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Dallas Dining

Make a Beeline for the Tex-Mex
Dallas Dining
When visiting some destinations, you need to save room in your suitcase; for Dallas, you need to make some room in your stomach. The city’s mix of cuisines—from down-home Texas to authentic international fare, fine-dining spots to casual hangouts, chef-driven menus to food truck favorites—means there is always more to sip, savor, and enjoy.
Photo courtesy of El Fenix
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    Make a Beeline for the Tex-Mex
    Make a Beeline for the Tex-Mex
    Naturally, when in Texas, it’s really all about Tex-Mex. While some of the Southern Lone Star cities’ proximity to the border has afforded them a broader selection of regional Mexican fare, Dallas is not lacking in excellent spots with authentic dishes as well as the state’s signature hybrid cuisine. One of the oldest spots for the latter is perennial classic El Fenix, which has been serving staples like chile con queso, sour cream chicken enchiladas, fajita platters, and Mexi-accented burgers since 1918; there are now over 20 locations around the Metroplex. Another family-owned classic, Matt’s Rancho Martinez, got its start in Austin in 1925 and has had a Dallas outpost since 1985; the North-meets-South menu of dishes like Chicken Martinez, Prairie-style frog legs, stuffed jalapeños, and the legendary Bob Armstrong Dip (a mix of ground beef, chile con queso, guac, and sour cream) have earned it a spot in the Texas Restaurant Hall of Fame. Since 1991, Mattito’s has been drawing crowds with its twists on 50-year-old family recipes; there are now a few locations in which to enjoy slow-cooked brisket quesadillas, pork carnitas tacos, generous mixed platters, and even chicken fried steak topped with chile con carne. Go casual at the patio seating–only Taqueria La Ventana, serving street-style eats in handmade tortillas, or at Avila’s, which has earned Food Network raves for its signature mole, pozole, and homemade salsa. For something upscale, book a table at Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano, where the Mexico City–inspired menu is accented by a clubby cigar bar, or the bistro-style Mr. Mesero, the latest venture from the mastermind behind the Mi Cocina/Taco Diner restaurant empire.
    Photo courtesy of El Fenix
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    Brunch It Up
    Brunch It Up
    To say brunch is a big event in Dallas would be quite an understatement: From families enjoying catch-up time and socialites doing the see-and-be-seen circuit to twentysomethings recounting their adventures from the night before over bottomless mimosas, this is how Dallas kicks off and caps off the weekend. Where you go depends on your mood. With locations all around town, longtime favorite Bread Winners Café & Bakery still draws lines for signatures like fried chicken and waffles, croissants topped with French ham and eggs, and the Bloody Diablo (a spicy Bloody Mary garnished with jalapeño bacon). Low-country-accented fare like cornmeal griddle cakes, fried green tomato sandwiches, and shrimp-and-cheddar grits make Hattie’s a go-to in the Bishop Arts District, while nearby, Boulevardier gets the day started off right with upscale bistro fare like duck leg confit with eggs, homemade quiche, and croque madame sandwiches. Try to grab a spot on Bolsa’s patio to dig in to chilaquiles, house-made biscuits with chorizo gravy, and Twigs & Branch flatbread; or a table in the garden at the charming Saint Ann for build-your-own omelettes, breakfast quesadillas, and strawberry shortcake French toast. For some hair of the dog, look no further than the spacious indoor/outdoor Henry’s Majestic, where you can pair sweet or savory monkey rolls, breakfast ramen, and beer-braised corned beef hash with a full list of brunch cocktails. The most popular restaurants usually have lines out the door by 11 a.m., so aim to arrive early to beat the crowds.
    Photo courtesy of The Grape
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    Modern Texas Cuisine
    Modern Texas Cuisine
    Chefs like Stephan Pyles, Dean Fearing, Jon Bonnell, and Tim Love have become known around the world as some of the fathers of modern Texas cuisine, in which elevated, New American dishes are inspired by traditional Texas flavors and recipes, and crafted with regional ingredients and products. Many of these award-winning chefs have restaurants around town, making it easy to enjoy a taste of this growing Southwestern culinary movement. Billed as “a love letter to Texas,” Stephan Pyles’s Stampede 66 puts a contemporary twist on dishes like popovers with pimento cheese, chicken-fried buffalo steak, tamales, and dry-aged pork chops, accented by comfort foods like mac-and-cheese and loaded mashed potatoes. More than a decade into its residency at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Dean Fearing’s James Beard Award–nominated eponymous restaurant remains a go-to for dishes like Dr. Pepper–braised short ribs with crispy tobacco onions, wood-grilled antelope sirloin, and barbecued shrimp tacos with mango salsa. Taking their cues from these forefathers are newer spots making their own mark on contemporary Texan fare. Tillman’s Roadhouse serves “urban cowboy” items like chicken fried steak with charred poblano gravy and pecan-crusted fried okra in a vibrant, art-lined space, while at The Rustic, dishes like cactus fritters, the Drunk Chick (beer-can game hen), cedar-plank fish, and Sloppy Joe–style veggie burgers are made with products from the gulf, local ranches, and area farms; pair them with one of over 40 beers on tap, many of them local.
    Photo courtesy of Kevin Marple/Stampede 66 by Stephan Pyles
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    An Expanding Food-Truck Scene
    An Expanding Food-Truck Scene
    Inspired by Austin, its southern neighbor, Dallas is enjoying an ever-expanding food-truck scene. As in most major cities, many of the trucks roam around town instead of planting roots in one area; check out sites like FoodTrucksIn or Roaming Hunger to see where you might be able to snag some gourmet sliders, Hawaiian-style shaved ice, Mumbai street food, tasty gyros, Neapolitan pizza, and much more. You’ll also find some mobile eateries peddling their wares around the green spaces at Klyde Warren Park; find something savory for an impromptu picnic, or skip to dessert at the Coolhaus truck—serving jam-packed cookies, root beer floats, and ice creams in flavors like Nutella-almond. At the always-buzzing Truck Yard, eats from a rotating selection of food trucks can be enjoyed alfresco, along with beers and cocktails from a variety of bar spaces.
    Photo courtesy of Klyde Warren Park
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    Just Like Grandma Used to Make
    Just Like Grandma Used to Make
    Though Texas is firmly—and proudly—in the Southwest, you’ll find a decidedly Southern influence running through its traditional dishes; think of it as “Grandma’s kitchen” meets “cowboy campfire.” As a result, you’ll often spy things like shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and biscuits and gravy on menus everywhere from greasy spoons to upscale restaurants. In several locations around the Metroplex (including spots in Carrollton, Frisco, and Arlington), the family-owned, kid-friendly Babe’s Chicken Dinner House serves homestyle comfort foods cooked in small batches; after some fried chicken or chicken fried steak, don’t miss a slice of house-made pie. In the historic West End, Ellen’s serves all-day brunch with dishes like buttermilk fried chicken, grits Benedict, and Pancake Pot Pie in an elevated diner setting. Upscale Southern fare can be enjoyed at stylish favorites like Hattie’s in the Bishop Arts District and The Porch in Knox-Henderson, while the retro-casual Norma’s Cafe—first opened in Oak Cliff in 1956 and now with five locations—keeps it real with fluffy biscuits and gravy, Southern-fried catfish, hot cobblers, and the signature Mile-High Pies.
    Photo courtesy of Shannon Faulk/Sissy’s Southern Kitchen + Bar
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    Texas Barbecue
    Texas Barbecue
    If you’ve traveled to places like Memphis, Kansas City, Alabama, and North and South Carolina, you know barbecue styles are a very personal—and deeply revered—thing. Texas is so large, it has a few different signature styles. In north Texas, meat is usually dry-rubbed with salt and pepper and then cooked for hours over pecan, oak, or mesquite woods for that perfect mix of smoke and fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Wherever you go, you can typically choose between brisket, sausage, and pulled pork and load up on a wide array of sides. Among the Dallas area’s top picks are Pecan Lodge in Deep Ellum, which has grown from a farmers’ market stand to being named one of the best BBQ spots in the state; the pits there burn 24 hours a day, and everything—from the sausage to the banana pudding—is homemade. Another “best in state” award winner, Cattleack Barbeque, has a devoted following for its perfectly smoked and sauced meats, variety of sandwiches (like the signature Toddfather, with brisket, pulled pork, and hot link), and sides like cheesy jalapeño grits (note the lunch place is open only Thursdays, Fridays, and one Saturday a month, so the lines can get long). Down in Oak Cliff, at Smoke in the Belmont Hotel, chef Tim Byres—who’s been lauded by national magazines for his grilling skills—serves trays of spare ribs, coffee-cured smoked brisket, beer-can chicken, and more, paired with sides like hominy casseroles, red rice, and BBQ charro beans. In the Bishop Arts District, the casual Lockhart has set itself apart with Texas post oak–smoked meats (including the exclusive Kreuz Market sausage) that are wrapped in butcher’s paper, served with cold beers, and enjoyed around shared tables. And while there are now over 600 locations of the Dickey’s Barbecue Pit chain across 43 states, it’s worth stopping into one in Dallas—where the brand started in 1941—to sample some slow-smoked meats peppered with the signature secret rub.
    Photo courtesy of Pecan Lodge
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    Coffee Time
    Coffee Time
    Practically every city, big and small, has enjoyed a coffee revolution over the last several years, and Dallas is no exception, with the number of neighborhood coffee shops serving their own brews—in styles from espresso to pour-over—increasing significantly. Many also boast a distinct personality, food, or bakery selection, and baristas who are quick to recognize the regulars. The Pearl Cup is a favorite for its house blend and selection of all Texas-roasted beans, as well as the signature latte and homemade snacks. Set in a cozy former home on Routh Street, Crooked Tree Coffeehouse serves batch- and manually-brewed drinks (think Chemex, V60, and more), as well as excellent cold brews, all using organic beans; there’s also a tasty selection of locally sourced treats, like Bearded Brothers Bars and Hypnotic Donuts. Austin-import Houndstooth now has a few Dallas locations in which to share its love for high-quality, sustainably produced coffee, tea, wine, beer, and pastries, while Oak Lawn’s Ascension also serves wine—and a full farm-to-table menu—to buttress its top-notch house-roasted blends. While shopping and gallery-hopping in the Bishop Arts District, stop for coffee (or a bite and cocktails) at the lively Oddfellows, or grab a hot drink while you browse the tomes at the Wild Detectives café/bar/bookstore. And if you’re in a late-night mood for specialty coffees—or are hungry for chicken and waffles, build-your-own omelettes and crepes, honey-mustard chicken sandwiches, and more—there’s perennial favorite Café Brazil, whose several area locations are open 24/7.
    Photo courtesy of Oddfellows
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    Margarita Madness
    Margarita Madness
    The margarita is on almost every cocktail menu in Dallas, whether you are in a Tex-Mex restaurant or not. From classic versions made with tequila, citrus juice, and Triple Sec, served frozen or on the rocks, to newer versions made with fresh ingredients and craft-cocktail twists, you’re never too far from a ‘rita here. Sip on margaritas made with top-shelf tequilas at one of Latin restaurant/bakery La Duni’s two locations, or at Manny’s Uptown, where the drinks pair perfectly with the excellent Tex-Mex fare; after a couple rounds of Gloria’s Signature or Top Shelf margaritas, you’ll be ready to hit the floor at one of the Latin/Tex-Mex restaurant’s weekend salsa and DJ nights. Though it’s grown into a local chain empire, Mi Cocina still earns raves for its margaritas, which include fruit versions like mango and strawberry, spicy jalapeño, and the signature Mambo Taxi, which mixes a traditional frozen margarita with homemade sangria. Unique flavors are also on offer at chef Nico Sanchez’s authentic Mexican eatery Meso Maya, such as the flavorful avocado margarita, the Serrano Berry (with fresh berries and serrano peppers), and the classic, which comes rimmed with Oaxacan sea salt.
    Photo by Kathy Tran