Few Dallas chefs have quite the shelf life of the inimitable Stephan Pyles. Former New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne once lauded him as "an absolute genius in the kitchen," and he's cooked for everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Jimmy Carter. His restaurant career began humbly, with bussing tables at his parents' truck-stop restaurant in Big Spring, Texas, and today he's inarguably one of the top players in the Dallas restaurant scene, even grabbing the 2014 Chef of the Year nod from the Dallas Morning News. The youngsters among us or folks new to Dallas might not know about Pyles' storied restaurant past, but preceding his current empire — which includes his eponymous Arts District spot, the oh-so-Texan Stampede 66, and the pan-Latin San Salvaje — are several other bygone restaurants that many Dallasites will remember fondly:
Routh Street Cafe
The place that started it all. Pyles opened his first Dallas restaurant in 1983 featuring groundbreaking "New American" cuisine that eventually morphed into the Southwestern style he's now famous for. Before closing in 1993, it snagged Pyles a James Beard award and was featured in the New York Times, Food and Wine, and countless other publications.
A more laid-back spinoff of Routh Street Cafe with super-modern all-white decor, Pyles opened Baby Routh with partner John Dayton in 1986. Fun facts: Atlanta chef Kevin Rathbun (brother to Kent) was once the chef at Baby Routh, and a young Bobby Flay once worked there under him. It was located at 2708 Routh Street, which is now Social House.
If Routh Street Cafe was Pyles' first restaurant, Star Canyon was the one that elevated him to stardom. Located on the stretch of Routh that's now home The Place at Perry's and Austin imitator 6th Street Bar, it opened in 1994 and was later dubbed the "quintessential Dallas restaurant" by Food & Wine. Some famous Star Canyon dishes like the bone-in cowboy ribeye and Southwestern Caesar salad still live on at Pyles' eponymous downtown restaurant. In 1998 it was sold to a major restaurant group that opened spinoffs in Austin and Las Vegas, and it eventually grinded to a halt in 2003.
Pyles opened the swanky global seafood restaurant AquaKnox on Knox Street in 1997 (the very same building that once housed Highland Park Cafeteria and where Pottery Barn is today). The bar area was referred to as FishBowl and featured Asian fusion and fruity drinks. AquaKnox eventually met the same fate as Star Canyon; there's still an AquaKnox in Las Vegas, though it seems to bear little resemblance to the Pyles creation of yore.
Okay, here's one most of us will actually remember: Located in the space that's now San Salvaje, Samar had a flavorful four-year run with a very unique mixture of Indian, Mediterranean, and Spanish cuisines. It scored a coveted four-star review from the Dallas Morning News but it was apparently a little too adventurous for Dallas: Pyles later told the paper that "it was not a restaurant that made a lot of money."