At last: It’s picnic weather again. I’ve been reacquainting myself with the joy of a good picnic this year since it gets me out of the house without encountering crowds, putting waitstaff at risk or getting grumpy about people wearing their masks incorrectly.
Picnics have a way of making a takeout order feel like an event. But they’re also best with a fairly limited range of food: Ever brought a soup to a picnic?
The best picnic items tend to be handheld, shareable, fresh and good at or near ambient temperature. They don’t need a lot of napkins. Great dips are in play, too — a little bit of hummus to dunk veggies in, or a good, cool salsa. And, of course, we can’t overlook the ultimate picnic food: the sandwich.
Weeks of happy taste-testing, practicing safe distances from other parkgoers and other commonsense hygiene practices have resulted in the following great picnic ideas. There are surely many more — but here are seven picnics that have given me joy during our brief window of decent fall weather.
Spring rolls from Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen
1907 Greenville Ave.
Ngon’s spring rolls are perfect outdoor food. They’re fresh and refreshing, portable and delicious. They’re also big enough that a full order of them can be a meal.
There's a wide variety available — with ingredients ranging from mangos to beef shanks, but even the “regular” spring rolls are fabulous, with shrimp wound around a bounteous portion of greens and herbs. Deep down inside, a coil of fried wonton provides a brilliant crunch. I could eat them every day.
Nearest public picnic area: Garrett Park
Vegan empanadas from Shoals Sound and Service
2614 Elm St., No. 110
Empanadas are portable and handheld. They’re good warm or cold, naked or dunked in sauce. They’re a perfect picnic snack, especially when they come from Shoals, which has perfected vegan dough and filled it with combinations like mushroom and lentils. Some of their savory offerings are gently spicy, too — you packed a refreshing drink for your picnic, right? If you didn’t, load up on Shoals’ takeout drinks or the sweet empanadas filled with coconut rice pudding.
If you prefer meat in your empanadas, Empa Mundo in Irving is open for takeout, but the city of Irving's recreation areas are open only to its own residents.
Nearest public picnic area: Fair Park
Hummus, tabbouleh and a sandwich from Board Bites
(6100 K Ave., No. 104 B)
Middle Eastern foods transport to picnics consistently well. Tabbouleh is a great salad to snack on in the shade, just about anything can be dipped in hummus, and a good falafel or shawarma sandwich will still be scrumptious after you’ve driven to your destination.
Board Bites has some of the best shawarma in the Dallas area, and it’s also a half-mile from one of Plano’s biggest parks. Head to Oak Point — the main sanctioned picnic area is off Los Rios Boulevard, but almost anywhere can be a picnic area if you bring a blanket and some willpower — and enjoy killer kibbeh and baba ghanoush.
Nearest public picnic area: Oak Point Park
Taco six-packs from Las Almas Rotas and Taco y Vino
3615 Parry Ave. (Las Almas) and 213 W. Eighth St. (Taco y Vino)
There’s a little bit of magic to the phrase “taco six-pack,” but even beyond how happy those words make us feel, there are other picnicking conveniences to the takeout deals from Las Almas Rotas and Taco y Vino. First, a set of six tacos nestles nicely in a box, so the fillings don’t tip out. Second, you get little cups of salsas. Third, if you happen to be picnicking somewhere private, like a backyard, both restaurants have great deals on takeout alcohol, too.
When you visit Almas’ colorful drive-thru, add a cocktail or a large-batch drink for sharing. When you order from Taco y Vino, take advantage of the deal that makes six tacos and a bottle of wine just $30. Either will make your own porch feel like an event.
Nearest public picnic areas: Fair Park (Las Almas Rotas), Kidd Springs Park (Taco y Vino)
Fresh-made gimbap from Damasita
2564 Royal Lane
Gimbap is the ultimate Korean picnic food; if you don’t believe me, just ask Maangchi. These big, seaweed-wrapped rolls are filled with fresh and pickled veggies and slices of egg. At Damasita, you can choose your own protein to add in: bulgogi, spicy tuna or Spam. Each $4 takeout roll is wrapped in foil and contains 10 huge pieces.
The only problem is that Dallas’ Korea Town isn’t surrounded by ample parkland; instead, many of the district’s neighbors are warehouses, body shops and strip clubs. Luckily, gimbap travels exceptionally well and can be enjoyed just about anywhere, even hours later.
Nearest public picnic area: downtown Farmers Branch park system (Good, Pepper and Watterworth parks)
Almost everything at Sylvan Thirty
1818 Sylvan Ave.
The Sylvan Thirty development, with its walkable open space and ample room for al fresco dining, is an unlikely locale for a picnic, but a good one. There are patio tables, an open lawn and low-slung stone walls you can sit on in a pinch. Earlier this year, I sat on a stone bench and tried one of Whisk Crepes’ new breakfast sandwiches. A couple weeks before that, I sat at a table and demolished a pizza from CiboDivino. Tacodeli breakfast tacos, Ten Ramen mazemen and sandwiches from Banh Mi Station and Shayna’s Place round out an all-star lineup of potential outdoor eats.
Of course, eating a crepe in the park is perhaps a tiny bit less appealing now that Whisk has built a beautiful new patio. All the more reason to stay right at Sylvan Thirty with your meal.
Nearest public picnic area: why leave? (but if you really need a green bench under a tree, Coombs Creek Trail)
Any really good sandwich
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Is there any picnic meal better than a sandwich? Well, maybe a sandwich and a cookie.
Want some crisp veggies to match the crisp fall air? Grab a banh mi from one of Dallas’ growing cohort of great Vietnamese shops, including Banh Mi Station, Krio, LaVui, Ngon and Sandwich Hag. Craving a classic BLT? Stop by AllGood Cafe or Goodfriend Package. Need barbecue? Good thing One90 Smoked Meats is so close to White Rock Lake.
In the Bishop Arts District, Macellaio is encouraging customers to picnic on the patio after collecting their takeout orders, and they’re encouraging it even more by offering irresistible sausages and Italian sandwiches, including special extra-huge sandwiches for two.
For every good park, there’s a nearby sandwich. Hiking at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve? Grab a barbecue sandwich from Hardeman’s BBQ on West Kiest Boulevard. Chilling at Fair Park? Swing by AllGood or Uncle Uber’s Sammich Shop. Visiting Samuell Farm in Mesquite? Grab a wrap from House of Gyros. Walking at the Trinity River Audubon Center? Pick up a “samich” from Crazy Brothers. Headed literally anywhere? Stop by Jimmy’s first. You get the idea. Great picnics await!