“Y’all keep getting distracted by the more famous places instead,” I wrote. “Fine. More steak frites for me.”
We reviewed The Mitchell back in 2018, and it made our Top 100 Restaurants the following year. But the bar closed for a year during the pandemic and only reopened this spring. Maybe some of you forgot about it.
That got me thinking about “sleeper” pick restaurants in general: places that aren’t nearly as well-known as they should be. I didn’t even dig down to the level of hidden gems or “holes in the wall.” Here are seven examples of restaurants that aren’t hidden at all, most of them current members of the Observer’s Top 100 Restaurants list. So far, they’ve evaded the hype and kept their tables easy to reserve.
If you want to find more such spots, I’ve been running reviews all pandemic long focusing on good but little-known restaurants. Hint, hint.
Bullion and The French Room are closed, so try...
The Mitchell has been flying under the radar for years now. I keep trying to put it on the radar — it’s been on two of our three Top 100 Restaurants lists, missing the newest only because it closed for the pandemic — but y’all keep not going. More mussels, steak frites and venison tartare for me.
There may be no more relaxed place in town for an upscale weeknight date night. This is a wine and cocktail bar foremost, with a formidable bar of liquors shelved up to the ceiling. But chef Marshall Cole, who spent much of the pandemic at Sachet, keeps plating up killer renditions of French bistro classics. The Mitchell’s steak frites come with a pat of bone marrow butter. Right now they’ve got killer rabbit ravioli, too.
All that food comes from a tiny kitchen hidden in the back of a place that’s supposed to be a little neighborhood bar. I like to tell people that my ideal bar is popular enough to stay open for years, but never popular enough that I have to worry about whether there will be a table. Let’s keep The Mitchell in that sweet spot.
Bonus tip: If The Mitchell sounds too fancy for you, pop into the more casual sister bar Ye Olde Scarlet Pumpernickel next door.
There are only five tables at Gorji, and only one party is seated at each table each night. You’d think it would be one of the toughest-to-grab tables in town. But this tiny space in Addison isn’t as famous as some of its rivals to the south, a secret kept by a tight-knit group of regulars.
If you haven’t been before, you might be puzzling over the suggestion of a single restaurant for both Mediterranean hot spot Sachet and acclaimed steakhouse Knife. But Mansour Gorji’s style is to seduce his customers with flavors of his native Iran — pomegranate seeds are a common garnish here — and then surprise them with a flawless aged steak. It’s a great double act.
Edoko Omakase and Sushi Robata
Two of the best sushi experiences in Dallas are on the edges of town. Sushi Robata, in far north Dallas, and Edoko Omakase, just over the border in Irving, are fabulous places that haven’t quite attracted crowds yet.
At Sushi Robata, there are so many specialties that it’s hard to believe they can all be good, let alone specialties. And yet they are. Check the daily specials board, sample your way through the sushi and robatayaki (grilling) menus or just order a darn good bowl of ramen.
Edoko Omakase’s best experience, meanwhile, is right there in the name: Reserve ahead and pay for a six-course tasting at the sushi counter. Appetizers present a variety of cooking techniques and flown-from-Japan ingredients, and then, for the final course, sushi chef Keunsik Lee takes over and bombards you with his superb seafood.
Bonus tip: Ebesu, located in the heart of downtown Plano, is only a little more popular than these two spots, and also great.
Smokey Joe’s BBQ
In a 2020 review, I admitted that Smokey Joe’s might secretly be my favorite barbecue spot in Dallas. The restaurant is expanding — they’re working on a bigger patio, and rolled a food truck out to East Dallas over the winter — but the biggest test is yet to come. Texas Monthly’s next Top 50 BBQ list comes out this year, and there are whispers of rumors of hints that Smokey Joe’s might make it.
If that happens, the secret will finally be out, and crowds will descend for sure. So go try Smokey Joe’s now and you can be a barbecue hipster like me, telling people you were a regular before it made the Top 50. Of course, even we weren’t there for the early days; Smokey Joe’s has a proud history going back nearly 40 years to its founding in 1985.
Taquero and Urban Taco
These two taco spots seem poised for mainstream success, yet keep getting overlooked. They occupy prime real estate, Urban Taco in Mockingbird Station and Taquero at the southern end of Greenville Avenue. They boast Mexican-born owners with fine-dining pedigrees, spacious patios and menus that go well beyond the taco. They both have chips and salsa baskets that in different ways are equally excellent.
And yet, during the late months of the pandemic, I’ve sat on Taquero’s empty patio and gotten takeout from an empty Urban Taco. Where is everybody?
It’s probably unfair to lump these two restaurants in together. They sport very different menus and have different strengths. At Taquero, the appetizers can be better than the tacos. But they do both satisfy the need for thoughtful, stylish preparations of Mexican food — served without hype.