A lot of people say there is nothing to do in Dallas but eat and drink and shop. And there is some truth to that. So what’s the problem? The secret to enjoying a weekend in Dallas is to roll with that basic philosophy. If you are looking for scenic mountain vistas or cool walks in the woods, then you are coming to the wrong city. But if you are looking for an urban scene, then Dallas is the place to be.
Get in the mood by taking a lazy Friday lunch at Avila’s, a tiny brick house on Maple Avenue. (This is the kind of place where someone else takes you there on your first visit.) Arrive early, or you’ll have to stand in line to get one of the ten or twelve tables; the restaurant seats only about fifty people at one time and is open for lunch on Friday from eleven in the morning to two-thirty in the afternoon. Mama Avila does most of the cooking while her son Richard and other members of the family greet diners and man the tables. You can’t miss with either the black-bean enchiladas or the spinach enchiladas, and the chicken mole is legendary. I give Casa Avila’s the nod for best guacamole in Dallas.
After lunch, head down Maple to Cedar Springs and stop in at the Hotel Crescent Court Shops and Galleries. Talk about upscale shopping. Here you will find the high-fashion retailer Stanley Korshak as well as Vivian Young’s and Caroline Rose Hunt’s Lady Primrose’s, an antiques and specialty-item gift store. (Hunt is the founder of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, which owns properties around the world including the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.) While you are at the Crescent, step into the hotel’s Beau Nash to check out the scene at the bar. Or another hot spot is Arcodoro Pomodoro on nearby Routh. You just might run into Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars (he’s been known to hangout there). But you will need to drive to get to the original Daddy Jack’s Lobster and Chowder House on Greenville Avenue. This casual neighborhood hangout offers some of the best clam chowder and lobster bisque in town.
For lunch on Saturday go to Club Schmitz on Denton Drive for a burger. This roadhouse joint is a Dallas institution. Order the "double double," two slices of American cheese between two thin patties sandwiched by an old-fashioned plain white bun. This is the kind of burger that McDonald’s only wishes it could proudly serve. Have a basket of the onion rings and make your artery-buster meal complete. (You won’t regret it.) If you are really hungry, the chili is killer too. Of course, the best thing about this place is that you can get your beer in a can, the way it should be served at a place that plays Hank Williams on a jukebox. The last time I was there, it was $2.25 for a domestic.
The electric light-rail, with its clean, sleek bright yellow and white train cars, is actually a cool way to get around town and see some things. Dallas finally got its act together and got a first-class public light-rail system working. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail lines service the North Central Expressway corridor, downtown Dallas, and west and south Oak Cliff. The Trinity Railway Express from Union Station in downtown Dallas to Richland Hills in Tarrant County is complete. On Saturdays the train runs as far west as the CentrePort/DFW Airport Station and should revolutionize air travel for many Dallas residents who hate the drive and park situation at the airport. Additional expansion plans include commuter rail service to Fort Worth and light rail service to Plano, Garland, and Richardson. That said, hop the DART light-rail at the Park Lane Station and ride down to the Dallas World Aquarium on Griffin Street in the West End. Get off the train at the Commerce and Griffin stop. The aquarium, which is privately owned, costs about $12 per adult (the fee is a couple of dollars less for children and senior citizens), but it is a treasure located right in the heart of the downtown area. It has a surprising array of aquatic wildlife, including saltwater tanks that feature full coral reef ecosystems, manatees, piranhas, and tropical fish from around the world. But there is more. Check out "The Rainforest: Orinoco-Secrets of the River," an exhibit about the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela that includes a two-story escalator ride for an ant’s-eye view of the different layers of a rain forest. It is pretty amazing to walk in off the city streets and come face to face with crocodiles, howler monkeys, octopi, and toucans all within a 30 minute tour. (If you want a quick and fun diversion on the way there, get off and take a look around the newly completed underground station beneath Central Expressway at the Cityplace development. It is the first underground subway station in Dallas.)
After viewing dazzling aquatic life, walk from the St. Paul Station to the original Neiman Marcus store at 1618 Main Street to see some remarkable clothes (among other things). Founded in 1907, the downtown Dallas store became the first in an upscale retail juggernaut built on providing the best customer service in the world. This elegant flagship store always has something to tempt you (and your pocketbook).
Dress up in the finery you purchased at Neiman’s for an evening cocktail at one of the finest bars in America. Even if you can’t afford to eat in the world-famous restaurant headed up by chef Dean Fearing, you can afford to treat yourself to a drink at the bar at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. With its overstuffed leather furniture, wood-burning fireplace, and dark wood paneling, it feels like you’ve gained entrance into an exclusive club. The bar service is impeccable, the way it should be, so you and a companion can enjoy a nip and a conversation without being pestered by a server asking, "Would you care for an order of our famous potato skins with that?"
Top off your extravagant day with a late dinner at Hola, a new tapas restaurant that is making waves in Dallas. Ildefonso Jimenez, who owns the fabulous restaurant Café Madrid, recently launched this new gem on McKinney Avenue. Go late enough, and it really feels like home; Jimenez may even sit down at the table with you to shoot the breeze. As you enjoy the house red wine served in overfilled juice glasses, be sure to sample the garlic shrimp and the awesome Spanish potato omelet. (If you see the mussels in piquant tomato sauce listed on the blackboard, order them.)
Can’t possibly eat or drink another thing? Wrong. Ziziki’s in the Travis Walk section of the Knox-Henderson area has an all-you-can-eat brunch that is a must on Sundays. Offerings include scrambled eggs seasoned with spices and feta cheese, mini-bagels with cream cheese, capers and smoked salmon, and fat buttermilk pancakes. Greek and Mediterranean influenced items like handmade pita bread, spanakopita, slices of roast lamb and sautéed chicken, dolmas to die for, and a glorious salad of fresh tomatoes, sliced red onions, and feta cheese all take diners beyond standard brunch fare. Please help yourself to the all-you-can-drink champagne, mimosas, and orange juice.
If this whirlwind feasting and shopping tour doesn’t leave you feeling thrilled to be alive, then I don’t know what will.