Year In Review: When We Look Back On What We Ate In And Around Dallas In 2018, These Are The 11 Meals That Really Stand Out.
When I consider what makes a meal memorable, I tend to think about a well-balanced combination of excellent service, smile-inducing atmosphere and food that makes you want to dance in your seat — at least just a little bit.
(Good company doesn’t hurt, either.)
Now, I fully admit: What does that sort of thing for me, might not do it for someone else.
But, hey, I’m the one who has been tasked with coming up with a list of bests for a year-end post. So, here goes.
Now, before you argue too much with my picks, please keep in mind that these spots represent some of the more remarkable dinners I’ve had in the past 12 months. Granted, I’ve had also some great lunches this year (they are not listed below), and there are certainly some places I haven’t visited this year at all, so they are also excluded from this round-up as well.
Just know that, if you haven’t visited these — either ever, or in a while — you owe it to yourself to make every effort to get yourself a seat at these tables in 2019. They’re the ones that treated me best in 2018.
One night in early June, I found myself without dinner plans — and no kids around, either. I eagerly took the opportunity to pop into a local restaurant — the Vietnamese spot Mot Hai Ba, in this instance — and had one of the best meals I would eat all year. It all centered around a whole fried fish that was so perfectly poised between sour and salty from fish sauce and vinegar that it lingered in the best way possible. Oh, and there was also a savory onion tart that came with the mean, and it still haunts my dreams. This was, of course, well before the likes of Kanye West or Aziz Ansari darkened the tiny doorway here. In the wake of their public stamps of approval of Mot Hai Ba, I’m mostly concerned that snagging a seat here won’t be as simple a task as it used to be. My point? Definitely call before heading this way.
Though it was immediately dubbed a forerunner in the Next Big Dallas Food Trend as soon as it opened, handroll spot Nori merits attention beyond the typical hopping-on-bandwagon noise. Though it opened just a bit after Namo in the West Village, which boasts a similar menu, business strategy and the same extremely high standards, Nori has a completely different vibes, even if they both employed sushi chef Jimmy Park, too. But there’s just something special about Nori that sets it apart. Its sexy hallways, perfect playlists and servers who delight in delighting their guests with expertly crafted handrolls and small bites is not to be missed.
Seems like, with each passing day, we’re becoming increasingly jealous of the dining options entering the suburban fray thanks to mega-complexes like Legacy West in Plano or The Star in Frisco. Chef Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, which exists as part of the latter, is the epitome of this. A lauded, humanitarian chef bringing high-end Mediterranean to the ‘burbs? Hey, what’d those folks do to get so lucky, huh? Not sure, but lucky they indeed are: From perfect little falafel balls to sesame-crusted scallops to even more modern branzino crudo, every bite here is a treat. And that’s before you even get to their traditional tea or Turkish coffee, followed by dessert — naturally. Talk about rocking the suburbs.
The Japanese house of meat Niwa may have some of the best-tasting beef in town, but the vegetable, raw fish and tofu offerings shines brightly here, too. As does Niwa’s creative and yet perfectly balanced cocktails, which feature Japanese whiskey and unique ingredients like walnut bitters and Peruvian purple corn. Don’t over-focus on the fact that you do cook your own meat over a golden rimmed grill here; this place ain’t no Melting Pot at all. It’s a real treat — especially on the 29th of every month, when Niwa celebrates Niku No Hi (aka Meat Day) by offering up massive $29 platters full of delicious meats. You’re welcome.
Uchi and its upstairs sister restaurant Uchiba have accounted for quite a few memorable meals of mine this year. But just before Thanksgiving, a turkey katsu with umami gravy graced me with its presence, and I now have a whole new reason to be thankful. Uchi gives guests a truly unique dining experience, offering modern Japanese food inside a dreamy atmosphere. Its creator, Tyson Cole, has nurtured creativity from quite a few skilled and lauded chefs in this city, and even though some have moved on to other challenges, consistency in product and service is always on the table at Uchi.
It might be the lowest-end restaurant on this list, but Zoli’s is never low on taste or style. I mean, c’mon: It takes real chutzpah for a pizza parlor to serve a burger as good as this spot’s ODB (Obligatory Dallas Burger), and my first bite into that bad boy still sticks in my mind months after the fact. Zoli’s — or Pizza Church, as I like to call it — still boasts a bit of a phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes vibe these days after it shut down its original Bishop Arts-adjacent location to instead open Zoli’s 2.0, in all its carb-and-cheese-filled glory, in Addison in late 2017. The atmosphere at this new home is confident and unapologetic, which is probably my favorite part. The food at Zoli’s is just damn good — and everyone who walks in the door knows it.
An unassuming strip off Cole Street in Uptown houses Casa Komali and another story of rebirth. Replacing the old Komali is a spot that, while it retains the name, now boasts extra color, a more playful spirit and a lower price point. Oh, and brunch! Inside Komali, you’ll taste Texas quail stuffed with huitlacoche, a bright and beautiful ahi tuna ceviche, a poblano pepper stuffed with rich fall flavors and some killer duck enchiladas. You can even down a tequila old fashioned or two while you’re at it. My bet is that, by the time you leave, you’ll be plotting a trip to Mexico City.
Victory Park is really doing it this time! And at the center of it all is Billy Can Can, a spot that’s part cocktail den, part gastropub and part happy hour hot spot. Sit down at the bar and enjoy a carefully curated wine list or taste your way through an extremely well-crafted mix of cocktails featuring Texas spirits. Whichever you choose, they’ll go best with a selection of appetizers — and, lucky you, the apps here are excellent. I recommend a sampler of deviled eggs, smoked fish dip and paté. Don’t forget to look up every once in a while, though. Billy Can Can is quite a place to for seeing and being seen.
A casual newcomer to Bishop Arts, Macellaio is the sister restaurant to Lucia, also owned by David and Jennifer Uygur. But, while related, the two restaurants are quite different. Macellaio specifically points its laser focus onto charcuterie, with much of its menu being composed of house-cured meats rather than the house-made pastas of its nearby, elder sibling. Cocktails, desserts and non-salumi items make a strong case, too, but if you’re a charcuterie lover, you’ll love every bite at Macellaio.
On the first floor of the towering, re-opened Statler Hotel in Downtown Dallas is its crown jewel, Fine China. Home to chef Angela Hernandez and her affection for Asian cuisines, everything here — from drinks to dishes to dessert — has been twisted just perfectly to fit the modern Chinese restaurant’s chic aesthetic. Try the Pitch Black cocktail, the crab omelet, the soy chicken and the smoked mushrooms. If you can, get the (somewhat limited) Peking duck. There’s not much like it outside San Francisco or New York.
Our next spot takes us off to Italy, even if it doesn’t immediately jump out at you. Inside a somewhat unsuspecting office building in Oak Lawn, a gorgeous oasis of light and Italian tile and good bread appears, if you’re lucky enough to see it. Whether you’re here for happy hour, a reasonably priced business lunch or perhaps a first date, you’re unlikely to leave disappointed. I sure haven’t. The delicious pasta — made in-house — is only surpassed by a delicate tuna tartare enrobed in avocado. Appetizers, like truffled chicken liver mousse and lamb meatballs (served en croute), are particularly delicious.