Mussels in chorizo-and-tomato broth Kevin Marple

Restaurant Review

Urbano Cafe Remains the Same in a Gentrifying Neighborhood

The East Dallas spot holds up.

Sometimes time and place collide to make a neighborhood haunt feel necessary. In a gentrifying neighborhood in East Dallas, Urbano Cafe holds down its spot, the quaint, intimate place it has been since Kristen and Mitch Kauffman wrestled the 1920s façade from dilapidation: the front room with white tablecloths, black-and-white photographs, tin ceiling, exposed brick; the antechamber, where waitstaff might torch a crème brulée; and the later addition, Two Doors Down, with a bar and live jazz. The waitstaff is comfortably jovial, and more than one face in the room might turn your way and acknowledge your presence as you walk through the door.

At dinner one recent evening, a grilled endive salad was underwhelming, limp in a watery buttermilk dressing. But this is the kind of place where you can be happy with a glass of wine and a plate of ravioli settling in a pool of lemon-sage butter or the excellent mussels in a chorizo and tomato broth that have been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening—perfectly complementing the bivalves with their gentle spice, though only half were open. Many things come from Jimmy’s Food Store next door, and almost every table is BYOB. The atmosphere is what you’re here for.

That evening, a side of pan-blistered green beans with stewed-down tomatoes from Jimmy’s and wonderfully caramelized onions had a wonderful umami touch, like vegetable gold. Lamb osso bucco, a special that arrived as an impressive monument, though not quite tender enough to slip effortlessly off the bone, came served over a milky, understated polenta like one you might make at home, with a few lumps in it. A loose crème brulée whose top shattered as it should capped off the evening.

Amid apartments under construction, you feel, at the end of the night, leaving a few, good, spent wine bottles behind you, that you’ve just quit a party, where friends left happy. And perhaps this is why the attachment to Urbano Café remains and is warranted, because the spots here feel like they are neighborhood places—even the new ones like Khao Noodle Shop a block away.

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