The end of August approaches, ushering in the last few weeks of another crushing Texas summer and promising a fresh influx of brand new Dentonites to this university town. They come with open minds and hungry bellies; most are unfamiliar with the area and need a crash course for dining in Little D. Others are coming back after a long break to find their favorite restaurant gone and a bumper crop of fledgling ventures in their place.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to eat in Denton, and many of those places get their fair share of (well-deserved) press. But for every celebrity-backed gastropub with a marketing team on retainer, there are a dozen hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop joints that deserve their share of praise. We'd like to introduce you to a few of them.
1015 E McKinney St., Denton
Breakfast, lunch & dinner. Counter service, $
Small and unassuming, this taqueria makes the best tacos in Denton. A recent expansion into the adjoining convenience store opened up more tables, so now this strip-mall taqueria shares a dining area with a wide selection of domestic beers.
Counter service is quick and friendly; all the employees we've encountered so far have been helpful and thankfully bilingual, so don't avoid the place if you're worried about a language barrier. High points are the marinated al pastor*, chorizo and the barbacoa. Tortillas are made in-house. The menu is in Spanish, but here's what you should order: two al pastor tacos con piña (with pineapple) on a corn tortilla with everything, a chorizo sope (again, with everything), the shrimp cocktail and some chips and guacamole. Wash it down with a house-made horchata, because you deserve it. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Taqueria Guanajuato also makes a massive breakfast burrito stuffed to the brim with beans, rice and your choice of meat.
*Tacos al pastor have been the talk of the town lately, with taco purists asserting the term "al pastor" refers specifically to spit-roasted adobo-marinated pork, no grill involved. Taqueria Guanajuato has no spit, they sear their adobo-seasoned pork on the grill, but we think they're pretty incredible anyway.
Yummy's Greek Restaurant
210 W University Dr., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Counter service, $-$$
Yummy's is a Denton institution. Open since 1986, it's older than most graduate students and has garnered quite a loyal following in its 30 years of operation. The dining room is small and sparsely decorated. The cuisine is your standard Greek diner fare, nothing fancy, but they do it surprisingly well.
The hummus and baba ganoush are silky-smooth and ultra-rich, obviously made with care using a family recipe. The gyros are solid, a peppery mix of spit-fired beef and lamb carved onto a grilled pita with fresh veggies and crunchy pickles slathered in tzatziki sauce. The falafel sandwich is the best in town, and the chicken souvlaki sandwich is a hot mess made in heaven. Both are served with a heaping dollop of creamy garlic sauce that will seep out and eventually soak into everything else on your plate. If you're lucky, you ordered french fries to sop it all up.
901 Avenue C #101, Denton
Lunch and dinner. Table service, $-$$
Going strong in its third year, the Bowllery is one of Denton's best places to score fresh, health-conscious food, and it's conveniently located just south of UNT campus. This spot touts eclectic, globally inspired cuisine, though many dishes lean towards Asian-inspired fusion.
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are the norm, though meat-lovers will appreciate the grilled steak or chicken ninja bowls, as well as the option to add grilled meats to their popular yogi bowls. Try the Denton bowl, a bed of warm soba noodles topped with avocado, crunchy veggies, grilled sweet potato and a gingery carrot miso sauce. They make a good portion of their sauces in-house, including a scratch-made Sriracha sauce that will have you questioning your allegiances to the token red rooster bottle. Because of the quality ingredients, the Bowllery can wander toward the pricey side when you tack on sides, add-ons or specialty drinks, but the fresh flavors are worth it.
408 N. Texas Blvd., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Counter service, $
Despite its convenient location just west of campus (located in a strip mall adjacent to UNT's West Dorm), The Taste doesn't seem to get much foot traffic from the general UNT student body. That's a shame, since they offer a number of affordable Korean dishes that fill you up without breaking the bank. The space itself has changed ownership a few times the past five years, but it's usually been some iteration of a fast-casual Korean spot.
What was once Bulgogi House became Czen (leading some to believe it was a Hungarian restaurant, apparently), but the change in name and management hasn't altered much; even the menu options stayed pretty static. The best deal by far is the Bento box ($10ish), a well-balanced meal with your choice of protein accompanied by rice, miso soup, tempura vegetables, cabbage salad and assorted kimchi. The Taste is also the only place in Little D right now serving ramen, so make a date with The Taste on the first truly cold day of winter and order a dumpling or two on top for good measure.
Back Dough at Queenie's Steakhouse
115 E. Hickory Street (around the side of the building), Denton
Late night carry-out. Cash only, $
You won't find a listing for Denton's best doughnuts on Google maps, because this pop-up shop operates out of the "back dough" of Queenie's steakhouse from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Go early, bring cash and be prepared to wait in line. Offerings change weekly depending on celebrity chef Tim Love's mood, but chances are they'll have at least one savory doughnut on the menu and a few sweet treats as well.
Past hits have included a barbecue pulled pork doughnut that rivaled the tastiest dim sum pork bun we've ever encountered, a pizza doughnut and a strawberry cheesecake doughnut that tasted like deep fried Southern hospitality. Yes, we realize Queenie's is the very definition of a celebrity-backed venture with a serious marketing team, but a late-night doughnut shop that operates literally out of the back door of said restaurant after dinner service ends gets a pass.
Frosty Drive N
1002 Fort Worth Drive., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Counter service, $
There is actually a restaurant in Denton called Burger Time Machine, a self-fashioned retro-styled throwback to the diner days of long ago. But if you really want to step into an American Graffiti-era time-warp, just follow Fort Worth Drive 50 yards past Interstate 35 and visit one of Denton's oldest continually run restaurants, Frosty Drive N, colloquially known as Mr. Frosty. The very iteration of a mom-and-pop business, the Webbs opened Frosty Drive N as a carryout-only burger stand in 1954, before I-35 even existed. The Webbs' grandson runs it now, making it a third generation family-run business. Frosty is famous for their broiler burgers, chocolate malts and ice-cold mugs of house-made root beer. They also offer BLTs, corn dogs and Frito pies on a menu that's stayed static for the entire 62 years it's been open.
113 Industrial St., Denton
Lunch and dinner, $
Rooster's motto is "Red neck, white trash, blue collar." Their Pit sandwich is a half-foot-tall, meat-filled monstrosity with sliced brisket, pulled pork and smoked sausage. They have a slider on their menu called the Hell Burger; you have to be over 18 and sign a liability waiver before you can order it.
Denton lore says the cook wears a hazmat mask and gloves up to the elbow when he makes a batch of the ghost-pepper laden Hell Sauce. They run a yearlong Hell Burger-eating contest that begins on the first day of the new year, and in order to get your name on the board, you have to eat one more Hell Burger than the last person. We've heard there are usually tears involved. They run great drink specials all day everyday, and if you ask nicely, the bartender might make you a breakfast shot: a butterscotch schnapps and Jameson shooter with an orange juice chaser and a side of crispy bacon. Feels like a frat party, tastes like breakfast.
Hangout Bar & Dine
827 W. Eagle Dr., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Buffet lunch and full service dinner, $-$$
What was once Rasoi Indian Kitchen on Avenue C is now the Hangout Bar & Dine just a half mile east on Eagle drive. The large orange building can accommodate what Rasoi's old location in a renovated gas station could not: a nightclub, full dine-in menu, and — most important — a bar. Hangout will still serve their tasty rotation of meat-based and vegetarian-friendly curries for the $9.99 buffet lunch alongside freshly grilled naan and spicy samosas, but the newly expanded menu promises even more Indian comfort food from a kitchen most of Denton has come to love. Go on Tuesdays and Fridays to catch our favorite, mutter paneer — peas and cheese in a creamy tomato and cashew curry.
603 N Locust St., Denton
Breakfast and lunch. Counter service, $-$$
You would think, living in Texas that you wouldn't be able to swing a cat without hitting a good biscuit, but good biscuits are rare in Denton, as is good pie; luckily for us, Cafe Loco has both in spades. They also offer a good balance of satisfying breakfast indulgences (put some chicken on that biscuit with their Pollo Loco), as well as healthy and vegetarian-friendly Tex-Mex-inspired options like the huevos rancheros or the Eggs Lunatic, made with salsa-poached eggs and jalapeño corn muffins.
Lunch options include a bacon-wrapped meatloaf and a banging BLT, but make sure to leave room for their buttermilk pie. Don't let the $5 price tag fool you; it's an entire personal-sized pie. Your friends might tell you it's too much pie for one person, but you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
The Pickled Carrot
208 N. Austin St., Denton (Austin Street Truck Stop at Eastside Social Club)
Lunch and dinner. Food truck, $
It's hard to believe it now, but there was once a time when Denton had no food trucks. Those were dark days indeed, but in 2012, the city lifted a law that prevented mobile food trucks from stopping for more than 15 minutes in one location, and we welcomed the food truck boom that ensued.
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Austin Street Truck Stop followed, populating the empty lot behind Eastside Social Club with a regular cast of sweet and savory mobile food purveyors to satisfy Denton's late-night dining desires. Some trucks, like The Pickled Carrot, also set up shop for lunch during the week, giving us all an extra excuse to leave our building for lunch. The Pickled Carrot serves what is hands-down the best bánh mì in town. Protein options include the traditional marinated pork as well as chicken, tofu or mushroom, all served on a crackly baguette with house-made do chua (pickled carrots and daikon radish slaw), cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños, Sriracha and a house-made roasted garlic mayo. The Pickled Carrot also tends to hang out at the Denton Community Market on Saturday mornings if you need a satisfying bite before you go Dentoning. And to top it all off, founder and owner Cuong “Kong” Mai is a UNT alumnus.
500 N Elm St., Denton
Lunch and dinner. Full-service, $$-$$$
It would be a crime to talk about Denton's hidden dining gems without mentioning Keiichi. Up until the new sign was installed, Keiichi was difficult to locate in both the real and virtual world. It occupies an unassuming building on the corner of Elm and Parkway. Chef-owner Keiichi Nagano maintains no website and only takes reservations over the phone — through voicemail (oh, the humanity).
Unlike almost everywhere else in Denton, reservations are usually required; the restaurant's limited seating means they often book a couple weeks out. Lunch is somewhat more accessible and a good option for those with fiscal concerns (a night out at Keiichi doesn't come cheap), but it's currently only open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. The menu changes regularly, featuring fresh sushi as well as top-notch Italian — chef Nagano is a sushi master with a strong background as an Italian chef, which means you'll be hard pressed to decide between the fresh sashimi options and the lasagna. It's not cheap, but it's some of the best food in Denton.