Our Best New Restaurants feature is online now, celebrating 2022’s most exciting new bites.
And let me tell you: this was one complicated year to assemble such a list.
2022 was a strange year. The pandemic’s effects were finally wearing off, diners were getting their booster shots, and a lot of customers wanted to return to comfort foods, old favorites, and things they remembered and missed. Bold or creative new flavors, unusual experiences—those traits were less important. One restaurant owner even told me that sales of “today’s specials” were down by half at his establishment. People were still going to his restaurant in the same numbers, but they didn’t want the special—they wanted the usual.
The result of this more conservative mentality was a crop of “Best New Restaurants” that initially left me feeling seriously disappointed. Instead of exciting destination dining, the kind of cooking that draws tourists from other cities and wins national awards, Dallas spent its year focused on simple comforts. I kept seeing cool new stuff in other cities—like the Guyanese fine dining spot Canje in Austin, or modernist Austrian newcomer Koloman in New York—and jealously muttering, “why can’t we have nice things?” If you want a Dallasite to grace the cover of Bon Appétit or win a James Beard Award, this probably won’t be our year. But if you just want to have a nice, comforting meal and enjoy good hospitality, 2022 was a success.
This year, I thought a lot about the term “neighborhood restaurant.” A neighborhood restaurant is a spot where the locals feel comfortable at all hours, where the food, service, and atmosphere can all be described as welcoming. You can dress them up or down: you can go for date night, you can celebrate a birthday, but also pop around when you forget to buy groceries.
This was a category where Dallas had, frankly, fallen short of standard. We had some good neighborhood restaurants already, of course (think of Encina, Nova, Gemma, or Boulevardier). But not in the abundance with which, say, Houston enjoys them. Thankfully, that is changing.
2022 saw a rush of our top chefs committing their energy, creativity, and integrity to this more casual category. Bruno Davaillon traded in the destination-worthy Bullion for a classic bistro, Josh Harmon jumped into the fried-chicken game, the Village opened a more casual sibling to Meridian, and Regino Rojas compared his new Revolver concept to his old one by saying that La Resistencia is where you take your family, but Gastro Cantina is where you get drunk with your friends.
Using that lens, I looked at our scene with more optimism. We’re filling in the foundations of a great scene by establishing a new baseline of good casual dining. Maybe the more adventurous stuff is coming next year. There are already promising signs of a new wave of creativity in 2023.
So I submitted my list of the best new restaurants of the year. We started editing. Then things got even harder.
In the week before our December issue went to the printers, two of the 11 honored restaurants closed their doors. Modest Rogers simply did not have the funds to continue—its fantastic Venezuelan-Texan foods never caught on with Dallasites. I am still mad about this. If you’re one of the people who never went to Modest Rogers, you’re on notice.
Darkoo’s Chicken Shack closed in a messy, confusing dispute with its property management company (not its landlord) about late payments on bills (but not rent). Long story short, the previous landlord had forgotten or neglected to send Darkoo’s a bill, the restaurant knew about it and asked about it, but when the property changed hands, the new managers were unforgiving about the old owners’ forgetfulness.
So our 11 restaurants are down to nine. But we made the decision to keep Darkoo’s and Modest Rogers in the Best New Restaurants package for three reasons. First, they did the work and they deserve the credit. Second, they are bright examples of the kinds of restaurants I want to see succeed in Dallas, and I want to encourage more business owners to try concepts like theirs.
Third, they may not be gone permanently, and their chefs are certainly still around town. Here’s hoping we get to eat their foods again soon.
Until then, you can celebrate them just like we celebrate the nine restaurants that are still open. Here’s the list. Enjoy some of the best new bites Dallas has to offer, and let’s see just how different our dining scene gets in 2023.