Food News

The Essential Hidden Gems of Dallas

Kebab plate at Samad Cafe.
Kebab plate at Samad Cafe. Hank Vaughn
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 15 of our best finds to date.

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?

Swamp Café

17721 Dallas Parkway, No. 104
click to enlarge
Beignets come three to an order, but sometimes it's hard to wait to get your camera out to take photos.
Hank Vaughn
David Cui, the owner and chef of this cozy Cajun joint, has more than 30 years of restaurant experience. He brings his Louisiana roots to Swamp Café, where he serves up a lovely selection of po’boys, etouffee, gumbo and beignets. The roux has character, and the beignets are crisp golden brown on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

E.B. Latin Bistro

6505 W. Park Blvd., Plano
click to enlarge
Paella with yellow rice, calamari, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, green peppers, onions, garlic and clam juice from E.B. Latin Bistro.
Hank Vaughn
This Cuban-inspired spot offers up a wide variety of Cuban-style sandwiches and salads, along with enchiladas and tacos. But the main draw at E.B. Latin Bistro is the paella, which comes in several varieties including seafood, vegetable, chicken and various combos. The Valenciana, a paella that comes with yellow rice, calamari, on-the-bone chicken, shrimp, chorizo, green peppers, onions, garlic and clam juice, is one of the stars of this menu.

El Portal Café

2810 E. Trinity Mills Road, Carrollton
click to enlarge
El Portal's ropa vieja: a large plate of shredded beef, fried plantains, rice, beans and avocado.
Hank Vaughn
Venezuela isn’t the only South American country represented on this list; El Portal is a must-visit for those jonesing for Colombian food. The café serves savory dishes such as cheleta apanada (pork cutlets), mondongo (tripe) soup, arepas, ajiaco (potato soup) and ropa vieja, as well as many unique beverage choices. There's a small bakery here, too, where you can pick up fresh pastries like almojábanas, alfajores, pandebonos, and guava and caramel-filled empanadas.

Fat Ni BBQ

2528 Old Denton Drive, No. 310, Carrollton
click to enlarge
Fat Ni BBQ's smokin' skewers.
Hank Vaughn

Fat Ni started as a food truck in New York City before expanding to a couple of standalone locations in North Texas, where a variety of Chinese street food is made in-house every day. The highlights are the skewers, which are priced at around $3 each, and the hand-pulled noodles. One of the draws here is that it’s open until 2 a.m., so instead of Jack In The Box tacos, next time hit up Fat Ni for a lamb skewer after your night of imbibing.

Aso Rock African Market

18110 Midway Road, No. 208

click to enlarge
Aso African Market has groceries as well as freshly prepared food, such as this jerk chicken.
Hank Vaughn

Aso African Market and cafeteria is in the northernmost part of Dallas, but it's worth the trip if you're craving some good beef suya, jollof rice or moi moi pudding. You'll find some grocery staples like akanozo amasaka flour here, along with some of the best jerk chicken around.

Montes Burritos

19004 Midway Road (inside the Shell station)
click to enlarge
Gas station burritos worth a trip.
Hank Vaughn
Sometimes the best Mexican street food can be found in a gas station, and Montes Burritos, located in a Shell station, continues this tradition. The spot offers extremely affordable burritos with freshly made tortillas filled with a myriad of choices such as chorizo, egg, beef tips, sausage, barbacoa and potatoes.

El Arepazo VZLA

2661 Midway Road, No. 100, Carrollton
click to enlarge
Delicious Venezuelan food at El Arepazo includes cachapas: corn pancake filled with white shredded cheese and shredded beef.
Hank Vaughn
There aren’t a ton of Venezuelan restaurants locally, but El Arepazo has stepped up and provides some authentic fare. One can find empanadas stuffed with shredded beef or banana, as well as tostones (fried plantains topped with cheesy goodness), tequeños (savory deep-fried dough with a creamy cheese center) and delicious cachapas (corn pancakes stuffed with queso de mano and shredded beef).

Samad Café

2706 Manor Way
click to enlarge
Fall-off-the-bone braised lamb shank.
Hank Vaughn
This, my friends, is what you find when you look up “Hidden Gems” in your reference book of choice. Samad Café is extremely hidden — tucked away in a nondescript building in an older business part of town near Love Field — and it provides a great selection of less common Persian food, all cooked by the same man for over 30 years. Succulent lamb shank, perfectly grilled chelo and jojeh skewers, and wonderfully seasoned Bengali rice await you. Say hi to Samad for us.


2971 Walnut Hill Lane
click to enlarge
Nopales quesadilla at Huapango, and much more.
Hank Vaughn
Huapango is another in the long line of great little joints serving up food just like, apparently, your abuelita used to make. This is more Mexican than Tex-Mex, which is fine by us. They have some of the best lamb barbacoa we’ve had, as well as gorditas, sopes, tortas, burritos and tacos that can be ordered with alambre, lengua, tripa, al pastor, jamón, pollo, nopales, suadero, campechano and chicharrón prensado. Basically, if it baas, oinks, moos or swims, it’s available.

Hong Dumpling House

1901 Royal Lane, No. 105
click to enlarge
Hong Dumpling House serves up colorful Korean-style dumplings.
Hank Vaughn
Hong Dumpling House, on Royal Lane, just off I-35, specializes in mandu, which are Korean-style dumplings with wrappers prepared in a rainbow of colors and created with natural ingredients. They come six to an order for under $10, which is perfect and can be filled with any combination of pork, vegetables, kimchi, tofu, squid and shrimp, all cooked to order.

Crown Grocery & Deli

1210 S. Hampton Road
click to enlarge
A pretty good burger can be had at Crown Grocery & Deli.
Hank Vaughn
This hidden little spot in Oak Cliff has been around for over 30 years. It’s simple and unassuming, but the owner, Ibrahim Dalgamouni, makes it seem like you just walked into The Mansion or something. He’s extremely friendly, upbeat and full of life. He playfully tried to push the five (!) patty burger on us, but instead, we settled upon a couple of hamburgers that were pretty ... pretty good.

El Tacaso

2739 W. Northwest Highway
click to enlarge
Barbacoa tacos from El Tacaso are always a highlight of one's parking lot dining experience.
Cindy Ju Vaughn
Formerly housed in gas station, now in its own location, El Tacaso has good breakfast tacos, pastor and asada, but the star of this show is always the barbacoa, slow-cooked meaty goodness served in excellent corn tortillas (or flour… if you must) accompanied by the requisite onions, cilantro, limes and two varieties of house-made salsa.

Big Daddy Convenience Store

4121 Colonial Ave.
click to enlarge
Big Daddy's fried pork chop basket is definitely worth the drive.
Hank Vaughn
Big Daddy Convenience Store (not to be confused with Big Daddy’s Supermarket about a mile away) holds court in South Dallas and can be quite a challenging drive during State Fair season. Yeah, it’s a little neighborhood bodega, but the main draw is at the back of the store, where Big Daddy and company serve downhome fried food and burgers that are as inexpensive as they are delicious. The fried pork chop basket rang in at under $5 and included fries and toast, and the burger with fries was $3.99. The small parking lot can be a challenge, so eat in your car on a side street like a champ and everything will be fine.

Ly Food Market

4440 W Illinois Ave., No. 400
click to enlarge
The Lao sausages at Ly Food Market are hidden gems.
Hank Vaughn
The Southammavong family have been operating this small Asian grocery store and restaurant in a Southwest Dallas strip mall for about 10 years, and Ly Food Market has remained a family affair where brothers, mom, dad and occasionally grandma help prepare and serve up some wonderful Lao and Thai food in the back. We found some of the richest pork green curry here, and the Lao sausages were a revelation. Also on the menu for about $10 is Thai-style menudo, which we have yet to try. Just be sure to order at the front of the store, not the back, and maybe you can look for a wok cleaning brush while you wait.

El Palote Panaderia

2537 S. Buckner Blvd.
click to enlarge
Never mind the enchiladas, tamales and burritos — the pastries here are stellar.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
El Palote Panaderia must certainly be where vegan dreams come true. The proteins have not only the texture of meat but amazing flavor to match. At the counter is a case full of a dozen different vegan pastries. On the weekends, there are house-made tamales. And if you're really looking to go all out, try the Flauritto, which is a burrito filled with three flautas, rice, beans, jalapeños, tomato and queso — all vegan. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Hank Vaughn is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing and overthinking his food and drink experiences, both good and bad, from his culinary journeys with his wife across North Texas and beyond.
Contact: Hank Vaughn

Latest Stories