AOL PICK from our Editors
Chicken-fried steak, tangy dry-rubbed barbecue and Tex-Mex long topped the bill in the Big D’s restaurants, but with a sprinkle of celebrity chefs, new bistros and exciting ethnic eats now stirred into the mix, suddenly Dallas has become a noted destination for foodies. Whether you want upscale to down-home, Dallas has got it. Celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio, Charlie Palmer and local favorite Dean Fearing have all set up shop in the Big D. Soufflés, salads and organic fare are as likely to be featured on today’s Dallas menus as the meat medleys you might expect. Of course, if you’re still craving something sweet and hickory-smoked, Dallas can rustle up some of the best barbecue in Texas, and nothing beats Tex-Mex when you’re gunning for good flavor on a tight budget. While you’ll still find plenty of the top Dallas restaurants on Downtown streets and in the city’s better hotels, some of the best places to eat in Dallas are in-the-know dens and bistros in seemingly unlikely corners of the city. The elegant Travis Walk, in Uptown’s Knox-Henderson, is a good destination for hip dining options and the West Village’s Inwood Village has a tasty cluster of places to eat. McKinney Avenue has many cool restaurants and Greenville offers the spectrum—from quirky dive to gourmet destinations. Oak Lawn teems with restaurants and Uptown has something to satisfy any appetite—as long as you have a sturdy credit card handy.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
If there’s one restaurant that is synonymous with old-school Dallas dining, it’s the grand Adolphus Hotel’s legendary French Room. This is the place to shimmy into the outfit you picked up at one of the glitzy stores in Highland Park Village—it’s jackets required and they mean it. Denim and sneakers won’t get past the baroque door. Once inside, you might be distracted from the impeccable wine pairings and classics, such as citrus-glazed turbot, seared yellow-edge grouper and amaretto flan, by the gilt, the ornate frescoes and the chandeliers dripping from the high ceilings of the 1912 room, but the setting is a huge part of the Adolphus experience. Intriguing amuse bouches punctuate courses (carrot jello, on occasion). The French Room is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of dining experience and prices reflect that, but portions are decidedly petite and won’t go far if you’re ravenous. Reserve up to two weeks in advance for weekend nights.
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Neighborhood: Park Cities Price: Expensive
You might recognize Central 214’s kitchen and Chef Blythe Beck from Oxygen’s "The Naughty Kitchen" TV show. Happily, the rebellious, no-holds-barred chef puts as much personality on the plate as she exudes on TV, and a meal at Hotel Palomar’s stark, sharp black-and-white restaurant is worth the $150 you’ll spend for a romantic, three-course meal for two. The patio is the best bet if you want to see and be seen, but choose a table inside for a romantic meal. The uncomplicated room backdrops a straightforward menu with enthusiastically executed old-school American dishes, like chicken-fried oysters, spicy-fried lobster and chicken-fried Kobe steak. You’ll see a lot of fried items on the menu, and the sides tend not to come any healthier. A big ol’ scoop of butterfat-whipped potatoes, anyone? It’s a far cry from low-fat, lean takes on American cuisine…and it’s delicious. Sure, our arteries can only cope with an occasional visit, but our taste buds love every second when we do go.
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Neighborhood: Uptown Price: Expensive
Very much one of the best restaurants in Dallas since it burst onto the scene in August 2007, Fearing’s—in the Ritz-Carlton—is winning awards and admirers all over town and far beyond. In its three years, Fearing’s has won awards from OpenTable, Wine Spectator and James Beard. Creative takes on Southwestern cuisine keep the clientele coming back; it’s the curry undertones of the lobster coconut bisque, the flavor splash of dishes such as the barbecued shrimp taco appetizer, the moist, crusty cornbread muffins fresh out of the oven that have us hooked on the place (that and the fact that we can keep up to date with what’s new on the menu with Fearing’s own iPhone app). It’s a bit of a catwalk—with socialites strutting to their tables, preening and checking out who is who at adjacent tables—so wear your finery. Dean Fearing, the city’s best-known chef, often works the room, greeting new and old friends. You can usually grab a table at lunch without reservations, but book early for dinner—up to a week in advance for weekend nights.
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Neighborhood: Park Cities Price: Moderate
When you’ve had your fill of chicken-fried fare and sticky-sweet Texas barbecue, lighten your load at hip rise n°1. Behind the green façade, the pace slows down, the flavors become subtler, and the deep fryer is replaced by a high-tech French oven. They serve French-inspired entrees, such as salad nicoise and brie and cornichon baguettes, but the real reason to visit is for the inventive soufflés, which are the specialty at this soufflé salon and wine bar. Our dinner favorite is the creamed spinach and truffle-infused mushroom soufflé; for dessert the frothy, fluffy chocolate and praline pecan dessert soufflé is divine. The wine flights are a must; the champagne flights are just plain fun.
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Neighborhood: Knox-Henderson/Uptown Price: Moderate
It’s a pretty place, full of pretty people, and the food—Guanajuato specialties gone high-end—is some of the best Mexican in the U.S. or even the world. Whenever we visit Trece, we dress up so as not to be outshone by the wait staff in their pinstripe shirts or by impeccable host and owner Robert Colombo. We recommend giving your Trece visit a kick start with a jalapeño caipirinha and following it up with the alambre beef tenderloin with house made chorizo and the tequila-braised chard. Candles flicker in the 120-bottle tequila bar and reflect in angled mirrors in this opulent restaurant lounge in the affluent Park Cities neighborhood. Subtle sepia and saffron hues backdrop a clientele that’s been carefully put together.
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Neighborhood: Park Cities Price: Moderate
Tuck into Tex-Mex in its tasty, tangy heartland. La Duni doesn’t take reservations, so we make sure to show up before 10AM for their always-popular weekend brunch, where a mouthwatering menu offers numerous twists on standard Mexican fare. Venezuelan arepa corn bread competes with tortillas, chorizo is edged out by Argentine sausage and “Pampas Potatoes,” and banana bread pales beside orange brioche and guava and cheese glories. Lunch and dinner menus roam all over the Latin world and you can’t go wrong, but a particular highlight is the sizzling plate of marinated, adobo butter-grilled picanha beef loin strips. This is the Highland Park location, but there are also La Dunis in Oak Lawn and NorthPark Center.
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Neighborhood: Deep Ellum/East Dallas Price: Budget
Deep in Deep Ellum, three trained chefs helm the grills of the Twisted Root. These men are passionate about burgers and Southern comfort food, and it shows. You might even catch them rapping about it as they flip the succulent beef, ostrich, buffalo and turkey burgers, rustle up some homemade ancho-chipotle ketchup, the spicy bean puree veggie burger, or the battered and fried take on mac and cheese. While the chefs at the Root are serious about their burgers, their sense of humor pokes through when you order and are given a celebrity name instead of a number. It’s hard not to smirk when a call for MC Hammer, Tiger Woods or Oprah has you loping up to collect your lunch. And lest you think the edibles aren’t decadent enough, there are yet more tasty temptations on the menu in the form of “Adult Milkshakes”—it’s a tough call between Banana Bailey’s and Amaretto Oreo.
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Neighborhood: Oak Lawn/Uptown Price: Budget
You can’t come to Dallas without downing a good ol’ portion or two of old-style, down-home ribs, sausages and sides. Join the line of business people for lunch at Sammy’s, a former grocery store near the Federal Capital Reserve Building, where they’ve been dishing up smoking-hot sandwiches and barbecue plates since 1992. If one of your party is a vegetarian, there’s a zucchini casserole and a veggie plate—the only thing non-carnivorous on an otherwise entirely carnivore’s menu.
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Neighborhood: Oaklawn/Uptown Price: Budget
Famed for his frozen yogurt and onion-laden gourmet hot dogs, Harry has won admirers from all over the U.S. Fancy a traditional dog with mustard and cheese? Get yourself a Dallas dog. Relish the coleslaw of the Savannah wiener. Go Mexican with our favorite, the juicy, guacamole-saturated jumbo Chihuahua frank. Opt for something lighter with a grilled-chicken bird dog. After you’ve wiped the last evidence of mustard off, finish with one of the kaleidoscopic array of flavors of homemade, creamy custard—rustled up according to Harry’s mom’s own Oklahoma recipe.
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Neighborhood: Park Cities Price: Budget
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A growing family of budget-friendly oyster bars (there’s another Big Shucks in Richardson, as well as the diminutive Aw Shucks in Greenville), these neighborhood restaurants make a splash with their appealingly-priced daily lunch specials. Po boy sandwiches, fried baskets, grill plates and a whole shoal of other fruits de mer all swim in under the $10 mark. In another appealing twist, Big Shuck’s doesn’t brandish bills; there’s an honor system in place when it comes time to pay and you simply tell the cashier what you ate.
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