The Anti Best Restaurant List
You're a champion of the underdog, a defender of the downtrodden. You see some restaurants getting all the attention, even if they don't deserve it. You know that popularity does not always guarantee greatness, and that a review is just someone's opinion.
You don't jump on trends. You don't oooh over charcuterie or aaah over food piled like rubble on your plate. You don't heart bacon.
You don't need a line out the door to tell you if a restaurant is good. Just because a restaurant hasn't made some best-of list doesn't mean it's not worthy. To that end, here is our list of Dallas' most underrated restaurants.
California Pizza Kitchen
It's a chain, and professing love for a chain is not cool. On top of that, the pizza revolution that's hit Dallas in the past few years has given us more options and better pies than ever. But CPK remains a reliable, upscale, good-value-for-the-money option. It always has interesting salads, such as the quinoa with arugula, and the restaurant constantly rotates in new items such as the bianco flatbread with gorgonzola cheese and fresh sage leaves.
FM Smoke House
From the wall of craft beers on tap to the stick-to-your-ribs menu with smoked corn chowder, bacon-mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak, FM has it going on with food and drink. Like its Plano sibling Holy Grail Pub, FM hosts beer events with glass giveaways and other perks. But it's in Irving, and Dallas critics snub anything outside of Dallas. Their loss is your gain.
Chef Tracy Miller opened Local back when Deep Ellum was cool, and she was an early proponent of the "local" thing. (Duh, look at the name.) She survived during the neighborhood's downtime and now is poised for its renaissance. Her food is simple yet extremely creative; she practically invented tempura-fried green beans. She makes mac and cheese richer with a spoonful of mascarpone, and she shows whimsy with dishes such as panko-crusted tater tots with house-made ketchup.
Upscale Thai-Vietnamese restaurant in West Village continues its pursuit of excellence, offering great food, service and value. Signatures include green curry, pho and sticky rice, but husband-and-wife owners Braden and Yasmin Wages are creative and innovative, constantly trying new things such as their recent introduction of two craft beers they're brewing in-house.
Original Market Diner
Big menu, responsive service, a big-city atmosphere and friendly prices make OMD a favorite for worker-bee lunches and working-man dinners (Thursdays-Saturdays) in its hospital/Harry Hines/Market Center neighborhood. There's breakfast, blue-plate specials such as pot roast, and ah-mayzing pies. It's just good food with no shtick. You can see how that would be a liability.
Paesano's looks like any other suburban red-sauce Italian, and it kind of is, with chicken piccata, chicken marsala and the like. But Paesano's has a secret: its dough. It's used to make pizzas — sprawling pies with the usual toppings — and complimentary house bread. Crusty, with a moist, dense crumb, it's good enough to make a meal of, with a side of marinara for dipping. They also sell it by the loaf! For $4.50.
Peak & Elm
Jesse Moreno conceived P&E as a place to spotlight the homespun recipes and culinary knowledge of his father Jesse Senior. The menu is simple, the service sweet and the margaritas complimentary. There are enchiladas, fajitas, mole sauce and vegan fajitas. There is no Mambo Taxi, but the prices are crazy-affordable: You can feast for $15, and that's with a generous tip (which you better leave).
Like Pappas Bros., Perry's has Houston roots; is that why it doesn't get mentioned as often as Bob's, Al Biernat's, Nick & Sam's, etc.? Which is silly because, in the steakhouse world, everyone does the exact same thing: Prime beef, shrimp cocktail, big Cab. Where a steakhouse makes its mark is the sides and desserts. At Perry's, that means Sriracha Brussels sprouts (for a limited time) and a decadent butterscotch bread pudding topped with a house-made marshmallow.
R&D is a sibling of Houston's/Hillstone, a chain; insert eye-roll here. But with its all-American polish and cheerful efficiency, it could almost be mistaken for a Neighborhood Services, minus the sweaters on the waiters and the snappy menu writeups. The atmosphere is Cali-sleek, and the food is well-executed with just enough originality to keep it interesting, as in spaghetti with chicken meatballs and broccoli.
Whole Foods Market Salad Bar
Ignore the unromantic lighting. Heed not the shopping cart. Focus instead on the fact that you can get almost anything here, and it'll be mostly healthy and organic. The salad bar is about as big as a football field, and it's adjoined by numerous hot stations serving up pizza, sushi, hot dogs, barbecue, jambalaya, raw salads, sandwiches, vegan quesadillas, tacos and soups. The capper: There's an in-house bar with wine and craft beer on tap.
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