Here's How We Decided the Top 100 Dallas Restaurants

Nobody will be surprised to see Tei-An near the top of the Top 100.EXPAND
Nobody will be surprised to see Tei-An near the top of the Top 100.
Kathy Tran
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We researched our Top 100 Dallas Restaurants the old-fashioned way: by eating. I dined at over 400 Dallas-area restaurants for this ranking, ranging from a $150-per-person tab at Flora Street Cafe to a Tibetan dumpling counter located inside a gas station. Deciding the top 10 required even greater scrutiny; I visited the 10 best kitchens up to eight times each to make sure their excellence was consistent.

Restaurants qualified for this list based solely on my meals there with friends and colleagues. The Top 100 was not influenced by publicity materials, freebies or other publications’ rankings. I visited every restaurant on the list anonymously and paid in full at all of them.

How we decided the Top 100
This ranking compares apples and oranges. That’s unavoidable. There are spots on the list where, say, a barbecue pit is ranked directly above a white-tablecloth place with rare wines. If you object that comparing these establishments is absurd, you’re right.

I approached the rankings with the attitude that no genre is inherently “better” than any other. When critics restrict the top tier to high-dollar French and Japanese restaurants, the result is old-fashioned at best and prejudicial at worst. We’re determined to recognize extraordinary dining of every kind, at every price point.

Another benchmark I used to compare between categories: how much joy each restaurant gave me. It’s hard to quantify, but objectively good plates of food can be differently enjoyable — because of the quality of service, drinks alongside, atmosphere, consistency between visits and even because of expectations. If I’m deciding between two equally delicious restaurants, one of which is a huge surprise, the surprise factor might swing my vote.

The highest-ranked restaurants on this list are simply the most delightful, memorable, uniquely and essentially Dallas places to eat, regardless of cost or sophistication. Yes, there are barbecue and taco joints in the top 10. They fully deserve that recognition.

How to read the list
The Top 100 restaurants are sorted into two groups.

  • Nos. 1-50 are ranked in order. The first 16 are “Elite,” places where, if money, time and calories were unlimited, we would all be regulars. The rest are excellent places to eat, worthy destinations for date nights and special occasions. Something may be holding them back from joining the elite — an extra spark of originality or magic — but that’s not a bad thing.
  • Nos. 51-100 are listed alphabetically. They are a diverse crowd, including some specialists which only serve one or two dishes. If one of these restaurants serves a cuisine you just can’t find in your neighborhood, it’s well worth a trip.

Eligibility for the list
Restaurants must have been open prior to Aug. 1, 2018 to establish a track record of consistent quality. Newer restaurants will appear on future lists. One restaurant open prior to Aug. 1, The French Room, was removed from consideration because a completely new service format debuted under a new chef on Oct. 23. I think it only fair to give the restaurant’s staff time to perfect their new vision before judging it.

Several bars are included even though serving food is not their primary focus. The list would be less interesting without them.

I considered any restaurant in Dallas County or Collin County, as well as the portion of Carrollton which falls within Denton County. The cities of Denton, Arlington and Fort Worth, among others, are not included.

A small number of restaurants (fewer than five) recognized me and gave me special treatment due to my position. If these restaurants sent out free food, I added the full cost to the tip line. If the quality of service at my table was clearly different from the service at other tables nearby or the service experienced on other nights by my friends, the restaurant was penalized. My goal is to judge restaurants from the perspective of a customer who does not receive special treatment.

I have a personal friendship with the owners of two restaurants on this list, Gemma and Sachet. This friendship predates my tenure as food critic. I did my best to judge these establishments impartially, and also sought out the dining experiences and judgments of other industry professionals to ensure that these restaurants were held to the same standards.

Snubs and omissions
Dallas has many more good places to eat! After building an initial list of 130 restaurants, I visited another 100. Even now the list has blind spots, and I’ve already identified 50 restaurants to visit to start researching the next Top 100 list. We hope that this project will only improve with time.

There are also several much-hyped restaurants with prominent reputations which were omitted because our visits were not enjoyable. I will be writing about those big-name disappointments separately.

The Top 100 issue of the Observer hits newsstands on Thursday, Dec. 13, but you can see the full list online

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