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Food & Drink

Dallas’ Obsession with Other Cities’ Restaurants Is Getting Embarrassing

If a visitor sees Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York in charge of all of our most prestigious venues, they’ll come to an obvious conclusion: Dallas doesn’t have it.
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Reunion Tower will soon be taken over by a steakhouse from Las Vegas, because nobody in Dallas is capable of operating a steakhouse. iStock

Last week, one of my friends texted me that his favorite waiter at a top Dallas restaurant is moving to Austin. The waiter’s terse explanation: “Dallas doesn’t have it.”

Dallas, apparently, agrees. We’re only accelerating our reverence for the food and chefs of other cities, deepening our apparent belief that they are better and more prestigious. That waiter didn’t just critique our city; she put a finger on a sore point in our own self-esteem.

The same day that conversation took place, the media received a press release announcing that Reunion Tower had found its new restaurant tenant: a steakhouse by a company from Las Vegas. The tower’s previous restaurant, of course, had been controlled by Los Angeles’ Wolfgang Puck. In the same week, we celebrated the opening of a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Dallas favorite Lucia. It’s a chain from Brooklyn. Another chain, from Miami, began serving pizzas in Oak Lawn, and national chain Uchi announced plans to move into Plano.

That was just in one week. The trend has been around much longer. Arguably 2022’s most attention-getting opening was Carbone, the flashy New York chain favored by celebrities like Drake, Jennifer Lopez, and the Kardashians. The year before, all Dallas’ trend-seekers were dining at Monarch, a glamorous 49th-floor spot led by a team from Chicago.

But Reunion Tower is not an ordinary lease in Oak Lawn. It’s a civic landmark, one of our city’s defining spaces. Even if you never eat at the new dining room, you’ll still see it from across downtown, or while driving down the highway. It sits atop our spectacular skyline.

And, where it once reflected a slice of California, now it will bring a touch of Vegas.

I’m sure the restaurant will be fine. The leadership team seems capable. The menu sounds boring. But I dislike the apparent belief that our cultural landmarks can’t be entrusted to Dallasites. It would be like if they hired a reality television host to run The French Room. Oh, wait. That already happened. (The French Room now only serves dinner on special occasions. Can you guess what the occasions are? Yup: visiting chefs from other cities.)

There are some examples of high-visibility Dallas landmarks serving food by Dallas chefs. Klyde Warren Park showcases local vendors. The Exchange, downtown’s new food hall, is crammed with local talent and tourists. One of the first stalls to close, Rise & Thyme, was the one stall operated by an outside interloper: TV chef Amanda Freitag.

This is not a “local good, imported bad” argument. Many of the restaurants coming from out of town are good, and their competition is welcome. This is an argument about the character of Dallas food. We’re never going to have a distinctive culinary identity if every trend we chase is from somewhere else. And we are certainly never going to gain a reputation for our food if every civic institution is operated by a national chain.

There is something deeply saddening about the way that our city’s culinary landmarks aren’t entrusted to our city’s own chefs. Soon, we’ll be looking up at our Las Vegas embassy, then turning our heads to another skyscraping outpost from Chicago. Down below, we’ll speculate about which out-of-towner is going to take over the French Room. Perhaps we’ll try to reassure ourselves by taking a stroll through another of our civic prides—the Arts District—as long as we don’t walk past the global chain steakhouse made famous by a salt-flinging poser.

I don’t have a solution to this problem. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: perhaps none of Dallas’ best restaurateurs have the experience or business savvy to run a restaurant in Reunion Tower. Or perhaps that’s because Dallas has never given them the opportunity to gain that experience.

Either way, the food that best reflects Dallas’ seasons, produce, and the multicultural populace is being served out of tiny kitchens, mostly away from the tourist track (Deep Ellum is an exception). We need to keep loudly endorsing the good stuff, the local stuff.

If a visitor comes to town and sees Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York in charge of all of our most prestigious venues, they’ll come to an obvious conclusion. Dallas doesn’t have it.

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

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