Sorry, lower Greenville. Sorry to you, too, Richardson Chinatown. The most ethnically diverse food street in metro Dallas is Belt Line Road as it passes south to north through an ugly ocean of potholed Irving parking lots. On Belt Line, you can eat food from every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Alas, there are no grilled penguin stands.
Almost all the global eateries on Irving Belt Line are exceptionally welcoming, affordable and delicious. There are so many of them, in fact, that this list doesn't include everything; this street has so much to offer that stopping at 10 restaurants — even leaving out numerous buffets from India (Pasand), the Mediterranean (Afrah) and China — means somebody inevitably will get left out.
Also, it's heartbreaking that Texas King, a Pakistani spot, appears to have stopped serving “brain masala,” which was exactly what it sounded like. Even without halal zombie snacks, here’s a handy road map to one of the most exciting streets in Dallas dining.
Peru: El Tesoro del Inca
733 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-313-9495
One of DFW’s few Peruvian outposts, El Tesoro is decorated with serious patriotism, from the Nazca painted symbols on the walls to the llama that watches over diners (pictured). The radio plays a weirdly effective pan flute cover of “Hotel California.” Try fresh juices and a national specialty like ceviche or lomo saltado or papa rellena, the deep-fried, meat-stuffed mashed potato. Even chicken noodle soup is done right at El Tesoro, where your gigantic bowl comes with a whole chicken leg.
A few caveats: Your waiter might not speak English, and preparation is not always flawless. Once, my meal came with a hard-boiled egg which still had bits of shell. Dine with care but be adventurous, and don’t leave without trying the jaw-dropping hot sauce. There’s a good store, too.
Nepal: Everest Restaurant
3310 W. Rochelle Road, Irving, 972-255-1717
Irving is home to a surprisingly large Nepali population; Nepal is the second-most represented country among students at its community college, North Lake, behind only the United States. There’s also another Nepali restaurant just up Belt Line, interestingly called Temptation.
A consistent member of our 50 Most Interesting Restaurants in Dallas
, Everest specializes in Himalayan food from Nepal and the northernmost reaches of India. In addition to your curry, try momo (dumplings) and tash (a combination plate starring grilled goat with a garlic ginger paste). There’s boneless goat head on offer, too.
And speaking of goat ...
Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon: African Village Restaurant
3003 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-570-1111
The window at African Village Restaurant advertises “The Best Goat Meat in Town.” The restaurant was recently featured in The Guardian
, Britain’s equivalent of The New York Times
. This restaurant, whose owner hails from Cameroon, doesn’t focus on one particular region, offering rice and curry dishes from eastern Africa, fufu from Ghana and Kenyan-style barbecued meat. Where else can you get a whole fried tilapia on the side?
If you need to stock up on produce and smoked fish, an African market is just a few doors down the strip mall, and there’s a rival market across the street.
Mexico: Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant
3301 W. Rochelle Road, Irving, 972-258-6012
Don't get this confused with the barbecue spot. Rudy’s is a Tex-Mex joint just a half-block down the road from Belt Line on Rochelle, across from Everest. An institution for 40 years, it’s one of the more worthwhile Mexican joints in Irving’s northern half. Like the decor, the menu is old-school: Each dish’s name is simply a number, like Numero Once, the chicken sour cream enchiladas. In the restaurant world, you don’t get to age 40 without having a pretty good idea what you’re doing.
3045 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-570-5151
Hanaki’s back wall is a shrine to baseball, with autographs from just about every Japanese Texas Rangers player past or present. Its menu is an homage to Japanese casual, with good sushi, generous noodle bowls and some of the most scrumptious ramen in metro Dallas. Grab an Asahi and enjoy a little bowl of complimentary bar snacks. There’s a private dining room in the back. Prepare to sit traditionally, which means grabbing a seat on the floor.
Japan: Mr. Max
3028 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-255-8889
Unlike the more conventional Hanaki, Mr. Max is a Japanese izakaya, a tavern with lots of small plates, many of them involving the grill. Like Hanaki, they have sashimi and ramen, but only one of the two restaurants is regularly serving fish livers and grilled squid “with guts sauce.” The plates change, so check the chalkboard walls to see what’s happening. Nagaimo yam is unlike any western yam, not sweet at all, so it may be an acquired taste — unlike the squid, which is all-around awesome. From more exotic pieces of sushi to grilled "salted squid guts," Mr. Max is a Japanese place where you can expand the range of your taste buds.
Puerto Rico: Adobo Puerto Rican Cafe
3013 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 214-783-4858
Can’t make a spring break trip this year? Stop by Adobo, a welcoming and beautifully decorated restaurant specializing in the food of America’s almost-bankrupt almost-state. Mofongo is a house specialty, and they make their own sofrito, too. Pastries and a variety of excellent grilled meats, including octopus, round out the menu.
Side note: Everest, Rudy’s, Hanaki, Mr. Max, African Village and Adobo are all on one jam-packed street corner, where Belt Line intersects Rochelle. Is it the most eccentric street corner in all Dallas dining? You decide.
Argentina: Empa Mundo
3977 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-746-4516
A tiny slice of Argentina that's best for takeout, Empa Mundo is one of the friendliest restaurants in Dallas. Two visits and you’re already good friends with the owners, who focus on a short but satisfying list of empanadas. There’s a fantastic chorizo pastry with peppers and cheese and an excitingly fresh tuna empanada, but the real show-stealer is the Texas brisket empanada, which does the family’s adopted state proud. Oh, and you need to pick up one of the dessert empanadas with fruit filling like guava or sweet potato. Even if you’re full now, you’ll need the guava 'nada later.
Southern Italy: Cavalli Pizza
3601 Regent Blvd., Irving, 972-915-0001
A handful of DFW-area pizza joints, like Il Cane Rosso, are certified by the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani as serving authentic Neapolitan pizzas. Cavalli, way out in the north stretches of Irving, was the very first, with Paolo Cavalli seeking out the certification as part of the growing process for himself and his chefs. And Cavalli Pizza hasn’t rested on its laurels: These are still terrific pies, with crisp thin crusts and flavorful topping combinations.
'Murica: Po Melvin’s
4070 N. Belt Line Road, Irving, 972-255-3919
In our world tour, let’s not forget home. Po Melvin’s is good old soul cooking from the heart of the South. Smothered fried pork chops? You bet. Simple, purist gumbo? You got it. A big basket of fried catfish, hush puppies and French fries? Hell yeah, and your catfish will be flawlessly cooked.
Po Melvin's appeal is best explained in this true-life exchange with a waiter: "Should I get my pork chop grilled or fried?" He snorted and asked, "What kind of question is that?" Fried it is.
Come at noon on a weekday and Po Melvin’s will be jam-packed with the office lunch crowd, for good reason. It’s a comfort food classic, and after a whirlwind global tour along the rest of Belt Line, maybe you’ll need it. Followed by a nap.