December 15, 2020

The best restaurants across Dallas and the surrounding cities.

Even while in a pandemic, Dallas restaurants rallied to not only keep their doors open and staff paid but supplied Dallas customers with unforgettable meals. We’ve eaten at hundreds of establishments, taking no freebies and eating anonymously, and we have identified the best restaurants in Dallas and its surrounding cities. From quick bites to dive bars to fine dining, these are the restaurants making Dallas the destination that it is, even when all the meals are takeout.

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

2 Neighbors Hot Chicken

2 Neighbors Hot Chicken
Brian Reinhart
A chicken sandwich from 2 Neighbors
A tidal wave of Nashville- and Memphis-style hot chicken restaurants hit the Dallas area in 2020. The city’s biggest food fad is available at more than a dozen spots around town and in the suburbs, but 2 Neighbors stands out for three reasons. First, 2 Neighbors pounds the chicken breasts used in its sandwiches to make the finished product easier to eat. Those bulging piles of chicken at other restaurants may look good on Instagram, but will they actually fit inside your jaw? Second, the spiced coating at 2 Neighbors — which, we’ll admit, isn’t as spicy as at many rival spots; “medium” here means a comfortable, gentle burn — doesn’t have the sandy, gritty texture of the added spices at other hot chicken spots. Third, there’s the issue of heritage: Nashville-style hot chicken comes from African-American tradition, but 2 Neighbors appears to be one of just two Black-owned independent hot chicken restaurants in the area right now. (The other is Helen’s in Lewisville.) ($)
324 E. Belt Line Road, No. 201, DeSoto

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Al Markaz

Al Markaz
Alison McLean
Chicken Karahi
For more than two decades years, Al Markaz has been an institution in the Dallas-area Indian and Pakistani communities. Some of the original employees are still here, and the lunch combo is still an outrageously good deal. That long history, and those low prices, are still a big part of the restaurant’s appeal, but there are plenty of good dishes coming out of the kitchen, including lentil stews and probably the best butter chicken within a dozen miles. It’s especially fun to visit in the evening during Ramadan and watch dozens of families arrive simultaneously to order mountainous, fast-breaking meals.

Top pick: The lunch combo includes a piece of naan and appetizer portions of three different main courses. You choose the mains; we recommend the nihari and dal palak (spinach and lentils).

The downside: Al Markaz’s pastry items, like samosas, are good when they’re fresh. The problem is, they’re very rarely served fresh. There are better places to grab biryani, as well.

Fun fact: The attached grocery store is excellent, with a wide range of South Asian foods, teas, sodas and English biscuits. ($)
1205 W. Trinity Mills Rd., Suite 112, Carrollton, 75006

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

AllGood Cafe

AllGood Cafe
Nick Rallo
If you designed the diner of your dreams, and you happened to be from south-central Texas rather than, say, New York or the Midwest, the result would look a lot like AllGood Cafe. The food here adds gentle Texan touches to American classics, like the fat slices of roasted poblano pepper in the terrific grilled cheese sandwich, or the fact that all sandwiches come with a side of tortilla chips rather than fries. The chicken-fried steak, with enormous, crisp batter that sprawls across a whole takeout container, is advertised as the “world’s best.” We don’t know if that’s true, but to find better, you’d probably have to drive to some tiny town in the Hill Country.

Top pick: Either the fabulous chicken club sandwich, with crisp, peppery bacon and avocado, or literally any dish that comes with the restaurant’s smooth mashed potatoes and ultra-peppery gravy. Come to think of it, all our favorite dishes at AllGood have huge quantities of black pepper.

The downside: Some of the more overt attempts at Tex-Mex cooking are inconsistent; the salsas are plain, and only a native Texan will love the mystery-cheese queso.

Fun fact: The restaurant’s atmosphere, eclecticism and charm are best described by the slogan emblazoned across its website: “It’s like going to Austin, without having to go through Waco.” ($)
2934 Main St., Dallas, 75226

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Ari Korean BBQ

Ari Korean BBQ
Kathy Tran
At Arirang, it’s all about noodles and dumplings. This Korean restaurant in Carrollton is tops for homemade dough, whether you order made-from-scratch noodles or plump, freshly crimped dumplings loaded with chopped kimchi. Be careful around the noodles with spicy eggplant sauce, because the word “spicy” is taken very seriously. Similarly, the noodles in savory sesame broth are such a strong sesame flavor bomb that they’re for tried-and-true members of the sesame fan club.

Top pick: If you can’t decide, grab a bowl of soup No. 4, a noodle soup with dumplings in it, too; if the dumplings tear and meat slips into the broth, the soup only gets better. ($$)
2625 Old Denton Rd. #800, Carrollton, 75007

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Armoury D.E.

Armoury D.E.
Kathy Tran
When the Armoury D.E. opened its doors in 2015, its mission was to offer some of the best cocktails, food and live music Deep Ellum had seen in years. The Armoury has stuck to what it knows best, offering a casual dining experience with a diverse selection of Hungarian comfort foods and other good stuff that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else. Be sure to ask about the burger of the week while you’re there. Also, venture out back to catch one of their free live shows, curated with a music taste as refined as the bar’s choice in booze. ($$)
2714 Elm St., Dallas, 75226

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Baby Back Shak

Baby Back Shak
Observer file photo
A half slab at this 23-year-old Cedars barbecue joint means seven baby back ribs kissed with smoke, spiced with pepper and just-right tender: The meat doesn’t fall off the bone, but pulls off with the gentlest of tugs. It just narrowly beats out the boudin plate as our favorite order, but the boudin (here spelled boudain) is top-notch, too, especially dunked in a cup of sauce. Since the coronavirus crisis began, Baby Back Shak has been takeout only, with no seating available in the small dining room that pays loving tribute to great blues musicians and displays two decades’ worth of media praise.

Top pick: We love two meaty sides: excellent, peppery, lick-the-takeout-container baked beans and the boudin links. (Yes, boudin can be ordered as a side dish with a rack of ribs to make the ultimate meat plate.) ($$)
1800 S. Akard St., Dallas, 75215-1901

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

BBQ King

BBQ King
Alison McLean
One of the best Pakistani restaurants in the Dallas area is this spot, which started in Richardson before moving to Garland in 2018. BBQ King serves some great naan — try it stuffed with spiced potatoes or topped with a showering of sesame seeds and cilantro. They’re accompaniments to dishes such as haleem, the porridge-like soul food of lentils, wheat, ground meat, ghee, ginger and fried onion.

Top pick: Try a stew-like kunna gosht, made with goat leg, or beef karahi, which sets tomato sweetness against a balanced lineup of spices.

The downside: Kebabs can be salty, in-person service can be slow and the free salad that comes with most meals is worth what you’re paying for it.
Fun fact: If you’re into paan, the leaf-and-nut chewing stimulant common in Pakistan, BBQ King has what most diners agree is the best paan counter in the area. (We haven’t indulged.) ($$)
3112 N. Jupiter Rd., Garland, 75044

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Big Tony’s West Philly Cheesesteaks

Big Tony’s West Philly Cheesesteaks
courtesy of Big Tony’s West Philly Cheesesteaks
ig Tony’s imports bread loaves from Philadelphia, because nothing made locally can match the unique, soft-but-firm texture of the breads into which this restaurant piles sliced steak and veggies.
Why West Philly? Well, that’s where Anthony “Big Tony” Blaylock is from. He graduated from Temple University, which explains the college memorabilia at some of his mini-chain’s locations, and got experience in the restaurant business by working at local rival chain Fred’s before opening his own cheesesteak shop. Big Tony’s imports bread loaves from Philadelphia, because nothing made locally can match the unique, soft-but-firm texture of the breads into which this restaurant piles sliced steak and veggies. The menu is huge, and each day has its own specials, but look out for No. 8, with sautéed onions and mushrooms, and No. 15, which adds mushrooms, onions, banana peppers and slices of jalapeño. The meat is saucy, but never greasy, and we also appreciate the pandemic safety measures taken at each restaurant, including curbside pickup at some locations.

Top pick: The fried sides, including “toothpicks” and “hockey pucks” (fried straight-sliced onions and peppers, and fried jalapeño coins, respectively), are spot-on.

Fun fact: The enormous menu also includes burgers and a hot pastrami hoagie. ($)
13378 Preston Rd., Dallas, 75240

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Bilad Bakery & Restaurant

Bilad Bakery & Restaurant
Kathy Tran
Some of Richardson’s other Iraqi restaurants have shut down in recent years — we still miss the kebabs at Chai Khanah — but Bilad, the original and perhaps best of them all, remains a neighborhood institution. The superb bakery got its start turning out excellent samoon bread from Iraq and trays of delightful desserts like pistachio puffs and baklava. But for nearly a decade now, Bilad has also had an excellent kitchen serving Iraqi specialties, including some of the region’s better shawarma and falafel, zhug (an acidic hot pepper sauce), fresh tabbouleh and garlicky hummus. Kebab meat may look charred on the outside, but the interior is still perfectly tender. Grab a bag of that samoon bread as you leave, or visit the small grocery next door.

Top pick: The $5.49 shawarma sandwiches, served on loaves of fresh Iraqi bread with fluffy soft interiors, are no-doubt, unanimous-vote choices for the Texas Sandwich Hall of Fame, especially if you ask that your sandwich be made spicy.

The downside: Double-check the freshness on any pre-packaged desserts. We’re not in love with the three-day-old baklava that occasionally sits on the shelf.

Fun fact: Bilad makes a point of providing food to penniless customers or people experiencing homelessness free of charge. ($$)
850 S. Greenville Ave., Richardson, 75081

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Billy Can Can

Billy Can Can
Kathy Tran
For a certain kind of tourist or visiting family member, this fancified, all-frills saloon in Victory Park is a guaranteed hit. It presents a dressed-up, Wild West atmosphere that verges on kitsch (and, in the name, crosses that verge), while serving up food and drink vastly better than the gimmick might suggest. An adventurous, affordable selection of wines and cocktails backs up pretty killer renditions of skillet cornbread, Texas red chili, hot fried quail and summer okra succotash. Some of the mains, such as the big-boned pork chop, are over-the-top in a good way. Alongside Knife and Town Hearth, this is one of the best places to take out-of-town guests who ask for a stereotypically Dallas experience but still care about the food being good.

Top pick: The crispy oyster sliders with comeback sauce make a pretty flawless appetizer, and the burger is a meaty dream bathed in Longhorn cheddar.

The downside: Billy Can Can’s precisely cooked meats and lively atmosphere mean that something extra is lost in our takeout pandemic climate, but the restaurant is doing its best to compensate with regularly updated, multi-course family-style meals to go. Still, when it’s safe to go out again, this will be one of our first stops. ($$$)
2386 Victory Park Lane, Dallas, 75219

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Bombay Chowpatty

Bombay Chowpatty
Kathy Tran
One of Irving’s top two places for chaat, along with Taj Chaat, is Bombay Chowpatty, named after a beach lined with street food vendors. The dining room showcases some of that airy atmosphere, with seats arranged food-hall style around a central open kitchen and many of the walls plastered with beach photos and Bollywood posters. All that openness has taken on a new feel during the pandemic, but you can always order takeout sandwiches and snack packs online. Pav bhaji is a superb order here, as are the bit-of-everything lunch combos. If you just need a snack, go for sabudana vada, deep-fried patties of sago pearls, whole-seed spices and chives; they have the crisp bubbly texture of good tater tots. The fusion items, like a pizza dosa and pineapple-chocolate-cheese sandwich, are just as wild as they sound, so order with caution.

Top pick: If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, skip the European-style sandwiches on white bread and order a frankie, a rolled-up paratha filled with chopped veggies and spices. The paneer frankie here is a reliable and filling vegetarian lunch.

The downside: The menu boards in person and on the online ordering system don’t really describe the foods on offer, so if you’re still unfamiliar with the world of Indian snack foods, do a bit of research before you go.

Fun fact: Bombay Chowpatty is one of the few restaurants in the Dallas area with a Jain menu. Because Jain people believe in total nonviolence to all living creatures, their vegetarianism excludes foods grown underground, like onions, to avoid harming small insects by harvesting roots or tubers. ($)
825 W. Royal Lane, Irving, 75039

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Boulevardier

Boulevardier
Kathryn DeBruler
This quaint French bistro in the Bishop Arts District has one of the best brunches in the city, a celebrated wine list, phenomenal French cuisine and a stellar oyster program. It almost feels arrogant of them to also have one of the best bars in the city. And, yet, here we are. Every Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., get half-off of every bottle of wine on their list and discounted oysters. Watch the chalkboard for the best picks. Not a wine-drinker? No problem. Their hand-crafted classic cocktails will get you wherever you need to go. ($$$)
408 N. Bishop Ave., #108, Dallas, 75208

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Cabritos Los Cavazos

Cabritos Los Cavazos
Cabrito is the star at the only full-on Monterrey-style, goat-grilling specialist in the Dallas area. Stare through the glass kitchen wall at the massive pit, above which goat legs, shoulders and ribcages stand like planted flags, then feast on one of the cuts alongside charro beans and the restaurant’s excellent salsas. Few make-your-own-taco experiences in Dallas get as good as this. One portion of cabrito, with all the fixings that come with it, is enough to make one person full or to satisfy two people who’ve also shared an appetizer.

Top pick: Splurge on the whole goat for $235 (also available to go). If that’s a little too much food for your household, consider the spectacularly rich machitos — rolls of goat meat, fat and organs stuffed into the animal’s digestive tract and grilled until crispy.

The downside: There can be a wait for your goat meat, and the rest of the menu is there primarily as a distraction.

Fun fact: If you’re wondering why the dining room is a little strange, and why the kitchen has a glass wall partition, it’s because this space used to be a liquor store. ($$)
10240 N. Walton Walker Blvd., Dallas, 75220

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Cafe Momentum

Cafe Momentum
Stanton Stephens
Cafe Momentum is a nonprofit venture that employs juvenile offenders and pays them fair, living wages to help teach them life skills, leadership and, of course, how to work in a restaurant. Because of the employees’ fair wages, any tips left behind are considered donations to the mission. As such, it’s easy to praise the restaurant without ever mentioning food, just by dwelling on the life-changing effects it has on young people who deserve this chance to work and grow. But here’s the thing: Cafe Momentum is a genuinely good restaurant, one that consistently manages to stand out from the glut of Southern kitchens around town.

Top pick: Menu items rotate along with the interns and the professionals who teach them, but look for market-fresh fish with seasonal sides, savory crawfish beignets or an excellent plate of shrimp and grits.

The downside: Because of the nature of the restaurant, the food and drink options are fairly limited, as are the hours. That’s not a bad thing; it eliminates decision fatigue, and the drinks don’t have much markup at all.

Fun fact: After showing off its program at pop-up dinners in other cities in 2019, Cafe Momentum is teaming up with national foundations to try replicating its charitable model in other cities. Although future locations may not share the Momentum name, and will partner with local chefs elsewhere rather than becoming a true “chain,” it’s an inspiring example of a good idea catching on. ($$$)
1510 Pacific Ave., Dallas, 75201

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Cafemandu Flavors of Nepal

Cafemandu Flavors of Nepal
Alison McLean
Of Irving’s growing crop of Nepalese restaurants, Cafemandu boasts the biggest and deepest list of momos, the country’s beloved pleated dumplings. Cafemandu even has dessert momos, but it’s probably best to start with the classic steamed variety to admire the thin, nearly translucent dough around the plump filling then work your way through spicy chili momos covered in hot sauce and sautéed with peppers, jhol momos, served in a bowl of mildly spiced broth, and even dumplings bathed in cheese.

Top pick: A new menu addition is sekuwa, the Nepalese grilled skewers of seasoned meat similar to kebabs; try the ultra-flavorful goat.

The downside: Cafemandu set up an online ordering platform during the pandemic, but when this author used it in November, the restaurant’s employees weren’t actually checking for online orders. Comments on social media suggest this happens regularly, so, for now, call your orders in by phone or visit in person.

Fun fact: If you’re waiting on a takeout order, there’s a guitar on a stand in the corner that guests are invited to strum. ($$)
3711 N. Belt Line Rd., Irving, 75038

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Carbone's

Carbone's
Dallas’ best red-sauce Italian joint serves classics like spaghetti with meatballs, fried calamari and veal Parmesan and does them right. Save room if possible, because the tiramisu (made with espresso) and cinnamon-cream-filled cannoli are as close to perfection as you’ll find west of New York. Carbone’s is a more casual alternative to owner Julian Barsotti’s two fine-dining establishments, Nonna and Fachini, and it even includes a retail section that sells wines, frozen ravioli and one-pound tubs of Sunday gravy to go. Those retail offerings have helped the restaurant weather the coronavirus pandemic, with frozen lasagnas and discounted wines leading the charge.

Top pick: The big, beautiful slab of lasagna bolognese, with its perfect, slightly burnt cheesy edges, can cause years-long cravings. But the pasta with Sunday gravy, a half-day-simmered sauce with a mixture of beef, pork, veal and sausage, might be even better.

Fun fact: Like a wine from the list? Buy a bottle to go for 45% off the menu price. (No, Carbone’s is not BYOB, so you cannot create a loophole by buying wine “to go” and then opening it in the dining room.) ($$)
4208 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, 75219

The Top 100 Dallas Restaurants of 2021

Casa Vieja Restaurant

Casa Vieja Restaurant
This Colombian institution in Carrollton is best at the soups available as specials on certain weekends, like ajiaco, a chicken-potato soup made with indigenous corn, or a Caribbean-influenced, curried seafood bonanza. The bandeja paisa, a regional sampler plate, is excellent for newcomers to Colombian cuisine, and the empanadas are good, too. Casa Vieja has a stage with live music some nights. ($$)
1927 E. Belt Line Rd., Suite 152, Carrollton, 75006