2019 was a banner year for the Dallas restaurant industry. Bars set records for sales. Restaurants raised the standard in our city by reaching new levels of, and varieties of, excellence. Unpretentious but delicious neighborhood restaurants, in particular, are on the rise.
Even as Dallas saw an uptick in new openings that seem tailor-made for wealthy diners, the city enjoyed booming growth in every other food sector, too. Somehow we have more and better tacos than ever. A barbecue institution reopened after taking a year to repair devastating fire damage. Unfussy dining rooms began serving excellent sushi handrolls and ceviche.
Irving’s Nepalese community made a big splash, including two of our favorite new restaurants of the year. Based on their extraordinary work at various pop-up events, Filipino American chefs might follow suit in 2020.
And, at last, national recognition is arriving. Bon Appétit magazine named Dallas the restaurant city of the year, published a beautiful feature on sandwich master Reyna Duong and singled out Khao Noodle Shop as the second-best new restaurant in the United States. The James Beard Awards split Texas into its own region, more or less guaranteeing Dallas will soon be bragging about finalists and, perhaps, winners.
Our new Top 100 restaurants list is a celebration of this incredible year. It’s got everything from double cheeseburgers to Nepalese lentil pancakes, and it features restaurants from South Oak Cliff to McKinney. About two-thirds of the restaurants are within Dallas city limits.
What’s New in this Year’s Top 100 Restaurants?
First of all, a big format change: We’re listing all 100 restaurants alphabetically, from A to Zoli’s. That means there’s no Top 10 or No. 1 pick. However, in case you really wish there were some way of distinguishing the elite from the merely very-goods, I’ve provided my own personal and unscientific “tiers” of importance at the bottom of this post.
There are 23 new entries on the list this year, 10 of them new openings and 13 places I neglected last time. In addition, last year’s entries have been revised, rewritten or expanded, with fact checks and strategic revisits to make sure they’re still up to par.
How Are the Top 100 Chosen?
I visit every restaurant anonymously and pay with the Observer’s money or my own. In 2019 alone, I made more than 200 visits to Dallas-area restaurants to compile this list. I made a deliberate effort to reflect the full culinary diversity of our city, ranging from prestigious fine-dining temples to gas station taco windows. This included mapping the Top 100 to ensure geographical diversity, too.
Choosing the Top 100 was harder than ever this year, a sign of Dallas’ fast-growing bounty of great places to eat. Another 20 or so restaurants could have easily made this list, and at least a dozen serious contenders opened their doors after our deadline for consideration (see below).
These are thrilling times to be hungry in Dallas. It’s going to be even harder to narrow the list down to 100 next year.
What Are the Rules?
Restaurants qualified for this list based solely on my meals there with friends and colleagues. The criteria are deliciousness, service, atmosphere, distinctiveness (whether or not a similar experience can be had elsewhere) and value for money.
The Top 100 was not influenced by publicity materials, freebies or other publications’ rankings. No genre, cuisine or price point was given preferential treatment over any other.
Restaurants must have been open prior to Aug. 1, 2019, to establish a track record of consistent quality. Some high-end restaurants were also excluded if they had a major leadership change after Aug. 1. Newer restaurants and chefs will appear on future lists. Bars are included because Dallas would be a worse place to eat without them.
I considered any restaurant in Dallas and Collin counties, as well as the portion of Carrollton that falls within Denton County. The cities of Denton, Arlington and Fort Worth, among others, are not included.
A small number of restaurants (just two or three) recognized me and gave me special treatment due to my position. If these restaurants sent out free food, I added the full cost to the tip line. If the quality of service at my table was clearly different from the service at other tables nearby or the service experienced on other nights by my friends, the restaurant was penalized. My goal is to judge restaurants from the perspective of a customer who does not receive special treatment.
I am a known regular at several Top 100 establishments and friendly with their owners, including Las Almas Rotas, Gemma, Sachet and Tacos Mariachi. I did my best to hold these restaurants to the same standard by monitoring service and portion sizes at other tables and seeking out the experiences and judgments of colleagues and fellow diners.
If you’re grumpy about the all-alphabetical format and wish we’d betray some indication of which restaurants are absolute favorites, here you go:
Bullion, Cattleack Barbeque, Homewood, Khao Noodle Shop, Knife, Mot Hai Ba, Petra and the Beast, Revolver Taco Lounge, Tei-An
Of statewide importance
Ddong Ggo, Gemma, Lucia, Macellaio, Resident Taqueria, Sachet, Spice Thai Cafe, SpicyZest Sri Lankan Fusion, Tei Tei Robata, Yutaka, Zoli’s Pizza
Distinctive food; worth driving across town
BBQ King, Big Claw, Billy Can Can, Cabritos Los Cavazos, The Charles, Gorji, The Heritage Table, Hunan Bistro, Hutchins BBQ, José, Koryo Kalbi, Kumar’s, Maskaras Mexican Grill, Mr. Max, Mubrooka, Peak Restaurant, Sandwich Hag, Sichuan Folk, Sushi Robata, Tacos Mariachi, Town Hearth, Uchi, Urban Tadka, Wa Kubota
Great neighborhood spots and specialists
Al Markaz, Las Almas Rotas, Arirang Korean Kitchen, Armoury D.E., Baby Back Shak, Bilad Bakery, Bombay Chowpatty, Boulevardier, Cafe Momentum, Cafemandu Flavors of Nepal, La Calle Doce, Carbone’s, Casa Vieja, Ceviche Oyster Bar, City Hall Bistro, El Come Taco, Cosmo’s, Dal Dong Nae, DanSungSa, Del Sur Tacos, India Chaat Cafe, Jimmy’s Food Store, Kalachandji’s, Kendall Karsen’s Upscale Soul Food, Kitchen of Kuchipudi, La Me, Limon’s, Ly Food Market, Mille Lire, The Mitchell, MoMo To Go, Niwa Japanese BBQ, Nonna, Nori Handroll Bar, Pecan Lodge, Quoc Bao Bakery, El Ranchito, Royal China, Saigon Block, Saigon Deli, Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai, Sassetta, Sevy’s Grill, The Slow Bone BBQ, Taj Chaat, Tantuni Mediterranean Grill, Ten Ramen, Tia Dora’s Bakery, TJ’s Seafood, Trompo, Whisk Crepes, Wu Wei Din, Yia Yia’s House of Gyros
Great local chains
LA Burger, La Salsa Verde, Tortas Insurgentes
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.