Editor's note: Dallas resident Stacy Breen is an intrepid explorer of local culture with an instinct for making nifty discoveries. She's contributing a weekly column on her cool finds.
It was a Sunday morning and we wanted to get coffee, and that's how we ended up at the Dallas Farmers Market. I've been a regular at the market ever since I moved to Dallas in 1995. Prior to the renovation, I would go to buy fruits and vegetables. I knew they weren't local, but you could find good deals. And then I became obsessed with the Hunter peaches.
The Hunters had a stand there in the late '90s. They were a family from Gilmer, Texas, and they always had the best peaches. This was back when I was a pastry chef at Dream Café. I would buy big boxes of seconds to make the Dream Café's crisp. And then suddenly they weren't there anymore. But that gave me a relationship with the market.
I also used to get my favorite kind of mango there. It's a particular variety called the Kent mango that is like butter. It's not stringy. It's huge and dense and fleshy and sweet. It's the best mango. It's always in late summer when Kent mangoes are in town. I would buy a case a week. These days, the market has become a true farmers market with Texas produce only, but I think you can still find Kent mangoes at Indian markets, because they take mangoes seriously.
Even without the mangoes, I think the new market is an improvement. Before, it felt cluttered and hodgepodge-y; now it makes more sense. I usually go on weekdays when it can feel a little like a ghost town. But on this Sunday, it was mobbed. I was with my son Conner, and it was so crowded, we had trouble finding a parking spot.
Our first stop was at Palmieri Cafe. I like their coffee and pastries. I get a cortado, an espresso with warm milk; not every coffee place offers it or even knows what it is. They also use Mill King milk. It's a dairy near Waco that does low-temperature pasteurization. Any time I see that, I take it as a sign that a place is serious about its coffee, because they're not using a generic milk.
We walked around and tried to decide what to eat. My mainstay is Nammi. I've been a fan ever since they started out as a food truck. I love their tofu banh mi. They bake their own bread; it's not the 25-cent bread sold at the Vietnamese bakery on Walnut Street. Nammi has the best tofu. It has a lemongrass-ginger seasoning with soy. And their banh mi always has a generous portion of pickled vegetables.
We also like Las Ventanas, the taqueria concept from the El Fenix people. But instead, we tried a new stall called 8 Cloves, an Indian place from one of the chefs at Laili, Afifa Nayeb. I got the paneer tacos, with a tamarind turmeric glaze, wrapped in an Indian flatbread; Conner got chicken tikka masala. The food was really good, even if their prices were high; with a tip, our lunch ended up being almost $30.
There's also a stand for Hannah's Gluten-Free Bakery. Her cinnamon rolls are huge. Opening Bell over at South Side on Lamar has them, but they always sell out. I got one and planned on eating half, but it was so amazing, not too sweet and just perfect, that I ate the whole thing.
While we were there, I spotted a couple of new stands I hadn't seen before, including a bubble tea place, and a lady who does sewing; she makes baby books out of fabric. I'll go back and buy one for a Christmas present.
I'm pretty active on travel forums like TripAdvisor, and I always recommend the market. The D-Link bus stops there now, so makes it handy for tourists, and for locals, too. With all of the vendors, you have a lot of diversity, if you don't know what you want to eat. I've visited a few food halls around the country, and this has a similar feel, with a diverse range of offerings — a little ethnic, a little home cooking, something for everyone.