It’s the city of family, comforts, and most importantly home. With the largest chunk of my life spent here, surely I’ve gotten to know the place. Would happily share some of my top moments, – it’s all about the places, with the associated peoples who have lended happiness and familiarity.
TL;DR (click to learn)
We’re in Texas after all, and the southern border brings in a myriad of beautiful people, and all their wonderful creations. In my eyes, there’s no better way to experience the local food culture, and on the cheap too. Without further ado, here’s where my heart (and stomach) feels most satisfied.
I’ve been frequenting this place for many years, and every time I leave with the exact same reaction, “damn did that taste good”. It never disappoints. The Mexico City style area presents their street tacos in a slightly elevated manner, and the meats especially deserve recognition. Don’t leave without trying the Cabeza (head) Tripa (beef tripe), Pollo Adobo, and their version of the Al Pastor. The owners are super friendly, it’s a bright, colorful casual vibe, with great bang for your buck. Whats not to like?
Side tip: These folks also opened a more upscale, energetic mezcalaria speakeasy next door called La Vuida Negra. Enter through the bridal shop. Their Gorditas are delicious, and the cocktail menu elaborate.
Meat on a spit. The greatest quesadillas in town. A killer paneer poblano vegetarian taco. This former popup caught some attention with Bon Appetit, and the momentum just kept rolling, completely understandably. To put it straight, this shit is good. Definitely try their Campechana quesadilla, a beast of a tortilla product loaded both with pork and beef. Also sample the namesake Trompo taco, pork cooked on a spit, and the Paneer Poblano which mellows out the meat heavy feast.
Revolver Taco Lounge
Located in the epicenter of trendy Deep Ellum, Revolver appears to be a hipsterish take on Mexican food, both by price point and decor. In reality, its appearance is deceiving. When I saw an elderly hispanic grandma pressing tortillas, I knew I was in good hands. Their creations are elaborate, with the pulpo a vibrant standout, as well as the al pastor, squash blossom, and well, basically everything. The establishment also hosts an elaborate tasting menu, which deviates from taco norms into the complex dishes of Mexican cuisine. Check it out.
Taquero only has outdoor seating…which may make it seem like a fast, counter-service operation. Surprisingly, it’s quite the opposite. Sitting here feels like relaxing at a Cabo resort, just a few feet from the ocean, white sheets, a gentle breeze—it’s upscale. These guys are a bit more inconsistent, so I love to combine them with a taco hop to Trompo or Tacos Mariachi.
The ceviche is a delightful start, and does well to mimic the entourage. The lengua is my favorite in town, and their shrimp taco is solid as well. Ask the chef what he recommends as they often run out and change up menu items.
It’s all about seafood taco’s- and an excellent array of spicy salsas. Campechano, loaded with octopus, shrimp, and avocado, best demonstrates Mariachi’s all out approach to seafood fare. The similar Pulpo, just without the shrimp, is also very tasty, as is the Camaron Al Pesto, filled with sauteed shrimp, cheese, and pesto. See a common theme here?
The more standard meat tacos are nothing to write home about, so don’t bother.
These are the restaurants that are solidly great. From a range of cuisines, categories, and costs, none will deviate far from central Dallas.
Petra and the Beast
I remember finding Petra and the Beast on Instagram way back, immediately curious by its unorthodox approach. The verdict upon arrival? Love at first sight. A few years later the acclaim is deservedly rolling in – James Beard award, Bon Appetit top 50. Petra is making the national map.
It’s a casual, yet cool approach to some funky flavors. Chef Misti Norris specializes in curing, pickling, fermenting, all with locally grown and foraged foods. The menu constantly changes, with noodle dishes, a meat board, and vegetable oriented appetizers the general gist of offerings. It’s all delicious – no wonder I quickly adopted the reputation as “the dude who orders everything.”
Her food makes me think. What’s this flavor? How’s this prepared? The unfamiliar vegetables, pastas, and cuts of meat keep me googling. It digs into what makes eating so fascinating. Tasting, smelling, feeling as never before. Extra bonus? It’s BYOB 🙂
Khao Noodle Shop
The plastic stools surrounding the exterior evoke memories of street food stalls, passing motorbikes, and sizzling meats. Inside, an animated energy bounces between the walls; noodles submerge into boiling water, dumplings are painstakingly crafted by hand in the corner, and food orders are quickly slurped away into stacks of empty bowls.
Chef Donny Sirisavath’s Laotian menu features delicate sauces, bright flavors, and savory broths. Many of the dishes involve exotic additions- pork blood, fermented pork, duck intestine and fermented tofu, yet all the dishes are crafted with restraint, vibrancy and astounding complexity.
The portions are small, too small for my liking, but a bowl of noodles only sets you back 5$. There’s no shame in trying several. The noodles are difficult to share, so I’d recommend to order 1 or 2 each, and split the aptly named ‘shareable plates’.
Recommendations must start with their dumplings- these are truly unbelievable. They’re called Sakoo, and the waitress proudly shared it’s the only place in Dallas you can try them. They’re little balls made from tapioca pearls, stuffed with pickled radishes, nuts, and a delicious acidic sauce. I was told it takes several hours to only make 2-3 dozen, and I spotted a lady in the kitchen dedicated to forming these wondrous balls. The textures are chewy, crunchy, and pop with flavor. Few items in Dallas are so invigorating.
His signature Boat noodles are a must- a bouquet of spices are simmered in a bone broth, similar in profile, yet only just heavier, than a classic Pho broth. Pork blood is added to the broth for a deeper richness, without overwhelming in flavor. Finally, the noodles are topped with a small bite of beef cooked from the previously mentioned beef bones.
Additionally, the Sukiyaki is a very different, yet equally appetizing noodle option. It’s vegetarian- focused around a fermented tofu sauce, with a garlic addition, and a light coconut cream. The glass noodles are topped with scallions, a quail egg, and some pickled cabbage.
Other noteworthy dishes include Mee Katee – his take on a delicate chicken curry, and Khao Soi – fermented pork, mushrooms and spicy chili oil (I recommend the version with a broth, which adds an extra depth to the flavors).
The Suburbs- a wealth of diversity
Dallas is one of the most multicultural cities in the US, yet driving around you probably wouldn’t think so. Hidden in pockets of communities, especially in the suburbs, exists an incredible cultural wealth. Flying back home one year, I happened to be sitting next to an elderly Hindu lady. To my surprise, she was en route to the metroplex for the sole purpose of visiting a temple, one of the largest in the US. It’s amazing to consider the extent of diversity. A real shame many Dallasites may never untap its full spoils- namely the delicious foods.
Few people, places, and environs are as dear to my heart as this hospitable Sri Lankan joint. In a nondescript strip mall in Farmer’s Branch, an equally nondescript sign Spicy Zest blends into the surroundings. The first time I arrived, I doubled check it was the right door. The inside couldn’t feel more welcoming- like an extension of a Sri Lankan living room. I’m immediately greeted with a smile, not out of politeness, but genuine warmth. Sri Lankan artifacts hang abound, and kids play on their iPads in the corner. On the wall hangs a small framed newspaper article “best chef in Dallas.” For hole in the wall goldmines, it doesn’t get any better than this.
To those unfamiliar with Sri Lankan cuisine, it’s comprised as an amalgamation of everything surrounding: Light coconut curries reminiscent of South East Asia, spice bouquets of the Indian subcontinent, and techniques and approaches native to only Sri Lanka itself.
Nearly every dish here is a hit, but some deserve special attention. I’d heavily recommend the Kottu, a classic staple cooked with noodle like roti bread, seasoned in a flavorful, yet delicate assortment of spices, as well as carrots, leeks, garlic and a meat of your choice (I’d go with lamb) . The Lamprais, a traditional ceremonial dish, features a rich curry with a variety of additions- fish balls, beef, lamb as well as caramelized onions, eggplant, a real egg and pan fried yellow rice. It sounds like there would be too much, yet the dish has a strong, delicate balance of spice, sweetness and texture. Chef Nimidu is amazingly capable of creating intricately balance dishes, always flavorful, yet never overbearing. Other highlights include the Deviled Chicken, a sweet and spicy South Asian staple, Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian dish with sausage, shrimp, sweet chili and pineapple, as well as their take on Biryani, a rice dish cooked in herbs, stock, and a selection of chicken, lamb or beef. If there’s any questions, the staff will always gratefully explain, adapt and create anything of your liking.
For my mom’s birthday we were cooked an entire authentic Sri Lankan feast, completely off the menu. We brought some beers, shared some laughs, and sung along as the owner brought out some coconut cakes. Comfortable hospitality doesn’t get any warmer 🙂
The approachable Chinese restaurant feels like a massive operation – from the bakery upfront, to the dumpling steamers in the back, the full kitchen, bar, and expanse of tables- yeah it’s a lot. Thankfully, the menu, while not short, is devoid of the limitless variation of many Chinese- American shops. Jeng Chi does possess a few authentic flairs from time to time, but it’s really not the right place to go for recreations of mainland China.
Instead, order a pot of tea, some dumplings, a cheap bowl of soup, and delicious renditions of Chinese dishes we all know and love.
The orange chicken is a surprising highlight- an abundance of rind creates bitter citrus flavors, punctuated with dried chilies, all in a sweet sticky sauce. Don’t leave without sampling dumplings: juicy pork, pan fried beef, and curry chicken are all noteworthy.
Just 3 and somethin hours to the south -Austin – may have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to their coffee and beer scene (perhaps justifiably so). Yet no fear, as a larger number number of bearded cyclists are on a quest to find the best cup of joe that Dallas has to offer. Here’s where I’ve gone on two wheels.
Based in San Antonio Merit now rules supreme as my favorite coffee micro-chain (sorry Houndstooth). Their roastery is fantastic, baristas very friendly, and interiors beautiful. The Deep Ellum location tends to get very packed, and a bit hectic, so I’d definitely recommend their Highland Park locale as an escape for relaxation. Ask about naturally processed pour-overs, espresso options, and an amazingly flavorful cold brew.
Full City Rooster
Full city’s vibe is unlike any other shop in Dallas. The building extends inwards past a garage door, with a roasting machine dominating the room. A table and a couple chairs surround the coffee counter. At first it seems that’s the whole shop- a former garage- yet down the hall there’s also a room filled with dead moose, silence, and modern art.
It can feel strange at first, but once you walk up to order a coffee…it all falls in place.
The staff greet you personally with a smile, and the owner, a memorable man named Micheal, will happily accommodate your preferences, brew you anything you’d like, and answer any questions about coffee.
It’s a personal feeling- more personal than anywhere else in Dallas. I love that.
First and foremost, Full City is a roaster. They produce a lot of lesser marketed coffees- such as a washed Yemenese, and a natural Guatemalan. Their roasts are where they take their name from- slightly darker then what you’d find at other specialty shops.
The aroma and intensity of flavor produced really impress.
Try their espresso shots, cappuccinos, and pour-overs.
They all have a strong flavor and strong soul- just like Full City itself.
Davis Street Espresso
Nestled on vividly gentrified Davis street, roaster Oak Cliff Coffee serve some tasty cups inside the unusual space.
Let me get it out of the way- this shop can come across a bit snobby. There’s no wifi, no to go cups (something I wholeheartedly agree with), and the menu options are interestingly monikered. Sometimes the baristas can come across a tad condescending, but my last couple visits were very friendly.
Their espresso is the star of the show- the hidden city flagship blend bursts with flavor and texture pulled out of their machines. I’d definitely recommend ordering several.
If you’d like a touch of milk, they pay homage to local history with the Van Buren- a cortado served alongside a jar of topo chico, and a biscotti.
Recently, a bakery was opened in the same space, and its output is delectable. The cinnamon roll is truly one of the best I’ve tried. It’s a great addition- the coffee shop is filled with intermingling aromas of roasted coffee, and baked pastries.
The space is very pleasing, encased in dark wood, and with funky additions abound. There’s even a converted old school bus in the back – for those summery insta pictures.
Alas the least convenient factor of Davis Street is the hours- they close at 3 during the week, and are closed on Sundays. They aren’t close enough to my house to enjoy a morning treat- so my visits are infrequent.