First Look

Shoals’ New Menu Is Full of Arepas That Have Us Staying in Deep Ellum a While Longer

Cubano arepa pictured in the dim light of the bar that is Shoals ($12)
Cubano arepa pictured in the dim light of the bar that is Shoals ($12) Taylor Adams
We all know the cocktails at Shoals are solid and that it has a killer bologna sandwich.

They've done a couple of different things in the space, such as pop-up brunches, but now there’s a more permanent menu at the Deep Ellum spot, offering some arepas that made us stay for longer than just a drink.

Owner Omar YeeFoon (whom you’ll frequently see pouring drinks behind the bar when he’s not swapping out records on the record player) has wanted a menu that feels more stylistically complete, and he might’ve accomplished it here. Chef Nathan Edwards (most recently of Mot Hai Ba) is leading the effort.

The menu has arepa sandwiches, rice bowls, sides and salads. A number of these are vegetarian — just looking at the menu broadly, the number of “(V)” items seems to be half the menu. And many of those can easily become vegan if you 86 the queso fresco. YeeFoon says all of the sauces and cremas are plant-based, too.

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Empanadas with a creamy chimichurri, the latter of which may be addictive. We're not sure. We're going to have more to find out.
Taylor Adams
Starting with the empanadas is a fine choice for two or three people (three for $10). You can get your pick among picadillo, mushroom and lentil, mortadella and cheese or seasonal fruit. The dough is thick but crispy, releasing whatever fillings you choose. The picadillo is a rather simple beef; the mortadella and cheese is decadent and cheesy; the mushroom and lentil is phenomenal. That last combo has just enough seasoning to make the whole thing a comforting little hand pie. All are served with a wonderful creamy chimichurri (wonderful if you love garlic, but not terribly overpowering if you don’t).

With any arepa you get, you’ll be handed a sandwich with crisp, savory corn patties supporting the goods. A brown triangle of paper comes alongside them, so don’t miss that: Use it to keep whatever mess you ordered somewhat contained. (If we had any complaint, it would be to just serve the small sandwiches in these little folders.)

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We don't normally post photos of menus, but I like the design, which fits well with the vibe of Shoals, so here.
Taylor Adams
The Cubano has no surprises, with pulled pork, mortadella, cheddar, garlic aioli, and bread and butter pickles ($12). The pickles seem intentional, full of flavor with just the slightest spice to complement. The pulled pork is tender, the mortadella meaty. The cheese simply oozes over it all, and just a thin amount of garlic aioli adds more creaminess. It’s best to put the sandwich in both hands and squeeze in a level fashion to get it all together: As soon as you bite in, you could risk control of the ingredients, which would surely be a waste of flavor.

There’s a weekly arepa on the menu: You ask your server or look to the board above the bar (if your vision’s better than mine or you’re sitting closer than I was). This week, it’s been … and I almost don’t want to say this, but I pride myself on transparency and accountability … a fried chicken sandwich ($12).

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The special arepa for the week of Nov. 18: fried chicken ($12)
Taylor Adams
Yes, even this swanky cocktail bar we love has jumped on the train, and our party was split 50-50 on the execution. The chicken came out just-cooked (that’s to say, 45 seconds less and we’d be concerned) but with tender meat and a crisp exterior. Slathering that exterior was something like a honey mustard that leaned heavily into the honey. A slaw tops it, one that’s crisp but also a bit sweet. If you’re really into your honey mustard when you’re eating chicken, it’s pretty darn good. Good luck eating it, though; it’s a hell of a tough time in that crisp arepa setting. But the whole thing gives us hope that some fun creations could be to come in this weekly special.

The chicken itself, while crisp, was also a bit dark. Same went for our Latin-fried potatoes ($5, a small version included with an arepa). These are delicious and oh-so crisp but appear nearly overcooked. Taste-wise, it’s pretty much OK, but it had us wondering if the oil is too hot.

Black beans and rice are fine, too. While the rice was cooked perfectly, the beans needed salt ($5, a small version included with an arepa). That rice, though, had us looking to the rice bowls for next time ($11).

There’s one with smoked jackfruit, pickled onion, cilantro, jalapeño and seasoned rice, as well as another with seasoned rice, black beans, mango salad, avocado cream, jicama, Peruvian aji crema and cilantro.

This new menu also has crispy tacos (four for $10), a mortadella sandwich on a baguette ($12) and patacones — flattened and fried plantains with toppings. Get mango and black bean ($10) or pulled pork ($12) in that last dish that sounds worthy of an entree.

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The tiny cooking space in Shoals
Taylor Adams
It appears the same kitchen is in place here, a very tiny space for some food preparation; it makes arepas sound like they make sense, but it’s a fairly large menu. Props to Shoals for knocking it out smoothly (on our night there, anyway).

There’s also an overhaul on the cocktails with Raymundo Castañeda taking some charge. The Trusty Ally is a floral martini with Bolivian Spirit Singani 63 and Fords London dry gin. Un Poquito Coquito is a cocktail with non-dairy rice milk (in place of condensed milk) and citrus over crushed ice. Brazilian Novo Fogo Colibri cachaça replaces Puerto Rican rum in this one.

You might see a theme here: Shoals is focusing on spirits from South and Central America this season, and there are 19 new cocktails to prove it.

Shoals, 2614 Elm St., Suite 110 (Deep Ellum). Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday through Sunday.
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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.