Best Chef 2017 | Nimidu Senaratne at SpicyZest | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Kathy Tran

Opening a Sri Lankan restaurant in Farmers Branch would be a bold move for anyone. After all, it would be the first Sri Lankan eatery in North Texas, and one of just a handful in the United States. But SpicyZest is Nimidu Senaratne's first restaurant, a passion project that has met with unanticipated success and critical acclaim. SpicyZest began as a catering company operated out of the family kitchen, then expanded to a take-out only storefront before regular customers, hungry for more, demanded tables. Four tables have turned into six. Senaratne studied hospitality in Sri Lanka and Singapore and clearly sees it as the bedrock of his business. He and his wife, Chamari Walliwalagedara, often walk newcomers through the menu, especially during Saturday's lunch buffet. And SpicyZest's food, from crispy-spicy deviled chicken to the divine stir-fry of meat, scallions and torn flatbread that is kottu, is a superb, sharply presented vision of Sri Lanka. Yes, much of the fare is spicy — nasi goreng, an Indonesian dish, comes with a pile of red pepper flakes on the side — but the flavors, especially the relatively mild but awe-inspiring curries, go much deeper than mere heat. Few Dallas restaurants have menus as interesting or success stories as inspiring as SpicyZest's.

Readers' Pick: Readers' Pick:

Kent Rathbun
Nick Rallo

Challengers come and go, but Royal China's hand-pulled noodles and exquisite dumplings remain almost uncontested as the best in Dallas. Dan dan noodles, served spicy but cool in temperature, are essential here; the wide, flat Henan-style noodles are especially good. The best seats in the house are at the dumpling counter, where workers tirelessly form and steam baskets of Royal China's specialties, especially xiao long bao, the savory soup dumplings filled with pork and piping-hot broth. Royal China is nearing its 50th anniversary, and to survive that long, it has made more than a few adjustments to suit Preston Hollow's taste buds. But one bowl of noodles might be enough to show that decades of diners haven't been wrong.

Readers' Pick: Monkey King Noodle Co.

Brian Reinhart

When a restaurant makes just one thing, that thing better be damn good. Rice Chicken doesn't really bother with side dishes or desserts; it just fries chicken. (Some of the side dishes, in fact, are more fried chicken, including the feet.) But, boy, is the main course spectacular. Think perfectly crisp, almost crunchy batter covering ever-so-juicy, tender meat — indulgent but not the least bit greasy. Just about the only decision necessary with a menu this short is whether to opt for a glaze, like the sweet and spicy sauce or the honey-garlic sauce. Better yet, the drumstick sampler offers them all. Draft beer is available by the pitcher, too.

Readers' Pick: Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Alison McLean

Dallas' Italian food scene could use a boost, especially after the closure this year of 50-year-old home-cooking classic Pietro's. A series of new openings focusing on housemade pasta and Mediterranean vegetables is a welcome development, and one such newcomer, Sassetta, is off to a promising start. The wine list, all Italian and loaded with interesting varietals and neat bargains, is a joy, with a number of tempting by-the-glass options. The generous glass pours accompany can't-go-wrong salads such as one combining arugula, mushrooms, shaved Parmesan and a lemon vinaigrette. But Sassetta's best feature is its pizzas, which have crisp, bubbly thin crusts and toppings that don't go overkill. Sassetta is new, but we're excited to see how it develops.

Readers' Pick: Lucia

Kathy Tran

Noodles or dumplings? At Arirang, in Carrollton's Korean-American hub, these are two great options. Indeed, given how focused the kitchen is on its specialties, handmade noodles and dumplings are just about the only options. Perhaps choose noodles with a diabolically spicy eggplant sauce that can only be tamed, cruelly, by another bite of noodles. It's hard to go wrong, too, with fat dumplings stuffed with pork or kimchi. Can't decide? Go for the bowl of noodle soup with a rich broth that also includes a collection of small dumplings. Carb overload rarely tastes as good as it does at this superb little restaurant, which remains a secret little known by diners from the rest of Dallas.

Readers' Pick: bbbop Seoul Kitchen

Kathy Tran

Bilad, an outstanding Iraqi-owned bakery and grocery in Richardson, could have won this award based just on its heavenly fresh baklava, the best we've found anywhere near Dallas. It also could have won this accolade based just on samoon, the pillowy Iraqi-recipe bread with pinches of dough at the ends, made onsite and available to take home or to eat at Bilad in sandwich form. It almost doesn't matter what kind of sandwich you order — the falafel is excellent, as is the shawarma — as long as the bread is this good. Bilad doesn't stint on veggies or pickles, either. And it'sAbY generous in other ways: The restaurant sponsors a program that allows poor and homeless community members to dine for free.

Readers' Pick: Café Izmir

Kathy Tran

How ambitious and forward-thinking can a taco restaurant be? Fort Worth taqueria Revolver Taco Lounge is setting the bar high and establishing a new standard in Dallas at its new Deep Ellum location, both in its more traditional taqueria front room and in the reservation-only backroom, Purepecha. Purepecha guests can expect refined, even sublime takes on traditional Mexican cooking, including chayote-corn soup, raw fish preparations and duck breast paired with a mole prepared by owner Regino Rojas' mother, Juanita. Up front, the tacos are often just as ambitious, whether they contain octopus and fried leeks or frog legs tossed in Thai curry paste. Perhaps most exciting about Revolver is that the restaurant and its driven crew have room to grow even more creative in the years to come.

Readers' Pick: Haymaker Dallas

For some Dallasites, seafood restaurants mean polished parlors with elegant Mediterranean dishes, exactingly sourced oysters, socialites buzzing over Champagne cocktails and ever-rising prices. But for much of the city, seafood restaurants are mariscos stops, kitchens owned by Mexican-Americans that serve affordable ceviche, shrimp cocktails, soups and fry baskets. Seafood Shack, which has three locations in Dallas and Mesquite, is a consistent purveyor of filling, lime-kissed ceviche tostadas, enormous flautas stuffed with tail-on fried shrimp, and solid fried seafood baskets with the likes of cornbread-battered catfish. But most surprising about Seafood Shack are the bonuses, like ultratender fried okra, terrific fries and calamari as expertly cooked as comparable dishes at much fancier restaurants. For those who really need a boost, Seafood Shack's menu also boasts $4 shots of whiskey.

Readers' Pick: Nate's Seafood & Steak House

Kathy Tran

Ducatis on the walls, sports trophies lining the booths, a giant fishtank with a submersible in it: Town Hearth is a pastiche of the Dallas steakhouse that transcends the format and justifies the silliness. Its open-fire grilling is superb. Wait for a special occasion, dress up and order a family-sized cut of meat like the enormous Battle Axe rib-eye. And, since no steakhouse would be complete without an over-the-top side or two, Town Hearth offers irresistible "tots du jour" and good fried oysters, too. With the atmosphere, the friendly service, the cocktails and the big ol' slabs of meat, Town Hearth looks likely to be one of 2017's favorite places for a big, splurging night out.

Readers' Pick: Al Biernat's

Kathy Tran

This North Dallas eatery is hidden in a strip mall where the chef and owners try to avoid media attention. When the Observer reviewed Sushi Yokohama in early 2017, restaurant staff asked us not to, saying they don't need the attention and don't like being in the news. But our Best Sushi pick from 2000 is still going strong 17 years later, with hard-to-find specialties like ankimo (rich, buttery monkfish liver) and sushi rolls constructed without rice. What's best? Anything from the chef's list of daily specials. No rice, no gimmicks, no press, no nonsense: Sushi Yokohama is all about the basics of great technique and great sourcing. The fish here is as fresh as any in Dallas, and the results are so stellar that we can't help but give this restaurant the accolades it doesn't want.

Readers' Pick: The Blue Fish

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