Best Of Dallas

Welcome to the Golden Age of Dallas Bar Food

This sandwich is the bar snack of your dreams.
This sandwich is the bar snack of your dreams. Melissa Hennings
We had to make a lot of difficult choices for our annual Best Of Dallas issue — but few were harder than determining the winner of the title Best Bar Food. We are living in the golden age of Dallas bar food, and a half-dozen watering holes all deserve the bragging rights. From high-end treats to one of the best bologna sandwiches in the known world, Dallas bars are serving up more diverse, more delicious foods than many of their restaurant competition.

The charcuterie board at Armoury D.E. would be the pride of many a joint with tablecloths — and so would the grilled octopus, or sandwiches featuring grilled Hungarian sausages and, if you’re lucky, fried mako shark. The S&M salad is a favorite, too — and get your mind out of the gutter; it stands for strawberries and mushrooms, plus spinach, goat cheese and, of course, bacon.

Over at Cosmo’s, chef Jackson Tran weaves Vietnamese comfort foods into the menu alongside American standards. The Vietnamese fried chicken, with a rice flour batter, is addicting, especially with the spicy garlic-chile sauce. Weekends mean small batches of pho made from scratch. Cosmo’s is a tribute to the history of its old East Dallas neighborhood, one where many southeast Asian refugees and immigrants found their first homes in America.

click to enlarge The Nacho Cheeto French Fries: a beautiful pile of fries and cheese - KATHY TRAN
The Nacho Cheeto French Fries: a beautiful pile of fries and cheese
Kathy Tran
Korean immigrants, meanwhile, established new homes in Dallas on the western stretches of Royal Lane — a neighborhood where DanSungSa still serves its excellent bulgogi quesadillas and fried chicken platters. This bar, a karaoke hot spot plastered with soju advertisements, keeps late hours; if you arrive at 6 p.m., you might be the only customer. There’s another DanSungSa up in Carrollton, just down the street from the extraordinary Ddong Ggo and its jaw-dropping bar-genius inventions: kimchi pizza fried rice, nacho cheese fries mixed with Cheetos and topped with a fried egg, fried chicken dunked in molten string cheese. Oh, and Ddong Ggo’s name translates to “Butthole.”

The food menu at Shoals Sound and Service, in Deep Ellum, is only slightly more wholesome. They’re launching a brunch on Sept. 30, but the star of Shoals is the bologna sandwich. It’s about as far away from the Wonderbread-and-Oscar Mayer basics of your childhood as possible, though — with a half-pound of mortadella, spicy Italian giardiniera (pickle relish), jalapeños and mozzarella. The spiciness and fattiness jab at each other like dueling opponents with sabres in hand.

Elsewhere in Deep Ellum, Wits End landed itself a unique pop-up kitchen: the Nuclear Nacho Bus. It’s exactly what the name suggests: a tiny kitchen in an old bus, helmed by The Mansion alumnus Joshua Gianni Farrell, serving nachos and other “nostalgic concession foods” on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. No, Farrell’s fine-dining credentials don’t translate to avant-garde nachos — these are the classics you remember, done right.

click to enlarge The Mitchell's burger - KATHY TRAN
The Mitchell's burger
Kathy Tran
In the face of all that incredible bar food, though, our minds kept straying to two more watering holes. Las Almas Rotas, across the street from Fair Park, makes some of the best elotes in the city, topped with crushed Takis, plus gut-busting specials like a huge tube of crispy fried cheese and, on July 4 of this year, bacon-wrapped, bean-drenched Sonoran hot dogs. Remember to stop by during the State Fair, because they’ll be offering up their retort to the midway: Big Mex, a corn dog that’s escaped from the fair and fled south of the border.

And then there’s the bar we chose as the 2018 Best Bar Food champion: The Mitchell. What separates The Mitchell from the pack? The surprise factor, maybe. This downtown spot, on the same block as The French Room, is turning out exceptional French bistro food at prices so low they’re almost suspicious. Two dozen steamed mussels in a citrus-y white wine broth, served in a Dutch oven with a big chunk of baguette on the side, for only $14? $1 happy hour oysters paired with $6 happy hour brut rosé? More, please. An over-the-top presentation of roasted bone marrow and a smashing (and huge) portion of pork belly only add to the improbable feeling of luxury that comes from sitting before this bar. The Mitchell is a damn delight — but so is every bar on this list.

There has never been a better time to eat while you drink in Dallas. And if you have gotten this far and fretted that we didn’t mention a single burger, well, The Mitchell, Shoals and Armoury have you covered. And Lakewood Landing isn’t going anywhere.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart