During Hidden Gems Week, the Observer food and drink writers are celebrating an abundance of diverse, delicious restaurants and bars around Dallas, places that don’t often (or ever) get mentioned by big-name food media, trendsetters, bloggers or chefs. We’re taking you outside of the ordinary to help you discover something new.
An Indian supermarket. A gardening center. A pedestrian bridge. The back of a bazaar. Many, many gas stations.
Dallas has a lot of hidden gem restaurants, and some of them take the word “hidden” literally. We’re talking about places with no sign out front, unmarked restaurants inside other buildings and eateries visited only by those in the know.
Here are nine restaurants that are literally hidden inside or behind other businesses in metro Dallas.
Rajwadi Vegetarian Indian Fast Food
9400 N. MacArthur Blvd., Suite 114, Irving. 972-444-0033. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Tucked inside an Indian supermarket in Valley Ranch is Rajwadi, a small counter and seating area that specializes in chaat: vegetarian Indian street snacks. Try a samosa sandwich, a samosa smashed and served in a burger bun, or a veggie burger with a patty of sweet potatoes, roasted peanuts, pomegranate seeds and curry seasoning. Our favorite snack might be sabudana vada, fried balls of mashed potato, tapioca pearls and cilantro. A filling meal at Rajwadi shouldn't cost more than $5.
The Cafe at North Haven Gardens
North Haven Gardens, 7700 Northaven Road. Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
If you've ever gone to North Haven Gardens to buy some succulents, a bag of heirloom tomato seeds and a new pair of gardening gloves, you've probably seen the red sign, outdoors near the back, that says "CAFE." If you haven't been to this mega-nursery, you might not know there is a restaurant here at all. But the cafe at North Haven Gardens is serving a garden-appropriate menu of salads, snackable veggies, cheeses and sandwiches, like a BLT made with beautifully ripe, locally grown tomatoes. It's a relaxing break before the rigor of deciding which rose bush you want.
10025 Harry Hines Blvd. Always open.
Some of the best gas station tacos in Dallas are found at the corner of Harry Hines and Northwest Highway, and El Tacaso, tucked inside the Mobil station at the corner, is serving some elite-level tacos. They come from a room about the size of a walk-in closet, where the taqueras (almost always women) are busy prepping breakfast tacos and a selection of specialties for $1.50 each. The breakfast tacos are good, but we're blown away by the barbacoa, as in-your-face flavorful and overwhelming as any in the city.
Stupid Good Coffee
1910 Pacific Ave., Suite 2060. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.
Here is how to find Stupid Good Coffee: Walk down Elm Street between St. Paul and Harwood, then look up. This coffee shop is hidden inside the skybridge, a treat for pedestrians working their way from one skyscraper to the next. Stupid Good features roasts from Oak Cliff, an off-menu latte named after the Rolling Stones and, sometimes, tacos from Taco Deli. What more could a skybridge need?
Nollowa Bar and Grill
Nollowa Bar and Grill, 2560 Royal Lane, No. 102. Open 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
This is the kind of old-school dive bar where the game is always on, fried foods are always available, every beer is bottled and every customer seems to be looking for the next nighttime companion. Occasionally, it feels like Dallas code compliance forgot Nollowa Bar and Grill, too. On two Observer visits, customers were sitting at the bar and smoking cigarettes. Only one thing makes Nollowa stand out from the crowd: It's Korean, in Dallas' old Korea Town, which means that the unhealthy bar snacks include things like stir-fried octopus, chicken feet and seafood ramen. It's an experience like none other in Dallas.
La Fonda de Don Chuy
1120 S. Westmoreland Road. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Anybody can find good tacos in a gas station. But can you find good tacos at your local supermarket? At the Supermercado Monterrey on Westmoreland Road, the answer is usually yes. La Fonda de Don Chuy, tucked into the front left corner of the store, specializes in guisados, or stewed-meat tacos, sometimes with the bones included. Quality can be a bit erratic depending on what's freshly made, but take a close look at the meats on offer and you should be able to find something that looks great, like the pork in salsa verde or the carne deshebrada (pulled beef).
World Food Warehouse
13434 Floyd Circle. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; kebab counter closes 15-20 minutes early.
This grocery store in an industrial warehouse sells everything from 18-inch-wide naan to bulk watermelon seeds. But it also has a sandwich counter serving kebabs and shawarma to go. The Iraqi kebabs, prepped on mighty skewers, are grilled to order on open coals, then stuffed into a $3.49 pita sandwich, plated with rice or, if you are feeling carnivorous, simply served on the skewer. The sandwich makes for a great portable meal, with the spice mix in the meat imparting some intoxicating aromas in addition to solid flavor.
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La Salsa Verde Taqueria
Four locations in Dallas and Plano
Some of the best tacos in Dallas can be found at La Salsa Verde, a small chain with two locations in gas station convenience stores and one behind a check-cashing office. (The fourth and newest location isn't hidden at all but proudly situated on Northwest Highway.) What to order? Pretty much anything: tacos de cabeza, tacos de moronga (blood sausage), quesadillas, tacos with stewed pork skins. The cachete (beef cheek) taco is probably the best $1.29 food item in Dallas.
Fonda My Tlapehuala
8282 Spring Valley Rd. #250. Hours mysterious
OK we'll admit defeat: Fonda My Tlapehuala is so well hidden, even we couldn't eat there. There was supposed to be a Hidden Gems Week feature about this market stall's antojitos, but the kitchen closed more than an hour early on three attempted Observer visits. If you try to go, Fonda My Tlapehuala is in the back aisle of the indoor Plaza Del Sol Bazaar, to the right of a hair salon. It has daily specials like Thursday pozole, plus a menu that offers stews ranging from pork in salsa verde to huilotes (wild dove). And if you succeed in dining here, will you let us know how it is?