Best Chef 2021 | Reyna Duong | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Beth Rankin

Sandwich Hag's food is delicious, but what really stands out about Duong, what's made her a role model for many younger chefs, is her restaurant's attitude. Anti-maskers and other pandemic malcontents tested Sandwich Hag's "No Assholes" policy this year, but the restaurant persevered, determined to serve a community of its own creation and choosing. There's a lesson here for everyone else in town: The customer is not always right, workers have dignity and sometimes doing the right thing means losing a potential sale. As the service industry deals with a labor crisis caused in part by low wages and customer disrespect, Sandwich Hag's willingness to charge a couple of bucks more for a good working environment is an example of the path forward. Chefs don't just make food; they're leaders, too.

During the pandemic, Jettison expanded into two cocktail bars. In the space Houndstooth Coffee occupies by day, the bar began offering classic cocktails and seasonal inventions (think light, shaken drinks with mint or citrus in summertime). In the dimly lit original room, with its soft jazz soundtrack and comfy seating, Jettison approaches the cocktail with a combination of craftsmanlike seriousness and winking self-awareness. This is the kind of bar where the bartenders serve a drink with a wild flourish like a quick blast of fire, but then chuckle about it afterward. Jettison's quiet, dark, but upscale vibe is perfect for date nights, and its cocktails range from classics done properly to avant-garde creations like a Parmesan sour, a matcha-based drink and the Tom Kha Gai Guys, which uncannily mimics Thai curry but in shockingly delicious alcohol form. There's nowhere else like this.

Brian Reinhart

Part of a new wave of younger-generation Indian restaurants across the Dallas area serving fusion foods and street snacks, Desi District is enjoying a booming run of success. The original Irving location expanded into two storefronts, one for its grocery and butcher shop, and then expanded to a second location farther north. More locations are in the works across Dallas' northern suburbs, from Flower Mound to McKinney. That's good news for folks who like crispy fried veggies, including mirchi bhaji (stuffed and deep-fried hot peppers), along with "taco-dosas," Nepalese momos, super flavorful paneer-centric sandwich wraps and the rest of Desi District's eclectic menu. If you have a sweet tooth, don't miss the gulab jamun cupcakes.

Kathy Tran

This is always a hard category because the Dallas area, with something like 100 Korean restaurants, offers a wide variety of options. Do you want all-you-can-grill barbecue bulgogi and galbi? Do you prefer a lively late-night bar with stacks of fried chicken and karaoke booths? What about fusion spots with fabulous kimchi cheeseburgers? Arirang is none of those things; instead, it's as traditional as restaurants get, speaking in a language of universal comfort food. Walk up to the counter and order plump kimchi dumplings or the kitchen's house-made noodles, which come with a dazzling variety of sauces and broths. Be careful, because if a dish says it's spicy, it is not lying. If you can't decide between dumplings, noodles or soup, just go for Arirang's dumpling noodle soup, one of the most comforting, belly-warming winter dishes in Texas.

Since Vasili "Bill" Kaprantzas came to the United States and opened Yia Yia's House of Gyros in Mesquite, he's been filling it with his idiosyncratic Greek decorations. There's art drawn on paper towels and thumbtacked to the wall. There are sayings and quotes like "Mikrowave oven is forbiten in this restaurant" (sic). No matter what you order, you'll need to read the menu's description of lamb chops. And no matter what you order, you'll probably be happy with the grill's tender meats, terrific gyros, generous portions and crispy steak fries. Bring a date and try skordalia, the garlickiest condiment in existence, but save room, because everyone gets a free dessert.

Alison McLean

Roots was years in the making, with a backstory of heroic effort in which the restaurant went through multiple plans and menu ideas. Chef Tiffany Derry's new home was worth every minute of wait, though, as every dish here is already locked in at excellence. This isn't a cartoonish simplification of Southern food or "soul" food. The proof is in the vegetables, which are divine in all their forms: tangy spring pea salad, savory braised greens and baby turnips, buttery corn ravioli and hummus made from black-eyed peas. The gumbo might be the best this city has ever seen, and the same is doubly true for the creamed corn, which Roots could profitably sell by the gallon jug. It's busy, and it's loud, but this restaurant is also a triumph.

Best Place to Eat Before a Rangers Hall of Fame Ceremony

Javier's Gourmet Mexicano

When former third baseman and Dominican native Adrian Beltre returned to Dallas for his Rangers' Hall of Fame Ceremony, he took his family to Javier's Gourmet Mexicano for dinner: a classic at a classic. Since opening in 1977, Javier's in Park Cities has become an institution. The spectacular service never fails and neither does that butter they serve with the chips. You can go with a standard like nachos, but if you're up for branching out a little, get the fillet Durango, a charbroiled tenderloin stacked with cheese and chillaca peppers covered in their special black pepper sauce.

Alison McLean

Each meal at Taquero starts with a plate of super-crispy, thick tortilla chips and three kinds of salsas. Each time we visit, we pretend to forget which salsa we like the most, so that we can go through the ritual of trying them all again. The nutty brown salsa with roasted jalapeños has a fabulous balance of mellow sweetness and, at the very end, a serious peppery aftertaste. It's easy to have too much, especially on the restaurant's comfortable patio overlooking the end of Greenville Avenue. But save room, because the salsa verde goes well on a seafood tostada, one of Taquero's best specialties.

Alison McLean

Meridian is a possible future fine-dining landmark and a bona fide contender for our best new restaurant award. But we also can't stop thinking about its side order of potatoes. Chef Junior Borges and his crew fry these nuggets until they're the dark gold of a beach tan, with crunch on the edges and a creamy softness in the middle. Then the taters get dusted in dehydrated vinegar, which adds a tart fish-and-chips note of flavor, and pollen, which looks cool. It's hard to come up with a new, let alone iconic, spin on frying a spud, but those geniuses at Meridian have done the trick.

Courtesy of Oak Cliff Brewing

Oak Cliff Brewing had an unusually steep challenge when the pandemic set in: Almost all of its revenue came from bars and restaurants. The brewery didn't sell cans or bottles and made nearly every dollar on kegs. So they improvised, and with help from their landlord, built a spacious, leafy beer garden out back, next to a creek and in a glade of trees. The picnic tables, old-timey chains of lights and tin signage make the whole thing look like a very nice backyard party. And, since it's not really a cookout, there's a taco truck onsite. Our favorite touch: A converted snow cone van now functions as an outdoor bar, selling plastic cups of fresh beer. Though, we won't lie, sometimes we wish it had snow cones, too.

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