Where to eat
Where to eat in Dallas right now: 10 restaurants to take holiday guests
The December edition of CultureMap's monthly Where to Eat feature almost always follows the same theme: Where to take your out-of-town guests, coming in for the holidays and ready to try the local favorites.
For 2022, the list is broken down into categories to make the selection process even easier, from where to eat if you're on a budget to where to go if you're looking for the big splurge.
Here's where to eat in Dallas right now:
Best spot for tourists
One of the best places to take tourists is downtown Dallas, with city streets you can walk, buildings to ogle, parks to linger in, and don't forget Dallas' No. 1 tourist attraction: the Grassy Knoll. Downtown also has plenty of good restaurants, from hotel eateries to streetside pubs. But Cafe Momentum is the only one with a nationally-recognized program to help at-risk youths, letting you dine out finely and do a good thing, perfect for the holidays. Led by founder Chad Houser, the menu features chef takes on homey dishes like braised rabbit pasta, shrimp bisque, Black Bean Rollatini with vegan cashew queso & fried corn, and their signature dish, smoked fried chicken with mashed potatoes & collard greens.
Best spot for serious foodies
If awards are your benchmark, then Carte Blanche, the fine-dining restaurant on Greenville Avenue, wins hands-down. No other Dallas restaurant has earned 5 stars from Forbes Travel Guide as well as the coveted AAA Five Diamond designation. It's not just about the resume. These awards tell you that Carte Blanche knows how to execute with leading-edge cuisine, ingredients, preparation, service, and atmosphere. They're open for dinner, and their quintessential meal is a 12-course chef's tasting for $225, with courses like smoked boar empanada with sweet potato and collards. But they'll also do six- and four-course versions and even a vegetarian option. The cherry on the sundae is that, in the mornings, they're a bakery (with an award-winning chef) that is making the best pastries and doughnuts in Dallas right now.
Best to grab a drink and a snack
There'll be sometimes when you're not up to a full spread and instead just want to sit and have a small bite. Preferably with a drink. You are after all saddled with guests. Ellie's, the elegant restaurant at the Hall Arts Hotel, fits the bill: It has craft cocktails, a good wine list, an upscale yet comfortable atmosphere, plus bar snacks like eggplant dip with lavash crackers. Its location in Dallas' Arts District is also a plus: near the museums such as Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center, which out-of-towners might want to see, not to mention its own collection of murals and sculptures on site.
Best outdoor space
Dallas' weather makes al fresco dining viable even during winter, something that out-of-towners adore, and everyone these days has some kind of outdoor space. But it's hard to find a prettier patio in Dallas than Fearing's, at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas hotel. It's an expansive courtyard with a variety of seating - benches, comfy couches, bar seats, regular tables & chairs - plus nicely landscaped greenery, fountains, a cozy fireplace - altogether more special when you consider its in-city location, an oasis in an urban area, sunny during the day, sultry at night. On top of all that, your guests will get to eat buffalo tacos, Southwest Caesar salad, and other amazing food by Dean Fearing, one of Dallas' very best chefs.
Best for a big splurge
The stereotypical splurge in Dallas is a steakhouse which is why The Mexican, the luxe restaurant that opened in Dallas' Design District in March, is such a blessing. The restaurant is spearheaded by Monterrey businessman Roberto Gonzalez Alcalá, whose family owns Mission Foods, and is a highly mounted enterprise that spares no details. There are steaks, if you must, and seafood, but with Mexican-style sauces, as well as non-Tex-Mex offerings like lobster enchiladas, roasted cauliflower in a truffle-habanero pistachio dressing, and a Mexican twist on a chopped salad. The decor is its own reason to go, with gorgeous Mexican tilework, ceramic fixtures, and picturesque outdoor patios featuring landscapes from the region.
Best on a budget
Tacos are a food group that fit the bill when you have a tightwad in tow: It's generally well-made food at fast-food prices. One of the most interesting local purveyors is Taco Ocho, a doting family-owned chain with four locations: Richardson, Frisco, Flower Mound, and McKinney. Their menu of tacos, tortas, quesadillas, tostadas, and nachos often spotlights refreshing Latin flavors and ingredients such as black beans instead of humdrum pinto, and a sandwich like the Cusco torta with Peruvian steak layered with potatoes. A sandwich with potatoes, how cool is that. They're also fairly healthy-ish, with great salads and vegan options, including a cool vegan breakfast taco with scrambled chickpeas. They have margaritas, and full service, and nothing is over $15.
More places are offering vegan options, but Dallas also boasts a full-on Vegan Dining Experience at Belse, the plant-based restaurant that opened in downtown Dallas in 2021. Located on the ground floor of an office building behind the Majestic Theater, Belse comes with a California connection: It's a spinoff of Little Pine, a famous vegan restaurant founded in L.A. in 2015, and boasts some of its award-winning dishes. There are sweet potato empanadas, cauliflower tostadas, flatbread with Italian sausage, a patty melt on toasted marble rye, and an irresistible pasta with chick'n in a pumpkinseed pesto. Most vegan restaurants in Dallas fall under Mexican, Asian, or diner-y junk food, making Belse's casual sophistication next level.
Best choice for the hot new thing
"What's the cool new place?" is a question I'm often asked, right before people decide they wanna go to the place they were already thinking about after all. Nonetheless, the answer to that question right now is El Carlos Elegante, a newly opened Mexican restaurant from Duro Hospitality Group (The Charles, Sister, Cafe Duro) located in the Design District. The menu is structured into intuitive categories of Cold, Grill, Vegetales, and Masa, and features intensely intriguing dishes such as a ricotta tamale with mole negro, ohmigosh. Duro is also known for its drop-dead decor, and El Carlos does not disappoint with gorgeous textiles and natural materials including lots of imported Mexican tile and stone.
Best place for big groups
Large parties are the bane of any server's existence, they take up way too much time and attention, and they always undertip. But Pepe & Mito's Mexican Cafe, the popular and long-running Tex-Mex restaurant in Deep Ellum, gamely rolls with the punches: pushing tables together, coming back again and again to replenish the chips, bring another round of strong margaritas, even tolerantly fielding requests for separate checks. The food's good with nachos, combination plates, spinach enchiladas, and the beef tacos Norteños and Mexican meatball soup featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. If Guy Fieri liked it, that'll definitely impress guests.
Best for coffee and dessert
The perfect place when you've had a meal and want to cap it off, or are craving something sweet, or just want a well made espresso is San Martin Bakery & Restaurant, a concept Guatemala that opened in Uptown Dallas in 2018. It's a spacious, highly cosmopolitan place with a cool bakery where you gather your pastries yourself into a little basket, and the selection is amazing, with all sorts of pastries, cakes, decorated cookies, dulce de leche cookie sandwiches, breads, strudel, empanadas, eclairs, cinnamon rolls, tarts, Napoleons, shortbreads, apple cake, guava-cream cheese pie - the only thing more incredible than the breadth and quality of their offerings is the price. This stuff's crazy cheap. Their facade is back a bit from McKinney Avenue but they have their own parking lot, making for a convenient and relaxed stop.