The 10 new restaurants that most resonated for us in 2015
2015 is the year the Dallas dining went irreversibly basic.
This isn’t a bad thing. I don’t mean basic in the shady, what-a-basic-bitch way. Basic, rather, applies in this context to simplicity. The basic black dress. Mastering the fundamentals. Doing it right.
Of course, fine dining spots still exist, even thrive. The French Room is still one of the best meals you can get in Dallas, and service there is impeccable in the old-school, white tablecloth sensibility. This is partly due, I’m sure, to the economy, but also to changing tastes. A lot of the “basic” restaurants, even those that serve fairly simple cuisine, aren’t exactly cheap.
Take, for instance, one of the entries on this list, my top 10 tables of 2015 (I call it top tables rather than “best restaurants” because restaurants are organic things that change over time; this is just a list of ones that impressed me with their newness in the preceding year.) Rapscallion, on Lower Greenville (one of the hottest foodiehoods right now — see sidebar, Page 20), is a hipster haven, with bearded busboys and bar staff, and a chef who looks like he should be chopping lumber as much as preparing a red wine reduction. The setting is buzzy and organic, with a cocktail program that rivals many fancier establishment with foo-foo wine lists. If you want to intrude here wearing a pair of jeans and a polo, you’ll feel right at home. You probably feel more out of place if you were wearing a coat with a fraternity tie. And note: You can pay $150 for a steak at Rapscallion. You just won’t suffer through any pretension and fuss.
That accounts for why this list — which chronicles the most memorable meals I had last year — includes several that might be categorized in the “fast casual” category. That’s the fastest growing segment of cuisine in the country, and can be written off sometimes as high-end fast food. That may even be the case. But the best of them do something more — with organic ingredients, inventive sauces, authenticity and cleanness of flavor. It was hard, in fact, to narrow the list because of the plethora of excellent restos that cropped up since October 2014. (My lists usually stops before the end of the year to give new places a moment to breathe; therefore, a number of hot new places — Filament, The Theodore, Wayward Sons, Montlake Cut, Tacodeli and 18th and Vine among them — are eligible for next year’s list … and already heavy contenders. Other earlier-opened restos, like El Bolero, Hickory, Luscher’s Red Hots and Remedy, missed the final cut.)
Here, then, a list that includes not only great Italian and sushi, but also street food, Franco-Mexican and more.
10 (tie). Vivo 53 and CiboDivino. Perhaps the essence of basic food in the modern idiom can be boiled down to a holy trinity: Pizza, burgers and tacos. So why not pick my two favorite new pizzerias to share this space? When Fort Worth’s Vivo 53 opened last summer, it quickly figured on my shortlist for central Cowtown eateries where you can get reliable, fast, friendly and sophisticated food … not just pizzas (which they do exceptionally well), but pasta dishes, too. Closer to Dallas, the Eatzi’s-ish market/deli/resto CiboDivino, by former Oak Lawn restaurateur Daniele Puleo, brought in the most fabulous and authentic wood-burning oven in which to create its classic pies. You can eat there, or grab a bottle of red to go and savor the gooey, rich pizzas at home. Vivo 53, 525 Taylor St., Fort Worth. Vivo53.com. CiboDivino, 1868 Sylvan Ave. CiboDivinoMkt.com.
9 (tie). Pints and Quarts and Rodeo Goat. As with pizza, the burger is a thing of beauty when executed in the right way, and we have to admire that ground-beef sammies at these two uber-cas but ultra-tasty burger joints. Over in the Design District, Rodeo Goat (an import from Fort Worth) creates unusual flavor combinations on its celebrity-named, unsubtle concoctions (naming a side dish “the steaming pile,” and throwing on habanero, bacon and cheese doesn’t suggest understatement, but damn it’s good). That’s the one near my work. Over on Lower Greenville (where I live), dive diva Brooke Humphries (she of Barcadia, Mudsmith and It’ll Do Club) struck a magical balance with her biker-bar-cum-hipster-hang Ps & Qs, with its slate of craft beers, late-night service and exceptional hand-crafted burgers. It completes the ethos of the neighborhood so well, it transcends mere nutrition and takes on a quality of nourishment for the soul. All of which means I’m never far from the salve of a good burger. Pints and Quarts, 5354 Ross Ave. PsAndQsDallas.com. Rodeo Goat, 1926 Market Center Blvd. RodeoGoat.com.
8. Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen. Truth be told, I don’t usually venture into the environs of the Metroplex much farther north than Belt Line Road (suburbanites tend to be less demanding than city-dwellers, and even a bit suspect of innovation), but a trip to McKinney’s Sugarbacon is sooooo worth it. Run by former Stephan Pyles protege Jon Thompson, this exquisitely understated haven of New American cuisine (diver scallops, chile-rubbed Delmonico, the eponymous pork belly appetizer) overwhelms you with its unpretentiousness and unexpected deftness. It’s a diamond you didn’t know had such fire ’til the light hit it. 216 W. Virginia St., McKinney. Sugarbacon.com.
7. Café Momentum. Dallas foodies knew Chad Houser’s bona fides as a chef when he and Janice Provost shared the kitchen at Parigi. But when they co-founded the socially-minded pop-up — and, later, permanent resto — Café Momentum (with Houser leading the charge), what seemed like an honorable enterprise (teach at-risk youth the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business) stunned everyone with its elegance and deftness. The food Café Momentum is turning out is as spectacular as any from Cordon Bleu trained chefs. Wow. 1510 Pacific Ave. CafeMomentum.org.
6. Pink Magnolia. “This tastes like happy,” a dining companion said to me when he placed one mouthful of chef Blythe Beck’s defiantly un-healthy-living food to his lips. I suspect that’s exactly the reaction she wants. Beck has cultivated (cannily) the “Naughty Chef” sobriquet based on her irreverent reliance on butter, booze and bacon, but after a decade spent refining her technique, it has progresses from gimmick to aesthetic, with a social, family-style atmosphere serving salad-deprived dishes to diners who aren’t afraid to enjoy life and grab it by the love handles. (Look for a full review soon). 642 W. Davis St. PinkMagnoliaDallas.com.
5. Rapscallion. The folks who brought the boucherie-bistro Boulevardier to Oak Cliff gave Lower Greenville a kind of urban update with Rapscallion. With its retro-European vibe (even the font on the sign looks like something designed during la belle époque), concern for crafting sophisticated but hearty dishes and a drink menu that’s half the fun, this one could be a game-changer in a big way — the future of artisan hipsterism. 2023 Greenville Ave. DallasRapscallion.com.
4. Americano. Even though we love pizza, Italian food is much more than just that. Indeed, it’s the handmade pastas, rich sauces, delicate fillings and craft cocktails, all of which this oddly-named spot at the Joule executes with cheer-worthy precision. (Look for a full review soon.) 1530 Main St.
3. Ten Ramen. Perhaps no restaurant on the list captures the “basic” label with more vigor than Ten Ramen. The shop itself is small and difficult to find (it’s snugly under an outdoor staircase in the Sylvan Thirty development). It’s standing-room-only, with no hostess and an attitude that says “figure it out.” The menu is limited (maybe half a dozen dishes). You wonder, what’s the deal? The deal, it turns out, is one of the most satisfying meals you’ll ever have. From the quirky, huge bowls of ramen noodles and broth to the spicy ingredients to the Darwinian sensibility (No to-go orders! No cash accepted! No reservations!), eating at Ten is like a trip to Bangkok without leaving West Dallas. 1818 Sylvan Ave. (no website, of course).
2. Madrina. When Julio Peraza stepped in to the kitchen at Komali in 2014, you knew instantly he was a force to be reckoned with. He elevated the cuisine to the level owner Abraham Salum — like Peraza, a French-trained Mexican-born chef — set. When he got his own restaurant where he could play, he turned Madrina into a culinary playground, combining South of France and South of the Border into a single stunner. (Look for a full review soon.) 4216 Oak Lawn Ave. MadrinaDallas.com.
1. Uchi. OK, so I said fine dining is dead as a new concept. Well, yes and no. You don’t need to wear a blazer to dine at Uchi (Uptown’s most electrifying new restaurant since Star Canyon), but you do get unparalleled service and the most exciting dishes to pass by in recent memory. More than just sushi, the thoughtful takes on everything from chicken to pork, as well as the eye-popping presentations, made this the clear best new restaurant of 2015. 2817 Maple Ave. UchiRestaurants.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2016.