The end of August approaches, ushering in the last few weeks of another crushing Texas summer and promising a fresh influx of brand new Dentonites to this university town. They come with open minds and hungry bellies; most are unfamiliar with the area and need a crash course for dining in Little D. Others are coming back after a long break to find their favorite restaurant gone and a bumper crop of fledgling ventures in their place.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to eat in Denton, and many of those places get their fair share of (well-deserved) press. But for every celebrity-backed gastropub with a marketing team on retainer, there are a dozen hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop joints that deserve their share of praise. We'd like to introduce you to a few of them.
1015 E McKinney St., Denton
Breakfast, lunch & dinner. Counter service, $
Small and unassuming, this taqueria makes the best tacos in Denton. A recent expansion into the adjoining convenience store opened up more tables, so now this strip-mall taqueria shares a dining area with a wide selection of domestic beers.
Counter service is quick and friendly; all the employees we've encountered so far have been helpful and thankfully bilingual, so don't avoid the place if you're worried about a language barrier. High points are the marinated al pastor*, chorizo and the barbacoa. Tortillas are made in-house. The menu is in Spanish, but here's what you should order: two al pastor tacos con piña (with pineapple) on a corn tortilla with everything, a chorizo sope (again, with everything), the shrimp cocktail and some chips and guacamole. Wash it down with a house-made horchata, because you deserve it. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Taqueria Guanajuato also makes a massive breakfast burrito stuffed to the brim with beans, rice and your choice of meat.
*Tacos al pastor have been the talk of the town lately, with taco purists asserting the term "al pastor" refers specifically to spit-roasted adobo-marinated pork, no grill involved. Taqueria Guanajuato has no spit, they sear their adobo-seasoned pork on the grill, but we think they're pretty incredible anyway.
Yummy's Greek Restaurant
210 W University Dr., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Counter service, $-$$
Yummy's is a Denton institution. Open since 1986, it's older than most graduate students and has garnered quite a loyal following in its 30 years of operation. The dining room is small and sparsely decorated. The cuisine is your standard Greek diner fare, nothing fancy, but they do it surprisingly well.
The hummus and baba ganoush are silky-smooth and ultra-rich, obviously made with care using a family recipe. The gyros are solid, a peppery mix of spit-fired beef and lamb carved onto a grilled pita with fresh veggies and crunchy pickles slathered in tzatziki sauce. The falafel sandwich is the best in town, and the chicken souvlaki sandwich is a hot mess made in heaven. Both are served with a heaping dollop of creamy garlic sauce that will seep out and eventually soak into everything else on your plate. If you're lucky, you ordered french fries to sop it all up.
901 Avenue C #101, Denton
Lunch and dinner. Table service, $-$$
Going strong in its third year, the Bowllery is one of Denton's best places to score fresh, health-conscious food, and it's conveniently located just south of UNT campus. This spot touts eclectic, globally inspired cuisine, though many dishes lean towards Asian-inspired fusion.
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are the norm, though meat-lovers will appreciate the grilled steak or chicken ninja bowls, as well as the option to add grilled meats to their popular yogi bowls. Try the Denton bowl, a bed of warm soba noodles topped with avocado, crunchy veggies, grilled sweet potato and a gingery carrot miso sauce. They make a good portion of their sauces in-house, including a scratch-made Sriracha sauce that will have you questioning your allegiances to the token red rooster bottle. Because of the quality ingredients, the Bowllery can wander toward the pricey side when you tack on sides, add-ons or specialty drinks, but the fresh flavors are worth it.
408 N. Texas Blvd., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Counter service, $
Despite its convenient location just west of campus (located in a strip mall adjacent to UNT's West Dorm), The Taste doesn't seem to get much foot traffic from the general UNT student body. That's a shame, since they offer a number of affordable Korean dishes that fill you up without breaking the bank. The space itself has changed ownership a few times the past five years, but it's usually been some iteration of a fast-casual Korean spot.
What was once Bulgogi House became Czen (leading some to believe it was a Hungarian restaurant, apparently), but the change in name and management hasn't altered much; even the menu options stayed pretty static. The best deal by far is the Bento box ($10ish), a well-balanced meal with your choice of protein accompanied by rice, miso soup, tempura vegetables, cabbage salad and assorted kimchi. The Taste is also the only place in Little D right now serving ramen, so make a date with The Taste on the first truly cold day of winter and order a dumpling or two on top for good measure.
Back Dough at Queenie's Steakhouse
115 E. Hickory Street (around the side of the building), Denton
Late night carry-out. Cash only, $
You won't find a listing for Denton's best doughnuts on Google maps, because this pop-up shop operates out of the "back dough" of Queenie's steakhouse from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Go early, bring cash and be prepared to wait in line. Offerings change weekly depending on celebrity chef Tim Love's mood, but chances are they'll have at least one savory doughnut on the menu and a few sweet treats as well.
Past hits have included a barbecue pulled pork doughnut that rivaled the tastiest dim sum pork bun we've ever encountered, a pizza doughnut and a strawberry cheesecake doughnut that tasted like deep fried Southern hospitality. Yes, we realize Queenie's is the very definition of a celebrity-backed venture with a serious marketing team, but a late-night doughnut shop that operates literally out of the back door of said restaurant after dinner service ends gets a pass.