After months of rumination, we're still reeling from the publication of our Top 100, a measured, comprehensive examination of the best restaurants Dallas has to offer. Numbered 1 through 100, it reflects the state of Dallas dining in 2016.
Now we're back to quantify what made Nos. 1-10 rise to the top. This time, we examine them dish by dish. Here is our list of what you must eat at the 10 best restaurants in Dallas.
Chef Dean Fearing rules the roost at the Ritz-Carlton, offering his personal take on the Southwestern cuisine he helped to create. Some diners come at brunch for Granny Fearing’s paper-bag-shook fried chicken with whipped potatoes, green beans, and tomato gravy. But come at dinner, and you can get Dean three ways in an appetizer sampler: crab cakes on tomatillo-corn relish, barbecued short rib enchilada with queso fundido, and two-bite lobster tacos with avocado relish.
Henderson Avenue restaurant is a destination for special occasions, and for almost-special occasions, too. It's the place to go when you want a nice dinner and a little coddling on the side. The Cali-French menu is conservative at heart, with your basic proteins and starches, but with enough nouvelle flourishes to make it feel fresh. Two dishes tie for the must-have: pappardelle with rabbit, and the cassoulet with duck confit and garlic sausage, served in your own ironstone pan.
French-Mexican restaurant underwent a chef change a few months ago, with Chicago import David Fingerman stepping in to fill the clogs of original chef Julio Peraza. Fingerman has crafted a meaty new menu with classics such as tartare. But there are a couple of items from the old regime that remain, and happily that includes what has always been one of Madrina's best dishes: the wild setas, aka crispy fried mushrooms in a rich poblano cream.
Lark on the Park
Contemporary restaurant facing Klyde Warren Park takes the seasonal mission to heart, incorporating ingredients that are of the moment. Chefs Melody Bishop and Dennis Kelley came here from Los Angeles, and bring a welcome California sensibility to dishes such as salmon with kale and preserved lemon-parsley salsa. There's no better way to enjoy the season than with their salads and soups, such as cauliflower with hazelnuts.
The talked-about dish at this Joule Dallas hotel eatery is pig-head carnitas — an actual side of a pig's head, snout intact, from which you pluck the meat and roll it into tortillas. It's the daredevil pick. But it requires three things: a big group of friends, $75, and a certain level of sangfroid. If your group is smaller, a bowl of cavatelli with Bolognese is easier to manage. But whatever you order, you must start with toast, topped with chicken liver or pimento cheese and arugula.
On any given night, this highly rated Oak Cliff bistro has many dishes competing for the top slot. The salumi plate features house-made cured meats and seems like a must. There is almost always a gnocchi in a rich, intriguing sauce. Currently, it's ricotta gnocchi with sausage and eggplant ragu. Pastas are house-made, so you have to get one of those — perhaps the frequently recurring tonnarelli Amatriciana, a thick spaghetti in a bacony tomato sauce.
Design District restaurant featuring chef Matt McCallister is one of Dallas' most ambitious, with a menu that changes every day. Take that, you weekly menu slackers, you! As for the best dish, just get the one that looks like rubble. Psych — they all look that way; it is a McCallister signature. He's also good at bringing together unlikely flavors and obscure ingredients. If you spy something you haven't seen, such as the Jefferson red rice he's currently serving with black sea bass, go for it.
Soba noodles made on-site is the specialty at this Arts District jewel, so soba noodles you shall get. Tei An is among a handful of places in the country that make them, so it would be silly not to. You can get the sampler with a quartet of sauces, or a neat specialty option such as the short green soba Bolognese with Washu beef. Or maybe skip the noodles this time and get your soba in its dessert version: buckwheat soba ice cream with black honey.
Dallas' favorite upscale comfort food spot from chef Nick Badovinus provides you with the eating-out experience, but without pressure. It's less about what you order and more about how laid-back it feels. No need to concern yourself with the fact that the macaroni and cheese has three types of cheese. And please don't let us tell you to order the cheeseburger, wedge salad, meatballs, or the trademark fried asparagus with a lemon aioli.
Oak Cliff restaurant is one-of-a-kind, serving authentic Mexican food that reflects both the heritage and the distinctive point of view of owners Olga and Raul Reyes. Their seafood dishes such as lobster enchiladas and shrimp in chipotle sauce are flawlessly executed, and their cochinita pibil is a slow-cooked wonder. Just make sure to get something with mole, a complex sauce that's simmered for hours. It could be the mole mama cata entrée, served with duck, or it could be the enmoladas, with tortillas dipped in mole. Don't skip that mole.