, so the shells stay crispy, and like any good Italian spot, American or otherwise, lots and lots of vino. You can even take some home with you if you like, along with some sauce, pastas and bread — Carbone's doubles as your neighborhood bodega.
Let's get it out there right away that Mesero Miguel doesn't bill itself as a Tex-Mex restaurant. But that doesn't change the fact that there's a section on the menu for Tex-Mex dishes, and all of them are considerably more delicious than those from your old favorite lard-laden bean pit. As further evidence, chips and three salsas land on your table not long after you sit down, and behind the bar a frozen margarita machine whirls and turns out the official Tex-Mex beverage. Sure, you can order a fancy ceviche and a well-seared steak, but you'll feel a twinge of jealousy when that chicken enchilada plate walks by. And don't forget the cinco leches cake. It looks formidable but it's light as air.
Chances are, if you eat at most of the Tex-Mex restaurants around town, your salsa is for sissies. Most places keep their table salsa on the mild side, for fear that tepid gringos will cry. Not so at Avila's. Here the salsa looks like it's dominated with tomatoes but it tastes like the pain train as a number of chiles bring on the heat. Maybe this is their way of keeping customers from asking for that third bowl, but for whatever reason their salsa is unapologetically piquant. And don't even think about asking for the mild version because spicy is all they got. Anyone have milk?
You can get hot dogs at many bars, but most of the time you will be served a commodity wiener that tastes like a tube-shaped shoe. Not so at St. Pete's, where the link comes from neighboring Rudolph's Meat Market. The pedigreed dog is tucked into a plain, white bread bun, and then slathered with a nearly obscene amout of chili. There are onions in the fray, and a fistful of shredded cheese, and then because nobody cares about your well-being there's a massive serving of french fries too. Don't even think about ordering a light beer with this mammoth calorie bomb. You're in it to win it.
For the past few years, it has been common convention that Pecan Lodge serves the best barbecue in Dallas. What nobody knew is that it was about to get so much better. A hastened departure from the Dallas Farmers Market threatened to ruin a great thing, but Pecan Lodge feels right at home at its new address in Deep Ellum. They even brought their notoriously long line, but now there are more smokers turning out stellar brisket and things move a little faster, and there are more tables, inside and outside. Pecan Lodge, Deep Ellum edition, has longer hours for extended brisket dining, and it has bands on the patio, so you can blow out your eardrums while you bury your face in a hot mess. And sweet, sweet Jesus, most important of all they have beer — the very best complement to brisket.