First Look

The Music is Loud and the Vibe is Cheery at Badovinus' National Anthem

Hopefully that ceiling will soon have something to handle noise control.
Hopefully that ceiling will soon have something to handle noise control. Taylor Adams
The best way to preserve historic buildings is to make good use of them, and chef and restaurateur Nick Badovinus is doing that with his new National Anthem restaurant.

The restaurant quietly opened Oct. 6 in a triangular building that was once home of radio station KLIF and, later, the Dallas Observer, in the newly redeveloped East Quarter neighborhood of downtown. Grand windows allow light to flood in, or a view of pouring rain, as was the case during our recent visit.

The space is vibrant and cheery — though also incredibly loud from music and customer commotion — and it’s a vibe Badovinus is aiming for.

“It’s a happy restaurant,” he says. “We take our execution very seriously, but the place doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a well-intended sense of humor about some of the dishes and the approach. The way the room vibes, it’s fun, it feels like the kind of place that makes me happy.”

A weekday evening here is fun. You walk in and know you’re going to have a good time, even though you might strain your voice to talk to the person across the table.
click to enlarge Pringles aren't necessary on this otherwise wonderful tuna toast. - TAYLOR ADAMS
Pringles aren't necessary on this otherwise wonderful tuna toast.
Taylor Adams
The menu has an interesting approach: The server may ask you what you want to start with, but a quick glance at the menu won’t help you. Instead of having courses listed, they go with “veg focused” or “meat driven” categories, with the final two or three of each being your main course.

We went with the seafood-centric section for the evening, starting with a wonderful tuna on toast ($16). Anticipating some basic fish on basic toast, we were surprised with a fresh poke over plenty of avocado and topped with cucumber guajillo oil and radish. It was lovely on its own and even more pleasant on the crunchy, toasted sourdough.
click to enlarge Properly cooked salmon - TAYLOR ADAMS
Properly cooked salmon
Taylor Adams
At the bottom of this seafood section is a broiled Campbell River salmon ($27). This was fresh, though it lacked much seasoning — the snap pea and tomato salad beneath it was far more engaging.

We almost went for the pork chop ($34), but the server admitting that the red-eye maple made it sweet had us instead opt for the Bar Harbor Mussels Diablo ($17). A little bowl of mussels comes topped with an overzealous wedge of bread — even if you avoid carbs, you’ll find yourself continuing to tear into this and dip it into the savory broth of white wine, garlic and butter.

A future visit will surely involve the sandwich section: a Reuben riff with pastrami, white cheddar, Russian slaw, sauerkraut and mustard on sourdough has our eye ($19). If there’s confidence in your wallet, there’s also the steak “el rey,” which is a 14-ounce rib-eye with a cheese enchilada, pico and a sunny egg ($59).

Badovinus says National Anthem is years in the making — the name alone was one he’s had in his head for a while, waiting for the proper space to fulfill it.

“This building definitely was that opportunity,” he says. “It’s a true one of one, and it was just one of those things like that would be a great name for a restaurant one day if you could find the right spot and you could position the content within that space that would make sense for this approachable melting-pot cause, and hopefully it’s well executed.”
click to enlarge So much bread: But there really are enough mussels in a delightful broth to make a meal. - TAYLOR ADAMS
So much bread: But there really are enough mussels in a delightful broth to make a meal.
Taylor Adams
The lower level of the pointed end of the triangle-shaped building was open to street originally, to allow cars to pull in to its original business, a Magnolia Petroleum Co. gas station. Transforming it into a closed-in restaurant space was an ordeal.

“It was a complicated build for sure. Where I’m sitting right now two years ago was certainly not climate-controlled; we glassed up all these arches and converted what was just concrete and exterior space for this first-floor restaurant,” Badovinus says. “It’s a multi-story deal that’s complicated. ... It was a challenge from the build-out standpoint.”

But Badovinus had been looking at the East Quarter since 2017, specifically this spot, for National Anthem. The “East Quarter,” is the four-or-so-block radius in between the Central Business District and Farmers Market with a recently made-up name.

“It has an undiscovered quality about it,” he says. “It’s a really well-known, important building in the city’s history. … The buildings that are down here just have a fantastic patina to them. I can certainly say this about 2130 [Commerce St.], they just don’t build them like this anymore. For a modern city like Dallas — not a coastal city that’s been around a long time — you don’t get a lot of opportunities to be in a building that’s 100 years old.”

If they can get some sound under control, this could be a lovely addition to the downtown dining scene. Badovinus has a record of solid establishments, and he has the makings of a good one here.

National Anthem, 2130 Commerce St. (downtown).
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.