Dallas' 50 Most Interesting Restaurants, No. 16: Pakpao

Leading up to our annual Best of Dallas® issue, we're counting down the 50 most interesting restaurants in Dallas. These spots bring something unique or compelling to the city's dining scene, feeding both your appetite and soul. Find more interesting places on our all-new Best Of app for iTunes or Android.

Nothing is harder on the Dallas dinning scene than restaurant owners who pander to their own perception. Walk into most gussied up Thai or Vietnamese restaurants and ask why their pho or other dishes are missing tripe and ingredients with grit, and you'll often hear "our customers wouldn't eat that." They think that because Dallasites have never enjoyed organ meats they'll end up spoiling in the walk-in. That's why menus continue to evolve at a deep-fried snail's pace.

If customers are never exposed to anything new, their palates will never grow. That's why dishes like Pakpao's jeo pla pao are so important. The restaurant may not sell as much of this fish paste as they do the pad Thai, but the dish is there for those who are curious.

And apparently customers have been curious enough. The dish amounts to little more to roasted mackerel and seasoning in a blender. It has the appearance of loose, wet and gritty clay and smells intensely of fish. Despite what might seem like a challenge to consume, the dish is delicious, and it continues to sell sufficiently to remain on the menu.

There are other way Pakpao declines to pander. Dishes whose recipes call for lots of chili get just that. You won't find mild versions of spicy dishes to lull you into a snooze of a meal. There are plenty of mild dishes to choose from, but if a dish is inherently spicy then that's how it's served. There are curries that are capable of making your body sweat at Pakpao. Those dishes are selling, too.

Sure, there are customers who won't embrace a restaurant's attempt at authenticity, but there's a growing crowd of food enthusiasts who are getting bored. Pakpao is one of a handful of restaurants that are more than willing to cater to them, and their dining room is often full.

No. 50: Joyce and Gigi's No. 49: East Hampton Sandwich Co. No. 48: 20 Feet Seafood Joint No. 47: Taj Chaat House No. 46: Mot Hai Ba No. 45: La Nueva Fresh and Hot No. 44: Pera Turkish Kitchen No. 43: Tom's Burgers and Grill No. 42: Mughlai No. 41: Russian Banya No. 40: Off-Site Kitchen No. 39: Bachman Lake Taqueria No. 38: Carbone's No. 37: Babe's No. 36: Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo No. 35: Zaguan No. 34: Royal Sichuan No. 33: Spoon No. 32: Bambu No. 31: Pecan Lodge No. 30: FT33 No. 29: Keller's Drive-In No. 28: La Pasadita No. 27: Ten Bells Tavern No. 26: El Ranchito No. 25: Cafe Urbano No. 24: Nova No. 23: Jeng Chi No. 22: Omi No. 21: Tei-An No. 20: Jonathon's Oak Cliff No. 19: Yutaka and Sharaku No. 18: Local No. 17: Ibex

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