Midnight Rambler

The past year and a half hasn't been the easiest for bartenders. Especially for Gabe Sanchez, who shuttered his own beloved bar, The Black Swan, in 2020. But, a pandemic can't keep a good barkeep down. Sanchez was swooped up by The Midnight Rambler, where he quickly found his sea legs and re-energized the bar program inside their swank subterranean speakeasy. To sample his art, look no further than the Rambler House Old Fashioned made with a 70/30 bonded bourbon and rye blend, sugar and topped off with a house bitters blend. Years ago Sanchez told us that the bar industry is all about how you treat people; he's living up to it, which is why we're still writing about him a decade later.

Best Beer Selection
Lauren Drewes Daniels

After a career in the paint industry, Jim Waskow has spent his "retirement" tracking down the best of the best in the craft beer world, which is no easy task. Lucky for Dallas, we get to enjoy Waskow's post-retirement career perhaps more than he does. Craft Beer Cellars is a quaint retail store with a bar inside that is a craft beer lovers' paradise. Not sure if you want to commit to a four-pack of that obscure sour? Try it on for size right there; they'll break apart any pack in the store. Feet tired from walking up and down the aisles? Well, take a seat at the bar and imbibe one of the 16 beers they keep on tap. Cheers to retirement.

Best Brewery
Adrian Cotten

Situated on the ground floor of the historic 1931 art deco Dallas Power and Light Building, this brewery is an outpost for the main brewery located in the Design District. It's also one of the most beautiful places in Dallas to enjoy a local beer. Much of the original decor was preserved when brewery owners Will and Adrian Cotten refurbished the space last year. Take a seat at the bar in the center of the taproom, try a flight or grab a table on the patio and watch downtown hustle. Old school games throughout the space offer a nostalgic bit of entertainment.

No, we're not saying that if you want to let your kids run wild at a restaurant you should take them to Fort Worth, but, sure, why not? Zoli's is a dream for tired parents who desperately need to sit down to a nice meal with a strong drink as their kids are entertained within sight, but not necessarily within reach. The large playground is almost as big as the restaurant with brightly colored balls for throwing at strangers and all sorts of good monkeying around. What's better is that parents can use the adjacent Tipping Cow Creamery as a bribe for well-behaved children.

Ruins

A walking taco is a Tex-Mex version of a Frito pie; slice open the top of a single-serving bag of chips then load it up with any manner of spicy meats, cheese, maybe sour cream, jalapeños and salsa. Then you walk away to eat it in a corner where no one can see you. Ruins in Deep Ellum has an entire section on their menu dedicated to walking tacos called Dorilocos. The Prawn Star comes loaded with shrimp, queso blanco, cilantro and spicy toppings. The Sin Miedo comes with crispy moronga blood sausage, mezcal onions, chile Colorado, cilantro and avocado.

Best Pivot
Kathy Tran

When the pandemic sent downtown workers scurrying to the safety of the 'burbs, restaurants that normally fed those commuters took a hit, among them Sloane's Corner at the bottom of the Trammell Crow Center. Chef Ji Kang also had another problem; the catering he'd done for tenants in the building towering above him left part of his kitchen dormant. With extra space and time, Kang experimented with recipes and developed Sicilian-style pizzas for delivery. Not a single sign outside announced that Pizza Leila was working out of the second line in Sloane's Corner; it was all virtual. Best, he was able to keep his kitchen staff employed and pushed out some fantastic pizza in the process.

Food courts, or food halls as they're apt to be called now, are back and better than ever. There are several around DFW including Legacy Food Hall in Plano, The Exchange at AT&T Discovery District in downtown and, the most fascinating flavor trip of all, Asia Times Square in Grand Prairie. The offerings here are nothing like the Sbarro Pizzas and baked potatoes we used to find at food courts in malls, but rather a flavorful celebration in culinary diversity. The highlight reel at Asia Times Square's food court includes Beard Papa's cream-stuffed pastry pockets from Osaka, Japan, Two Hands Seoul Fresh Corn Dogs, CM Chicken's famous snow chicken and Apsara, which serves authentic Thai and Cambodian dishes.

The Exchange Hall at the AT&T Discovery District in downtown Dallas takes the cake when it comes to shaking off the workday blues. A collection of some of the city's best offerings all within one space includes Revolver Tacos, Monkey King Noodle Company, La Duni and Zalat Pizza plus some new spots like Bobbers and Whips and The Dock. Add in the full bar, TVs and a spacious plaza with art, a large lawn and a babbling water feature, and it's a lunch slam dunk. Bonus: complimentary parking is available at 1212 Jackson St.; get your ticket validated at any host stand.

The view from Sky Blossom
Lauren Drewes Daniels
The view from Sky Blossom

Look for signs on the sidewalk of Elm Street and take the elevator to the sixth floor. Situated in the heart of downtown, this new spot is an ornament perched atop the Dallas skyline. The outdoor patio at this Vietnamese bistro and bar looks straight across to the rooftop glass-encased turquoise pool at The Joule hotel. There's something fascinating about a pool floating on the side of a building. Sky Blossom's small bites menu and margaritas flights are great for happy hour. Enjoy great views of the city while people-watching; airplane flyovers or a storm rolling past miles away are bonus features.

Ghost kitchens were having a moment before the pandemic, but during it, the turbo-booster button was activated. Some ghost kitchens, were all schtick, but Furlough Brothers is a fantastic example of what a ghost kitchen can and should be. As the name implies, Sam Kaiser and chef Mike Youssef were furloughed after the pandemic hit. Instead of taking on the huge upfront costs of a brick-and-mortar, they rented kitchen space from Commerce Fork Food Co. and are making from-scratch upscale sandwiches — the Furlough OG is a Philly cheesesteak complete with Amoroso bread — for pickup or delivery only.

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