With 75 different categories in food alone in this year's Best of Dallas, it's inevitable that some categories were real head-scratchers.
The Dallas Observer's food team worked together a lot on this one, pooling our collective knowledge and dining experiences, to create a final list that we believe is nuanced and fair. Critic Brian Reinhart and I bounced potential nominees back and forth almost daily for weeks; neither of us — nor the nearly dozen food writers who contributed to this list — took the responsibility of calling something "best" lightly.
Some categories were easy (Best hot dog? Duh). Some categories were head-scratchers — there are a lot of burgers in this town, after all. Some categories we just made up, which was good old-fashioned fun. But a few categories warranted endless discussion among my trusty army of Dallas food experts. There were a lot of tough calls this year — these were the toughest:
There were two obvious contenders for best taco, and interestingly enough, they're only .2 miles away from each other.
Trompo, which opened in April in a sleepy little spot on Singleton, needs no introduction by now — the quiet taco spot was relatively under-the-radar until Bon Appetit named it one of America's Best New Restaurants earlier this summer. Since then, business has been booming — as has media coverage — and even with the increased production, Trompo is still putting out vibrant, juicy, super-simple tacos that need no added fanfare.
Tacos Mariachi, a bright, happy spot just down the street from Trinity Groves, opened late 2015 with a focus on "Tijuana street flavors," often involving seafood and fun taco fillings like stuffed chile relleno, marinated octopus and mahi mahi breaded with crumbled chicharron and topped with avocado mousse. Trompo and Tacos Mariachi may be taquerias located near one another, but that's where their similarities end. These are two very different restaurants with vastly differing experiences and flavor profiles, which makes comparing the two feel as wrong as shredded cheddar cheese where our queso fresco is supposed to be.
In the end, we awarded Tacos Mariachi Best Taqueria because we're always impressed by their creativity, bold, fun flavors and warm, welcoming atmosphere. Trompo has brought in a lot of accolades this year — we're sure they don't mind sharing the wealth with other worthy neighborhood taquerias.
Best Beer Selection
As a general rule, we're encouraged not to award Best Of categories to a business that won in that same category the year before — if we did, best barbecue might end up going to Pecan Lodge every year into eternity, which would make us lazy. After all, re-examining restaurants to see who's staying on top of their game is part of the fun. But when it came to best beer selection, we just couldn't help but give it up to last year's winner, Meddlesome Moth.
There are a lot of beer bars in this city with an incredible beer selection — Craft and Growler and Strangeways were certainly top competitors in the category. What we were looking for was not so much the biggest selection of beers as the most thoughtful, and it's hard to find a beer list more thoughtful than Moth's.
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For the staunchest beer nerds, it's sometimes hard to find a pint of something you've never had — but not at Moth, which routinely taps lesser known styles and solid international beers alongside Texas stand-outs. We particularly love Meddlesome Moth's ever-changing selection of sours, saisons, gose and farmhouse ales, which provide a nuanced departure from the hop-heavy brews that prove so popular. They also host excellent events — this summer's Belgian Beer Week proved a great chance to try some rare brews.
Dallas has got to be one of America's great burger cities — if we're not, then I'm genuinely afraid by the concentration of burgers in other American cities. DFW fared quite well on Texas Monthly's recent list of Texas' 50 best burgers, and we get more dedicated burger restaurants every year, despite the level of meaty saturation already greasing up the scene.
Emotions run high when it comes to burgers — and for us, the choice to pick a burger from a hot dog joint came straight from our gut. What can we say? The Uncle Herky Burger at Luscher's Red Hots just does it for us. Small but mighty (and with an under-$10 price tag that has, unfortunately, become refreshing in this city), this juicy bastard is made with two Texas Wagyu patties, zesty horseradish pickles, mayo, grilled onion and — most importantly — beautiful, melty, fluorescent-colored American cheese. Say what you will about this processed cheese-like product — we've yet to encounter any burger cheese that tastes quite so homey and indulgent.
Spots like Maple & Motor, Knife and Offsite Kitchen obviously came up for discussion while selecting best burger, but in the end, Observer burger writer Nick Rallo and I went with one of the Dallas burgers we crave the most.
There's a serious amount of talent in the Dallas food scene right now, and as we ate our way through the city's top restaurants this summer while working on this list, it got harder and harder to select the best chef. Misti Norris was an obvious contender from the get-go, but she won last year and has since announced that she's leaving Small Brewpub. Graham Dodds at Wayward Sons and Matthew McCallister at FT33 were both names that came up, along with lower-profile Dallas chefs like Mansour Gorji at Canary by Gorji. In the end, we picked the chef-restaurateur who runs several restaurants with food that succeeds in everything from simple down-home comfort to outside-the-box creativity: Julian Barsotti.
Unlike some big-name chef-restaurateurs in Dallas, Barsotti's empire expansion has been slow and thoughtful, with his latest eatery, Sprezza, quickly becoming one of the hottest spots in the city. All three of his Italian eateries — Nonna, Carbone's and the new Sprezza — brings something new and interesting to the table, whether it's classic dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or forward-thinking presentations like Sprezza's butternut squash and ricotta cream pizza.