A key part of our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, celebrating the best in Dallas food and drink, is a category we call the wild card, which changes from year to year, depending on what culinary trends have emerged.
Prior wild cards have included cuisines such as fried chicken, but for 2021, it's all about the ghost kitchen. Sometimes called a virtual kitchen, it's a new model of restaurant where there's an entire menu but no actual brick-and-mortar location. Instead, the food is all delivery or to-go.
Ghost kitchens arose directly from the pandemic, when dining-in became a challenge, but they show signs of lingering, well past that day in the future when we achieve herd immunity.
It's one chapter in our editorial series, where we spotlight nominees in categories such as best bars, best neighborhood restaurants, best rising star chefs, and best restaurants — voted on by a panel of judges consisting of former CultureMap Tastemaker Award winners and local F&B experts, who helped narrow down the final list to 10 finalists.
Who will win? Find out at the Tastemaker Awards party on August 19 at Fashion Industry Gallery, where we’ll dine on bites from nominated restaurants while emcee CJ Starr reveals the winners. Buy tickets here.
Here are the 10 nominees for Best Ghost Kitchen:
Fuku - David Chang
Celeb chef opened the first Fuku, starring his famous fried chicken sandwich, in New York in 2015. Now he has ghost kitchens in cities such as Baltimore, Miami, and Philadelphia. In Dallas, he has two locations: 501 N. Houston St. in downtown Dallas and 3100 Dallas Pkwy. in Plano. Four chicken fingers with sauce are $9.50; so is a sandwich with chicken fingers, pickles, fuku mayo, and butter on a Martins potato roll. Add waffle fries, pickles, two sauces, and a drink, and it's $14.50.
George Lopez Tacos
Well known comedian is doing street tacos with choice of chicken tinga or pork carnitas, in two varieties: one with diced onion & cilantro, salsa verde, pickled onions, and roasted jalapenos; and another with fire-roasted peppers & onions, fresh diced onion & cilantro, salsa verde, and avocado crema. An order of three tacos is $13-$14. They also have chips, guacamole, and churro bites.
Guy Fieri's Flavortown
Operating out of the Brio Italian Grille / Buca di Beppo family, Fieri's delivery-only restaurant features prototypical Guy food: bourbon brown sugar BBQ wings, a burger topped with mac & cheese, Buffalo wings, bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers, cheesesteak egg rolls, Cuban sandwich, queso dip, and a chicken "Parm-eroni" with chicken, mozzarella, provolone, pepperoni red sauce, crispy pepperoni hay, parmesan, and spaghetti.
Family venture between three sisters specializes in a unique twist on Memphis-style chicken wings, tossed in honey and blended with tangy spices. They also offer chicken tenders, plus sides that include fried okra, crinkle-cut French fries with their own seasoning, and a "twice stuffed" potato, which is their spin on the "twice baked" potato.
Adored pop-up specializes in authentic Japanese dishes such as okonomiyaki pancakes, made with shredded cabbage; omurice, a fusion dish with a soft omelet draped over a dome of fried rice; and bento boxes, with Japanese curry and mounds of rice molded into adorable little bear-shapes. They don't have any pop-ups currently scheduled, but they are making plans to open a brick-and-mortar location in Richardson.
Provecho Pollos - Jose
Concept tucked inside José restaurant from chef Anastasia "AQ" Quinones specializes in chicken: a half or whole chicken that has been brined, marinated, and roasted, along with Mexican soup with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, corn and Mexican squash; charro beans, salsas, and Mexican rice. They also do two desserts, also very homey: churros or Mexican rice pudding.
Secret Sauce BBQ - City Works
Takeout-only concept operates out of City Works Eatery & Pour House in Frisco and Fort Worth, featuring queso dip, wings, tacos, mac & cheese, and country-fried chicken, plus BBQ options such as baby back ribs, hot links, and pulled pork, served with white bread, pickles, and sides such as grits, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, chipotle slaw, and maple bacon baked beans.
TLC Vegan Kitchen
Vegan chef Troy Gardner was one of the first to introduce a ghost kitchen concept when he debuted TLC in May 2020. He offers a lengthy selection of vegan items which you can get in family-style meals or boxed lunches. The menu features chili, chicken-fried steak, lasagna with house made ricotta, mozzarella, & parmesan, and desserts including chocolate lava cake and banana foster pudding.
Wow Bao - Revolving Kitchen
Chicago-based outfit specializes in fast Asian street food including bao, pan-seared potstickers, steamed dumplings, rice & noodle bowls, soups, salads, and specialty drinks such as fresh ginger ale. They've partnered with Reef Kitchens, a big player in the ghost-kitchen world, to launch locations across the U.S., including Austin and Dallas, where they're camped at Revolving Kitchen, the Garland home base for many Dallas-area ghost kitchen concepts.
World Pizza Party - Revolving Kitchen
This second virtual concept for vegan chef and ghost kitchen master Troy Gardner is Dallas' first all vegan pizzeria, operating out of Revolving Kitchen, with a menu that includes nine varieties, from sausage & mushroom to BBQ chicken to spicy Sicilian to "pig-less" pepperoni, all made with plant-based products, including Impossible beef and creamy mozzarella made from cashews.