Amber Williams grew up in South Oak Cliff, one of Dallas’s notorious and long-running food deserts. She still lives there. And now she’s the p resident and head chef of Le Rouge Cuisine Food Co., a catering company specializing in creole fusion cooking. She recently released a cookbook called Surviving the Food Desert that aims to help home chefs create what she calls “sustainable solutions for marginalized neighborhoods.” Practically speaking, that means creating recipes that use ingredients from items commonly found in food donation boxes.
The concept for the cookbook was inspired by her experiences as a child, she tells Eater Dallas. “A lot of what people experienced during the pandemic, like going to food drive pantries and giving out food drive boxes, I grew up doing that. I thought about me now; I’m a chef with a lot of creativity and ingenuity I can pour into [using] resources — even when they’re lacking.” The plan is to get corporate backing for the cookbook to be given out for free in marginalized communities such as, and including, South Oak Cliff.
Williams spoke to Eater Dallas about her favorite budget-friendly and vegan restaurants in her neighborhood, with some great ideas about where to eat out to stretch a dollar and get plant-based, nutritious meals.
“This is one of my top places and you can always find me there. To sum it up, it is tacos, wine, and vinyls. Their whole playlist comes from vinyl and the staff will let you pick the music. And they have a special where you can get six tacos and a bottle of wine for $40. Go with a friend and get three hefty tacos and a whole bottle of wine to share. You can’t beat that for $20 each. It’s an industry-friendly restaurant — for those who don’t know what that means, some restaurants offer a discount if you’re part of the food and beverage community or work at a restaurant.”
“It serves Mexican seafood and is one of my favorite little spots. It has great fish soups and classic platters. It’s really fresh food and comforting classics blended with Mexican seafood. Me being Creole and Cajun, [I like that]. It has great service and margaritas.”
“It’s a classic with an old-school diner vibe and great staples. You can get a big breakfast here that has a lot of food on a budget. It’s in a small space, which I think is so cute, but it makes the supply and demand hefty. You’ve got to be careful, if you go at the wrong time you’ll have to wait. But you’re waiting for good stuff.”
“I just stumbled in here and it’s classic Italian in a cute little spot. This is where to go for pastas, pizza, and the bread. Don’t forget the bread. It has a great wine selection as well. This is no-fuss Italian food. The staff are really cool and it’s almost like being in Little Italy [in New York City].
“This is my top vegan spot in the neighborhood, on my god. It is vegan Tex-Mex. It’s so good, and I’ve in there so many times that they know me when I walk in the door. It’s a great place with edgy menu options. They have totchos, which are nachos made with tater tots. I love the chimichungas, taco salad, and birria tacos made with jackfruit or Beyond meat. The consomme is so good. Even the fried elote is good — the first time I got it, I thought it was going to be something different and it is a whole corn on the cob that is fried and it’s huge. And this place is Black-owned, as well.”
“This is the sister restaurant to Casa Del Vegano, with the same owner. I don’t want to call it vegan soul food, but it is vegan food for the soul. The food here is worth eating slow. Kick your heels up, keep your head back, and close your eyes — it’s that good. I just ate the wings, which are fried cauliflower and a sauce that literally tastes like gravy. It also has alcoholic beverages that can be ordered to go.”
“This is an Afghani restaurant that I went in to try when I wanted to experiment. It is amazing, you can get a quick trip around the world without leaving Oak Cliff. Their cocktails are made by a mixologist and it’s really good. The food is plated so nicely, and it’s a nice vibe. If it’s your first time trying this kind of food, don’t be afraid to ask the waiter for guidance. Places like this, the waitstaff might well be from that country. Don’t hesitate to ask what dish in American food something might resemble, to get a sense of it.”
“This place has great vegan burgers, a vegan spaghetti, and probably my favorite dish there is the Sankofa bowl. Imagine a fried rice with Impossible crumbles in it with a sweet and sour sauce on top. It’s so good, and so filling that every time I order it I have to eat it for two days. It’s so big. The fries are hand cooked. They have drinks as well, and its pick-up friendly. And this place is also Black-owned.”
“This is some clean vegan eating. At some of the other places, you’re ordering fried foods for when you want to indulge. Recipe Oak Cliff will give you fresh food with flavor. You can get wraps there, and bowls. The owner is great — this is also a Black-owned spot.”