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Food & Drink

Local Celebrates 20 Years of Fine Dining in Deep Ellum

This year marks 20 years of Deep Ellum’s Local, which is still going strong under the leadership of chef-owner Tracy Miller. Though Miller is known for her fresh seafood and tasting menus, one thing’s for sure: Local serves an outstanding salad.
By | |Photograph by Elizabeth Lavin
LOCAL restaurant Dallas
Elizabeth Lavin

Not much has changed in 20 years at Local—and that’s a good thing.

The Deep Ellum restaurant, which is located in a century-old historic building and first opened in February 2003, is still going strong under the leadership of chef-owner Tracy Miller. It has slipped off the food media’s radar in recent years, with a kind of produce-focused, modern American style that doesn’t worry about trends, fads, or Instagrammability.

When I stopped by this winter, just before Local’s 20th birthday, my party was one of just two dining in the warren of small rooms. On our way from door to table, passing through the bar and by a series of unoccupied nooks, we admired the space itself. Local is situated in the 1911-built Boyd Hotel building, a Dallas historic landmark that, in its hotel days, hosted blues musician guests like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, and Bill Neely. Baby Face Nelson and Bonnie and Clyde patronized the downstairs bar. City records cited in the nomination for landmark status suggest that the hotel rooms, ground floor retail spaces, and blues bar musical guests were racially integrated. Both Black- and White-owned businesses were documented at the address in the first half of the 20th century. The Boyd closed as a hotel in 1974, and Miller began remodeling a section of it in 1998. Among Dallas hotel buildings, only the Adolphus is older—by a single year—and still standing.

Local’s space is a sort of timeless mix of traditional and modern. Original brick walls with old painted-on advertisements are blended with contemporary paintings. The bar now looks much too classy for Bonnie or Clyde.

“When I walked into the building, I felt like I was in New York,” Miller said. “I felt like I was in the Soho Grand Hotel. That right there resonated with me in a way that absolutely nothing brand-new could ever resonate with me. You can’t build this type of soul and spirit.” When she began leasing the building, she only had one of the sections, without the bar. Local has expanded through the old hotel over time.

Miller was mulling several restaurant concepts in the late 1990s. She came very close to signing a lease on a new space in Uptown with the intention of creating an Eatzi’s-like grab-and-go all-day kitchen. But the Boyd Hotel and its beautiful space changed her plans. The name, Local, resonates with added meanings: a “local” in the sense of a dependable neighborhood gathering place (the way British people call their pubs “locals”), a nod to the Texas origins of many of the ingredients, and a description of Miller, who is a Dallas native.

“Then, it wasn’t really a trend word,” she pointed out. “For me, it was about being a local establishment in the city. Then it became a trend word.”

Many of the dishes we tried on our visit have been previously described in reviews and other articles dating back through Local’s history. Some also appear regularly on the chef’s tasting menu. But if the dishes are perennials, they do rotate every season, focusing on fresh produce.

Indeed, Miller’s calling card is outstanding salads: lively, full of texture, and often combining raw and cooked greens. We ordered two salads and two more dishes that came with slaws, all of them excellent. The most memorable is Local’s Caesar, which pairs kale with chargrilled radicchio. I loved the way that the creamy dressing tucked itself into the kale leaves’ dimples, the pairing of raw and smokily grilled greens, and, of course, the fact that the dressing used plenty of anchovy.

When I told Miller it was my favorite dish, she laughed and agreed. “People say, ‘you’ve gotta change your menu.’ Well, not everyone in Dallas has had that salad yet! Until everyone in Dallas has had that salad, I’m keeping it on there.”

We also enjoyed a frisée and endive salad—curly greens are still underrated—built on a foundation of seared brussels sprout halves. Our lobster cakes, built like miniature crab cakes, were topped with appealingly sweet carrot and baby beet slaw.

Two of Local’s longtime standbys are fried items: fried green beans and “tater tots.” The green beans have a batter like some old-school onion rings, not super-crunchy or craggy, not airy like tempura, just good old batter. I used the beans as vehicles for the thyme aioli-like dipping sauce, the way I use chips as vehicles for guacamole. The “tots” are huge logs of mashed potato, and they come in a huge portion, too. Bring a group if you want them, because leftover tots lose their crispness after a day.

I didn’t know what to expect of Local, as a guest making his first visit 20 years into the restaurant’s run. Not many of my friends talk about Local; it doesn’t get hyped on social media or circulated in the usual media “hot restaurant” lists. Its corner of Deep Ellum remains quiet and laid back, a grown-up block down the street from the party district.

But now, as so many times before, I’m wishing I’d gone sooner. Certainly I won’t wait for the next big anniversary. Local serves good, seasonal food, has a way with vegetables that is uncommon in Dallas, and would be a comfortable date and special occasion spot if only more customers knew about it and gave the dining room a little buzz.

Indeed, right now the buzz is mainly generated through a high-energy musical playlist featuring R&B and house acts like Maxwell, Bob Moses, Rüfüs du Sol, and the Brand New Heavies. But that gave me pause. This former hotel hosted some of the most celebrated folk and blues musicians of all time. This dining room is a piece of the story of American music. Why is the history not more apparent in the soundtrack?

I asked Miller, and shouldn’t have been surprised by the answer: this is music that means a lot to her, personally. It’s the soundtrack of her career. (And there are a few old Dallas blues tracks on the playlist; I just missed them on my visit.)

Who am I to judge? The reason that Local is still here after 20 years, still serving its timeless food amid the Deep Ellum hubbub, is that Miller has stayed completely true to herself and her own style. She hasn’t chased a single trend in two decades. Now is not the time to start.

2936 Elm St. | 214-752-7500.

This story originally appeared in the March issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Coming of Age. Write to [email protected].


Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.