Perhaps you've noticed that Dallas is growing. When it comes to living, working and dining in DFW, we no longer feel confined inside the 635 loop. Sure, we still have our food and drink favorites in Dallas proper, but our suburban friends are no longer forced to drive into the city in search of equally laudable dining options.
When it comes to smoked meats, we're more than willing to gas up the car and go exploring to the edges of DFW. Our pick for the best barbecue of 2018 landed us in DeSoto at Top5 BBQ. We ventured to far west Fort Worth to check out an up-and-coming pit master's popups and ate barbecue served from a shipping container in Plano. And our list of barbecue joints to check out in 2019 includes more than a few outliers.
That's not to say that every adventure turns up gems. We found the reboot of Frisco's 3 Stacks Smokehouse too lackluster for what we paid (diners seemed to agree, and 3 Stacks closed in July). We also learned that Chili's served brisket — and kind of wished that they didn't. And we uncovered a still-yet-unnamed barbecue restaurant trying to poach the area's best barbecue talent for their own.
But enough of the negatives. Let's take a look at the best new barbecue we uncovered in 2018.
421 W. Main St., Grand Prairie
Zavala's in Grand Prairie churns out solid Central Texas-style barbecue but with a locally sourced tortilla and chimichurri twist. Count us as fans of the nontraditional spin that Joe Zavala has put on his smoked meats, from the excellent brisket, pork ribs and sausage to the beef rib that borders on heavenly. When we visited, Zavala's was strictly a to-go operation, but Zavala's is soon opening a new brick-and-mortar location in Grand Prairie. We can't wait.
224 W. Pecan St., Celina
It's a 40-mile trek from the Observer offices in Oak Lawn to the tiny town of Celina in northern Collin County. But the big Texas barbecue flavor served up at Tender Smokehouse makes it worth the trip every time. This barbecue joint serves up prime brisket and locally sourced sausage plus some stellar sides. Regardless of whether you see a sleepy Texas town like Celina being woven into the fabric of the DFW area as a good thing, there should be no disagreement that gems like Tender Smokehouse belong on our radar.
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Panther City Barbecue
201 E. Hattie St., Fort Worth
It's still a mystery to us how we walked up to the food truck that is Panther City Barbecue and ordered a tray full of stellar brisket, ribs, sausage and some killer beans and mac-n-cheese, all with nary another customer in sight. Not only was the barbecue exceptional, that tray of goodness set us back just $16. We were so impressed that we named Panther City the area's best BBQ Food Truck. Panther City won't be able to repeat that win next year — a new permanent building is in the works for 2019.
Louie King BBQ
1916 Greenville Ave. (Lowest Greenville)
OK, in fairness, it took us a bit to get over Louie King's name — which is weirdly reminiscent of major Texas barbecue kingpin Louie Mueller Barbecue. We also found some hiccups when we visited the first week after they opened, but Louie King shows a willingness to experiment with their "redneck barbecue," from the excellent smoked shaved pork loin to the top-notch sides. Louie King also has an ace up their sleeve in the form of pit master Will Fleischman, whose time at Lockhart Smokehouse made that spot one of our favorites. We're sure Fleischman's guidance will iron out the kinks at Louie King as well.
Local Yocal BBQ and Grill
350 E. Louisiana St., McKinney
It seems like such a natural fit that one of our favorite butcher shops in North Texas would open a restaurant, but we're still impressed at the early brilliance of Local Yocal BBQ and Grill in McKinney. Naturally, knowing where to get quality beef helps Local Yocal's game, but the smoky execution is spot-on. Better yet, Local Yocal stretches beyond just barbecue, with a well-conceived menu full of comfort food favorites like the wagyu chicken-fried steak we're still dreaming about weeks later.