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What should I eat to get a "Taste of Dallas"?

Dear Dallas Chowhounders, I need your expertise.

I am a foodie from Kansas City (and a big fan of Chowhound) who is using my summer to travel to six different food festivals across the U.S. My goal is to truly get a "taste" of each city and then write about my food experiences while contrasting the differences and similarities of each festival for a local food magazine I currently write for in KC.

Many foodies I have spoken with show complete distain for these types of food festivals as they don't believe one can truly get great food at them. I am aware that most of these food festivals feature restaurants that are more fast food in nature and that very few of a city's culinary heavy hitters ever attend these events. I also know that chain restaurants also use these events to drive their business.

However, I believe there are hidden gems at each of these festivals that are locally-owned and truly represent the tastes and flavors of city that they live and do business in. Those are the places, I am trying to find.

I just returned from the Taste of Chicago last weekend, which is attended by over 3.5 million people during the week it is held, and is considered the biggest food festival of its kind in the U.S. Upon asking the locals what I should eat to "Taste Chicago," I was kindly pointed to and gladly ate the following (listed in the order of most recommended):
#1 - Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza
#2 - Chicago-style Hot Dogs
#3 - Italian Beef Sandwich
#4 - Pierogies with sour cream
#5 - Billygoat's Cheeseburger, cheeseburger!
#6 - Rainbow Ice Cream

Now, I am headed to Taste of Dallas this weekend, and I am needing to know what I should eat there to get a "taste" of your city.

If you see my link below, I was disappointed to see so many chain's on the list of restaurants participating in the Taste of Dallas. I want to make sure I hit only the best places that really will demonstrate what Dallas is about from a culinary standpoint.
http://www.tasteofdallas.org/todresta...

If you can point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it. Then, I guess my bigger question for you is if I cannot really find a "taste of Dallas" at this festival . . . what restaurants or types of cuisine should I hit outside of my time at the "Taste" to really taste Dallas? Many thanks!

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  1. I'm going to look at this from the standpoint of your comment about hidden gems and ignore the fact that Cici's All You Can Stand Pizza is on the list.

    Pokey-O's has great ice cream sandwiches.

    The Celebrity Cafe & Bakery is a locally owned "chain" (I think they have three locations) that has good soup and sandwiches as well as very good baked goods.

    Tejas de Brazil is a churrascaria chain (Brazilian steakhouse) that should be fun for grilled meats.

    Marble Slab Creamery has good ice cream although it's not local in origin like Pokey O's.

    Bangkok City is a local vietnamese restaurant which is good but not great.

    Nuevo Leon is good Mexican food that veers away from the typical Tex-Mex.

    YO Ranch used to be reasonably good for game meats, but isn't as good as it used to be.

    These are the best places on the list, but none of them are places I ever eat at aside from Celebrity and that's not so much because of quality as because my mother likes to take me and my daughter there for lunch. It's a good grandmother lunch place.

    There are alot of places I've never heard of as well. I am hoping for your sake that the website is way out of date and that the list is only a fraction of what is really available because I would hate for anyone to think that the list represents the extent of the food scene in Dallas.

    If you really want a unique taste of Dallas, go down to Maple Avenue and follow this guide: http://www.dallasfood.org/modules.php.... It's in 9 parts and the link is to the last part - you can navigate around to find the other 8 parts. Don't worry about not speaking Spanish and don't worry about the appearance of some of these places. Granted, I would stick to daytime, but it would be very different than Cici's Fest.

    I don't know what your budget is, but you might spring for one really nice meal at someplace like Lola. Dallas has quite alot of fine dining and Lola is a great representation of that aspect - totally and completely missing from the "Taste" restaurant list.

    And, lastly, don't forget to drive to Ft. Worth and eat at Angelo's BBQ. Visit the Stockyards as well. Yes, it's touristy, but it's fun and I recommend it. Ft. Worth also has a number of great museums such as the Modern, the Amon Carter, The Kimball, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dalaimama

      I also agree that majority of the places on this list really aren't worth going to. Pokey O's and Tejas De Brazil would be my picks, if I were only limited to that selection.

      IMO, Dallas doesn't really have much in terms of hidden gems, at least compared to other larger cities in TX.

      1. re: dalaimama

        Bangkok City serves Thai, not Vietnamese.

        Scott at dallasfood.org writes excellent discussions.

      2. Sadly, the DFW area is the restaurant chain capital of the free world. If you are going to be in town, skip "the taste of dallas." I live here and never even heard of it. It obviously is nothing like the The Taste in Chicago.

        There are two great things you can find in Dallas: Fantastic Mexican, and BBQ.

        For good Mexican, or Tex Mex, go to Mi Cocina or Taco Diner. They are owned by the same family, but IMHO is the best to be found. I've never had a bad meal or experience at either. If you go to West Village they are literally right next to each other if you want to try both.

        For BBQ there are multiple places, but I recommend 2: Sammy's in Uptown or Mike Anderson's (hole in the wall) on Harry Hines. Both are outstanding.

        3 Replies
        1. re: kkak97

          I have to respectfully disagree about Mi Cocina. It's good, but very homogonized and very overpriced. You won't have a bad experience there but there are better places to go for destination dining. (Having said that I will admit that we are going to Mico's tonight due to the fact that it's within walking distance ;>) Read the reviews on Mexican on Maple that I linked to above for some truly hidden gems.

          For really good pizza, try Louie's on Henderson. They also have a great Greek salad and good everything else on the menu as well.

          Sammy's has very good BBQ.

          The problem here is that we don't have any strong cultural background that guides a "native" cuisine. I grew up here and the strongest influence back then was Southern cooking and Tex Mex. For a Southern kick, try Mama's Daughter's Diner downtown.

          1. re: dalaimama

            I can't thank you all enough. I am staying in Ft. Worth and going back and forth from Taste, so I will have multiple opportunities to visit other parts of your fine city for food.

            I think your comments about no true strong cultural background to guide your native cuisine is an enlightened and interesting observation. Just look at most of what I was steered to in Chicago, much of it dictated by the immigrant populations that built the city, Italian, Slavic etc. . . .I knew there would be Mexican (closer to the border and larger population) and BBQ (although is there even one BBQ joint on the list for Taste of Dallas? Geez!)

            Honestly, at the end of this exercise I expect my best meal at one of these food festivals to be something so stunningly simple, like sweet corn on the cob cooked in a big pot of boiling water.

          2. re: kkak97

            She can go to mi cocina in Kansas city on the Plaza, yes, same one, check the menu

          3. I am a fellow Kansas Citian who used to live in Dallas. Though it has been seven years since I lived there, occasionally my husband and I like to go down and "eat our way through the city". We lived up north near the airport so most of my suggestions will be in that area.

            Italian- Venice Cafe in Irving on MacArthur (lobster ravioli) www.veniceitalian.com
            Tex Mex- Blue Goose Cantina in Greenville. Go during the afternoon and hang out.
            Esparza's in Grapevine (great salsa and Margarita's) esparzastexas.com
            Steak- Cool River Cafe in Irving (great atmosphere and food) www.coolrivercafe.com
            Homestyle- Babe's Chicken http://babeschicken.com/

            I didn't realize, until I found the websites for this post that Cool River or Babe's are local chains. The food alone is reason enough to go to Cool River, but the atmosphere is phenomenal. It has everything, as the website suggests. Go for drinks at the bar and dinner, then maybe a game of pool or check out a band.

            We have never actually eaten at Babe's because the two times we attempted there was a two hour wait outside, in the blazing sun (at least at the Roanoke location up north). It is apparently famous and when we lived in the area people from back home (KC) used to suggest we go. Literally the line stretches around the building and that is a ringing endorsement!

            I can't wait to hear where you go!

            8 Replies
            1. re: amy_rc

              I agree that Taste of Dallas list looks less than inspiring and I may be a snob, but the West End of Dallas just seems tired. It could be cool, but it isn't. Having said that, there are some great places to eat here. I second Babe's; I really like the Roanoke location but if you don't feel up to the drive, try the Carollton one. The fried chicken is oh so yummy. Both restaurants have a real downhome Texan feel. Mia's on Lemmon is one of my favorite Tex-Mex places. A great atmosphere and very satisfying when I get a Mex craving. El Ranchito on Jefferson in Oak Cliff is another good Tex-Mex place. It's loud and noisy and mariachis play every night I think. I'll also second Anderson's barbecue.

              1. re: pearlgoddess

                If you had to go to one of these "Taste of" festivals in the DFW area, I think Taste of Addison gives a far better selection of restaurants than the west end focused Taste of Dallas. http://www.addisontexas.net/events/Ta...

                1. re: donnaaries

                  I think you are right, Taste of Addison does look soooooo much better than Taste of Dallas . . .how is this possible? I wonder.

                  1. re: jvergara

                    To be fair, the really big swanky food events in Dallas are Savor Dallas, the Dallas Wine and Food Festival and Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation. These events feature top notch restaurants and offer top shelf beverages to accompany your snacks. They are also generally around $100pp and allow you to taste anything you want rather than charging per taste. Taste of Dallas just isn't the top event - it's more of a promotion of West End restaurants with a few other places thrown in.

                    As far as a cultural background, Dallas was founded as a trading post and a business and banking center (yes, even in the mid 1800s). Places like Chicago were founded as port cities which led to large influxes of imigrant populations who would settle there. Dallas is more a city of transplants that never came in large enough waves (aside maybe from New Yorkers in the 1970s ;>) to really shape the city through their cultural heritage. Ft. Worth on the other hand was shaped largely by the cattle industry and the resulting money.

                    1. re: jvergara

                      >>Taste of Dallas just isn't the top event - it's more of a promotion of West End restaurants with a few other places thrown in.

                      That's exactly how it's possible since West End is nothing but a tourist trap that mostly consists of chain restaurants. Compared to West End, Addison has a much higher variety of restaurants.

                      Since you're in Ft. Worth, go check out Angelo's BBQ or Railhead BBQ. They're better the better BBQ places up here, but pale in comparison to anything in Lockhart.

                2. re: amy_rc

                  Hey Amy, I was actually taken to Cool River one of my last trips to Dallas, and it really was such a beautiful and over the top place, I really enjoyed it. Someone told me it where some of the Dallas Cowboy players like to hang out. Not sure if that is true, but I could certainly imagine it having seen it for myself. Many thanks for your other recommendations, I'll look them up.

                  1. re: jvergara

                    If you are staying in Ft. Worth, I recommend the restaurant at the Modern Museum of Art, I believe refered to as the Mod (the museum, not the restaurant). It has been awhile, but it is a great museum, if you have time to go through, and the restaurant is great! Maybe some of these Chowhounders can give a further review.

                    Also, I don't recall seeing the Cowboy's players at Cool River, but I have seen Terry Bradshaw at Esparza's twice...

                  2. re: amy_rc

                    Listen to Amy: Blue Goose on Greenville Ave. for the real neighborhood Tex-Mex experience. Javier's if you want gourmet Mex-Mex. Here's what I wrote re: Blue Goose on another thread:

                    I know there are more esoteric/gourmet Tex-Mex places in Dallas, but I will always love Blue Goose on Greenville Ave. best of any of them. Great margaritas, great made-in-the-house tortillas. great queso, great tamales, great nachos--never had anything disappointing there, and THE most friendly, jovial atmosphere. Noisy as all get-out but a lovely din that never seems intrusive. (Probably since I'm always in the company of kids and grandkids.)

                    It's almost always mobbed, but the bar is in an anteroom entry and you can have a drink while you wait. Outside tables, too.

                    Everyone always seems so happy to be there and the unflappable staff makes everyone feel welcome.

                  3. Ft Worth has better food than Dallas in my opinion, so you are lucky to be staying there! Defintely check out Joe T. Garcia's in the Stockyards...for some great Texmex and super strong margaritas...also be sure to get a table outside! Also check out Reata in Sundance Square (downtown FW), and Angelo's and Railhead for some ridiculously good BBQ.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: cabdallas

                      That is, if you define great texmex by cheese enchiladas or fajitas.

                      1. re: MarcusB

                        Sorry to disagree but pass on Joe T's. Not good at all.

                        1. re: jaime24g

                          It's a matter of opinion and you are in the minority. Joe T's is a great place with great fajitas and great atmoshphere. There are a lot of great TexMex places in the metroplex, but Joe T's is an icon.

                    2. This is only one hound's humble opinion, but I respectfully disagree with most of the recommendations you have received thus far (especially the Tex-Mex places). If I were your guide, I would send you to the following:

                      Tacos- Fuel City (yes, it is a gas station) for al pastor and picadillos tacos. Recently voted best in Texas by Texas Monthly. I was skeptical, but am a convert.
                      Mole- Avilas on Maple
                      Fine dining- Stephen Pyles for various types of ceviche.
                      Breakfast- Breadwinners on Lemmon for Banana Bread French Toast (I think the rest of their food is overrated)
                      Fried Chicken and Biscuits- Babe's
                      BBQ- Dalaimamam is right. Avoid anything in Dallas and eat at Angelo's in Ft.Worth

                      Have fun and report back!

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: Honey Bee

                        DFW Chowhounders ROCK! I will definately be enjoying excellent BBQ and Tex Mex by night and then trying to "taste" Dallas at the Taste of Dallas during the day. I know I will end up with lots of good stories at the end of all of this to share.

                        I know this sounds nuts, but part of the fun and challenge on this quest to visit these local "Taste of" food festivals vs. the higher end swanky culinary events is to really see if one can "taste" the flavor of the city and its people by attending them.

                        Or, on the flip side, to discover that the corporate machine has completely taken over our local festivals making it impossible to "taste" a city at all. As mentioned before, a Cici's . . .is a Cici's . . .is a Cici's Pizza anywhere you go.

                        Clearly, a higher-end culinary event full of Dallas heavy hitters is going to deliver delicious dishes from terrific Chefs or there would be no reason to pay those high ticket prices to have the pleasure to sample the food and attend.

                        But would you honestly "taste" Dallas at those events more, than the Taste of Dallas? The quality and price of the food would be much higher, but if you were served a beautiful Asian-fusion fish dish at one of these fancy events . . .whose to say if you were "tasting" Dallas . . .or Chicago . . .or NYC . . .or Bangkok?

                        I have a dream . . .and that dream is to "taste America" and all the different influences in its simple hometown cuisine . . .one local food festival at a time.

                        1. re: jvergara

                          Given the personality of Dallas (he who dies with the most toys wins), the fancy things are definitely more representative of Dallas' "culture" although you are totally correct that you could eat that food in any city in America. Dallas tends to homogenize everything rather than maintain distinct cultures.

                          I have an idea for you - why not taste regional specialities at various state and local fairs. That might give you a really fun regional taste of things and a really good sociological perspective on the state/county while avoiding some of the corporate. I've been to various state and county fairs and, for two examples, the Iowa State Fair requirement is to get a grilled pork chop at the stand outside the Iowa Pork Council tent and something from the local grinder joint. There are also various other local places that are always present. In Texas, it's a Fletcher's Corn Dog and a visit to the grilled corn stand on the Midway. There are tons of boiled corn stands, but only one grilled (I think it's called Darn Good Corn) - they offer all the traditional condiments for Mexican elotes as well. Lots of fun, and maybe a good additonal to your quest. And there is always something wacky like fried BBQ ribs. Even with all the weird food like fried Oreos, I'd rather eat at the State Fair than at Taste of Dallas ;>

                          1. re: dalaimama

                            Brillant idea . . .you really are the Dalaimama of Dallas, aren't you? Many thanks! : )

                            1. re: jvergara

                              jvergara -- if you're still in Ft. Worth, take a trip to Central Market on Hulen -- its a great place for browsing and noshing, and all my foodie clients that I take there for lunch rave about it! Im from Houston, an we have CM here too, but this store offers a LOT, even to a visitor.

                              1. re: Cheflambo

                                Blue Goose does have atmosphere. With this being said, stick to the drinks. The food is less than desirable and flirts w/ horrendous.

                                1. re: carousel

                                  Are you referring to the one on Greenville Ave?

                                  I haven't been to the Goose for nearly 3 years (don't get back to Dallas much since flying became such a royal pain), but though it is certainly not Taco Diner/Mi Cocina/Javier's/Pilar's, the fajitas were always great, the tamales excellent, the flour tortillas fresh made and wonderful, really good queso. I don't recall anyone in the always-large party over the ~ 25 years ever complaining about anything or failing to clean their plates.

                                  Has the management changed, the expansion(s) to other locations (I know there's one in Addison and another was in the works last time I heard) stretched them too thin?

                                  I'll have to ask my Dallas friends about this. I hope you're wrong.

                                  1. re: PhoebeB

                                    I've got carousel's back on this one. Blue Goose is, and imho, has always been below average. Not chow worthy at all. However everyone has their own preferences...while I do enjoy Javier's I would never send anyone to Taco Diner or Mi Cocina either. To me, those places are in the same camp as Papasittos. To each his/her own.

                                    1. re: Honey Bee

                                      I guess I just like to drink margaritas and ogle the bikers :o)

                                      1. re: PhoebeB

                                        Ooooo biker boys . . . maybe just one drink at the Blue Goose is in order.

                                2. re: Cheflambo

                                  What a terrific foodie side trip idea, I have heard of Central Market, but not been to one YET . . .how about the Dallas Famer's Market? I had it on my list to go check out too.

                                  1. re: jvergara

                                    The Dallas Farmers' Market is HUGE and wonderful. Don't miss it. The main mkt. on one side of the street and an annex a short distance further on the other side of the street.

                                    1. re: jvergara

                                      Central Market a must for one that's never been.

                            2. re: Honey Bee

                              Haven't been on the site in awhile, but regarding Angelo's, I haven't been there in years. I have been to Railhead and love it. I was told by reliable friends that Angelo's has gone downhill over the years, but I'll have to check it out and report back and compare it with Railhead.

                              1. re: Jerry627

                                Jerry,

                                I will back you up on the Angelos....it has gone downhill. On a recent visit to the Museum District I tried it and I couldn't figure what all the hype was about the place. I fgure it must have been better in the yesteryear. I would go for the Railhead out of the big two in FW. I believe there are soem recs in the FW weekly that are in Saginaw and on I believe on the east side from a previous year