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The 10 Best Things Our Dining Critic Ate in Dallas in 2021

Let us look back on some of the most thrilling bites this year offered.
Yesenia Lopez Yes Yes Tamales
Elizabeth Lavin
It has been quite the year—a year sometimes baffling, at times bewildering, but still utterly capable of being delicious. Each of these dishes, then, brings me back to a moment when, amidst everything, I was surprised, delighted, comforted.

Collectively, they’re indicative of our moment in time, a time of unsettledness and hesitancy—of tip-toeing back to brunch and yearning for what soothed—but also one of culinary richness and gustatory mixing at all price points and from all corners of the dining landscape. (Note: We’ve deliberately avoided overlapping with the Best New Restaurants spots in the interest of spreading the wealth.)

These are the dishes that made me want to go back, to stop time and rewind. Just 10 extraordinary moments, listed in no particular order. They float to the top as bubbles in the Champagne glass of 2021.

Pancakes at Ichi Ni San

I’m still dreaming about the loftiness—in terms of sheer voluminous airiness—of the Japanese-style souffle pancakes I ate one morning at Ichi Ni San. A billowing stack of moons made of egg whites are whipped so ethereally they form a sky-high, protein-generous platform for ginger-lime whipped cream and rivulets of maple syrup infused with umeboshi, Japanese salted plum.

Coconut Ceviche at José

A half coconut, simple and stunning. It has the advantage of being show-stopping, but the coconut milk in this version of a light, bright, upscale coastal treat makes it the thing you want to dive into, pronto.

Avocado Ixchel at Tulum

Yes, it’s guacamole, but refracted through a modern Yucatan prism by an intentional, ambitious chef. The dip looked like a rose whose petals were slivers of radish, framed by a sunburst of rosy, purple-edged endive leaves (for dipping). It’s imbued—extraordinarily, brilliantly—with ginger.

Tamales From Yes Yes Tamales and Molino Oloyo

This year, the apparition of two new tamale savants dazzled me, and I felt like I could eat nothing but these till year’s end. Both offer vegetarian options that captured my heart. Olivia Lopez of Molino Oloyo—who uses freshly (laboriously) nixtamalized heirloom corn—had sweet potato purée peeking shyly out from under a heft of vegetables, amped up with golden raisins and slivered toasted almonds. Each was snugly tied in a banana leaf. Yesenia Lopez of Yes Yes Tamales makes one with queso fresco and poblano peppers, and another bears a smooth, black bean puree.

Reuben Riff at National Anthem

One glorious, sun-dappled afternoon, I found bliss when I picked up the Reuben that melded pastrami with griddle-crisped edges (a generous stack of blushing meat sliced thin), Russian slaw, sauerkraut, and Creole mustard with white cheddar. There are many Reuben’s the world. This is the only one I’m calling out by name.

Cauliflower From Petra and the Beast

This one came just last weekend. Working their usual magic, the team at Petra and the Beast devised soft, white mounds of salt-poached cauliflower (from Demases Farm), with sake-pickled raw cauliflower, black-sesame gomashio dusting it all, and a smoked oyster cream underlying. Think cauliflower bechamel, but with smoked oyster as the secret hat trick.

Girl With Flour’s artful hummingbird cruffins.

Hummingbird Cruffin From Girl With Flour

Erika Lam Radke executed a beautiful, sugar-dusted, crackly-crusted delight with a dollop of lemon-mascarpone pastry cream peeking from underneath a flag of dehydrated pineapple anchoring the top. Inside: a cradle of jammy, intensely perfumed, spiced, caramelized pineapple-rum jam. That put it over the top. But so did the Instagram post that reflected on Hummingbird cake’s roots in Jamaica and how it winged its way here. That respect for and awareness about provenance was a profound theme I saw twined through this year.

Strawberry-Thai Chile-Basil Elotes from Locura

Many dishes have been re-worked, reconfigured, re-imagined. But elotes have stayed more or less steady. That is, until Locura. The tiny counter-order spot which has shifted to pop-ups, used corn as a canvas, taking the elements of elotes for a spin, while holding onto the fundamentals like a chef’s mind does and can. Among the list of contenders, steamed and roasted corn and strawberry marry in sweetness, Thai chile adds heat, mint and basil play with the lime crema. So it works the matrix in a cup like a mastermind.

The white asparagus at Georgie comes draped with trout roe, grapefruit supremes, and nasturtium leaves and petals, and nestled over a creamy sauce with toasted caraway seed.

White Asparagus at Georgie by Curtis Stone

At posh Georgie, I sat at one of the bistro tables and had the ivory spears, steamed to tenderness. There were suprèmes of grapefruit that matched the glowing orange of trout roe scattered like pearls, and peppery nasturtiums that dotted the landscape. The spears nestled on a gentle sauce, nutty with toasted caraway. It was cool and perfect. It was a tiny summer symphony.

Shrimp Burrito La Diabla at Las Maskaras

I was smitten by this one on a protracted burrito round-up blitz. The complexity of composition in a fistful of bouncy shrimp and perfectly seasoned Spanish rice, with lettuce, tomato, and avocado cannot be overstated.

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