The tacos at Revolver in Deep Ellum were impressive mini-meals on the best corn tortilla in Dallas
In a mixed year for new restaurants, some standouts still emerged
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
I noted last year that the era of new fine-dining restaurants, while not dead, was certainly undergoing a transformation akin to resurrection. And that trend merely sped up in 2017.
Yes, there are always good, even great new places to explore (as well as old favorites to revisit). And 2017 did see, very late in the year, a signature high-end opening to beat the band: Bullion from chef Bruno Davillon. (It debuted too late, though, to be considered for this year-end roundup, as did Knife Burger, Jalisco Norte, Peasant Pizzeria, Mille Lire, Blue Sushi Sake Grill, Malibu Poke, Tacodeli, Harlowe MXM, The Commissary, Up on Knox and all the concepts at the new Statler Hotel.) But the year also was notable for lots of closings of places that barely lasted a full solar cycle (sometimes even a lunar cycle — anyone remember Hot Joy or Q Tacos & Macho Cantina? Bueller? Anyone?), and the shuttering of longstanding hits (Dish in Preston Hollow called it quits just last week). There was more turnover than in the White House press office.
The reason, of course, is oversaturation of the market: Too many bowls seeking too few spoons. And while steakhouses and supported hotel restaurants will always find their levels in the Dallas dining scene, the competition has become cutthroat. (I personally dined at about 100 new restaurants last year, which staggers even me.)
Which may account for why many of the most memorable new joints to catch our eye (and delight our tongues) in 2017 weren’t white glove palaces of Michelin-star elegance, but of scrappy, know-your-brand-serve-your-diners creativity. So while I do announce my Restaurant of the Year (at the end this time, to sustain the suspense), as well as so close runners-up and notable also-rans, what resonated mostly over the last 12-or-so months of my dining life — my Top Tables, the memorable spots I enjoyed over and over and spoke to something culinary and socially poignant — were places filled with flaws but personality; mistakes, but often in the service of outside-the-lunchbox thinking; casual boites for exceptional bites, from tacos (a lot) to something more. And areas of town that drew me back again and again.
So here it is — not a Ten Best per se (how 2015 would that be?) but a survey of what made a difference to foodies and followers, chefs and diners, boozehounds and gourmands… concluding with a summary of what I think were the top new restaurants in 2017.
Mirror, mirror…. When you have a concept that works, make it work elsewhere. I thoroughly enjoyed new iterations of Greenville Avenue Pizza Co. (GAPCo. now in Lakewood), Asian Mint (the third version, this one at Inwood Village), Public School 972 (in Addison, supplementing Uptown’s PS 214) and even Urban Taco’s redesign and hop across the parking lot at Mockingbird Station, in addition to Del Frisco’s in Uptown and Legacy West (see below).
Uptown chic. Del Frisco’s is just one of the eateries to pop up around the renewed Uptown area near the Crescent, which welcomes everything from burger joint Shake Shack to the renovated opulence of Truluck’s. But two new ones that raised the profile of the neighborhood most were the spacious seafood spot Water Grill, and the Canadian-based gastro-more-than-a-pub Moxie’s.
Going Deep. Like Uptown, Deep Ellum is undergoing a renaissance. Some do better than others (I loved Filament, but it didn’t last). On the classic American cuisine side, two newcomers — Idle Rye and Stirr — tingled our taste buds. (Look for another Deep Ellum freshman later in this list.)
Gayborhood go-tos. District 30 (aptly named for the congressional district in which it sits) and Crickles & Co. have provided a fresh taste in the wake of closings like Cedar Grove, ThaiRiffic and others. If you’re willing to drive down Oak Lawn and cross the highway, the Design District BBQ joint Ferris Wheelers, a smoked-meat Mecca whose sauces accent rather than mask great brisket and pulled pork.
The outliers. You have to drive up to Frisco if you want to enjoy Nerdvana, though a true nerd would have no problem doing so for the chance of dining on well-crafted dishes in a tech-savvy and welcoming setting, where classic video games are available for play. For gamers, it’s a full-on nerdgasm. Likewise, healthy eaters should gather at Gather, the Downtown spot that delivers tasty meals with organic and balanced ingredients. It’s nice not to sacrifice flavor to eat well.
All of these places and more offered real support to the dining scene; now for the stars.
The best Del Frisco’s. Two of my favorite dining experiences last year were at these magnificent meat castles — one that opened last summer at Legacy West in Plano, and one that started off in late 2016 right in Uptown. Chef David Holbein supervises the menu and hits a homerun with the exceptional cuts of steak prepared perfectly.
Sassetta. Dallas has long been deprived of great choices in authentic and exceptional Italian food… or was, until places like Sprezza and Americano raised the bar. (We tend to do pizza pretty well already.) Add the welcoming Design District restaurant Sassetta to that list. Its brown butter and butternut raviolis are indulgent masterpieces of intoxicating richness, but many of the smaller plates — the crudo, the meatballs — tantalize your tastebuds as well. Oh, and they serve pizzas, too.
Beto & Son. The most notable addition to the Trinity Groves destination dining hub was this father-son Mexican delight, an approachable yet inventive — and dare we say fun? — take on classic Tex-Mex dishes, like stacked enchiladas, an addictive queso fundido and several “towers” (ceviche, salad) that are are wonderful to look at as they are to feast upon.
Taquero. Beto & Son was hardly the only West Dallas eatery to do up Mexican food right. In fact, you only need travel a few blocks down Singleton Boulevard to discover (if you keep your eye peeled) this out-of-the-way walk-up taqueria with the macho-sounding name and equally aggressive versions of tacos, as well as hearty tortas. With minimal fanfare, a spot like Taquero is what food exploration is all about. (Look for a full review soon in these pages.)
Jose. OK, one more stab at Texican cooking. Along Lovers Lane is Jose, a warm restaurant that nevertheless projects a knowing, hip, we-know-we-got-it-goin’ vibe. The service is lightning fast, the food exceeds expectations and defies the prosaic descriptions on the menu. This is high-end without being highfalutin.
Lovers Seafood & Market. If Beto and Taquero can be neighbors, why not Jose and Lovers Seafood, the newest concept from the owners of Shinsei (which is just around the corner on Inwood). Whimsical decor and a good wine list are pluses, but it’s the recipes — from lobster tacos to IPA-battered fish & chips.
So how do you select one restaurant to be your singular standout, the one that defined the year? It wasn’t easy, especially with four serious contenders. But I managed to narrow it down and pick a winner. First, though, the others in contention.
City Hall Bistro. Downtown’s Adolphus Hotel has been undergoing renovations for years now (its French Room finally reopened after a long shuttering), but the restaurant that makes us want to come back is this one. Spacious without being cavernous, City Hall Bistro (so named because Dallas’ original seat of local government once sat on this spot) is an elegant gem — not surprising for a high-end hotel — but also a friendly and unpretentious one with good prices, excellent service and a range of dishes that don’t get caught up in trends or themes. At a recent brunch, neither my companion nor I (experienced diners both) had heard of shakshuka before, but their iteration of the spicy African egg dish made us squeal with glee; the steak and eggs at the same meal boasted perfect preparation and tender beef. Lunch and dinner — as well as cocktails — are just as formidable.
Revolver Taco Lounge. The other important addition to the food scene in Deep Ellum is this deft taqueria with a gourmet pedigree. The menu includes ceviches as well as a “Mexican hot dog” made from local Luscher’s Red Hots sausage, but the tacos are the stars … supernovae, really. Most run roughly twice or more what you’d pay at most taco stands; all are worth it — large, architectural, bursting with creativity. Revolver is appropriately nestled in the hipster haven of Dallas; these tacos are simply too cool for school. You won’t be able to get enough. (Look for a full review soon.)
Sachet. The top spot on my list was hard fought, and Sachet — at the northernmost end of that cultivator of magnificent eateries along Oak Lawn, the Shops of Highland Park (Aurora and Madrina wowed us here; Sachet occupies the old La Duni space) — was a strong contender. Of course it would be. The atmosphere is modern and sophisticated, but not stuffy. The dishes — many with a Mediterranean flair, though extending from Northern Spain to the Levant for inspiration — are technical triumphs imbued with an adroit polish. It’s the details here that stick out and make for a memorable meal. (Look for a full review soon.)
Restaurant of theYear
Town Hearth. Finally, we hit the wall: The restaurant that, in 2017, spoke to me most as a diner, but also as a social citizen. Town Hearth could seem like just another steakhouse — a pricey (true enough) protein bomb of oysters and lamb, tomahawks and filets. Concede those criticisms. It was also the one unmissable experience. At one visit, we had to grease a palm to get a table, so buzzy was the vibe. The patrons didn’t mind waiting, because the promise met or even exceeded the delivery. You’re pampered here, amid the excitement of event dining that feels celebratory even on a random Thursday. The ambiance is as thrilling as the food. You might not go to Town Hearth often — who could afford to? — but when you do, you’re gobsmacked. What else can you ask for?