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A blow of prawn stew with text overlayed that reads Eater Awards 2021.
Blue prawn moqueca stew from Meridian
Meridian

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Here Are 2021’s Eater Awards Winners for Dallas

The best restaurant, best chef, best bar, best pop-up, and best food truck, of the year 

It’s been two long, strange years for the restaurant industry, and after a 2020 hiatus, Eater Dallas is excited to announce the best new restaurants in the city. These are restaurants and bars that have opened despite unprecedented challenges, bringing a tropical escape to Greenville Avenue; a vegan take on a favorite fast-food snack; comforting, modern Southern food; stunning Brazilian cuisine; and delicious onigiri to Dallas diners.

Please join us in celebrating this year’s group of winners, who will also be receiving a traditional Eater tomato can trophy.


Restaurant of the Year

Meridian

5650 Village Glen Dr

A plate of blue fin tuna garnished with vegetables.
Blue fin tuna from Meridian
Meridian

For the most part, Dallas diners’ exposure to Brazilian food is limited to all-you-can-eat chain churrascarias. But chef Junior Borges, who was raised in a small town north of Rio de Janeiro, and who has worked in several big-name kitchens in New York City and North Texas, seeks to upend that notion with his restaurant Meridian at the Village.

Nestled amongst a grove of live oak trees, the modern Brazilian eatery offers diners a fresh and vibrant take on the country's cuisine. Seafood is one of the main stars, with fluke crudo, cod croquettes, and blue prawn moqueca stew among the highlights. Even before that, the restaurant’s daily bread service gives a hint of the care and variety that Borges has put into his menu, with sides like whipped butter, ‘nduja, and saba.

But perhaps the most stunning dish is the whole charred octopus, brushed with a chili vinaigrette sauce and cooked on Meridian’s wood-fired hearth. Pair it with a fresh, limey caipirinha, and be transported to the beaches of Borges’s youth.


Chef of the Year

Tiffany Derry of Roots Southern Table

13050 Bee St Suit 160, Farmers Branch

A Black woman wearing a black shirt and black face mask holds a potato while standing in a kitchen. Ingredients like olive oil are scattered on the counter, and a pair of cameras sits in the background.
Tiffany Derry or Roots Southern Table
Courtesy Tiffany Derry

Tiffany Derry first came to diners’ attention with a 2009 stint on Bravo’s Top Chef. Her full-service restaurant Private Social, which closed in 2013, was lauded by critics and diners alike and was the birthplace of Derry’s signature dish — duck fat fried chicken. After opening a few locations of fast-casual joint Roots Chicken Shak, Derry is back to full service with Roots Southern Table, which opened in June.

At Roots, Derry is exploring the full range of what “Southern food” can be, with dishes like crab-topped gumbo inspired by her mother’s recipe, anchovy and mozzarella-stuffed squash blossoms, and jerk-spiced lamb chops.

“Southern food doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves, and people have a misconception of what they think ‘Southern food’ really is,” she told Eater back in July. “It’s all about who stirs the pot. When you’re in New Orleans, and you see this large Vietnamese community, those people are still Southern, and they’re cooking Southern food. Everyone who settled in that area created dishes based on what was in that area, and a unique cuisine developed. I’m more focused on telling those stories, and what we can do with native Southern ingredients.”


Best New Bar

Swizzle

1802 Greenville Avenue

A large wooden keg barrel with the word “swizzle” on it.
Swizzle
Lindz Photography

Dallas lost one of its last vestiges of mid-century Tiki culture in 2010, with the brief reopening, and then closure, of the original 40-year-old Trader Vic’s on Mockingbird Lane. But Swizzle, which opened in late 2020 after five years in the works (and several Covid-19 setbacks) has brought rum-soaked, umbrella-garnished drinks back to the city’s center. With an extensive list of sugarcane-based spirits, drinks like the Zombie, Mai Tai, and Dole Whip, and Polynesian-inspired dishes, including chicken katsu and macaroni salad, SPAM snack platters, and crispy, deep-fried lumpia, Swizzle makes the perfect spot to seek out a little escape.


Best Pop-Up

Inusan Onigiri

Triangle-shaped onigiri (rice balls) wrapped in nori. The rice is studded with spices, and one rice ball has a shrimp tail sticking out.
Inusan Onigiri
Inusan Onigiri

Like many folks during the pandemic, graphic designer Nathan Bounphisai was bored and was looking for a creative outlet. A self-described onigiri obsessive, he decided to try his hand at making the stuffed rice ball dish, taking inspiration from other onigiri restaurants in New York and Los Angeles and popular Dallas pop-ups like Sandoitchi. Bounphisai, who had no previous restaurant experience, quickly learned that the dish’s apparent simplicity was misleading. “We tried so many brands of rice, and I’ll never forget when my friends finally tried a good onigiri, one that didn’t fall apart,” he told Eater back in September.

After enlisting the help of a chef friend, Bounphisai launched Inusan Onigiri, selling the snack stuffed with everything from brisket to egg salad to pickled plums. The pop-up, which takes place at spots like Feng Cha boba shop in Addison, regularly sells out. Bounphisai wakes up early on the morning of each event to make as many as 300 onigiri to ensure maximum freshness.

As for whether he’ll eventually launch a permanent restaurant, Bounphisai hasn’t ruled it out yet, but he enjoys the experimenting that the pop-ups allow.

“We can just keep testing and testing and see what works,” he says. “When I’m fully satisfied with the full menu, we might see about how we could take it to the next level.”


Best Food Truck

Vegan Vibrationz

A vegan Crunchwrap, stuffed with plant-based meat, vegan cheese, lettuce, and pico de gallo, is sliced in half and held vertically by a gloved hand
The no-meat Crunchwrap at Vegan Vibrationz
Vegan Vibrationz [Official Photo]

Vegan Vibrationz debuted as a food stand at the Dallas Farmers Market in 2018, selling vegan takes on shrimp po’boys and white chocolate peanut butter cups. After upgrading to a brand new food truck earlier this year, the restaurant started to go viral for its meatless take on Taco Bell’s iconic Crunchwrap, made with Beyond Meat, dairy-free chipotle sour cream, vegan cheddar, and mango pico de gallo. It’s not uncommon for founder Jovan Cole to sell more than 100 of the dish each day, with wait times upwards of half an hour for the snack. To meet demand, Cole is expanding his truck’s kitchen again, and hosting pop-ups throughout the city, including unlikely spots like an Irving apartment complex.

Cole’s goal is to make vegan food options more accessible in Dallas, and having a mobile eatery helps with that. “We wanted to do a brick-and-mortar place, but now that we have this food truck, I could see myself running three or four trucks around the city.”

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