Once upon a time, downtown Dallas was a ghost town come 6 p.m. Office workers poured out of their skyscrapers and went straight home. The only watering holes were dives, and the only places to eat were fancy hotel kitchens like the French Room.
That’s all changed dramatically in the past year. Casual hangouts, robust happy hours and reasonably priced restaurants are proliferating across downtown, and we’re reaping the rewards.
Here are six reasons not to drive straight home from Fountain Place at 5 p.m. this week:
The deep-dish pizza at Americano. On Sunday and Monday nights, the Joule’s casual Italian spot — which has gotten quieter in recent months following a series of complaints about the volume level — is serving up big ol’ deep dish pies by the slice. With Italian sausage, pepperoni, a layer of molten fontina and mozzarella and torn basil leaves on top, it makes a meal by itself, and its OCD-quality presentation is photo-ready.
Pair with Americano's cocktail program and wines, and you got yourself a cure for the Mondays.
Happy hour at Sapa House. With $2 domestic beers, $3 Japanese beers and $5 bar snacks, a new downtown spot takes happy hour seriously. Pho Colonial has been transformed into Sapa House, a pan-Asian restaurant with killer happy hour deals until 7 p.m. The house cocktails tend to be ultra-sweet concoctions with names like "Liquid Marijuana," but salty bar snacks like the crispy lemongrass pig's ears go best with a cold bottle of Asahi.
The DMA’s new café. Headed to a concert in the Arts District? Feel like your dinner should involve green things? Socca, the outdoor café at the Dallas Museum of Art, makes terrific crepes and big, well-balanced salads. "Socca," pronounced SOAK-uh, is both the stand's name and the name of the crepe, which is made from chickpea dough. I loved my salad of chicken, artichokes, roasted grapes and goat cheese (pictured). This is a nice spot to sit outdoors, too, while avoiding the Klyde Warren crowds. And if a socca and salad sounds too healthy, don’t worry: there are desserts to go.
Café Izmir. Downtown’s Mediterranean restaurant offers a list of Turkish tapas, ranging from hummus to pomegranate-marinated shrimp, as well as a full bar with lots of cocktail and affordable wine options. They're not afraid to get creative with snacks like lamb rolls, made with lamb and pico de gallo nestled in a pita. It's a pretty chill space, too, with a bar open to both dining areas and a handful of colorful paintings. This is a slightly classier, posher alternative to Sapa House, which is just a block down the street.
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The Farmers Market isn’t just for weekends. Several of the establishments in The Market, Dallas Farmers Market's food hall, stay open after 5 p.m. on weekdays — like Laili, the outstanding “Silk Road” restaurant with killer savory and sweet pastries. (It closes at 6 p.m.) Pictured above: Laili's terrific manti, or dumplings, with yogurt sauce and a spicier red sauce. Mudhen Meat and Greens stays open 'til 10 p.m., and Scardello’s outpost at the Farmers Market often puts on quick, casual evening classes, called "Extra Credit," which function like a wine-and-cheese happy hour. Afterwards, Deep Ellum is only a ten-minute walk away.
Café Momentum. This is pushing “inexpensive” to the limit, since Café Momentum is not the most affordable restaurant on the list, but it is centrally located, ultra-stylish and a damn good cause. Oh yeah, and they have shrimp-and-grit beignets, duck mole and fried pie. So next time you're down for a weeknight splurge with a downtown date or some fun coworkers, stop by chef Chad Houser's restaurant, chow down on the accomplished food and feel good about supporting young men and women who are getting a fresh start in life.