Where to Eat
Where to eat in Dallas right now: Best restaurants to take out-of-town guests
Holidays are here, family's coming in, celebratory meals are in the offing, but where to go? Dallas has a million restaurants, so it's not exactly a challenge to find a place to eat, but sometimes seeing a list like this can either inspire you to head straight to these suggestions or else remind you of a favorite place you forgot.
Here's five Dallas restaurants for when you need a patio, a group space, a cheap meal, a quintessential Dallas splurge, or the buzzy new hot spot to impress your out-of-town guests:
Best quintessential Dallas: Pappas Bros.
Hate to say it, but this means steak. Steakhouses are the default because beef is a thing in Texas, and because Dallas has dozens: from chains like Del Frisco's, Capital Grille, Morton's, to celebrity newcomers like Nusr-Et to to locals like Dakota's and Y.O. Ranch and Al Biernat's. Steakhouses are a smart place to take company: They have a classy atmosphere, attentive service to field your special requests, and expansive menus with entree-size salads and sides for those not eating steak.
The steakhouse that always tops best-of lists is Pappas Bros. in northwest Dallas. Pappas is easy to take for granted because it's effortlessly great: The steaks are dry aged, the sides are good, desserts are good, the wine list is great. The irony is that Pappas is from Houston-based Pappas Restaurants. But that's kind of quintessential Dallas too.
Best outdoor space: Lyla
With its moderate weather, Dallas has always had patios but since the pandemic, outdoor space has become almost a given for any new place during these virus-phobic times. Among the new patios, the sentimental favorite is Lyla, the Mediterranean restaurant that opened on McKinney Avenue in June — sentimental because it occupies the space that was previouly Primo's, a pioneering patio back in the '90s.
What do you want from a patio? Dining in the fresh air for sure, but patios are also about the view, the setting, about a place to see and be seen. (This is why patios in, say, Forney, don't make best lists. So sorry, Forney.) Lyla's location facing McKinney Avenue is high profile, with cars and pedestrians passing — it's in the fray. It's also insanely outfitted, with a one-of-a-kind pergola cover, blue & white tile, beautiful white wicker furniture, a giraffe-spotted painted concrete floor, and kidney-shaped hanging pendant lights. Set against a backdrop of arched windows, it feels like you're in a different place.
The food is upscale Mediterranean, with unique dishes to share like whipped eggplant dip with puccia bread (similar to pizza dough), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.
Best for a large group: Modern Market
If you've waited tables, there's nothing worse than a large party headed to your station. They suck up a ton of time, are always a pain when it comes to the check, and never tip. If you're a large group, your best and most thoughtful route is fast-casual, where everyone can order and pay for their own stuff.
Modern Market is a chain, and you're not officially allowed to like or recommend chains, but this Colorado-based concept is low-key good, practical, inexpensive, and accommodating. And Dallas is a big outpost for them, because we like chains, and we are blessed with five locations: Dallas/Walnut Hill, Plano, Richardson, Las Colinas, and Southlake. Their dining rooms are spacious, with a variety of seating options: booths, high stools at counters, big community tables.
Their menu is healthy-ish (although you can also order chipotle BBQ beef, if you must); they have bowls, sandwiches, very decent pizzas, and their menu is so customer-friendly that you can even order a half-pizza. Last but not least, they have wine and beer --> most important feature when the family is in town!!!
Best affordable meal: Norma's Cafe and Mama's Daughter's Diner
One thing Dallas lacks: decent cheap eats. Real cities — Los Angeles, New York, Houston — all have great cheap eats. In Dallas, if you want good food with nice ingredients, you pay. Otherwise, you're looking at dreary so-called Better Burger places or "upscale" taquerias.
The last refuge: the home-cooking restaurant, of which Dallas used to have scads. Most have disappeared but there are a few survivors including Norma's Cafe and Mama's Daughter's Diner (which has a Norma's connection: Norma Manis of Norma's fame founded it in 1988). Both have five locations: Mama's has locations in the Design District, Plano, Irving, Forney, and Lewisville; and Norma's Cafe, which dates back to 1956, has locations in Oak Cliff, Park Lane, North Dallas, Frisco, and Plano.
You can't lose with either. Both serve unpretentious, plain, wholesome food, breakfast and lunch, at a bargain, including daily lunch specials such as CFS with 3 sides plus rolls and cornbread, for $12, and fantastic house-baked pies. It's the way to go if you have older relatives who are uncomfortable with dropping ostentatious big money for a restaurant meal.
Best buzzy new spot: Sushi Bar
Dallas' hottest trend for 2023 was definitely omakase, the Japanese/sushi experience where you leave it up to the chef to decide what you'll eat. Dallas now has literally dozens of omakase options, which if you look at it in the light of day, you're talking about little pieces of raw fish topped with a microgreen strand. To find optimum buzz, you need someplace that calls for commitment, a test you can endure together.
Sushi Bar, a California-born concept with locations in Chicago, Miami, and the original in Austin, is just the ticket. You can't just walk in, oh no. You enter a dimly lit 100-year-old car lift platform then descend into the subterranean basement level, and they request you get there 20 minutes before your reservation (although you do get a complimentary cocktail as a reward). Seating is limited, they have a maximum of 12 guests, so that's another hurdle you can feel victorious about.
Their omakase consists of 17 courses, and they do an all-nigiri omakase, which is rare. There is also an adjacent bar called Ginger's, that really does extend it into an experience. Joe Rogan, a noted food authority (eye roll), called it "the world's best sushi restaurant"; surely that will wow your friends.