Another way to look back is not just recalling memorable meals, but also those singular bites that have just the right ingredients at the right complements, where you close your eyes, lean your head back and feel like nothing else matters — not the rest of the meal, your demanding job, the annoying six-top nearby obviously unsafely blending households or what tomorrow’s schedule looks like. Someone in the kitchen did everything right in making that bite, spoonful, forkful perfect.
Here are 20 bites from 2020 that created such a moment.
Chocolate EclairBisous Bisous Pâtisserie
The idea for this list came about at a red light in Uptown while taking a bite of an eclair from Bisous in June. We’ve already said we love this spot, but that delicate eclair filled with perfect pastry cream deserves an award. All pastry creams should strive to be as good as this one.
3700 McKinney Ave., No. 150 (Uptown)
EmpanadasCasa Vieja Restaurant
This Carollton spot is on our Top 100 list for its Colombian cuisine, but the empanadas are good enough to enjoy as a meal alone. The large, fried empanadas are made perfect with a vinegar-based aji, making a bite that makes a 28-minute drive worthwhile. Really.
1927 E. Belt Line Road, Carrollton
Approximately 524 times, this writer has been saddened that she’s not sitting at the bar of Cosmo’s because of this damn pandemic. Every time that scene is pictured, there’s a paper plate too-filled by the weight of crispy tots, cheese and approachably funky kimchi tots. Thankfully, they’re doing takeout to fulfill our needs (some of them, even if we still miss singing along to the jukebox in the small bar).
1212 Skillman St. (East Dallas)
Chocolate Chip CookieDavis Street Espresso
This North Oak Cliff place has good coffee, but it seriously has one of the best chocolate chip cookies around. Yeah, a simple thing, but one that’s easily overlooked and poorly executed too often. Here, it’s baked until just right (still wonderfully tender in the middle) and dusted with flaky salt, as so much chocolate in the world should be.
819 W. Davis St. (North Oak Cliff)
Korean Sweet Potato-Caramel SkullDude, Sweet Chocolate
There’s already a love letter in the Observer to the Hanoi chocolate, which fits this best-bite category. But just a few months ago, we bought a tiny box of tiny chocolate skulls that were filled with Korean sweet potato and caramel. It was a spontaneous buy (while stocking up on the Hanoi, of course) but worth a try since Katherine Clapner was behind it. Pop that sucker into your mouth, and when you bite, you get a slow burst of thick creaminess that’s sweet and balanced with a bit of welcomed earthiness. It’s genius.
408 W. Eighth St., No 102 (Bishop Arts District)
Sweet & LowdownEasy Slider
The pork rinds are wonderful here, but what’s more over the top is the sweet and lowdown slider in this Deep Ellum spot. Admittedly, it could be because this writer is addicted to goat cheese, but they are making good use of it here, pairing it with beef, bacon and strawberry jam. It’s something I’ve had to re-create at home, which is only just as good because of homemade jam.
2701 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
Coconut Pandan Sticky Rice CustardHaute Sweet Patisserie
This Northeast Dallas bakery has a lot of wonderful flavors in its baked goods, but for anyone who properly loves mango sticky rice, owner Tida Pichakron occasionally does a special coconut panda sticky rice custard. It’s not sticky rice, but it’s just delicately sweet, leaning on the fruit for that, and the custard is comfort food alone for its texture. Pichakron says it takes her to her childhood. Whether or not it does that for you, you’ll appreciate it.
10230 E. Northwest Highway (Northeast Dallas)
Bologna SandwichHillside Tavern
Writer Nick Rallo will say it’s the patty melt, other Observer writer Philip Kingston will insist it’s the fried chicken sandwich. I challenge them both to go for the bologna sandwich, which will astound you in its size when it arrives (or you open the takeout container) and amaze you when you eat it. Mortadella is smoked over Texas pecans then served with a “secret sauce,” mayonnaise, American and provolone cheeses, shredded lettuce, tomato, dill pickle and potato chips on Texas toast. It’s as tall as it sounds. Once you can fit it in your mouth, you’ll love it, too.
5465 E. Mockingbird Lane, No. 286 (Hillside)
Bruleed Milk ToastHomewood
Critic Brian Reinhart says Maggie Huff is the best pastry chef in the city, and this dessert makes you believe it. Homewood’s menu is changing frequently, so it’s worth hesitating to write about anything specifically, but over the summer, there was a dessert of bruleed milk toast, blueberries, lime and just the right amount of dill that was the best plate of sweet concoctions I had all year. Whatever Huff’s baking, it will rock your socks off.
4002 Oak Lawn Ave. (Oak Lawn)
I moved across town partly so I wouldn’t be tempted to get this pie on a regular basis: The Bayou Goo coming out of Humble has a perfect balance of layers involving rich, sweet cream cheese filled with candied pecans, chocolate cream, chantilly cream and chocolate shavings with more candied pecans. One bite is enough to make you wonder why other versions of chocolate pie exist.
9014 Garland Road (White Rock)
Yum Woon SenKa-Tip Thai Street Food
In what feels like two years ago, in July of this year I wrote, “The soup, rice dishes and appetizers we tried were wonderful, but the first bite of the yum woon sen ($12) had me truly excited about Ka-Tip.” See? Only one bite was all it took. The clear noodles can take you straight to Thailand with crunchy celery, large mushroom and ground chicken — get it all in one bite and accept the shrimpiness that lingers (it’s supposed to, and it’s wonderful).
1011 S. Pearl Expressway, No. 190 (Dallas Farmers Market)
Candied PeppersA Neighborhood Trade
Early on in the pandemic, we wrote about how neighbors were bartering goods with each other — a loaf of bread for toilet paper, for instance. In one of those times, I snagged candied peppers from my then-neighbors Melissa Kingston and Marla Pittman. Yes, I managed to weasel my way into getting multiple jars of the stuff. Apologies if you don’t know them to get a jar yourself, but if that’s the case, make friends with your neighbors and share stuff safely by dropping goods on porches. It’s especially the right time of year after all.
Picadillo GorditasLa Nueva Puntada (No. 1)
This gordita fits in the palm of your hand, but go ahead and make a mess by opening it up, putting some crema and plenty of salsa over properly seasoned picadillo. The cool crema offsets the welcomed heat and fat of the meat and makes for a perfect mid-morning breakfast.
3818 W. Clarendon Drive (Oak Cliff)
Hot MustardPetra and the Beast
Whether you’re taking home the beast or having a meal on the patio, do not have meal from Petra without getting the intense mustard. And don’t try it with a big scoop, even if you love mustard more than your children. It’s wonderfully bold and should be kept in your fridge in case of emergencies.
601 N. Haskell Ave. (Old East Dallas)
Chicken MoleEl Pueblo
This spot is new on our Top 100 list this year, as it definitely deserves to be. There’s plenty to get here, but the one that will make your eyes widen when you taste it is the chicken mole. The chicken hasn’t been swimming in mole. Instead, it’s cooked to become juicy and plump before being topped and complemented by a rich mole that leans spicy instead of sweet. You’ll want to have this at least once a week after tasting it.
525 E. Jefferson Blvd. (North Oak Cliff)
The BlinkerMurray Street
People should start their days off with breakfast sandwiches more often, and a well-composed one comes out of this little coffee shop in Deep Ellum. An English muffin contains egg, cheese and prosciutto — you can get it with avocado, but that’s not necessary. It squishes together perfectly in your hands for a cheesy, salty bite that makes breakfast about more than fuel for the day.
103 Murray St. (Deep Ellum)
Roasted Coconut-Peanut SauceSandwich Hag
A close second here for a mind-bending bite is the cà ri, but what we really want to take home in a deli cup every time we leave is as much of the peanut sauce as possible. There are plenty of peanut sauces in town that lend a sweet complement to a meal, but this one is magical. Made in small batches, the sauce is blended to be wonderfully smooth while offering a robust flavor to plenty — our favorite is on the tofu goi cuon (spring rolls), though it’s good enough to simply spoon straight to the mouth.
1902 S. Lamar St. (the Cedars)
Taco de PulpoRevolver Taco Lounge
Truthfully, there are a few of these memorable bites that happened at Revolver over the last year, but the octopus taco is worth dreaming about. The octopus is tender and perfectly cooked before it’s topped with crispy leek and a gentle jalapeño salsa inside a fresh corn tortilla.
2701 Main St., No. 120 (Deep Ellum)
Hot Connecticut Lobster RollTJ’s Fresh Seafood Market & Grill
There’s plenty to love about TJ’s, but a recent order of the lobster roll made us question what we had been doing all our lives not having ordered this before. Maybe it’s because “lobster roll” usually sounds like a waste of good meat. But here, lobster claw is sautéed in butter with garlic and thyme and stuffed in a fresh and perfectly toasted brioche. It should be too much, too rich, too decadent, but every bite is just right.
4212 Oak Lawn Ave., Highland Park
This one may deserve an asterisk since Uchi’s Austin-based, but this dessert is phenomenal. Developed by Philip Speer (now of Comedor in Austin) back in the day, one bite of this dessert, forking all the elements on the plate, is quite brilliant. Little fried balls contain a cream (the milk), and there’s a perfect mousse that is good enough to be served alone. A creamy milk sorbet, chocolate powder and cornflake crumble on top of all make it sound like a lot, but tasting it, you’ll find it’s all quite intentional.
2817 Maple Ave. (Uptown)
As we’ve talked about, this year isn’t about ranking so much, but celebrating these great flavors, so this is another list in order only by alphabet, by restaurant name. And it does not include tremendously good flavors we experienced from restaurants that are no longer open. If that were the case, we’d have that tender chicken thigh cooked over a yakitori from Salaryman or the biscuits and gravy from Crossroads Diner.