It’s no secret that Dallas is a city of extremes and niches. It houses extreme wealth and extreme poverty, and self-selected kings of people in its various neighborhoods. We’ve got billionaires and millionaires tucked away in Highland Park and the northern suburbs, while South Dallas struggles with low incomes, low property values, and unwalkable neighborhoods. Flashy new restaurants and bars flock together in the same communities, while mom-and-pop, chef-owned restaurants frequently opt for smaller, more manageable spaces in up-and-coming areas.
A recent New York Times dining profile of the city compares the city unflatteringly to Dubai for elitists with fixations on pricey dining and the clout it embodies. It suggests diners of means are eating up the flashy, ridiculous, overpriced dishes some of these places offer. Anyone who’s been to the State Fair of Texas knows DFW love our flashy food and will eat a stunt dish at any price point — you won’t get a fried charcuterie board anywhere but here.
And yes, several pricey restaurants have indeed come to market in Dallas, from Carbone (one of 2022’s biggest openings) to RH Rooftop (2021’s star opening) to Crown Block (the monster premiere of 2023, so far). And sure, plenty of $30K millionaires are eating at those spots. Dallasites of a certain income bracket and those who have to save up to splurge love a luxury experience that gives them the chance to dress for dinner. We’re drowning in caviar, truffle, and gold leaf add-ons, from sushi to steakhouses. Those items stay on menus because diners keep buying them. But shining a spotlight only on these places, as if they exclusively define Dallas’s newest entrants and dominate the media’s food and society buzz, paints a warped picture.
The most glaring omission when talking about fine dining in Dallas is of Duro Hospitality’s restaurants, including Sister, which the Times put on its list of the country’s best restaurants in 2022. Sister hits a neighborhood restaurant vibe, while its other properties, El Carlos Elegante and the Charles, veer towards no-prices-on-the-online-menu-dining. The Times also offers no love to Nick Badovinus, whose Flavorhook group runs Town Hearth, Brass Ram, National Anthem, multiple locations of Neighborhood Services, and Montlake Cut. These are some of Dallas’s finest steakhouses, seafood restaurants, and upscale neighborhood restaurants. It is also remiss to overlook Harwood Hospitality, which created a locally-sourced line of Angus beef that diners can only eat in its restaurants. It has s a hotel on the way, with a steakhouse to showcase its beef.
Tatsu, among the city’s most expensive omakase services, was on the Beard long list of nominees for the year. Despite being one of the most notable fine dining spotsin Dallas, it too is absent from the Times story. The restaurant that seats 10 is in Deep Ellum’s Continental Gin building, a refurbished historic cotton factory. It sells out every night at $185 plus a service fee, before adding any alcohol pairings.
At the other end of Deep Ellum lies the Epic, a massive, mixed-use building that opened in 2019 and acts as the lynchpin for attracting several of these so-called fine dining chains: La Neta y Cocina and the Saint from Las Vegas, Komodo from Miami, and Dallas-born Harper’s steakhouse. The Deep Ellum Foundation has been working to get these restaurants in, and even stretching the boundaries of Deep Ellum to include them. But this approach is an uneasy fit, as the proprietors of both La Neta and Komodo preferred not to be identified as being in Deep Ellum in their press releases. The party vibe for apartment dwellers in the higher income bracket appeals to out-of-town investors, but the occurrence of shootings, sometimes at local businesses’ expense, and other crime does not. While the neighborhood is a popular late-night destination, it has caused the Dallas Police to create a task force dedicated to eradicating crime there.
And while Misti Norris’s Petra and the Beast and Tiffany Derry’s Roots Southern Table merit a mention for their national recognition for various awards and appearances, there needs to be a mention of the James Beard Award-nominated local eateries for 2023. Those include a Best New Restaurant nod for Restaurant Beatrice, which offers white tablecloth dining and Cajun food, and the Best Restaurant inclusion for Lucia, which has been open and selling arguably the most in-demand Italian food in the city for 13 years. While neither spot is serving stunt food with matching prices, those are the restaurants bringing the national spotlight to the city right now, and shaping what our food scene looks like and the perception of Dallas outside of Dallas. And in the case of Beatrice, creating sustainability programs could influence how restaurants nationwide work, as well as supporting urban farming in South Dallas.
There are countless other brilliant locally-owned restaurants we could mention and that the Times could choose to overlook when making a case where the heart of dining is in Dallas. The fact of the matter is that the city is attracting a lot of restaurants helmed by folks from Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. And those entities (or, more likely, their deep-pocketed financiers) see money on the table in Dallas. It’s hardly novel — even the city’s most notable chefs, including Dean Fearing, John Tesar, and Bruno Davaillon, have partnered with corporate hotels or hospitality groups with established financing to back their restaurants.
It’s easy to look at the splashy debuts of national restaurants appearing and establishing themselves in Dallas (and pointedly hiring talent out of the local food scene) and think that’s all that’s going on. That’s fine, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about dining in Dallas.