It wasn’t a long time ago, and it wasn’t a galaxy far away when Deep Ellum was, mostly, a place for beer, crispy fried things, cheeseburgers and pizza. The Texas comfort food pyramid was on full display: an iced-mug beer at Pete’s or a two-hander cheeseburger, free of frills, at Adair’s. Stumbling through Deep Ellum was — and still is — a precisely Dallas experience.
Now, Deep Ellum adapts. Restaurants die and bloom. We lost On the Lamb but gained Junction Craft Kitchen. Filament burned out like a lightbulb. Lofts cycle upward into the sky alongside the cranes that build them. Still, Deep Ellum is a choose-your-own-adventure novel for food and drink experiences in Dallas. Your destiny is your choosing, and it can be reset and rebuilt in any way you please.
No matter how you feel about the state of Deep Ellum, it’s still the best place in the city to stumble around. Any soul that shows up with an appetite, legs unlocked by a few cocktails, can bounce back and forth among Elm, Deep Ellum, Commerce, Main and Canton like a DVD logo on those old screen-savers. In other words, a perfect Dallas meal begins and ends in Deep Ellum.
Here’s where to start, where to finish, how to snack and drink — and anything in between.
Snack on duck hearts at Armoury D.E. The quickest way to tell things have changed in Deep Ellum: You can snack on duck hearts as if they're popcorn. It wasn’t long ago that the idea of grabbing a cold beer and tender duck hearts, seared in hot lard, would have made a local laugh and ask, “Wait, seriously?” Armoury zen-rakes the plate with a vividly green chimichurri, slices of bread and fire-tender shishito peppers. It’s bar food of the gods.
2714 Elm St. Kitchen open until 1 a.m. Pro tip: The Damn Burger is damn good.
Screw it all: Let’s get a variety of mac and cheese orders at Stonedeck Pizza Pub. Because in Texas, we do macaroni and cheese as appetizers.
2613 Elm St. Kitchen’s open until bar close. Pro tip: There'a an all-you-can pizza buffet at lunch.
Stop in at Black Swan Saloon, shake your bartender’s hand and say what you like. Gabe Sanchez’s speakeasy is never short on hospitality.
2708 Elm St. Pro tip: It’s the signless door across from the thumping bass at Trees.
Naked chicken at Brick & Bones is a stunner of a starter. Chicken brines and gets fried without breading, armoring the skin with crispness. It's served like a deconstructed street taco with corn tortillas, salsa verde and the classic taco garnish of cilantro and diced onion. It’s like a carnivore’s bouquet of flowers, and who doesn’t love flowers? Ask for an extra side of grilled scallions. Grill char soaks into the stalks, and they're umami enough that they act as their own meal if you’re veggie-minded.
2713 Elm St. Kitchen’s open until 2 a.m. Pro tip: The Seymour Skinner cocktail — with bourbon, fig syrup and mint — is delicious.
At Hide, the old fashioned is served in a glass flask. Just saying.
2816 Elm St.
After a happy hour cocktail at Hide, walk a few yards and order the barrel-sized tater tots at IdleRye. Shaved Gruyere, a light hit of nutmeg in the potato mixture and an onion dipping sauce that’ll turn your pupils into saucers make this the best damn tater tot ever.
2826 Elm St.
Learn everything you need to know about nachos at the 27-year-old bar Angry Dog. The dish is a scatter of fried chips troweled with mashed beans and towered with shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack, beef and jalapeños on a sheet of tin foil. Cheese melts and chars on the edges under a salamander. Underneath, the chips stay crispy. There’s nothing elevated about them. Thank the bar gods for that.
2726 Commerce St. Pro tip: Parking is a nightmare these days on Commerce. If you’re headed over on the weekends, your best bet is to find a spot eastward on Commerce and walk.
Why haven’t you been to Zatar yet? It has cheese cigars. It has heart-cleansing fattoush. There is hookah.
2825 Commerce St. Open Friday and Saturday until midnight-ish.
You can’t order incorrectly at Monkey Noodle Co., but tender wontons in a rich maroon chili sauce will light your brain up like Griswolds' house in Christmas Vacation.
2933 Main St. Open from 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Pro tip: Get a side of bok choy loaded with chopped garlic and fired on the wok. It’s stupendous.
Skip Fuzzy’s Tacos on Elm and visit Revolver Taco Lounge. The pulpo taco, with octopus as tender as it could be, is like food electricity, undulating with flavor on a house tortilla. Garlic simmers in the air at Revolver. Pickled onions and lime juice send the pastor tacos into the stratosphere, and the tortillas are tender with a slight chewiness that will ruin you on the store-bought stuff other spots use.
2701 Main St. Pro tip: The Mexican hot dog is a Luscher Red Hot wrapped in bacon and smothered in mayo, mustard and beans. You need this.
Food is inspired at Junction Craft Kitchen. Everything will make you smile. Try sweetbreads with “ranch dust deluxe” and black garlic mayo; they’re chef Harmon’s nod to McDonald’s McNuggets.
2901 Elm St. Pro tip: A new Deep Ellum staple is Harmon's Texas Akaushi burger, which is available in bao form late at night on weekends from the bao cart Harmon parks out front.
You haven’t conquered Deep Ellum until you’ve ordered a round of sliders and loaded tater tots at Easy Slider. The burgers, despite being hummingbird sized, are cooked majestically medium rare. The tater tots are smothered in cheddar, bacon, green onion and housemade ranch.
2701 Main St., Suite 110. Pro tip: Barbecue sauce usually sucks the flavor right out of a burger, but here, it’s delicious.
You haven’t had a Hot Mess at Pecan Lodge yet? What’s wrong with you?
2702 Main St. Pro tip: Beef rib, obviously.
AllGood Cafe quiets the soul. It’s still the patron saint of Deep Ellum dining. Since 2000, AllGood has had the only chicken fried steak you’ll need. Tenderized steak is run through flour, then lowered into bubbling peanut oil. It's fried until it has a thin and brittle shell. The steak maintains the shattering breading even under the deluge of peppery gravy. It’s nearly bronze from a stock of roasted chicken bones.
2934 Main St. Pro tip: Yes, the chili is fantastic and still homemade.
Sure, you could get a pizza the size of a car door at Serious Pizza. That’s fine. Another, mind-bendingly good option is the capicola trio at Harlowe MXM. It’s a slice of a tree, wallpapered with cured pork, soft as linen and thin as air, the best Italian cold cuts you ever had. Pickles and house mustard add to the richness of the spicy pork, which melts in your mouth. It’s a shared plate that eats like a meal.
2823 Main St. Pro tip: Kitchen’s open late. Head upstairs to the open patio for a killer view.
Skip Twisted Root for a cheeseburger and go for the old-fashioned patty melt at Parlor on Commerce. It is perfect.
2651 Commerce St.
Just off Main Street, on an open-air patio that borders Monkey King Noodle Co., a keyboard-sized grill glows lava-orange. This is Niwa Japanese BBQ’s tiny powerhouse: a street-side robatayaki grill, open until 2:30 a.m. on weekends, that’s serving quick, no-frills, inexpensive street food unlike anything else you’ll find in the city.
2939 Main St. Pro tip: Shrimp skewers, glazed with a spicy miso and sesame sauce, are less than 10 bucks.
Punish your body with a grilled cheese that has an inside-out doughnut as the buns at Glazed Donut Works. You’re not hallucinating — there is bacon on it.
2644 Elm St. Open late on weekends (9 p.m. to 2 a.m.). Pro tip: Plan on waiting in line on the weekends at bar-o-clock.
Rolled ice cream looks pretty, but the best thing you could do for your after-dinner-sweet needs is head to Emporium Pies. The Smooth Operator, with a salty, brittle pretzel crust, will be the gift you give yourself.
2708 Main St. Open until 9 p.m.
At the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and Elm Street in Deep Ellum on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a food cart selling bao. On the burger bao, chef Josh Harmon’s seared Akaushi-beef patty from Junction Craft Kitchen melts with American cheese, a “kimchi comeback sauce” and housemade pickles. Deep Ellum has never had anything like it.
Open 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends outside Junction Craft Kitchen.
The food isn’t extraordinary at Free Man, but one of Deep Ellum’s traditions should be a cold beer, some live jazz or zydeco, and bread pudding at the Free Man. It’s sticky, sweet, and best devoured with friends and Abita’s Purple Haze. Deep Ellum really is a magical place.
2626 Commerce St.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.