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.
One of the cheapest and most fun in-town excursions is the Carrollton Town Center, a new outdoor center at the southeast corner of George Bush Turnpike and Old Denton Road. It's become my favorite corner in Dallas-Fort Worth right now; you can spend an afternoon there and feel like you've been completely transported to another place.
The center was built in 2015 and is anchored by a 99 Ranch Market. It has a bunch of businesses including a famed dollar store, a bookstore, a karaoke bar and a bubble-tea shop. You want to avoid it on the weekend if you can — when the wait for some of the restaurants can reach an hour — and try to go on a weekday.
Here are my favorite places and picks:
Kula Revolving Sushi Bar
The first thing I like to do is eat, and I go to Kula Revolving Sushi Bar, which opened in 2016. It's a conveyor-belt place where you pluck sushi items enclosed in little plastic containers as they float past your table. It may not be the best sushi, but everything is $2.25. So you get a little California roll with four pieces for $2.25, and it's real crab. It's fun for kids or I can go by myself.
Next, I go to Kinokuniya, the bookstore. It's one of the largest bookstore chains in Japan. This was their first DFW branch, which opened in February; they also opened one in Plano in April.
It can be a sensory overload, with books, anime, Japanese fashion magazines, bento boxes, and stationery. They have the most beautiful cards and paper you've ever seen. The cards have a hand-drawn quality, and the paper is really nice. I have a secret stash of paper products. I have a problem with paper. This is a dangerous store for me to go into.
They have large sheets of wrapping paper that would be good enough to frame, like maybe the parts of a flower. That's so cool, it's something I want to look at every day, and they're $5. Why wouldn't you want to buy one of everything and frame it?
I always look at the fountain pen section since my son Conner has an obsession with fountain pens; apparently there’s a fountain pen movement including a fountain pen forum where you can buy and sell pens. The pens at Kinokuniya can be expensive, up to $200.
This is the Japanese dollar store, although really, everything is $1.50, not a dollar. Carrollton was the first branch in Texas; a second branch has since opened in Plano. It has gifts, housewares, nice ceramic tea cups — just thousands of items.
They literally have everything, but I like to look at the hardware section. They have clamps and clips in different sizes, if you need them for opened bags of chips or if you want to string something up from the ceiling. My kids like mechanical pencils, and they have them in varying softness of leads. If you went to Staples, you might pay $5. So I stock up on office supplies, papers, ceramic cups, plastic containers, and sticky notes.
They have good candy, including soft jellies in unusual flavors like tomato and regular flavors like mango or strawberry. They sell my favorite candy of all time, a candy version of this Japanese soda called Ramune. The candy is soft and chalky, and melts in your mouth.
This is the massive Taiwanese bakery chain, which opened in 2016. It isn't my favorite bakery, but I'll usually pick up some breads. I feel like they use a lot of processed ingredients in their stuff, which I avoid. A lot of their breads have meat, like bacon and cheese bread. I don't need that in a bread. Their croissants look chewy, when they should be flaky. They're opening more branches, in Plano, Richardson, and Frisco.
This is the Asian supermarket, and I save it for last, because I know I'm going to buy items that I need to take straight home. I always get bok choy. You get a giant bag for $2. I get mushrooms — I love maitake and king trumpet — and they are always so expensive at other markets. I get greens, mushrooms, and I stock up on ginger and fresh turmeric and dill. In the fall, I like to get kabocha pumpkins. At Central Market, the same thing would be $8, but at 99 Ranch, it'll be $2.
NOTE: Central Market offers the following information on their kabocha pumpkin pricing: "Last fall while the squash was in season prices ranged from $1.34-$1.49/lb, with an average weight of 2-3 pounds."