10 Hidden Gem Restaurants Around Dallas | Dallas Observer

10 Hidden Gem Restaurants Around Dallas

These 10 off-the-beaten-path eateries in North Texas tout carne asada fries, chicken curry, lumpia, brisket mac and cheese and more. All diamonds in the rough — for now anyway.
A double smash burger and carne asada fries and Pacheco Taco N Burger.
A double smash burger and carne asada fries and Pacheco Taco N Burger. Lauren Drewes Daniels
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One day last January, Cecilia Pacheco walked into the Save Way Food Mart, a small gas station in West Grand Prairie, to buy some scratch-off lottery tickets. That's when she noticed a kitchen in the back corner. She and her son, Adan, had been running Pacheco Taco N Burger through pop-ups and briefly with a food trailer, but the only time they used the latter was to cater a Halloween party at Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's house. (They knew someone who knew someone who got them the gig.)

But the Pachecos were looking for a more permanent spot. At the time, someone else was running a food business out of the corner kitchen at the Save Way, but business wasn’t going well. He needed help.

Cecilia has experience in big kitchens. For 16 years, she worked at one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants in Las Vegas. A small corner kitchen? She'd slay it. Adan graduated from the culinary program at Tarrant County College. Together they cover all the bases of menu concepts, recipes, prep and cooking. It wasn’t long before the corner kitchen at the Save Way became home base for the Pachecos.
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Look for the small black sign on the side of the building.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
When you drive over to Pacheco Taco N Burger, go slow on approach. On our first attempt, we flew past it, hitting the brakes hard after catching a glimpse of a small black sign on the side of a convenience store. The four-lane street was empty, so after a quick U-turn we were pulling into the parking lot.

Learning about it in the first place was completely by chance. One day during lunch while using a phone map app for directions to Pacheco Taco Bar, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Las Colinas, a red dot for another Pacheco popped up. It was closer. A few taps later, instead of the spot in Las Colinas, this other Pacheco in Grand Prarie was wooing hard with a sultry Instagram feed. Cheesy smash burgers and mounds of carne asada-loaded fries won.

Save Mart is your typical neighborhood bodega. Some type of bell rings when the door opens, and a guy behind the counter smiles and nods. The line of coolers at the back hums with chilled beverages. It's dim. Neighborhood kids in flip-flops and sleeveless shirts pop in for sodas and chips. The store has to be five decades old and wears every tired day of it.

In a back corner might be the smallest restaurant in Dallas County. Two folding tables — one four-top, one two-top — sit in front of the kitchen. A small counter is under construction and has several bar stools. No matter — it works. For these burgers and tacos, it absolutely works.

A basic smash burger here is $8, but pony up another three bucks (still wildly affordable) for the double, where two balls of ground beef are smashed and seared on a sizzling grill, topped with American cheese, caramelized onions and a special sauce (it channels salsa verde).

For a side, indulge in the loaded carne asada fries. This is what will lure you back to this Grand Prairie neighborhood time and time again. Crisp and not-at-all-soggy fries are loaded with tender bites of steak, ranch, sour cream, salsa verde, queso and bacon. This is the live, laugh, love font of flavor.

But wait. We're not done here. Wash this down with house-made aguas frescas, specifically the cucumber lemonade. The cucumber lays down its refreshing and cleansing base, punctuated with bursts of brightness from the lemon. A touch though; not a squirt too much. This beverage has better pop and balance than Simone Biles. And if you're wondering whether it’s good for cocktails, you bet your gin ass it is. Get two to go, which are $5 each but worth it. They need to sell this by the gallon.

All because of some scratch-offs.

Finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants is a hobby of sorts. Perhaps a lifestyle. Wading into new territory with a menu that pushes us out of our comfort zone is something we seek out daily. We've spent a fair amount of time doing such and have gathered together 10 of our best finds to date for 2023. After all, those named in our hidden gem 2022 story theoretically are not as hidden now, though they're still gems.

It might be wise to try some of these out while they remain relatively hidden. After all, Jimmy’s Food Store was at one time considered a hidden gem, but have you tried to find parking there lately?

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Lamb tibse and beef kitfo along with the injera flatbread that is used as the eating utensil at Agoza Kitchen.
Hank Vaughn

Agoza Kitchen

5528 Alpha Road, No. 105
469-914-0111, instagram.com/agozakitchen
Hole-in-the-wall hidden gems are often tucked away next to (or inside) a gas station, and Agoza Kitchen is no exception. Next to a Valero station near the ghost of Valley View Mall, this spot has Ethiopian staples and groceries as well as some really good prepared food to go if the three small tables inside are taken. Try some of the meat dishes such as kitfo (minced meat with Ethiopian hot pepper, mitmita) or tibse (lamb sautéed and grilled with tomato, onion, garlic and ginger), sopping up all the juices with the injera, a pancake-like flatbread traditionally made with teff flour, a wheat native to Ethiopia. The vegetable-centric should try the combo plate consisting of lentils, collard greens, split pea, cabbage and potato. Don’t forget an order of sambusa, the Ethiopian take on a samosa. Eating using the injera can be a messy experience for the uninitiated, but the staff is quick to supply you with as many napkins as needed.

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An egg sando and pork and taro "pup" pie are just two of the many fresh offerings from Ari District Thai Bistro.
Hank Vaughn

Ari District Thai Bistro

2525 Inwood Road, No. 123
469-778-0075, aridistrict.com
Hole-in-the-wall places often feature street food, and Ari District fills that bill, serving up Bangkok-style street food mixed with some small-town flavors found in other parts of Thailand. The décor, however, departs from the typical hole-in-the-wall aesthetic, being elegant, cozy, bright and inviting. Once open for dinner, Ari District is now strictly a breakfast/brunch affair. Fresh breakfast fare and baked goods are prepared daily, and standouts include pork and taro “pup” pies that are as cute as they are delicious, and egg sandwiches and souffle pancakes. Expected Thai dishes such as pad kee maow and pad Thai are also on the menu, as are various curries, noodles and soups along with coffee and tea. The baked goods, however, are really the standout and can sell out fast, so get there early. If the pup pies are all gone, you could do a lot worse than trying one of the black garlic cheesy spinach rolls. Or two.

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Reggae Wings & Tings serves up a large portion of jerk chicken along with some cabbage and mac 'n cheese that won't disappoint.
Hank Vaughn

Reggae Wings & Tings

3315 N. Town East Blvd., Mesquite
469-862-4040, reggaewingsandtings.com
This little spot in Mesquite specializes in Jamaican cuisine including jerk chicken, wings, curry goat, salt fish, oxtails, cabbage, stews and more. It's an unpretentious setting that definitely puts flavor over form. The servings are large and usually come with two sides. If you’ve suddenly got a yen for Mannish water (goat soup), then look no further. Seafood selections include steamed red snapper, escovitch tilapia, saltfish and shrimp. Pork is also available jerked, and there's goat that's curried. Lots of fried sides are available, including but not limited to dumplings, okra, and plantains, as well as rice and peas. All of it can be washed down with any of the various canned Jamaican sodas available, or with some homemade sorrel, a sweet, gingery hibiscus-infused Jamaican beverage favorite. Oh, and there's plenty of thumping reggae music filling the dining space as well.

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Duck fried rice from Tomyumkung Thai Café.
Hank Vaughn

Tomyumkung Thai Café

3030 N. Josey Lane, Carrollton
972-394-7999, tomyumkungthai.com
This Thai joint is worth a visit for the duck fried rice alone, consisting of a large portion of wonderfully crispy pieces of duck atop perfectly prepared Thai fried rice. Traditional favorites such as pad woon sen and pad Thai are also on the menu, of course, but one of the things that sets Tomyumkung apart is the Isan food offerings, a cuisine originating in the northeast region of Thailand that has Lao influence. Isan options include tom sap, a spicy and sour pork rib soup; nam with crispy rice, prepared with Lao sour pork sausage, rice and peanuts; and larb chicken, consisting of minced meat, crushed rice, red and green onions, cilantro and herbs. Other chef specialties include soft shell crab curry and spicy basil catfish. But it's the duck that really shines here, epitomized by the aforementioned duck fried rice but also evidenced by the duck pad Thai, duck curry and crispy duck Thai basil dishes. It's a duckapalooza.

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A wonderful example of the humble Chicago dog dragged through the garden that can be found at Chicago Style Dog's in Garland.
Hank Vaughn

Chicago Style Dog’s

3225 S. Jupiter Road, No. 100, Garland
469-452-3328, chicagostyledogstx.com
This entry into the thankfully ever-growing Chicago-style hot dog scene was started by two Chicago-area transplants, and that pedigree definitely shines through. It’s a small spot with a tiny dining area, practically no seating and limited parking, attached to an auto body shop to boot, but that’s all part of the charm and makes it very reminiscent of hole-in-the-wall hot dog shops in Chicagoland. The dog is done correctly, using Vienna Beef and the proper bun dragged through the garden, and there's also Maxwell Street Polish sausage, Italian beef and a rarity in north Texas, the humble pizza puff (think of a larger, cheesier Totino's pizza roll). One can also order a chili cheese dog and cheeseburger as well, but why? You're here for the dogs and Polish, right? Breakfast, served all day, offers a breakfast sandwich composed of Polish sausage, egg and cheese that hits the spot as well. This place is well worth the drive for those who want to branch out a bit from the corporate homogeneity that is Portillo's. Just plan on getting it to go. And don't ask for ketchup.
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BBQ pork stick with rice at Kabayan Filipino Food & Café in Lewisville.
Hank Vaughn

Kabayan Filipino Store & Café

19009 Preston Road; 2305 S State Highway 121, Lewisville
972-798-3030, facebook.com/kabayanfsc
With locations in Dallas and Lewisville, Kabayan Filipino Store & Café offers both a market for Filipino staples, groceries and treats as well as a restaurant that has a good variety of Filipino fare served cafeteria-style at an affordable price. Options include pork bicol, a stew of pork chunks with ginger, garlic, shrimp paste and coconut milk; and lechon, a delightful roast suckling pig that is at once extremely tender yet has a wonderfully crackly skin. Other items include perfectly charred barbecue pork on a stick, chicken curry and lumpia, a sort of egg roll stuffed with ground pork. These can all be ordered à la carte or as a turo turo plate, which is a combo consisting of either two or three entrées along with steamed rice. "Turo turo" means "point point" in Tagalog and is thus a perfect name for this option where one points to any of the various stews, noodles, skewers, curries or soups in the colorful spread in front of you for inclusion on the combo plate. The choices can be overwhelming, but the friendly and knowledgeable staff is there to help.

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The Cat Shack's house corned beef and pastrami sandwiches are great, while they last.
Hank Vaughn

The Cat Shack

2910 S. Beckley Ave.
214-272-3362, catshackdallas.com
The Cat Shack, which started as a food truck in 2021 with an eating experience rooted in the culture of Detroit, has added a brick-and-mortar location in Oak Cliff. The truck is parked outside, near the shaded patio dining area so no one can forget. Sandwiches on offer include blackened chicken, catfish, Creole chicken and a couple of burger options, and the Detroiter, chicken shawarma with tomato, lettuce, pickles and mayo garlic spread, all wrapped up in a pita. Stealing the show, however, is the fantastic house-made corned beef and pastrami sandwich served on rye or an onion roll. It's not always on the menu, so be sure to check the Facebook page for heads-up when it's available ... and then drive as fast as your local traffic laws allow to Oak Cliff. You're welcome.

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Soulful Street Bites offers up a bunch of down-home goodness including brisket mac 'n cheese, pork chop sandwiches, corn bread, cabbage and noodles.
Hank Vaughn

Soulful Street Bites

16601 Addison Road, No. 110, Addison
214-613-2119, soulfulstreetbites.com
(Aug. 29 update: Soulful Street Bites is now dine-in and take-out) Soulful Street Bites specializes in soul food imbued with some New Orleans-inspired flavors and attitude along with some smokehouse barbecue. Frequent daily specials are dishes like chicken tetrazzini, red beans and rice with sausage and, on Sundays, oxtails with gravy and rice. The signature dish is a bowl of brisket mac and cheese, in large or mini sizes: homemade mac and cheese topped with fall-apart-tender smoked brisket, cornbread crumbles and a drizzle of barbecue sauce. Decadent, rich and satisfying. Other options include fried ribs, rib tips, pork chop sandwich, wings and catfish bites. For starters, you can grab some crawfish eggrolls, brisket fries or nachos and boudin eggrolls, which are filled with Cajun pork and rice. Treat yourself to a peach cobbler or banana pudding. The diet can start tomorrow.

click to enlarge Pacheco Taco and Burger grilled cheese and asada fries
The barbacoa grilled cheese comes with a slab of muenster cheese toasted to a gooey perfection directly on the grill, with a side of carne asada fries.
Lauren Drewes Daniels

Pacheco Taco N Burger

1802 SE 14th St., Grand Prarie
This family-run spot can be found at an occasional pop-up, but its home base is inside a Save Way just west of Mountain Creek Lake in Grand Prairie. Cecilia Pacheco cut her chops working at one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants in Las Vegas and her son, Adan, graduated from the culinary program at Tarrant County College. Together they are pushing out smash burgers, tacos and carne asada that breathes flavor into this old gas station. A barbacoa grilled cheese sandwich has a slab of muenster cheese that is toasted directly on the grill, rendering it both crispy and gooey, with a schmear of barbacoa held together with two buns toasted and buttered within an inch of their lives. Do not leave without indulging in the from-scratch, life-affirming cucumber lemonade agua fresca. On weekends try the menudo.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels

Taco City y Mas

265 W. Comstock St.
Ever driven down a random road and seen a packed taco hut and almost got mad that no one ever told you about it? This is how things got started with Taco City y Mas, less than two miles from downtown, yet a wee bit tucked away on a side road. The "mas" in the name means "food party." From snow cones to breakfast tacos (served all day), birria and agua frescas (served with pellet ice) you can eat here all day and night. This small restaurant has a patio with several tables, but no inside dining room. A sign out front warns all customers that food is made as it's ordered, so be patient. The consomme with the birria tacos is drink-worthy. Fluffy eggs in breakfast tacos have charisma. The mango agua fresca is addictive. The menu is a long read from huarache to flautas, salmon with chipotle cream sauce, enchiladas and even lamb choppas (25-minute wait). You've found your new food party spot. Sorry to everyone who thought this was a secret. You're welcome, everyone else. 
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