Many Dallas-area restaurants fancy themselves unique, but only a handful serve foods that you truly cannot get anywhere else in town. When we set out to create a list of dishes and cuisines served at only one restaurant, we didn’t realize how hard it would be. Conversations like this kept happening:
“What about that Filipino restaurant on Coit?”
But there are indeed six restaurants in the Dallas area which serve foods you simply can’t find at any other eatery, and we’re not talking about oddball recipes. This list isn’t about that one chef who makes a weird burger, or the only diner where you can get an entire flight of deviled eggs. We’re talking distinct dishes, or even entire cuisines, that exist at only one local restaurant. There may be more, but these six are a good start.
Tlayudas: Mi Lindo Oaxaca. The quesadilla’s bigger, crispier, ballsier sibling from across the border is the tlayuda, which uses an extra-large, extra-thick tortilla grilled to give it crunch. On TV, Andrew Zimmern once compared it to a pizza, but Mi Lindo Oaxaca, the only full-service Oaxacan restaurant in Dallas, folds theirs in half. (The owners briefly opened a Oaxacan bakery in Garland, but that location has closed.) Loaded up with cheese, vegetables, customer’s choice of meat, beans, tomato and avocado slices, the tlayuda is a symphony of textures and colors, and the exterior is streaked with black marks from the grill. Oh, and Mi Lindo Oaxaca just began serving an extra-large version.
Mi Lindo Oaxaca, 2519 Fort Worth Ave., Dallas
Oyster kimchi: Dal Dong Nae. Over a hundred Dallas-area restaurants serve kimchi. Korean-Americans are the region’s third-largest immigrant group, after Mexicans and Indians, and the Korean restaurant scene in Dallas and Carrollton is booming. But, as far as we know, only one restaurant is sliding raw oysters into the kimchi as it ferments: Dal Dong Nae, the late-night staple of Royal Lane’s Koreatown. It’s a salty, oceany umami bomb of a dish, and Dal Dong Nae loads up the platter with a generous helping of Gulf oysters. (The seafood actually helps with the fermentation process, too.) Oyster kimchi is an acquired taste, to be sure, but the only way to acquire it is to try it.
Dal Dong Nae, 11445 Emerald St., No. 109, Dallas
Lobster pho: Lime Bar and Kitchen. Pho is everywhere in the Dallas area, but when the owners of Lime Bar and Kitchen, a new restaurant in Irving, saw lobster pho at a restaurant in Las Vegas, they thought, why not serve it in Dallas? An entire lobster perches atop the bowl, which starts with a chicken broth base. (Beef broth clashes with the lobster’s delicate flavor, and after testing a seafood broth, the team decided that it was too much of a good thing.) It’s a huge treat best tackled in a group. Of course, the only lobster pho in Dallas is also the only $35 pho in Dallas.
Lime Bar and Kitchen, 949 W. Royal Lane, Irving
Sri Lankan food: SpicyZest. The only fully Sri Lankan sit-down restaurant in Texas is SpicyZest, which just celebrated its second anniversary in Farmers Branch. Try kottu, a stir fry of strips of flatbread mixed with vegetables and your choice of meat (we suggest mutton). Or try a curry — with a spice mix subtler than many in Sri Lanka’s neighbor, India — with a fillet of salmon or another seafood. Lamprais, traditionally served at celebratory banquets, is an entire meal of meat and sides wrapped tightly in banana leaves and baked. Half of this list could have been meals at SpicyZest, which makes it all the more fortunate that this restaurant, besides being unique, is also truly outstanding.
SpicyZest, 13920 Josey Lane, Farmers Branch
Turkish dumplings: Laili. Manti, the tiny, meat-filled dumplings that are a specialty of Silk Road countries from Turkey to western China, are surprisingly hard to track down in the Dallas area. A close relative, mandu, can be found at Korean restaurants like Arirang (known to some websites and GPS apps as Um Ma Son), but the only place to get the Turkish version is Laili. Here the dumplings come dressed in two sauces: a white yogurt sauce with a hint of garlic and a red sauce made with tomato paste and chile pepper flakes. The balance of creamy sweetness and bold spice makes manti stand out from the rest of the world’s delicious dumplings. But they are notoriously difficult to make — in Turkey, manti makers pride themselves on how small they can fold their dumplings — which is why several other Dallas-area restaurants that previously served the treat have discontinued it.
Laili, 920 S. Harwood St. Suite 102, Dallas
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Vietnamese pine waffles: La Xanh. Pine? Yes, but an explanatory note might be necessary for non-Asian readers: The screw pine, or pandan, tree is a tropical tree with long, broad, flat leaves. It’s not a pine tree as we know them in the United States. For these waffles, the leaves are ground and added to the batter. The plant’s main contribution is an intense aromatic quality — pandan leaves are often used as a substitute for basmati fragrance and some diners mistake the taste for coconut or licorice. Banh kep, the Vietnamese screw pine waffle, can be found at La Xanh, where it costs just $2, an affordable dessert once you’ve enjoyed everything else on this list.
La Xanh, 3575 W. Walnut St., Garland