Complaint Desk

The 10 Worst Things We Ate in Dallas in 2016

We’ve already celebrated some of the best tacos, best burgers and best food in general that we ate in 2016. But not every meal was so happy. As cosmic payback for having the coolest job on the planet, food writers occasionally have to eat things that are truly terrible. From overcooked burgers to stinky snails, we saw it all this year, tasted it all and regretted plenty of it.

Here, presented in random order and with links to our harsh (but oh-so-readable) reviews, are the 10 worst things our food writers ate in 2016.

1. The overpriced, under-good brunch at Cook Hall. Warning sign No. 1: just one customer in the restaurant at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. Warning sign No. 2: a menu with a $14 bowl of yogurt, granola and fruit. But if a charge of $5 per egg a la carte isn’t enough to scare you off, maybe greasy toast will do the trick. As Observer brunch baroness Kathryn DeBruler writes, “One is reminded that Cook Hall seems to be playing to an audience for whom 'expensed' is the verb of the day.”

2. The scandal-plagued burger at City Council Bar & Restaurant. It’s overcooked, under-seasoned and finished off with a wimpy tomato. Says Nick “Burger Ebert” Rallo, the burger patties “have a tire-rubber texture, like meat nuked in the microwave.” But hey, at least City Council put attention into what really matters: the décor. There oughta be an ordinance.

3. Brisket tacos, guacamole and more at AT&T Stadium Club. Jerry Jones pulled a Jerry Jones on this posh restaurant on the stadium’s north side, going big on the bar’s atmosphere and then skimping on details like edible food or hiring enough staff. The Stadium Club’s food looks a lot different in person than it did when the restaurant sent out dishes for our photographer to shoot. A Big D flatbread pizza coated in red pepper flakes, a brisket tacos with gummy, unheated tortillas and shredded lettuce that has brown spots — yikes.

4. Stinky snails at Yummy Thai. You want to like Yummy Thai, a small family-run spot in Irving with an adventurous menu. But then they serve up the “Thai escargot,” with an unpleasant odor that hits the table before the food does. Making matters worse, the snails are so badly overcooked that they’re inedible — not that we could really try, since they were also unforkable and unknifeable. There’s nothing quite like failing to cut a smelly snail out of its shell to make dinner a regrettable experience.

5. The $52 fat-free rib-eye from Flora Street Café. It might be the best new restaurant according to the Morning News and D Magazine, but one high-priced dish Flora Street Café sticks in our memory for being unabashedly terrible. The “Akaushi wagyu rib-eye,” served without any fat, came with a side morsel of sweet, smokeless brisket that tasted like school cafeteria meat. And there was the “bone marrow custard” that tasted like licking the inside of a saltshaker — complete with crunchy pellets of salt. And to think, all this can be yours for the low, low price of $52.

6. Some state fair foods are guilty pleasures, but some are guilty pains. Yes, there’s some fun stuff at the State Fair of Texas each year. (We’ll always have a soft spot for fried Sriracha balls.) But, says Observer food editor Beth Rankin, the deep-fried pulled pork sandwich tasted like “a lone French fry that's been left in the deep-fryer for several days.” The cookie fries aren’t good, and on top of that, the portion’s too small. The fried Gulf shrimp boil, too, yielded zero pleasure in return for its bajillion calories.

7. The forgettably generic Tex-Mex of Taco Joint. This burgeoning chain tries to act cool but, Kathryn DeBruler notes, it's “about as street as Brian Williams.” The rest of the menu is in the same vein: “industrial chicken,” guacamole without salt or acid, “porkiladas” with something suspiciously like mayonnaise. Listen, Dallas has around eleventy-nine jillion and twelveteen Tex-Mex restaurants. Maybe we don’t need this particular one. Also: Can we  just say that between Taco Joint, Tacodeli and Taco Diner, we can never remember which one is which?

8. The underwhelming chicken-fried steak at Barbec’s. Nick Rallo’s All-American series has turned the spotlight to many decades-old Dallas institutions, the kinds of places where customers remain loyal all their lives. That loyalty seems a little mystifying at Barbec’s, where the chicken-fried steak is under-seasoned and the mac and cheese is overcooked glop. Oh well. We can’t love ’em all.

9. Yes, we tried the Jack in the Box “brunch burger.” Hey, journalism is serious business. When Jack in the Box starts serving brunch, we’re willing to fall on that gastronomic grenade for you. Truth be told, there’s some addictive stuff on that brunch menu, but Jack’s brunch burger is “mystifyingly soft” and coats the mouth with fat. Also, it looks like that guy from the TV ads sat on it. See also: the world's tiniest pancakes.

10. Tortaco wants you to think it’s so damn cool. Remember back in middle school, when you learned that the more effort you put into looking cool, the less cool you were? Tortaco never learned that lesson. As Matt Martinez notes, it advertises as an “industrial chic” “hipster hangout” full of “label-defying” “multi-cultural collision” served on “fire-toasted artisan bread.” OK, everybody, time to check your Pretentious Restaurant Bingo cards. And maybe get your lunch from a real torta restaurant.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart