Secret sauce: The menu at Khao Noodle includes bites of omelet stuffed with rice, tapioca balls filled with caramelized shallots and sweet radish, purple sticky rice to dip in jeow sauces, and artful bowls featuring fermented ground pork or kaffir lime. Elizabeth Lavin

Best Lists

This Is Why Dallas’ Food Scene Had Such a Remarkable 2019

An introduction to our annual Best New Restaurants feature, as well as a story that explores the trends that are pushing our restaurants forward.

If there were ever a time to take stock of the shifts in the dining scene in Dallas, that time is now, when so much has changed, seemingly overnight. (Though, in truth, it’s by dint of a tremendous amount of hard work on behalf of a small, but expanding and fierce, fearless cohort.)

It seems hard to remember that only last year, we were not yet versed in Khao Noodle Shop’s otherworldly boat noodles; we were still lacking Salaryman’s ethereal ramen with meticulously house-made noodles and Maggie Huff’s mind-bendingly simple, nuanced desserts at Homewood.

Every year, I take stock of the restaurant scene, tallying my eating from October to October to determine the crème de la crème of the newcomers who have galvanized me and infused something special into the city’s culinary landscape. My nail-biting about the Best New Restaurants took a different form this year. The playing field was at the same time broader and more even than it had been for as long as I can remember. The year’s best restaurants were an eclectic bunch, making our dining scene vibrant in a way it hasn’t been before. We had everything from an experiential, immersive tasting-menu jewel-box to a French-Jewish bistro with caviar-topped latkes to a café and farm in a food desert, and a wealth of other wonders. I fretted and lost sleep, and it was wonderful.

All of sudden, it seemed half the city couldn’t fathom why it hadn’t been eating this way before: sitting at counters, eschewing reservations, noting, across the board, the dialed-in and creative nature of the food.

My Best New Restaurants feature is online today. Read it here.

But I knew I couldn’t write about the best this year without also highlighting everything that has gone into making this cohort of newcomers one of the most interesting to date. Hence the 8-page accompanying feature on the State of Dallas Dining, which we have also put online today. It’s a companion piece of sorts, detecting the novel ways we’re thinking about the who, the where, the what (the ingredients) of dining.

These are the stories of pig farmers, chicken raisers, pop-up denizens, who are and have been intrepidly making our dining scene richer.

People are talking about it. The buzz heightened when we were named Best Restaurant City of the year by Bon Appetit. Even in the time since this State of Dining story went to print, I’ve attended a talk on charcuterie arranged around the question “Why Dallas, Why Now?” as well as an industry event called Many Paths to Restaurant Ownership. (This was organized by The Industry Sessions’ founder, Canadian food writer Ivy Knight, who has been taking the talks cross-country; her guests were familiar names—Misti Norris, Donny Sirisavath, Reyna Duong, Joel Orsini, and Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman.)

It’s something we’ve been wondering about—how we got where we did. Ask Jeff Bednar from Profound Foods, who revolutionized sourcing connections between farmers and ranchers and chefs. Ask Karyn and Calvin Medders of Chubby Dog Farm in East Texas, whose heritage-breed pigs end up in myriad preparations on countless nose-to-snout, no-waste-focused chef’s menus. Talk to Justin Holt, now owner of Salaryman, who intrepidly began ladling ramen at pop-ups.

Like Dorothy, click your heels. We’re not in the same place anymore.

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