This year, Observer food critic Brian Reinhart went on a very Eat, Pray, Love-esque pilgrimage around DFW, praying Google listed correct hours of operation while falling in love with strip-mall kebabs and Turkish ezme. In his soul search, Reinhart found a beautiful variety of cuisines and experiences, from Iraqi feasts in Richardson to massive schnitzel in Rowlett. A few of his reviews in particular seemed to strike a chord with readers this year. In ascending order, these are Reinhart's most-read restaurant reviews of 2017:
5. Two of the Best Bahn Mi Shops Square Off in Garland
Garland has more Vietnamese food than we could ever hope to eat in one year, but it's also home to what Reinhart calls the Venus and Serena Williams of the Dallas culinary scene: Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli, two of the best banh mi shops in the region — "arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States," Reinhart says. Since the two restaurants are across the parking lot from one another, Reinhart explored what makes these sandwich shops tick.
4. Bilad Bakery and Restaurant Wins Over Richardson With Great Bread and Flavors of Iraq
Tucked away near Richardson's Vietnamese pho houses and Bollywood theater is a small cluster of Iraqi-owned businesses serving affordable specialties from the Fertile Crescent. The one that stole our heart this year: Bilad Bakery and Restaurant, a Middle Eastern grocery and bakery that also serves incredible beef shawarma sandwiches and garlicky hummus. After Reinhart shared Bilad's story, a New York "food diplomacy" organization called Breaking Bread NYC hosted a meal at the restaurant that was so popular, a second sold-out seating was added to accommodate the crowd of diverse, eager diners. "The response has been crazy amazing," Breaking Bread founder Jeff Orlick said. "It's really special to see so many people curious about this culture."
3. Nick Badovinus' Town Hearth Is the Most Over-the-Top Steakhouse in Dallas
"Town Hearth is a ridiculous love letter to a ridiculous city, a monument to Dallas-sized ambitions, cars, hair and egos." There is no better description of one of this year's biggest openings, an opulent, tongue-in-cheek take on the classic Dallas steakhouse. Maybe it's the 64 chandeliers, vintage Ducatis or the submarine refashioned as decor, but Town Hearth has become a hit with Dallas diners. It's not all about the interior, though — these wood-fired steaks are seriously good (and seriously pricy). Town Hearth may not be an everyday dining kind of place, but it's a fun spot to celebrate everything or nothing at all.
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2. Hot Joy's Food Is Almost as Bad as Its Cultural Cluelessness
Reinhart's most controversial review of the year explored the cultural minefield that is turning another culture's food and decor into an "intentionally over-the-top and cartoonish" restaurant. After opening this summer in Uptown, San Antonio breakout hit Hot Joy planned to operate a pop-up in the space for two years before moving to a permanent location in Dallas. But the restaurant shuttered after only three months, calling it quits less than a week after rough reviews from both the Observer and The Dallas Morning News. The San Antonio location of Hot Joy remains open.
1. Ddong Ggo Serves Fried Chicken Fondue at a Dive Bar Named 'Butthole'
The most popular restaurant review of 2017 explored a cheese-filled Korean dive bar called Ddong Go — which translates to “butthole" (a chicken's, in this restaurant's case) in Korean. What's not to love about a cheeky Korea Town eatery that serves a dish called Cheese Island? In all seriousness, Ddon Ggo is a fun, delicious spot for nacho Cheetos french fries and kimchi pizza fried rice.
After the year we've all had, it feels beautifully poetic to end with a butthole. If you need us in 2018, we'll be living on Cheese Island.