Our annual Best New Restaurants feature usually begins with glowing praise for the year just concluded: how the past 12 months saw a tremendous bounty of delicious new food.
Not this time. 2023 was kind of a dud.
This year, two restaurant types prospered: big-money palaces for law partners with expense accounts, and fast-casual counters for everyone else. High-dollar out-of-town chains swept into Dallas like barbarian hordes, only this metaphor doesn’t quite work, because the original barbarians were not known for their interest in investment capital, snobby dress codes, or bottle service.
Because of that, I spent much of 2023 paying hundreds of dollars to be disappointed at dinner. But I also found plenty of good stuff among our newcomers. All the best new food and drink in Dallas can be found below. Yes, some of these meals might affect your credit score, but one will fill you up for $2.75. All of them are making our region a better place.
Via Triozzi is by far the newest restaurant on this list and may yet become the best. Its arrival at the end of 2023 is a useful final chapter to the story of the year in Dallas dining. After so much caviar, and after so many hundreds of dollars spent, this is exactly what we needed. It’s Italian right down to the philosophy: pristine ingredients, most of them vegetables, treated minimally but sympathetically. It’s the kind of menu where you order the dish that sounds the least interesting, because that’s what will taste the best.
Case in point: grilled zucchini with ricotta cheese. We get a lot of zucchini in this area, and a lot of ricotta, too. My partner makes ricotta fresh at home. But Via Triozzi’s zucchini are brilliantly fresh, grilled with just-right stripes of black. The ricotta is boldly lemony and rich, the best and most flavorful I’ve ever had. And there’s more: the plate is scattered with fresh herbs, chopped pistachios, and a drizzle of herb oil. It’s just a grilled vegetable, but I remember it more vividly than anything I ate at Carbone.
The same praise applies to arugula salad with a dressing that tastes like a string of exclamation marks. And then there’s the lasagna. I counted at least 20 layers of noodles, flavorful bechamel, ragu, and cheese. Via Triozzi’s best dishes may be nothing fancy, but that’s what makes them so appealing. After a year of dinner as see-and-be-seen theater, a nice slab of lasagna at grandmother’s house is just what we need.
We don’t often think of restaurants as courageous, but Quarter Acre is the latest of a select group of Dallas kitchens that are equal parts delicious and brave. On his menu, chef-owner Toby Archibald tells his own story: being born and raised in New Zealand, training around the world, and now finding a home in Texas. When his ideas leap outside the box, he’s not afraid to express them. Like Petra and the Beast or Mot Hai Ba, this restaurant showcases a chef who’s confident in a unique, personal style.
In Archibald’s case that means a love of smoke—enabled by the kitchen’s wood-fired grill—and sauces with a hint of sweetness. Lamb might be glazed in tamarind; kingfish ceviche might be underlined by sweet pepper jam. It also means small touches of his New Zealand heritage, including imported butter, extraordinary king salmon from the country’s southernmost tip, Maori-owned wines, and a “lolly bag” of petite desserts.
Speaking of desserts, Quarter Acre provides an opportunity to meet one of Dallas dining’s rising stars: pastry chef Celina Villanueva, who grew up in her parents’ Filipino restaurant and market. Villanueva brings in flavors of the tropics and the Pacific Rim: ube, grapefruit, or jackfruit.
Yes, high-dollar spots like Mister Charles and Brass Ram carry themselves with swagger. But for being true to itself, Quarter Acre has the most personality and self-confidence of any new opening this year.
From the outside it doesn’t look like much. Set on a particularly polluted block of Riverfront Boulevard in the Design District, in a former Tex-Mex restaurant, El Carlos Elegante’s façade gives away little about its interior. The word “elegante” only makes sense when you step in and see the walled patio, stylishly tiled bar, and expansive dining room.
About that name. It’s an inside joke, related to the restaurant’s ownership. Chas Martin also operates The Charles and Mister Charles. We keep asking him when he’ll debut a burger joint named Chuck. (Alas, no comment.)
The menu, a collaboration between different chefs, combines Mexican tradition and modern sophistication. El Carlos nixtamalizes corn for masa in-house, sources traditionally made spirits, and doesn’t try to minimize everything into American-friendly dishes. You’ll enjoy a meal here best if you sample less-common items like a machete, a long quesadilla shaped like its namesake blade, or a tetela, a crispy, cheesy masa triangle filled with mushrooms and plated over a spicy sauce of huitlacoche, more mushrooms, garlic, white onion, and crema.
Don’t get to those bigger bites, though, without trying the “one-hitters.” These are one- or two-bite wonders that allow you to sample a wide range of appetizers for a modest outlay. We love a miniature tuna tostada, featuring a fatty belly cut, and crab-ricotta croquettes with fresh corn kernels hidden inside. One-hitters are perfect for a large, celebratory group. You can grab appetizers without worrying about who’s willing to share what.
El Carlos is great for celebrations in general. The “Negroni-ish” cocktail is a grand time. Patio and private dining rooms cater to groups. Indeed, several business groups have asked me where to dine this year; I’ve suggested El Carlos each time, and they’ve all sent back raves. This restaurant is not just a refined vision of Mexican food. It’s a crowd-pleaser. Literally.
Remember the start of 2023, when we all thought that the year’s most talked-about restaurant would be the new steakhouse in Reunion Tower? Crown Block came in with a roar—it had more than 10,000 reservations on the books before opening day—but that frenzy quickly faded. The restaurant was lavish, the food was inconsistent, and Dallas was already distracted. An even more opulent, fantastical, escapist restaurant was opening. Oh, and it was better, too.
Ever since Mister Charles opened its doors this summer, it has captured the attention of diners, chefs, and food writers like no other new restaurant this year. Mister Charles is a moment-defining spot. All the over-the-top opulence, premium ingredients, and somewhat unadventurous foods from menus across the city reached their peak here.
Several industry insiders texted me off the record to complain about Mister Charles’ safe menu, attention-hogging, and price point. (Expect to spend at least $200 per person.) Complaints noted. But Mister Charles is pretty darn great.
If you want to dine out on lobster thermidor, lamb Wellington, and caviar, this is the place to do it. That lamb Wellington was one of my favorite dishes of the year: rosy pink meat surrounded by flaky-soft pastry, and served with ratatouille vegetables. There’s also a terrific beef carpaccio topped with fried shallots and spicy Calabrian chile sauce, a winning Caesar, and a preposterous ice-cream sundae with tableside sprinkle service.
Still, Mister Charles’ most useful service might be its definitive victory in the that’s-so-Dallas over-the-top dining sector. There’s no use competing with it. If anyone else wanted to open anything this posh, the moment has passed. The door is closed. Don’t try it. Mister Charles is already the champion.
The word “breakfast” in the name of this fast-casual Duncanville spot short-sells its attractions. Alfonso’s serves all kinds of burritos, all day long. You can order breakfast on your way home from work, or a deep red pork asado at 7 am. Breakfast or not, they’re the best burritos in the region right now. If I may suggest a more accurate name: Alfonso’s Burritos That Will Make You Snort With Contempt Any Time You Walk Past Chipotle.
The tortillas, made in-house, are slightly thick but oh-so-soft. The fillings are simple: vividly colored stews with tender meat and ample chile seasoning, or breakfast mixes of egg-and-you-name-it. The most expensive burrito here is $5—cheaper than a one-bite mini toast at Mister Charles. Based on our sampling of the menu, one burrito is a very good snack; two is a hearty meal.
A passion for cooking runs in the owner’s family. Alfonso Hernandez got his start working in his father’s bakery and burrito spot in Abilene, and his mother used to sell gorditas outside an elementary school. That firsthand experience has set up the son’s solo Duncanville effort for long-term success. It also helps that he owns the building. And his formula is uncomplicated. Make a comforting stew that tastes like home. Press some sturdy tortillas. Wrap, serve, satisfy.
Our favorite restaurant in Nick Badovinus’ empire of Americana is also his newest. It’s up a staircase over National Anthem, a more casual restaurant where Badovinus plays the greatest hits from his previous spots. At Brass Ram, the feel is darker, clubbier, more mysterious. By getting here—it is behind a barely marked door—you’ve officially declared yourself In the Know.
The star of the menu is prime rib, but that doesn’t mean that Brass Ram is a weird suburban den from 1997 with a Ye Olde English theme. The atmosphere is half country club, half Ron Burgundy’s house. Servers are as impeccable in their manner as they are in their dress. The cocktails here are so straightforward but so perfectly made that I sampled several more than I needed to. Thoroughness is a professional obligation. It’s a sacrifice I make for readers.
The prime rib is simply, elegantly done. It’s rosy pink from edge to edge, tender, and available in four sizes, from a thin “English” cut to a bone-in hunk big enough to feed a tiger. On the side, Yorkshire pudding is rather flakier and more pastrylike than you’ll find in Yorkshire, but it’s a perfect vessel to scoop up a side dish like creamed spinach. I do wish the horseradish were, well, more horseradishy.
Brass Ram reminds me of the private clubs that Mycroft Holmes lounges in on Sherlock: secretive backrooms where you can escape crowds, relax in big leather chairs, play cards, and eat until your gout flares up. But clubs cost money, and the other members might be jerks. A second-floor restaurant with a Crudo Royale will do just fine.
After Adelisa and Elvis Ramovic emmigrated from their home countries—Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, respectively—they learned one Texas culinary trick and used it to open the perfect Balkan American restaurant. They went out for Tex-Mex and saw the sizzling skillets of fajitas. As beef fajitas arrive at one table, all the nearby heads turn. It’s the sound that gets you first, and then the smell of rapidly caramelizing onions, tender beef, and marinade. Suddenly, everyone at the table is wishing they’d ordered fajitas.
The Ramovic family’s great innovation was they realized: hey, we could serve sausages that way. A new fusion icon was born.
Go to Balkan Garden Bistro—yes, it’s in Grapevine, but it’s worth the drive—and you must order the ćevapi. They’re petite but filling sausages, served on the skillet with grilled onions and peppers, just like fajitas would be. On the side, you’ll find ajvar, or roasted red pepper dip, and kajmak, a thick cream. (Pronounce the j’s like y’s, and the ć in ćevapi like ch.) Three or four of the sausages, folded into the restaurant’s super fluffy bread, make for a good serving. But Balkan Garden Bistro’s ćevapi platters come in portions of either 10 or 15, so you’ll want to bring friends.
If you do, you’ll get to enjoy other perks, such as wines from Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Montenegro. Pro tip: don’t overlook the mushroom soup. Loaded with cream and paprika, it’s the perfect warming, nourishing bowl for wintertime. I saved leftovers to pour over mashed potatoes for some home-cooking indulgence.
The Ramovics came to the United States with their families as children and met in Texas. At Balkan Garden Bistro, they’ve created a little bit of their homeland, complete with traditional music, cheesy pastry spirals, and cakes. You’ll enjoy all that—but you’ll cherish the sizzle, too.
Time for Dallas’ annual dose of humility: one of our best new restaurants has its roots in Fort Worth. Naminohana is a handroll-style sushi bar from Sung Kim, one of the former chefs at Cowtown great Hatsuyuki. Hatsuyuki may still be North Texas’ handroll champion—its advantages include more bountiful specials and optional fresh wasabi—but Naminohana brings many of its attractions to Greenville Avenue.
This means some of the best hand-rolls in town with hearty portions of sensitively prepared fish and warm, flavorful rice. Even the sheets of nori smell enticing. Don’t raise your eyebrow at the higher price for tuna, which many Americans perceive to be a “basic” sushi feature. When we visited, Naminohana was sourcing top-quality Spanish tuna for three different cuts. This is not the tuna we get at the grocery store.
Aside from handrolls, look to the chalkboard for seasonal specials that vary based on the freshest catch. We’ve enjoyed a variety of sashimi and a carpaccio of madai (red sea bream) served with little more than good olive oil and flaky sea salt.
One of Hatsuyuki’s signature sushi bites has made the trip east, too. Fatty salmon belly, the skin still attached, gets blasted with a blowtorch for only a few seconds, just enough to start rendering the fat, before being brushed with a soy-mustard glaze. It’s a true indulgence. Order your salmon belly for dessert.
This story originally appeared in the December issue of D Magazine with the headline “The Best New Restaurants.” Write to [email protected]