Every day, there's a new list: best chili, best cinnamon roll, best beer on tap. These are small potatoes. For the first dining entry in our month-long Best of Everything series, we're starting big, with the 10 best restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Best being a subjective word, we qualify it thusly: Which restaurants are locally significant, changed the way we eat, uphold a standard of excellence, or offer something you can't get anywhere else? In alphabetical order, these are our 10.
The Deep Ellum pizzeria makes pizza in true Neapolitan style, with flavorful crusts and the highest quality toppings. By doing so, it elevates pizza from throwaway snack to real foodstuff. But beyond that is the laudable stance of owner Jay Jerrier, best embodied by his refusal to serve ranch dressing. Many a restaurateur has been worn down by our climate of mediocrity, but Jerrier just keeps making fantastic pizza.
There is his considerable charisma, radiant as the sun. There's his voucher from Wolfgang Puck, who calls him "the king." There was his cameo on Top Chef Texas, where he showed his acumen at spotting flavors and flaws in technique. But all that aside, chef Dean Fearing makes food we want to eat, such as pecan-crusted mahi mahi with crispy Tabasco Ipswich clams and green tomato-sage gravy. Smoky, sultry, earthy — Dean.
Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana
Chic and chef-driven, Lanny's is Fort Worth's gastronomic temple — and the tale of a local made good. Chef-owner Lanny Lancarte II, whose great grandfather is Fort Worth Tex-Mex legend Joe T. Garcia, attended CIA, trained with Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy, then returned home. At Lanny's, he's been years ahead on trends such as sous vide, liquid nitrogen and vegetarianism. Meanwhile, on the menu today: goat cheese and butternut squash tamales with butternut mole.
This small, special restaurant is a foodie fantasy, from its Bishop Arts location to its ditzy service to its artisanal zeal. Chef David Uygur oversees a kitchen that makes everything from scratch; wife Jennifer oversees the eclectic wine list. Lucia does Northern Italian with a big dose of Uygur, in dishes such as potato gnocchi with kabocha squash and charred radicchio. An instant favorite when it opened in late 2010, Lucia remains one of Dallas' toughest reservations to get.
Dallas expands beyond Tex-Mex with this warm, elegant Oak Cliff spot from Olga and Raul Reyes and their charming daughter Jaret. The menu features authentic Mexican in the style of their hometown Alvarado, Veracruz, with winning seafood such as lobster enchiladas with jasmine rice and avocado stuffed with crab, mango and pico de gallo. Enmoladas are a signature, with house-made tortillas dipped in mole — simple yet superb, paired with a novel cocktail such as the sweet horchata with rum.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
If we're known for anything — other than home cooking and Tex-Mex, that is — it's steakhouses. Yet nearly all of them are chains. (We're known for chains too.) The steakhouse that comes closest to perfection is Pappas Bros. True, it's Houston-based; but the Dallas Pappas has Master Sommelier Barbara Werley and a 33,000-bottle wine list. Not to mention a dry-aging room, a big-city milieu and very rare filets.
When Diane and Justin Fourton opened Pecan Lodge at the Dallas Farmers Market, they saved us from having to sheepishly send people to Central Texas to find great barbecue. They saved us from the same old BBQ too, with their shaggy brisket, crisp burnt ends and the gourmet sweet potato concoction they call A Hot Mess. Finally, they kind of saved the market. Just check out the line wrapped around Shed 2 every weekend.
Spiral Diner's opening in Fort Worth in 2002 felt as exotic as an ocean breeze. Trail-blazing owners Amy and James McNutt created a vegan outpost and set the stage for a thriving community, as well as an audience for a second branch that opened in Oak Cliff in 2008. The menu's modest quality is easy to underestimate. That's until you have the jerk "chicken" sandwich with grilled pineapple and brownie à la mode for dessert, and you can't quite believe you're in Dallas, Texas.
Restful oasis Tei An serves cool, refreshing soba noodles made in house — the only place in Dallas to do that, and one of the few places in the United States. If you're ready to climb the next step, you order the omakase. Chef-owner Teiichi "Teach" Sakurai takes you on a creative culinary journey, improvising with whatever's fresh in the house: uni risotto, pickled fluke, tuna sashimi topped with a pinch of caviar. You can't lose with one of Dallas' most exciting and important chefs.
This classy canteen atop Neiman Marcus Downtown shares the store's quality and attention to detail, with impeccable salads, sandwiches and ladies lunch fare. The historical significance of Neiman Marcus to Dallas plays a role in the Zodiac's greatness. But so do its puffy popovers served with strawberry butter and its complimentary cup of consomme — its preservation of a genteel, slightly Southern civility that's increasingly hard to find.