Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Dallas Greats.
For years, Dallas’s top-notch dining scene was something of a well-kept secret, but in the last decade the buzz has increased in volume. Dallas celebrity chefs keep cropping up, restaurants keep hitting national and international best-of lists, and once Bon Appetit magazine recognized Dallas as the 2019 restaurant city of the year, the hidden treasure had officially revealed its sparkle to the world.
What people outside of Dallas might not understand is that Dallas’s culture largely hangs on going out to eat. Therefore, it’s hard to find a bad restaurant. So it wasn’t easy making a best of Dallas list, because so many Dallas restaurants qualify as the best. There’s standout Tex-Mex, of course, and stellar barbecue, but everything from the seafood to the steakhouses is fabulous. The restaurants on this list offer something for everyone — the fine diners, the barbecue lovers, and those who are all about ambiance. These are Dallas’s greatest restaurants.
Cane Rosso (Deep Ellum)
When Jay Jerrier opened this Italian spot in Deep Ellum in 2011, pizza lovers lost their minds. Real Neapolitan pizza was hard to come by in Dallas back then (it’s still a commodity), and here Jerrier was with a wood-burning brick oven he built himself, authentic training in the Neapolitan pizza preparation style, and fresh dough made daily in-house with flour he imports from Italy. D Magazine named Cane Rosso Dallas’s best pizza five years in a row, and Jerrier opened four more spots around the city. When the chain expanded out of Dallas, the Houston Chronicle promptly awarded it best pizza In Houston. Dallasites know: If anyone asks, “Where should I go for good pizza?” the answer is Cane Rosso.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurants are open for both indoor and outdoor dining.
Takeout: Cane Rosso’s website offers online ordering for both pickup and delivery.
Jose (Park Cities)
In the land of Tex-Mex, Jose, founded by local entertainment and development firm Woodhouse, specializes in just the “Mex” part — specifically beautifully plate regional recipes from the Mexican state of Jalisco: aguachiles and ceviches in the style of Puerto Vallarta, elotes from Guadalajara, carne asada, tacos (of course), and oceans of tequila. No matter what’s on offer, Dallas diners know it will be good; executive chef Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman was Eater Dallas’s 2018 chef of the year. The restaurant’s décor is heavy on beautiful ceramics, and there’s a wall-sized, hand-painted black and white tile mural that captivates.
Dining at the restaurant: Even before the pandemic, everyone loved sitting on the patio, where string lights and heat lamps (on cool nights) light the romantic space. Jose also offers indoor dining and the service is top of the line.
Takeout: Jose offers curbside pickup.
Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill (North Dallas)
From the burger with brie fondue to the trout in lemon butter to the filet mignon, this Dallas classic with its hickory wood-burning grill has been making magic since it opened in a strip mall on Beltline in 2005. Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill is part of chef Kenny Bowers’s small but mighty dining empire. A native New Englander, Bowers has been opening restaurants in Dallas since 1992, and diners always feel the warm welcome in his laidback atmospheres and delicious, unpretentious food. Kenny’s Restaurant Group currently helms four other popular spots: Kenny’s Burger Joints in Plano & Frisco, Kenny’s Italian Kitchen, and Kenny’s East Coast Pizza.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can make reservations through OpenTable; seatings are currently limited to 90 minutes. The warm lighting and exposed-brick walls make for a cozy atmosphere.
Takeout: Curbside pickup is available and some menu items, such as the “adult” mac and cheese, are perfect for a relaxing night at home.
Reata (Fort Worth)
This sprawling four-story restaurant that has been a Fort Worth destination since 1996 is all Texas all the time — hunting trophies mounted on the walls, cowboy paintings, cactus glass art, lonestar bar stools. The menu, too, from the jalapeño and cheese elk sausage to the tenderloin tamales with pecan mash, pays homage to the state. Tourists know that Reata is a must, but locals love it, too, because the food is excellent, and from the rooftop, the view of Fort Worth is the best in the city.
Dining at the restaurant: The rooftop bar is the perfect place to sip a Cowboy Cosmo (orange vodka with Cointreau, lime, and cranberry).
Takeout: Reata offers both pickup and delivery.
Al Biernat’s (Oak Lawn)
Dallas diners’ go-to special occasion restaurant Al Biernat’s (named for its owner) opened in Oak Lawn in 1998 to rave reviews. Through the years, it remained so popular — collecting accolades including “Best Steakhouse” from D Magazine — that Biernat eventually opened a second location in North Dallas. Not only are the steaks flawlessly prepared, the white table cloths and dim lighting the picture of elegance, and the wine program (close to 700 bottles) among the city’s most impressive, but on Dallas’s dining scene, this is also the place where diners are most likely to have the LA or New York experience of celebrity-spotting: Anyone who’s anyone winds up at Al Biernat’s. The bar is a work of art; belly up and check out the painting on the concave ceiling: spherical shapes that complement the drop lights and the curved shape of the bar itself.
Dining at the restaurant: Both the dining room (elegant casual attire) and the patio (dressy casual attire) are open.
Takeout: Diners can order both pickup and delivery through the restaurant’s website.
Whiskey Cake (Plano)
Diners at Whiskey Cake know they’re getting the freshest ingredients possible, considering the charming cafe’s concept centers on it. Here, locally sourced ingredients include honey, oranges, lemons, salad greens, radishes, and herbs from all over Texas that go into a range of American dishes such as roasted butternut squash turmeric hummus, pork brisket steak with pickled green tomatoes, burgers, and salads. Helmed by Front Burner Group Dining, the rustic-hip Plano location — rustic thanks to warm wood, exposed brick, and farm-to-table recipes; hip because, for example, it’s the first full-service restaurant in Texas to install commercial electric vehicle charging stations — opened in 2011 and garnered an OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award because the food is always tasty, especially the whiskey cake: toffee torte, bourbon anglaise, spiced pecans, and whipped cream.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can make reservations through OpenTable and choose between indoor and outdoor seating.
Takeout: Delivery is available through third-party apps. Whiskey Cake offers curbside pickup.
Nick & Sam’s (Uptown)
Founded in 1999 by restaurateur Phil Romano, Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse is named for Romano’s son Sam (and a friend’s son, Nick) and has since its opening proven to be the best of Dallas’s fine dining. The starters fuse international flavors — mussels with Vietnamese pho, fried dumplings, Spanish octopus with chorizo, sushi salad — and the steaks and toppers menu lets diners mix and match their favorite cuts with garnishes ranging from bone marrow gravy to tiger prawns to foie gras hollandaise. Because it’s a favorite special occasion stop, Nick & Sam’s offers a lavish cake menu with selections so famously decadent, celebrants don’t hesitate to drop $165 on a rainbow cake.
Dining at the restaurant: Steakhouse dining is, of course, as much about getting dressed up and enjoying the swanky atmosphere as it is about the sirloin. Diners can make reservations on OpenTable.
Takeout: The restaurant offers curbside pickup. It’s worth trying the Japanese beef menu for special evenings in — offerings come from all over Japan, including a rotating selection of wagyu.
Shinsei (Park Cities)
In 2006, Tracy Rathbun and Lynae Fearing turned their longtime dream of opening a “little taco stand” into a reality — only it’s a far cry from a little taco stand. Their pan-Asian restaurant Shinsei is nothing short of an institution on the Dallas dining scene with its stylish décor, enticing flavor pairings (braised pork steam buns, crispy Brussels sprouts, hoisin baby back ribs), fresh sushi, and Asian-inspired cocktails such as the Toki highball (Japanese whisky, lemon, cucumber, mint, and a big ice ball). Rathbun and Fearing have since opened a second location in DFW Airport, as well as a popular seafood restaurant called Lovers Seafood.
Dining at the restaurant: Shinsei is open for reservations through OpenTable, and it’s always fun to make a stop for an after-dinner drink in the sophisticated upstairs lounge.
Takeout: Shinsei offers pickup through the restaurant and delivery through third-party apps.
Joe T. Garcia’s (Fort Worth)
Winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence, Joe T. Garcia’s has been a staple in Fort Worth since 1935. A casual, family-run Tex-Mex restaurant with a beautiful, sprawling outdoor garden patio, Joe T. Garcia’s serves old family recipes to a loyal local fan base. Fort Worth diners love the fajitas, flautas, and chimichanga and go for weekend brunch to indulge in the migas or huevos rancheros. Al fresco diners sit among fountains, arches, and greenery in a setting that looks so much like Mexico, it’s easy to forget they’re north of the border.
Dining at the restaurant: With a seating capacity of over 1,000, Joe T. Garcia’s is always a party. The restaurant is open for both indoor and outdoor dining. Outside, waiters bring diners personal heaters on cool evenings.
Takeout: Joe T. Garcia’s offers curbside pickup. The tortilla soup is a tasty and comforting choice for at-home dining
Uchi (Arts District)
In 2015, James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole graced Dallas with his beloved Uchi, Austin’s favorite sushi spot since 2003. Inside the renovated two-story bank from the 1970s, tasteful lighting warms walnut and red cedar wood, creating a chic but homey ambiance (“uchi” is Japanese for “house”). Though diners can choose the classics they might find on any Japanese restaurant menu in the city (edamame, yellowtail sashimi), they can also enjoy wholly innovative recipes, including “walu walu” — oak-grilled escolar (a kind of snake mackerel) with candied citrus, ponzu, and Japanese ginger — and a one-ounce jar of caviar prepared with yuzu (an Japanese citrus fruit), cured egg yolk, chives, and sesame rice chips.
Dining at the restaurant: Book through OpenTable as the dining room is currently reservation-only with limited seating.
Takeout: Uchi offers both curbside pickup and delivery.
Pecan Lodge (Deep Ellum)
In Dallas, everyone has an opinion on where to get the best barbecue — and a lot of people’s opinion is Pecan Lodge. Texas Monthly listed it among the top four barbecue joints in the world. Named for co-owner Justin Fourton’s grandfather’s ranch in Abilene, Pecan Lodge started as a little husband-wife stand at the farmer’s market and is, as of 2014, one of Deep Ellum’s hottest restaurants. (Guy Fieri’s approval might have helped.) Justin and Diane Fourton make everything from scratch, down to grinding and stuffing their own sausage. Expect to stand in line in this sleek but casual order-at-the-counter spot, but also expect perfect brisket, a roll of paper towels on your table, cold beer on draft, an adorable back patio, and smoking techniques so precise, you could prove them with the scientific method.
Dining at the restaurant: Pecan Lodge offers both indoor and outdoor seating.
Takeout: Pecan Lodge offers drive-through pickup, as well as delivery through third-party apps.
Since 2007, Dallas celebrity chef Dean Fearing has dished up nothing short of opulence in the restaurant that Zagat named number-one in hotel dining in the U.S. and Esquire magazine awarded restaurant of the year —in short, Fearing’s is the crown jewel of Dallas fine dining. Fearing himself was already a television personality, cookbook author, and James Beard Award winner when he opened his eponymous restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton, but he never rested on his accolades or choice location, meaning regulars return to Fearing’s for the food. The Southwestern recipes are both simple and elevated, such as the prime beef filet with chicken-fried Maine lobster, served alongside loaded whipped potatoes and a spinach taco with smoked tomato gravy.
Dining at the restaurant: Fearing’s is open for both indoor and outdoor seating and has seven spaces to choose from, including the Rattlesnake Bar with its rich wood paneling and sophisticated cocktail menu.
Takeout: Fearing’s offers pickup for those who prefer to enjoy a Texas Akaushi ribeye and crispy duck fat tater tots at home.
Javier’s (Highland Park)
Javier Gutierrez’s fine dining destination opened in 1977 and pays homage to the cuisine of one of the most beloved foodie destinations in Latin America, Mexico City. In 2013, Travel + Leisure named Javier’s among the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., and many Dallasites agree: From the caldo xochitl (spicy chicken consomme with serrano peppers, onions, cilantro, and chicken) to the carne asada to the flan (Gutierrez’s mother’s recipe), at Javier’s, the flavors of Mexico’s capital mingle with the atmospheric space — dim lighting, folk art masks on the walls, and an old-timey bar centered on a grand mirror in an ornate wooden frame.
Dining at the restaurant: Reserve a table by calling the restaurant. Some diners like to finish off the evening in the adjacent cigar lounge, choosing from a wide selection of cigars and sipping (what else?) a nice tequila.
Takeout: Javier’s offers curbside pickup.
Off The Bone (South Dallas)
Pitmaster Dwight Harvey, with his wood-fired rotisserie smoker, makes some of the most delicious barbecue in the city — especially for someone who started his career as an accountant. In this unassuming order-at-the-counter venue, off the beaten path from most foodie destinations in Dallas, Harvey and his family give the people what they want: baby back ribs so tender they fall “off the bone,” chopped brisket, and sometimes a whole chicken. The deep-fried corn has garnered a fan base since the restaurant opened in 2008, with its cajun seasoning and wedge of lime.
Dining at the restaurant: Off The Bone is open for indoor and patio dining.
Takeout: Harvey started as a caterer, and bulk orders remain a big part of his business; Off The Bone is a great choice for a backyard party. The restaurant also offers curbside pickup and delivery.
Town Hearth (Design District)
Named for the spectacular fire pit in this extravagant 6,000-square-foot space, Town Hearth is the 2017 addition to Restaurant Group Flavorhook’s collection of successful Dallas restaurants. Chef Nick Badovinus is known and adored for the wild, crackling energy he brings to his work: One of his restaurants has a bunch of cars parked inside; his list of pandemic-era pop-ups (or “side hustles,” as they’re called on Flavorhook’s website) is impossible to keep up with; and Town Hearth’s dining room boasts 64 crystal chandeliers and a giant glass-encased yellow submarine. As the name and fire pit suggest, Town Hearth serves up steak and seafood cooked over open flame. Go for the perfect filet mignon and oysters. Stay for the random motorcycle on display in the center of a fancy steak house.
Dining at the restaurant: Diners can call the restaurant to reserve a table. It’s worth dining in for the hearth and the artistic plating.
Takeout: Through Town Hearth’s website, diners can order carry-out or delivery.
Mi Cocina (Multiple locations)
The ultimate family-friendly comfort-food haven, Mi Cocina has been dishing up Tex-Mex since 1991, starting with a humble 12-table space and nine employees in a Preston Forest strip mall. Now an empire with dozens of locations around Dallas, Fort Worth, and even Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mi Cocina, helmed by M Restaurant Group, offers diners all the familiar, cozy Tex-Mex joys — bottomless chips and salsa, potent margaritas to cool the spice on the tongue, and heaping plates of enchiladas, tacos, and sizzling fajitas, accompanied by piles of piping-hot rice and refried beans.
Dining at the restaurant: All locations are open for dining in, and there’s nothing more comforting than those big, cushiony booths.
Takeout: Mi Cocina offers pickup. Catering deliveries are available, but regular delivery is not.
Diana Spechler is a novelist and essayist whose work appears in The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, Harper’s, and elsewhere.