The 2016 good-times calendar is now open. Gexa Pavilion launched its season in April, and the symphony is soaring at the Mort. David Cross is at the Majestic, the Mavs and the Stars are about to start play-offs, and there are 13 can't-miss theater shows this month.
You can't see all that entertainment on an empty stomach. But the rules for finding the right restaurant before (or after) a show are unique.
Proximity is everything. It should be near the venue or on the way. Walking distance, even better.
It needs easy egress and efficient service. The last thing you want is to waste valuable minutes waiting on a valet or trying in vain to get the check.
It can't be too crowded, and it can't be too complicated. This is no time for a foodie experience, people.
These are the 10 best restaurants to start your night out.
Restaurant on the ground floor of the W Hotel in Victory Park is a slam-dunk for any event at American Airlines Center, one block away. It has a flexible menu, with snacks, sandwiches, or a real dinner (gnocchi with sage and English peas, mmm). It has fancy drinks. Drinks are good. It's also never so crowded that you can't get a table or the check when you need it.
Hard Rock Cafe
On the other end of Victory Park is the industrious Hard Rock Cafe, which seems to try extra hard to compensate for the fact that it's a couple of blocks from the AAC. (Walking is so hard.) Entrees are probably not the way to go here, but there's a nice arugula salad, and there's always some kind of gourmet burger on special. Also good if you're headed to House of Blues.
Any restaurant at One Arts Plaza knows the drill when there are events in the Arts District, but longtime survivor Jorge's Tex-Mex hews to the requirements especially well. Jorge's wastes no time getting your $13 brisket enchilada plate in front of you, and they will have the check tallied when you're ready to go.
Taqueria La Ventana
Little taqueria cousin of Meso Maya is a good drop-in for all downtown entertainment destinations. There's street parking nearby, and it has an expansive patio for dining onsite. The menu is limited to tacos, salad bowls, and great margaritas, and it's quick, casual, and cheap.
West Dallas is not near anything, but Trinity Groves has suburban-style parking while being 10 minutes from most inner-city entertainment venues. As an upscale food court, it has plenty of choices, so there's no wait. LUCK has the best beer selection, and a trim menu that speeds up your decision process. Soft pretzels or fish and chips? "Beer rocks" are fun meat pies served with a beer cheese fondue.
The Dallas Farmers Market is not an obvious choice, as it is not adjacent to any venues. But it does have loads of street parking, is not crowded at night, and is only one exit on I-30 away from Fair Park. Mudhen is the healthy-ish concept from restaurateur Shannon Wynne, with fun veggie dips and chips and fancy poutine. Theoretically, it all comes to the table quickly — once you've enlightened your server, that is.
Pizzeria located on prime corner in Exposition Park is a no-frills place where you can get a decent pizza and an equally decent beer with almost no trouble at all. Service is intuitive and responsive; a raised eyebrow is all it takes. It also serves fine sandwiches, including a salami-stacked Italian grinder, and A-plus sweet potato fries. Dallas Music Hall is literally across the street. Literally.
TNT Tacos and Tequila
The Quadrangle is more of a maze than it used to be, yes. Sorry, progress. But note that there is a parking garage in the middle of it all. Once you figure that out, you can slip in and out of TNT Tacos and Tequila, all stealth missile-like. This hip little Mexican is easy peasy for tacos and margaritas, with beaucoup seating inside and out, making it a favorite for patrons of Theatre Three next door.
An early (2009) graduate of Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives, this Deep Ellum burger joint has its routine down pat. The menu is primarily burgers, fries, and shakes, but there's also a hot dog, grilled cheese, and a black bean burger. Its fast-casual service mode guarantees you get your food quick, and there's free on-street parking until 6 pm. If you're seeing a show at The Bomb Factory or Undermain Theatre, you'll probably have to move your car to their lots.
We are talking about the new Waffle House on Ross Avenue, which has many admirable assets. It is a mere 1.8 miles from the Arts District. It has its own dedicated and spacious parking lot. You can order breakfast any time. You can grab a cup of sturdy coffee as a pick-me-up before your show. And — surprise — there's a side salad with blue cheese dressing. So fresh.