Best of Texas: Dallas Dining

I have a confession to make: I live in Austin, but some of my favorite restaurants are in Big D. Here are ten places that always make my mouth water.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am
Best of Texas: Dallas Dining
Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni

1. Dali Wine Bar & Cellar

dali’s markup policy has customers jumping for joy: Because it’s a retailer as well as a restaurant, no bottle on the list is priced at more than 200 percent cost, which is almost unheard of in this day of 300 percent markups. Not only that, the wine bar will open any bottle in the cellar if a guest commits to ordering just two glasses. That, plus the personal guidance of owner Paul Pinnell, makes it easy to take a gamble on an unknown but intriguing wine. Which is one of the huge attractions of a wine bar. But wait, there’s more. Dali really knows how to do more than serve a choice pinot noir. In this case, it means a menu that is specifically designed by chef Joel Harloff to be wine-friendly. The menu changes frequently, but loyal patrons have been seen enjoying the likes of pan-seared halibut in champagne-dill sauce sided by a sauté of zucchini and celery, plus fregola sarda (first cousin to couscous) dotted with blood orange, or pan-seared quail with wild mushrooms. Or they’re having the lamb duo: a juicy rack and a somewhat less impressive lamb sirloin accompanied by an assertive Gorgonzola dolce—laced risotto. By meal’s end, they’re sipping a cordial and relishing a slice of mascarpone cheesecake. And they are ensconced in the small, contemporary space, gazing through the tall plate-glass windows, watching people stroll or hurry by on their way to concerts or shows in this artsy part of the city. This is a place they’ll be back to soon. One Arts Plaza, 1722 Routh; 469-385-9360 or daliwinebar.com. Lunch Tue—Fri 11:30—2:30. Dinner 7 days 5—10:30. Small plates offered Mon—Sat 10:30—midnight. $$—$$$

2. Fearing’s

one thing you can count on: Chef Dean Fearing did not become the star of the Dallas dining scene by truly being the simple, aw-shucks country boy he expertly portrays when making the rounds of the tables in the dazzling dining rooms of the Ritz-Carlton. He has a steel-trap intelligence, which has calculated exactly what diners want when they come to the fanciest hotel in the glitziest city in the Lone Star State. He knows, for instance, that a lot of them still crave the classy Southwestern and Mexican-accented dishes that made him famous way back in the eighties, when he put the Mansion on Turtle Creek on the map—robust creations like a mesquite-grilled, molasses-mopped prime ribeye. Or chicken-fried lamb chops. He’s all about big, monster flavors and upscale redos of rootsy dishes. But he also knows that the denizens of North Dallas, women in particular, welcome the caloric restraint of dishes like sashimi-like sliced hamachi with an avocado-wasabi purée and crisp matchsticks of Asian pear. Or perhaps the perfectly cooked soy-glazed black cod in a miso-clam broth on jasmine rice. There’s something for everyone. And they all like lolling around on cushy banquettes in the main dining room, among the acres of honey onyx and African mahogany paneling. Ritz-Carlton, 2121 McKinney Ave.; 214-922-4848 or fearingsrestaurant.com. Breakfast 7 days 6:30—11. Lunch Mon—Fri 11:30—2:30, Sat & Sun 11—3. Dinner Mon—Thur 6—10:30, Fri & Sat 6—11. $$$$

3. Five Sixty

The writer Calvin Trillin once opined, “I never eat in a restaurant that’s over a hundred feet off the ground and won’t stand still.” Sage advice, given the quality of most rotating restaurants. But Trillin wrote his famous dictum before the advent of Five Sixty, the sleekest incarnation of the sky-high restaurant atop Dallas’s Reunion Tower (you know the building—it’s the one that looks like a lit-up dandelion at night). Rotating 560 feet in the air and offering a horizon-to-horizon panorama to mesmerized diners, Five Sixty has reinvigorated the dining room as a destination for more than tourists. In the hands of Sara Johannes, a young alum of Wolfgang Puck’s (whose company runs the operation), a modern, Asian-inflected menu features the likes of grilled lamb chops with falling-to-mush Hunan-style eggplant dabbed with a chile-mint vinaigrette. She’s equally adept with specialties like Alaskan halibut accented with Thai shrimp, an Indonesian-influenced pineapple-and-chile sambal, and kaffir lime. As befits a restaurant with Pacific ties, there are a dozen brands of sake to choose from, as well as a general wine list of more than four hundred labels. The dining room glides along at a barely perceptible pace as long as you’re sitting still, marveling at the view, but if you get up and wander around, you had better drop bread crumbs—you won’t find your table where you left it when you return. 300 Reunion Blvd., 214-741-5560 or wolfgangpuck.com/restaurants. Dinner Mon—Thur 5:30—10, Fri & Sat 5—11. Closed Sun. $$$$

4. Mia’s Tex-Mex

Many fans of Mia’s (and believe us, the word “many” is accurate) consider it the Rock of Gibraltar of Dallas Tex-Mex restaurants. It’s been around practically forever, serving up classic dishes to crowds who come bustling in every day of the week to get their fix. Do fajitas sound like just the thing for a robust dinner or maybe a fortifying feed prior to heading out to paint the town on a Saturday night? Both the beef and the chicken versions are top-notch and served piled high on sizzling platters, surrounded by pico de gallo, guacamole, poblano chile, onions, and potato. Even more stalwart is the Lucychanga: a huge flour tortilla rolled around tender beef or chicken and then, God help us, deep-fried. Your waiter will all but stagger to the table with the platter, which includes rice and beans and an exceptional guacamole. Needless to say, Mia’s is kid-friendly, and its bright purple, orange, and cherry-red walls add a lot to the fun. There’s even a small patio to enjoy during the few fleeting days in the spring and fall when it’s really nice to be outdoors in Dallas (full disclosure: the “view” is the parking lot, not that anyone stops eating long enough to notice). 4322 Lemmon Ave., 214-526-1020 or miastexmex.com. Open 7 days 11—10. $$

5. Neighborhood Services

How in the world did a restaurant come to be named

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