We've reached the pinnacle leading up to the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our annual toast to the best of local food and drink. We're considering candidates for the biggest category of all: Restaurant of the Year.
Which of these places fills our hearts, minds, and stomachs best? Which of these places really gets us the best? Which of these places is so Dallas?
Cafe Momentum has much to love. It's a charitable restaurant that serves as a culinary training facility for disadvantaged youth. And it's in downtown Dallas. But best of all, it's also a place to get a good meal, with a staff of experienced chefs led by founder Chad Houser. The menu follows the seasons, with dishes such as root vegetable salad with watercress, and short rib with polenta and fried onions.
Named for Dallas' "central business district," this restaurant at the Joule hotel is a polished brasserie serving American comfort food with an artisanal sensibility. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with Sunday brunch and a complete menu until midnight on the weekends, CBD is completely accommodating. You can get an appetizer at the bar, a salad at lunch, or splurge at dinner. Urban and sophisticated, welcoming and hospitable, it's just what you want from a restaurant downtown.
Since Matt McCallister opened this small, ambitious place in the Design District in 2014, it has become one of Dallas' best-known restaurants, earning not just local but national acclaim. It hits a number of foodie trends, including seasonal and local ingredients, foraged items, cured meats, boutique grains, and gels. High prices make it more of a special-occasion place, but plates are presented like a canvas, with plenty of white space left to highlight the art.
The in-house restaurant at the Highland Dallas hotel got a reboot in 2014 with this reinvented steakhouse, conceived by colorful chef and Top Chef contestant John Tesar, who took the steakhouse model that Dallas knows and loves and modernized it. That means unusual cuts of meat, steak sold by the inch, and a custom-built aging room where steaks are aged for 240 days. Several steaks are designed to be shared, but there are also exemplary burgers, such as the classic Ozersky burger with Velveeta cheese. And, surprise, there are also killer vegetable side dishes and salads.
This influential minichain from chef Nick Badovinus serves as the favorite restaurant for a lot of Dallasites, and it's not hard to understand why. The food — fried asparagus, butcher's meatballs, crab and green-chile dip — is comforting with just enough intrigue. The atmosphere is casual yet polished, and just busy enough that you might have to wait, which only confirms your instinct that you're in the right place.
The soda shop concept from the owners of HG Sply Co. and chef Danyele McPherson features a menu of comfort-food classics — burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, fried bologna — inspired by the food McPherson grew up on, but done up chef style. Cocktails and sodas get the same careful treatment by bar manager Mate Hartai, and there's a fun sundae program with toppings that get updated regularly. This is the fine-dining place to go if you're young or fun — or both.
The Slow Bone
After winning with burgers at his restaurant Maple & Motor, Jack Perkins takes on barbecue at this spot on the outskirts of the Design District, with top-caliber chef Jeffery Hobbs in the kitchen. The brisket has won awards, but Slow Bone boasts fabulous veggie sides, such as pea salad and sweet-potato hash. There is also an epic fried chicken that's about as good a rendition as it gets.
This serene Japanese restaurant at One Arts Plaza is of national renown, as it is one of a handful of restaurants across the country that make soba noodles onsite. But calling it a noodle house doesn't do justice to the profound creativity and refined culinary sensibility of chef Teiichi Sakurai. In addition to soba noodles, there's sushi and specials that he executes by hand. Become a regular, and he'll serve you to your taste.
A fun gastropub on Henderson Avenue that's great in part because of the way it exceeds expectations. With its robust cocktail program, busy bar scene, and late-night hours for the kitchen, you might anticipate a prototypical bar menu. But VT does better than that, with food that's often adventurous — it was one of the first places in Dallas to serve chicken and waffles — capably executed, and not too hard on the wallet.