Eating like a local:-Another go around in the Big D
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
It's time for another go around down in Dallas. Believe it or not the DFW area is a place I get very excited about when it comes to the local food scene. It's also the home of my in-laws but that doesn't make me a homer for the city by any means. I mean I could care less about the Cowboys. Go Bears. I'm just a regular dude who likes to explore through food. Well if you know what's up you'd know that Dallas and it's surrounding suburbs are an exciting place to eat right now. The reason for this is a variety of things but none more obvious than the fact it's a very vibrant area that attracts people from all over. Some say that Texas is the new California and that's not hard to believe if you've been to any of their urban areas lately. Houston, Austin, and even San Antonio of late have been getting lots of love from the food media world. But don't sleep on Dallas folks. It's very exciting right now.
Mural in Deep Ellum (Muhahahaha)
One thing of note when it comes to Dallas and it's local food scene is they have fantastic resources in quite a few of the locals. Ever since I first traveled to Dallas to meet my then future in-laws I've been in the know on what to eat thanks to a few must follows in the food world. The first of whom is José R. Ralat who goes by @TacoTrail on twitter and Instagram. José is currently writing a book on tacos in America and Dallas is lucky enough to have him call it his home. Bc of José and his depth of knowledge regarding tacos in Dallas I consider the city to be one of the country's best taco towns. More on that below. Another must follow is Daniel Vaughn aka @BBQsnob who's Texas Monthly job title is BBQ expert. He canvasses Texas in search of the states best BBQ and Dallas is his home. Last and certainly not least is Brian Reinhart from the Dallas Observer. He's been the food critic there since 2016 and by my count is one of the country's best at digging up local gems. Take a look at this list for the 'Best 100 Restaurants in Dallas' and tell me it doesn't get you intrigued. I dare you. As evidenced in that list there's a ton of jewels in the area and these guys help them shine. Let's ride.
Cattleack Barbeque (Dallas)
I'm always down for some BBQ my first stop in Texas. It's better here than anywhere else at the very least when it comes to beef and sausage. Beef brisket is probably the most popular menu item on most every bbq spot that serves it these days. That's bc so many of the newer spots to have opened across America specialize in Central Texas style bbq. Well most of the ones worth waiting in line for are found in Austin and the rest of Texas. Yes even in Dallas which for a while was deemed too far north to have the good stuff. Aside from some classic establishments there's some new spots that have taken off and Cattlelack BBQ is one of the better ones. We waited in line for about 45 minutes.
BBQ Spread at Cattleack Barbeque
Here's the thing about Texas style BBQ. If it's done right there's not a huge difference in the meats from spot to spot. Especially in Austin. As far as Dallas goes this was on par with the best of the best that the city offers. We tried the ribs which were classic Texas style - big, chewy, and meaty bones. The sausage is always extra crispy due to the snappy casing down there. That and extremely well seasoned. I love it. The brisket is what it is. Melt in your mouth type meat. It's almost like it comes down to the sides or even the condiments. The pickled onion trend is a good one and I love the spots that also offer them raw and with jalapenos. Pickles are a must. They just need to switch from bread to tortillas and offer sides of salsa with bbq sauce. This practice should become standard across Texas as this mash up of wonderful is about as Tex-Mex as it gets. Texas Forever type stuff.
Brisket Closeupat Cattleack BBQ
Revolver Taco Lounge (Dallas)
The aforementioned José R. Ralat currently holds a post at Cowboys & Indians Magazine where he's the food and spirits editor. José has done great work making sure the people of DFW know where to go for the good stuff while also sharing the stories of the people behind that food. Revolver Taco Lounge is one of the spots he put me onto through articles like this. I just recently had my first chance to try the spot that holds the #1 ranking in that list of the Top 100 Restaurants in Dallas that I linked to. Yep it's a taco shop but holy shit it's so much more than that. Revolver Taco Lounge is owned by a local named Geno originally from Michoacán. Geno is a well trained chef who along with his family and restaurant team has changed the game on what the term "chef driven tacos" can mean. By which I mean there's nothing trendy about the recipes here. Many are long time family secrets going back to Mexico. But when every little detail is focused on they shine in a way few do.
Salbute (front) - Baja Fish Taco (back)
Their octopus carnitas taco is said to be the stuff of legend but it wasn’t quite ready. Not a problem bc the daily special Yucatán style Salbute with cochinita pibil was perfect. As described on the board it’s “the original puffy taco”. Man I gotta get to Merida. A Baja Fish taco also rocked in a way that it would've been a showstopper most anywhere else. But the lengua stole some of it's thunder. They take a thinly sliced piece that's as tender as a shot of jello and lay it flat on a tortilla that's hand pressed and cooked in front of you by one of Geno's family members. I last had a taco with lasting impact like this when I was in Mexico City. So believe me when I say this place is a strong contender for the best taqueria in America. I haven't even had the chance to check out the fine dining in back.
Lengua Taco at Revolver Taco Lounge
All that goodness and I haven't even shared with you the house special.My gosh. This place rocks! Pictured below is cabrito aka baby goat and it’s one of those tacos that if you closed your eyes while eating it you’d think you were in Mexico. Monterrey to be exact. The tender pieces of meat were bathed in some sort of tomato-chile sauce that paired so perfectly with the fresh tortillas. Then there's the high end mezcal / raicilla selection. Wow. All females in the kitchen one of whom was raking out fresh corn tortillas nonstop. If you’re in Dallas and don’t stop here you didn’t do Dallas right.
Cabrito Tacos at Revolver Taco Lounge
Resident Taqueria (Dallas)
It would take the hands of 100's of people to count the number of "chef driven" taco shops across the country. If I said 9 out of 10 are trash that would probably be under the ratio of what the real number is. That said there's a spot in Dallas called Resident Taqueria that's easily one of the best taquerias anywhere that's doing elevated tacos so to say. I cant get enough of the tacos from here and that's bc the options for good ones are almost endless. Pictured below are two tacos that will give you an idea of how they do things at Resident Taqueria. All tacos are served on handmade tortillas. On the left is their famous caramelized cauliflower taco. Lots of spots are doing cauliflower tacos these days and for the most they're all pretty bad. This one with a perfectly crispy piece of cauliflower paired with crispy epazote is an exception. On the right is a chorizo with grilled cheese and shishito peppers.
Tacos at Resident Taqueria
El Come Taco (Dallas)
The lady picked this CDMX mixed with Texas type taco place. Campechano (brisket/chorizo) on top. Texas style with al pastor from the trompo, with avocado, jalapeño, cheese on left. And my favorite the suadero de la casa style which comes with sautéed nopales, potato, onion on the right - the beef was ok but the toppings took me straight back to Mexico City. The frozen margaritas are also solid.
Tacos at El Come Taco
La Sultana Antojitos Mexicanos (Dallas)
Out in Oak Cliff I came across this place while waiting for my wife to finish up at a hair salon one day. It was early but not to early for tacos dorados. La Sultana was clearly a spot worth trying based on their menu of antojitos. They had alot of different Mexican dishes on offer as well as crispy tacos which are one of my favorites. Here they lightly fry the shells while filled with your choice of meat. Both the barbacoa and the deshebrada tasted fresh. These tacos were simple so the meats shined.
Tacos at La Sultana Antojitos Mexicanos
Like the rest of the country Dallas saw a ton of trendy taco spots open up over the last handful of years. Back in 2017 they were gifted this hip little stand in an up and coming part of town. Bc there is no indoor dining it has the feel of a street food though most street food isn't cared for in this way. The chef hails from San Luis Potosi and uses a local tortilleria to make his family recipe tortillas. We received a complimentary bowl of beans that was somehow meat free. They were full of wonderful flavor that usually comes from some sort of pork. No pics but the ceviche was killer. I really liked a brisket taco with tons of melted cheese inside. For those unaware the brisket taco is big in Dallas.
Tacos at Taquero
In the hip neighborhood of Oak Cliff you'll find this unassuming spot boasting tacos. Those in the know, and there are many, know those tacos are tacos de trompo. A style very similar to tacos al pastor in terms of prep and cooking bur a little different in seasoning. Trompo is the name of this taco shop that serves a few tacos but most notably the namesake taco de trompo. This is a style popular in Monterrey (Northern Mexico) which is different from al pastor in that it's heavily seasoned with smoked paprika if little else. The DFW area has a large Hispanic population with roots in Monterey so tacos de trompo are more standard around town than tacos al pastor. Trompo makes a fantastic that helped them get named one of the best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit back in 2016.
Tacos de Trompo at Trompo
Hamburguesas Del Rio (Dallas)
Both Whataburger and In-N-Out are found all around DFW. But I wasn't interested in either of them. That's bc these Hamburguesas estilo Monterey (Desde 1988) are so much more exciting. The Norteño comes with sausage, ham, white cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado. Normally I dont like meat (exception for bacon) on top of my beef when it comes to a burger. So instead of eating this with the slices of hot dogs I took them off and ate them as an appetizer. The ham was left on bc in the end it's not much different from bacon as far as it's place as a condiment on a burger. I've said it before somewhere - the burgers Mexico produces are mad underrated. For real.
Monterey Burgers at Hamburguesas Sabor Unico
Herrera's Cafe (Dallas)
Yes I do love me some Texas BBQ. Specifically the brisket. But it's not a satisfying trip to Texas unless I get an order of cheese enchiladas covered in chili con carne from a local spot that’s older than me. Last trip in I did this by going to a place called Herrera's Cafe. They've had a presence in Dallas' Tex-Mex scene since the early 70's. I came here on a Monday at like 11a and it was packed. Holy crap. Texans eat out all damn day. I'm convinced most of them dont cook. Haha. Nah but lots of people on work lunch packed what's the current location of the original Herrera's Cafe. They have tons of lunch special combos on offer including a two piece enchiladas covered in chili con carne with rice and beans for something like $7. It's even cheaper on Thursday's when it's $5. I love this stuff.
Cheese Enchiladas with Chile con Carne at Herrera's Cafe
Billy Can Can (Dallas)
The wife has friends that still live in Dallas so it's nice to get a chance to see them when we go down there. Usually we'll meet others out for a dinner at least once or twice each trip in. Last time we met up with some friends at Billy Can Can which we chose for the downtown location. This is right by the AA Arena where the Mavs and Stars play. It's probably not going to be the best restaurant you eat at in Dallas but it's solid for the location. We had our eye on the plate of Nashville style Hot Fried Quail. Both me and her have a thing for fried quail as little fried quail legs were on our wedding day menu as a greeting bite. I never did get one, nobody saved me one while I was taking pictures. I only got to try them at the tasting and I've been on the prowl for something as good since. I liked the fried quail at Billy Can Can but it wasn't touching the legs from Royal Fig in Austin. The house sausage was ok.
Food at Billy Can Can
BigDash Ice Cream & Pastries (Richardson)
Located in what's a very warehouse heavy area of Richardson is this awesome little Middle Eastern ice cream shop. I'd read about it online and it seemed to be the perfect place to grab a treat and beat the Texas heat. Owned by an immigrant couple from Syria they specialize in Arabic style ice cream. Their unique recipe dates back to the late 1800's in Syria. There's a world famous place in Damascus called Bakdash Ice Cream parlor and they make a big public display out of beating barrels-full of its frozen treats with big wooden mallets which in turn gives the ice cream it's signature stretchy texture. I tried the rose water with pistachios on top and it rocked. So smooth. Notice the choco kebab below. I asked the son and he said they make crepes out of it. Haha. That's awesome. Next time maybe.
Syrian Ice Cream at BigDash Ice Cream
Khao Noodle Shop (Dallas)
Man I consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten to eat here. Reason being is they just opened a couple months ago and while we were in town for Thanksgiving they had a couple days of a surprise soft opening that I just so happened to catch online. Mark my words when I say this noodle house with roots in Laos will be on many national 'Best New Restaurants of 2019' lists. Khao Noodle Shop is the product of Chef Donny Sirisaveth who’s a self taught cook. Or rather a chef who didn’t go to culinary school but learned alot from his Laotian mother. The atmosphere here is casual.
Thai Boat Noodle Soup at Khao Noodle Shop
While the menu and the feel is casual this isnt ShopHouse Kitchen. It's one of the best Lao restaurants in the States. Heck it's one of the best noodle shops around. Here they're doing portion sizes closer to what you see in SE Asia than you do in other regions. The idea is this allows the consumer to taste at least a couple different noodle soups which are the star of the show. I appreciate them deciding to go with the small bowls ($5 each) bc it gave us the chance to try all of them.
Khao Soi at Khao Noodle Shop
First up was an order of Boat Noodles as inspired by the Chefs trips to Boat Noodle Alley in Bangkok. Wow! This was very much similar except it had a little piece of tender brisket on top of the usual suspects. A s a nod to his homestate Texas so to say. It’s the pork blood that makes this soup special. Moving along the Lao style Khao Soi was killer! Slightly different from the version so popular in Chiang Mai in that the further north you go the less coconut milk is used in the making of it. For those that love the taste of fermented foods this is a must. It's still in my thoughts months after.
Khao Poon at Khao Noodle Shop
Also amazing was the Khao Poon which pairs vermicelli noodles with curry and chicken broth. Every single one of these bowls was cold blooded killer. Death row meal type stuff. We didn't even have the chance to indulge in the appetizers which I've seen others raving about on social media. I can’t imagine coming back to Dallas and not stopping here. Honestly I could’ve eaten a few more bowls even though I was full. They were each that good. What a treat the people of DFW have been given.
Stack of bowls at Khao Noodle Shop
Sucre Cafe (Plano)
Friday is Brisket day at this newly opened Lao street food inspired spot in the Dallas suburb of Plano. Over the last decade the Dallas area has become the nations center for Laotian food and culture. What gives? By my estimate the kids. While there’s been Lao people here longer than a decade as far as Laotian food goes it was mostly found in homes made with ingredients acquired at the local Lao grocery stores. But now that their kids are grown up and the food world has opened up to all people they want to bring the flavors of their youth to friends and neighbors. This place was filled with young employees and most of the customers were also young. All of them Lao-Americans. I’m not sure if brisket is common in Lao kitchens but if not there’s no doubt it is in Lao kitchens in Texas. Makes sense bc the meat holds that fresh and funky dipping sauce so well. Sides of Lao papaya salad and sticky rice rounded out a fantastic lunch. Another reason for Texans to love Friday's.
Laotian Beef Brisket
Wu Wei Din Chinese Cuisine (Plano)
Tucked away in a Plano strip mall is an excellent little Taiwanese restaurant. Wu Wei Din is the type of place that when they opened became very popular with local Chinese people. Soon after the gringos followed and now it's a popular spot for all. They have a large menu but the stars of the show are their noodles and wontons. Both of which I love. I got their house version wontons and they were delicious. It's rare I meet a dumpling I don't like especially with the wontons. They're all good.
House Wontons at Wu Wei Din Chinese Cuisine
For my entree I had a tough time deciding between the beef noodle soup and the Dan Dan noodles. The former is more of a classic Taiwanese dish but I guess the latter can also be found around the country. I couldn't figure out if Taiwan has it's own style of Dan Dan noodles of if this version is similar to a famous place in Taiwan. Either way this came out as described online. It had a very peanut-y broth and thus was more sweet than spicy. I will say the noodles were as close as I've found them be compared a to a bowl of dan dan I had while in Hong Kong. I'd like to further explore the menu.
Dan Dan Noodles at Wu Wei Din Chinese Cuisine
Pullman Bakery & Shigepan (Inside Mitsuwa Market)
There's not a ton of Japanese people in the DFW area. But you wouldn't know this by driving thru certain parts of Plano. It's packed with Japanese businesses including a fresh new Mitsuwa Market. The Japanese grocery store has locations across the country in areas heavily populated by Japanese people and also Plano. The reason is as you may know Toyota is moving it's US headquarters to Plano and places like Mitsuwa were brought in to make those moving to Plano from Japan more comfortable. I scoured around the grocery store for a bit and thought it was much better than the Chicago based one in Arlington Heights. The food-courts weren't much different but the Plano location has a Japanese bakery chain specializing in curry bread which are little pockets of dough stuffed with Japanese curry inside. They're a delightful on the go snack. I wish we had one here.
Curry Bread(s) at Mitsuwa Market
Hakka Express (Plano)
I came across this food court in Plano’s Asia Town and there was a handful of Chinese stalls (and a few other cuisines) specializing in this and that. This is my type of place I thought as I began scouting out each stall. My first choice would end up being this little family owned shop called Hakka Express. They specialize in Taiwanese food and some beef stir fried handmade noodles sounded on point. They were. It's hard to find spots that can get close to that same level of wok hei found at restaurants around Asia. But HE is one of the few that do come close. This was as expertly prepared a plate of stir fried noodles as I've had in the States. Don't laugh. Legit stir fried noodles are an art.
Stir Fried Handcut Noodles at Hakka Express
Next stall up is a spot that recently got it's first shout-out from the Dallas food media. Before Brian Reinhart's Dallas Observer team released it's 100 Best Restaurants in Dallas list he teased of a spot that was basically unheard among the city's food community. Back in Chicago I was curious what it was. Turns out it was this stall inside the food court that I returned to try the day after Hakka Express. Morefan Noodles is a Shaanxi spot specializing in Biang Biang noodles among other things. I love me some Biang Biang Noodles ever since having them in Beijing. This relatively simple noodle dish is another one of those recipes that takes skill to make. That's bc the noodles should be hand stretched which of course they are at Morefan. I watched as the guy took my order and then shouted it to a noodle maker in back. One bowl of youpo chemian (different pronunciation) later I was stuffed. Hand pulled noodles are placed in a bowl with a puddle of hot oil. On top goes tender cubes of beef, carrots, peas, and some greens. Mix it all up and you got an amazing meal for under $10.
Biang Biang Noodles at Morefan
BlackBall Dessert (Plano)
One strip mall over from the foodcourt you'll find this Taiwanese dessert import with a pretty funny name. BlackBall refers to the little boba balls popular in Taiwanese desserts I would assume. This place was packed with families and despite there being a couple new Taiwanese dessert shops in Chicago I had not been to them yet so this was my first dive into the insanely popular dessert culture of Taiwan. I decided to go with what I know I like shaved ice. Taiwanese style is much different than Hawaiian style shave ice and most other types of crushed ice desserts too. These can be considered a meal in and of themselves. Pictured below is a Taiwanese shaved ice dish called Jiufen taro. This dish is named after a famous dessert town outside of Taipei. It's made with a mound of ice red kidney beans, taro balls, and little sweet potato balls. It's a massive amount of stuff that starts to melt and then mold into one. This would end up being my first foray of many into Taiwanese desserts.
Jiufen Taro at BlackBall
Beard Papa's (Plano)
Even though I didn't get to the now closed Chicago location of this franchise often, I still miss it. The only reason I only got to go a few times was bc it's downtown location wasn't convenient for me. Had they been anywhere near where I lived I'd have been there often and that's probably not a good thing. This Japanese import is a cream puff chain with roots in Osaka. These days they have locations across Japan and 100 in the US but none in Illinois anymore. So I was psyched to see one out here in Plano. What you see below is a Matcha green tea monthly special and the signature vanilla. Yum.
Japanese Cream Puffs at Beard Papa's
Mango Mango (Plano)
I fell in love with the mango smoothie while in Thailand. They were truly the most refreshing drinks I've ever drank that weren't water. So when I saw this chain called Mango Mango I knew I was pulling over for a smoothie. This is a chain with a few Texas locations as well as the other regular regions that get lots of Asian chains - NYC, Cali etc. Mango Mango is a dessert shop dedicated to what's probably the most popular fruit outside of North America. The almighty mango. The menu here is flooded with different mango concoctions. Had I been dining in I would've gotten one of the many mango bowls on offer. I just needed a drink for the ride so I enjoyed a refreshing mango smoothie. See y'all next time.
Mango Smoothie from Mango Mango