Heading to Dallas soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for a hunk of chicken fried ribeye or a glorious slice of bourbon pecan pie, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town.
2702 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226
These reviews of Pecan Lodge, Lockhart Smokehouse and Emporium Pies originally appeared Jan. 12, 2015.
My gustatory goal for the weekend was to visit the two best barbecue joints in Dallas. I had been to Pecan Lodge, home of near-perfect brisket and beef ribs, in its old Dallas Farmer’s Market location, but I hadn’t been since it moved to the Deep Ellum neighborhood.
Saturday, I hit Pecan Lodge. Fortunately, I had heeded the advice of barbecue Sherpa Daniel Vaughn. Vaughn, a former architect who now serves as the barbecue editor – yes, it’s a real job – at Texas Monthly, has eaten at almost every barbecue joint in the state, and he knows most of their secrets. The secret at Pecan Lodge is that if you don’t want to wait an hour or two in line, order in bulk at the express counter. This actually isn’t a secret. There are signs directing diners to do just that, but most don’t think they need a minimum of five pounds of barbecue. This is silly. Of course you need five pounds of barbecue. Just take the rest home and eat all week.
So while the suckers waited in line for much of the early afternoon, a friend and I waited five minutes before we ordered The Trough, a platter loaded down with brisket, sausage, pulled pork, pork spare ribs and a beef rib. I got a slight case of the Deep Ellum Blues when the man behind the register told me they had run out of beef ribs, because on my prior visit, the beef rib was the best thing on the menu. I rallied quickly and asked him to replace the beef rib with an order of that day’s special: Fried ribs. We also added an order of jalapeno mac and cheese and an order of greens because unlike 90 percent of the barbecue joints in Texas, Pecan Lodge’s owners understand it is possible to cook a side dish other than a pot of bland beans.
The disappointment over the beef rib melted away when I bit into the fried rib, which was a spare rib deep fried and drizzled with a Buffalo barbecue sauce and sprinkled with bleu cheese. Fried ribs aren’t as easy as they sound. If they aren’t meaty enough, they can turn tough as leather. These fried ribs were perfect, bursting with juice underneath a golden crust. The more traditional spare ribs were cooked exquisitely. The brisket was excellent as usual. It isn’t quite as ethereal as the brisket at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, but when combined with the rest of the package, Pecan Lodge makes a strong case for the best overall barbecue restaurant in Texas. And because pitmaster Justin Fourton spent time among the pig-eaters while attending The Citadel, Pecan Lodge is one of the few places in Texas that serves good pulled pork. That might not mean as much to the native Texans who only want their brisket and their sausage links, but those of us from Swine Country appreciate a little taste of home.
I got an extra treat on Sunday when I visited Lockhart Smokehouse. I arrived to find Vaughn, who lives in Dallas, at the counter submitting an expert order for our group. I’m glad he did, because I would have screwed it up. When I go to a barbecue restaurant in Texas, I follow Vaughn’s standard advice and order the Trinity: brisket, sausage and spare ribs. This almost always works, but it wouldn’t have at Lockhart because the brisket is just average. What’s amazing about Lockhart is that even though it doesn’t shine preparing the single most important item in the Texas barbecue universe, it makes up for that by being great at everything else.
When Daniel peered over the counter Sunday, he caught sight of the special. A lot of places try to smoke prime rib, and a lot of places smoke it terribly. They leave the meat on until it reaches medium well, and only savages eat prime rib medium well. Daniel saw red. Lockhart’s prime rib was a perfect rare to medium rare. So Daniel ordered more than three pounds of it. Forty-five minutes later, none remained. The prime rib was smoky, cut thick and dripping with juice. It needed no accompaniment, but a quick dunk in the garlic jus offered a different but equally delicious flavor.
We also got the jalapeno sausage, which offered a perfect snap followed by a swift kick from the peppers. The sausage at Lockhart Smokehouse actually comes from Lockhart, Texas. It’s from Kreuz Market, which also inspired Lockhart Smokehouse’s “No forks, no sauce” philosophy. Lockhart even manages to smoke turkey that remains tender and juicy. Anyone who has pulled a dry bird out of the smoker knows turkey is a maximum degree-of-difficulty meat.
At Emporium Pies, I was faced with a Sophie’s Choice of desserts. Did I get a slice of Smooth Operator, a French Silk pie with a pretzel crust? Or a slice of the Buttermilk Blitzen, a chai-spiced buttermilk pie? Or a slice of the Drunken Nut, a bourbon pecan pie? I opted for the Drunken Nut (a la mode, of course).
It seemed to have less pecans and more filling than most pecan pies. This is a good thing, because an overabundance of pecans can give a pie a bitter edge. Trading filling for nuts would have made the pie too sweet if not for the booze. The bourbon cut the sweetness of the filling perfectly, and the result was a glorious amalgam of nuts, sugar and brown liquor that provided the ideal follow-up to a pound or so of smoked prime rib.
642 W Davis St, Dallas, TX 75208
This review of Pink Magnolia originally appeared Jan. 4, 2016
The menu at Pink Magnolia suggested one of two extremes. Chicken fried ribeye? Cheddar and bacon meatloaf? These would either be glorious takes on traditional comfort food or they’d be entirely too precious. Classed-up comfort food is a trendy concept these days, but not everyone understands that it doesn’t matter how expertly the classically trained chef prepares the dishes if the place doesn’t feel—what’s the word?—comfortable. Too many places offer high-priced, pint-sized, churched-up versions of something your mom made much bigger and better. Fortunately, this spot in the Oak Cliff neighborhood did not fall into any of those traps.
I’m not entirely sure when Chef Blythe Beck met Ella Mae Cook and traded recipes, but I’m certain they must have. It’s either that or every diner who leaves Pink Magnolia believes Beck got a few tips from that diner’s grandmother somewhere along the way. In the writing world, we can spot the people who write stories aimed at contest judges and awards juries and which ones write stories aimed at their readers. The restaurant world isn’t that different. Some chefs aim their dishes at other chefs and food critics. Others cook for their customers. Beck’s food suggests she’s the latter.
I expected the chicken fried ribeye to be tiny, and I also expected to be mad. Usually, people only fry a steak that’s too tough to cook any other way. Only after it is battered, dunked in boiling oil and drowned in cream gravy is the meat rendered edible. At Pink Magnolia, Beck batters and fries a sizable hunk of meat until it has a light, crispy crust. (Picture the difference between a world-class fried chicken joint like Gus’s in Mason, Tenn., and your average Popeyes. Both taste great, but one is call-all-your-friends-and-brag good.) One can — and should — swirl each bite around in the savory bacon redeye gravy, but this would taste amazing without the gravy.
The meatloaf, meanwhile, is a healthy hunk of beef and cheese wrapped in sweet glazed bacon and sitting atop a bed of pimento mac and cheese. It’s essentially everything good about your childhood on one plate, and it tastes like a hug from mom feels. A place more interested in being trendy would have messed with the preparation. Maybe a more frou-frou chef might have split the meatloaf into three bite-size pieces and sprinkled some jus around the plate. Beck doesn’t do that. She sends out a slab of meatloaf knowing the taste matters so much more than fancy presentation.
And yes, the banana pudding does come in a Mason Jar. It is a little bit precious. But it’s also spiked with Maker’s Mark, big enough to feed five and perfectly balanced between bitter and sweet. Meanwhile, the chocolate fudge waffle with peanut butter ice cream is exactly what the menu advertises. In other words, it might be the scientifically formulated to activate every pleasure center in the brain.
As great as the food tasted we left Pink Magnolia feeling even better about trading our money for their calories because Amelia Henderson’s front-of-house staff made every guest in the place feel as if they’d just walked into an old friend’s house. Beck’s visit to each table only reinforced the vibe that even though we’d all just met, it felt as if they’d known us forever. A place that serves food as tasty as Pink Magnolia’s doesn’t have to treat diners that way. It can do decent business on flavor alone. But the women who run the place understand that by treating people like honored guests, those guests—and all the friends they’ve told about the place—will always come back for another meal.
Tortas La Hechizera
13531 Montfort Dr # 127, Dallas, TX 75240
This review of Tortas La Hechizera originally appeared Nov. 16, 2015.
When researching the restaurants I might visit for this section, I give extra weight to unfamiliar dishes. Because Baylor’s recent success had made getting a hotel room in Waco difficult to impossible, I knew I’d be staying Friday night in Dallas. I had visited most of the famous barbecue joints already. I’ve already written about burgers there. I can’t tell the difference between good Tex-Mex and bad Tex-Mex because beef, beans and melted cheese usually taste like beef, beans and melted cheese. (And that usually tastes pretty good.) So as I scanned a list of the area’s best reviewed restaurants, I resolved to choose the place that served a signature dish that I’d never heard of before that moment.
That’s how I wound up staring down at my first pambazo on Friday afternoon. What’s a pambazo? It’s chorizo, potatoes, cheese, lettuce and cream sauce stuffed between two slices of bread that has been dipped in guajillo pepper sauce and grilled. It is a sandwich that must be eaten with a knife and fork, and it would make an ideal breakfast, lunch or dinner. This particular pambazo is at a place called Tortas La Hechizera, a tiny spot tucked into a strip mall near where the Dallas North Tollway meets Interstate 635. The place has pictures of the food on the menu board, which usually is a harbinger of indigestible things. In fact, Tortas La Hechizera checks none of the boxes for fine dining except for the one marked “sandwiches you’ll dream about for weeks.”
I have no idea if this is the best pambazo in Texas or even the best in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. All I know is that after lunch on Friday, I’m convinced pretty much every sandwich except peanut butter and jelly could be improved by dipping the bread in chile sauce and making it feel the hot kiss of a flattop grill. While the bread is undeniably moist, the grilling process keeps it from getting soggy. It also helps that Tortas La Hechizera uses thick, hearty slabs of bread that can stand up to the dunking and grilling.
The spicy bread and the chorizo might be overkill if not for the mellowing effects of the cream, lettuce and queso fresco. The potatoes provide yet another medium to soak up all the spicy and salty goodness dripping off the bread and the sausage.
13628 Gamma Rd, Dallas, TX 75244
This review of Cattleack Barbecue originally appeared Oct. 17, 2016.
Plenty of restaurants have a celebrity wall. Look, it’s Snooki posing with a burrito the size of her head! It’s Dweezil Zappa enjoying some chili cheese fries! Cattleack Barbecue has a celebrity wall, too. But the celebrities come from a very specific world. As diners wait in line to order, they can peruse portraits of some of the Lone Star State’s finest pitmasters.
There’s Jeremiah “Baby J” McKenzie of Baby J’s BBQ in Palestine, Texas. There’s Roy Perez from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. There’s Miss Tootsie Tomanetz of the great Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington, Texas. There’s a tribute to Miss Tootsie’s late son, Hershel, who tended the pit with his mom until his far-too-early death in March. There’s Justin Fourton of Pecan Lodge in Dallas. From a business standpoint, he’s a competitor. But if you’ve tasted a Pecan Lodge beef rib, you know commercial concerns couldn’t keep him off this wall of honor.
This little joint tucked into an office park near the Galleria mall in north Dallas draws more conventional celebrities as well. While I waited in line, Emmitt Smith dropped by to say hello to the staff. But owners Todd and Misty David obviously care deeply about the craft of barbecue, and it shows in their own cooking. After a lunch at Cattleack, it’s clear the Davids belong alongside all those pitmasters they revere.
Todd David owned a disaster recovery company for 30 years before selling in 2010. After cashing out, David decided to turn his hobby into his profession by opening a barbecue catering company. In 2013, the Davids opened the restaurant. Even though it was only open seven hours a week (10:30 am to 2 p.m. on Thursday and Friday), the place quickly became one of the hottest barbecue destinations in the state. The Davids have recently added hours; they’re open the first Saturday of every month from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. This probably still isn’t enough to satisfy anyone who has tasted their moist brisket or juicy pork ribs.
I had hoped to try Cattleack in September, but a flight delay landed me in Dallas too late. On Oct. 7, I was driving from Fayetteville, Ark., to Dallas to film something with new partner Fox at the Texas State Fair. A reader tweeted that morning to ask if I still planned to try Cattleack. I was driving on Highway 69 through eastern Oklahoma — near the sign that declares that hitchhikers might be inmates escaping from the Mack Alford Correctional Center. I looked at the clock and got excited. During a fuel stop a few minutes later, I plugged Cattleack’s address into the GPS. I could be there by noon. This. Might. Work.
When I arrived, the line was about 20 minutes long. Nothing had sold out according to the sign behind the counter. I texted Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn — his job is real, and it’s spectacular — to make sure I didn’t miss any must-order item. He texted back quickly: “Order me a beef rib. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” Vaughn had just eaten a giant burger (for work), but he wasn’t about to miss a chance to have some Cattleack.
I had planned to order a beef rib anyway. Remember the Bronto Rib scene in the Flintstones’ closing theme?
One of Cattleack’s beef ribs looks like one of what Fred ordered. A huge pillow of meat covered in a thick salt-and-peppered bark pulls off a giant bone with a gentle tug. Cattleack doesn’t get too fancy with the rib. David cooks it to the perfect temperature and lets the meat and rendered fat do the rest. The same goes for the moist brisket, which boasts a prominent smoke ring and equally delicious bark.
I also ordered a pound of pork ribs. As soon as the man cutting the meat said “It’s a good day for pork ribs,” I was tempted to order 10 more pounds. I didn’t think the diners behind me would appreciate that, so I kept the order manageable. But “a good day” was the understatement of the year. A pig’s spare ribs don’t typically yield a thick pad of meat the way cow ribs do. But these ribs had hunks of meat about an inch-and-a-half thick jutting off the bone. The Davids chose their pork supplier well, because this raw material combined with their cooking expertise produced some of the best pork ribs I’ve ever eaten.
Vaughn agreed with me on the pork ribs, and we managed to plow through about three pounds of meat in one sitting. He got to take a little beef rib home for the kids. I got to take a little brisket back to my hotel. The pork ribs, meanwhile, ended up as a pile of thoroughly cleaned bones.
Meat U Anywhere
919 W Northwest Hwy, Grapevine, TX 76051
This review of Meat U Anywhere originally appeared Sept. 7, 2015.
The first time I ate barbecue for breakfast was at the venerable Snow’s in Lexington, Texas. I had to do this out of necessity. After Texas Monthly named Snow’s the best barbecue joint in the state in 2008, the crowds got so big that those who arrived at noon might miss out on the best stuff. Also, my first visit came on the day of the 2011 Oklahoma State-Texas A&M game. (We’ll pause here while Aggies fans collect themselves after being reminded of an epic second-half collapse.) That game kicked off at 2:30 p.m. local time, and I needed to be in the Kyle Field press box by about noon. So on that morning, I happily ate brisket and ribs and wondered why every barbecue spot hasn’t figured out the breakfast thing.
Think about it. Brisket takes 12-16 hours to cook. At the pulled-or-chopped pork shrines in the southeast, the pig can take 16-24 hours to cook. You have to have an employee or two there tending the pit anyway. If you’re going to open at 10 or 11 anyway, why not put something on a little earlier and serve it for breakfast? After all, the health nuts do say a high-protein breakfast is the best way to start the day. So why aren’t there more barbecue places serving breakfast?
Fortunately, Meat U Anywhere has corrected for this inefficiency. The place serves up excellent brisket and some exotic (for barbecue) cuts at lunch, but hungry people need not wait until the sun rises high. Meat U Anywhere opens at 6 a.m. It doesn’t have every cut of meat ready so early, but it does have brisket. This brisket usually gets stuffed into breakfast tacos, but if you ask, they’ll happily sell it to you by the pound. At about 8:45 a.m. Saturday, they sold me half a pound of brisket and an El Gran Taco (egg, chorizo, brisket, bacon, beans and cheese). I waited in line for about two minutes—because most people were just buying tacos—and I got the first cut off a just-finished brisket. The man behind the counter poised his knife at the skinny end of the flat and asked if I’d like lean. “No sir,” I said. “I’d like the good stuff.” He then spent the next two minutes finding the meatiest sections for me. Being first, I got more end pieces, which meant more bark.
The brisket might not quite stack up with the best in the state (Franklin in Austin, Pecan Lodge in the Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas), but it isn’t far off. It was tender and juicy, and the bark packed so much salty and peppery goodness that sauce was completely unnecessary. Add to that the exquisite taco and the total experience at Meat U Anywhere comes even closer to those temples of smoked meat.
After breakfast, I killed a couple of hours and headed back to Meat U Anywhere because I wanted to try some of the Friday/Saturday-only meat—which wasn’t ready until closer to lunchtime. The place touts its peppered smoked beef tenderloin, and it also has smoked prime rib. I was initially leery of the latter dish, but a January visit to Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas proved prime rib could be just as good from a smoker.
I posted a photo of the tenderloin on Twitter, and it was met with immediate scorn. Those who thought it was brisket thought it looked odd, and those who realized it was tenderloin couldn’t believe anyone would cook such a tender cut so much. While it is true that the police should arrest anyone who goes past medium rare when cooking tenderloin over direct heat, indirect heat is a different story. The tenderloin was moist and peppery, and the mingling of the deep smoke flavor and lean steak flavor combined two things I wasn’t sure it was possible to combine in an appetizing way. Still, given the choice, I’d probably take tenderloin cooked rare or medium rare over direct heat.
That wasn’t the case with the smoked prime rib. Give me the Meat U Anywhere version every time. Prime rib is a pretty fatty cut, so it can stand up to a longer, slower cook. That cook, meanwhile, creates a dark, smoky crust that elevates it above the prime rib at a white tablecloth restaurant. This version packs all the juice of tuxedoed-waiter prime rib but surrounds it with a bark that would be welcome at the best hole-in-the-wall pit. It’s an almost perfect combination.
Combine that prime rib for lunch with the brisket for breakfast, and Meat U Anywhere served up an ideal set of pre-game meals on the first Saturday of the season.
1228 William D Tate Ave, Grapevine, Texas 76051
This review of Peace Burger originally appeared Dec. 8, 2014.
The College Football Playoff committee meets in a massive hotel in called the Gaylord Texan. The location was chosen presumably for its proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and for the fact that it is so sprawling and bustling that an athletic director or former Secretary of State could blend into the crowd. It's the type of place that is designed to keep guests and their money on the property. It has an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, a sports bar, a wine bar and various other ways to deliver the same stuff you can get at any hotel anywhere.
Fortunately, there are a few decent places to eat nearby should the committee decide to venture off the property next year. One of those is Peace Burger. Situated in a strip mall next to two sister restaurants, Peace Burger appears to be a favorite spot for DFW employees to unwind after work. Its prices are decidedly downscale, but its ingredient list is impressive. Because of this, I assumed the burgers would be tiny. A large burger featuring Chorizo, Monterey jack, avocado and onion strings runs at least $10 elsewhere, but Peace Burger sells the Macho for $5.99. It had to be tiny. That’s why I also ordered the Roadhouse (a patty topped with ham, Monterey jack, jalapenos and onion strings) and carne asada cheese fries. This horrified the bartender, and when the burgers arrived, I understood why. They’re close to a half pound, and Peace Burger doesn’t skimp on the other promised goodies, either. Meanwhile, the fries come swimming in queso cheese and surrounded by big chunks of carne asada.
The bartender didn’t need to worry. The burgers were juicy, and their toppings popped just as the menu promised they would. The cheese was a little heavy on the cheese fries, but given the volume of beer flowing from the taps, I’m not sure anyone minded.