What Ales You 2023 | Brian Brown Keeps Tabs on North Texas’ Evolving Breweries. | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Kathy Tran
Bryan Brown
Brian Brown, the man behind the popular craft-brewing website Beer in Big D (beerinbigd.com), has plenty to write about these days. The region he focuses on, ranging from the Red River to counties just south of Dallas, is now home to around 90 craft breweries, and plans are in the works to add dozens more.

The history of small brewers and their long, bitter fight against politically entrenched alcohol distributors and corporate giants has been detailed elsewhere — for instance, in Brown and coauthor Paul Hightower’s book North Texas Beer: A Full-Bodied History of Brewing in Dallas, Fort Worth and Beyond. Since the Legislature allowed small breweries to both open taprooms and sell their beer outside of their own premises in 2013, and permitted them to sell beer to go in 2019, the taps have been opened wide for craft beer at last.

Brown, a certified beer judge who started his Beer in Big D blog in 2013, is happy about that, naturally. Well, mostly happy, it seems.

Talking with Brown, one gets the sense that he’s a little wistful for Texas craft brewing’s salad days, when a small group of beer lovers decided they wanted to try their hands at craft brewing and had to fight like the devil to win that right from lawmakers in Austin.

“I’d kind of gotten interested in the community of it,” Brown says of his start in writing about craft beer. “It kind of brought back the whole pub culture.”

In the 19th century, brewing beer locally in small batches was a side hustle for immigrant German farmers and shopkeepers. Biergartens flourished and virtually every small town in Texas had its local brews. Dallas had Mayer’s Garden, a massive entertainment complex built in 1881 offering live music nightly, a restaurant, vaudeville acts, a zoo, a shooting gallery and beer, beer, beer in a family-friendly garden where all classes mingled.

Prohibition and the arrival of giant corporate breweries in the mid-20th century eventually wiped out the small brewers and biergartens, but growing interest in home-brewing in ’90s sparked a revival of small-batch brewing.

Early on in the craft beer revival, the brewers all knew and supported one another, banding together in Austin to gain a seat at the bar. When a brewer held an event to celebrate the release of a new beer, other brewers would come to show support. Today, Brown says, he’ll visit taprooms to try a release and never meet the person who brewed it. He seldom sees brewers mingling at one another’s events these days. It’s the price of success, one supposes.

Tastes have changed, too. Younger drinkers want a variety drinks — wine, cider, cocktails — along with food and entertainment. To compete, brewers need their customers to linger and spend.

“You want to be a one-stop-shop today,” Brown says. “You want to have beer, beer to go. You want to have a food option. … The younger kids are into canned cocktails and stuff. So, taprooms are introducing their owned labeled whiskey. … These days are about diversifying.”

In that way, he says, things have come full circle. So, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll all mingle again to sip suds, check out the lions and catch a vaudeville act. There are certainly worse futures to look forward to. (But a beer garden/shooting range? Let’s give that one a little more thought.)

Lauren Drewes Daniels

Susan Shihab and Nora Soofi bring the flavors of their Yemeni hometown to Richardson at Arwa Yemeni Coffee. Honeycomb bread, nut-stuffed dates and pound cake drenched with rose syrup are just some of the Yemen-inspired treats that draw visitors to line up out the door during peak hours. Linger over a cardamom-scented coffee, black Adeni tea or a dirty chai while you soak up the decor. Light-washed wooden tones, lush plants and a beautifully lit patio all pay homage to Arwa, an Arabic name that means "beauty and grace."

Beth Rankin

A "cheeky Australian take" on the classic Italian coffee shop, LDU Coffee opened its doors to the Dallas public in 2017. Two Australian brothers with a passion for coffee was all it took for the concept to skyrocket in popularity. Blending the Australian coffee-drinking culture into the Texas food scene, the brothers roast all of their coffee in-house with a proprietary Australian recipe that the two came up with together. The difference is obvious, and the coffee is stronger than most. The popular flat white coffee comes with a fluffy milk foam floating atop a rich coffee base. LDU's Cowboy Juice and a Captain America coffee are even stronger, both claiming to "fly you straight into tomorrow." Add-ons like honey, cinnamon and extra shots of espresso treat you to the real Australian coffee-drinking experience.

Kathy Tran

Modern Asian fare meets ultra-sleek decor at Uchi, a rave-worthy Japanese food destination in Dallas. First, dive into one of Uchi's inventive daily specials. Tomato crudo, sweet potato pave and a pesto-dressed crab maki might catch your initial attention and hunger. Take your time to move on to the main menu. Uchi's various raw fish platters are arguably the stars of the chilled side of the menu, while a green-curry lobster dish elevates the hot. For a mix of both temperature extremes, try the leche frita, a plate of curdled milk balls that have been battered and dunked in the deep-fryer. For the indecisive folks: a 10-course omakase menu lets you sample a little of everything that makes Uchi a Dallas foodies favorite.

Anisha Holla

Chef Marko Ramirez-Pursley opened his Puerto-Rican-fusion food truck in his island hometown, but Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, brought the chef and his newly painted food truck to Dallas. The truck's crispy Puerto Rican empanadas are a good place to start, stuffed generously with caramelized meat or vegetables. Try the scoopable stew of meats, beans and vegetables that comes with El Chifrijo's plantain nacho chips. Puerto Rican Mofongo (mashed plantains), rice croquettes and street tacos are other inventive menu options. Everything served from the back of Chifrijo's truck bursts with flavor and passion.

Lauren Drewes Daniels

Chocolate and horchata join forces under the roof of CocoAndre in the Bishops Art District. Truffles here melt in the mouth to reveal fruity, milky and even liquor-infused fillings. Indulge in a couple of café-con-leche truffles, which break open to a creamy, coffee-flavored chocolate filling, or a more adventurous pear-ginger variety, stuffed with a pear ganache and tiled in crystallized ginger. Other funky chocolate flavors like strawberry passion fruit and rosemary ginger are sure to please. Inspired by her Mexican heritage, owner Andrea Pedraza also has an horchata menu with nine varieties of seasonal dishes. Wash your chocolate down with a creamy mazapan horchata, which has a light toasted nutty flavor. Coco Andre is closing its storefront sometime in the next year and transitioning to a new business models, so stop by while you can.

Beth Rankin

Dallas' first all-vegetarian buffet is inside a temple, which makes it a little hard to locate at first. Named after a sacred city in India, Kalachandji's is the first in Dallas to serve fully vegetarian fare. The menu rotates daily, but visitor favorites are always present. Help yourself to a few servings of fresh basmati rice, which mixes well with any of the seven-plus curries on the menu. Scoop it into a disk of papadum, a crispy Indian lentil snack that's slightly puffier than a potato chip and dotted with toasted fennel seeds. Cleanse the palate between trips to the buffet line with the signature lemonade, which offers bursts of tangy tamarind flavor in between sips. The most enjoyable part, though, might be lingering over your food in the courtyard — maybe under the giant tree in the center. Warm lights treat the eyes, water sounds soothe the ears and flavor-packed food tingles the palate. It's truly an all-around sensory experience.

Alison McLean

You won't find your typical Indian food at Windmills, a high-end restaurant and brewery in The Colony. With its flagship location in the Indian city of Bangalore, Windmills expanded its award-winning food overseas in 2021. The Colony branch has retained much of the culinary creativity from the original India location, but almost everything — from starters to desserts — comes fried, fattened and Tex-ified. Start with a plate of Texas-fried cheese curds served with a mint-yogurt dipping sauce. The guava chicken plate comes with tandoori chicken that's been marinated in a tropical guava dressing. It's paired with a sweet-and-spicy guava mayo on the side. Entrees like a Texas bourbon rib-eye and grilled pork chops all come with subtle Indian twists on the classic recipe. The live music on weekend nights spruces up the dining experience here, as does the freshly brewed beer. Grab a reservation, a beer and the willingness to explore a cuisine you didn't know existed.

Anisha Holla

Brown sugar milk, golden fruit teas and a creamy taro slush are just some of the specialty drinks you can find on Tea Daddy's menu. But what sets the hidden gem apart from Texas' over-saturated boba scene is not so much the drinks themselves; it's more what happens at the bottom of the cup. Tea Daddy makes all of its boba fresh in-house so that it's scooped hot into your drink. And while hot boba and iced drinks don't seem like a particularly enthralling combination, Tea Daddy has proven otherwise. The tea shop's iced, lightly sweetened teas provide a perfect background for hot, sugary tapioca pearls to melt inside. Order your beverage topped with a salted egg cream or cheese foam, both of which float on top and set the stage for an even creamier drink. Enjoy your boba in-store, then grab a few signature Tea Daddy egg tarts or tiramisu cakes for the road. Neither the food nor the drinks disappoint.

Anisha Holla

The name of this hidden gem in Dallas' Mockingbird Station is the first hint of what might be the creamiest soft serve in the state of Texas. Pure Milk & Honey gets its name from the two star ingredients in its ice cream. Organic Texas milk sourced from a local dairy farm is sweetened with natural honey and churned fresh in-house. The result is a thick, ultra-creamy soft serve that melts on the tongue almost instantaneously. But the texture is just the first part of the allure. Standard flavors such as a honey lavender and creamy milk chocolate soft serve compete with seasonal flavors like a buttery roasted pecan. Get your ice cream swirled in a cup, lick it from a cone or even order it sandwiched between layers of Pure Milk & Honey's signature honey ice cream cake. Any way you eat it, the texture is just as divine.

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