Yesterday, Eater’s national critic Bill Addison released his fifth annual list of 38 Essential Restaurants in America. In this take, he decided to expand and explore his definition of “essential.”
“Which places become indispensable to their neighborhoods, and eventually to the towns and whole regions?” he asked. “Which restaurants, ultimately, become vital to how we understand ourselves, and others, at the table?”
The list features 17 new additions—that is, almost half the total. “The bleeding-edge vanguards among this crew,” Addison writes, “include a Los Angeles maverick where the chef grafts cuisines from around the world with astounding grace [Note: he’s nodding at Here’s Looking At You; my only meal with the late, legendary dining critic Jonathan Gold was with him on a visit here, and it’s true, I still remember the flavors], a San Antonio barbecue upstart ushering Mexican flavors to the forefront [Note: that would be 2M Smokehouse], and America’s most impactful Southern restaurant — which happens to be in Seattle [Note: that’s JuneBaby].”
Others are obvious superlatives, like Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, where Dominique Crenn has been wowing people with her blend of Bay Area products with her Brittany, France sensibility. Brennan’s, from which Julian Barsotti will say he drew inspiration for his New Orleans-meets-red-sauce Italian Fachini, is one of the stalwarts.
Addison argues we should still be going to Houston for food from the Indian subcontinent. Is Xi’An Famous Foods in Flushing, New York the place that I remember for its hand-ripped noodles and addictive chile oil? It is. And are we surprised to see Hugo Ortega’s new Xochi rise to the top of the list for Houston (another one for them)? Not a bit. Yes, yes, Austin’s Aaron Franklin is there, too. Should everyone be going to n/naka in Los Angeles for a female chef’s transcendent take on Japanese kaiseki? Undoubtedly.
But it’s still galling to me that not a single place from Dallas made the list. Not Petra and the Beast, our food laboratory from Misti Norris, which answers Addison’s questions regarding what a restaurant is and does. Not Revolver Taco Lounge’s Purepecha Room, where regional Mexican food is given due grace. And here is where we face one of Dallas’ restaurant scene’s essential questions. Where are we relative to this emerging sense of restaurants as answers to the question “What is dining?” Why, exactly, do we dine, if not to simply ogle the hot, new place that this ever-changing city has set before us? And if we want more restaurants on the list—or that answer its questions—can we dine like we mean that?