The holidays are nearing, life is mostly back to normal, and you've got guests coming into town. Of course, you'll want to be a savvy host with a command of Dallas' dining scene and a list of restaurants at the ready when it's time to take them out.
As part of our annual tradition, for our December edition of Where to Eat, we offer suggestions on the best restaurants to take your holiday visitors and show them what Dallas has to offer. (And if you just want to get takeout, click here for our list of restaurants offering Christmas to-go.)
Here are 10 restaurants to take your out-of-town guests:
Dallas is known for its abundance of steakhouses, and no Dallas restaurant list would be complete without a steakhouse entry. Dakota's — a gem we nearly lost that was rescued by a restaurateur who loved its 37-year legacy — more than fills the bill. They serve Prime steaks from famed purveyor Allen Brothers, which Dakota's grills and finishes in a 1200-degree Montague broiler, and which you can get topped with a dozen luxe treatments, from blue cheese to wild mushrooms to lump crab. They have all your classics: wedge salad, shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller. But what puts Dakota's on the must-do list is its distinctive subterranean location, reachable only via an elevator that disappears into a downtown Dallas sidewalk — sure to wow, amaze, and delight your guests.
Just as you need a steakhouse, so do you also need a Tex-Mex, and Dallas has plenty. But few operators can compete with Eddie Cervantes, the congenial host who developed an early and loyal following after first opening Primo's in 1981. That's a lot of years to be doing Tex-Mex, and he brought that experience when he opened E-Bar on Haskell Avenue, where he's been packing them in since it opened in 2013. In June 2021, he opened a second outpost on Greenville Avenue, where he's serving the faultless enchiladas, nachos, and tacos for which he's known, but with new elements including an occasional fancy steak and homemade corn tortillas. If you're just wanting to show your guests how Tex-Mex is done, go to the original on Haskell Avenue; if you're in the mood for a post-dinner stroll, hit Greenville Avenue.
Along with steak and Tex-Mex, BBQ is one of the area's other essential cuisines, and Dallas' BBQ world has improved in the past few years, as more restaurants crack the mystery of letting meat sit for hours in a hot metal box. Cattleack was the only Dallas restaurant that made the top 10 on a big-deal Texas Monthly list in October, so that gives them valuable cred. In addition, they're open super-limited hours — Thursday-Friday 10:30 am–2 pm, and the first Saturday of the month — making them yet more alluring, as we all want what we cannot get. They're big on house-made sausages, plus offbeat dishes in the usually staid BBQ world such as beef bologna, spicy beef boudin, and Wagyu pastrami ribs. Things sell out quickly, so you get the added benefit of possible disappointment and further longing.
The Exchange at the AT&T District
Downtown Dallas complex owned by AT&T and managed by Hospitality Alliance shows how a food hall should truly be done. It's about quality. It's about consistency. Whether you visit on a busy weekend or a quiet Thursday afternoon, you're going to get food that hits a high bar, whether it's a thrillingly smooth frozen chamoy margarita at Jaxon, a gratifyingly fresh avocado toast with sprouts and pepita at Rise + Thyme, or a burger made with Wagyu beef at Bobbers. More than a dozen restaurants are there to satisfy a variety of tastes, and there's also the Discovery District of which it's a part, a pleasant outdoor oasis in downtown with immersive exhibits and entertainment.
If your holiday guests are of the foodie variety and require a display of chef prowess, Homewood is your top bet. This is the place you're going to find your gremolata, your fermented honey/pecan relish, your matsutake rice middlins. Homewood's official cuisine is upscale comfort food, with entrees such as half chicken, grass-fed sirloin, and Wagyu rib eye, and there's a raw bar with oysters, bluefin tuna, and dry-aged beef tartare. But chef Matt McCallister is restless and creative, constantly turning out mad specials (which you can track on the restaurant's Instagram page), with arcane descriptions that are sure to impress your snooty friends. And bottom line, dishes like the signature Parker House rolls, served with a dipping sauce made of parmesan mornay and chicken drippings, really hit the spot.
Restaurant at the Neiman Marcus store at Northpark Center is the younger sibling of the iconic Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas (which reopened in November and is fully booked through the end of 2021, can you believe that). Mermaid shares the Zodiac's impeccable DNA as well as classic dishes such as the popover with strawberry butter, white bean chicken chili, and Mandarin orange souffle. The Mermaid lets you have a taste of the Zodiac but in a different environment, one graced with fanciful mermaid statues by Bjorn Winblad, and is a relaxing place to stop before or after a NorthPark shopping session.
Pepita's Vegan Taqueria
Denton makes for a nice day trip, with its classic Texas downtown square, Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum, and variety of shops. A visit provides an excuse to eat at Pepita's, a family-owned Mexican vegan restaurant that opened in July. Mexican food is a relatively easy cuisine to "veganize," and a number of Mexican vegan restaurants have opened around DFW in recent years. Pepita's is one of the best — and not just "Mexican vegan" but "vegan vegan" — from the Landeros family, who've held to a high standard at their original Mexican restaurant, Milpa (still open in Denton and a great place to start, with one of their 100-plus margaritas). Pepita's hews to that high standard on dishes such as portobello fajitas and chimichangas with fillings such as Beyond Meat ground beef, jackfruit chicken, soy al pastor, and jackfruit brisket birria.
Taco Y Vino
The Bishop Arts District stands as one of Dallas' best tourist attractions. With its walkable personality, brick storefronts, and array of shops, you and your holiday troupe can easily spend an afternoon. After you've worked up an appetite, grab some tacos and a glass of wine at Taco Y Vino, where they've deftly achieved their goal of blurring the line between fancy and casual. Tacos range from classics like barbacoa with cilantro crema to veggie with jackfruit. It's hard to find a host more gregarious than owner Jimmy Contreras, and he has lots of wine expertise, so you can count on a fine selection of boutique labels and at prices that don't gouge.
Taste of Peking
Between Dallas' vibrant Korean-American population and Toyota's recent relocation of its headquarters to Plano, Dallas-Fort Worth has enjoyed an explosion of new Asian restaurants, bringing an unprecedented level of variety and authenticity. Choosing one is a challenge, but Taste of Peking, located at 3131 Custer Rd., #182, Plano, has plenty to recommend, including juicy soup dumplings, plump wonton, and Peking duck, cut into chunks, battered, and fried with a crunchy crust. The big draw is the hand-pulled noodles, made to order and served in dishes such as beef noodle soup. Special bonus: Right now, they have Charlie Zhang, one of Dallas' most famous noodle guys, swinging and stretching his noodles in a fun show. (They do not currently have a website but a menu is posted here.)
You can brag authoritatively to your guests about how Dallas' pizza scene has improved vastly in the past decade, with better quality and greater variety — which takes you to the White Rock Lake area, home to Thunderbird Pies, slinger of Detroit-style pizza, created by the team behind Cane Rosso and Zoli's Pizza. What makes Thunderbird great is the crust; developed by World Pizza Champion Lee Hunzinger, it's crispy, crunchy, airy, and yeasty. T-Bird is also serving some of Cane Rosso's greatest hits including fried artichokes. And if Detroit-style isn't your thing, there's a Cane Rosso right next door where they're baking up authentic Neapolitan-style pies. Two pizza options in one location, the perfect place to hit after you've dragged said guests for an invigorating walk around the lake.