Opening a restaurant is an audacious career move at any time. But in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis during an equally unprecedented collapse of helpful government function — well, opening a restaurant now just seems plain crazy.
But a number of people in Dallas are doing it, and there are at least eight new openings this fall I’m excited to try. Two caveats: Every local owner-operator opening a new business today deserves your support, and this isn’t an objective list of every new restaurant coming during the rest of 2020.
This is one restaurant critic’s personal, opinionated guide to the debuts that could make this autumn just a little less angst-ridden and a little more hopeful.
Open now: LaVui Vietnamese Restaurant
A tiny former doughnut shop on Maple Avenue in the Medical District is home to this spot that specializes in a reinvented spring roll that doubles as a sushi roll. Get spring rolls sliced and topped with raw seafood, then let your thoughts wander to the vermicelli bowls and bánh mì.
There’s not a whole lot of space to dine in at LaVui, so I recommend calling in your request or waiting until an online ordering system goes live soon. The restaurant is busy enough now that takeout is safer, but once coronavirus fades, the converted doughnut counter will be a great place to sit and watch the sushi-spring rolls get made.
LaVui Vietnamese Restaurant, 5321 Maple Ave. (Medical District).
Open now: Bacchus Kitchen and Bar
Like LaVui, Bacchus opened in the first week of September. But unlike the old doughnut shop, Bacchus’ space is huge, gleaming and new, part of Grapevine’s all-new Hotel Vin. The emphasis here is on French technique, local ingredients and high-quality proteins.
Chef Will Salisbury is an alumnus of Bullion in downtown Dallas, and that bodes especially well for Bacchus dishes, such as steak tartare, smoked and pureed potatoes, a porterhouse for the table and the Thursday night special: lobster thermidor. How many restaurants even serve lobster thermidor anymore? This will expose me for the country-fried rube I am, but the closest I’ve ever gotten to the dish is seeing it on TV.
Bacchus Kitchen and Bar, 215 E. Dallas Road, Grapevine
Open now: Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen
Early press for Ngon, on Greenville Avenue, has been filled with rapturous praise for owner Carol Nguyen’s homestyle food. Like LaVui, Ngon draws inspiration and a name from the owner’s mother, Ngôn; it even opened, Sept. 5, during the Vietnamese Vu Lan festival, which, according to Nguyen, is roughly equivalent to Mother’s Day.
The restaurant debuted with a full menu of dishes such as bún bò Hue, broken rice, duck and shrimp curries and hu tieu my tho, a noodle soup that's hard to find locally outside of Arlington (where there’s a restaurant named after it). Aside from the vegetarian option, each bánh mì comes with cognac foie gras pâté.
Early buzz has focused on the bánh mì because it was available for takeout in the weeks before the restaurant fully opened. I’m unreasonably excited to try everything.
Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, 1907 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville).
End of September: Heim Barbecue
Heim Barbecue already serves some of Fort Worth’s best smoked meats and practically made the phrase “bacon burnt ends” into a bit of Texas folklore. Now, Emma and Travis Heim, who have taken a low-and-slow approach to expanding their business, are finally ready to debut their third location — right in the heart of Dallas.
The gleaming white, strikingly tall interior of the Heims’ building was austere and churchlike in its original incarnation as Mockingbird Diner. But there’s a well-known rule that good barbecue is never served in buildings that can be described as “austere” or “gleaming white,” so expect some redecorating. All that extra space will come in very handy for a business with a glowing reputation opening during a pandemic.
Rumor has it Heim will open by the end of September: Maybe mark your calendar for Oct. 1 just to be safe.
Heim Barbecue, 3130 W. Mockingbird Lane (Love Field)
Sometime this fall: Taquero
Is it cheating to include a reopening? Taquero left its original Singleton Avenue location to find better digs; the Singleton spot didn’t have any space for indoor seats, and it had about two spaces for cars to park. It was more of a taco window than a restaurant. Now chef Fino Rodriguez can expand a little on Greenville Avenue, in the old Pints and Quarts spot, which, admittedly, is also pretty tiny, but at least has a roof.
My secret feeling on Taquero was that I enjoyed all of the side dishes and seafood appetizers more than the tacos themselves. But it will be fun to return to the brand-new spot and try everything again. Maybe a slightly better-equipped kitchen will feed Rodriguez’s talent for devising new seasonal specials. Taquero’s opening date isn’t official yet, but we give it a month or two.
Taquero, 5434 Ross Ave. (Lowest Greenville)
Dec. 1: Carbone
Boy, is it going to be confusing that there will be an upscale Italian restaurant named Carbone and a different upscale Italian restaurant named Carbone’s 2.2 miles apart along the same street. For those who need a scorecard, Carbone-with-an-S is the Dallas mainstay founded by Julian Barsotti in April 2012. Carbone-no-S is a New York import, having opened in that city in March 2013.
Making matters even more confusing, and I don’t really quite know how this is sensible, The Dallas Morning News reports that a Dallasite named Stephen Summers has somehow managed to become an investor in both of the restaurants. Maybe he’s hedging his bets. Maybe, a year from now, he’ll have gone mad trying to figure out which of his restaurants other people are talking about.
As hard as it will be for my tiny brain to absorb the presence of two Carbone-or-Carbone’s serving almost-but-not-completely different menus in such close proximity, I’m excited to try the new place. It’s gotten rave reviews in New York, including three stars from the Times, and locals who’ve tried both assure me there is plenty of room in this town for the two of them.
Let’s hope they’re right.
Carbone, 1617 Hi Line Drive (Design District).
“Late 2020:” Cry Wolf
One of my favorite Dallas restaurants of the last five years was a small, unpretentious bar where chef Ross Demers served creative food with a very good flavor-to-price ratio. Unfortunately, On the Lamb closed within months, as I learned by taking my then-new girlfriend there on a date, staring in the windows at the unexpected darkness and profusely apologizing for the night being ruined. (They announced their closure days later, after I burned up the owners’ phones asking what was wrong.)
Here’s hoping Demers’ latest venture sticks. He’s bounced around town serving food at a number of bars, including a bizarre one with a Peruvian nightclub theme and a big space with a bicycling theme, but Cry Wolf is much less ambitious. It’s in a former Subway, for one thing, and the planned theme is just “casual neighborhood spot with good food,” which is the only theme a bar needs.
Demers told CultureMap, “I hope this can be a cool hangout for East Dallas. Just a bar that Ross Demers is cooking at.” That’s my kind of hangout. But the real question is, will my girlfriend finally forgive me?
Cry Wolf, 4422 Gaston Ave.
By the end of the year: Chimichurri
Jesús Carmona, who serves some of Dallas’ favorite Tijuana-style seafood at Tacos Mariachi, is tackling a different cuisine in his new Bishop Arts restaurant: Argentinian food. It’s all in the name, Chimichurri, which teases a menu that will be long on both meats and empanadas.
Carmona and his partners drew their inspiration from the casual vibe and delicious food of Argentina’s bar culture, which is much more affordable and snacky than the protein palace steakhouses, which make up most of America’s Argentinian restaurants.
I don’t have a lot of other information about Chimichurri — it’s in the space formerly known as Tillman’s Roadhouse and should open by year’s end — except that I love the namesake sauce and dare you to name something that I would not try with a scoop of chimichurri on it. Maybe chocolate ice cream.
No, I’d still try that.
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Chimichurri, 324 W. 7th St. (Bishop Arts District)
See You in 2021