What makes Dallas a great foodie city? Here are 18 of the best reasons
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
When you write about restaurants for a living, people are always seeking your advice … usually phrased simply as, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” And the answer is … I don’t know.
I mean, I know what I like. But I don’t know what you’re asking. Do you mean the place I go most often? The one I love the most but can’t afford more than once a year? The one I like to enjoy when I’m dining alone, or to get jazzed by all the all activity or where the cocktails impress me when I only wanna get a drink? Cuz it’s not just one place — it’s many.
So here are a few of my favorite things to consume in Dallas, in no particular order. What are your favorites?
Bacon tasting at Knife. “All animals are equal,” Orwell informed us, “but some are more equal than others.” Truer words were never spoken … at least when it comes to bacon. Oh-ho, you think — bacon is bacon. Like rice is rice or Trump voters are crazy. But no! And there’s no better way to prove it to yourself than with the five-course bacon tasting at Knife at The Highland. For brunch, lunch or dinner, this horizontal tasting of five different bacons (Spanish Iberico, with its nutty richness, is my favorite, with the fatty Tennessee-raised a close second, although the others — applewood-smoked, cherrywood-smoked and Moody’s Deli — are all amazing) is the perfect way to train your palate to parse the variety of flavors in a single item. $16.
Sazerac at People’s Last Stand. When it first opened, I wasn’t a great fan of People’s (as those in-the-know call it, at least at my house), but over the last 18 months, it has ensconced itself as my neighborhood bar. It has craft cocktails (a great deal at happy hour!) and a staff that all but yell out “Norm!” when I come through the door. All their classics are exceptional, but the Sazarac is the best I’ve had this side of New Orleans. And if you ask for a spicy Mexican mule (not on the menu, but made with tequila instead of vodka) they will even garnish it with jalapeno if you specify. That’s awesome. $9.
Blue corn muffin at Flora Street Café. Stephan Pyles isn’t a chef; he’s a wizard. His creations are to most restaurant food what Michael Phelps is to you splashing around your bathtub. Even dishes you don’t necessarily love display such thoughtful
preparation, you are wowed. And for years, his bite-sized blue-corn muffin — served as basically an amuse, last at his now-shuttered eponymous restaurant but smartly migrated to his latest — is a mini-miracle of casual perfection. Complimentary with most orders.
Suadero tacos at El Come Taco. I’m so pleased at the national attention showered upon Trompo, my favorite West Dallas taqueria. But in East Dallas, I still haven’t lost my affection for El Come Taco, and especially its juicy suadero taco, made all the better with the amazing salsas. Two of those, an arranchero, a Negro Modelo and you have a perfect lunch. $1.95.
A bowl of noodles at Ten Ramen. No reservations. Limited seating. Hard to find. These should be strikes again Ten Ramen, but nothing can deter you from the siren call of a bowl of exquisitely-prepared broth and noodles in this Sylvan Thirty restaurant. The tonkotsu bowl (flavorful pork) somehow feels like comfort food, and I’ve never even been to Asia. About $12.
Raspberry Temptress from Lakewood Brewing. It’s mid-August — about as far away as you can get from February, which is when Dallas-based Lakewood Brewing Co. releases its limited-time-only flavored milk stout for consumption. It’s always an immediate sell-out wherever it’s stocked, so you have to keep your wits about you. Of course, the regular Temptress has the same structure, but the hunt is half the fun of savoring the victory. About $7.
The bakery board at Top Knot. I’m sure it’s a sin for a gay man to love carbs as much as I do, but I make no apologies. And the brunch-only offering of a baked-goods basket at this Uptown eatery — cornbread and kolaches, biscuits and buns — continues to haunt my dreams. $12.
Queso fundito at Komali. Read the story, Page 14.
Calamari at The Capital Grille. Yes, yes, I know it’s a big national chain, but consider: So much calamari is overly greasy, or over-cooked, or chewy-but-flavorless… or worse, these things in term, depending on how the wind blows. But every time, the pan-fried calamari here, with its spicy peppers, is non-greasy, bright, tasty and lovely to look at. Consistently great is awesome when dining out. $16.
The view from Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck. “The restaurant at the top of Reunion Tower” has been, in theory, a draw for decades, but it wasn’t until Wolfgang Puck replaced the previous restaurant with food that was, ya know, edible, that anyone other than tourists, graduating collegians and bougie expense-account businessmen went there voluntarily. And Puck’s food is way more than edible — it’s a delight, with exceptional sushi, a thriving cocktail program and top-notch service. But the nighttime view of North Texas, as it revolves 360 degrees, makes you proud to be a Texan.
The bananas foster bread pudding from Samson’s Gourmet Hot Dogs (food truck and catering). The storefront of Samson’s is no more, but chef Troy Gardner continues to operate his amazing wienerie from the Oak Lawn location for catering and food truck events. And his bread pudding — prepared from unused buns, and drizzled with a sauce that could be added to a federal list of addictive substances — remains one of the best desserts in town. (My obsession with bread pudding continues at Salum as well — see sidebar on Page 18.)
Lockhart Barbecue’s fat-free vegan smoothie (just kidding — its meat!). Lockhart is the reason I can’t be a vegan. I don’t blame them, but when you can smoke meat so well that adding sauce seems like an after-thought; when your heart palpitates the closer you get to Bishop Arts; when you revert to grunting as a form of communication just thinking about a piece of butcher paper stained with the flavors of brisket … well then, you’ve created quite a reputation, my friend.
The feeling of Zen I get from shopping at Trader Joe’s. Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day and I need to feel refreshed, I drive down to the TJ on Lower Greenville, and the worries of the world seem to evaporate. It happened to me years ago when I walked into my first Central Market, but that store is so large, you can feel lost. Not so Trader Joe’s, where you can buy individual bottles of beer for $1.09, get very likeable cheap wine, organic chicken, firm tofu and 100 percent cranberry juice and tons of other items that make you feel productive and happy and part of the food community.
Sissy’s fried chicken. Brined in buttermilk and pressure fried to a darker-than-you’d-think café au lait that’s as crisp as a dress shirt straight from the dry cleaners, a bucket of Lisa Garza’s homestyle chicken is comfort food extraordinaire. $25 for a 10-pc. mixed bucket.
Warm salsa at Mercado Juarez Cafe. I’ve never quite gotten over the idea of serving salsa not just hot (picante) but warm (calida). That impressed me when I first went to Mercado Juarez not long after moving to Dallas, and has stuck with me over the years.
Sea bass at Steel (above). I swore off sea bass for a few years when its sustainability was in question, but now that is has roared back, my preparation of choice is the delicate, smartly-flavored version at Steel: Warm, tender, spiced with a miso glaze and wasabi sauce. $16–$36.
Pupusas at Gloria’s. Simplicity should not spell a lack of creativity when it comes to food. In fact, look back through this list, and you’ll see a common thread is the ease with which seemingly prosaic dishes are elevated by the alchemy of ordinary ingredients coming together in exceptional ways. Perhaps the simplest of all is the one I’ve had, hands-down, more than any other: The pupusas at Gloria’s. I cannot think of a time in the last 22 years I have been in and not reveled in this pocket of flour and cheese (add some pork if you’re up for it), pan-fried and delivered up like an offering: “We are amazing, thank you for appreciating us.” $3 each.
The bacon cupcake at Zephyr Bakery Cafe. The newest of the items that make Dallas a great foodie town is the cupcake at Zephyr that has a piece of bacon on it. With Aug. 20 being National Bacon Lovers’ Day (see sidebar below), it seemed appropriate to include this best of bad-for-you proteins, combined with buttercream and gluten, as our most indulgent delight.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2016.