In 2023, nothing seemed to happen quite like it was expected to for Dallas restaurateurs. Construction delays, supply chain issues, and rising rents forced delays, closures, and moves for beloved local restaurants. And the dining scene took a hit after a high-profile trend piece painted the city as a landing spot for out-of-market high-end chains.
But the truth is, local folks opened some of the best restaurants of the year, whether they were introducing new ideas, upgrading and reopening beloved spots, or simply shining on year after year. Here are the cream of the crop for 2023.
El Carlos Elegante: Restaurant of the Year
There’s a transformation afoot at this Design District restaurant. Its chef Ivan Aguilar and kitchen staff are on a mission to change the city’s perception of what Mexican cuisine — not Tex-Mex — can be and what value Dallas diners place on it. Aguilar and the team at Duro Hospitality are aware that in Texas, customers often view Mexican food as cheap and fast. But at El Carlos Elegante, the cuisine is served in a highly-designed, fine dining atmosphere. Here the fish is sourced and treated with the same care as that of the finest sushi restaurant and the sauces, moles, and nixtamalized corn require so many sauciers and bakers that the restaurant literally broke Duro’s financial model for a kitchen. On top of all of that, the service is head and shoulders above the competition, executed by wait staff with in-depth knowledge of the menu and thoughtful wine and cocktail recommendations. There’s clearly a culture of being proud to work here, and it shows.
Via Triozzi: Best New Restaurant
After a three-year-long glut of new Italian restaurants in Dallas, this one cuts through the competition with the sharp sword of deliciousness wielded by owner and chef Leigh Hutchinson. Drawing inspiration from her many trips to Tuscany and her family heritage in Sicily, Hutchinson’s menu is created with knowledge and thoughtful sourcing of wonderful Italian ingredients. And having a pasta room right on the street, so passers-by can see the daily noodles being made, is delightful. And hats off to Hutchinson for developing a natural wine menu to compliment those great dishes.
Petra and the Beast: Best Vibes
“New” Petra, as the staff call it, is a big swing for owner and chef Misti Norris. Taking over this former barbecue space gave her two smokers, a proper industrial kitchen, and all the refrigeration space she could want. That was all a massive upgrade from what the Petra crew had to work with before. It gives Norris room to expand her fermentation, smoking, and other food experiments, as well as space for a proper bar with cocktails and intriguing wine and beer selections. But the intelligent design of the dining room, with a chef’s counter, distinct booths that make every table feel intimate, and the teal blue private dining room that’s fully on display are as much of a swing as the kitchen. It feels cool just to be here, whichever seat you’re in.
Knox Bistro: Best Brunch
Bruno Davaillon is a giant in the Dallas food scene and brunch is probably the city’s most beloved meal, so awarding his restaurant with the title of Best Brunch is no small honor. After a name change in 2022 that came with a menu refresh that dialed up the French bistro influences, Knox’s excellence as a brunch destination was fully realized. With lovely baked goods like the pecan maple sticky bun and almond croissant, all made in-house, and rustic dishes including quiche, baked eggs served in a skillet, a gravlax and trout board, and oysters, diners can be transported to Paris or to the French seaside.
Tina’s Continental: Best Bar
This is the kind of bar you have to go into to really understand. It all sounds a little discordant. The decor is based off the interior of a Lincoln Continental Mark V from the ’70s — how you make a bar look like that is something that must be experienced in person. The menu is martinis, including some classics it refers to as “designer,” like the cosmo, espresso martini, and the appletini (the latter of which has to be primed for a comeback). There’s also a freezer martini section, with cocktails that are rigorously prepared and chilled to the perfect temperature. The martini menu encourages building your own, and offers a handy vocabulary guide that will demystify every martini term. In addition, the staff are so helpful and willing to talk folks through an order and zero in on what they want. It is, quite simply, a stellar experience.