As the weather cools and a vaccine is still months away from being distributed to the masses, restaurants around the city are facing what could be even more bleak months ahead.
Winter patio dining in Texas is typically a less-than-pleasant experience with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, leading to agitated diners and cold plates. And to add to the already challenging times, propane heaters are on backorder for many restaurants needing to warm their patios.
So what can we eat outdoors that will keep us warm, hearken the soul and satiate the need for a dine-out experience during winter months? These are our favorite hot soups and hot bowls that can be consumed on the restaurant’s patio or at a nearby park.
Encina’s Field Pea and Ham Bisque614 W. Davis St., No. 100 (Bishop Arts District)
One bright spot during the pandemic has been the return of a familiar space, one that has seen upgraded touches in all the right places without losing the charm of its predecessor. Early reports on Encina’s service and menu are exceedingly positive. The menu is filled with showstoppers, and one winter addition comes in the form of the field pea and ham bisque.
The pea and ham hock broth is slow simmered with traditional mirepoix and topped with griddled kale biscuits. The bisque provides a depth of flavor found only in soups that take the time to build those layers.
In addition, the hybrid dining room features an indoor/outdoor aspect with ventilation coming from open doors and convertible windows.
Outdoor tip: There was a four-top with a white tablecloth and three two-tops on the front patio that were open on all three visits.
José’s Carrot-Habanero Soup4931 W. Lovers Lane (North Dallas)
With a retractable roof, plenty of tableside heaters, Latin-inspired motif tiles on the walls and lots of fresh air coming from the sides, one could make a strong argument this is the best year-round outdoor patio in Dallas. And with one of Dallas’ celebrated modern Mexican chefs, Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, running the kitchen, José is a must-stop for out-of-town diners and locals alike.
You certainly can’t go wrong ordering the pozole rojo, which is an exceptional bowl of braised pork, hominy, cilantro, and ancho and guajillo chiles.
If you’re craving something more, the carrot-habanero soup consists of pureed carrot, coconut milk, habanero and pepito pesto. The veteran move here is to add a pop of lump crab protein for $7, making this dish refined and elegant.
It’s a comforting bowl of creamy, rich soup you’ll find yourself craving days afterward.
Mai’s Restaurant’s Com Ca Ga Noi Dat (Chicken Curry Clay Pot)4812 Bryan St., No. 100 (East Dallas)
One particularly perfect outdoor dish on a cold Texas day is at Mai’s, with any version of their signature clay pot. We tried this dish during the first cold front of the year dipping into the 30s. And maintain thermal integrity, it did. The chicken curry clay pot was absolutely blistering for a good 20, 30 minutes, filled with cabbage, carrots, broccoli, rice noodles and a bottom layer of rice that crisps as you finish.
Outdoor tip: Monday through Wednesday lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) you can order at Mai’s and dine next door at the courtyard tables at Khao Noodle Shop.
Ruthie’s Rolling Cafe's Grilled Ham and Cheese with Tomato SoupKlyde Warren Park, 2012 Woodall Rodgers Freeway
This was perhaps the best storyline found in the search for the city’s best hot bowls as Café Momentum formed a partnership with Ruthie’s Food Truck in Klyde Warren Park to create a next level of training for graduates of the Café Momentum program.
The pandemic hit Café Momentum hard as the nonprofit closed its brick-and-mortar for the first 14 weeks of shutdown. Demonstrating tremendous resilience during that time, CEO Chad Houser explains they “repurposed their kitchen as a food-distribution center and made 350,000 meals to feed insecure students and families across our community.” The downtown location reopened two months ago with safety measures in place.
At Ruthie’s food truck, the tomato soup pairs delightfully with the Ham & I – a grilled cheese with ham and melted Swiss. Both the turkey and ham are made off-site at Café Momentum’s kitchen.
We recommend the smaller 4-ounce cup as a $2 add-on with any sandwich, as it’s the perfect dipping size.
Taco y Vino’s Sopa de Pollo213 W. Eighth St. (Bishop Arts District)
Taco y Vino is yet another patio that deserves mention as they recently upgraded their outdoor game. With plenty of heaters and jovial owner Jimmy Contreras giving the world’s best air hugs, this patio is one of Oak Cliff’s finest.
The menu regularly has a sopa or caldo special, too. On one trip we tried the pozole rojo that was another fine example of the bowl of red. Currently on the menu is the the sopa de pollo, a hearty bowl of chicken-chipotle, broth, arroz, avocado and carrot that’s topped with cilantro and radish. We were served a Raimat Tempranillo that paired nicely with everything.
Ten Ramen's Tonkatsu Ramen or Shoyu Ramen1888 Sylvan Ave. (West Dallas)
Long known as one of the best ramen spots, and notorious for onsite dining only, Ten Ramen has pivoted like many other restaurants and is now offering takeout. Both shoyu and tonkatsu classics are must-orders. They also have a patio with an interesting Japanese-style vending machine with imported candies and snacks.
Vietnam Restaurant's Thin Eye Round and Meatball Pho4302 Bryan St. (Old East Dallas)
Vietnam Restaurant’s pho is a great grab-and-go option that can be enjoyed in open air down the street at Exall Park (1355 Adair St.). The protein (we like the meatball and eye of round combo) and noodles are easily transferred into the giant quart container of broth in a pinch.
The park has many picnic tables and trails on-site to walk off the extra carbs and hoisin sauce you consume. Definitely don’t miss the fried egg rolls here, as they are crispy, piping hot and travel well.