There’s a change coming to Dallas dining. A new generation of chefs is rising in the local restaurant business, bringing new ideas about local ingredient sourcing, preserved and fermented foods, pop-up dinners, fine dining in casual settings and the importance of Dallas’ rich heritage of migration from Mexico, Central America, Korea and Vietnam.
What will the new wave taste like? What are the essential Dallas restaurants of tomorrow? These 10 spots, in different ways, represent aspects of the city’s culinary future. And, to be less fancy about it, they serve delicious, innovative food. To be clear, this is not a “best restaurants in Dallas” list — although there is a lot of overlap — but rather one that showcases how exciting and scrumptious our future is going to be.
Here is where to go to taste the future of the Dallas food business — and why each eatery is such a good sign of things to come.
1601 Singleton Blvd.
According to a 2016 Census Bureau survey, more than 23 percent of Dallasites were born in another country, and for more than half of them, that country is Mexico. The change is especially clear in West Dallas, once a majority African-American neighborhood that is growing increasingly Hispanic. Taquero, at the corner of Singleton and Chihuahua, is a neighborhood outpost that showcases the ambitions of chef Fino Rodriguez. There are great tacos here, yes, including a fine lineup of seafood-based offerings, but Rodriguez branches out well beyond standard fare, with ceviche served in the style of his native San Luis Potosí and inventions such as “Mexican Brussels sprouts.” Taquero is tiny and forward-looking but affordable and neighborhood-friendly.
13920 Josey Lane, Farmers Branch
Small restaurants are great places to serve unique foods, and they don’t get any smaller or more distinctive than SpicyZest, which, last we checked, was the only exclusively Sri Lankan restaurant within 1,000 miles of Dallas. Its six tables and welcoming hospitality are perfect for introducing Texans to a new cuisine, and its kitchen plates sophisticated, elegant takes on Sri Lankan traditions. The small grocery section is proudly distinct from the offerings at Indian groceries, and the Sunday brunch brims with flavors like no other brunch in Dallas. If our region’s increasing immigrant diversity means more restaurants like SpicyZest, the dining scene in North Texas will be infinitely better for it.
What happens when young Asian-American entrepreneurs combine the foods they grew up with and a knack for chain restaurant populism? For Ben and Jon Lee, the answer was kimchi fries, LA-style hot dogs and zesty bulgogi burgers. The Lee brothers founded LA Burger in 2011 when they were just 25 and 23 years old, launching the first location in a primarily Indian-American neighborhood where few of the residents ate burgers. But consistency, a willingness to experiment and sheer hard-to-resist deliciousness have powered LA Burger to four locations in suburban Dallas, with a fifth opening soon. Few dishes sum up Dallas in one bite quite like a juicy K-Town burger topped with kimchi, pickled jalapeño pepper and a fried egg.
949 W. Royal Lane, Irving
We’ll admit it’s a little early to be adding Lime Bar and Kitchen to this list. This new Irving restaurant opened in early November, and the kitchen is still fine-tuning things, but Lime Bar and Kitchen looks like a fascinating new entry in Dallas’ Vietnamese food scene. There are cocktails and traditional Vietnamese foods prepared with great attention to detail, plus offerings with cheffy twists. The big attention-getter so far: a bowl of pho with delicate seafood-based broth and a whole fresh lobster. It’s a clever, thoughtfully made new spin on a classic, and at $35, it challenges Dallasites’ ingrained — and unfortunate — belief that cuisines like Vietnamese and Mexican should always be cheap. If our city can learn that innovative immigrant foods with top-quality ingredients are worth paying for, those chefs and entrepreneurs will be better off, and the rest of us will be, too.
Smaller is better
Junction Craft Kitchen
2901 Elm St.
Junction is a mad-scientist laboratory of food experiments, from the immense range of preserves and pickles necessitated by the restaurant’s lack of a freezer to the eccentric uses of ingredients like Ritz Bitz and Funyuns. Its tiny space is perfect for Junction’s on-the-edge inventions. Diners sit down to discover what’s on the borderlands between Southern America and South Korea, or between funky and downright strange. The only other restaurants in Dallas this daring cost twice as much and might make you feel out of place if you show up wearing a T-shirt. Here, meanwhile, the kitchen recently launched a late-night bao cart to feed Asian street snacks to the drunken Deep Ellum masses. Several Dallas chefs tell us they think there’s more room in town for chefs to be creative and push the envelope. Junction helps prove it.
Mot Hai Ba
6047 Lewis St.
When we asked FT33 chef-owner Matt McCallister about small restaurants and their ability to innovate, he singled out this Lakewood neighborhood Vietnamese spot. “I believe in the really small restaurant," he says. "You can push a little harder with your own creativity, and you don’t have to worry about all these variables that could hit you. I would like to see more small restaurants opening — 40 seats. I love what they’re doing at Mot Hai Ba, and that’s tiny.” Peja Krstic’s food has been turning heads around town. Mot Hai Ba focuses on top-notch executions of traditional Vietnamese salads, curries and other dishes. Pho is served, too, but grilled duck hearts and banana flower salads reward adventurous diners with some of Dallas' most exciting food.
1617 Hi Line Drive
FT33 is the second-oldest restaurant on this list, at all of 5 years old. (The oldest is the original LA Burger.) But the restaurant began a creative renaissance in early 2017 when McCallister decided to source every ingredient as locally as possible — and eliminate foods, like imported cheeses or certain seafoods, that couldn’t be found in Texas or immediately across a state line. That constraint has pushed the kitchen to new levels of creativity and resourcefulness, using accents like preserved relishes from past seasons, brined vegetables and housemade hot sauce. McCallister, sous chef Joel Orsini, pastry chef Maggie Huff and the rest of the crew are doing some of their best work ever, and FT33 remains, for now, the leader of Dallas’ new dining scene.
Flora Street Café
2330 Flora St.
At Flora Street, chef de cuisine Peter Barlow says the kitchen is trying to invent a new genre of cuisine. Flora Street is pulling it off by borrowing from all the culinary traditions of Texas, looking toward Mexico for spice and weaving it all into a fabric that defies haute cuisine expectations. Even the bar snacks reflect the kitchen's philosophy, such as a huitlacoche empanada served with a sweet corn dip. It's made with serious skill and finesse, but it's also just a damn good empanada. (And it's served in a jar.) The presence of owner Stephan Pyles means that Dallas history is ever-present and the soundtrack evokes the 1980s, but Barlow and his team make sure that Flora Street is looking forward, too, to a new style of Texas cuisine.
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Revolver Taco Lounge
2701 Main St.
On the surface, Flora Street Cafe doesn't have much in common with a taco shop. But there are Flora Street veterans in the house at Revolver, in part because this is the most ambitious taco restaurant Dallas has ever seen. There are traditional tacos done right, including the city's best tacos al pastor, served on corn tortillas so fresh, you will smell them on your fingertips for hours afterward. There are innovative specials such as one with scallops and raspberries, as well as the Kermit in Bangkok, a frog-leg taco with housemade Thai yellow curry. There are divine ceviches and crudos. And then, in the back, there is one of Dallas' best and most skilled fine-dining experiences, a multicourse tasting tour of Mexico that's as intimate as it is delicious. More than any other Dallas restaurant, Revolver Taco Lounge symbolizes what we want for our city's culinary future: smaller-scale operations, ingenious immigrant voices, tradition coupled with innovation and a more approachable, customer-friendly attitude toward fine dining.
Old order still going strong
400 S. Record St.
Yes, a rebellious attitude is fun, but a significant part of the Dallas market will always crave glitz, glamour and haute cuisine. Luckily, we have Bullion. The new restaurant from former Mansion chef Bruno Davaillon incorporates some lessons from the new generation, most notably its smaller-than-expected dining room and a menu that includes inspirations from the younger bistronomie chefs of 21st century Paris. But there are classics too, such as quenelle Lyonnaise, cassoulet and duck confit. Bullion seems poised to become a fine-dining fixture in Dallas, but it is also an illustration of the mighty power of investors in our restaurant scene. The ownership team spent millions of dollars before the dining room opened, retaining Davaillon on staff for two years of research and development; hiring chefs from Boston, Seattle and Sydney, Australia; poaching Blind Butcher executive chef Oliver Sitrin to join the staff; commissioning a half-dozen major paintings and sculptures from contemporary artists; and launching a national marketing campaign. As much as we love our favorite chefs and entrepreneurs, Bullion is a powerful reminder that the most influential people in the Dallas food scene are still the folks writing the checks.