Now that we've moved into the holiday season, our restaurant needs have undergone a shift. Keeping up with what's new and hot becomes secondary. The more immediate concerns revolve around issues like accommodating a big group, satisfying multiple diet agendas, and showing off Dallas' finest eateries, to justify why you moved here in the first place.
For our December edition of Where to Eat in Dallas, here's our 2019 list of where to take out of town guests:
Affordable buffet and brunch: Blue Mesa Grill
Southwestern-Mex concept has been around for so long, it's easy to take it for granted; but the quality and value has never declined. Their regular menu features delicacies like a queso flight with choice of classic, spinach-artichoke, or ground beef-chorizo; and beer-battered fish tacos with moist ginger rice and smoky black beans. But if you want to impress the fam, you'd be hard-pressed to top Blue Mesa's weekend brunch, with bountiful stations offering migas, omelets, cheesy potatoes, salads, tacos, and a stunning assortment of desserts, including an ice cream sundae bar. All for $24! Such a deal. Addison 972-934-0165; Plano 214-387-4407; Fort Worth 817-332-6372.
For the fancy feast: Fearing's
Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas hotel features the irresistible charms and impeccable food of legendary chef Dean Fearing. He has seemingly boundless creativity, always folding in new flavors and ingredients to the Southwestern base cuisine he's perfected over the past 30 years. Everything sounds good — reading his menu is its own pleasure: "Maple/black peppercorn soaked buffalo tenderloin on Brazos Valley jalapeño grits, tangle of greens, and butternut squash taquito with smoky chili aioli." Mmmm. At the Ritz, he's managed to maintain the special-occasion spirit while keeping the vibe approachable and fun, and the restaurant's multiple dining spaces and attentive service accommodate whatever you need.
When there's a special diner in the group: The Henry
Uptown restaurant is part of the Fox Restaurants group, so it's a chain, but there are currently only four locations in the country and Dallas has one, therefore bragging rights, therefore a good idea to visit. It's open for all three meals and has a bustling energy that makes you feel important and chic when you're there; Fox really has the atmosphere thing down. The menu includes vegan, keto, and GF items, artfully combining basic dishes with slightly edgy fare that's just the right amount of innovation: spaghetti Bolognese next to portobello tacos next to avocado toast.
Tex Mex fix: El Famoso
Tex-Mex is a must and there's nothing else in Dallas-Fort Worth like El Famoso, a diner that fuses Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, and some American fare — can you say carne asada fries — in L.A.-cool surroundings. (Check out the potted palm trees on the sunny patio.) The menu includes tacos, burritos, enchiladas, Tex-Mex, and American diner fare. There's a comfort-food aspect but also attention to detail, such as the choice of five salsas including rojo, verde, and the clever "So-Caliente." Frozen margaritas are super-creamy and are usually offered on some kind of discount. Field trip bonus: You can take DART out there, an amusement on its own, and check out Toyota Music Factory, not to mention the pleasant grounds of the Gables Water Street development where El Famoso resides.
Indigenous cuisine/BBQ: Lockhart Smokehouse
Barbecue is one of the things that people ask about when they visit Texas, and in recent years, Dallas has finally assembled some options, from Slow Bone to Pecan Lodge to 18th & Vine. Lockhart has the legit roots (and family connection) to Central Texas, where barbecue reigns supreme; they even offer famed Kreuz Market Sausage, from Lockhart, served on butcher paper in true Central Texas style. They also have brisket, pork, chicken, turkey, ribs, all your meats, plus a great selection of sides including mac 'n' cheese and smoked baked beans. Their atmosphere is fun, there's cold beer, and three locations in Dallas, Plano, and Arlington.
Indigenous cuisine/home cooking: Norma's Cafe
If your guests are coming in from the North, the West, or the East, then a home-cooking place will be a cuisine they probably don't have. Home-cooking places are also cheap, and if your guests are thrifty parental types, then you've scored a double win. Dallas' home-cooking scene has shrunk in the past decade, but you can still count on Norma's Cafe to be there for you with blue plate specials, house rolls, breakfast all day, and, most essentially, their "mile-high cream pies." They have five locations in Plano, Frisco, North Dallas, and Dallas' Park Lane, but you gotta visit the original Oak Cliff location, for true nostalgic charm.
Mid-priced spot for big groups: Sixty Vines
The basics at this sophisticated concept from Dallas-based FrontBurner Group consist of pizza and wines, and if you like those two food groups, then this is jake. But Sixty Vines has an expansive menu and an even more expansive atmosphere, with an ability to handle a crowd in a way that's easygoing and capable. They have great shared plates like wood-fired cauliflower — a whole head of cauliflower served on a wooden platter — and a trio of boards with charcuterie, cheese, or vegetables. There's also salads, pasta, sandwiches, and the pizzas happen to be really good.
Restaurant that made national news: El Palote Panaderia
Visitors like to know the "famous" places, and El Palote fits the bill. This unassuming family-run restaurant in far southwest Dallas' Pleasant Grove neighborhood was a trailblazer in the realm of Mexican vegan food which has gone on to become a national trend. El Palote does soy versions of all of the Mexican-style "meats" — carnitas, bistec, carne guisada, pastor — marinated in a dark red chile sauce that's intensely spicy with caramelized, chewy edges that make it hard to believe it's not real meat. There's also an entire bakery for things to take home, with cookies, fruit-filled empanadas, and sweet yeast rolls filled with tofu cream cheese and jam, worth a trip on their own.
Bar with food: Trinity Hall Pub
Dallas has a thing for Irish pubs and Trinity Hall surely stands as one of the best. It has a prototypical pub feel; varied seating options including cool nooks inside and a spacious patio; and a fine list of beers. The staff is congenial, and they host local musicians. They also have an excellent menu, with pub classics like fish & chips, and a separate vegan menu that has made them a favorite hangout for the Dallas vegan crowd. They're at Mockingbird Station so there's ample parking, but you can also take DART to get there. Trinity Pub is the perfect solution to your visitors' desire to hang out at a bar and have some great snacks.
Touristy expedition: Dallas Farmers Market
Moaning and groaning about the DFM is a local tradition, but ignore them because it's still a great place to take out-of-town guests. In the dead of winter, the produce selection won't be as bountiful as during the summer months, but you're not here to buy lettuce. The Market building boasts shops, food, and drink. You can walk around with a beer or buy a bottle of wine and some cheese at Scardello to share at one of the communal tables. Eateries are all independently-owned and represent a good cross-section of cuisines, from Indian (8 Cloves of Spice of India) to Mexican (Taqueria La Ventana) to seafood (Rex's) to pizza (Bellatrino). There's fantastic banh mi sandwiches at Nammi and excellent coffee at Palmieri Cafe.