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Restaurant Reviews

Bobbie’s Airway Grill is Serving a Fresh Take on Dallas History

Bobbie’s Airway Grill evokes Mad Men-era cool and Dallas’ past with an elevated take on a classic.
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Bobbies Dallas
Michael Hsu Office of Architecture reimagined the old pharmacy as a mix of 1960s airport lounge and art gallery. The crabcake is tops. Brittany Conerly

Each time I go on a vacation, I’m reminded of a trait other American cities share that Dallas has largely forsaken: historical restaurant architecture with character. After visiting an oyster bar in Maine, you carry away memories of the seafood, the creaking wooden floorboards, and the stamped-tin ceiling. A Boston Italian restaurant is memorable because of the red sauce, of course, but also because it’s in an old brick building where you have to stoop to walk down a staircase to reach your basement table. A Baltimore bakery is quirky because of the odd dude manning the counter—and the fact that you walk up brownstone steps and into a side door to reach it. 

Dallas spent the late 20th century putting an identical strip mall on every street corner, though we do have a handful of restaurants that retain vintage character. According to city records, Revolver Taco Lounge’s building dates to 1920, Shoyo’s to 1929, Beatrice’s to 1940, and Encina’s to 1947. The original homes of both Petra and the Beast and Lucia were built in 1932. Tatsu is in the 1888 Continental Gin Building, and its neighbor Local sits in a 1911 historic landmark. Duro Hospitality Group sensitively remodeled a 71-year-old building for El Carlos Elegante, then went even older—back to 1912—for the bones of its next dining room, Mister Charles.

Is it a coincidence that some of Dallas’ very best restaurants occupy some of its oldest buildings? Maybe. But taste is not the only sense we indulge at dinner. History means character, character means atmosphere, and atmosphere makes food more delicious.

All of which brings us to Bobbie’s Airway Grill. Yes, Bobbie’s sits next to a Tom Thumb in a generic shopping center with a sprawling parking lot. But the strip was built more than 60 years ago, and for all of those years, the restaurant’s space was occupied by a pharmacy. The name may be unappealing and the Americana menu familiar, but Bobbie’s provides a refreshing new take on Dallas’ history.

Bobbie’s is perhaps too passionate about its local roots when it comes to its slightly unsettling name, which is a combination of the owner’s mother’s name, a tribute to the old Dougherty’s Airway Pharmacy, and a restaurant description. Numerous friends told me that when they hear “airway” in connection to food, they think of choking and the Heimlich maneuver. This did not deter Bobbie’s, but it should have. 

Thankfully the name is only one of the ways that Bobbie’s leans in to its historical setting. The leadership team tapped Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, the firm that designed Uchi, Loro, and a number of Austin hospitality landmarks, including Austin Beerworks and the flagship P. Terry’s. They reimagined the old pharmacy as a mix of 1960s airport lounge, midcentury modernism, and art gallery.

The result is one of the best-looking and -feeling restaurants in all of Dallas. Hsu’s office also added a new façade—vertical pillars that connect on the top in a series of half loops—that’s so convincingly of-the-era that I had to check old Google Street Views to verify it wasn’t original. A smaller version of the loops carries over onto the patio covering, facing Preston Road. Part of the original neon pharmacy sign hangs outside, under the arches. The bar has a view of the open kitchen, while the main dining area is up a step on a platform—the better to people-watch—and full of comfortable booths.

Walls are decorated with art that fits the midcentury color scheme with lots of pinks, browns, golds, and soft greens. Along the back wall, an assemblage of whimsical originals by British artist David Shrigley shows him to be a natural successor to the witty pop art of Roy Lichtenstein. Many have captions, such as a gorilla portrait that informs us the gorilla is named Peaches. If you don’t believe me, compare Shrigley’s work to signed Lichtenstein prints in the bathroom hallway and near the open kitchen. (All the artwork comes from the collection of co-owner Robert Quick and his wife, Mary Lucille Quick, who oversaw the restaurant’s design.)

Sitting in this space, I kept thinking of Mad Men, except without the excess drinking or prejudice. Bobbie’s has managed a neat trick, building a more welcoming version of the snobbish dining rooms of that period. This is not to say that the new version is for everyone. You still have to drop $21 on a sandwich.

Bobbie’s has managed a neat trick, building a welcoming version of a Mad Men-era dining room.

The food itself ranges from fine to very nice. These restaurateurs honed their craft working for the group that owns Hillstone and Houston’s. Their first restaurant, Il Bracco, does classic Italian recipes played straight, and Bobbie’s is the same way, but with Americana. As a result, the restaurant joins a growing local crowd of polished takes on the old-school bar and grill, a genre one of my friends calls “Fancy Applebee’s.” Competitors include Brentwood (the most direct Hillstone imitator, from scandal-plagued Vandelay Hospitality Group) and Snider Plaza’s Ramble Room. My favorite rival, Alamo Club, carries over its all-American comfort menu into a different genre: the bourbon-soaked neighborhood bar. It’s at the exact midpoint on a line between Neighborhood Services and Lakewood Landing, and it’s in a 1924 building.

As a new entrant in this genre, Bobbie’s is best at seafood and veggies. The crabcake is a showstopper because it’s almost all crab and chives. If there was any filler or binding agent inside our cake, we couldn’t find it. The crab is so fresh that the flavor doesn’t become overwhelming, and it’s served with a lemon dill sauce that’s mostly butter. I also like the tuna burger, on which a tangle of thin-shaved red onions, slices of avocado, and jalapeño slaw complement a barely seared patty of No. 1-grade ahi that’s butchered in-house. 

Vegetables are treated with more sophistication than your typical bar and grill. Caesar salad comes with two forms of crunch, biscuit croutons and fried oysters, as well as a relish of capers, red onions, and peppers that adds complexity and spice. When I asked for a side of roasted red peppers, I got an unexpected volley of praise from my waiter. He was right. They’re plated with goat cheese scoops, pistachios, olives, and fresh oregano and basil. It’s like the dish was teleported in from Gemma or Lucia. Rotisserie chicken is totally upstaged by its side, a lovely mix of orzo, French feta cheese, summer squash, and fresh herbs. I couldn’t get enough of it, while the chicken was just chicken. (Luckily, that orzo salad is also available separately.)

Those sides are enough to make me wish there were more vegetarian options on this menu. Right now the only main-size plate without meat or fish is a bibb lettuce salad. The other salads can be ordered without meat by special request. If Bobbie’s wanted to pivot to a vegetable-focused menu, it has the skills needed to deliver all kinds of delights. I just don’t know if Preston Hollow customers want to pay $35 a head for a vegetarian dinner; they’re more likely to spring for the rib-eye. To be fair, it’s the most enjoyable steak I’ve had all summer, grilled perfectly and doused in both butter and a garlicky spice rub.

This is a comfortable place to eat classic fare, with only two real flaws. One is the name, and the other is the volume, as loud as a Deep Ellum hot spot like Komodo at dinnertime (I measured) but more sedate at lunch. Bobbie’s compensates for those defects with two very pleasant surprises. The veggies are one. The other is its stylish evocation of Dallas’ past.

Traditionally, Dallas restaurants have followed three strategies to create a sense of place. Some lean on kitschy Texas pride, such as barbecue joints and mass chains (Lockhart Smokehouse, Chili’s). Some interpret “Dallas-ness” as soap-operatic extravagance (Town Hearth, The Charles). The third route is travel to another place: Montlake Cut’s evocation of Seattle, many sushi bars’ slices of Tokyo, Tulum’s version of, well, Tulum.

We have become conditioned to think that “feels like Dallas” must be a pejorative, that it must denote cheeseball braggadocio. The real achievement of Bobbie’s is not its good-enough food, but its upending of that expectation. The dining room updates and softens our clubby ethos, the art nods to vintage Americana and Dallas’ collector class, and the spice-rubbed rib-eye freshens a local classic. More than any slick new-build restaurant or big-money chain invader, Bobbie’s feels like Dallas. And that feels good. 


This story originally appeared in the October issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Sense of Place.” Write to [email protected].

Author

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.

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