Food News

Does Dallas Really Have the Most Restaurants Per Capita? And If So, Who Cares?

"Dallas has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the U.S." Have you heard this one before? The statement is as pervasive here as "Hey, where is the valet stand?" and "I'll have my steak well done."

Usually, it's issued as a sort of bragging right. Dallasites who are proud of their city belt it out like a statement of achievement, and tourism officials tout the fact as evidence of Dallas' worthiness as a destination. I've also heard foodies use the statistic to frame a negative rhetorical question: "If Dallas has the most restaurants per capita, then why don't we have more good ones?"

But is the statistic even true? Every time I ask for a source I'm met with a quick change of subject, and I've heard the per capita card played in just about every place I've lived. I went to college in West Virginia, where I majored in moonshine and was told that I lived in the town with the most bars per capita. It was almost believable because the town was so small, and I was always so drunk, but the folks at International Business Times disagree. They say Pittsburgh is king of the swill.

I heard the same thing when I lived in Washington, D.C., and it looks like that one may actually be true. According a list compiled by the National Restaurant Association, D.C, is the most restaurant-heavy state in the union. It makes sense if you think about it (and ignore that D.C. isn't a state) because the district is the only "state" that's entirely a city.

So what about Dallas? Sometimes you'll see the per capita card played on the Dallas/Fort Worth area collectively. Even if that tips statistics in our favor that's a really lame grab. Dallas and Fort Worth have little in common and they're separated by 45 minutes of what can often be the worst traffic known to man. And yet, even with the two metro areas combined, we don't get any love from this list on Bloomberg. Not until No. 15.

That's nothing to brag about at all.

I'd love to see some reputable statistics to the contrary, and I'm sure I'll get plenty of data in the comments below (that might be the whole point of this post), but it's obvious we shouldn't worry about the quantity of restaurants that operate in our city. We should worry about the quality of those restaurants. Bragging about scores of Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grills within a fork's throw of your office is like bragging that you're within driving distance of an outlet mall. Nobody outside of this bubble cares.

Even if Dallas does turn out to be the city with the most restaurants per capita, let's all stop bragging about it. Don't even mention it. Let's focus on dining and discussing our very best restaurants, instead. Let's brag about how far our food scene has come in just the past few years, and let's not lose sight of the fact that while we have some great restaurants, we're still far behind the best food cities in the country. There's always room for improvement and we won't become a more destination-worthy dining city by throwing around numbers built on chain restaurants. We need to celebrate passion instead.