Dallas, like all cities, is the sum of its neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods are spread out for miles. We’re also a city that eats out a lot-at least five times a week, according to estimates by the Texas Restaurant Association. (Diners spent $3 billion on restaurant food in Dallas County alone in 1997.) Of course, everyone wants to be able to say they’ve eaten at the latest greatest place. So suburban tourists from Piano and Richardson come downtown to eat at the Palm and Star Canyon, and downtown tourists drive to Far North Dallas from the Park Cities and Lakewood to eat at Three Forks and Sullivan’s.
Still, despite our desire to be in the know on the city’s best restaurants, we spend most of our time and money in our own neighborhoods. It’s the neighborhood restaurant that we really depend on. For most of us, there’s a sliding scale of excellence based on how close a restaurant is to our home. Every neighborhood depends on a La Madeleine and a Mexican restaurant. How many times a month do people in Preston Hollow head up to Mainstream for supper? How many times a week do folks in Coppell go to The Local Diner? How often do Planoites converge at Covino’s? And there’s not a neighborhood anywhere without a favorite Italian restaurant.
We spent six weeks in our car, checking out Dallas’ neighborhood restaurants. We talked to people in the communities and in the restaurants that represent those communities.
And we ate.
Here, in no particular order, are the best restaurants in your neighborhood.
Highland Park is more than a neighborhood: It’s a residential country club with neighborhood restaurants that resemble private clubs. Still, you can find genuine neighborhood dining here in places where everyone knows everyone else. The residents of Beverly Drive may eat ai Cafe Pacific (pictured here) five times a week. And they have lunch at Patrizio’s even mote often. Even the great levelling ground. Mi Cocina, acquires an aristocratic, exclusive atmosphere when it’s in Highland Park Village next to Chanel. Think about it-rich people have neighborhoods, too. They just put on their jewelry with their jogging suits to go out. The only place these people dress down is at Highland Park Pharmacy. (Well, they do drop in for chop salad at Sevy’s in their tennis clothes.) Knox-Henderson is (he Ellis Island of in-town dining; East Dallas, Uptown, Highland (and University) Park-all rub elbows here in a most congenial, neighborly way, but it’s really a Park Cities strip. AquaKnox is useful to impress out-of-town guests with local sophistication, but the locals all put on their khakis and go to Wild About Harry’s for hot dogs and custard to demonstrate what a small town Highland Park really is.
M Streets/ East Dallas
“That’s so M Streets” is a phrase we’re starting to hear as this little Tudoresque neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks has developed its own personality. What people mean when they say “That’s so M Streets” is, “That’s so boho (for middle class Dallasites),” or “That’s so eccentric (in a benevolent, non-threatening, accessible kind of way).” Not too many M Streeters are prominently pierced, for instance (not that there’s anything wrong with it, they would quickly assure you).
This is Park Cities at the beginner’s level-blocks of cute houses, neighborly neighbors, citizens too cool to live in the new suburbs but too square to live in Deep Ellum and too chicken to live in Oak Cliff. When couples grow up. or their kids outgrow Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, they move across the tracks to the Park Cities.
Lower Greenville Avenue has been a restaurant row for some time. (Greenville Bar & Grill opened in 1933: the city’s first wine bar. The Grape, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and San Francisco Rose, the original fern bar, still flourishes on beer and grill food.) But Greenville is established as a dining destination now all the way from Mockingbird to Ross-with more streetside patios per block than anyplace else in the city. To name a few: Blue Goose, the post-collegiate, over-stuffed Mexican cantina; the New Mexican joint Flying Burro; Tex-Mex party place J. Pepe’s; and picnic-style oyster bar Aw Shucks.
The crowds of people outdoors give the neighborhood a real urban feel, complete with huge parking hassles, a contrast to the Suburban-friendly acres in a suburban shopping center like Preston Forest. There’s good dining off the Avenue, too. Jade Garden has terrific Chinese food served in a 7-Eleven atmosphere on Bryan, (don’t miss the whole fish), and perennial
Vietnamese favorite Mai’s is still popular. Put it all together, and you have the best dining neighborhood in the city. Some of these restaurants are destinations for the rest of the city, like the Middle Eastern mecca Cafe Izmir: Kirby’s, the revived original steak house; Liberty, the nouvelle noodle house; and the original Daddy Jack’s Lobster and Chowder House. But others, like John’s Cafe, are pure neighborhood joints-everyone arrives for weekend breakfast with their own newspapers and sleep in their eyes.
This tightly knit, unpretentious neighborhood is centered around its schools, which is why most people live there. So it was smart of Hans and Claire Banloehnans, the owners of ST Cafe, the cafe that grew from Sweet Temptations Bakery, to introduce themselves to the community by donating cakes and cookies to high school fund-raisers. The gesture won the heart of the whole neighborhood, and now ST Cafe is Lake Highlands’ favorite hangout-the bakery even makes a special Lake Highlands Rock Cake with almond roca. Alfonso’s on Buckner, famous for its thick-crusted pizza and garlic rolls, is the other place where neighbors run into each other besides PTA meetings.
We liked the piece in the Morning News about the guy who loves his “urban” lifestyle in Uptown. He had everything he needed in walking distance, he bragged. Turns out “everything he needed” was three bars: Trolley Point (now closed), Step Lad’r, and TABC. Uptowners do more than drink, though, and this is the year they proved it, declaring the area a real neighborhood by tossing Coco Pazzo and Fog City Diner off the block in favor of small-time hangouts like TABC, which serves good food, especially if you order from the blackboard. Bread Winners is the neighborhood date destination and the morning-after place for breakfast-or brunch, as the natives call it when their first meal is at two. Avanti is the Italian of choice, and Primo’s is the perfect cross between a local Mexican spot and a neighborhood bar. And these are the people that keep Lulu’s in business-of course, the goldfish bowl drinks might be the draw here if we judge by the guy with the urban lifestyle.
Casa Linda means “pretty house,” and the Spanish-style Casa Linda shopping center has always been linda-this is the prettiest shopping center in Dallas. People in Casa Linda really use their neighborhood restaurants, none of which are fancy or expensive. Salt’s is the basic neighborhood Italian, what we think of as casserole Italian-like most Italian restaurants, Sail’s pretends to offer veal, but it’s better to stick with baked ziti or hand-thrown pizza. Casa Linda Cafeteria is a place where not only do the food. service people wear hairnets, the customers do, too. Barbec’s is as close as Casa Linda comes to destination dining, but people come here for the beer biscuit breakfasts. Martin’s Cocina packs them in for his personal brand of Mexican cooking, including a delicious array of lowfat (believe it) dishes. Friendly Franki’s Lil’ Europe serves Eastern European food like spatzle and chicken paprikash, East Dallas style: Franki Kavocic. the owner, is always at the door to greet you.
Oak Cliff has more character than most neighborhoods in Dalla;;- or do we just mean it’s mostly Democrats? Really liberal, you know what we mean? The heart is at Bishop and Davis, around 7th. There, cute single-story office buildings are side-by-side with artists’ studios and restaurants like Tillman’s Corner, a casual New American neighborhood bar/bistro; Vitto, a slick gourmet pizza and cheap pasta spot; and Gennie’s Bishop Grill, the original queen of home-cooking lunch cafeterias. (Make a point of eating at Gennie’s, if only for the peanut butter pie.) Gloria’s, one of the few Oak Cliff restaurants to expand across the river, has single-handedly popularized pupusas. Mexican food is good everywhere in the Cliff, from Tejano’s big black-velvet style Mexican palace (the first Cuellar venture in Dallas, the forerunner of El Chico) to Rodolfo’s (famous for potato tacos) to little El Jordon Cafe, good for menudos and tortas. Locals love the dog-friendly patio at La Calle Doce, where they can lounge with their test friends and enjoy schooners of chilled ceviche.
Master planning is the buzz word here. The rolling hills are lined with apartments and condos with names like Rancho Mirage, Windridge, and Marbletree (who names these places?). You need a map to get from produce to Pampers in the huge “Tom Thumb Cities” anchoring strip shopping centers. Corporate headquarters and businesses flourish by day, and so do the chain restaurants that conform to the cell phone and beeper mentality of the quick corporate lunch. Atmosphere takes precedence over food quality in most restaurants, which explains the success of the cavernous Cool River Cafe. The Mustang Cafe combines a friendly bar with excellent eclectic versions of pasta, chicken, and seafood. Ex-Humperdink’s fans now retreat to the Spirit Grill for a less schizophrenic sports scene, and couples (with babysitters at home) dine on Southwestern specialties in the cool pastel dining room of Via Real. And sushi is inching in respectfully at Isshin. Tune in to see if “Plastic City” finally gets some character.
“Preston Hollow” is a vague term that we’re using to include everything near Preston Road from LBJ to Preston Center. The area used to be merely a place to live. not to eat, but now no one in search of a good meal needs to leave the neighborhood unless they want dinner and a view. Clair de Lune is a French gem that moved here 11 years ago from the Quadrangle. Now, the staff greets customers by name as they serve classics like pommes frites, souffles, and paté. But variety rules-just across the square, the Purple Cow is the latest soccer team Celebration Central, serving burgers and milkshakes (spiked for the parents who prefer). Preston Hollow is a test lab for the M Crowd-the first Mainstream, the first Mi Cocina, their latest hit. Mico’s Taco Diner, and The Mercury each serve different food to the same crowd of customers. From 6 to 8 p.m.. Mi Cocina is packed with families spilling out on the sidewalk waiting for a table. Kids from one of the few acceptable DISD schools, Hillcrest. and most of the elite private schools-ESD, Hockaday, St. Mark’s-use Gazeebo Burger as an after-class hangout. Geriatric blue hairs eat “early bird’’ pot roast at Natalie’s, taking home cinnamon rolls for breakfast. And then there’s Cafe Expresso, the quintessential neighborhood bistro, where customers come four or five times a week and take out Dieter Paul’s pizza the other two days. He even calls customers when their favorite foods (like softshell crab and sweetbreads) make it to the menu, The neighborhood. bar scene is at PoPoLo’s, where diners gather for chardonnay and pizza margherita. A hidden spot is the long-standing, secretly hidden Marco’s Pizza. Beware- it’s strictly cash and carry.
There are actually 60-plus restaurants in Deep Ellum, but you can’t tell in the daytime. This is a white-collar neighborhood where most places don’t open till late afternoon-and then they’re packed. Deep Ellumites are older than you might expect-40-plus-and most of their lofts don’t even have microwaves.
It used to be that everyone who actually lived in Deep Ellum went to Cafe Brazil the morning after, but in the words of Yogi Berra and several Deep Ellumites we talked to. “It’s too popular now. Nobody goes there anymore.”
Now the neighborhood favorite secret is Vern’s Place. whose grits-and-fried chicken appeal extends into the nearby Fair Park neighborhood, Adair’s. home of the humongous hamburger, has been a Deep Ellum fixture for a million years, long before this became a neighborhood for fading flower children. You can get a great hangover prevention plate of enchiladas at Omega’s till 4 am., and Pepe & Mito’s serves the best beef tacos anywhere. Deep Ellum may have the widest (and wildest) restaurant diversity of any Dallas neighborhood-from upscale, jazzy Sambuca to the serenity of East Wind to the basic burger/bar Angry Dog. St. Pete’s is the bar for its own sake (no loud music). Art Bar is the one with Attitude. And of course, some Deep Ellum denizens eat at Monica’s four or five times a week. Deep Ellumites do cross Good-Latimer into real downtown Dallas- mostly to eat ai the little Record Grill in the parking lot of the Records building, which serves a great Greek cheeseburger.
Driving down Walnut Street in Garland, you don’t have a visual entry to a “Chinatown” like you do in Los Angeles or New York, but behind the suburban strip malls, between the Pizza Huts and Waffle Houses, are some of the most authentically Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese restaurants and markets in the Southwest.
You can smell the ginger and smoking barbecue from the parking lot at Hong Kong Market before you even enter the store. And the grocery itself is a place to eat-there’s a bakery with fresh lotus seed buns and egg tarts, and next door is a BBQ meat shop with ducks and chickens hanging like Christmas ornaments from the ceiling. Watch out-the heads and feet are still attached. The live action seafood department features huge fish tanks holding three-foot eels, enormous catfish, blue crabs climbing over each other, live tilapia, and lobsters (for only $5.99 a pound). Store workers crawl over the tops of the tanks, pulling out a fish and bashing it on the head for you to take home.
People aren’t afraid to meet their dinner eye to eye in this neighborhood-most restaurants have tanks of live crea-tures, too. This is a destination neighborhood for adventurous diners with more great anonymous restaurants than anywhere in the city-Arc-En-Ciel is great for dim sum, and Tasty China, Young Shing, Snow Mountain, and My Tho all serve those weird, wonderful squiggly foods. You can’t really get a bad meal, so just pick one out and point at the menu.
G re en way Parks/Bluff view
This is the most pastoral neighborhood in the city- Greenway Parks has acres of lawn separating the houses, and Bluffview is one of Dallas’ only areas with naturally wooded hills. Unfortunately, restaurant central for these neighborhoods is the most hellacious three miles of driving in the city-the blocks of Lovers Lane from Preston to Inwood. This was Dallas’ original restaurant row, where Mr. Peppe’s, Marcel’s. Ewald’s, and Dominique’s (named after real people, not marketing inventions) formed a fraternity of the best restaurants in town. Now Marrakesh, the only Moroccan restaurant in town, is one of the best places to celebrate anything. Sitting on the floor watching belly dancers while eating tagine royale and pouring Domaine de Sahari- how much more fun can dinner be? Aspiring hostesses take their own platters into City Cafe To Go so they can later pass the gourmet food off as their own; at Going Gourmet. the kitchen passes off continental food as upscale home cooking. (Bring your own bottle- now that’s homestyle.) Casa Rosa still packs families in for thick cheese enchiladas: Spargel Cafe may sound like a fancy joint but it’s really Hofstetters with a new look and sleeker cooking that’s based on standards like wiener schnitzel. Cafe Istanbul is a Turkish bistro with full-tilt Turkish atmosphere-it looks like the Grand Bazaar should be right outside the door instead of Bookstop. The Bistro has great fries and a great (for us that means inexpensive) wine list. Hand-kissing Franco Bertolasi charms the regulars at the Riviera, regarded as the best destination restaurant in Dallas while still suiting the neighborhood characteristics of exclusive and expensive with no more pretentiousness than favorite dives like Lovers Egg Roll and Lovers Pizza.
The unmentionable truth, the thing no one likes to mention about Lakewood, is that it’s dowdy.
Even though the houses are more beautiful and the landscape is prettier than that other old residential neighborhood, the self-consciously chichi Park Cities, Lakewood. remains determinedly square. White Highland Park’s Dallas Country Club hosts high-society receptions, Lakewood Country Club hosts regular bingo nights for the Rotary Club. It’s no surprise that the last remaining El Chico in Dallas is in Lakewood or that Dixie House (Lakewood’s Patrizio), is the restaurant everyone relies on, Dixie House still dishes out fried chicken and pot roast in an old-fashioned family atmosphere. Lakewood is heavy on family values: La Dolce Vita is a family-run Italian cafe with a wood-burn-ing oven turning out great pizzas; Rancho Martinez and next door No Place are run by Matt Martinez’s first family of Tex-Mex. Little Angelo’s is stick-to-the-ribs Italian-fill up on clams di Angelo and spaghetti and meatballs. Everyone buys their birthday cakes at Dallas Affaires. And this is the kind of neighborhood. that would love shepherd’s pie-Tipperary Inn is the favorite Irish pub. Nothing in Park Cities compares to Dan’s Lakewood Cafe, and why should it-why go to an all-night greasy spoon when you can go home and have the maid whip up an omelette?
Northwest Dallas offers cheap housing and cheap dining, but the food is better than the buildings. You can get lots for your money here, and there are lots of restaurateurs trying hard to make a living. The former downtown favorite El Taxco has been reincarnated in an old 7-Eleven as Casa Navarro, serving Wednesday enchilada plates for only $3.95. This neighborhood is full of abandoned, fast-food restaurants that have been turned into distinctive ethnic and mom-and-pop joints.
The retro Mecca runs loads of business breakfast meetings upstairs while regulars with names like Gus and Frank enjoy “the usual” downstairs, along with endless cups of coffee served by career waitresses.
Korea House anchors a block of Oriental restaurants and shops-we like the naeng myun, but it works just to take a chance. Caribbean Grill is a labor-of-love place started by a businessman who dreamed of sharing the tastes of his homeland. His dream became our dream come true when he opened this place, complete with jerk chicken, live reggae, and killer rum punch. Indian Oven is in an old Dairy Queen,where they do deli-style specials, Delhi-style.
Richardson Heights is the Calcutta of Central, crowded with sari shops, Indian groceries (dal, anyone?), trinket and gift stores (a Shiva on every shelf), and great Indian restaurants. Kebab & Kurry was one of the first North Indian cafes in Dallas, and Shalimar is the only one that serves southern Indian dishes, with huge masala dhosas like limp frisbees draping over each plate, filled with coconut curry potatoes in a starch-on-starch extravaganza. On the other hand, there’s some outstanding Chinese food in Richardson-Hong Kong Royale is famous for its vast menu of seafood and even some purely American places-like Del’s, a hamburger haven since the ’40s.
First of all, there is a difference. UP is ions less snobby than HP-just ask anyone in UP. They’ll assure you-maybe even before you ask-of their lack of pretension. It’s true-or it’s been true in the past-that Snider Plaza is the last holdout against pretentious retail, But even it is under siege-the closing of M.E. Moses was a bad omen, and the death of Ralph’s Fine Foods is worse. (Now where will we buy our Boston ferns?) But there’s only so much they can do to gentrify this strip, short of tearing it down or adding a mansard roof. It’s kept its stay-put charm, even as it moves at a geologic pace into modernity. Kuby’s, the venerable German market, is venturing into nightlife brats and polka, and Mai Phom’s restaurant is venturing into more Vietnamese than Chinese (these might be the best hot pots in town). Marc and Peggy Hall once had the menu monopoly in this small-town strip-Amore anchored one end, with the neighborhood’s neighborhood Italian joint (we like the frutta di mare), Cisco Grill, up the plaza (grilled catfish is the ticket here) and Peggy Sue’s Barbecue (where the sides are as good as the meat) up at the south end. Now, Avner Samuel’s Bistro A has made the neighborhood a destination, but the hot dogs at his walk-up deli, Asher’s, have a lower-key appeal.
Far North Dallas
When we were kids, cows used to roam the fields in Far North Dallas, where they’re now served up medium rare with a parsley garnish. North Dallas’ meat mile starts at Spring Valley and ends at Trinity Mills. Though, of course, there are beef blips in every part of Dallas. Del Frisco’s, Sullivan’s. Texas Land & Cattle, Humperdink’s Chop House, Lawry’s. and Three Forks (which seats 900 people alone) provide an unprecedented block of beef eating. When the beef disappears, will this stretch look like the restaurant row off Walnut Hill, a hot spot in the ’80s that now looks like a ghost town? North Dallas is a Tolltag town, where there’s plenty of money, everyone plays golf, and there’s a steady commute to The Palm in the West End (as though there weren’t enough steak down the street). The east-west thoroughfares aren’t as user-friendly, so most of the great North restaurants cluster along the Tollway or Preston. The first big, beautiful, and delicious Mediterraneo; Ocean Grill, with four-star seafood; Lavendou’s proven?al country French bistro; Modo Mio, a chef-owned Italian oasis; PF Chang, glitzy homogenized Chinese food; and Rice Boxx-the only Chinese food in the neighborhood worth taking out.
Sorry to seem snobby, but we think of most suburbs as sterile. However, some suburbs are invented and some grow naturally, and Carrollton was a little town before it became a city’s suburb. Downtown Carrollton has a charming town square, complete with gazebo, that looks like a scene from Back so she Future’s past. Sid’s Rainbow, an old linoleum-floored soda shoppe with naugahyde booths and swivel stools, serves burgers and malts. The aptly named Cafe on the Square is a breakfast and lunch place (we visited on meatloaf Monday) attracting lots of antiques, not to mention post-carpool klatsches. Up the stairs is Amici, a favorite Italian restaurant with the bring-your-own-wine crowd. Just off the square, Prairie House advertises “frontier cuisine”-buffalo burgers, catfish, and barbecue-complete with worn wood floors, mooseheads, and pictures of John Wayne. It’s Northern Exposure meets the Old West.
We can’t help wondering why people move to the suburbs-traffic here is far worse than it is in Dallas. The shopping center at Preston and Park must be the biggest intersection in the city. It looks like a mall split open like a coconut. This is Willow Bend country-the huge houses have rolling lawns and jogging trails and fake lakes with real swans. Nothing too unusual, nothing too expensive. And that’s the rule for food here, too, Still, it’s not entirely like every place you’ve been before, despite the popularity of Corner Bakery, La Madeleine, and Bennigan’s Bon Vivant is the most ambitious gourmet takeout in the area, with a bakery, pizza oven, prepared entrees, wine department, cheese section, and bins of fresh produce. The northwest quadrant of Preston and Park has some good dining: Awaji is a jumping Japanese joint with beautiful sushi; Kosta’s is homestyle Greek; Rockfish is a fresh but unpretentious seafood sister to Shell’s in Snider Plaza. Basically, in West Piano, people go out to eat. not to dine.
Plano-what people in Dallas call “nosebleed country” is vast-and bewildering. It’s hard to tell where the neighborhoods are; It’s a textbook example of suburban sprawl. To paint the map in broad strokes. Piano is divided into East and West. But from Piano’s point of view, Dallas is a tiny blip on the other side of LBJ, which might as well be the Pacific Ocean-you don’t cross it easily. Or often.
Original Pancake House is Piano’s favorite “neighborhood” breakfast spot, though residents also flock to Kolache Station to buy the Czech pastries. Covino’s is the “neighborhood Italian” place, where the owner knows everyone and it’s packed even on Sundays. If you’re a regular, you know enough to buy an order of red clam sauce to dip your bread in while you drink wine and wait for a table. There are more plastic chairs in the waiting area than there are chairs inside Covino’s, but the truth is, you get better food down the street at Macaroni Grill. Fishmonger’s, Piano’s favorite family fish restaurant, tried to expand south, but that venture failed. And there are some standouts-Greek Isles’ authentic and extensive Greek menu would he a specialty worth trying no matter what neighborhood you live in; Sea Grill’s menu is superb for any suburb, and a lot of in-towners will drive north for a taste of their bay scallop hash.
whole community at The Local Diner, a generic “50s soda shoppe kind of place serving everything from breakfast to blue whole community at The Local Diner, a generic “50s soda shoppe kind of place serving everything from breakfast to blue Addison
We remember when LBJ and Preston was a field and Belt Line was a two-lane black top and our friends attended the Addison School that has been the Magic Time Machine for nearly 25 years. (Funny how this corny place has survived with all the upscale eateries that now surround it.) Now Addison can seat 20,000 people at one time for dinner. The square mile from Belt Line and Preston to Midway has 120 restaurants, the most per capita of any city west of the Mississippi .The main reason national chains sprout here is that Addison has become the ultimate test market for concepts-if you can make it here, allegedly, your concept could play in Peoria. There is a noticeable absence of holes-in-the-wall in Addison-everything here is screaming for attention, and there’s no room for a quiet mom-and-pop place. The young pro singles who live out here seem to prefer higher profile restaurants, and our favorite Addison intersection, Montfort and Belt Line, provides plenty: One of the top Thai restaurants and certainly the prettiest. Chow Thai, is tucked in the comer (sticky rice is very nice); Mi Piaci, the super-Tuscan of Italian restaurants, is across the street. Chile rellenos at Mattito’s are top shelf, and the oysters are as fresh as the pasta at beautiful Lombardi Mare in erstwhile Sakowitz Village. Jim and Liz Baron’s Blue Mesa is as mom-and-pop as it gets, serving superb margaritas with homey inventions like adobe pie.
plates to burgers with carafes of Coke and thermoses of coffee. Did we mention it’s part of a chain?