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Is There Media Consensus on Dallas’ Best Restaurants? (No.)

Let’s get geeky and compare the top restaurants in Dallas, as judged by Eater, the Dallas Observer, and D Magazine.
El Carlos Elegante is one of the best restaurants in Dallas. That, at least, everyone can agree on. Elizabeth Lavin

With this week’s release of Eater Dallas’ latest 38—its list of the 38 best restaurants in North Texas—we now have three local media outlets touting different best-restaurant lists. In December, the Dallas Observer updated its Top 100 and we here at D Magazine refreshed our 50 Best. Only D ranks top restaurants in order; the Observer goes alphabetically, and Eater goes from north to south.

I was curious: what could we learn by comparing the lists? Are there any interesting insights to find? Let’s dive in. This will be a nerdy column. I’ll start with a quick word of gratitude to my fellow list-makers, Eater’s Courtney Smith and the Observer’s food writing team, led by editor Lauren Drewes Daniels and critic Chris Wolfgang. None of this is meant to make fun of any of us. Hopefully.

The Unanimous Best Restaurants in Dallas

The first thing I wanted to know: which restaurants are on all three lists? How many places can brag that they are consensus picks?

The answer is that just 11 spots appear on all three lists, and they are:

This is a curious list. Lucia and Revolver/Purépecha are perennial candidates for the title of the single best restaurant in Dallas. Gemma is ever-consistent. But the other restaurants on the list are in a harder-to-describe bracket. They range from fun new attention-getters to casual, comfortable hangouts.

If I had to describe this list as having a shared trait, it would be people-pleasing. Even if you don’t like Ngon or Partenope, you’ll never get angry at somebody for being a fan.

In other words, this consensus list cries out for a distinction between places everyone thinks are the best and places where everyone has a good time. Or you might say that those are the same thing after all, and that this is a good list, because it will make loads of people happy.

The Restaurants Everybody Snubbed

When I plan out my 50 Best lists every six months or so, I keep a spreadsheet column called “Obvious Snubs.” That’s not my way of being mean. It’s my way of making sure I don’t accidentally forget some really famous place. If I know they’re not on the list, as opposed to simply forgotten, it keeps me from waking up in the middle of the night in a blind panic realizing that I’ve been a complete idiot.

I compared my snubs list with Eater’s list and the Observer’s list and found some big-name missing restaurants. Nobody listed these famous spots:

Monarch has been cited by D as an ideal place to celebrate a special occasion—but it is currently on the outside of the Dallas media’s main best-restaurant lists. Brittany Conerly

There are a lot of pricey steakhouses there. But also: what the heck happened to The Charles? Should people be sending us hate mail? I’ll admit I like El Carlos better, and Mister Charles is a good bet to make our next 50 Best. But I thought surely somebody would put Duro’s original restaurant on a list.

Barbecue Battles

Pecan Lodge’s omission from all three lists brings us to the pit, where we have some smoldering disagreements. Eater doesn’t list a single Dallas County barbecue restaurant, a fact so surprising I triple-checked it. (Eater covers Tarrant County, so Goldee’s BBQ and Smoke-n-Ash are on the Eater 38. The Observer and D omitted them because of geography, not merit.)

Chris Wolfgang, the Observer’s critic, has barbecue expertise, so I enjoyed this chance to compare notes with him. We both list Cattleack, Smokey Joe’s, and Zavala’s. Wolfgang adds Baby Back Shak, Douglas, Hutchins BBQ, and Loro.

Which List Is the Most Unconventional? Which Is the Most Conformist?

Here, I removed Eater’s Tarrant County entries to allow for direct comparison. D’s list contains 11 unique restaurants unmentioned by the other two lists (22 percent), Eater’s list is half unique to itself (17 of 35), while the Observer has a whopping 61 unique restaurants on its 100.

What explains the Observer’s ways? First, it is skilled at finding affordable hole-in-the-wall-type restaurants, especially in the suburbs. Second, uh, this is awkward, but part of the reason is me. I wrote the Observer’s Top 100 from 2018 to 2020, and several of its unique listings come from my time. Those restaurants are still on my personal top 100; I had to cut down to 50 for the shorter D list.

Next I looked at which restaurants make two of the “best” lists, but are left off the third one. For example, the Observer and Eater rate AllGood Cafe, Barsotti’s, and TJ’s Seafood among the best restaurants in Dallas, but the D list left them off. Eater and D agree on Mot Hai Ba, Restaurant Beatrice, and Tatsu Dallas, but the Observer omits them.

The Observer’s list and D’s have more in common, and in part that’s my fault. But some very surprising restaurants are missing from Eater’s list, including Petra and the Beast, Tei-An, Sachet, Encina, and Cattleack.

Dessert at Shoyo, a restaurant that appears on only one best-restaurant list—and on that list (ours), it’s in the top five. Brittany Connerly

Which Restaurants Are Unique to Each List?

The Observer’s is the only list to include Boulevardier, which is honestly a shock. The Observer also went on a limb for Uchi and Loro.

The restaurants unique to Eater’s list are an eclectic range, from the burger at dive bar The Peak Inn to a tasting menu at The Mansion.

Meanwhile, I’m the only guy who’s high on Brass Ram, Ruins, and Shoyo.

Did We Learn Anything from This?

Probably not, but some trends are clear to see. Very expensive restaurants seem to be viewed skeptically, with an eye to whether they offer exceptional value on that money, by all three list-makers. The three lists certainly have different approaches to barbecue. And Dallas has so many good dives, mom-and-pops, bar kitchens, and holes-in-the-wall that it would be almost impossible to get everybody to agree on the best.

For an eager foodie, it also pays to know some of the specific house rules at publications, like Eater’s inclusion of Fort Worth and D‘s exclusion of chain restaurants and external groups.

What’s the Most Underrated Restaurant in Dallas?

At the end of this task, I set myself a goofy challenge. I decided to take one of the questions from earlier—which restaurants were snubbed by all three lists—and extend it by seeing if we can use this system to officially declare the Most Underrated Restaurant. It doesn’t seem right to say that Nick & Sam’s or Neighborhood Services is the most underrated, since they are busy almost every night.

So I decided to make the task even harder. The restaurant had to be one not mentioned in any list. It couldn’t be an “obvious” snub. It couldn’t be brand-new. But I decided I could pick a restaurant from the other “most underrated” restaurant lists created by Eater (which includes The Charles!) and the Observer.

There are some intriguing contenders, like Ari District Thai (nominated by the Observer), Empa Mundo in Irving (a common “underrated” pick on Reddit), and Meshack’s BBQ in Garland.

Then it hit me. The answer is a good high-end restaurant that’s been here for years, that has gotten so under the radar that it has vanished from the radar entirely. And it’s still good. And Eater thinks it’s underrated, too.

The most underrated restaurant in Dallas is Local.


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.