Some food is made for Instagram. Unicorn Frappuccinos, milkshakes with slices of pie on top, sushi doughnuts, Salt Bae: These stunts exist not because they taste good, but because people will post photos of them online. If they do taste good, it is often a happy mistake.
Other foods are made to point at those media darlings and laugh. Food, they remind us, is for the belly. Some of the most satisfying foods in the world look like the chef — or perhaps the chef's dog — made a terrible mistake.
So in the age of the Instagrammable, let's celebrate the ugliest good foods in Dallas. Here's to the meals so delicious, they don't care how they look. They know they're great. They know you'll love them. They think your camera is a damn waste of time.
Put down your phone and pick up your fork because we're in love with these 10 dishes that will cause your Instagram followers to cringe and scroll far, far away.
Gold Rush Cafe's John Wayne breakfast
Bacon, check. Egg, check. Shredded cheddar, check. Housemade salsa, check. Somewhere under there lie breakfast potatoes and tortillas, too. The charm at Gold Rush Cafe is that all the ingredients of the John Wayne breakfast meld together into a primordial breakfast ooze, a flash mob of pure calories. When you're hungover, plating suddenly feels a hell of a lot less important. The good folks at the Gold Rush Cafe understand.
Papa rellena at El Tesoro del Inca
This brown potato orb, served on a sheet of pale, cheap lettuce and under a blizzard of red onions, is in fact a mashed potato fritter stuffed with ground beef, hard-boiled egg and olives. It's a $6 calorie bomb that tastes like a love letter from South America to the state fair. Oh, and that meek-looking, pale beige sauce that comes with it — the sauce that looks like weird old mayonnaise — is actually an eye-popping, tongue-crushing hot sauce that, in a just world, would come with every fried food there is.
Medina's Moroccan lamb sandwich
Nobody sat on this sandwich. But when you unwrap a foil-wrapped sandwich at Medina Moroccan and Mediterranean Fusion in Richardson, it may look that way. Inside, you'll find a combination of beef and lamb, tahini sauce, pickles and spices. The baguette deflates like Tom Brady's footballs, but it's delicious, and so are the fries and baklava.
Broiled oysters at Smoke
The roasted oysters at Smoke, with their chorizo and butter topping, are awfully hard to catch on camera for two reasons. First, they look like some sort of burnt spaghetti disaster. Second, they are so good, you'll eat them without thinking. Maybe our photo doesn't capture them at their best, but we'd like to see you do better when you're hungry and tempted by the bewitching smell of buttery grilled seafood.
Sometimes, the uglier a pupusa gets, the better, like when the cheese oozes out of a crack in the dough and crisps up into burnt, frilly edges of blackened fat. No matter which of Dallas' finest pupuserias you patronize — La Unica on the east side, Doña Lola to the north, La Campina Salvadoreña in Oak Cliff — the results will be as delicious as they are camera shy. (The exception: La Viña in Irving, which offers a $10 "pupusa super loca" that looks pretty freaking cool.)
The Bad Pennies at Blues Burgers
Okay, this kind of looks good in a state fair sort of way, aside from the small, weird holes in the molten cheese topping. But we're not sure how many people are going to be taking photos of this blanket of molten cheddar cheese, under which lie skewers of tater tots wrapped in both bacon and jalapeño peppers. An appropriately Texan snack, these Bad Pennies are like those venomous snakes with scary red and black coats: They might stop your heart, but at least they look scary enough to warn you first.
Duck bone soup at Mr. Wok
Mr. Wok, inside an old Pizza Hut in Plano, serves some of the best roast duck in Dallas. Call ahead to reserve your bird, then show up hungry. When the duck is carved table-side, the cook will offer to take all the bones back into the kitchen to make you bowls of duck bone soup. Say yes. It may look like a brown bowl of chaos, but this soup is so richly flavorful that it took the top spot on the list of our critic's favorite dishes in 2016. Notice how, on that list, we did not use a picture of the soup. That's how much we want you to go eat it.
Pav bhaji at Bombay Chowpatty
Here is what pav bhaji looks like: two foamy dinner rolls next to a cup of brown goop. Here is what pav bhaji really is: a delicious big snack or small lunch beloved in India. Simply split open your rolls and add brown goop to make a sandwich. The sandwich filling is, in fact, a richly seasoned vegetable curry in which the veggies are finely diced or broken down into the sauce. Expect potatoes, onions, peppers, beans, carrots and plenty of herbs and spices. Sometimes when you combine a lot of complex flavors together, the result winds up looking, well, brown.
Refried beans are like pizza — even the bad ones still taste pretty good. Unlike pizza, sadly, they are about as colorful as the tax code. It's telling that the Observer photo archives have so few pictures of refried beans on file. But we love them anyway and will never stop eating our favorites around town, including the black beans at El Vecino Tex-Mex, the slightly soupy beans at El Pueblo, the bean taco at El Come Taco and newcomer Jalisco Norte's outstanding refried beans made with lard, caramelized onions and hot chile de arbol peppers.
Dairy-Ette's $4 burgers
You knew Dairy-Ette would be on this list. This East Dallas landmark has been around seemingly since before cameras were invented, and the menu won't be revised for your damn phone and its fancy-pants lens. So keep your gadgets in your pants, fork over $4 and enjoy an old-school burger with unnaturally yellow mustard and unnaturally American cheese. Those poor bastards with their edible-glitter-covered rainbow cruffins will never know what they're missing.