Have a Reason To Celebrate? Do It Safely as the Pandemic Winds Down.

Ready to celebrate yet?
Ready to celebrate yet?
For many people who love eating at restaurants, now is the most confusing time since they were closed to indoor dining last year. We embraced curbside pickup and takeout for what feels like forever, and now, we’re being urged to start dining out again.

By dining out, I mean dining indoors. See? It’s confusing. Add to that the fact that some restaurants have thrown all caution to the wind when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s (almost) enough to make you want to eat at home forever.

But birthdays and graduations don’t stop just because we’re trying to do everything in a safe and socially distant manner. The need for anniversary celebrations, bachelorette parties and romantic date nights hasn’t gone away just because we’ve depleted our reserve of creative ways to approach celebrations during a pandemic that might or might not be waning.

So for your next big happening, you may feel pressured to do something really big, like head to one of several see-and-be-seen restaurants in Dallas. If you’re trying to make up for lost time, you may want your long-awaited evening out to be over-the-top, and you’ve probably accepted that it’s going to be expensive.

You might want to rethink that. As we learned last year, pent-up longing for a special night out can lead to high expectations and disastrous results.

The most Instagrammable and name-dropped restaurants can be overwhelmingly crowded and have unjustifiably high prices. Dinner can take forever even if you're not eating a multi-course meal, and if you are, expect to spend at least two hours in an elbow-to-elbow dining room full of boisterous people, talking loudly and laughing, mostly sans masks.

Spending a lot of money only to feel stressed and disappointed is awful, so try one of these approaches instead.

Visit Restaurants with High-Quality Takeout

You may not want to hear it, but sticking with takeout and curbside pickup is still the surefire way to feel safer until you’re vaccinated or until other indicators suggest that indoor restaurant dining is smart. What you need to know is that “takeout” doesn’t mean low quality and doesn’t have to mean casual dining.

There are surely dozens to choose from, but these five restaurants have been focused on perfecting to-go food for the better part of a year, and three of them are in our Top 100 Dallas Restaurants.

If you can’t bear another dinner in your own dining room, enjoy your meal on your patio or splurge on a one-night staycation at a nice hotel. Wherever you decide to eat it, your dinner won’t disappoint.

Al Biernat’s
4217 Oak Lawn Ave. (Oak Lawn) and 5251 Spring Valley Road (Far North Dallas)

Billy Can Can
2386 Victory Park Lane
Gorji offers high-quality takeout for your celebrations at home. - KATHY TRAN
Gorji offers high-quality takeout for your celebrations at home.
Kathy Tran
5100 Belt Line Road, No. 402 (Far North Dallas)

4115 Lomo Alto Drive (Park Cities)
click to enlarge A steak ready for serving at Town Hearth — don't you miss this? - KATHY TRAN
A steak ready for serving at Town Hearth — don't you miss this?
Kathy Tran
Town Hearth
1617 Market Center Blvd. (Dallas Design District)

Hire a Private Chef or Caterer

If money is no object, consider hiring a caterer or private chef. A catered dinner party for the people in your bubble or a romantic dinner for two may be a better solution, and in the long-run, could cost you less than an exclusive restaurant dinner.

Many local restaurants have catering operations that are starting to come back to life. Businesses such as Two Sisters Catering, Wendy Krispin Caterer and TK Culinary offer many options for parties and events.

A notable number of private chefs have turned their focus to meal prep during the pandemic, but chefs Ashley Henderson, London Brown and Gigliola (Gigi) Zimmermann are a few who prepare private dinners.

Visit Places with Sentimental Value

For some of us, a sentimental experience is as impressive as a showy one. If you want to dine “in" for an important meal, consider a nostalgic restaurant or a place that was once significant to you. Here are five long-running restaurants, some of which have the additional advantage of having large dining rooms.

Cafe Pacific
24 Highland Park Village (Park Cities)

5610 E Mockingbird Lane (Lower Greenville)

Celebration Restaurant
4503 W. Lovers Lane (Northwest Dallas)

The Old Warsaw
2512 Maple Ave. (Oak Lawn)

Royal China
6025 Royal Lane, No. 201 (North Dallas)

Try a Food Tour

Dallas by Chocolate and Dallas Bites tours are coming back to life with a variety of socially distant options. The car scavenger hunt is great for families and friend groups, while a romantic, distanced event originally offered for Valentine’s Day is now available as The Socially Distanced Evening Experience.

For both of these tours, you drive your own vehicle and enjoy food from Dallas restaurants at multiple stops. The company also offers private tours to make any occasion a special one.

Buy a Spectacular Cake

Nick & Sam’s serves giant slices of rainbow cake that you’ve almost certainly seen on Instagram. It’s possible that just ordering dessert is an option, but if you feel obligated to have a meal there, that experience is going to cost you a minimum of $100 per person, and crowds are packed in tight.

Service is not speedy in a full house and the stress of spending hours with too many strangers in close quarters could make that pricy meal taste like sawdust. If the idea of an evening at the see-and-be-seen spot doesn’t make you anxious, by all means, go, and enjoy.

But if you think you might end up with regrets, just order a full cake from them directly. It’ll cost you $165. Whether or not that’s worth it is up to you, but wallet-friendly options for rainbow cake do exist.

Mozart Bakery & Cafe serves a rainbow-colored multi-layered fresh Korean cream cake by the slice at a scaled-down price and size. If you don’t need all seven colors, you can order a whole tri-colored cake at Pietro’s Bakery that’s just as festive.

The dessert menu at TGIFridays offers the original Carlo’s Bakery Rainbow Cake by the slice as part of a Celebration Dessert Box or as a whole cake. The upside to going with one of these is that you can put the money you saved toward a more impressive gift.

That One Place You'd Miss More Than Anything if it Was Gone

I’m not going to list any recommendations here because, obviously, the answer is different for everyone. And I’d be hard-pressed to single out just one restaurant that holds a special place in my heart. But I cried when I read that 20 Feet Seafood Joint had closed because of the pandemic.

No amount of support could have saved them because they closed when restaurants first shut down not knowing that they would never reopen. (Damn, it still hurts to say it.)

Whether it was wise or not, we’ve turned a corner by having all of our restaurants free to open at 100% capacity. But small, independent restaurants are not out of the woods yet. Turn to them now for your special moments so they’ll still be here for your everyday moments and for the milestones 10 years in your future.
click to enlarge A clam po'boy from the late lamented 20 Feet Seafood Joint. Damn COVID. - NICK RALLO
A clam po'boy from the late lamented 20 Feet Seafood Joint. Damn COVID.
Nick Rallo