For as much as texting has taken over our lives, there are a few human interactions where spoken dialogue is still standard. We may text friends a happy birthday message, but we don't -- we can't -- text our service provider, "WTF Time Warner?" when our bandwidth seems low and House of Cards hiccups. Using only your thumbs, you can ask someone you barely know to have a drink, but you don't make appointments with your doctor or restaurant reservations via text. Not yet, anyway.
These last holdout interactions feel increasingly awkward as texting becomes ubiquitous, which is why Khanh Nguyen's decision to take orders via SMS at his new pizza shop, ZaLat, seems particularly ingenious. Big box pizza slingers like Domino's and Pizza Hut had a solid idea when they started taking orders on their websites years ago, but who wants to get up to order a large 'roni when they're stoned on the couch and melting into Season 2 Episode 7? Smart phone apps for the big guys guide you through screen after screen of decision making, with annoying pop-up ads for giant bottles of soda and extra cheese. It's too much.
For ZaLat, all you need to do is text your name, a comma-separated order string ("large, sausage, red onions, olives"), your delivery address and payment information. Within a few minutes you'll receive a response letting you know how long you have to wait. It's the equivalent of texting an old flame "you up," and more often than not, your interaction with ZaLat will be more lasting, more gratifying. Fire up the bong, hit play on your DVR and wait for a knock on your door. No pillow talk required.
Nguyen is new to the pizza business, but he's not new to restaurants. When he opened Vietnamese restaurant DaLat in 2012, the practicing lawyer turned restaurateur made waves, but not as much for the career transition as for his weird approach to menus. At DaLat, Tang was a beverage option, nachos were made on a bed of Doritos, the namesake rolls encased an egg roll in a spring roll, and Spam was a featured ingredient.
Yet somehow DaLat became a sort of industry hang. Late hours appealed to other restaurant workers who had few choices after a long shift, and nothing is more restorative than a massive bowl of warm soup. Nguyen opened a second location in Plano as he continued to build his brand. And as other restaurants, including the trendy street-taco shack El Come Taco, opened along the same stretch of Fitzhugh Avenue, it seemed DaLat had found a niche.
So when the takeout pizza place Pastazios suddenly closed next door, Nguyen jumped on it, not to tackle obscure regional Vietnamese cooking in some DaLat offshoot, but to make pizzas as strange as his egg rolls. Pies were topped like Jewish deli sandwiches, rice noodles were turned into pizza embellishments, and the menu was packed with a quantity of stoner references fit for Colorado.
ZaLat remains a takeout and delivery restaurant, but there's a pool table and basketball hoop in the vestibule out front if you're waiting on your pie and fond of fraternizing with delivery workers. Inside, little has been done to spruce the place up -- it remains a utilitarian pizza joint with bare walls and lifeless tile work.
Decent pizza awaits. ZaLat is not, however, a seasoned New York-style pizzeria capable of turning out consistent pies. I ordered six pizzas from the restaurant, and every one was different. Some pies were near perfect, with tender crust that made slices easy to fold. Other times the pies were misshapen amoebas with a crust so tough it would leave your jaw sore after a slice or two.
There was also an issue of cheese creep. Some pies were topped with what seemed to be an increasing amount of mozzarella, including one with an unappetizing amount of cheese. But I solved that problem with a quick SMS adjustment, adding "light cheese" as a modifier to each of my texts, and subsequent pizzas traded a heavy cheese quilt for a thin veil of melted dairy.
For all the inconsistency, ZaLat provides an exceedingly enjoyable pizza experience. The Reuben pizza, which sounds like a train wreck, is good if you're feeling adventurous. It would be great if the cooks made use of fresh corned beef and house-brined sauerkraut, and I can't help but wonder if the addition of freshly toasted caraway seeds would further awaken this Frankenstein pie.
A plain cheese is also a safe bet, and anything tastes good when it's dipped in Nguyen's Sriracha ranch. The chili sauce that's made from scratch next door at DaLat is mixed with a runny ranch dressing and poured out into small plastic cups. Every pizza that flies out the door takes just one of the cups with it -- a cruel fate considering any one pizza eater could easily dispatch seven.
With stoner specials for sodas and candy bars, and the promise of more strange pizza creations on the horizon, ZaLat will easily become the go-to pizzeria for anyone who lives within the generous 5-mile delivery zone. That its kitchen throws pies until 4 a.m. should secure the pizzeria's position as the undisputed champion of late-night food delivery in Dallas. There aren't many munchies options outside your local 7-Eleven when you've stayed up late watching old Wonder Showzen clips.
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Which is where I think ZaLat will ultimately find its most enthusiastic customers -- youngish, intoxicated people who don't have many options in the early hours. You don't even have to peel yourself off your couch until that box emitting a warm, Pavlovian aroma arrives at your door, or explain your behavior to prying roommates.
The next time you find yourself drunkenly debating sending a text you know you'll regret, shoot one off to ZaLat, instead. You'll save some dignity, and that pizza box might even still be there in the morning.
ZaLat 2519 N. Fitzhugh Ave., zalatpizza.com, 469-573-2007, 4 p.m.-4 a.m. daily, $$
Small cheese $9.99 Small Reuben $14.99 Large meatZa $21.99