Another year gone, and it seems like Dallas is even harder to keep up with from a diner's perspective. Each year, restaurants open that radically sculpt our culinary landscape, bringing us new cuisines, while others reshape what we thought we knew. Leave Dallas for a year and you'd have to relearn a completely new food scene. And damn would that be fun.
Could you imagine downtown without San Salvaje? Or how about the world of steakhouses without John Tesar's Knife? In the span of 12 months, Dallas has shifted to keep itself on the national food stage.
It's also given me plenty to write about. As I pour over this year's reviews, a number of stars stand out as being especially fun restaurants to write about. Anyone who's tried to push that taunting cursor across the page (why does it have to blink?) knows writing can be difficult. They also know that sometimes the stories flow almost effortlessly. That's when you know you've got an especially good subject.
The following restaurants made my job the easiest this year. They also happen to be this year's best new restaurants.
San Salvaje (pictured above) Imagine a restaurant that will serve you a whole fried fish complete with crunchy fried green beans like edible dreadlocks. Imagine a small cylinder of golden potato purée, topped with shrimp and concealing a soft-cooked egg. One dish hails from the Islands, the other from Peru. Stephan Pyles' San Salvaje serves up dishes from both regions and everything in between in a restaurant that pays homage to most of Central and South America. It's like a visa for your belly, and much cheaper than airfare.
Stock and Barrel Any restaurant that lets me get away with a Christmas Story reference is a winner in my book, and I really did hate meatloaf as a kid. But I'm convinced that if it were possible for Jon Stevens, the chef of this Bishop Arts newcomer, to have commanded the kitchen of my youth, things would have been different. I may have even finished my Brussels sprouts.
Knife When John Tesar said he was opening a steakhouse my eyes glazed over because Dallas had too many steakhouses ten times over. But with Knife, Tesar was quick to point out Dallas was missing a certain type of steakhouse: one that could appeal to high rollers, and people on a budget who craved a huge hunk of meat. He'll even serve you a damn fine burger if you want one.
Cattleack BBQ Barbecue restaurants aren't supposed to be located in office parks like this one. Cattleack BBQ (13628 Gamma Road) could easily win an award for the most depressing façade. They could also win an award for best sausage, a cut often overlooked in a brisket-obsessed barbecue world. Did I mention there's often free beer? I probably should have mentioned that.
Palapas Mexican seafood was changed in Dallas the day Palapas opened for business on Greenville. It's not the spacious patio, the thatched roof or the mariachi music that will keep you coming back here (though they're all nice). It's the best ceviche you'll find for the money.
Gemma This little gem on Henderson Avenue straddles fine dinning and comfort and familiarity perfectly. Stop in for some oysters, or stop in for a whole meal -- Gemma will be there to accommodate you. You could even stop in for a dessert and tea. Heck, that may be one of the best reasons for coming here.
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Blind Butcher Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat. Meat. You might want to get your doctor's sign off before you come to this Lower Greenville meat mecca. Blind Butcher sports a masculine menu full of sausages, confits, and charcuterie - even the pies are filled with meat. Back all of that up with a solid beer selection and you have a nap-inducer that could put big pharma to shame.
El Come Taco For the longest time in Dallas, "taqueria" either referred to a small hole in the wall with holes in the walls, or a corporate taco chain that couldn't even get the tortillas right. El Come, in East Dallas, comes in right in the middle, delivering authentic tacos in a bright, inviting dining room. They've even got sportsball on the big screen and the place is BYOB. Tacos and cervezas, my friend. That's all you'll ever need.