Dallas is proud of some of its stereotypes. The “Big D” is, after all, where you’d head to find big hats and big cowboys wearing them, most of them sporting big appetites to boot. Then there’s football, another Big D, the silver-starred Cowboys. Even the classic TV show Dallas is something locals are proud to call their own, and not just for the big hats and big hair that made it the ultimate, iconic melodrama of the 1980s.
On the other hand, there are quite a few Dallas clichés ready to get bucked. Top among them is that this city is too conservative to have much LGBT culture. On a recent visit to Oak Lawn, one of the state’s, and perhaps all of the South’s, busiest gay neighborhoods, it was plain to see that queer folks are also pretty big in Dallas.
Of course, where there’s a vibrant gay community there tends to be a strong dining scene. In Dallas, that’s true both in the gayborhood and around town. From staples like Tex-Mex and barbecue, to spicy send-ups and restaurants with soul, it’s time to refresh our notions about what Dallas has cooking.
Vegetarians beware: This may not be the restaurant for you. The first tipoff are staff T- shirts that read, simply, “Wood fire meat beer.” The second is a menu that lists chick- en and turkey under “TX Vegetarian.”
But for those who appreciate barbecued brisket, ribs, and other carnivorous delights, Lockhart Smokehouse delivers. This family operation is a relative newcomer having opened in the cute, walkable Bishop Arts District in 2011. Today it upholds the standard for central-Texas-style smoked meats and is considered by many to be one of the best places for barbecue nationwide.
Behind Lockhart’s ordering and takeout counter, see the magic for yourself: a giant smoker that runs 24-7. In fact, this smoker hasn’t stopped since the joint opened. Lockhart is so good they’re always cooking at maximum capacity.
The result is dry-rubbed beef, pork, chicken, and turkey so tender you need only the tip of a butter knife to break it apart. You can also try locally made sausage, or dive into sides like blue cheese slaw, smoked baked beans, and daily-changing mac and cheese, which may be flavored with jalapeños, bacon, or other zingy ingredients.
In the dining area, sit back and sip a beer or soda and soak up the bona-fide Texas flavor, be it the old neon and street signs, or the real- deal Texans who come here every day, but really pile in on Wednesdays for beef-rib specials, and Thursdays to order “legendary burnt ends”—the brisket tips that get smoked twice and give new meaning to the word “succulent.” 400 W. Davis. Tel: 214-944-5521. www.lockhartsmokehouse.com
You might never know that tucked away on McKinney Avenue, beside a highway over- pass near the arts district, a romantic eatery is serving delectable new-wave Mexican fare. Yet here is Meso Maya, a restaurant channeling its heritage—after all, it occupies the former Luna Tortilla Factory, a building listed on the Preservation Dallas local-land- mark roster.
Meso Maya is part of a three-restaurant complex, sharing the block (and ownership) with the city’s “original Tex-Mex” restaurant El Fenix (circa 1919), and the more trendy Mexican street-food spot Taqueria la Ventana. You could say that both Meso Maya’s location and its menu fittingly fall between vintage and real-deal Mexican that the staff defines as “Mex-Mex.”
You may first notice an impressive wine list and a range of tequila and mezcal cocktails, including eight different margaritas and a killer sangria roja. But perusing the dinner or lunch menus will leave you with the best problem a foodie can have: too many choices.
The mole sauce is the stand-out here, and entrées like the mole poblano make the most of a chocolately smooth coating over adobo chicken breast with caramelized onions and roasted poblano peppers, with blue-corn tortillas on the side. It’s impossible to go wrong with the various pork dishes, in particular the cochinita pibil, Yucatán-style braised pork with tangy orange and achiote sauce. Luckily, pescetarians will find the wood-grilled salmon de coco with a side of coconut rice, or the achiote-rubbed white bass with charred- pineapple relish and squash blossoms a lighter way to sample Meso Maya’s best.
If traditional is more your style, then tacos de la casa or enchiladas will suit your hankering. Yet Meso Maya still finds ways to make even the favorites a little more tantalizing, be it with enchiladas stuffed with crab, shrimp and avocado, or slow-cooked brisket tacos topped with avocado-tomatillo sauce and pickled red onions. No matter what brought you here, you’ll leave with plans to return. 1611 McKinney Ave. Tel: 214-484-6555. www.mesomaya.com
One of the new favorite restaurants of most Dallas food lovers fittingly comes from a fifth-generation Texan. Stephan Pyles is a chef, author, philanthropist, and gay entrepreneur who instantly redefined “true Texas” cuisine when he opened Stampede 66 in 2012. Seasoned chef that he is, Pyles applied his know-how from a slew of past culinary ventures. And he continues to win over critics for his food, wine menu, cocktail programs, and even art and décor at this downtown outpost.
Designed to conjure a ranch house, the spacious restaurant makes the most of steel and iron details, right down to the screened- in wood-burning fire pit and cowhide upholstery. The art alone is enough to make you belly up to the bar for a while to check out steel artist Santiago Pena’s charging horses relief sculptures or Gary Butler’s giant metal- mesh rattlesnake. Turn to Sisa Jasper’s “Boss Hog” pig sculpture, made entirely of pork rinds, to remind you of the restaurant’s inner whimsy.
Come hungry, because the whole menu is fit to order and the portions are, of course, Texas- big. Classic comfort food awaits those with a taste for crispy, slightly sweet honey-fried chicken or a double tomahawk pork chop with compressed apples and brandy butter. Tamales stand out as a Mexican and American mashup, with fillings of wild mushroom, or sweet potato and wild-boar barbacoa.
Pyles tempts those ready to discover new flavors with dishes like a gently grilled quail with bacon marmalade, chicken-fried buffalo steak paired with loaded mashed potatoes, and a changing “Gulf catch” seafood dish. Desserts are equally gorgeous, top among them the warm brownie with Snickers ice cream in a Dr. Pepper float. Lucky for us, in the ‘Big D’ no one thinks twice about overeating. 1717 McKinney Ave. Tel: 214-550-6966. www.stampede66.com
Stepping a bit outside familiar Texas cuisine is Café Momentum. At this downtown restaurant, the kitchen team likes to explore and experiment with less-common, but still local and seasonal, ingredients. Its menu is T packed with personality, like shrimp-and-grit beignets with tasso aioli and creamy red curry lentils with artichokes, pickled grapes, and bonton squash.
Café Momentum stands out in a different way, too. It’s a non-profit culinary-training restaurant designed to support at-risk youth. As paid interns, the staff mainly comprises young women and men who have spent time in juvenile facilities, and have found a place for mentorship here as they gain new job and life skills that translate to real-world opportunities. You’ll find these devoted young people serving, bussing, and working alongside established chefs and managers.
Few restaurants offer such a positive atmosphere. The “thankful wall” is lined with hand-decorated plates offering gratitude from each one’s maker, including local city officials. That must be part of why Café Momentum draws such a steady stream of enthusiastic diners. Well, that plus the amazing food. How many places do you know that serve a full-roasted cauliflower head, dusted with manchego powder along with sides of mustard yogurt and cucumber ketchup? Our table of four loved every bite!
And don’t forget dessert, since the pastry team works just as hard to tease you with treats like sweet-potato cake with cinnamon crème fraiche ice cream and walnut streusel, or fried pie with carmelized pear and smoked pecan-praline ice cream. It’s possible this team has been trained a little too well. 1510 Pacific Ave. Tel: 214-303-1234. www.cafemomentum.org
In Dallas you’ll never run out of ways to fill up or drink up, so it’s really about finding the best ways to do both. That means when the weekend rolls around and you’re recovering from too much boot scootin’ at Oak Lawn’s flirty Round-Up Saloon or JR’s Bar & Grill, there are only two words to make your morning right again: “sparkling bar.”
At Henry’s Majestic in Highland Park, don’t miss the sparkling wine deal that comes with a fresh buffet of seasonal fruits, house-made cordials, and fresh juices with which to fashion your very own mimosa/bellini/champagne cocktail. If you’re not feeling effervescent, there’s always the zesty “garden bloody Mary,” or the “Sunday fix” shot, made with a freshly shucked oyster, mezcal spritz, ponzu, basil, and Sriracha.
Alas, drinks are just the tip of the brunch, lunch and dinner iceberg here. Dining at Majestic is a hearty affair, with Asian and seafood slants to add intrigue. Hell’s Kitchen veteran chef Roe DiLeo has crafted dishes that began drawing regulars since the doors opened in fall 2014, like the oysters majestic, made of oysters on the half-shell baked with kimchi butter, crispy pancetta and scallions. There’s also the rather amazing Texas pho, comprised of rice noodles in a broth with Akaushi flank steak, brisket, and a soft-boiled egg. DiLeo does lighter dishes well too, like the seared mahi mahi with coconut curry, grilled bok choy, and a quinoa croquette.
If the food isn’t enough to lure you to this new Uptown staple, perhaps the rustic-chic stylings and large, enclosed patio will. With its alternately raw carved wood, white tiles, sexy lighting, and sweet servers, there’s something about Henry’s that’s more than “majestic.” It feels like the restaurant that could altogether change the way you think about Texas. 4900 McKinney Ave. Tel: 469-893-9400. www.henrysmajestic.com.