This new ranking is an alternative. Not content with building my own list, I surveyed more than 60 Dallas-area chefs and industry insiders to find out what they consider to be the top restaurants. Here are the results of that survey — along with an analysis of which restaurants, in industry professionals' opinions, are most overrated and underrated by critics like me.
How the survey worked
I asked 75 food industry insiders to name their personal "top 10" places to eat in the Dallas area, using any criteria they wanted and with the knowledge that their individual votes would be kept secret. Of the 75, 67 cast ballots, seven did not reply (or agreed to participate and then forgot) and one person declined to vote. Some listed the restaurants they felt were the best, others named the places they visit most frequently and many combined those two approaches.
The 67 voters included chefs, cooks, pitmasters, bartenders, sommeliers, restaurant owners, food writers and a handful of extremely knowledgeable diners who have long served as my "informants." Here are their names:
Taylor Adams, Amanda Albee, Peter Barlow, Jamil Bata, Justin Box, Leslie Brenner, Casie Caldwell, Jesús Carmona, Katherine Clapner, Jimmy Contreras, Tim Cox, Todd David, Tiffany Derry, Catherine Downes, Reyna Duong, Julien Eelsen, Joshua Gianni Farrell, Petey Feng, Jeffrey Gregory, Joshua Harmon, Justin Holt, Maggie Huff, Uno Immanivong, George Kaiho, Michelle Kessler, Christian Koelling, Peja Krstic, Brian Luscher, Courtney Luscher, Dedra McCallister, Matthew McCallister, Melissa McCoy, Lance McWhorter, Iris Midler, Ben Min, Salvy Mohammad, Brandon Mohon, Lisa Martel Mohon, Brad Murano, Casey Nicole, Misti Norris, Luis Olvera, Joel Orsini, David Peña, Nikky Phinyawatana, Thi Phung, Quia Querisma, Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, José Ralat, Nick Rallo, Beth Rankin, Stephen Rogers, Regino Rojas, Siobhán Sindoni, Ravinder Singh, Melissa Stephens, Shane Stephens, Dalila Thomas, Kathy Tran, Tiffany Tran, David Uygur, Mark Vamos, Sharon Van Meter, Daniel Vaughn, Paige Weaver, Chris Wolfgang, Sam Wynne and Allison YoderI allowed some voting irregularities. One chef submitted a top 14; another texted me just one name. Eight voters named their own employers. Two married couples filed jointly. Two people cast protest votes for restaurants that were already long closed: FT33 and Luscher's Red Hots.
In total, our 67 voters named 276 Dallas-area restaurants — 109 establishments received multiple votes, and 167 appeared on a single ballot each. In truth, some of them aren't restaurants, including nominations for a liquor store taco counter, underground dinner series Frank and the Sunday Thai food market at Wat Dallas. One admirer even cast a vote for "anywhere Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman is cooking," which at the time meant pop-ups. She has since been hired by Lovers Lane eatery José.
Enough explaining. Let's get on to the results.
The top 10 restaurants in Dallas — according to industry insiders
Here's the top 10 list according to insider votes. The number in parentheses after each restaurant's name is the number of ballots, out of 67, on which the restaurant appeared.
The Dallas Food Industry's 10 Favorite Restaurants
1. Mot Hai Ba (22)
2. Lucia (20)
3. Tei-An (19)
4. Macellaio (14)
5. Petra and the Beast (13)
6. (tie) Nonna, Revolver Taco Lounge, The Slow Bone BBQ (11)
9. (tie) Bullion, Izkina (10)
Sitting just outside the top 10, with nine votes each, are Gemma, Jimmy's Food Store and Zoli's NY Pizza. Knife, Ten Ramen and Yutaka each received eight votes, and six restaurants received seven votes each: Boulevardier, Cattleack Barbeque, The Grape, Sachet, Tei Tei Robata and Teppo. Full results appear at the bottom of this post.
The most underrated restaurants in Dallas, according to insiders
The biggest surprise to me was the overwhelming showing for The Slow Bone, which not only blew out every other barbecue joint in Dallas but found itself safely within the top 10 overall. The Slow Bone racked up 11 votes — compared with four for Pecan Lodge and a single vote for Hutchins BBQ. I suspect chefs love that they can get good barbecue near downtown without having to wait in a long line of hyped-up tourists.
Two new restaurants exceeded expectations, too. Macellaio, the younger, more relaxed sibling to Lucia, placed No. 17 in my own Top 100, but chefs and industry professionals like it even more than that. The same goes for Izkina, a tapas bar in Deep Ellum so new that I didn't have time to visit it at all before filing my Top 100 listing. Clearly I should have shuffled my schedule around. (We're reviewing Izkina soon.)
Further down the ballot, several other restaurants received support disproportionate to their critical acclaim. Everybody loves Zoli's. Sichuan Folk received six votes, the most of any Chinese restaurant, validating our decision to rank it in the Top 20. Five people named Sandwich Hag, the Cedars neighborhood's banh mi spot, and Cosmo's, the Lakewood bar with a Vietnamese menu.
Reyna Duong, chef-owner of Sandwich Hag, agreed to go on the record with her vote for Cosmo's.
I also liked seeing support for small businesses like La Me (four votes), Oak Cliff bar Nova (four votes), Pakistani restaurant BBQ King (three votes), Oak Lawn hidden gem Open Sesame (two votes), outstanding sandwiches from New York Sub (three votes) and the O.G. of Laotian food in Dallas, Nalinh Market (three votes).
To be honest, there were numerous vote-getters in the survey that I had never before heard of, including Ali Baba, Bethany's, Cadillac Pizza, Chang Jing, Coconut Thai, Fifth Street Pizza, Hickory House Barbecue, "Jacksboro Pulga (Fort Worth)," Laurel Tavern, Mangiamo, Midway Point, Olive Burger, Pho Apple, Pho Mac, Potpourri of Silk, Sea Breeze Fish Market, Sushi Rock, Taco Naan, Thuy Nguyen Cafe, ZENse Thai and Zhabuki Asian Shabu.
If you feel like you've eaten at every good restaurant Dallas has to offer, give one of them a try.
The most overrated restaurants in Dallas, according to insiders
I was curious to find out if chefs thought I had goofed on my own ranking. The answer: yes, a little. My No. 3 pick, Mot Hai Ba, got double the votes of my No. 1, Revolver Taco Lounge. No. 15 Gorji and No. 16 SpicyZest got no votes at all. But I still feel confident that those restaurants will gain more acclaim as more diners find out about them.
I cross-referenced the industry survey with other "best restaurants" lists, in addition to my own. Seven restaurants from the current Eater 38 received no votes in my poll: Deli News, Kalachandji's, Mesa, Nora, Spiral Diner and two additional businesses that were probably omitted because they are in Fort Worth.
On the most recent D Magazine top 50 list, survey winner Mot Hai Ba is all the way down at No. 12, behind No. 7 Fearing's, which received just one vote in the industry poll. (That vote came from a food writer, not a chef.) No. 17 Zaytinya also had just one supporter in my survey, while No. 16 Pappas Bros., No. 23 CBD Provisions, No. 26 Al Biernat's and No. 30 Abacus — all steakhouses — drew zeroes.
A few more big names are missing from the survey results. None of the voting chefs, bartenders or restaurateurs mentioned The Mansion, Cadot or such prominent steakhouses as Capital Grille, Truluck's or Dakota's. Mirador got only two votes; Fine China, Bob's Steak & Chop House, Cafe Pacific, Lavendou Bistro, Parigi, Fachini, Montlake Cut and Shinsei each got just one.
Flora Street Cafe received six votes, but one of them specified Flora Street under a previous chef who has since departed (Robbie Nowlin). All of the remaining five supporters are current or former food writers, not chefs or restaurant workers.
I was also surprised at the lack of support for Babe's Chicken Dinner House and Cafe Momentum (one vote each). E Bar Tex-Mex had a healthy showing with five votes — but it was the only Tex-Mex restaurant in Dallas to appear on more than two ballots.
The full results
22 votes: Mot Hai Ba
20 votes: Lucia
19 votes: Tei-An
14 votes: Macellaio
13 votes: Petra and the Beast
11 votes: Nonna, Revolver Taco Lounge, The Slow Bone BBQ
10 votes: Bullion, Izkina
9 votes: Gemma, Jimmy's Food Store, Zoli's Pizza
8 votes: Knife, Ten Ramen, Yutaka
7 votes: Boulevardier, Cattleack Barbeque, The Grape, Sachet, Tei Tei Robata, Teppo
6 votes: Flora Street Cafe, Sichuan Folk, Town Hearth, Trompo
5 votes: The Charles, Cosmo's, E Bar Tex-Mex, Niwa Japanese BBQ, Royal China, Sandwich Hag, Uchi, Wabi House
4 votes: Asian Mint, Bubba's, Cane Rosso, Carbone's, La Me, Maple & Motor, Neighborhood Services, Nick & Sam's, Nova, Off-Site Kitchen, Pecan Lodge, Royal China, Si Tapas, Tacos La Banqueta, 20 Feet Seafood Joint
3 votes: BBQ King, Bolsa, Dairy-ette, El Come Taco, The French Room, Hillstone, Jeng Chi, Kirin Court, Local, Mr. Max, Mughlai, Nalinh Market, New York Sub, North Italia, Patina Green, Taco y Vino, Tacos Mariachi, Taquero, Vietnam Restaurant, Wu Wei Din
2 votes: Ali Baba, Avila's, Bangkok City, Bangkok Inn, Bbbop Seoul Kitchen, Billy Can Can, Chai Khanah, Cheesesteak House (Oak Cliff), CiboDivino, Crossroads Diner, Ddong Ggo, El Jordan, Gonzalez Restaurant, Hon Sushi, Ichiro Ramen, Keller's, Lakewood Landing, Louie's, LUCK at Trinity Groves, Maskaras Mexican Grill, Meso Maya, Mia's, Open Sesame, Our Place, Pho Pasteur (one voter specifies the Carrollton location), Pie Tap Pizza, Rapscallion, R+D Kitchen, St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, San Jang, Sassetta, Sprezza, Sushi Rock, TJ's Seafood, Tribal All Day Cafe, Wa Kubota, Wingfield's, Zhabuki Asian Shabu, Zen Sushi, Ziziki's
1 vote: Ajumma Kimbob Deli, Al Markaz, Allgood Cafe, Antoine's, "anywhere Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman is cooking," Ari Korean BBQ, Arirang Korean Kitchen, Armoury DE, Aunt Irene's, Babe's Chicken Dinner House, Bambu Thai, Bethany's, Bisous Bisous, Blue Sushi Sake, Bob's Steak & Chop House (Plano location), Bowls and Tacos, Burger Street, Cadillac Pizza, Cafe Madrid, Cafe Momentum, Cafe Pacific, Caribbean Cabana, Casa Vieja, Chang Jing, Charcoal Avenue, City Hall Bistro, Cock & Bull, Coconut Thai, Commissary, Communion Coffee & Eats, The Crafty Irishman, Edoko, El Atoron, El Globo, El Pueblo, El Ranchito, Encanto Pops, EnjoyMint, Fachini, Fearing's, 5th Street Pizza, First Emperor Chinese, Frank Underground, The Free Man, Front Room Tavern, FT33, Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House, Goodfriend Package, Grace, Gulabo's Brunch & BBQ, Gung Ho, Haywire, Hello Dumpling, HG Sply Co., Hickory House, Houston's, Hutchins BBQ, Ino Japanese, Izakaya RoMan, Jack's Burger House, "Jacksboro Pulga Fort Worth (hot dogs)," Jorg's Cafe Vienna, José, JS Chen's, Kabobi, Ka-Tip pop-up dinners at Jettison, King's Noodle, Kuby's, Kuchipudi Indian Kitchen, LA Hanbat, La Michoacana Meat Market (Greenville Ave. location), Latin Deli, Laurel Tavern, Lavendou Bistro, Lima Taverna, Limon's, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, Little Sichuan, Local Diner, Local Moto + Provisions, Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, Lounge Here, Lucky's Cafe, Luscher's Red Hots, Malai Kitchen, Mangiamo, Mariano's, Maru Ramen, Mesero, Midway Point, Mr. Wok, MoMo Italian Kitchen, Mo Mo To Go, Monkey King Noodle Company, Montlake Cut, My Canh, Nate's, Noodle Wave, Nori Handroll Bar, Norma's Cafe, Ocean Prime, Off the Bone BBQ, Oishii, The Old Monk, Olive Burger, Omi Korean Grill & Bar, Oni Ramen, Original Market Diner, Palapas Seafood Bar, Parigi, Pho Apple, Pho Bay, Pho Mac, Pho Tay Do, Potpourri of Silk, Quik Way Beer & Wine taco counter, Quoc Bao Bakery, Rafa's, The Ranch at Las Colinas, R&B Ramen and Bao, Rise No. 1, Rodeo Goat, Royal Sichuan, Rudy's Chicken, Ruins, S&D Oyster Co., Sahara, Saigon Block, Saigon Deli, Sal's Pizza, Scardello Artisan Cheese, Sea Breeze Fish Market and Grill, Shake Shack, Shawarma Press, Shinsei, Stock & Barrel, Sumo Shack, the food court Super H Mart, Tacodeli, Taco Naan, Tacos y Mas, Tanoshii Ramen, Taqueria El Si Hay, Taqueria Tiquicheo, Tasty Tails, Taverna, Thuy Nguyen Cafe, Tienda La Campina, Tipico's, Toreore Chicken, Torteria Insurgentes, Toulouse, True Food Kitchen, Two Guys from Italy, Wasabi, Wat Dallas (Sunday Thai food market), Water Grill, Whistle Britches, The Woolworth, Yama Sushi (Dallas location), Yatai Food Kart (Fort Worth), Yoshi Shabu Shabu, Youlim, Yummy Burgers & BBQ, ZaLat Pizza, Zaytinya, ZENse Thai