Best Salsa 2018 | Jalisco Norte | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Kathy Tran
Jalisco Norte

This upscale Oak Lawn Mexican restaurant serves three salsas with its chips — but one of them is stealing the show. The salsa de chile de morita is nut-brown and a little bit nutty in flavor too, with a sweet-savory combination that's intriguing even before the wave of spice arrives. Morita peppers, like chipotles, are smoked and dried red jalapeños, but morita peppers spend less time in the smoker, so they retain more of the original flavor while packing the same amount of heat. The only downside to this utterly addicting salsa: It's not served in a birdbath.

Nick Rallo
The standard burger at Wheelhouse.

If 2017 marked the golden age of the Dallas burger, 2018 is the Romantic period. Wheelhouse's Standard Burger is part of this renaissance of nostalgia. It wields passion without irony: two beef patties with special sauce, lettuce, pickle and, yes, it's served on a sesame seed bun. The sesame seeds pop and jolt on the buttery, cloud-soft pain au lait bun, showered on like a McDonald's ad. American cheese arrives in a molten state on this Design District masterpiece, rich beef juices burbling. The fast-food nostalgia will hit you like Thor's hammer.

Sara Kerens

Chef Jonathon Erdeljac was around 14 years old when he learned the recipe. He tenderizes the chuck steak, walks it through seasoned flour and drops it into a bath of buttermilk and Tabasco. The final crust — the one that turns into a jagged, undulating exterior — is saltine crackers. The diner beacon for a Dallas icon, coming from a toddler-size kitchen: Jonathon's CFS is as simple as it is darkly evil and moon-big. The peppered gravy is the only thing to eclipse the sharp breading. The crust could break in a stiff breeze. It's one of the best — a recipe the chef executes in the same way he did when he was a kid.

Nick Rallo
The Mexican Hot Dog at Revolver Taco Lounge ($9) uses a bacon-wrapped Luscher's Red Hot and a bun from Fort Worth's Swiss Pastry Shop.

There are only a few places left to get a real street dog. Dallas is a hot dog ghost town, while major cities around the country have dogs pinned to sidewalks. Regino Rojas' Revolver Taco Lounge has the most emotionally moving street meat in the city right now: smoky bacon spirals around a Luscher's Red Hot, a charred and snapping hot link. The Mexican Dog was inspired by the hot dogs Rojas grew up on: bacon-wrapped dogs with white onions rolled in carts around Guadalajara, Mexico. He amps up this version with crema; bright, fresh tomatoes and onions; and a scatter of tender mayocoba beans. Street food is home cooking, and Revolver's dog is straight out of the mind of a chef at home.

Beth Rankin
Sandwich Hag

The best sandwiches, the ones you crave for days after ordering, are served family style one day and between bread the next. Owner and chef Reyna Duong was born in a small fishing village on the southern tip of Vietnam — a tattoo on her forearm bears the city's name — and grew up in Orange County. Sharing food was non-negotiable, a family's rite of passage, as it is at Sandwich Hag. The pork sausage banh mi — a neat rectangular patty, charred and surrounded by pickled radish, jalapeño, daikon, fresh cilantro and a Quoc Bao bakery baguette — is stupendous. Duong grinds the sausage daily by hand.

Lori Bandi
Ten Bells Tavern

These are true-blue tavern wings — aka drumsticks that behave like wings. The sauce covers every nook and cranny of the drums, topped by crags of funky blue cheese. The sticky sauce arrives the hue of a smoldering campfire — a coating made with garlic, beer, brown sugar and a hammer or two of Frank's Red Hot. "We had a rival restaurant once try to poach our kitchen staff to find out how we make these," says owner Meri Dahlke. Diced green onions and celery blunt the richness. These are wings that taste like they predate Monday Night Football.

Courtesy of Mitsuwa Marketplace
Mitsuwa Marketplace

Up against hip, shiny new food courts like Legacy Hall in Plano and the beloved Dallas Farmers Market, Mitsuwa Marketplace shines a different light on DFW. This Japanese food court in Plano doesn't have its own brewery or double as a concert venue on the weekends. It's not open and roomy, and you can't bring your dog — but don't cast it aside. It's got variety and character, and it's a modern food court that puts Asian fare center stage. Mitsuwa's food court hosts only four stalls that serve distinct Japanese comfort foods: matcha-based desserts at Matcha Love, tonkatsu and other fried delicacies at Wateishoku Kaneda, ramen at Santouka and giant "stamina bowls" of pork belly and rice at Sutadonya. Don't skip out on the shops, like the specialty bakery that sells decadent carbohydrates like fried curry bread or the ready-to-eat counter with fresh sushi, onigiri, soba, takoyaki and rice bowls.

Scott Reitz
Ascension Coffee

There's really no better place to be an introvert than at home — or at a coffee shop. And there's no better coffee shop to be an introvert than Ascension in the Design District. Of course, crowds are welcome. But to the dismay of society's social butterflies, there is a contingent of restaurant-goers who just want to eat and drink in the sole company of a book or a smartphone and not be judged. Ascension deserves praise because it accommodates quiet solitude with more than just a cappuccino and a scone. This coffee shop also serves a full menu with "real" food such as lamb meatballs, smoked salmon boards and niçoise salad. There's wine, beer, mood lighting and a chill, understated vibe. Come for the delicious cortado but stay to revel in your fierce independence.

Kathy Tran
Shake Shack

This is a touchy subject, because all cheese fries are technically the best cheese fries. But some places, like Shake Shack, go above and beyond. A smart cheese-fry slinger opts for a cheese sauce that coats the fry more evenly and doesn't congeal into a cold, flavorless epoxy. At Shake Shack, the fries are amped up to gold-star gourmet status by infusing a cream base with sautéed onions and jalapeños for a deeper, more organic flavor. That mixture is then strained over equal parts grated American cheese and cheddar for a smooth, golden, creamy finish.

At this Dallas Farmers Market stall, all the meat you purchase comes from small family farms ethically raising beef, pork and lamb. The husband-and-wife team behind this shop can answer any question you've got about your meat, and then some. The butcher stall even hosts "meet your farmer" events where customers can meet the local ranchers behind this high-quality meat. Try the house-made sausages and brats.

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