Elsie the cat is not allowed to eat people food. Elsie has never been allowed to eat people food. And, before you scroll through a gallery of Elsie’s never-ending brazen attempts to steal takeout from some of Dallas’ most beloved restaurants, you should know that she was not actually allowed to touch any of them. I kept one hand on the camera, one hand ready to gently nudge the cat away from the dining area.
We adopted Elsie from Dallas Animal Services in April 2017, and she has been trying to eat our food ever since. We were told that her previous owner was an immigrant who returned to Mexico and left her behind. This owner left Elsie with a permanent love for spice and richly aromatic sauces. If you try to open a bag of tacos, or an enchilada plate, or a cup of mole negro, or a package of tamales, Elsie will tackle you like a football player. I don’t have photos of this, but just a few weeks ago I brought back a bag of leftovers from newcomer El Carlos Elegante, and when we assembled tacos out of the osso buco “carnitas,” Elsie climbed into our laps and sniffed our fingers.
But her love of food goes deeper than her Mexican-American heritage. Open a box of crackers, or toast a loaf of pita, and Elsie will climb you like a tree. She runs into the room when we eat salads. Last week, we made roasted vegetable sandwiches. To be clear: all vegetables. They would have been vegan but for the cream cheese in the Trader Joe’s cauliflower dip. When we left the room for a moment, we returned to find Elsie dashing away like a bank robber, carrying the top half of a sandwich in her mouth.
Here, I’ve documented the best takeout in Dallas in 2022—as measured by Elsie’s reactions. This was hard because as I wrote this article, Elsie kept trying to eat more food. Mere minutes after watching the best sports game of the decade, she was climbing onto our laps, trying to whack Bilad Bakery shawarma off our forks. The saga never ends.
Elsie the Cat’s Restaurant of the Year: Trompo
Elsie has tried to steal a lot of my food. But only once has she experienced a full mental breakdown while I ate, and that was when I got a takeout quesadilla and elotes from Trompo.
First, she went through all the stages of cat begging. She climbed in my lap and acted all innocent, like a loving pet who just happens to love you most while you’re eating. Sure! I believe that. Then she sat on the floor next to my feet, waiting for a bit of trompo pork to fall out of my quesadilla. Then she started trying to climb onto the table.
Finally, frustrated by the lack of pork in her face, Elsie went full-on bananas, howling and galloping across the house from end to end. She started attacking the couch. She hid in the bathroom from my evil taco-withholding self. Ultimately I had to kick her outside. Trompo makes her insane.
Runner-up taqueria: One Saturday morning, I slipped out of a quiet house and returned with a bag of breakfast tacos from Tacodeli. If you have a partner or spouse or sibling, this is a good way to keep them happy. If you have a cat, this is a good way to make them frustrated.
Bánh mì cat
You may be wondering which restaurant is better: Bánh Mì Station or Sandwich Hag. Elsie is wondering, too. That’s why she keeps trying to steal food from both of them.
Elsie would very much like to eat a few things from Pizzana—particularly the vodka sauce pie topped with sausage—and Neony Pizza Works. She also rekindled her hunter instincts by tracking down a takeout box from Sam’s Pizza and Pasta in Cedar Hill.
The case of the sardine stalker
In August, I wrote about the sardine sandwich at La Bodega, which mixes the fish with capers, olives, cherry tomatoes, and loads of herbs. But what I didn’t mention was that my quiet, work-from-home act of private sandwich-eating had one very curious spectator. It makes sense. If there’s one thing that cats love, it’s tinned fish. My parents fed their cats canned tuna every single night when I was a kid and teenager. Elsie never received that privilege, but she’s ready to get started.
Elsie isn’t much of a dessert cat, but she does love the aromas of warm spices and bread, which collide with her favorite sweet-tooth food: spice cookies. We once found her trying to open a box of ginger snaps. This year, she conducted a serious investigation of a cinnamony spice cookie from Candor Baking (inside Oak Cliff Coffee).
And then there was the Best New Restaurants dinner event this December. Vestals Catering, our choice for best catering firm in Dallas, sent every guest home with a party favor: a box of tiny mini molasses cookies. I set the box on the kitchen bartop and went to bed. In the middle of the night, we heard a tiny clack sound. The next morning, the Vestals cookies were all on the floor—but, luckily, still secure inside the box. Apparently in the catering business you learn how to cat-proof your offerings.
Gosh. This really makes it sound like I live under constant siege, doesn’t it? We feed Elsie twice a day and she’s maintained a stable, healthy weight for several years. But no foodstuff is safe from her prowling attentions. Especially not Trompo. If you bring a bag of Trompo tacos over to my house, good freaking luck.