At first glance, Lakewood is a sprawl of good lunch and cold beer. There are piping-hot bowls of posole and bar snacks and enough crows on power lines to be in a movie’s apocalypse montage. Lakewood is like the cousin you hope calls first on your birthday. It doesn’t work too hard to be cool, and it picks up the check when you grab a drink. You could compare Lakewood to, perhaps, Silverlake in Los Angeles, or one of those sort-of-foresty New York areas you see on Netflix shows with birds and dogs that appear to be smiling.
The neighborhood as you know it spans from Gaston to Mockingbird, butting right up against and ending at windy White Rock Lake. In other words, there’s a bit of a sprawl. What the hell should you eat and drink in Lakewood? Here’s a very-mini road trip for you:
The basket cheeseburger at the Lakewood Landing
5818 Live Oak St.
It comes in the red plastic basket, and for me, it’s the perfect dive bar romance cheeseburger. It’s nothing special — griddled beef, just juicy and greasy enough to soak into the soft bun — cheese, bacon, mayonnaise and pickle. It’s the neighborhood’s dim bar, Johnny-Cash-jukebox, flaking-away booth burger. With a cold beer on my left and a burger basket, I always feel at home at the best no-bullshit bar in the city.
A gibson and bar snacks at the Balcony Club
1825 Abrams Road
A night can begin or end beautifully at the Balcony Club, next to the Lakewood Theater, which is now a historic landmark. Jazz sizzles at the Balcony Club, and martinis are crisp and refreshing. Skip the numb Tex-Mex of Mi Cocina. Go for a gibson on the Balcony, if you’re in the mood, which is gin and vermouth and a pickled onion, and their endless supply of salty-crunchy bar snacks. The lights of the theater, and your Lakewood home, will be at your back. Bonus: People-watching from the Balcony is always fun — especially with Ginger Man across the street.
The bun bo hue at Mot Hai Ba
6047 Lewis St.
Do you know what it feels like to eat comforting, warming broth-soup at Mot Hai Ba? It feels like a time before phones and people. It tastes of the Earth — grassy and rich and vibrant-tangy. This is soup that saves lives: Spicy beef broth, vermicelli noodles, braised-until-melty meats and crunchy cabbage. Enjoy with an ice cold Tiger beer.
Caesar with white anchovies (and extra croutons) at Cane Rosso
7328 Gaston Ave. , No. 100
Drop that Whole Foods Caesar in the trash can. (Why are there so many damn crows at the Lakewood Whole Foods?) Instead, get the large version of the Caesar salad at Gaston’s Cane Rosso, which is situated brilliantly behind a UFC gym. Flakes of fresh Parmesan and fried croutons — insanely addictive crunch — topped over lettuce is best devoured while in sight of the UFC gym. What makes the salad special: The bright, lemony white anchovies (you have to ask for them).
The smoked cheeseburger at Lakewood Smokehouse
1901 Abrams Road
Most smoked cheeseburgers taste like overcooked, dry meatballs. This burger is finished on the grill, and it’s enriched with deep smoke and good beef flavor. Get it with cheddar or Swiss, if you’re looking for a sharper cheese. There’s thick, still crispy bacon on top of the patty. Red onions, lettuce and tomato rest underneath, accepting meat juices into their open LTO arms (medium rare is the way to go). They also come with some of the best french fries in Lakewood.
The clubhouse at Unleavened
1900 Abrams Parkway
Sweet Santa Claus pants, it’s health food that doesn’t suck! There are a number of decent wraps at Unleavened, but the standout is the roasted turkey with peppered bacon, spicy avocado and a garlic crema. For just less than 10 bucks, this lunch will power you along for hours. Protip: Get a side of the fiery-red jalapeño hot sauce (in the squeeze bottle) on the side for dipping and an extra punch of salt.
Beer and popcorn at The Lakewood Growler
6448 E. Mockingbird Lane
As if you needed a reason to say, “I want to go grab a growler,” The Lakewood Growler off Mockingbird and Abrams has you covered. Their website is like drunk interactive data — there are little keg icons that show how much beer’s in the tank. What’s better than that? Local beer’s all over the menu, too. Get a Lion’s Share quadrupel, or a He-Man Session Hater, and wait for the fresh popcorn to start hopping around.
The Regina Margherita pizza at Olivella’s
6465 E .Mockingbird Lane, No. 525
One of the best pizza pies in Dallas is the margherita, with house-made mozzarella, tomato sauce, a mild and nutty white cheese and basil. The pizza’s best with a simple arugula salad on the side, tossed lightly with olive oil and salt. The peppery arugula, when dropped over the fresh tomato pie, makes it sing. Look for Olivella’s patio coming soon.
The John Wayne breakfast at Gold Rush Cafe
1913 Skillman St.
There's a greasy spoon to cover your mind. An unassuming, classic diner, the Gold Rush Cafe has picturesque hangover-cure-then-nap breakfast: Two eggs, smothered in salsa, with hash brows and flour tortillas. Get chorizo, too, maybe a short stack of pancakes, and coffee. Your day in Lakewood can start here.
The Reuben at the Cock and Bull
Lakewood Shopping Center, 6330 Gaston Ave
Over on Abrams, there’s another jukebox, a dim bar and a cold beer that you’ll need to wipe your mind clean of rush hour. The Reuben, buttery rye encasing piles of corned beef — cooked until it gets crispy edges like bacon and spiked with a roasted jalapeño Thousand Island dressing — is a must in Lakewood.