Needed: typical recommendations, from a slightly different angle
Hi, I'll be coming to Dallas at the beginning of August for a conference and am looking for recommendations. No doubt a lot of these will be standard since I look primarily for things that are locally/regionally typical. On the other hand I know little about the local cuisine in Dallas. Looking through the postings here provides hints, but usually based on priorities that are quite different from mine.
The main thing, from my point of view, is that quality of the food on offer is paramount, and other considerations, like price (either high or low), service, atmosphere, or location are entirely secondary or immaterial. That doesn't mean high-end fine dining every meal; it's not necessarily luxury I'm after but rather food quality - but this said by the same token I'm not avoiding high-end places either. One thing I definitely do NOT want to do is go to dismal or generic places simply in the name of expediency. (and this includes, e.g. taking breakfast at the hotel - unless it happens to be outstanding; usually hotel breakfasts are limp, uninspiring things)
In context, I'd like to distribute choices amongst a variety of different price points, to balance expenses, but I don't make cost a consideration until the recommendations are in. I'll have some meals where fast service might be useful, but others where I'll have plenty of time - so again a good cross-section of different choices would be ideal. The conference will dictate some of the timings - but again I prefer to manage that after the fact, rather than have conference location and schedules be the driver of what places I end up even considering.
It will be noted that Tex-Mex and Mexican are among my favourite cuisines, worldwide. Also it should be noted that where hot/spicy is concerned, I can take essentially any degree of heat thrown at me, so no need for timidity there, although maximum heat isn't necessarily specifically an objective. So here's what I'm looking for:
Two places appear to be obvious musts:
Mesa and Pecan Lodge, so they're on the list unless someone can provide strong reasons to dissuade me. One thing that would be useful is what the *realistic* arrival time and wait time at Pecan Lodge should be in order to have good selection of their best. Not vague "get there early" sorts of stuff - let's be real - what time do you need to turn up at (assume Thursday-Friday) and how long would you have to wait?
Definitive Tex-Mex. Casa Milagro has been recommended here - other than the people who've already recommended it, are there any other comments? Looking for somewhere as authentic as it gets.
A steakhouse. I'm going to make a position statement here, feel free to disagree but please if you do provide a concrete argument. There will always be, in cities that do steak, one place that's the best. Talk that among the top places, they're basically the same in terms of the steak, that it's everything ancillary that counts, is almost never true. There will be one place where the owner is that much more obsessive, that much better at sourcing, that much more equipped, with those more skilled chefs. They'll have the ultimate beef and cook it in the ultimate way. Where is that place, in Dallas?
A place for the ultimate hand-made corn tortillas, preferably in enchilada form.
Breakfast: I have no idea what's typical or common in Dallas. Previous posts suggest the Mecca - a lookup is somewhat promising; it looks iconic, but what's the real quality like? The post was specifically related to cinnamon rolls - can anybody tell me if these are using solid vegetable fats (white shortenings such as palm oil, coconut oil, Crisco etc.) or butter? And likewise with biscuits - what fat's being used there?
On a related theme, if there are places with great biscuits, that people can confirm *definitely* are using either lard or butter as opposed to solid vegetable fats; I'd be interested in those as well. Generally speaking restaurants and bakeries where I can have a strong assurance that solid vegetable fats aren't being used (in anything) would be very gratefully received.
And any other places for iconic or high-quality or interesting breakfasts, ideally regionally typical.
Stephan Pyles also comes up in recommendations - opinions? It looks representative of high-end fine dining but are there better places? I'd be interested in at least one place that represents the ultimate in fine dining in Dallas (again, ideally with a regional slant)
Some vegetarian places (in a Tex-Mex theme, perhaps?). Obviously as you can see I'm not at all averse to meat but I can anticipate some days where relief from a meat-fest is desirable.
Somewhere for really good bread, if possible, where this is defined (in the case of white bread) as: high ratio of crumb to crust (i.e. more crumb less crust), very thick hyper-crisp exterior crust, golden brown (rather than so heavily caramelised it looks dark-brown), dense, very uniform, very moist crumb with very fine even bubbles and chewy texture reflecting thorough glutinisation, with a slightly yeasty flavour and a strong taste of the wheat used (by this I don't mean a whole-wheat flavour; since here I'm talking of white bread), and definitely NOT sourdough. Other types (whole-wheat, rye, etc. etc. also well-received - with characteristics along similar lines). If by chance sourdough is regionally traditional and completely typical you can ignore my not-sourdough indication.
I recognise Dallas is spread out over a huge area but would prefer not to make closeness or transport logistics a consideration until I know what the recommendations are.
I'll try to answer some of your queries. First off, contrary to popular opinion by those who are not familiar with Dallas Tex-Mex or, Mexican food in general, it is NOT spicy hot! That's what the hot sauce is for.
I'm probably the poster that mentions Casa Milagro for Tex-Mex quite often. You appear to me to be very well travelled with a highly particular palate and I would highly recommend Casa Milagro for you. Although, there ARE others.
Mesa is a very popular family run Mexican restaurant serving the foods of Veracruz, Mexico. In addition to their now famous ceviche, a fantastic home made duck mole' is offered as well as other great dishes. They offer excellent drinks as well.
Personally speaking, I'm not great sausage and gravy fan for breakfast. I prefer The Original House of Pancakes for wonderful French roast coffee with my poached egg on hash browns. with their excellent turkey link sausage made with natural casings.
You should consider the Crossroads Diner for breakfast. They do home made corned beef hash and many other great "chef driven" breakfast dishes including excellent French roast coffee and their incredible, popular sticky buns.
Originally from NYC, I've been living in Dallas for 50 years this month. And I can tell you, with very few exceptions, the bread offered in Dallas restaurants has never been a priority. But that said, it's still a million times better than it was 50 years ago!
Stephan Pyles' restaurant can be quite good but I would consider FT33. They have been getting incredibly good rave reviews for serving excellent food. Possibly some of the best food in Dallas.
As it's still a while before you arrive in Dallas,
as soon as you finish reading my post, I would try to make reservations for Lucia. Arguably, the best restaurant in Dallas! There's usually up to a two month wait for reservations. If they're already booked for August, I highly recommend you get on their waiting list. Get on early and you have a good chance to get in. Incredible Italian inspired food!
Also, I highly recommend Nonna for upscale Italian food. Book early because they fill up quickly.
For great steak and the best wine list in Dallas, I recommend Pappas Bros. Steak House.
We also have plenty of excellent Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese including, Cantonese, Szechuan, and, Taiwanese food as well as some of the best Japanese restaurants in the US.
Advise if you'd like recommendations.
Also, you never mentioned, BBQ. Not interested?
Further to my above post, after re-reading your topic, I thought I'd add some additional suggestions based on your questions.
Pecan Lodge; They open at 11:00 and close at 3:00 Wednesday-Sunday. Or, until they sell out.
And that usually happens around 1:00PM.
Recently, I had a friend in from out of town whose main food desire was a beef rib at Pecan Lodge.
We arrived on a Friday at 10:10AM to a line of about 35 people. By the time we got to the order counter at about 11:30, there were at least 100 people behind us. And, they already had sold out of beef ribs!
If you want BBQ (arguably) as good as Pecan Lodge, try The Slow Bone. Excellent smokey BBQ brisket and a new house specialty. Delicious, melt in your mouth tender ham sliced from a whole, bone-in slow smoked ham leg. Fantastic!
For other great Tex-Mex;
Gonzalez Restaurant in Oak Cliff. Fabulous made in house flour tortillas and delicious, authentic Mexican & Tex-Mex dishes. If you go, be sure to ask for their "Salsa Fresca" with your chips! Otherwise they'll bring a jarred style of salsa. Also, order one of the (authentic Mexican) house specialties from the far right side of the menu. The rest of the menu offers their excellent Tex-Mex dishes.
Also excellent nearby is El Ranchito. Their authentic Mexican specialties include cabrito as well as excellent Tex-Mex and, roving Mariachi's.
Both of the above Mexican restaurants cater more to the local Mexican and Hispanic residents. So, you know you're in for great authentic Mexican food.
I hope that helps answer your questions about some of the food in Dallas.
Here's a response to all posters so far - and many thanks for all your recommendations!
OK, there's 2 recommendations so far for FT33 for the "high-end" category - sounds like the winning choice. Lucia already has on their site that they're booked out. I also personally think that going to any restaurant that books out 2 months in advance is getting a bit silly - more often then not it's more about buzz factor than anything else. They do have 4 walk-in places available so if I feel like chancing it I can always walk in.
I take in then from your comment:
"Personally speaking, I'm not great sausage and gravy fan for breakfast."
that this is a common breakfast choice in Dallas? Great if so, because I *am* a great sausage and gravy fan. I won't ask you for suggestions there, but does anyone else have any thoughts?
Will definitely look at the Crossroads diner. Oooh, chicken fried steak. That's not something I've had in a while. Who's got the definitive version?
Only reason I didn't mention BBQ is that the venue of choice - Pecan Lodge - is already sorted. Now it's just a matter of waiting time. So - if 2 hours is actually the norm - then one should arrive at 9? That's why I'm asking about the *actual* time you need to arrive - because I can see it's possible, once queues form, for the wait time to get large, but that doesn't say anything about queue size before they open. It will be noted though that for me more important than length of wait is probability of broad selection - what's the time you should arrive at to have a good chance of getting almost everything they've made that day?
On the steakhouses - it appears Pappas really has their reputation staked on the wine list - which for me isn't really the priority - it's the meat that matters. Does that alter the ranking order in any way?
Admittedly Thai has never been my favourite so I may end up giving those a pass by simple virtue of having so many priorities and only so much time.
Ethiopian - interesting! In Manchester (England) where I'm from, there is a HUGE Ethiopian community. I've had what might be said to be the ultimate Ethiopian experience - going to an Ethiopian friend's house for Easter (they put out more food than you can possibly imagine, and hand-roasted, hand-made coffee too, which was an experience of a lifetime). Good idea - and that also sounds like a possible vegetarian day choice as well.
Speaking of coffee - I utterly forgot to mention that? I'm a coffee fiend - preferring straight espresso. Are there any really good coffee shops in Dallas - who can do a fiirst-rate espresso?
Bread, meanwhile, isn't just a matter of in restaurants - I'm eager to find bakeries where I can pick up a loaf.
Tacos sound like an ideal lunch choice - if people have specific recommendations there let me know.
Pecan Lodge: 9:45AM should be good. You'll be at the order counter well before they sell out of anything. Probably, among the first people in the que.
Pappas Steakhouse: Arguably, the best steaks in Dallas. Period!
Lucia. Not just 'buzz". It's really that good. Phenomenal food! You'd be making a mistake by not trying to go.
Coffee: Ascension coffee.
Biscuits, sausage and gravy is a Texas breakfast favorite. As it is all over the South in general. Just, too fattening for me, personally.
Tacos La Banqueta on Bryan Street.
A true "hole in the wall" taqueria. Have the suadero (belly brisket) with plenty of onions and cilantro and a good slug of green sauce from the bottle.
Don't like a hole in the wall in an "iffy" neighborhood?
Then try El Tizoncito. Three clean, comfortable locations in Dallas. True Mexico City style tacos with pork cut from a vertical (Trompo) spit. And, they make their own corn tacos. The old fashioned way.
OP seems like they wouldn't have any reservation against going somewhere nice vs divy. I'm not disagreeing with you, but just saying that in this case it's probably not an important distinction to make.
If I were you I'd try and eat at both FT33 and Tei An if you can pull it off.
Lucia is not just about hype. They are booked out because they are in a tiny space so seating is extremely limited. Them and Nonna Tata are the only two places I've had standout Italian dinners in the DFW metroplex. You should still check out the Bishop Arts district and wander around, wouldn't hurt to peek in to see if you can get a table.
No one has gone through and done a "definitive" this is the "best cfs" type walkthrough in the past few years and I just posted up my two favorites (Allgood Cafe and Ozona).
Biscuits and gravy can be as simple as going to a diner or even going mega-upscale and having them at the Mansion. Dallasfood had a comprehensive guide on many places at some point but that's probably long gone. My favorite is at Chicken Scratch/The Foundry, and I think you'd like them since they're also a place that pays attention to quality in both ingredients and execution.
Pappa's uses only prime beef and they have their own dry-aging room, so those are the standouts (I don't really care for wine). The opinions are so divisive on where to have a steak plus I haven't gone out to eat a steak in years though, so I'm not the best person to ask about this.
To be more specific - Bambu is an Issan-regional focused Thai restaurant, think how Mesa is Veracruzan regional specific Mexican and it wouldn't be fair to just dismiss each simply as "Thai" or "Mexican". Bambu has more of a neighborhood/home cooking kind of feel. On the other hand, Pak Pao has a professional chef who previously worked with Thai royalty. It's the first time I'd tried Thai in a more upscale setting, yet it's still affordable despite the Design District location. Two strong Thai restaurants in the area, each doing things their own way.
Coffee: Ascension, Mudsmith, Pearl Cup, Weekend Coffee. Someone more knowledgeable on coffee can probably chime in, but those are the ones frequently brought up for coffee suggestions.
Tacos: La Nueva Fresh and Hot (the best place IMO. handmade corn tortillas are outstanding here), Tacos La Banqueta, Cool & Hot (specifically for breakfast tacos though)
Now that you mentioned where you are from I am going to take back any and all Indian food suggestions. I'd hit Wild Salsa or something like Spiral Diner.
Pecan Lodge: I'd arrive no later than 9:45. The beef ribs are typically what sells out first. A beef rib, order both fatty/lean brisket, some ribs, and a half a sausage should sort you out nicely.
Lucia is very good - I'd argue that it's the best restaurant in Dallas. And... if you're dining alone (or with one other person) and you're pretty flexible about timing, you can almost certainly walk in and get a seat at the counter.
FT33 is an excellent choice as well - both for the food and the bar, which turns out excellent cocktails (probably my favorite bar in Dallas at the moment). I'd put Driftwood on a similar level (for food). Tei An is also an outstanding restaurant. I'm not sure that an average person's omakase will be stellar - it really depends on being known by the chef. But it will at least be very good.
Air is right about just checking out Bishop Arts in general. I like Boulevardier a lot (also a great bar), and Driftwood is not far away. I'm not a big Lockhart fan, but if you're in the vicinity and looking for bbq, it's decent.
The best local roaster, I think, is Cultivar. They have a shop, but it's in East Dallas, which is a bit out of the way. Anything here is good - espresso, cappuccino, or pour overs. Don't get the pre-brewed pot of coffee, though. They usually have an interesting guest espresso as well.
Mudsmith has good pour overs and espresso, but for some reason they heat the milk WAY too hot for their cappuccino. Not only do you have to sip with care, but over-heating destroys the texture and sweetness of the milk. They used to use Fourbarrel Coffee, which was good - but the last time I was there, they told me they were going to switch to a variety of small roasters from around the country. Whatever they get, it will probably be good.
Ascension can also be good, but they generally over-roast their beans (for my taste). The shop is nice because they'll do any of their beans with V60, Chemex, vacuum or french press, and espresso drinks are good. Also nice iced Kyoto, on the off chance that it's hot when you visit.
I haven't been to Oddfellows in a while, but they've always been pretty reliable for espresso-based drinks, like cappuccino or cortado. They use only Cuvee coffee, which is not my favorite.
Pearl Cup had gone a bit downhill the last couple of times I visited, so I'd put them last on the list... I'm not sure what they're brewing now.
I haven't been to Weekend yet, but I'm hoping they'll be good - coffee from Victrola, so that's a good start.
More follow-up replies to all posters:
Tacos - hole-in-the-wall is fine - indeed, is almost a pre-requisite for good tacos. Non-holes-in-the-wall never seem to be any good at this...
Breakfast: OK, if the combo is *biscuits*, sausage and gravy, then I'll add the other constraint: I'd be looking for biscuits using either lard or butter (no solid vegetable fats - Crisco would be the most likely offender). In any case, generally the use of lard/butter marks a place out as much better and more uncompromising anyway, so it's an easy way to make a discrimination. BUT, this means that I need a list of places that definitely DO NOT use solid vegetable fats in their biscuits - at the very least this means a list of places able and willing to provide that information (you'd be surprised how many restaurants are unable, much less willing, to give information about the contents of their baked goods)
On the high end, so far FT33 still has the edge for me over Lucia; another reason is that I've been to several *really top* restaurants in Italy and - let's be realistic - they're not going to be as good as *that*. FT33 seems more original, the kind of thing I can't just go to any city and find. Nonetheless, Lucia would be worth walking by and seeing if I get lucky; I might try this. In fact, I'll have an Italian colleague with me at the conference that I could bring in tow...
As long as the logistics work out, I might try all the coffee shops. It'll make for an interesting trip report when I return.
Although I haven't a clue as to wether they use lard, butter or, Crisco, I would also add
The Original Market Diner to your breakfast list for biscuits, sausage & gravy.
You could call and ask them. Their food is excellent for breakfast and lunch. Very typical of "diner food" from the iconic Greek American diners of the north/east US. I think you'd probably like the place.
If you do choose FT33, I know you won't be disappointed. However, if you decide to try Lucia or, as gavlist suggested, explore the Bishop Art's area, seek out Dude Sweet Chocolate next door to Lucia. It's like a chocolate shop from another world. Their chocolate confections are so unique and unusual, I daresay you won't find anything else like them on this planet! Having lived in London for twenty years, I know exactly how much the English love their chocolate.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate is indeed fabulous (the stingray fudge is my favorite, but so many good things and they will let you sample to your heart's content), and the foie gras agnoletti I had at Lucia was pretty transcendent. Agree with gavlist about what the focus should be there, and that it is not simply an Italian restaurant. I've also had fabulous buckwheat noodles at FT33 (with brown butter, breadcrumbs, chicken livers, and cipollini onions).
As for chocolate, you might know the English in general but I take it you don't realise how much I in specific love my chocolate (see http://www.seventypercent.com and other sites)...yes Dude Sweet Chocolate is a place I was already planning on visiting. Of course at this time of year thermal management is an issue...I have my ways but do you know whether they have ice-packs as well?
Unfortunately Thursday is the one day when going to the Pecan Lodge is *definitely* ruled out - I have a presentation that day starting at 11:10. Wednesday is probably the day of choice at this point.
Following some links from the Original Market Diner, I also came across Norma's Cafe. Seems like a possible place for CFS. Obviously very well-known (which for me, again, is not a negative, as long as I know what type of planning is required in terms of queues, bookings, etc.). Any comments?
More research does indeed suggest Pappa's is the top of the steakhouses; so that's likely to be added to the list.
Keep sending those comments along - I'll have more options that I know what to do with!
That's really funny, because I wanted to mention Norma's but thought so much had already been mentioned, Norma's might get lost in the mix. But yes, Do check out Norma's for both chicken fried steak and, biscuits and gravy.
Norma's (Oak Cliff) is very popular and always busy for breakfast and lunch. But never any real long que except maybe for Sunday brunch.
I'm not sure whether Dude, Sweet Chocolate offers ice packs. I would call them. Otherwise, buy a small, portable, easy to carry ice chest with a few frozen ice gel packs to keep inside.
Another chocolatier you might want to visit is Coco Andre. It's very close to Dude, Sweet Chocolate and offers excellent hand made chocolate confections!
Best known for their exquisite selection of hand made chocolate truffles.
All made on their premises.
I don't have a problem buying chocolate in the summer ... I just keep it with me anywhere I go afterwards. They have handled shopping bags.
You might consider Mama's Daughters ... I personally am not crazy about Norma's, but I find that taste in diners is a very personal thing. I tried Kel's based on a recommendation here ... I had to clean the counter myself before I could sit down. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the CFS there btw ... it was grey and just ... no.
Wrt trans-fats, I do not use them at home, and don't buy packaged goods that use them. But on occasions when I'm eating out, I do not ask questions about them. The Tex-Mex restaurant where I've been eating all my life serves margarine with their house-made corn tortillas--and that is the one place I eat it. Call it tradition.
One thing I definitely do NOT want to do is go to dismal or generic places simply in the name of expediency.
Mama's Daughters or Norma's aren't exactly destination-worthy, particularly because of what you said above. If I were you, I'd go to a place known for doing a specific dish well rather than try and kill two birds with one stone.
Regardless, after you brought up Norma's, I think you should try them if you feel like it's a place whose food you might enjoy. You certainly won't get this type of American "comfort food" in England. Sometimes, It's good to experiment with the foods of the region you're visiting that don't exist where you live or, what you're used to eating.
Norma's Cafe as reviewed in today's Pegasus blog:
I'm not aware of anyone who's taken the time to truly pry into the finer points of biscuits/gravy preparation across restaurants here (in a more comprehensive way than what Dallasfood did), so if you're up to the task, maybe you could add that into your to do list! Having that as well as coffee would be handy.
I'd be surprised if Chicken Scratch isn't willing to talk to you about what goes into their food. Otherwise, I wouldn't expect to hear much from diner type places.
Bishop Arts places to look at: Lucia (but given your circumstances I'd agree you can skip it), Boulevardier, Lockhart Smokehouse, Oddfellows, Hattie's, Tillman's. I'm not a fan of Emporium Pies.
FT33 encompasses what you're looking for on a "what can I get in Dallas but not elsewhere" standpoint.
I would never try to dissuade anyone from going to FT33... however, my impression of Lucia is that it is actually quite unique. It is Italian in spirit, but the chef doesn't hold too tightly to the details of traditional Italian cooking. He tries to use local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, which often means using components that don't exist in Italy. The first example that comes to mind is the candy cap semifreddo that's been on the menu recently - it's incredible. Or a corn panna cotta I had there last summer.
Even with the salumi, which are typically traditional preparations, you get some cool stuff going on. For a while they were running two salumi boards - one made with their standard heritage breed, Red Wattle (a great pig, the source of pretty much all of the pork they use), and another made with Mangalitsa, which has a noticeably distinct fat quality.
My advice, btw, if you go to Lucia is this - focus on appetizers and pastas, rather than the secondi which are good, but don't give you the variety or intensity of flavors that you get with the smaller dishes.
and I have had very different experiences relative to will_5189 on both points regarding FT33. I've routinely had delicious meals there - particularly because they incorporate atypical or unexpected flavor combinations. And it seems strange to complain, of all things, about the plating at FT33. will_ - you're totally entitled to your opinion on this, but I'm curious... what "plating choices" did you not like and why?
Also, I find the pasta to be one of the most variable options at FT33. Sometimes great (occasionally as good as Lucia) but sometimes not. If there is a rye or buckwheat pasta on the menu, though, I'd go for it.
A crudo served on a narrow plank was pointless style, as it made getting a forkful of components more difficult than it should've been. Compounding the mistake was an overabundance of spiced nuts, which killed the fish.
I ran into a similar problem with a radish salad, as some of the bulbs were cut entirely too large just so they could act as an architectural foundation. In this case, there was also not enough accompanying lardo or spring onion creme fraiche.
I think their pastas are done with the most earnestness, and at their best, rival those from Lucia or Nonna.
The cuisine at FT33 is interesting, but also carries more risk, and from my experience is still too inconsistent (especially compared to a place with similar aspirations, like Barley Swine).
thanks - it's nice to hear some descriptive and thoughtful comments. I have had both of those dishes a couple of times (pictures attached), and while I didn't have the same impressions as you I can definitely see where you're coming from.
For sure, some of the fish flavor is lost... but for me, a crudo can work in the same way that a tiradito or ceviche does - it's not just about the fish, but also the (sometimes intense) condiments that accent the fish. For me, I thought the hamachi flavor was distinct enough to stand out, and as with all of Matt's food, the amount of condiments per bite is more or less in your control.
There were chunks of radish... but on my version of the dish there were several varieties and preparations - some chunk-style, some sliced, some shaved. I felt that the radish:lardo ratio was well balanced, as long as you accept that the dish was more about radish than lardo. I think of it the way you'd eat radishes with salt and butter. In this case, the lardo just brought a bit of fat to give texture and richness. Not that I would have complained about more lardo on the plate... that would have been nice too.
Maybe someone else can correct me. and maybe this is already understood but just for clarification, i've never seen "sausage and gravy". What I believe you should be seeking (and again, it's possible this is what you've been meaning) is biscuits and gravy which will be a sausage gravy.
You are correct. A restaurant customer would order "biscuits and gravy" knowing that the white gravy made with sausage would be smothered over the biscuits.
See the attached link for an excellent recipe showing the ingredients for this great Texas breakfast staple.
If you're willing to drive for Chicken Fried Steak, Mary's in Strawn, TX is well regarded. It's a couple hours away though, and while I don't think it's worth the drive, you might enjoy it for the experience. Barbec's in East Dallas has famous beer battered biscuits and gravy. That would be a good option for a very southern breakfast. Next door is Hypnotic Donuts where they have highly mediocre donuts but incredible chicken biscuit sandwiches.
I think Village Baking Co is your best bread option though Dallas, and America frankly, has pretty poor bread generally speaking. Coming from Europe, you're likely to be disappointed.
For tacos, there are several standouts that people here recommend. However, you really can't go wrong if you pass a random gas station with a taqueria and stop in for a few. That said, you seem like a discerning foodie, so i understand your desire to get the best. With that in mind, I suggest you go to Taqueria El Si Hay in Oak Cliff. They have among the best tacos and, more importantly, they have one of the best elotes stand right next to it.
Without a doubt, you need to get an elote which is corn shaved into a cup mixed with lime, chile powder, lemon pepper, mayo/butter, cheese and hot sauce. It's standard mexican street food and it's amazing. It's something else you can't really go wrong with wherever you get it, but the key is to make sure you go to place that is shaving corn off the cob and not using canned corn.
At Pecan Lodge, make sure you get the brisket (try both fatty and lean). It's a good bbq restaurant all around, but the brisket is by far the standout item. And brisket is the holy grail of texas bbq.
Lastly, another high end place to consider is Spoon. The most expensive seafood focused restaurant in Dallas and it is great. Also, if you're a fan of Top Chef, it's John Tesar's restaurant so you might enjoy that type of "celebrity" sighting as he's usually in the very open kitchen.
I too like Original House of Pancakes. I like their fresh-squeezed OJ, and Texas benedict with biscuits and sausage gravy, but I sub poached eggs (for some reason they make it with scrambled).
A big part of the reason Lucia is booked out is that it's really tiny. The bread is good, and if you go, get whatever they've made with foie gras mousse that night. If you are not the biggest fan of bitter notes or fish sauce applied indiscriminately, inquire closely.
Pappas has excellent meat, and also very good soups.
At Pecan Lodge, I really like the vinegar-based sauce.
For great house-made tortillas, Mesa is excellent (better than Cuquita's IMO).
Never been much of a fan or eating steak out, so I can't comment on all the various steak options in Dallas. However, I do have experience eating at Pappas Bros. They have a killer wine list. Steaks is good. Service is a bit odd to me. It's very talky. They servers seem to like the sound of their own voice, somehow. I can't quite put my finger on it other than than. But they lover to rattle on and on about things rather than just present the menu, none of which seems to be out of the ordinary. Yet the wait staff (not the somelliers who are reasonably knowledgeable) seem to even be aware that they have a special wine list under the same roof as this rather pedestrian steak menu that the keep talking about.
The single "ultimate" fine-dining experience in Dallas would come down to one of two options in my opinion: FT33 (sit at table 33) or omakase at Tei An.
For breakfast, I'd go to Allgood Cafe or Ozona for chicken fried steak, but also look at going to Bolsa Mercado and having some kolaches. Perhaps you could even do something simple like breakfast tacos at a place like Cool & Hot. Mercat just opened nearby downtown and I believe they make bread in-house; croissants supposed to be good (haven't tried myself).
At some point, you need to go grab street tacos as well- look at La Nueva Fresh & Hot, Tacos La Banqueta, or Dona Lencha.
You can get your enchilada fix at Tipicos, as well as pretty much all the other Tex-Mex you were looking for.
As twinwillow mentioned, given your timeframe, it'd be viable for you to land a reservation at Lucia (IMO still worth walking in to check if anything). Oh and read about their bread:
Pecan Lodge requires a minimum of 2 hours assuming you start waiting around 10 AM for their noon opening, while Lockhart Smokehouse averages around 45-60 minutes regardless of time of day. If I had to pick one, I'd go to Pecan Lodge, but I personally don't have the patience to wait for any line.
Vegetarian: The Tex-Mex part would fit in with Wild Salsa in downtown Dallas. Look at Kalachandji's as well as other Indian options like Saravanaa Bhavan in Irving or Udipi Cafe in Richardson.
Lastly if I were you, I would also add: TJ's for some seafood (also consider Driftwood), and definitely either Pak Pao or Bambu for Thai.
Air, with all due respect, you've provided all excellent suggestions for the OP. However,
Pecan Lodge opens at 11:00AM not, noon.
I recommended The Slow Bone over Lockhart Smokehouse mainly because IMO, I feel the BBQ is equally as good and, the wait is close to nil.
I definitely second all your suggestions.
Especially Pak Pao and Bambu for Thai.
They're the best in Dallas without argument!
To supplement, and offer my $.02, here's what I got:
Unless you live in D.C. or Atlanta, you should get Ethiopian food. Ibex and Lalibella are my favorites, depending on what dish you want. That is also a great option for vegetarians.
Off Site Kitchen offers a quick and casual lunch and has my favorite burger in Dallas, similar to the Shake Shack style. This one might be useful with a time and logistics consideration.
If you have time on Sat or Sun, I highly recommend Estilo Hidalgo for lamb barbacoa. However, more noteworthy than the barbacoa, are incredible tortillas, a dish called Pancita which is stewed pig organ meat, and the consomme which is an incredibly delicious and lamby soup.
If it's convenient during your commuting, I would stop in El Portal which is a Colombian bakery for Almojabanas. They are relatively large baked cheese bread balls. Absolutely incredible.
New to the scene is an "elevated" thai restaurant called Pakpao. I just went for the first time and it was amazing. This would be an opportunity to see some new developments in the Dallas culinary world and also have a delicious meal.
For breads, the newly (relatively) opened Village Baking Co is fantastic.
Tacos have to be on your agenda, more than once. There's plenty of debate about the best but frankly, you can't stray too far and should not pay any more than $1.50 (absolute high end) per taco.
You can get exceptional Nepali food in Irving which might be a convenient meal near the airport. My favorite is Everest.
And lastly, for tex-mex, I recommend Cuquitas. Phenomenal tortillas/enchiladas.
Everything suggested so far will be good though. You should consider what types of cuisines you want and do a search here. Here's a recent thread detailing Dallas' culinary strengths/weaknesses:
Plenty of great recommendations, but let me add a couple notes:
- Thursday would be the better day to go to Pecan Lodge, and for the entire menu I'd arrive between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. Even if the line looks manageable, people often order for large parties -- my last visit, 10 beef ribs were gone after just the first four customers. And you must have a beef rib if you got to Pecan Lodge.
- Mesa is a great choice. Over-order and get anything with mole. If you decide on the cochinita pibil, use their tortillas on the side to make the best tacos in Dallas.
- Cultivar and Ascension are the best coffee shops (and quite different in aesthetic). If you go to Cultivar, you can get breakfast tacos at Good 2 Go (I recommend the Paris, TX).
- I'm not the biggest fan of FT33. For every hit they have double the misses, mostly due to plating choices or a missing taste component. Whatever pasta they have on the menu is the most consistent choice. That said, the dishes are intriguing (on paper) and you may have better luck in picking the winners.
- Yes, Lucia is not revelatory, but it's always a fantastic meal. If you do the walk-in route and get there at opening, sitting at the little kitchen bar is usually no problem (and those are better seats than the reserved banquettes).
I love threads like this; A well thought-out question leads to lots of well thought-out answers and brings the best out of the board.
A lot of what you've asked has already been addressed. But I will give more thumbs up for PakPao, Lucia, Tei-An and Mesa, which will definitely give you some of the best meals in Dallas. Also, for tacos, I will have to second air in recommending La Nueva Fresh and Hot. Their fresh tortillas are just too good.
For breakfast, nobody's mentioned Hypnotic Donuts (http://www.hypnoticdonuts.com/), which has some of the best biscuit's I've had in Dallas. I admit I don't know what type of fat they use, but they are delicious. You can get their biscuits many different ways: with gravy, wrapped around a sausage, with honey or jam, but I think the best options are the different varieties of fried chicken biscuits. The donuts are creative and delicious too, but I admittedly never order them for myself. The chicken biscuit is more than enough for me.
Regarding steak houses, due to how costly they are I've not explored all the options and not more than once, but of the places I've gone the top three are Bob's, Pappa's and Nick and Sam's. At Bob's, I had a tomahawk they had on special that wasn't on the menu and it was hands down the best steak I could imagine. Every bite was melt in your mouth good. It had an awesome crust that just enhanced the flavor of the meat. I still dream about that steak. I tried a bite of my friend's steak from the menu, and it was good, but it didn't really compare. I really enjoyed the feel at Bob's. We had a great, down-to-earth server with a sense of humor, it wasn't terribly loud, and it was a bit more laid back than most high end places. I will say, apps sides and deserts at Bob's were nothing special.
The first bite of the Pappa's steak I had was almost up to every bite of the Bob's experience. But I think as that steak cooled it went from outstanding to really good. The Pappa's experience did feel more elevated. Everything we had there was refined and delicious. My only complaint was that it felt slightly less welcoming due to being darker and a bit louder.
I think your position on steak houses is interesting. Based on discussions on Dallas steakhouses I've read on this board and others, I'm not sure there is one that is a consensus best. Pappa's gets probably the most praise and it is likely because of their consistency, attention to detail, and their extensive wine list; however, the best steak I've had was not there...maybe I got lucky.
Hope this helps and you have a great trip.
I keep bringing up Chicken Scratch because they do a much better job than Hypnotic on the fried chicken biscuit offerings. Also, after having tried real artisan donuts, Hypnotic does nothing more than a regular donut made with mix (in other words, similar to any other donut you can find in a donut shop) with fluff thrown on top. Nice novelty but nothing earth-shattering.
Can you get real artisan donuts in Dallas? I can't say I've ever had them, so I plead ignorance on the topic of donuts.
However, I'll say, while I find them both good, I've enjoyed the Hypnotic fried chicken biscuits more than Chicken Scratch's (which does have more variety). Maybe it's because I generally hit up Hypnotic after finishing a run at White Rock and they really hit the spot. Next time I finish a long run, I'll have to try Chicken Scratch for a fairer comparison!
OK, so I'm back in Manchester now. Here's what I tried, with a brief rundown of all.
Casa Milagro. I got a bean soup and enchiladas with brisket. The brisket had good flavour, but otherwise everything else was fairly standard. I didn't think it really justified the long distance travelled from downtown. Certainly not of a level that I would expect of the best tex-mex in the area. It must surely be possible to do better than this.
Pappas Steakhouse. I got scallops in bacon, akaushi ribeye, and crème brulée. The scallops were nice, but somewhat overcooked. I do like the crisp bits (toast?) they put on top. The crème brulée had been properly made, with the requisite black bottom of vanilla beans, but I'm unfortunately used to the far superior English double cream, which simply makes a better version of this. Nice but it's possible to do better. But the steak, which I'd expected to be tremendous, was completely overpowered by too much pepper on top. The flavour was almost undetectable beneath the pepper. Why did they feel the need to do this? As it was, I also get the impression from what flavour I could get that it wasn't up to the standards of, e.g. the Peter Luger in New York. It was basically fairly average. Really a major disappointment.
La Nueva Fresh and Hot. The assembly was good, the tortillas would have seemed great except for what I'd had at Mesa, but the meat was dry, tough, and fairly flavourless. Not that I'm going to complain at that price. However I'd probably not go back thanks to:
Tacos La Banqueta. Rather haphazard assembly, but a definitive result. The suadero meat was terrific and full of flavour. Nice tortillas, too. For the price it's completely unbeatable. Has the appropriate "hole-in-the-wall" atmosphere as well.
Crossroads Diner. The sticky buns (of which I got one) are destination-worthy, but my "main": French toast with sausage, was fairly standard. It seems like a one-thing-to-get sort of place; I get the impression that outside the buns everything else doesn't really rate.
Meso Maya. This had the tremendous advantage of being around the corner from the hotel I was at and able to accommodate a large party (19) entering without reservations. For what it is - a midrange Mexican/Tex-Mex, it's not bad. I had a pozole verde, enchiladas, carne asada, and pastel de chocolate. Dessert I got for free from an impressed waiter after easily finishing my 3 savoury dishes. The soup was quite nice, nothing incredibly special. The enchiladas had been made with some care, although I have to say Casa Milagros' tasted better even if the execution was less accomplished. The asada was rather good, although I would have liked maybe a little more spice. But the winner was the chocolate cake. This is one of the best I've ever had - and if you know my position in the world of fine chocolate you'll realise that this is really something meaningful. Destination-worthy for the cake.
Mesa. I got chicken enmoladas, a tamale with plantains, and a Tres Leches cake. The enmoladas simply define tortilla perfection. Execution was awe-inspiring, the mole is definitive; this is Mexican at its ultimate. The tamale was also excellent, the plantains particularly agreeable, although it seemed somehow ordinary after those unbelievable enmoladas. The Tres Leches cake was the one disappointment - it seemed generic and industrial, not what I'd expect from such a fine place. However I would DEFINITELY go back; this is one of the finest Mexican restaurants anywhere.
Pecan Lodge. I arrived just before 10. 3rd in queue. Loaded myself with brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, sausages, and collards. Happily I had 4 others to share the
feast. All were delighted. The pulled pork was nice, maybe a bit dry but still good. The sausages had terrific smokey flavour; they'd been barbecued for exactly the right amount of time. There is still room for improvement but they're satisfying. The ribs, however, leave little room for improvement: they're simply awe-inspiring. Tender, flavourful, massive, what more can you ask. And then we get to the brisket. Which is quite simply in a world all its own. This is some sort of ideal of what barbecue can be like, overflowing with flavour, impossibly fall-apart tender, dense and heavy. After such a meat-fest the collards might have been an afterthought but no, these were diabolically well-done, with hefty bits of bacon in there for extra effect. There can be few barbecue pits anywhere that can come close to Pecan Lodge.
FT33. Finally. An American fine dining restaurant that can go against the very best European establishments and compete with them on equal terms. Even the best American places I've been - and there have been some good ones: Gary Danko, Gotham Bar and Grill, Annisa - were excellent by any rational standard but somehow had a vague whiff of something pedestrian; I wouldn't say they could really match the great European restaurants, the type that garner 2- and 3-star Michelin ratings. Not FT33 though. Here is a restaurant that on every level: execution, ingredients, conceptualisation, completely matches the Euro greats. I had a rye pasta with kale, onion, and pancetta; the kale was revelatory, the pasta perfectly done, a thrill to try. To follow I had bavette of akaushi beef with okra, baby corn, cashew butter, blackberry, and peach miso. The beef was of superb quality - much better it seems, although from the same source, as the Pappas steak; this is the result of more well-modulated flavouring - and the combination of flavours worked on every level. Blackberries and cashew butter, for example, were an unexpected example of a sublime combination. To finish I took the quenelles trio: Dulcey ganache, dark chocolate sorbet, vanilla ice cream. Maybe these were marginally let down by the (unexciting, in my opinion) Valrhona Dulcey, and my experience is also coloured by the completely untouchable chocolate quenelles from Christian Constant, but otherwise the dessert was as nice, and as seasonally appropriate, as everything else. I'm not sure why some people react negatively to FT33; this is one of the great restaurants, ANYWHERE, and I'm not considering features like originality or imaginative recipe ideas; I'm considering purely the technical features of execution and ingredients. It's nearly a place of pilgrimage.
Then on the coffee front, as well as for breakfast, I went to:
Mudsmith. They have a Northern Italian style, it seems: light and delicate, reasonably balanced. But I thought the coffee was maginally watery, not a major complaint but they should adjust their ratios a bit.
Oddfellows. Although their reputation is for the coffee, the breakfast was also extremely good. I got tremendous fluffy pancakes with good, if rather small-portioned, sausages. The Ding Dongs, however, I think tries too hard to be like the original industrial variety, rather than conceiving it as it could be, so that the result was overly sweet and fluffy, at least for my taste.
Ascension. This is where I ended up multiple times, partly because it was close to my hotel, but mostly because the coffee there is excellent. Overall they have the antipodeal/Australian style. Oily, dense, somewhat wild in flavour. They also prove an expedient, if fairly basic, breakfast choice; no real standouts there although the chocolate cake is very nice and imaginative too, but no losers either, reasonable breakfast fare which comes with terrific coffee. There are better coffee shops in the USA, but not many, and almost all of them are on the West Coast.
Overall I'm quite impressed by the quality of the food scene in Dallas; much more so, for example than New York which should be better, given its global importance. As you can see, not all are winners, but there are clearly some destination-worthy places to come to.
>> I'm not sure why some people react negatively to FT33; this is one of the great restaurants, ANYWHERE
Because the vast majority of the diners in this city don't understand when someone is really serious about elevating the level of dining here. Most people want "safe" - steakhouses and the like.
Somehow you didn't end up getting biscuits anywhere despite all of that talk? Unfortunate.
great review of your trip. Some questions about your coffee comments though...
Mudsmith has a "Northern Italian style". What does this mean? They buy their coffee from outside roasters, so I'd expect their style to be dependent on whatever bag of beans they happen to open. Having said that, I'd doubt that they'd choose to buy the same style as Ascension (I'm guessing that what you call wild comes from the dark roasting, also responsible for the oiliness)
Also not sure I agree about your West Coast bias for coffee. Consider Intelligentsia in Chicago, Counter Culture in Atlanta, George Howell outside of Boston, Speckled Axe and Tandem in Portland (Maine)... all outstanding. Granted there are a LOT of great coffee shops out west as well and maybe the majority... but I certainly wouldn't say almost all.
Happy to hear that you enjoyed FT33. I think it's a great restaurant - surprise flavor combinations (like the cashew/blackberry) is one of the things that I love about that place. I also really like they way the food is at once interesting and unique, but still very accessible. I'm also glad that you had overall good experiences in Dallas. Thanks for the report.
A few comments:
Well, the biscuit thing didn't happen, partly because on the flight in I had a layover in Atlanta and stopped by the Flying Biscuit for the definitive version of biscuits and gravy. Atlanta's FB is quite simply the best there is. But just as much, the places I ended up in Dallas at either didn't have biscuits or it wasn't really their specialty so I didn't really find a need for it in the end. More disappointing was no opportunity for chicken fried steak. Knowing what I do now, I'd have eschewed Casa Milagro for a CFS restaurant.
Having looked a bit at reviews on TripAdvisor, I begin to get the sense that a lot of the negative criticism of FT33 is really about the service more than the food - and in particular an impression that the service is haughty. I didn't really pick up on that while there, although maybe there was just a hint, but I also think that to downrate a restaurant on the basis of the personality of the service is actually to go to a restaurant for different reasons than for the food itself. It's really saying that you're going to a restaurant for the feeling of being treated like someone special. Now, if service is genuinely *faulty* - wrong dishes brought, requests not honoured when it's within their capacity, unjustifiable slowness, utter inattentiveness, etc. etc. that's one thing, but if it's just a case of personal demeanour I don't think that's enough, in and of itself, to downrate the quality of the food.
Coffee styles: Basically, I group espresso into 5 major styles. The styles are typical of a given region, but this should not be taken as meaning that every good coffee shop within the region named has that style, nor that there aren't other regions where good espresso is made. While the roasters used has an effect, as much also is dependent upon the methods of the baristi for each style. That said:
You have the 2 New World styles. "New World" styles emphasise specific, distinctive characteristics and unusual flavours, sometimes at the expense of overall balance. To get this effect they usually use a greater amount of coffee in the group, and generally slightly higher water temperature. Usually they go for a very hard pack. So we have:
Antipodean: Dense, almost oily in flavour and texture, strongly extracted and with a thick crema top. Very bold expression.
West Coast American: Characterised by an exceptionally dark roast, not so oily though as the antipodean variety, and with a thinner crema generally.
Then there are the Old World styles - hailing, of course, from Italy. In these styles balance is much more important - to the degree that in fact blends are more typical than varietals (although varietals are seen), and they don't go for flights of fancy in terms of flavour expression. Less coffee usually goes into the group, and indeed the styles also use less water, so that a single espresso in Old World style has less liquid volume than a typical New World style - you might call it ultra-ristretto. Water temperature is usually quite low - well off the boil; this reflects also the lower preponderance of milk-based drinks (in New World style coffee shops I've seen only the most observant and conscientious baristi dedicate different groups for milk steaming and espresso pulling, which is what, really, you should do: milk steaming requires a higher water temperature) With these there are 3 styles:
Northern Italian: Light, bright, subtle. Usually the coffee is lighter roasted and the coffee is less extracted. Crema tends to be on the relatively thin side. A little more water than further south.
Central Italian: Mellow, smooth, simple. Balance here is everything - sometimes at the expense of a flavour that is a bit generic - but the result is consistent. Very thick crema prevails and the coffee has an often almost sugary note.
Southern Italian: Dark, syrupy, hyperintense. Rather like the West Coast American style, they use a very dark roast, but unlike that style, they also use a short pour and very heavy extraction. Crema is thick and usually almost red in colour.
wow - thanks! I've never heard a breakdown like that. And I haven't done much traveling in 4/5 places that you cite, so no way to personally evaluate the distinction. I would say, however, that the current (past 5-10 years at least) trend in west coast coffee roasting is for lighter roasts. Much lighter than what is generically called "Italian roast" or "espresso roast" or even "french roast". And yes, not so oily.
As far as volume, most of what I've encountered (again, in the US) is a 30-45 ml shot, drawn from 17-21 grams of coffee, which is definitely lower than the Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano guidelines.
And when I say "west coast", I'm talking about places like Espresso Vivace, Stumptown, Blue Bottle... but this doesn't seem to vary significantly elsewhere in the country (at good coffee shops).