There’s been a lot of negativity about the Dallas restaurant scene in recent months. Between fears of an economic bubble, complaints about “Fickle 500” diners, the growing encroachment of valet parking, reports of mediocrity in fine dining and harsh reviews for such swanky kitchens as Uchi and Flora Street Café, it’s been a rough few months.
So, amid all that doom and gloom and inspired by a heartening blog post from Katie Zabrowski Dickman, I thought it was high time to talk about some of the things Dallas is great at. Here’s a top 10 list of reasons why, despite the flaws, we still love eating in DFW.
1. Fine dining that’s not so pretentious. It’s no jacket, no tie, no problem at the best restaurants in Dallas, and I appreciate seeing customers walk into places like FT33 wearing jeans. Visiting our fine-dining restaurants can be so welcoming it's like visiting family. They have a sense of humor, too. The whimsical but above-average wine list at FT33. The cheesy '80s-synth-and-opera playlist at Flora Street. The $1 stuffed prunes at Lucia (where I once dined with a friend who was wearing cargo shorts). The pianist at St. Martin's, who, on my last visit, serenaded diners with the theme song from Blazing Saddles. The top restaurants in Dallas do a good job not being stuffy.
2. Lots of scrumptious veggies. I convinced my parents that they like Brussels sprouts at Blind Butcher. Squash blossoms are a hot ingredient at Sprezza, Sixty Vines and a number of Mexican restaurants. Wayward Sons has its fabulous tomato salad and vegetable charcuterie. Resident Taquería serves stereotype-defying kale and cauliflower tacos.
Dallas has a reputation as a meat-first town, and yeah, we have some pretty frickin’ great burgers, steaks and brisket (even vegan brisket). But some of the best cooking in town is vegetable-based, and some of our favorite meals are served with nary a bacon strip in sight.
3. Our Koreatowns. The area’s two Korean districts — in Dallas at 35 and Royal Lane, and in Carrollton at 35 and the George Bush Tollway — are culinary treasures. In fact, some days, I think they’re the most exciting food neighborhoods in the whole Metroplex. No list of the 50 or 100 best restaurants in Dallas is complete without Seoul Garden, Dal Dong Nae, Koryo Kalbi, DanSungSa and at least one barbecue place like Ssahm, Sura, Omi or Gui-Rock. And the diversity is extraordinary: If you think Korean food is all bulgogi and kimchi, try the soups at Dal Dong Nae, or the fried chicken at Number One Plus Chicken, or the cold spicy noodles at Ajumma Kimbob Deli.
God, I love Korean food in Dallas.
4. All the pizza we can eat. Want New York-style pizza? ZaLat's got you covered, and Zoli’s is reopening soon. Want Chicago-style pizza? Taste of Chicago is legit. Roman partisans can head to Sprezza for its terrific thin crust, and Neapolitans can visit Il Cane Rosso. Turkish pizza makes a strong showing at restaurants like Café Istanbul and Istanbul Palace. Dallas has tons of great pizza, and some of it is pretty darn creative, too, like the pho pizza and the weirdly delicious Reuben pizza at ZaLat.
5. Beer pairings and beer dinners. Dallas takes beer seriously and it respects beer’s potential — that’s why so many places host specialized beer dinners, carefully pairing pints with inventive cuisine. The Libertine and Common Table got the ball rolling a few years ago; now even wine-tastic Scardello is matching beer with cheese.
6. Great specialty food stores. I’ve always loved stopping by Jimmy’s Food Store for mozzarella, olives, olive oil and Italian wines. Now that CiboDivino has opened across town, Dallas has, incredibly, not one but two terrific Italian groceries. Oh, and Eatzi’s is nothing to sneeze at, either. But that’s not all: The suburbs have H Mart, Asia’s great temple to the grocery store gods and shops like Milk & Honey, the kosher Jerusalem deli and store. Oak Cliff even has a Laotian shop, Ly Food Market, with a tiny, terrific kitchen in the back in case your shopping trip gets you hungry.
7. Our barbecue scene has global renown, and a global perspective. Yes, we all love Pecan Lodge, Lockhart Smokehouse, Cattleack and Hutchins. Yes, we can all argue about which one is the best, or how some tiny place behind a gas station is even better. But Dallas also has a wealth of Korean barbecue places, like Ssahm and Gui-Rock, where you cook the meat yourself using burners on the table. And a new wave of Japanese barbecue is about to hit, though they have their work cut out if they want to beat the sublime grilled meats at Teppo, Tei Tei Robata and Mr. Max.
Basically, there is no excuse to ever go to Dickey’s. Not in this town.
8. Terrific tacos and Mex-Mex. One word: mole. Two words: shrimp tacos. Three words: cochinita pibil tacos. Four words: sour cream chicken enchiladas. Huaraches, giant tortas, memelitas, pig’s head carnitas. Need I say more?
9. Our chefs are approachable, kind and charitably minded. Café Momentum — which employs juvenile offenders and sets them on a path to life as gainfully employed adults — is earning national attention. John Tesar, who recently spent all day at Chefs for Farmers handing out food and meeting donors, has seemingly never met a charitable cause he didn’t want to help. After five Dallas police officers were shot and killed downtown earlier this year, chefs and restaurateurs banded together to raise thousands of dollars for the officers' families. Chefs for Farmers and Meat Fight have become fixtures in the city’s social calendar, built as they are around the things our chefs love to do most: eat, drink and be good. That's pretty damn inspiring.
10. The sheer diversity. Want Singaporean food? Plano has some, at Lion City. Want Salvadorean food? It’s all over the place. Irving has an all-star cast of global eats all on one street. DFW is one of America’s largest metro areas — and also one of its most diverse. You could probably go a month without eating the same cuisine twice, and it would probably be damn good fun. From tapas to tom kha gai, we have just about everything a hungry diner could want.
So next time you feel down about perceived mediocrity at Uchi, or having to wait ten minutes for the valet, or needing to drive to the 'burbs for great Chinese food, stop and take a look around. There's a lot of exciting stuff happening in Dallas, dining fixtures we should all be thankful for. Go grab some delicious tacos, swing by your favorite specialty grocery and wash it all down with a big ol' slice of Mama's Daughters' Diner pie.
Feel better now? I thought you would.
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