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A tidal wave of Nashville- and Memphis-style hot chicken restaurants hit the Dallas area in 2020. The city’s biggest food fad is available at more than a dozen spots around town and in the suburbs, but 2 Neighbors stands out for three reasons. First, 2 Neighbors pounds the chicken breasts used in its sandwiches to make the finished product easier to eat. Those bulging piles of chicken at other restaurants may look good on Instagram, but will they actually fit inside your jaw? Second, the spiced coating at 2 Neighbors — which, we’ll admit, isn’t as spicy as at many rival spots; “medium” here means a comfortable, gentle burn — doesn’t have the sandy, gritty texture of the added spices at other hot chicken spots. Third, there’s the issue of heritage: Nashville-style hot chicken comes from African-American tradition, but 2 Neighbors appears to be one of just two Black-owned independent hot chicken restaurants in the area right now. (The other is Helen’s in Lewisville.)
Top pick: A chicken sandwich, of course, crowned with slaw and pickles. If you need to cool down afterward, don’t miss the nostalgic indulgence of a slice of 7UP cake.
The downside: Unlike at more efficient, fast-food-paced hot chicken joints elsewhere in Dallas, 2 Neighbors cooks everything to order, which means you’ll need to budget 15 to 20 minutes. If you call your order in before you jump in the car, you should be fine.
Fun fact: 2 Neighbors is inside the Grow DeSoto Market Place’s burgeoning food court. There are seats inside the market and a small food truck park outside, too.($)
For more than two decades years, Al Markaz has been an institution in the Dallas-area Indian and Pakistani communities. Some of the original employees are still here, and the lunch combo is still an outrageously good deal. That long history, and those low prices, are still a big part of the restaurant’s appeal, but there are plenty of good dishes coming out of the kitchen, including lentil stews and probably the best butter chicken within a dozen miles. It’s especially fun to visit in the evening during Ramadan and watch dozens of families arrive simultaneously to order mountainous, fast-breaking meals.
Top pick: The lunch combo includes a piece of naan and appetizer portions of three different main courses. You choose the mains; we recommend the nihari and dal palak (spinach and lentils).
The downside: Al Markaz’s pastry items, like samosas, are good when they’re fresh. The problem is, they’re very rarely served fresh. There are better places to grab biryani, as well.
Fun fact: The attached grocery store is excellent, with a wide range of South Asian foods, teas, sodas and English biscuits.($)
If you designed the diner of your dreams, and you happened to be from south-central Texas rather than, say, New York or the Midwest, the result would look a lot like AllGood Cafe. The food here adds gentle Texan touches to American classics, like the fat slices of roasted poblano pepper in the terrific grilled cheese sandwich, or the fact that all sandwiches come with a side of tortilla chips rather than fries. The chicken-fried steak, with enormous, crisp batter that sprawls across a whole takeout container, is advertised as the “world’s best.” We don’t know if that’s true, but to find better, you’d probably have to drive to some tiny town in the Hill Country.
Top pick: Either the fabulous chicken club sandwich, with crisp, peppery bacon and avocado, or literally any dish that comes with the restaurant’s smooth mashed potatoes and ultra-peppery gravy. Come to think of it, all our favorite dishes at AllGood have huge quantities of black pepper.
The downside: Some of the more overt attempts at Tex-Mex cooking are inconsistent; the salsas are plain, and only a native Texan will love the mystery-cheese queso.
Fun fact: The restaurant’s atmosphere, eclecticism and charm are best described by the slogan emblazoned across its website: “It’s like going to Austin, without having to go through Waco.”($, $$)
At Arirang, it’s all about noodles and dumplings. This Korean restaurant in Carrollton is tops for homemade dough, whether you order made-from-scratch noodles or plump, freshly crimped dumplings loaded with chopped kimchi. Be careful around the noodles with spicy eggplant sauce, because the word “spicy” is taken very seriously. Similarly, the noodles in savory sesame broth are such a strong sesame flavor bomb that they’re for tried-and-true members of the sesame fan club.
Top pick: If you can’t decide, grab a bowl of soup No. 4, a noodle soup with dumplings in it, too; if the dumplings tear and meat slips into the broth, the soup only gets better.($$)
One of Deep Ellum’s better bars by any measure, Armoury D.E. is especially beloved for its food. Owner Peter Novotny works with chef Abram Vargas to make his Hungarian heritage clear on the menu — it’s actually the most Hungarian menu in the region — with hearty goulash, charred octopus, an array of paprika-spiced sausages and big sandwiches. Even the S&M salad (that’s strawberry and mushrooms; why, what did you think it meant?) has a die-hard club of fans.
Top pick: The “Damn Burger” is fun to order, and its inch-thick patty comes topped with aged cheddar and, for an optional, extra charge, duck bacon.
The downside: Armoury’s inside has always been loud, although pandemic restrictions have changed that somewhat. If the weather’s agreeable, dine on the patio hidden out back.
Fun fact: If the bar is still open, so is the kitchen, which makes this a great place to eat late.($$)
A half slab at this 23-year-old Cedars barbecue joint means seven baby back ribs kissed with smoke, spiced with pepper and just-right tender: The meat doesn’t fall off the bone, but pulls off with the gentlest of tugs. It just narrowly beats out the boudin plate as our favorite order, but the boudin (here spelled boudain) is top-notch, too, especially dunked in a cup of sauce. Since the coronavirus crisis began, Baby Back Shak has been takeout only, with no seating available in the small dining room that pays loving tribute to great blues musicians and displays two decades’ worth of media praise.
Top pick: We love two meaty sides: excellent, peppery, lick-the-takeout-container baked beans and the boudin links. (Yes, boudin can be ordered as a side dish with a rack of ribs to make the ultimate meat plate.)($$)
One of the best Pakistani restaurants in the Dallas area is this spot, which started in Richardson before moving to Garland in 2018. BBQ King serves some great naan — try it stuffed with spiced potatoes or topped with a showering of sesame seeds and cilantro. They’re accompaniments to dishes such as haleem, the porridge-like soul food of lentils, wheat, ground meat, ghee, ginger and fried onion.
Top pick: Try a stew-like kunna gosht, made with goat leg, or beef karahi, which sets tomato sweetness against a balanced lineup of spices.
The downside: Kebabs can be salty, in-person service can be slow and the free salad that comes with most meals is worth what you’re paying for it.
Fun fact: If you’re into paan, the leaf-and-nut chewing stimulant common in Pakistan, BBQ King has what most diners agree is the best paan counter in the area. (We haven’t indulged.)($$)
Why West Philly? Well, that’s where Anthony “Big Tony” Blaylock is from. He graduated from Temple University, which explains the college memorabilia at some of his mini-chain’s locations, and got experience in the restaurant business by working at local rival chain Fred’s before opening his own cheesesteak shop. Big Tony’s imports bread loaves from Philadelphia, because nothing made locally can match the unique, soft-but-firm texture of the breads into which this restaurant piles sliced steak and veggies. The menu is huge, and each day has its own specials, but look out for No. 8, with sautéed onions and mushrooms, and No. 15, which adds mushrooms, onions, banana peppers and slices of jalapeño. The meat is saucy, but never greasy, and we also appreciate the pandemic safety measures taken at each restaurant, including curbside pickup at some locations.
Top pick: The fried sides, including “toothpicks” and “hockey pucks” (fried straight-sliced onions and peppers, and fried jalapeño coins, respectively), are spot-on.
Fun fact: The enormous menu also includes burgers and a hot pastrami hoagie.($)
Some of Richardson’s other Iraqi restaurants have shut down in recent years — we still miss the kebabs at Chai Khanah — but Bilad, the original and perhaps best of them all, remains a neighborhood institution. The superb bakery got its start turning out excellent samoon bread from Iraq and trays of delightful desserts like pistachio puffs and baklava. But for nearly a decade now, Bilad has also had an excellent kitchen serving Iraqi specialties, including some of the region’s better shawarma and falafel, zhug (an acidic hot pepper sauce), fresh tabbouleh and garlicky hummus. Kebab meat may look charred on the outside, but the interior is still perfectly tender. Grab a bag of that samoon bread as you leave, or visit the small grocery next door.
Top pick: The $5.49 shawarma sandwiches, served on loaves of fresh Iraqi bread with fluffy soft interiors, are no-doubt, unanimous-vote choices for the Texas Sandwich Hall of Fame, especially if you ask that your sandwich be made spicy.
The downside: Double-check the freshness on any pre-packaged desserts. We’re not in love with the three-day-old baklava that occasionally sits on the shelf.
Fun fact: Bilad makes a point of providing food to penniless customers or people experiencing homelessness free of charge.($$)
For a certain kind of tourist or visiting family member, this fancified, all-frills saloon in Victory Park is a guaranteed hit. It presents a dressed-up, Wild West atmosphere that verges on kitsch (and, in the name, crosses that verge), while serving up food and drink vastly better than the gimmick might suggest. An adventurous, affordable selection of wines and cocktails backs up pretty killer renditions of skillet cornbread, Texas red chili, hot fried quail and summer okra succotash. Some of the mains, such as the big-boned pork chop, are over-the-top in a good way. Alongside Knife and Town Hearth, this is one of the best places to take out-of-town guests who ask for a stereotypically Dallas experience but still care about the food being good.
Top pick: The crispy oyster sliders with comeback sauce make a pretty flawless appetizer, and the burger is a meaty dream bathed in Longhorn cheddar.
The downside: Billy Can Can’s precisely cooked meats and lively atmosphere mean that something extra is lost in our takeout pandemic climate, but the restaurant is doing its best to compensate with regularly updated, multi-course family-style meals to go. Still, when it’s safe to go out again, this will be one of our first stops.($$$)
One of Irving’s top two places for chaat, along with Taj Chaat, is Bombay Chowpatty, named after a beach lined with street food vendors. The dining room showcases some of that airy atmosphere, with seats arranged food-hall style around a central open kitchen and many of the walls plastered with beach photos and Bollywood posters. All that openness has taken on a new feel during the pandemic, but you can always order takeout sandwiches and snack packs online. Pav bhaji is a superb order here, as are the bit-of-everything lunch combos. If you just need a snack, go for sabudana vada, deep-fried patties of sago pearls, whole-seed spices and chives; they have the crisp bubbly texture of good tater tots. The fusion items, like a pizza dosa and pineapple-chocolate-cheese sandwich, are just as wild as they sound, so order with caution.
Top pick: If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, skip the European-style sandwiches on white bread and order a frankie, a rolled-up paratha filled with chopped veggies and spices. The paneer frankie here is a reliable and filling vegetarian lunch.
The downside: The menu boards in person and on the online ordering system don’t really describe the foods on offer, so if you’re still unfamiliar with the world of Indian snack foods, do a bit of research before you go.
Fun fact: Bombay Chowpatty is one of the few restaurants in the Dallas area with a Jain menu. Because Jain people believe in total nonviolence to all living creatures, their vegetarianism excludes foods grown underground, like onions, to avoid harming small insects by harvesting roots or tubers.($, $$)
Boulevardier is one of Dallas’ two best casual French restaurants, and the other, The Mitchell, remains temporarily closed until the pandemic subsides. Boulevardier itself only reopened in September, after going dark for nearly half the year. Now customers can again sit at the handful of sidewalk and patio tables, in the dining room or on their home couches, clutching takeout containers. If you’re dining in, meals here should almost all start with a dozen or so fresh oysters and continue with a starter such as the Spanish-style grilled octopus or savory crawfish beignets. Look out for nightly specials during the week, particularly a superbly cooked steak frites, which comes with both hyper-crisp fries and a lightly dressed salad.
Top pick: Don’t ignore one of the city’s best wine programs. The blackboard specials include both nightly meals and rare bottles to drink.
Fun fact: On Fridays until 6:30 p.m., Boulevardier is the most affordable high-end oyster bar in the city. Oysters are discounted and every bottle of wine is half-price.($$$)
Cabrito is the star at the only full-on Monterrey-style, goat-grilling specialist in the Dallas area. Stare through the glass kitchen wall at the massive pit, above which goat legs, shoulders and ribcages stand like planted flags, then feast on one of the cuts alongside charro beans and the restaurant’s excellent salsas. Few make-your-own-taco experiences in Dallas get as good as this. One portion of cabrito, with all the fixings that come with it, is enough to make one person full or to satisfy two people who’ve also shared an appetizer.
Top pick: Splurge on the whole goat for $235 (also available to go). If that’s a little too much food for your household, consider the spectacularly rich machitos — rolls of goat meat, fat and organs stuffed into the animal’s digestive tract and grilled until crispy.
The downside: There can be a wait for your goat meat, and the rest of the menu is there primarily as a distraction.
Fun fact: If you’re wondering why the dining room is a little strange, and why the kitchen has a glass wall partition, it’s because this space used to be a liquor store.($$, $$$)
Cafe Momentum is a nonprofit venture that employs juvenile offenders and pays them fair, living wages to help teach them life skills, leadership and, of course, how to work in a restaurant. Because of the employees’ fair wages, any tips left behind are considered donations to the mission. As such, it’s easy to praise the restaurant without ever mentioning food, just by dwelling on the life-changing effects it has on young people who deserve this chance to work and grow. But here’s the thing: Cafe Momentum is a genuinely good restaurant, one that consistently manages to stand out from the glut of Southern kitchens around town.
Top pick: Menu items rotate along with the interns and the professionals who teach them, but look for market-fresh fish with seasonal sides, savory crawfish beignets or an excellent plate of shrimp and grits.
The downside: Because of the nature of the restaurant, the food and drink options are fairly limited, as are the hours. That’s not a bad thing; it eliminates decision fatigue, and the drinks don’t have much markup at all.
Fun fact: After showing off its program at pop-up dinners in other cities in 2019, Cafe Momentum is teaming up with national foundations to try replicating its charitable model in other cities. Although future locations may not share the Momentum name, and will partner with local chefs elsewhere rather than becoming a true “chain,” it’s an inspiring example of a good idea catching on.($$$)
Of Irving’s growing crop of Nepalese restaurants, Cafemandu boasts the biggest and deepest list of momos, the country’s beloved pleated dumplings. Cafemandu even has dessert momos, but it’s probably best to start with the classic steamed variety to admire the thin, nearly translucent dough around the plump filling then work your way through spicy chili momos covered in hot sauce and sautéed with peppers, jhol momos, served in a bowl of mildly spiced broth, and even dumplings bathed in cheese.
Top pick: A new menu addition is sekuwa, the Nepalese grilled skewers of seasoned meat similar to kebabs; try the ultra-flavorful goat.
The downside: Cafemandu set up an online ordering platform during the pandemic, but when this author used it in November, the restaurant’s employees weren’t actually checking for online orders. Comments on social media suggest this happens regularly, so, for now, call your orders in by phone or visit in person.
Fun fact: If you’re waiting on a takeout order, there’s a guitar on a stand in the corner that guests are invited to strum.($$)
Dallas’ best red-sauce Italian joint serves classics like spaghetti with meatballs, fried calamari and veal Parmesan and does them right. Save room if possible, because the tiramisu (made with espresso) and cinnamon-cream-filled cannoli are as close to perfection as you’ll find west of New York. Carbone’s is a more casual alternative to owner Julian Barsotti’s two fine-dining establishments, Nonna and Fachini, and it even includes a retail section that sells wines, frozen ravioli and one-pound tubs of Sunday gravy to go. Those retail offerings have helped the restaurant weather the coronavirus pandemic, with frozen lasagnas and discounted wines leading the charge.
Top pick: The big, beautiful slab of lasagna bolognese, with its perfect, slightly burnt cheesy edges, can cause years-long cravings. But the pasta with Sunday gravy, a half-day-simmered sauce with a mixture of beef, pork, veal and sausage, might be even better.
Fun fact: Like a wine from the list? Buy a bottle to go for 45% off the menu price. (No, Carbone’s is not BYOB, so you cannot create a loophole by buying wine “to go” and then opening it in the dining room.)($$, $$$)
This Colombian institution in Carrollton is best at the soups available as specials on certain weekends, like ajiaco, a chicken-potato soup made with indigenous corn, or a Caribbean-influenced, curried seafood bonanza. The bandeja paisa, a regional sampler plate, is excellent for newcomers to Colombian cuisine, and the empanadas are good, too. Casa Vieja has a stage with live music some nights.($$, $$$)
In an industrial park in Farmers Branch, Cattleack Barbeque lives up to every bit of hype it’s received from Texas Monthly, which named it the third-best barbecue joint in the state. There’s never been a better time to visit, either, as the pandemic has trimmed the restaurant’s notorious lines by more than half, meaning you can grab a tray of barbecue without making lunch a multi-hour affair. Fabulous fatty brisket and extraordinary pulled whole hog are the stars of the show, as is a vinegar-based coleslaw made from pitmaster Todd David’s mother’s recipe. Grab another bite of slaw and you’ll be prepared to tackle that next slice of Texas hot link.
Top pick: Some weeks, the Cattleack crew smoke beef ribs rubbed with a pastrami spice mix. The ribs are jaw-dropping; order an extra, take it home and throw it in a pot of beans the next day. In fact, order extra of everything in general, and you’ll be cooking the best beans of your life.
The downside: There really isn’t one now that the lines are nearly gone, but when crowds do return, they’ll get to enjoy a series of newly-painted murals of Texas barbecue icons while they wait. Your enjoyment of certain sausages here may hinge on how much grease you enjoy in a link.
Fun fact: Join Cattleack’s mailing list, and you’ll receive an email anytime there are no lines — and you’ll hear about specials like boudin and fancied-up Frito pie, too.($$)
This versatile North Dallas eatery seemingly does it all, from killer chaat — street snacks — to Desi-style pizzas topped with curry spices and paneer. The chaat is some of the area’s best, and probably the finest within Dallas city limits, but it’s the crisp-bottomed, warmly spiced pizza that has won our hearts and occasionally sends our minds wondering why this inspired fusion of cultures isn’t served at more local restaurants.($, $$)
Across the street from Town Hearth, The Charles is nearly as over-the-top a place to see and be seen, even on Monday nights. It’s all about the spectacle here — including cheetah-print booths and a memorably wallpapered bathroom — but, fortunately, the food is just as good eaten at home. The menu here is unlike any other Italian joint in town, thanks to chef J. Chastain’s constant, creative tinkering with classics. You may not find spaghetti with meatballs, but you’ll find something interesting, and even inspired, among either your takeout containers or the sheer sensory overload of this deliciously overdecorated dining room. To-go orders, by the way, hold up surprisingly well. We loved a recent takeout box of curlicued pasta amatriciana and a properly cooked fillet of red snapper.
Top pick: The Charles has a charming habit of grilling vegetables hard, so if you like charcoal and sear marks on your greens, you can choose (seasonally) from grilled okra, broccoli or even kale.
The downside: The Charles really is best experienced in person, and one person’s dinner can easily run past $60 without ordering a single drink.($$$, $$$$)
Deep in the maze of warehouses, industrial plants and nightclubs along Harry Hines Boulevard, Chilangos serves a short menu of tacos along with spicy elote cups and horchata. The interior is a chic tribute to Mexico City, with the ordering counter made to resemble a street or market stall, Topo Chico bottles converted into flower holders on each table and words of culinary wisdom painted on the walls. There aren’t a lot of taco choices here, but every single one can be made costra-style — that is, with the fillings of your choice wrapped in a golden-brown blanket of crisp molten cheese. That cheese pocket is then placed on a flour tortilla that can barely stretch to hold it.
Top pick: The traditional and best order to fold into a cheesy sheath is Chilangos’ excellent pastor-marinated pork. Just be sure to add lots of chopped onions and salsa verde to offset the cheese’s richness.
Fun fact: In November, Chilangos opened a second location in Plano’s Legacy Hall, which we have not yet visited.($)
The secret is out: This long-running bar in East Dallas also serves some of the city’s best Vietnamese food. For a long time, Cosmo’s kept its kitchen working with a style of bar pizza that many patrons loyally order today. This author never understood the appeal of those pizzas, but now chef Jackson Tran is making his own pho from a family recipe in that tiny (though recently expanded) kitchen, plus Vietnamese fried chicken and other delights, including a range of specials announced on social media.
Top pick: If you just want to wash down a few cold beers, you could do worse than to order a sheet pan of tater tots loaded up with kimchi and cheese.
The downside: The kitchen’s even smaller than the bar, so orders may take a while. Cosmo’s has a patio for safer in-person dining, but it’s tremendously popular.
Fun fact: While you eat, enjoy the best VHS movie collection of any Dallas bar.
If your parents were Korean and supported your drinking habit by cooking enormous meals for your returns home from long nights out, your house would probably look a lot like Dal Dong Nae. This late-night staple of Dallas Korea Town serves enormous, family-style platters of pork, bowls of raw oyster kimchi, huge simmering pans of stew, fried kimchi pancakes and other excellent ways to blunt the effects of the restaurant’s $12 soju and $4 beer.
Top pick: The seafood pancakes are very good here, as is the bit-of-everything budae jjijae (army stew) served bubbling hot.
The downside: Let’s just say the alcohol selection is not a main attraction.
Fun fact: Dal Dong Nae is open, and bustling, until 2 a.m. every night but Monday.($$, $$$)
In its first incarnation, Damasita was a tavern with fried foods and bar drinks. After a change of ownership, the dining room has calmed down and become homier, and the menu focuses on traditional cooking. Grab the city’s best gimbap to go — the two-inch-wide rolls, which resemble extra-large maki sushi but with added vegetables, make a perfect picnic food — or enjoy comforting noodle soups. Excellent chive pancakes have just barely enough batter to hold the veggies together.
Top pick: Choose your gimbap filling from bulgogi, spicy tuna or Spam; no matter what, they’re great, and an incredible bargain.
The downside: The menu is relatively small compared to spots like Dal Dong Nae or Seoul Garden.
Fun fact: Damasita’s kimchi is a great addition to homemade breakfast tacos the next morning.($$)
We’re not sure if DanSungSa is the best karaoke venue in the Dallas area, but we’re pretty sure it’s one of the best places to eat while partaking in karaoke night. The Korean bar food here is excellent, ranging from classics like the preposterously big platter of fried chicken — enough to feed a whole booth of soju-pounding friends — to fusion foods like bulgogi quesadillas. If you’re not singing in a private room, take up a seat in the semi-private booths around the restaurant, shielded from prying eyes by intricate wooden slats and an excess of liquor advertisements featuring K-pop starlets.
Top pick: To survive the pandemic, DanSungSa announced that it would deliver anywhere in the Dallas area. And by anywhere, they really meant anywhere: Employees report delivering as far away as Allen, Arlington and Mesquite. Just do them a solid and make sure your order is big enough to make their driving worthwhile.
The downside: This isn’t a downside, but be aware that the same-named location in Carrollton is under different ownership and quality may vary. Fun fact: If you arrive at 6 p.m., you’ll likely have the bar to yourself. In fact, the typical meal here is so late into the night that happy hour, with half-off bulgogi and $5 skillets of corn cheese, ends at 9 p.m.($$)
Ddong Ggo is in the hands of new ownership, but we’re happy to report the infectious fun and shockingly good food that drew us in to this Korean street-style bar are still very much on display. Put another way: Can you imagine a better night out than a Korean bar with blaring pop music, an angry cartoon chicken mascot, “Nacho Cheetos french fries,” spectacular chicken wings coated in garlicky soy sauce, a whole list of different dishes that involve hot skillets full of gooey melting cheese and a happy hour special of six pints of Deep Ellum beer? Ddong Ggo, with its ultra-crispy seafood scallion pancakes and “volcano kimchi fried rice” topped with a fried egg, is a Korea Town miracle in Carrollton, and what makes it so special is that all of the food, from the everything-goes-in Korean army stew to the ultra-juicy fried chicken, is legitimately outstanding. Just don’t expect any healthy choices.
Top pick: Ordering “Cheese Island,” a skillet full of molten cheese topped with a literal island of fried chicken, should be a mandatory rite of passage for every newcomer to the Dallas area.
The downside: Don’t come here to order your veggies. Indeed, since the portions are gleefully gluttonous, it’s basically impossible to have a balanced meal here. Whatever. You can live a long, boring life or you can live a short life that involves kimchi cheese pizza pancakes.
Fun fact: Oh, we almost forgot to mention: The name is Korean for “Chicken Butthole.”($$)
Oak Cliff’s newest taco sensation is the second location of a business that first opened in McKinney a few years ago. But Del Sur Tacos has upped its game to compete with Jefferson Boulevard’s crowd of rival taquerias, with inspired specialty tacos featuring fillings like a chile relleno, excellent carnitas, cochinita pibil and 2020’s official biggest taco craze, birria. Grab some mulitas, too, and enjoy a dish of meat, beans and stacked tortillas that is tragically rare in the Dallas area.
Top pick: We’re in love with El Santo, a taco with a nearly even mixture of grilled pork and julienned radishes doused in fiery guajillo pepper salsa. Grab your tacos as a platter to get the excellent side cup of beans.($)
In the months before coronavirus arrived, Ebesu was one of the Dallas area’s most exciting new restaurants, an all-around excellent Japanese spot with no weaknesses and some unique strengths. Most excitingly for many diners, it brought the kind of excellence and attention to detail usually associated with Tei-An and Tei Tei Robata, in central Dallas, to the suburbs with its location in downtown Plano. Now suburbanites, too, can enjoy great grilled fish collars, exquisite specialty sushi rolls and boxes of rice topped with salmon roe. During the pandemic, they can also order loaded takeout bento boxes, rice bowls and family-sized sushi platters. It’s no wonder that when this author last visited Ebesu in person (a month before the virus arrived), one of the other customers was Yutaka Yamato, whose namesake sushi bar in Uptown is also on this Top 100 list.
Top pick: The flamboyant house specialty sushi roll, “Super-Long Niku!”, absolutely earns its exclamation mark. Its rice is topped with thin slices of grilled beef, fried leeks and an arugula puree. Bring friends, because there are 16 pieces. (Alas, Super-Long Niku! is not available as takeout.)
The downside: The one and only preparation we didn’t love in our early visits was tempura.
Fun fact: This is the first American restaurant for an ownership group that operates multiple kitchens in and around Tokyo.($$)
Chef Keunsik Lee, a Nobu veteran, presides over a thoughtful menu at this hidden spot in Irving. Some of the sushi items are traditional, but others reflect his Korean heritage or his decades of living in Texas, like the incorporation of wasabi into salsa verde, or the choice to top a spicy tuna roll with dollops of guacamole and yucca chips. If you want, you can even have your sashimi served on corn tortillas as a taco.
Top pick: The specialty here is in the name — a playful, fun, memorable omakase tasting in seven courses, in which Lee and his kitchen team will serve whatever they like, finishing with a parade of nigiri and sashimi. We also love the seaweed salad, a sampler that presents several varieties of seaweed in different dressings.
The downside: Although Edoko can make you a lavish takeout sushi platter, it’s best experienced in person, especially for the omakase.
Fun fact: This is one of three locations for the Edoko mini-chain, which allows each of the different spots to remain independent of each other with their own menus.($$)
If you like Tacos La Banqueta but hate waiting in line, try El Come Taco, a 6-year-old Old East Dallas taco joint that’s well on its way to becoming an institution. Everything at El Come is good, even the simple Jose taco with beans, cheese and avocado, but look out for unusual offerings like tripe, lengua, sesos (veal brains) and chapulines (grasshoppers). Big projectors make this a good place to watch a soccer game, too.
Top pick: This is cheating because it’s technically a separate business, but our top pick here is to slide through the bathroom hallway to the adjacent mezcal bar, La Viuda Negra, from the same owners. La Viuda has its own separate, ever-changing food menu to pair with its showy cocktails. The bar is, however, extremely small, which means that seats fill quickly, especially if pandemic restrictions are in place.
Fun fact: La Viuda Negra’s entrance is disguised as a dilapidated bridal shop.($, $$)
Some of the best enchiladas verdes in Dallas can be found here, and if you agree with us, you can order them in an enormous platter of six. There are other hits on the menu too, including picadillo gorditas, lengua tacos and divine mole. Stacks of tortillas make a carnitas platter or a plate of pollo en mole even more enticing. This is some of Oak Cliff’s best Mexican comfort food, and El Pueblo has been carrying out a lively trade in takeout during the pandemic in addition to seating customers at every other table in the dining room.
Top pick: We advise going for the regular-sized order of enchiladas, rather than the plate of six, because the plate of six doesn’t come with rice or beans.
The downside: As of our last visit, El Pueblo is still cash only.($$)
When Gemma opened six years ago, it was a Dallas pioneer, bringing along the dressy-casual seasonal cuisine from co-owners Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers’ last home in Napa. Since then, a dozen imitators have sprung up around town serving renditions of Gemma’s Mediterranean-accented, California cooking. Even specific dishes, like braised rabbit on pappardelle pasta, have radiated out from Gemma onto other menus.
Rather than packing up dishes like squid ink spaghetti topped with lobster in takeout orders, the Gemma team decided to remain closed for most of the summer, returning with family-style meals reflecting Rogers’ eclectic interests, from sheet pans of lasagna to Japanese curries. Gemma reopened for limited dine-in this fall by reservation only.
Top pick: After the mandatory snack bowl of fried olives and pecans, indulge in some of Dallas’ best house-made pastas, and one of the state’s best wine programs.
Fun fact: This is a favorite among Dallas Symphony Orchestra members and other musicians, with a history of hiring musically talented staff. That’s probably because Yoder and Rogers met at a conservatory, where she sang and he played the organ.($$$)
Gorji is nearly a one-man show, with chef-owner Mansour Gorji buying the ingredients, answering phone calls for reservations, greeting each table and cooking dinner with the help of a tiny handful of waiters and kitchen staff. The dining room is small, the atmosphere is intimate and each table is booked for only one party per night, which makes this one of the most romantic restaurants in Dallas. The tiny staff and limited bookings also make it one of the most pandemic-proof restaurants, although Gorji lavishes equal care on multi-course takeout meals. The food reflects Gorji’s background as both an accomplished grillmaster and an Iranian-American immigrant; sample Persian-inspired appetizers and then go for a flawlessly cooked steak or a cut of wild game.
Top pick: With a meat whisperer in the kitchen, any protein that hits the grill is going to be exceptional.
Fun fact: This is grown-up fine dining, literally: Gorji does not allow children.($$$)
Chef Matt McCallister’s new joint was supposed to be a more casual, less ambitious spot with comforting food. It is definitely more casual, and the food is delicious without requiring diners to sneakily Google obscure ingredients or cooking techniques. But McCallister is McCallister, which means this kitchen is still ultra-creative. Homewood makes its own pastas, fish sauce, hot sauce, cured meats and breads, grows a lot of its own produce and pairs everything with natural or organic wines, chosen because they go well with food, rather than because they are famous. Pastry chef Maggie Huff is quite simply the city’s best, and she excels when she’s working with local, seasonal fruit.
Top pick: It’s hard to say because the menu changes almost constantly, but almost any pasta is a reliable bet, as are raw preparations of seafood or beef. The brunch is formidable, too.
The downside: Your favorite dishes will almost certainly be gone the next time you visit.
Fun fact: For the first few months of the pandemic, the restaurant actively helped out local farmers by acting as a clearinghouse for fresh produce and eggs. It was a win-win situation: Farmers who suddenly lost all their restaurant contracts were able to sell their wares directly to diners.($$, $$$)
A strong new contender in Plano’s growing Chinese food scene, Hunan Bistro packs in customers looking for rustic specialties from its namesake province. Garlic cloves remain whole in stir fries, chopped-up chile peppers pile high, and some form of braised pork is on nearly every table. Whole croaker fish get fried without batter until their skins, and bones, are nicely crunchy.
Top pick: The smooth cross-sections of pig ears doused in chili oil are a great appetizer, and “dry pots” featuring proteins like bullfrog are fun to share among a larger table. Don’t miss the quick-fried green beans.
The downside: Maybe study the menu in advance, because it’s a 42-page monster. Also, the scallion pancakes might just be Dallas’ worst.
Fun fact: Hunan Bistro is nextdoor to the DFW Reptarium. One-stop shopping?($$, $$$)
Cattleack Barbeque, with its limited opening hours, may be the cult favorite among Dallasites who can sneak out of the office at lunchtime on Thursdays. But the best all-around barbecue joint in the area that’s open on a consistent basis is Hutchins, with locations in Frisco and McKinney. The appeal here is that everything across the board is excellent, from the thick slices of fatty brisket to the banana pudding for dessert. And, unlike some of its fellow barbecue joints, Hutchins doesn’t act like it’s aware of its glowing reputation. Even after some recent construction, the original McKinney location is a no-nonsense, old-school dining room that doesn’t have the circus-like atmosphere of some of the bigger, more famous Texas barbecue destinations.
Top pick: Everything — all the meat, all the sides — is good. Hutchins might be the most well-rounded smoked meat joint in the region.
The downside: We wish they’d open a location farther south. Like, say, next to our office.
Fun fact: Peach cobbler, banana pudding and soft-serve ice cream are free — yes, free — for dine-in customers. There’s also an all-you-can-eat dine-in option for $23.($$)
This longtime Mesquite institution serves some of the area’s best Caribbean food, including lovely beef patties with vivid yellow flakey pastry crusts, lively bone-in curries and tender jerk chicken with eye-opening spices. The rice and peas (that’s Jamaican for rice and beans) are terrific, too. Jamaican Cook Shop’s dining room is tiny, but its meals make for excellent takeout. Top pick: Excellent jerk chicken comes in heaping portions; there’s plenty to share.($$)
Jimmy’s is an East Dallas institution, a grocery store with a deli counter that pulls double duty cranking out the best sandwiches in the city. The Italian Stallion sandwich is one of the biggest, baddest sandwiches around, loaded with just about every meat this superb shop has in its cases. The other sandwiches are formidable, too, including one of the better muffalettas west of the Louisiana border.
Top pick: Grab an Italian Stallion, which, during the pandemic, is available pre-made and wrapped in a cooler case. When it’s safe again, Jimmy’s sandwiches may be made to order again, but for now, the pre-prepared versions are still as satisfying as ever.
The downside: Saturday afternoons at Jimmy’s get wild as hundreds of sandwich-craving customers descend. If you need to get some grocery shopping done, it’s better to stop by on a weekday.
Fun fact: The DiCarlo family has owned Jimmy’s since 1966, although the store only pivoted to its current all-Italian format in 2005, in a remodel that was necessitated by a fire.($, $$)
This upscale Mexican restaurant, conveniently located near some of Dallas’ wealthiest neighborhoods, serves two menus. The first, which it debuted in 2017, is a canny setlist of fancied-up Tex-Mex favorites, such as $17 seafood enchiladas. The menu-within-a-menu is the work of a chef hired in late 2018, Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, who brings her own distinctive and creative perspective on Mexican cuisine. Focus on the Quiñones fare by ordering her “tacos de tacha,” a daily taco special made with tortillas that have been flavored by the addition of hot peppers, black beans, mole spices or some other twist. Look out for seasonal aguachiles, too, and, if you’re lucky, some sensational carnitas. Quiñones’ mole sauce is an evolving one; new batches are mixed in with the old to help flavors age and grow more complex.
Top pick: Aguachiles, ceviches and taco specials are now available for ordering online, as are bulk items like enchiladas by the dozen or Quiñones’ excellent carnitas by the pound.
The downside: The cocktails tend toward the sweet side, and if you’d prefer a straight pour of tequila or mezcal, the list here isn’t one of the city’s best (which are at Las Almas Rotas and Ruins).
Fun fact: During the pandemic, Quiñones (a coronavirus survivor) and her team served thousands of tacos to first responders and medical professionals.($$, $$$)
From the minute it opened, Ka-Tip offered probably the best Thai food in Dallas city limits. (Most of the local Thai competition is either in the suburbs — particularly Allen, Carrollton and Richardson — or is served at Laotian restaurants like Ly Food Market.) Nearly everything on Ka-Tip’s tiny menu is sensational, and spicy-sour noodle soups like tom yum are perfect both for takeout and for winter months. Because the kitchen here doesn’t Americanize, sweeten or tone down its flavors and ingredients, each dish is more vivid than the equivalent at many Thai spots around town.
Top pick: If you’re a seafood fan, grab an order of hoi tod, a crispy grilled pancake filled with morsels of shellfish. Otherwise, go for the excellent noodle dishes.
The downside: Look up the location on a map before you visit, if you haven’t been before. The street address misleads many direction apps and causes some drivers to circle the area in confusion.
At the end of a strip center under the shadow of U.S. 67, chef Kevin Winston is rethinking classic Southern food. What’s remarkable about the dishes at Kendall Karsen’s is their confidence. No, those baked ribs don’t need a sauce, not with their peppery rub and tender meat that comes off the bone with a gentle tug. But there’s a cup of deep brown barbecue sauce on the side anyway, and it’s fantastic. No, these stewed collard greens don’t need half a saltshaker and a pound of bacon to achieve deeply satisfying flavor. (There are inch-wide planks of pork in the cabbage, though.) What’s even better than the food, though, is the outstanding hospitality of this ultra-friendly team, which serves a close-knit community of regulars. No wonder this spot has hosted celebrity visitors like Bun B.
Top pick: We just like being here and enjoying some of the friendliest staff in Dallas. Well, OK, and the ultra-gooey cheesefest that is the side cup of macaroni.
Fun fact: Kendall Karsen isn’t a real person: It’s two real people, a combination of the names of Winston’s sons.
The last year has been hard on Dallas’ best Lao restaurant, which enjoyed a showering of national accolades before coronavirus shut down its tiny, intimate dining room. Since then, Khao Noodle Shop has tried selling pantry provisions, running pop-ups (including Asian-American cheeseburgers) and more. But owner Donny Sirisavath is used to challenges. He grew up in the back rooms of his parents’ Thai and Chinese restaurants in San Antonio and served as a cook during high school, but his Dallas restaurant was his first formal chef job. Khao honors his mom, who died of cancer years before the restaurant opened, and it’s also about Sirisavath’s love of the food and culture of Laos, a country which for many decades was hidden to American eyes by its big, famous neighbors, Thailand, Vietnam and China. If you have two friends at home, you can try just about everything on the short to-go menu, which consists entirely of snacks and small bowls of noodles.
Top pick: Order some tripe chicharrones and pickled veggies, then move on to any of the noodle bowls. One person can probably enjoy two portions of noodles. Make one of them the boat noodles, with their meatballs and pork blood broth.
Fun fact: We don’t mean to brag, but here’s what we wrote about Khao in March 2019: “It feels irresponsible to hype a restaurant as small as Khao Noodle Shop. With just four tables and a counter, this isn’t a dining room meant to handle legions of fans, and the pint-sized kitchen isn’t meant to attract national attention. But national attention is coming, and Khao ... is a new milestone in Dallas’ culinary history.” Six months later, national attention arrived when Bon Appétit magazine named Khao the second-best new restaurant in the United States.($$)
The reigning best steakhouse in Dallas isn’t as flamboyant as Town Hearth, as party-centric as Nick & Sam’s or as old-school as Pappas Bros. What matters here is the meat, most of it expertly dry-aged to deepen the flavor. Live it up with excellent seafood crudos, oxtail ravioli, an old-school aged rib-eye from a Texas ranch, some of the world’s most perfect lamb chops (which they need to be, at $17 per chop) and creamed spinach so good you’ll clean the plate. Or you can get out of Knife for under $20 if you just want one of the city’s best burgers. The question is which incredible burger to choose, from the legendary Ozersky, its thick patty adorned simply with American cheese and red onion with pickle on the side, to the Tail End with pork belly and collard greens. The choice is yours, but whatever experience you choose, Knife does it right.
Top pick: If you haven’t tried dry-aged steak before, look out for a cut of beef that’s been aged around 90 days — just enough to really deepen and enrich the flavors without getting too funky. The impossibly soft ribbons of steak taste as if they contain a thread of mild blue cheese.
Fun fact: The steak menu distinguishes between “old school” and “new school”; new school refers to the use of sous vide to ensure an even cook. (Big surprise: We prefer the old school.)($$$)
Kumar’s uses savvy, “small plates” marketing to appeal to a non-Indian audience, but the restaurant is usually buzzing with south Indian guests who know the kitchen is turning out some of the best food in Plano. The menu recently enjoyed a redesign that highlights specialties like thalapakatti biryani, with big, tender pieces of goat mixed into the rice. (Watch for bones.) Kumar’s offers a lot of goat, but vegetarian options abound, too — go for the delightfully spicy cauliflower that’s marinated in seasonings and then fried, roasted eggplant or a masala dosa.
Top pick: The “Breads, But Not The Usual Though” menu section lives up to its promise with some fabulous stuffed breads, parathas, pancakes and kottu, the dish of flaky bread pieces stir-fried with your choice of protein.
The downside: This might be a strange complaint, but the dining room itself is uninspiring. We’d be more likely to bring guests if the floor, seats, tables, walls and ceiling weren’t all slightly different shades of brown.
Fun fact: Even before we eat — as we’re cracking open some BYOB drinks — we’re charmed by whip-smart, frequently sarcastic menu descriptions like “Curd rice: yogurt and rice, with fried spices mixed in … (it sounds weird, but tastes awesome).” (Fact.)($$)
This chain specializes in burgers and fries loaded with Korean influences from the Los Angeles upbringings of brothers and co-owners Ben and Jon Lee. Kimchi fries and the spicy K Town burger are a must, and the bulgogi-topped hot dogs represent one of the Dallas area’s finest contributions to the world of fast food. This mini-chain opened its sixth location in 2019 in Grapevine, and they’re still growing. Despite the growth, quality control remains high. The Lee brothers plan to conquer all of Dallas’ suburbs before moving into the city itself, where they feel the competition is stronger. But, truthfully, their product is good enough to take over Dallas now.
Top pick: The K Town burger is one of the best in the ’burbs.
Fun fact: The Lee brothers ended up in Dallas after serving in the military; Ben Lee had been stationed in Abilene and regularly drove to Dallas just to eat. When they opened the first LA Burger, they were just 25 and 23 years old and had never worked in a restaurant before.($$)
Sitting on the porch at La Calle Doce in Oak Cliff, you could easily believe you were lunching in San Antonio, not Dallas. Upscale but not stuffy, this local institution (which also has an East Dallas location) serves some of the best-quality Mexican seafood in town, from ceviche cocktails and tostadas to seafood chiles rellenos and perfectly grilled shrimp alambres. Many of the main courses come with appetizer cups of fish stew, so be careful not to chow down too hard on chips and salsa.
Top pick: The seafood enchiladas make for a fabulous and generous takeout meal.
The downside: The Oak Cliff location’s narrow, one-way parking lot brings out the worst in Dallas drivers; it’s better to park on a side street and walk than deal with the behind-the-wheel foolishness on display at busy hours.($$)
The noodles at La Me, a Vietnamese spot in far northeast Dallas, go well beyond pho. Try my quang, a bowl of rice noodles with turmeric in the dough to turn them yellow. The noodles are loaded up with shrimp, peanuts and a showering of herbs. Or try a delicately flavored duck noodle soup with fatty, bone-in pieces of bird. Even the egg rolls here are good.
Top pick: The “house special” my kho dac biet noodle bowl is served with broth on the side, so you can eat it as a soup or not. It also comes with a whole, shell-on shrimp baked right into a cracker, and yes, the crispy cracker-bound shrimp shell is edible.
The downside: Bun bo hue and pho aren’t the go-to orders at this restaurant, which specializes in a far wider selection of Vietnamese classics.
Fun fact: Plan a lunch visit carefully, because La Me fills to capacity at peak lunch hours, especially with dining rooms restricted by pandemic safety rules.($$)
Few taquerias are as perfectly suited to a public health crisis as La Salsa Verde, because several of its locations are so small you’d have to eat your tacos in your car anyway. The Northwest Highway location has a big dining room, but the Coit Road and Plano locations are especially close quarters. Set your takeout container on the passenger seat, or on the trunk, and enjoy extraordinary tacos that start at $1.29, or $6 squash blossom quesadillas and a host of equally affordable tortas.
Top pick: Tacos de cabeza are the specialty here. Order either cachete — cheek meat — or lengua rebanada — sliced beef tongue — and you’ll receive a bounty of ultra-tender taco filling. Don’t miss out on the restaurant’s intensely spicy escabeche.($)
Fresh off recognition from the James Beard Foundation as one of America’s best bars, Las Almas Rotas decided to step up its food game this year, hiring chef Armando Aguilar to take over the kitchen and devise a new menu. Then, on Aguilar’s very first day, the city of Dallas shut down bars and restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the mezcaleria has been making things work with probably the most colorful drive-thru in Dallas and, more recently, an expansive front patio. Try Aguilar’s refreshingly spicy enchiladas rojas, or take a “taco six-pack” to go, along with the unchanged and immortal elotes topped with crushed Takis.
Top pick: If you’re using the drive-thru to order a taco six-pack, you can also grab a ranch water cocktail or a small bottle of mezcal to go.
Fun fact: Several staff members told The Dallas Morning News that the building is haunted, especially the private room in the back. Good thing the front patio seating is so comfortable.($, $$)
The Limon family’s Veracruzan kitchen sits well outside the spotlight with locations in the west side of Oak Cliff and Grand Prairie, which means Dallas at large is still hearing the good news about their exceptional garnachas, mole veracruzano and picadas. Be careful with the enchiladas verdes: There are habanero peppers in the salsa, and a lot of them, which makes probably the spiciest salsa verde we’ve tasted anywhere in town.
Top pick: In addition to standard corn-husk tamales, Limon’s offers tamales veracruzanos, wrapped in banana leaves, and chanchamitos, which are chubbier and more rounded in shape. All three are very good.
The downside: The menu can be tough to learn for first-timers; on Davis Street, much of it is pictures without captions, and online, the menu slideshow is a video slideshow of more food pictures. On the other hand, you can literally point at something and it will probably be good.($$)
Much of Lucia’s charm, and much of the reason why people used to reserve tables months in advance, is the restaurant’s tiny size and the resulting close-knit sense of family between regulars and staff. Coronavirus made the small dining room and even smaller kitchen into a threat, however, so the restaurant closed for months to devise a response. Now lavish takeout meals, ranging from lasagnas to roasted pork shoulders and always accompanied by side salads and desserts, are available each week, along with cuts of salumi and tubs of ricotta. If you like and there’s room, take your multicourse feast around the corner to sister restaurant Macellaio and eat on the patio. (Kidd Springs Park is another solid picnic plan.)
Top pick: Everyone talks about Lucia’s pastas, which means they’re missing out on something even better: its fabulous bread, which before the pandemic was often topped with fresh vegetables or melting cheeses. Luckily, loaves can now be purchased for takeout.($$$)
An Oak Cliff hole-in-the-wall situated behind a potholed strip-mall parking lot is the source of some of Dallas’ best Thai and Lao food, including superbly fiery drunken noodles that might be among the best, and most basil-packed, in the whole state of Texas. If you’re tired of sweet, samey-tasting pad Thai and mild-mannered curries, the Southammavong’s family recipes are a hugely flavorful, brilliantly balanced antidote. Dishes get served from a small window in the back of the market, but customers order at the cash register in the front grocery section. The family that runs Ly Food Market is Laotian, not Thai, in origin, which means menu items like larb have an extra spicy-sour kick.
Top pick: Grab an order of Lao sausages and chop them up for a surprisingly great addition to eggy breakfast tacos.($, $$)
A more casual, younger sibling to Bishop Arts institution Lucia, Macellaio took no time fitting into the neighborhood after it opened in spring 2018. It’s bigger than Lucia, but the interior is still closed for the duration of the pandemic. You can dine on the patio, however. The offerings change regularly, so follow the restaurant’s email newsletter; this summer, sausage sandwiches were on offer, followed by a return to regular meal service with a “Pasta on the Patio” reservations-only seating (five courses, including three pastas). However the restaurant is functioning any given month, diners are sure to enjoy Italian delights with occasional intrusions from the rest of the Mediterranean Sea. Fun fact: Macellaio has some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth service in the city. Oh, and it’s pronounced “Mah-chel-LIE-oh.”($$$)
Some of the best Guadalajaran food in Dallas comes from this luchador-themed restaurant in the heart of Oak Cliff. Many first-timers come to Maskaras for its extraordinary collection of lucha libre masks, costumes and vintage posters, but they stay because of the awesome tacos ahogados (“drowned” tacos bathing in salsa), enormous tortas and rich carne en su jugo. The spicy shrimp burrito is more than a foot long, and the hospitality here is as big-hearted as the plates are, well, big. The sudden internet popularity of birria, a Jalisco specialty, helped save Maskaras during the pandemic, as the restaurant serves birria three ways: plated as a stew, in soft-tortilla “street” tacos or, most indulgently of all, in fried tacos that are also stuffed with gooey cheese.
Top pick: Grab some fried tacos dorados with cueritos (pickled pig skins), or the house special Taco Maskaras, which combines shrimp, pico de gallo and molten cheese. Maskaras’ enchiladas verdes are flawless, too.
The downside: You’ll need a fork and knife to tackle some of the enormous sandwiches. Wait, hang on. How is that a downside?
Fun fact: You can also order spectacular face masks here, made in the style of luchador wrestling masks. It’s the ultimate fashion accessory of 2021.($, $$)
Mr. Max himself, Hare Nakamura, died in 2013, but his namesake restaurant is still going strong in its third decade of business. A casual oasis of high-quality Japanese food in an Irving strip mall that also contains five hair salons, Mr. Max offers cold and hot appetizers, grilled seafood and irresistible fried snacks like takoyaki, the battered balls topped with dancing bonito flakes and concealing nuggets of octopus within. Half-sized bowls of ramen mean you can chow down on noodles and still have room for something else.
Top pick: The chef’s choice sampler plate of three appetizers is just $10 — including a glass of beer.
The downside: Even when the restaurant is operating at full capacity, there are only 30 seats, so arrive early or order takeout.
Fun fact: If you elect to eat at a table, you’ll need to remove your shoes and sit on the floor.($$$)
Niwa gives Deep Ellum a proper Japanese grill-it-yourself experience, with excellent meat cuts (grab the hanger steak and short ribs), solid noodle bowl appetizers and a plentitude of dipping sauces. Your platter of meats comes with handy labels for each type. To cope with coronavirus, Niwa underwent a modest expansion, adding a patio and briefly hosting a sandwich pop-up called Sandoitchi.
Fun fact: Because each table has its own grilling station with industrial vents, this is one of Dallas’ safest spaces for indoor dining during a pandemic. Owner Jimmy Niwa had already conducted engineering studies examining airflow and circulation years before customers began to worry about those issues.($$$)
Along with Lucia and Macellaio, Nonna is one of the three best Italian restaurants in Dallas. The menu shifts constantly with the seasons, accommodating fresh produce, new cuts of meat or seafood and the culinary team’s latest pasta inspirations. Some of the pastas, made in-house, are unique to Dallas (no, cavateddhi is not a typo; it’s a smaller cavatelli from Calabria). A wood-fired oven is responsible for some of the biggest hits here, including roasted lamb, veal, quail or gulf snapper and the iconic white clam pizza. That pizza is one of just two menu items that never change, along with justly famous lobster ravioli served in a bowl of broth. The whole menu is available for takeout six nights a week.
Top pick: Waiters actively discourage taking the $7 upcharge to make a perfectly proportioned pasta bowl into a main course, and they’re right, because as good as the pasta is, you’ll want to at least share one of the meaty main courses coming from the oven.
Fun fact: If you’re ordering takeout because of the pandemic, you’ll get a 45% discount on any bottle of wine in the house.($$$)
Suddenly, temaki restaurants are all over Dallas. Handrolls, to use the English word, are small cylindrical rolls of dried seaweed paper wrapped around a quick mix of sushi rice and fish, cucumbers or anything else. They’re a fast-casual version of sushi, basically, and handrolls are meant to be eaten almost as soon as the chef finishes making them. (In other words, don’t get all precious with your Instagramming.) The most careful, considered handroll spot in town is Nori, where chef Jimmy Park builds tasting menus of four or five rolls with ultra-high-quality cuts of tuna belly, freshwater eel and more. Fresh, not prepackaged, wasabi is available. There’s also a kitchen in the back that can produce excellent cooked dishes like takoyaki, the fried dough balls filled with chunks of octopus.
Top pick: Nori’s takeout options are some of the tidiest and most satisfying in Deep Ellum; even though the handrolls are meant for rapid eating, the rest of the menu still sings once you’ve gotten home.
The downside: We keep hearing that regulars and friends of the chefs get access to secret menu items the rest of us peons don’t know about. We can’t be sure because we’re not cool enough to make the inner circle. If you dine in person, be charming.
Fun fact: Chef Jimmy Park is a Nobu veteran who moved into handrolls after a brief stint in the poke business.($$, $$$)
Chef Kevin Ashade calls himself “globally trained,” and that education shows itself on a menu that hops across the world, with flavors of France, Jamaica, Asia, West Africa and the American South. Ashade became a champion on Beat Bobby Flay by topping the celebrity chef’s recipe for coq au vin, and Pangea’s recreation of that reality TV moment is a terrific order. But so are crab cakes with almost no filler, Nigerian grilled suya and Jamaican-style beef patty pastries. This restaurant in Garland takes advantage of that suburb’s ample extra space, with two patios and a fabulous bar.
Top pick: Ashade is a master of carbohydrates. At one point, this author managed to have mashed potatoes, grits, risotto, cornbread and macaroni and cheese all at a table occupied by two diners. The champ? Five-cheese jalapeño grits, with the risotto — a twist on African jollof rice — coming in at an honorable second place.
The downside: Well, it’s on the far side of Garland. Of course, for suburbanites tired of driving to downtown Dallas for an upscale experience, that’s a huge advantage.($$)
It’s hard to argue with the Neapolitan pizza-making prowess of Dino Santonicola, the Naples-born chef who opened Partenope after years at the popular Cane Rosso chain. His pizza crusts have a sourdough-type flavor, which underpins any combination of toppings. But Partenope is a well-rounded Italian restaurant that also has terrific made-from-scratch pastas, unusually interesting salads and more. During the pandemic, which took away the downtown office lunch crowds, Partenope began selling monster-sized sandwiches, too, using extraordinary pillowy loaves of bread made in-house. The bread is our favorite part, to be honest, but if you want a spicy sandwich — truly spicy, not just a bit of flavor — grab the Super Jeff, with hot soppressata and a mayo that’s spiked with Calabrian chile peppers.
Top pick: We love the attention paid to veggie sides and starters here, like crispy Brussels sprouts and eggplant stewed in a super-thick, hearty tomato sauce. Partenope is also a good spot to bring spicy food lovers: Aside from the Super Jeff, it also has delicious, pepper-laced spaghetti allo scarpariello and penne alla amatriciana.
Fun fact: Curbside pickup at Partenope — with a city-designated pickup spot to park and easy instructions — is a breeze, making this a great takeout destination.
Irving’s first Nepalese sports bar was worth the wait, and it’s making the rest of the North Texas cities jealous. Only at Peak Restaurant can you watch a football game with a pint of Dos Equis while devouring spiral-topped dumplings filled with chicken and slathered with spicy chile sauce, or a vegetarian thali based on the Himalayan spice mixes used in Nepal’s small Thakali culture. If this is your first time trying Nepalese food, go for badel sadeko: thin, crisp slices of fried pork belly mixed with green and white onions and tossed in a gently spicy sauce.
Top pick: The Thakali thali is a huge mixed platter of stews, pickles, rice and a bowl of super-comforting stewed black lentils.
The downside: Peak’s menu doesn’t describe dishes, so first-timers can need a little bit of help. Luckily, the ultra-friendly staff is more than happy to make recommendations.
Fun fact: This is the only place in town to order a round of mango lassi vodka shots.($$)
Probably the best-known barbecue restaurant in Dallas, Pecan Lodge started as a Dallas Farmers Market stall before finding a permanent home in Deep Ellum. Now the stall is a memory, and it feels like Pecan Lodge has been here forever; like there has always been a line snaking out the door and around the corner, back to where the smokers warm the restaurant’s side wall. The best meats here include fatty, fork-tender brisket and crisp burnt ends. Jalapeño-cheddar sausage, by contrast, is a tray-soaking grease bomb. After a small pit fire this fall, the restaurant was back smoking within hours.
Top pick: Grab the Hot Mess, an enormous baked sweet potato topped with a tangle of barbacoa, a hidden layer of cheese and green onions. Using sweet, rather than regular, potatoes is an inspired move. Make sure to grab some jalapeño slices to finish the picture.
The downside: Pecan Lodge falls behind against rivals like Cattleack, The Slow Bone and new neighbor Terry Black’s on side dishes. The bacon-topped mac and cheese is the best of the bunch, while the pinto beans are rather ordinary and the ultra-sweet-and-sour collard greens downright strange.
Fun fact: Owners Justin and Diane Fourton started a charity in response to the coronavirus, the Dinner Bell Foundation, which feeds first responders and medical personnel. Supported by donations, the Foundation offers heavily discounted meals to the workers who need them.($$$)
This author’s last dinner out before Dallas restaurants shut down in March was the Saturday night tasting at Petra and the Beast, an astonishing and BYOB culinary fireworks show of charcuterie, pork dumplings, cured fish drizzled with paprika oil and charred leeks. That feels like a different universe now, but Petra recently resumed its tastings on its patio, with tables set far apart. At other times of the week, the restaurant acts as a market for house-made pantry ingredients like its spectacular spicy mustard, links of sausage and shelves full of pickled and preserved vegetables.
Top pick: The best charcuterie board in Dallas, period. Also, watch out for any time when Petra runs a home-style special from chef-owner Misti Norris’ Louisiana roots, like boudin or a bulk container of takeout gumbo.
Fun fact: If you can score one of the coveted tasting menu spots, Petra offers the best BYOB experience within Dallas city limits.($$)
The bánh mì at Quoc Bao start with fresh-baked baguettes, which are practically cubist in their crispy-crusted flakiness. This is a working bakery, so the bread is the best part of the sandwiches, of which our favorites involve barbecued pork and marinated chicken. Because it’s a bakery first, Quoc Bao has always been takeout only, and will be even after pandemic restrictions end.
Fun fact: Starting in late 2020, Quoc Bao also began hosting a pop-up charcuterie and jam business, Cha Cutie, run by the owner’s daughter.($)
After five years at Resident, chef Andrew Savoie’s tacos are still grounded in his fine-dining training, but still straightforwardly delicious. Cauliflower, kale and other dutiful-sounding greens prove to be better taco fillings than one might suspect, and the braised beef short rib taco with chipotle crema is a delight. During the pandemic, Resident’s creative specials — think birria, Philly cheesesteak, duck breast or crab cakes inside a taco — have grown in number, and they’re all available for online ordering. If you get takeout, you’ll miss out on the fact that this taco spot also has good local craft beer on draft.
Top pick: The Philly cheesesteak taco is a darn-near miraculous fusion of cuisines, as is the lengua pastrami taco garnished with mustard seeds.($$)
Almost every restaurant in Dallas found a way to adapt in 2020, but few made changes as huge as the ones at Revolver Taco Lounge. Owner Regino Rojas completely rebuilt the dining room, walling it off from the kitchen and replacing the huge communal dining space with four small, distanced tables. The old Purepecha tasting — at $130 a head — has been replaced by La Resistencia, a reservations-only dinner for half the old cost that focuses on spectacular specialty tacos built on fresh tortillas made from colorful heirloom corn. Rojas’ fascination with Japanese cooking — much of the food is cooked on a yakitori grill — manifests in tempura-battered seafood and crudos. And, best of all, he’s convinced James Beard-recognized pastry chef Ricchi Sanchez, of Bullion, to create Mexican desserts. The bottom line: Before the pandemic, Revolver Taco Lounge was Dallas’ best restaurant, and now it’s even better than it was before.
Top pick: Reserve a table Sunday at lunchtime to enjoy an extraordinary a-la-carte seafood brunch of octopus sushi, grilled whole fish, oysters and probably the city’s best seafood cocktail.
Fun fact: Revolver Taco Lounge got its name from Arturo Rojas, Regino’s father and Juanita’s husband, who occasionally washes the dishes when he’s not one of Texas’ most celebrated creators of elaborately designed and carved guns.($$, $$$)
You’d think Royal China, situated near Preston Hollow and catering to a mostly American clientele since 1974, would have been surpassed many times over by the new wave of Chinese restaurants in Plano, Richardson and other northern suburbs. But this Dallas institution is more than keeping up with the times. Chefs pull noodles and roll dumplings before customers’ eyes at a bar added in 2008, and the menu now expands well beyond Americanized favorites to include specialties from Wuxi, Sichuan and Shanghai. Dan dan la mian noodles are one of the city’s most essential bowls, and many of the pork and seafood specialties, like slow-braised Wuxi pork ribs, are just as good.
Top pick: Coming to Royal China and not ordering noodles is tantamount to sacrilege. Choose between the cold bowls of dan dan noodles or go for the meaty, super-savory lu rou mian.
The downside: Like many nonspecialist restaurants, Royal China is one-upped on individual dishes by its competitors, like the superior soup dumplings at Fortune House or spicy wontons at Wu Wei Din. But most of the competition is in the suburbs, and many Dallasites don’t like driving that far.
Fun fact: Nearing its 50th birthday, Royal China is the oldest restaurant on the Top 100. In recent years, it has survived more than just a pandemic; in 2019 a tornado passed within yards of the building, but the restaurant reopened weeks later.($, $$)
Sachet’s vegetable-focused, elegant Mediterranean plates of food start from impeccable ingredients, and they’re served in portions small enough that we can try more. It’s possible to focus on a different aspect of this restaurant with each visit: Come once to sample Sachet’s seasonal house-made pastas — Sachet and Homewood are the two best pasta joints in Dallas — then return to try a half-dozen or so of the vegetarian meze or to focus on the new lineup of swordfish kebabs and grilled octopus. The menu’s influences range from Spanish Iberico ham to Turkish-inspired lamb, with a detour at the end for Tunisian doughnuts, but pastas like green tortiglioni and lobster spaghetti just might be best of all. During the pandemic, Sachet is also selling family-style multicourse meals to go, allowing you to enjoy the bounty of veggie starters at home with a well-chosen bottle of wine.
Top pick: Dive into the meze, including muhammara, the smoky pepper dip, topped with a scoop of lentils, or roasted carrots with spices and labne. And don’t be afraid to pay for the fresh-baked pita bread, which is worth the modest ask.
Fun fact: In addition to an entire menu of different gin and tonics, Sachet boasts the best wine program in Dallas. The wine list notates natural, biodynamic and organic bottlings, and encompasses wines from Spain, Morocco, France, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Turkey, Lebanon, Albania, Israel and Texas. Feeling a bit lost? Seemingly every employee on staff can tell you, with sincere enthusiasm, about their favorites.($$$)
Many of the regulars at this Richardson institution come to share a bounteous portion of whole roasted catfish, priced by size and served with rice paper, sauces and herbs for make-them-yourself spring rolls. There are also roasted quail and buttery frog legs on the menu at Saigon Block, which specializes in the kind of banquet meals that might mark a Vietnamese special occasion.
Top pick: The luxurious “seven courses of beef” is a show-stopping meal for the whole table to share, and, contrary to the expectations its name generates, it is reasonably balanced, with noodles, spring rolls, grilled meats and hearty bowls of porridge. If the kitchen is out of one course, you can order double of another.($$)
Just across the parking lot from Quoc Bao (and a two-minute walk from Pho Bang), Saigon Deli’s emphasis is more on the filling of the sandwiches rather than the bread. Spring for seafood or excellent, rich pate, which is a perfect foil to the slices of jalapeno. Plus, unlike Quoc Bao, Saigon Deli has tables.($)
This effortlessly friendly, colorful spot is one of the best places in North Texas to enjoy Honduran food. That starts at breakfast, with San Pedro’s signature baleadas, flour tortillas stuffed with beans and crumbled cheese. (For a few dollars more, “baleadas supreme” come with avocado slices and meat, too.) Honduran tortillas are different from the Mexican variety: fluffier, thicker and softer, they almost resemble the batter used for sweet crepes. You can get a foil-wrapped couple of tortillas on the side of many of the main courses here, like grilled chicken or steak buried in a mound of sauteed onions and bell peppers. Want to try some of everything? Grab the San Pedro’s Pincho, grilled skewers of meat that come with rice, beans and fried plantains.
Top pick: Don’t miss the appetizer plate of Honduran tacos, which resemble the dish many Texans know as flautas, only buried in a tangy thicket of cabbage salad. And many regulars can’t resist the combination of plantains and fried chicken.
The downside: Service can move a little slowly when the restaurant’s busy at lunchtime. If you’re ordering takeout, just call ahead.($)
Sandwich Hag is the little bánh mì shop that could. Its tiny building, which dates from 1964, has just a walk-up window for ordering and a couple of picnic tables under a shaded canopy. Inside, a tiny staff led by chef Reyna Duong assembles perfect sandwiches built around pork, sausage patties or ginger tofu. Earlier this year, we recognized Sandwich Hag for the seriousness with which it takes coronavirus safety; during the pandemic, ordering is online only and, when your sandwich is ready, the employee at the window will place it on the ledge and then close the window before you approach.
Top pick: Choosing a favorite bánh mì is a bit like taking a personality test, but when the price of lemongrass rocketed upward due to the pandemic, Duong improvised a minor miracle of a new item in the form of a grilled pork shoulder sandwich with so much garlic -- fried and in the sauce -- that your mouth will taste good for hours afterward.
Fun fact: Sandwich Hag is a local leader in advocating for the employment of people with disabilities. Duong’s brother Sang has Down syndrome and works at the restaurant; she calls him “the hardest worker I have.”($, $$)
One of the mainstays of the Laotian food revolution in Dallas, Sapp Sapp comes from a family that’s been in the business for multiple generations. They founded one of the region’s first Lao kitchens at Nalinh Market, which was originally intended as a specialty grocery store. At Sapp Sapp, there’s more room to sit down and try whole fish, crispy pork riblets coated in garlic, grilled Lao sausages or any number of ultra-hearty soups and curries.
Top pick: Just about any soup here is great, from the Lao-style pho topped with a whole beef rib to the kowpiak, filled with crispy pieces of pork belly, smooth cubes of pork blood and whole soft-boiled quail eggs. Look out for excellent noodle soups, too.
The downside: The pandemic has been a brutal challenge for Sapp Sapp, which sits in Irving’s small, very quiet downtown. In the spring, owner Xay Senephoumy told the Observer that sales were down as much as 90%.
Fun fact: Call ahead to arrange a garlic-marinated tomahawk rib-eye, a popular meal for visiting UFC fighters. The steaks are available only by reservation.($, $$)
Some of Dallas’ best vegan food is coming from a business that, before the pandemic, was best-known as an easygoing, everyone-welcome cocktail bar. But Shoals executed one of the most impressive business model pivots in the city, transforming itself from a bar with absurdly indulgent fried bologna sandwiches into a Deep Ellum hub for creative vegan eats. This isn’t a spot where vegetables are asked to impersonate meats for dishes like vegan cheeseburgers; instead greens, lentils, mushrooms and more are called upon for their own great flavors. The exceptions are a barbecued jackfruit sandwich and a spicy, wonderful “ceviche” of shiitake mushrooms, cucumbers and jalapeños, with plantain chips for dipping.
Top pick: Grab a trio of empanadas with superbly flakey, bubbly vegan dough encasing fillings like mushroom and lentils or sweet coconut rice pudding. They’re an incredible picnic food, by the way.
The downside: Well, we did miss the cocktails, but Shoals reopened for in-person service in October, so that takes care of that.($)
This might just be the best Sichuan restaurant in the area, one that can dial up the numbing spice or showcase a more subtle side. After polishing off some superb spicy wontons, look for the dishes with Sichuan peppercorns, especially if they involve seafood, like the spicy fish. If you don’t want peppercorns setting your tongue and lips tingling, they have plenty of milder options, including simply prepared green veggies and a comforting bowl of noodle soup topped with pork and mustard greens.
Top pick: Anything involving the words “spicy” and “fish” is probably a hit, but if you’re not sure, ask one of the servers; they’re happy to make recommendations based on your preferences.
The downside: Bring a large group, ideally including one or two people who have been to Sichuan Folk before, because the menu is enormous and descriptions are often vague.
Fun fact: If you have a hankering to eat frog, this is probably the best place in Dallas to reliably get it, and Sichuan spicy bullfrog, bones and all, will thrill your taste buds.($$)
It’s the little details that make the cheeseburgers at Sky Rocket stand out from the pack. The sesame buns are so committed, they’ve even got sesame seeds on the bottoms. The beef patties, formed in-house, are given delightfully hard sears on the grill. No matter how many toppings you add — there aren’t many; just two kinds of cheese, four sauces, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, floppy pickles, onions, peppers, bacon and fried eggs — they won’t bury the flavor of the ground beef itself, because Sky Rocket constructs its burgers so well. Every burger part here fits in perfect balance. If you need a chefed-up, fancy cheeseburger with exotic inspirations and unusual meats, head elsewhere. But if you want an old-fashioned burger made flawlessly, head to Sky Rocket. The Deep Ellum location has an added bonus in the form of customizable online ordering; if you’re getting your meal to go, it’s easy to request fries prepared extra crispy to survive the drive home.
Top pick: The menu is so tiny that it’s all in how you customize your burger. This author’s choice is a double cheddar with grilled onions and grilled jalapeños.
The downside: OK, we know this is wildly unfair and borderline rude to ask, but could they pretty please develop an onion ring recipe?
Fun fact: Diners mourning the loss of Off-Site Kitchen and its classic burgers, this is your new spot.($)
Shhh. Don’t spread the word around too far. But just between us, this author’s personal favorite barbecue restaurant in Dallas is Smokey Joe’s, miles south of downtown on I-35. Yes, this author gets to Cattleack and its incredible brisket and coleslaw whenever he can, and yes, he knows all about the beef ribs at Pecan Lodge and the fried chicken at The Slow Bone. But the regulars at Smokey Joe’s, which turned 35 years old this year, know that its bricks of fabulously tender and minimally treated pork ribs are unbeatable. And owner Kris Manning’s personal passion happens to be brisket, which might be why his has become the best brisket between Cattleack and Waco. Its balance — not overly smoky, not harshly seasoned, fabulously tender and moist — is just right. If you disagree, go somewhere else and let this author have more to himself.
Top pick: There are some great barbecue sandwiches here, including the GF, with heaping brisket, pickles and onion rings that stay crisp on the drive home.
Fun fact: A “slice” of pie here is a quarter of the whole darn pie. Did you really think you were going to get work done after lunch?
There’s really no doubt about who has the best Thai food in the Dallas area: It’s this tiny cafe in the suburb of Allen, mere feet from the new Watters Creek Convention Center. Ask for the “Thai menu,” a front-and-back sheet separate from the main menu that lists spectacular versions of dishes like tom sap (sour soup with pork intestines), pad cha (spicy stir fried seafood and vegetables), gra pow moo krob (crisply seared pork with green beans and enormous quantities of basil) and hoy tod (a pancake filled with mussels). Spice Thai Cafe is BYOB, too. If you can’t stand some extra heat, exercise more caution with spice levels here than you would elsewhere.
Top pick: As much as we love the light, fluffy fried mussel pancake, so delicate it’s almost like tempura, the real star here is the ultra-herby, fresh-tasting Thai salad of grilled shrimp mixed with lemongrass, lime, cilantro and big thick wedges of chile pepper.
The downside: Spice Thai closed in October 2020 for renovations, including some kitchen improvements and a fresh look in the dining room, but the redecorating should not take long and the restaurant should be open by January 2021.
Fun fact: In case it’s not enough to order off the Thai menu, a few items on the main menu can also be made “Thai style” if you ask. Practically, by the way, Thai style means modifications like using freshly chopped hot peppers rather than a powder or spice mix.($, $$)
As the only Sri Lankan restaurant in North Texas — and one of maybe a half-dozen anywhere in America outside of New York and California — SpicyZest would be notable even if it weren’t especially good. But it is especially good, and 2020 was a big year for the restaurant, as it moved down the strip mall to a newer, larger space that has room for a small grocery store and a full bar. Run by husband-and-wife duo Nimidu Senaratne and Chamari Walliwallagedara, SpicyZest produces outstanding food, ranging from fusion snacks like the “spicy pancake bomb” to traditional special occasion meals like lamprais, a generous helping of rice, meat and vegetables rolled into a banana leaf and steamed. The bar is newly stocked with Sri Lankan beer and arrack, which Senaratne plans to add to specialty cocktails. The owners are all too happy to help first-timers get to know Sri Lankan food, and their hospitality is first-rate.
Top pick: We especially love the seafood curry and kottu, a stir-fry of flatbread strips, a meat of your choice, carrots, greens and enough spices to make the whole dish a bold yellow.
Fun fact: Thanks to some years in Singapore, Senaratne can also cook a handful of Indonesian specialties, like nasi goreng.($$)
This North Dallas Japanese restaurant is an all-rounder, serving very good examples of just about everything you could want. The ramen is some of the best in Dallas — more flavorful and less aggressively salty than bowls from many ramen specialists — and the specialty sushi rolls don’t go over-the-top. They do include unusual preparations, though, like multiple rolls with crawfish. Robatayaki-grilled meats and veggies are solid bets, too, as are ultra-traditional sushi rolls like big, thick futomaki. Sushi Robata is across-the-board reliable in a wide array of Japanese cuisine.
Top pick: Look for unusual specials and sushi pieces like engawa (the edge of a flounder’s tail), ankimo (monkfish liver pate), sea eel and a spectacular piece of sushi filled to the brim with salmon roe.
Fun fact: This is one of the most comfortable dining rooms in Dallas. It’s just a pleasure to eat here, especially in the last few years, when the crowds drifted away to trendier spots. Sushi Robata is also unusually quiet; from the architecture to the way the kitchen uses a lantern instead of a bell to summon waitstaff, everything about the place is designed to keep the volume down. Virus safety protocols are also taken especially seriously at Sushi Robata.($$)
One of Bishop Arts’ most welcoming neighborhood hangouts is dedicated to the proposition that tacos pair well with wine. Taco y Vino upped the ante during the pandemic, creating a $30 takeout package of six tacos and a bottle of cava, which became one of the city’s most instantly memorable to-go deals. This isn’t your grandmother’s wine bar; it’s a super-casual spot that takes all the elitism and exclusion out of wine-drinking. Have a glass on the lawn during loteria night and pair your bubbles with a dish inspired by owner Jimmy Contreras’ upbringing in San Antonio, like shrimp-stuffed jalapeños or crispy carnitas tacos.
Top pick: Although we love the cochinita pibil tacos, our top pick — and the very last bite of food this author had inside a restaurant in March, hours before Dallas County shut down dining rooms — is the brunch order of chilaquiles, a classic rendition served with refried black beans.
Fun fact: Watch the restaurant’s Facebook or Instagram feed for information on impulsive, creative taco specials.($, $$)
First-timers to Taj Chaat may well be overwhelmed with choices, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Inside this restaurant’s rambunctious dining room, at least four walls are covered with all-vegetarian menu choices ranging from enormous, excellent dosas to trays of tapioca vada (fritters). To try a sampling of dishes, order a thali, although again there are several varieties of thali available, representing different parts of India. Listen carefully after ordering, because your order number could be called from one of several locations depending on the cooking technique you’ve requested. On the way to your table, stop by the chutney bar and load up.
Top pick: Any dosa here is going to be perfectly formed and boldly flavored — and also enormous.
The downside: There’s a bit of a learning curve to the ordering process, made especially difficult because nearly everything on the enormous menu is delicious. The dining room is also not always tidy.
Fun fact: Thanks to the coronavirus, Taj Chaat has created an online ordering system for easy takeout — including, by this author’s count, more than 160 menu items, one of the biggest menus in all of North Texas.($, $$)
The best Turkish food in the Dallas area comes from Tantuni, a Richardson spot which specializes in hatay chicken, a scorching roasting technique from eastern Anatolia. Adana kebabs — ground lamb mixed with parsley and enough red pepper that the meat bleeds orange — are a good bet, too, as is any dip that can be scooped up by the restaurant’s fluffy pita.
Top pick: Save room for kunefe, the iconic crispy, cheesy, sweet Turkish dessert. Before that, be sure to try hot hummus, an enormous appetizer portion of hummus served warm and topped with gyro meat or spicy Turkish sujuk sausage.
The downside: Whenever we visit Tantuni, it’s almost completely empty. This is unjust. Readers, you know what to do.
Fun fact: Tantuni is a great spot for BYOB.($$)
This Japanese bar on Henderson Avenue specializes in robatayaki, the technique of grilling food over hot charcoal. Chefs at the bar tend to the grill, turning out excellent skewers of meat and vegetables, as well as crisp-skinned and fork-tender whole fish. There is sashimi on offer, too, and it’s at the same high quality. Once part of Teiichi Sakurai’s empire, Tei Tei Robata is still living up to that legacy of perfectionism, and the entrance, tucked away from Henderson in a small garden terrace, feels surprisingly secluded given the busy neighborhood around it.
Top pick: Sit at the robata bar and order anything on the specials board — especially a perfectly smoky grilled salmon collar.
The downside: Reservations — currently mandatory due to the pandemic — aren’t easy to snag, and even in normal times getting a table here can be a challenge. Luckily, Tei Tei Robata has introduced curbside and delivery service for its sushi, sashimi and carpaccios.
Fun fact: Regulars know if you’re feeling especially generous, you can buy the whole staff a round of drinks. Because the cost usually exceeds $50, this is best attempted after a bottle of sake for courage.($$, $$$)
The most influential figure on the Dallas dining scene might be Teiichi Sakurai, who is doing his best to build one of America’s best Japanese food markets. Sakurai’s previous restaurants, Teppo and Tei Tei Robata, are both still open and still outstanding, and his ramen shop Ten is a cult favorite. But Tei-An is his masterpiece, one of the few restaurants in America to make its own soba noodles from scratch. The soba is spectacular however you try it, from plain noodles with a trio of dipping sauces in bowls to a “bolognese” riff that bridges the gap between Japan and Italy. Tei-An flies in fresh seafood daily straight from Tokyo, making sushi and sashimi essential orders. Tasting menus offer a good chance to try everything, including the excellent tempura. Tei-An spent months of 2020 closed during the pandemic, reopening with high-tech imported fever-sensing gadgets and ultra-strict procedures to keep employees and guests safe.
Top pick: Order as much as possible from the list of daily specials, then fill up on the city’s best okonomiyaki. If you don’t save room for a bowl of black sesame mousse for dessert, then you’ll just have to go back. It’s this critic’s favorite dessert in Texas, period.
The downside: It’ll take you a fair number of visits, at least, to be invited into the half-secret society of regulars who receive special perks, like menu specials, wooden plaques with their names that are placed atop reserved tables and access to a rooftop patio.
Fun fact: This isn’t just a local favorite. Tei-An has a glittering reputation over in Japan, too. If you get a glimpse of the wooden plaques for the members of this restaurant’s secret society of regulars, you’ll see the names of several of Major League Baseball’s Japanese players.($$$)
Some of the best breakfasts in Dallas are at this Oak Cliff institution, which has been baking Mexican pan dulces for more than 20 years. During the pandemic, Tia Dora’s is takeout-only, but in ordinary times you’ll need to step around rolling carts full of pastries to order enormous breakfast tacos on homemade tortillas, a breakfast torta or a superb plate of chilaquiles verdes, available in regular or spicy. (Choose spicy.) The smoky, creamy refried beans — which taste like they made friends with some bacon during the cooking process — are can’t-miss, and so are the sweet empanadas and hojarascas (a kind of crisp cookie) available to serve as breakfast dessert. Tia Dora’s is also a major, perennial contender for the title of best tamales in town; call ahead during the holiday season.
Top pick: A breakfast taco with eggs and machacado (dried and sliced beef) can’t be beat, especially because two breakfast tacos from Tia Dora’s are so filling, and so satisfying, that you might need to postpone lunch.
The downside: Although there’s always a huge stock of pan dulce and pastries on offer, not all are available on certain days, so there’s a bit of luck involved. Hojarascas seem to frequently show up on Tuesdays, if that helps.($)
There are few seafood markets in Dallas as good as TJ’s. So go ahead and ogle the counter cases, with their beautiful and impeccably sourced cuts of fish, scallops, crab, lobster and more. Yes, shopping here can be more expensive than a trip to Tom Thumb, but that’s because TJ’s buys from ethical purveyors and sells an exceptionally high quality of product. Oh, wait, we’re supposed to be talking about the restaurant side. If you’re feeling lazy, sit down at a table and have them cook the fish for you. The philosophy at TJ’s is exactly what it needs to be: Keep the recipes simple, stupid. Let the spotlight shine on the ingredients.
Top pick: Swing by for lunch and grab a salmon patty burger — it’s more indulgent than it sounds — or a roll stuffed with tuna salad, which is made, as the menu says, “not from a can.” The difference is clear. Many of the sandwiches here make especially good, portable takeout, by the way, although the best takeout of all is a slab of seafood you can cook yourself at home.
Fun fact: Owner Jon Alexis is so serious about safety that he started his own business dedicated to conducting coronavirus tests for restaurant workers; now many other dining spots around town use his service, too.($$$)
This mini-chain serves up killer alambres — a whole skillet of meat, peppers, onions and cheese with folded tortillas alongside — and excellent, filling Mexican breakfasts at rock-bottom prices. The chilaquiles are outstanding, and so are the long, oval-shaped quesadillas, prepared as they are in Mexico City. That doesn’t even mention the restaurant’s namesake tortas, enormous sandwiches stacked with so much filling, the bread sometimes falls apart. The notorious torta cubana, which comes with something like a half-dozen meats, is a true hunger buster.($, $$)
It’s been an unlucky 12 months for the most preposterously posh restaurant in Dallas. In November 2019, a small kitchen fire shut things down for a few days. This March, Town Hearth became one of the first restaurants to have a staff member test positive for coronavirus, guaranteeing news headlines for a test result which, in the weeks to come, would become commonplace at nearly every other restaurant in town. Over the summer, a longtime cook who butchered the steakhouse’s enormous cuts of beef and fish passed away, from undisclosed causes. And the pandemic in general plays against this restaurant’s strengths, which are its crowds of upscale see-and-be-seen Dallasites and tourists loudly mingling over enormous freshly-grilled steaks and king crab tater tots. All of that misfortune has made Town Hearth, once a symbol of the city’s opulence with $120 steaks, into a sort of underdog we can’t help cheering for.
Top pick: Observer burger aficionado Nick Rallo reports that the $23 cheeseburger and fries hold up impressively well in a takeout container. There are also family-style to-go meals available that stick to classics done right, like meatloaf or fried chicken, and don’t break the bank the way those notorious steaks once did.($$$, $$$$)
Trompo is their name, and tacos de trompo are their game. The trompo, a vertical spit much like that used for shawarma in the Middle East and gyros in Greece, supports layers of pork rubbed red with spices. When you order, meat is shaved off straight into a taco or a quesadilla, which adds a velvety pillow of molten cheese.
Top pick: The top pick is trompo, obviously, but less obviously, we prefer it in quesadilla format as a gringa. The pirata, a quesadilla with chopped beef, is great, too.
Fun fact: The saucy, oniony paneer y poblano offering is one of Oak Cliff’s best — and messiest — vegetarian tacos.($, $$)
The Austin import, which also has locations in Houston and Denver, is almost daunting in its reputation for extremely expensive high-end Japanese cooking. But Uchi’s friendly service keeps the experience grounded, and its sushi bar does phenomenal work. The restaurant is taking safety seriously, too, requiring reservations for every diner and barring tables for 10 or more guests. Anything raw is bound to be good, especially seafood ordered off the list of daily specials. We’re less excited about some of the cooked dishes; Uchi has a predilection for overthought dishes, cloying fruit sauces and unnecessary flavor clashes. If you want to sample it all in the safety of your own home, there are lavish multi-course dinners available to go, which include a bottle of wine and breakfast biscuits for the next morning.
Top pick: The only thing better than the ultra-traditional preparations of the day’s freshest fish, printed on a separate menu card, is the melt-in-your-mouth sashimi made from gyutoro (braised beef shortrib).
Fun fact: You can order many of Uchi’s dishes at the more casual bar upstairs, Uchiba. Uchi is a relaxing, comfortable space, but the upstairs bar is just a bit more fun.($$, $$$, $$$$)
Yes, the name sounds a little corporate, but the best restaurant in Mockingbird Station has tons of personality. Co-owner Markus Pineyro drew inspiration from the late-night foods of his native Mexico City when designing tacos such as the “a la Tuma,” which is wrapped, on the outside of the tortilla, in a layer of molten, salty grilled cheese. (Any taco on the menu can be made “a la Tuma” through the online ordering system, although the classical excuse to eat fried cheese is the taco al pastor.) There’s another way the kitchen’s name is misleading: It serves a lot of food besides tacos, including tortas, empanadas and yucca fries. Outside of pandemic times, there are more upscale dine-in specials, too. If you’re ordering takeout, the taco plate is a great choice, because it comes in a travel container that seems expressly designed to hold a trio of tacos alongside a separated pocket of the kitchen’s great refried black beans.
Top pick: It’s worth paying the $4 for the chips and salsa trio, which comes with your choice of three salsas and a humongous bag of fabulously crunchy seasoned tortilla chips. The salsa varieties available include relative rarities like a peanut-habanero salsa with assertive nuttiness and an avocado-jalapeño number so good, you might just forget guacamole.($$)
Urban Tadka’s original location is in an Irving strip center that has seen better days; the Dick’s Sporting Goods recently turned into a trampoline park, and the other anchor business is a Best Buy. But this Punjabi restaurant mini-chain vastly exceeds any expectations that its surroundings might create. The specialties here are paneer, lamb and goat, all available in superb dishes that balance a multitude of flavors and spices. Grab some naan bread that’s been stuffed with paneer or onions, too.
Top pick: Kadai paneer, which finds the cubes of cheese cooked in a spicy sauce with tomatoes and bell peppers, is a standout. Or dunk your naan into lamb dhansak, with ultra-tender lamb simmered in lentils.
The downside: Even before the coronavirus made buffet dining a bad idea, Urban Tadka’s buffet was one of its least interesting features. If it’s on, you can and should still order from the menu.($$)
The menu of savory crepes at Whisk changes with the seasons and with the inspiration of Julien Eelsen and his chefs. Many of the most deluxe are topped with what amounts to meal-sized salads. There are breakfast and dessert options, too; at breakfast, consider the fiery-hot shakshuka crepe with a runny egg yolk perched in the middle, or a crepe filled with smoked salmon. Eelsen, a Parisian native, delights in the flavors of Oak Cliff, sourcing local barbecue and deli meats for some of his dishes. During the pandemic, Whisk has kept its dining room resolutely shut, only adding patio seating in the fall. For takeout or patio customers, there’s one new addition to the menu’s temptations: eggy breakfast sandwiches, often topped with rustic European ingredient combinations like beer-braised onions and molten French cheese. Top pick: Almost anything at Whisk makes for a fabulous picnic.($$)
Some of the best noodles, wontons and soups in the area are served at Wu Wei Din, a Plano spot with Taiwanese roots. Many of the regulars are devotees of pork chop fried rice — a decent bowl of fried rice topped with an entire deep-fried pork chop — but beef noodle soup topped with pickled mustard greens is another hit, the beef ultra-tender and the broth well-spiced. Look out for vegetable specials that might be hand-written onto the bottom of the menu; they’ll be cooked simply and flawlessly, with copious garlic. Wu Wei Din has even tweaked its recipe for soup dumplings to make better takeout, adding just a gram or 2 of dough to each dumpling so they don’t spill or fall apart on your drive home. Call in an order and you’ll be able to pick it up at a table in the parking lot.
Top pick: Pork and shrimp spicy wontons are delicious, as is golden kimchi, a milder, mellower interpretation of the Korean classic with an addicting sweet-spicy balance.
Fun fact: Many of the menu items are available at the tea house next door, with which Wu Wei Din shares a kitchen.($$)
The original Mesquite location of this charming family-owned mini-chain is a tiny dining room full of proof of chef Vasili “Bill” Kaprantzas’ Greek immigrant roots. There’s a poster of the chef’s grandmother, quotations hand-scrawled on the walls and, of course, a bottle of Windex displayed with pride. The newer Rockwall location, in a shiny strip mall, manages the impressive trick of replicating the original dining room’s homey feel, complete with even more quotes, like “Let’s Make America Greek Again.” Nowhere else in Dallas feels like such a true portal to the Aegean Sea and its food.
Top pick: Grab an enormous overstuffed gyro wrap which comes with pretty darn good steak fries. Lamb souvlaki, pastitsio and calamari are superb, too.
The downside: Although the baklava is over-the-top sweet, that’s an easy flaw to forgive when Chef Bill stops by your table himself to ask, disarmingly, “How did I do?”
Fun fact: Yia Yia’s House of Gyros is a regular on Yelp lists of Texas’ best restaurants. At one point in time, Yelpers gave this spot the highest average rating of any place in Dallas, and it’s still in the state’s top 25.($$)
Quite possibly Dallas’ best sushi bar, Yutaka has been an Uptown staple since 2006. Chef-owner Yutaka Yamato oversees a mouthwatering list of fresh sushi and sashimi that changes with the seasons and with new shipments flown directly from Japan. His sushi rolls hew to traditional styles, with the emphasis on simplicity and good ingredients; none of the rolls here are Instagram-bait monstrosities with silly names and a dozen different fillings and toppings. By the way, that also means they travel well and make for perfect takeout; fatty salmon belly sashimi still looks and tastes glamorous in a paper carton.
Top pick: You could have a satisfying meal without ever straying from the day’s specials, especially fresh sushi and sashimi.
Fun fact: This remains the best restaurant in Uptown, and an especially good idea for date night or a modest celebration of a special occasion.($$$, $$$$)
For creative eccentricity, no pizza place in town can top ZaLat, which is unafraid to make a pizza that tastes like pho, elote, a Reuben sandwich or a loaded baked potato. But the flavors aren’t a stoner novelty gimmick; ZaLat builds on a great crust with top-shelf ingredients. Our favorites include the Zealot, ZaLat’s version of a supreme, and the O.G., which pairs pepperoni and salami with the pickly punch of giardiniera and such a heavy showering of black pepper that it practically counts as a topping. Oh, and if stoner novelty gimmicks are actually what you want, the online ordering system — which has a dazzling range of customization options — allows you to request that one random slice of pizza be secretly made extra-spicy as a prank.
Top pick: For a complete meal, add a Caesar salad and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which, yes, ZaLat also sells for takeout or delivery.
The downside: During peak mealtimes, ZaLat can take a half-hour or more to prepare your pizza, so plan ahead. It’s just another sign of the chain’s swelling popularity across the Dallas area. Fun fact: Several of the restaurant’s locations are actually delivery-ready “ghost” kitchens you can’t visit in person.($$)
Texas barbecue gets influenced by Mexican heritage at Zavala’s, and the results are deeply satisfying. Every Friday is taco night, but every barbecue tray can be converted into a taco plate if you ask for tortillas. This might be a hot take, but tortillas are a better barbecue accompaniment than white bread. A slice of Zavala’s lean brisket nestled in a fluffy tortilla, topped with cilantro-heavy house salsa verde, tastes just about perfect. The ribs are perfectly cooked, too, especially with a house barbecue sauce that leans heavily on spice. A Sloppy Juan taco bundles chopped meats into a tortilla with a tomato-based sauce that, as the name suggests, tastes exactly like a sloppy joe. Jalapeño peppers find their way into a number of menu items, including sausage links and the creamy-but-spicy coleslaw. Making the whole experience even better, Zavala’s is housed in a tiny 1967 building in Grand Prairie’s mid-century downtown, with a big canopy hanging over the picnic tables out front. It’s an architectural gem, and a metaphor for the way that Zavala’s takes past traditions and uses them to build new traditions of its own.
Top pick: Cheesy jalapeño hominy replaces the customary macaroni and cheese as a side dish, and it’s fabulous.
The downside: It does wonders for the flavor of the brisket here, so we’re not complaining, but Zavala’s might some day be to blame if there is a global shortage of black pepper.
Fun fact: Yes, the tiny side street next to the building is really, officially named Brisket Lane.
Zoli’s, with its Star Wars artwork, sassy signage and boundary-pushing pies, still sets the standard for pizza in the Dallas area. The restaurant’s cult following — just try walking around the Bishop Arts District, where the restaurant was originally located, wearing a Zoli’s T-shirt — is fully matched by the intense deliciousness of pies like the Christian Pescroni, with double pepperoni and a jalapeño pesto; the Cattleack, featuring brisket from that legendary barbecue pit; and the muffaletta pizza, which is at least as preposterous as it sounds. If you somehow need anything else, there’s room on the menu for fried mozzarella balls, garlic knots and big bowls of chopped salad.
Top pick: There’s a pizzeria within the pizzeria, Thunderbird Pies, which specializes in Detroit-style crusts. A product of pandemic creativity, Thunderbird’s eclectically named offerings include a meatball pie and the hot sausage and onion combo on the Drip Pan. (Try telling your friends you want to order a Drip Pan for dinner.)
Fun fact: Look out for pies with spiced crusts; some of Zoli’s pizza crusts come dusted with “everything bagel” seasonings, and they are perfect.($$)