Howdy and welcome to Dallas! Where you folks from? Philadelphia? I’ll bet you’re already missing a hoagie from Beato’s, the real thing with olive oil soaking the napkin and all the peppers, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, Genoa salami, and enough capocol-lo and provolone so that at 4 p.m. you can still taste your lunch. No use asking. No matter the name: hero, grinder, submarine, zep, or poor boy, down here we don’t have a decent meal-on-a-roll like a Beato’s hoagie. You are what you ate where you grew up, and pining over beloved home food will just make you homesick.
But buck up, folks. Although Dallas doesn’t have a famous native dish like Philly’s hoagie, Charleston’s she-crab soup, Baltimore’s crab cakes, or Boston’s baked beans, we do have exemplary offerings that represent the Holy Trinity of Texas Prole Food: barbecue, chicken-fried steak, and Tex-Mex, that is, Texas’s interpretation of Mexican food. If you can manage to develop a love of any of these three semi-divine cuisines (or better, all of them), your culinary passport will be honored from Brownsville to Dalhart, Tex-arkana to El Paso.
Barbecue. Like my granddaddy used to say, “Bobby Cue’s like grandchildren. It’s something everybody can be best at,” If you’re from Memphis, the pork “bobby cue” capital of the world, right away you’re in trouble. We’re strictly beef here, sliced, not chopped, brisket over slow heat, no cole slaw dumped on top, sauce served separately. The Dallas blue-ribbon winner is Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, a drive-in barbecue specialty spot that offers minimum comfort but maximum gorging pleasure in its tiny interior. Come early for lunch or you’ll have to sit on your car hood. (2202 Inwood Road).
Chicken-Fried Steak. You don’t know? Well, I’m not telling except that it’s prepared like fried chicken: beat-till-it’s-tender round steak, lightly breaded or flour-rolled, ideally with no eggs; salt-and-pepper seasoned; and cooked in clear grease in an uncovered iron skillet for five or six minutes on each side. No, that’s not saddle soap covering it. That’s cream gravy. Eat enough of these and you’ll have to shower in a car wash. Best one I ever ate had been rolled in mesquite bean meal at a West Texas hole-in-the-wall out near Fort Stockton. Some would say that an urban chicken fry is an oxymoron, but an upstanding, honorable version can be found at The Mecca Restaurant. It’s a chicken-fried steak for all seasonings and all tastes. (10422 Harry Hines).
Tex-Mex. Take chili for instance. It’s a Texas dish, not Mexican or Spanish, nor is it from that skinny country on the westcoast of South America. It was born in SanAntonio in the late 19th century longhom-beef era. Right away you have to take astand: Bean vs. No Bean. While you’redeciding, head over to Mia’s Restaurantand order their all-purpose Tex-Mex dinner (combination #1), something that includes an enchilada, tamale, and taco withrice and beans, and get an order of guaca-mole salad on the side. And beware of thejalapeno pepper; it looks like a failedpickle but goes off in your mouth like ahand grenade. After your Tex-Mex initiation, try Mia’s chili relleno. Muy bien! (4418 Lemmon).