June 16, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Dallas/Fort Worth

6 min read
Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Dallas/Fort Worth
Cattleack

Photograph courtesy of Cattleack

The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex has always been a region obsessed with its image. Since the days of “Who shot J.R.?”, the cities’ leadership have collectively attempted to assert themselves onto national and global stages, whether through long-shot Olympics bids, hyping the phrase “world class” until it’s nearly lost all meaning, or a restaurant culture bloated by sanitized concepts that push trendy flavors-of-the-month imported from New York or L.A. The buzziest restaurants often cater to the affluent and exist mainly for being seen. You’ve heard of the phrase “Keep Austin weird.” For Dallas, it would be “Keep Dallas pretentious.”

Beneath the region’s soulless tangle, however, a homegrown dining scene shaped by its diverse local communities is quietly thriving. Much like a teenager finding their way in the world, Dallas does best when it stops trying to emulate others.

DFW does three things very well: street tacos crafted by Latin Americans, such as Revolver Taco Lounge’s chef Regino Rojas and his wagyu beef lengua and pulpo al carnitas; Texas barbecue steeped in years of tradition or innovated out of expert tutelage; and authentic East Asian cuisines. Examples of the latter include Ari Korean BBQ’s carefully selected cuts of meat for tableside cooking, Pho Pasteur’s rich and savory broth that warms locals on cold days, and Sushi Robata’s extensive Japanese menu, which includes everything from unique fish flown in from Japan and rich fried takoyaki to natto, the love-it-or-hate-it fermented-soybean dish.

Immigrants are the brightest lights in the DFW food scene and always have been. Spend a little time with any North Texan, and they’ll tell the tale of Mariano Martinez and his repurposed soft-serve ice cream machine that became the first (now Smithsonian-curated) frozen-margarita machine. With Martinez’s drink (or a cold Topo Chico) in your hand, a hot summer’s evening spent watching the sunset from an icehouse patio is peak Dallas. There’s no pretension here—just good food and good people.

Iconic dish: brisket

Long before Dallas became the dominant city in the region, Fort Worth was the state’s northernmost livestock hub for cattle, sheep, and pigs. At the same time, in Central Texas, German and Czech butchers were smoking the unsold meat from their markets, wrapping it in paper, and selling it to migrant livestock workers. From classic barbecue towns like Lockhart, Taylor, and Luling, Central Texas’s traditions—and its meat—migrated up the Chisholm Trail to North Texas and beyond. Once railroads arrived in Fort Worth, the area flourished with meatpacking plants, livestock exchange buildings, and, of course, barbecue.
Smoked brisket is the chief deity of Texas’s barbecue religion. Chopped or sliced, moist or lean, on a sandwich or on butcher paper, there’s nothing more iconic than a dry-rubbed slab of beef slowly smoked with post oak, pecan, mesquite, or hickory wood. No two pitmasters will smoke it the same way, and each will have their own superstitions, secrets, and rituals that must be honored in order to achieve the perfect outcome. While all barbecue is more art than science, a proper Texas brisket requires a bit of extra witchcraft—mastery over temperature, a constant understanding of the state of the fire, and intimate, inch-by-inch knowledge of the smoker’s interior.

The meat itself will stand out without sauce. Robust and smoky flavors permeate deep, stemming from the bark encrusting its edge. Each bite melts into a complex mix of beef, char, peppercorn, and fat. But, like a drop of water in a fine whiskey, a little bit of tangy, savory sauce completes the symphony, leaving you with a primal eating experience steeped in over 175 years of tradition and Texas history.

Culinary travel: Where to eat while visiting Dallas/Fort Worth
Goldee’s BBQ

Photograph by Will Milne

Three barbecue restaurants to visit

Hutchins BBQ
While the name and location have changed over the past 46 years, Hutchins BBQ is the classic Texas cornerstone by which all others are measured. It’s part of the restaurant old guard—dark and smoky inside, with no airs put on for the presentation of the meat. The cafeteria-style line starts with a counter offering the usual—brisket, pulled pork, and sausage by the pound, plus whole chickens. A small sign teases the Texas Twinkie, a jalapeño pepper stuffed with chopped brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and drizzled with barbecue sauce, which should not be skipped. The sides—including fried okra, mac and cheese, and brisket beans—rival the meat in flavor and are sold by the boat. (Pro tip: You can mix and match different sides in the same boat at no additional cost.) It’s easy to eat yourself into a stupor at Hutchins, but save room for the free peach cobbler, soft-serve, and banana pudding available in the dining area. 1301 North Tennessee Street, McKinney, and 9225 Preston Road, Frisco

Cattleack BBQ
The best barbecue is often found in unassuming locales, and this gem, tucked into a suburban warehouse district, is no exception. You’ll have plenty of time to study the outdoor murals that revere Texas’s modern barbecue heroes during your wait in line, which can stretch up to 90 minutes at peak times. Despite being open only three days a week (and the first Saturday of each month) until sellout, former owners Todd and Misty David built a can’t-miss experience that simultaneously respects barbecue tradition while also adding a “yes, and…” to their offerings. They recently sold the restaurant to a former employee, Andrew Castelan, but Todd David still handles the cooking. The Akaushi wagyu beef is smoked with post oak, Duroc pork is cooked in a whole-hog cooker from North Carolina, sausages are made fresh in-house, and the daily specials—which have included pastrami beef ribs, wagyu bologna, and jerk pulled pork—sell out quickly. Get in line shortly after 10 a.m. for optimal selection. 13628 Gamma Road, Dallas

Goldee’s BBQ
Pitmasters Lane Milne, Jalen Heard, Jonny White, and Nupohn and PJ Inthanousay are part of the newest generation of Texas barbecue prodigies. They cut their teeth at some of the best-known Central Texas barbecue joints, including Franklin’s and Valentina’s. Before opening Goldee’s in 2020 out of an abandoned building in a sleepy rural corner of southeast Fort Worth—and well before being crowned “Best Barbecue” by Texas Monthly in 2021—the group partnered with Atlanta’s Jonathan and Justin Fox to bring several pop-ups of their offerings to the Fox Bros. Que-Osk in 2019. Goldee’s barely hung on through the pandemic, but luckily prevailed; it now commands multihour lines and advises an arrival time of between 8 and 10 a.m. for full menu availability. Bring a chair to wait, but they’ll take care of you with free water and, occasionally, free beer on hot days. If you’re really lucky, Laotian sausage and mango sticky rice will be on the specials board during your visit. 4645 Dick Price Road, Fort Worth

Where to stay

The Joule
Located in the heart of downtown Dallas, and well appointed with midcentury art, the Joule offers a luxurious base, easily walkable to the Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas World Aquarium, and Dallas Farmers Market, as well as bars, restaurants, and clubs in nearby Deep Ellum. The hotel’s offerings are no slouch, either—the ever-popular CBD Provisions brasserie and Midnight Rambler cocktail lounge have been mainstays in Dallas for the past decade.

Hotel ZaZa Dallas Uptown
For a younger crowd, Hotel ZaZa is the place to be. With easy access to bars and restaurants along McKinney Avenue (and the free M-Line historic streetcar along it), there’s no shortage of things to do. After a night out, recenter yourself at the nearby Klyde Warren Park, Nasher Sculpture Center, and Dallas Museum of Art.

The Beeman Hotel
If you’re more interested in shopping than the city’s core, this modern boutique hotel near Southern Methodist University has you covered. Enjoy easy access to NorthPark Center mall, Mockingbird Station, and high-end shopping options in the Park Cities.

This article appears in our March 2024 issue.

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