Best Introduction 2018 | Leighton Vander Esch | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

After being drafted by the Cowboys in the first round, Boise State linebacker and Idaho native Leighton Vander Esch fielded an inevitable question about Tex-Mex at his introductory press conference. The small-town kid was unfamiliar, apparently. "Text messages?" he responded, before saying that he wasn't familiar with Texas' major contribution to U.S. cuisine. While the Dallas Observer is sure Vander Esch has been acclimated, we'd be happy to take him to Avila's if he wants to come by the office.

Danny Fulgencio
Jordan Spieth

Spieth, Dallas' world champion golfer next door, entered the final round at The Masters in April nine shots behind leader Patrick Reed. It was a seemingly insurmountable deficit until, all of a sudden, it wasn't. Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ, scorched a path through Augusta National's hallowed grounds, playing his first 17 holes in 9 under par. As things turned out, Spieth needed a birdie at 18 to force Reed into a playoff. Instead, Spieth clipped a tree with his tee shot and made bogey, finishing two shots back after a 64. While Spieth didn't quite get there, it was a valiant effort, one that reminded you, with sports especially, that anything is possible.

Ngozi Onwumere via Instagram
Ngozi Onwumere (center)

Dallas' Winter Olympic history is next to non-existent, but it got a little bump this year. Mesquite native Onwumere starred on Nigeria's first-ever women's bobsled team. She and her teammates, who Onwumere met at the University of Houston, didn't come close to a medal, but they had a blast in South Korea, becoming social media darlings in the process.

Maybe the most unexpected part of the Cowboys' star turn on Amazon's All or Nothing documentary series was head coach Jason Garrett looking like an actual human being. Garrett, star of the most rote press conferences known to man, swears like a sailor and appears to actually care about the team he can't seem to lead past the first round of the playoffs. Garrett is still a point of frustration for many fans, but he became a little more likable this year.

For years, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has lamented his team's lack of a war daddy, his term for a dominating, pass-rushing defensive end. Last year, DeMarcus Lawrence developed into exactly the type of player Jones sought, putting up 14.5 sacks in a Pro Bowl campaign. If Lawrence can do it again in 2018, it will be good for him and the Cowboys. For the team, continued dominance by Lawrence should mean a return trip to the playoffs. For Lawrence, another outstanding season should get him the long-term contract he missed out on when the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him after the 2017 campaign.

Following University of Maryland Baltimore County's historic upset of the University of Virginia in the first round of March's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament — UMBC became the first-ever 16th seed to beat a No. 1 seed — Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis fired off the perfect tweet. In one sentence, he highlighted UMBC's location, obscurity and the fourth season of The Wire. "Bro UVA lost to the kids from the wire," he tweeted, and it was perfect.

WFAA's Mike Leslie brings a sharp, young voice to Dallas' local sports coverage, combining lively highlight calls with deep knowledge of multiple sports, as well as an engaging social media presence. He's a breath of fresh air from the same-old same-old, which is all that's on offer on some Dallas sports broadcasts. If you need to know something Dallas sports-related first, Leslie's Twitter feed is a good place to turn.

You can run through mud. You can run from zombies. You can run through mud from zombies. Then there are the disease-fighting runs: breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell disease, hemophilia. Trot for turkeys or run for the environment, for Jesus, for military veterans. And don't forget the color runs, which sound a lot more fun if you're the one biffing the runners with bags of colored chalk instead of doing the actual running. We swear, with all the running going on, it's amazing how many fat people live in this city. Until they come up with a Mud Run From Zombies to Combat Lard-Assedness (Plus Color!), we're going to go with the Katy 5K. It supports a good cause: helping maintain Dallas' favorite rail-to-trail conversion. It also comes with a picnic and two free beers at the end and no zombies. The race is held annually in June.

Note to Dallas people in charge of bike lanes: When painting bike lanes on city streets, please do not use manhole covers to line them up, especially those that stick 4 inches out of the pavement. We realize this is handy and probably good for lots of yuks back at the maintenance yard, but it's unpleasant for people on bikes. While we're at it, how about not putting so many bike lanes on streets with two-way stop signs with stops facing the bike lanes, not cross streets? We understand that cyclists should obey traffic laws, but running a stop sign on a bike isn't a capital crime in Texas (surprise!). All this is to say that we're going back to our old favorite, White Rock Creek Trail. Why? Because of its length of 15 or so miles and easy connections to the Cottonwood Creek Trail, Santa Fe Trail and Plano's (ahem) wonderful trail system, it's one trail that connects large swaths of the city, making a useful path for cyclists who want to use their bikes as a practical means of transportation. (It'd be even better if the bridge linking it to Northhaven Trail is built, and maybe a few more points of egress. Ahem again.)

Readers' Choice:WHITE ROCK Lake

Oooh, tough one here. Truth is, for all-purpose sports stores, the basic low-cost choices are big-box national behemoths like Academy Sports and Outdoors, Dick's, etc. Then things narrow down to more specialized shops — assorted gun shops, tennis shops, bike shops, REI for camping, Bass Pro and Cabela's for hunting and fishing, the list goes on. So why pick a store that's devoted to running for this general category? Besides the fact that Dallas is apparently a city of endless 5Ks, in most casual sports — i.e. walking — a key to get yourself out the door is comfy feet, and these guys know feet and how to find the right shoes to fit them. Even if you never run a step, Run On's reliable, well-trained, low-pressure staff will check your gait, measure carefully and send you out the door in footwear that's perfect for the court, fleeing zombies or a weekend walking the mall. Hey, that counts as exercise, even if you stop for a pretzel and gelato. You may leave with indigestion, but your tootsies will feel fine, and that's a start.

Readers' Choice:REI5929 E. Northwest Highway, 214-368-1938, and other locations

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