The 30 Most Essential Food Experiences in Dallas

Date night-worthy dining, vegetarian crab cakes fit for a king, and high tea returns to The French Room.

Like any major city, Dallas is home to an abundance of quintessential restaurants that have served as culinary hubs for generations of locals and visitors. Of course, we’re also privileged to enjoy an ever-evolving dining scene that never ceases to surprise. So every time we update this trusty bucket list, we always aim to include a mixture of longtime staples and recent additions, as well as specific dishes and drinks that are so iconic they deserve their very own moment in the spotlight.

If we had our druthers, we’d include every single one of our favorites, but you’d be scrolling so long we’d probably break the internet. Lucky for you, we regularly get hyper-focused on the top places to visit in several categories, from best vegetarian and vegan spots to best sushi and everything in between. But we do stand behind every one of the choices below and encourage you to work your way through these 30 essential food experiences in North Texas. (Pro tip: Now would probably be a good time to renew that gym membership, if you haven’t already.)

Harper’s
Harper’s | Photo courtesy of Harper’s

Deep Ellum
Tucked away off the busy streets of Deep Ellum, Harper’s is well worth seeking out. Not only is it one of the most gorgeous restaurants we’ve dined at in months, but it’s also one of our favorite debuts of the last year. The globally inspired menu features creative twists on favorites, such as the Big Eye Tuna Sashimi served with dry ice, Foie Gras tucked into delectable little potstickers, and a truly epic royal feast that includes a 48-ounce Prime Dry-aged Porterhouse, a 32-ounce Prime Tomahawk, and two different kinds of potatoes—enough for a ravenous party of four. Don’t pass up the cocktails, either, especially the Trip “N” Grass featuring Aviation Gin, St. Germain, and a CBD tincture from Bloom Labs, the swanky new CBD shop just across the street.
How to book: Reserve via SevenRooms.

Malai Kitchen
Malai Kitchen | Photo courtesy of Malai Kitchen

West Village, Park Cities, Fort Worth, Southlake
Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao) can be found on every Thai menu in town—and the world over, for that matter—but the absolute best version in Dallas-Fort Worth merges our love for top-quality steak and spicy noodles. The dish starts with wok-seared flat jasmine rice noodles in a peppery soy sauce that’s tossed with succulent beef tenderloin, Thai basil, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and plenty of Thai chilies (you can even request more if you crave heat). It can also be ordered with shrimp, tofu, or chicken, but for our money, the beef’s where it’s at.
How to book: Reserve via TableAgent, order takeout via ChowNow, or get delivery via Uber Eats and DoorDash.

The French Room
The French Room | Photo courtesy of The French Room

Downtown Dallas
One of the iconic Dallas restaurants we feared would never return after closing during the initial COVID outbreak, The French Room has made a triumphant return. And as one of the most elegant spaces in the city, it always dazzles. Dinner’s fantastic as you might guess (and we hope it makes a comeback soon), but one of the restaurant’s oldest traditions is afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches (including a chicken salad recipe right from Buckingham Palace) and a multitude of sweets.
How to book: Reserve via Resy.

Elm & Good
Elm & Good | Photo by Alison McLean

Deep Ellum
Ever since opening Elm & Good inside the Kimpton Pittman Hotel in Deep Ellum, chef Graham Dodds has paid special attention to creating vegetarian and vegan dishes that are real menu showstoppers—and far more than a few carrots and potatoes thrown unceremoniously onto a plate. This plant-based take on crab cakes features locally sourced mushrooms, Old Bay seasoning, and a velvety lemon beurre blanc sauce that’s so good, you won’t miss the crustacean one bit.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

Maple Leaf Diner
Maple Leaf Diner

Knox/Henderson; North Dallas
Brunch is a big deal in Dallas, but some restaurants really take the whole big thing to the extreme—not that we’re complaining. Two of the best over-the-top brunch offerings big enough to sustain you throughout the entire day (and possibly into Monday) can be found at Smithy on Henderson and Maple Leaf Diner. At Smithy, it’s the Hangover 2.0 that starts with a jumbo buttermilk biscuit, then layers on habanero fried chicken, brown sugar pecan peppered bacon, cage-free eggs, hash browns, roasted poblano cream gravy, and bourbon maple syrup for a symphony of sweet-and-savory bliss. Similarly monstrous, a trio of waffle stacks will feed a crowd—or a very hungry solo diner. Opt for chicken, bacon and waffles, the country sausage waffle, or a chicken fried steak and waffles—each topped with cream puffs in case the waffles aren’t dessert enough.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

Zalat
Zalat | Photo by Kathy Tran

Multiple locations
Pizzas have been smothered with all sorts of things over the years, but Zalat has somehow managed to create a Vietnamese-inspired pie that deftly complements the Italian staple for something truly unique and incredibly crave-worthy (especially late, late at night). The Pho Shizzle Pizza brings sister restaurant Dalat’s very best to a tender, crisp crust: grilled chicken, red bell peppers, caramelized onions, hoisin sauce, and a swirl of sriracha, all finished with fresh basil and cilantro.
How to book: Order takeout and delivery online.

Encina
Photo courtesy of Encina

Oak Cliff
For the most part, pancakes hail from the Land of Ho-hummery, but in exceptional cases, they’re sent directly from the heavens. During Sunday brunch, Encina sets out some incredible dishes, but the blue corn pancakes are what we still dream about. Filled with texture, earthiness, and color from the blue cornmeal, each disc of deliciousness hits the perfect note of salty-sweet thanks to an orgy of butterscotch, cajeta, salted butter, and maple syrup with a side of bacon to incorporate a little smoke, too. These pancakes are worth planning an entire weekend around.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order delivery online.

BarNone
BarNone | Photo by Steven Lindsey

Lake Highlands
We can’t claim that BarNone in East Dallas is the first and only place to fry salmon, but it’s definitely a novelty to us. Yet unlike most novelties, this one’s not a gimmick. Sealed within a light, crispy beer batter, large chunks of salmon filet hit the deep fryer and come out magically improved. Served with a mound of french fries, creamy coleslaw, housemade remoulade, and cocktail sauce, the portions are large enough to split for dinner or share with the table for happy hour. And it’s all gluten-free, to boot.
How to book: Call 214-924-3742 to reserve or order take-out via Toast.

Smoky Rose
Smoky Rose | Photo by Steven Lindsey

White Rock Lake
Even though you’ll find a whole section devoted to chicken fried steak below, this version is unique enough to warrant its own moment in the spotlight. Rather than the usual tenderized cube steak or the occasional elevated rib-eye, the fine folks at Smoky Rose have taken large pieces of their tender smoked brisket and created a Frankenstein-style hybrid of two Texas staples: BBQ and CFS. Served with pepper gravy, garlicky mashed potatoes, and a pile of fresh green beans for good measure, it’s quite possibly the most decadent dish in all of East Dallas.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or order delivery via ChowNow.

Snuffer's fries
Snuffer's

Multiple locations
When a side dish eclipses the main attraction, you know you’ve struck gold. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in every forkful (or fistful) of cheese fries, dripping with melting cheddar and topped with bacon, green onions, and pickled jalapeños (all designed for dipping in copious amounts of ranch dressing, of course).
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order take-out and delivery online.

East Dallas
There may be some dispute over when and where the first frozen margarita was made, but Mariano Martinez secured his place in history (and the Smithsonian Institute) with his invention of the frozen margarita machine, responsible for consistent brain-freeze-inducing tequila concoctions the world over. Though they’ve tricked out their margarita options over the years, the original frozen always makes a great place to start (add a sangria swirl for round two). And if you want to explore all the great versions in town check out the Margarita Mile, a handy guide for a DIY tasting journey around the city.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order delivery via Grubhub.

Bubba’s Cooks Country
Janice Provost

Park Cities; Frisco
When you’re craving a two-piece with homestyle sides and a fluffy yeast roll, the folks at Bubba’s have you covered, serving up some of the very best fried chicken in the city since 1981. You can get yours on-the-bone or as tenders with gravy for dipping. And if you want a little hokey-pokey with your fried bird, make an event out of eating at one of the family’s many Babe’s Chicken Dinner House locations.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order delivery via DoorDash.

Grapevine
A day trip to Grapevine is worth it for the local wineries alone, but while you’re there, a stop at Tolbert’s is an absolute must for tried-and-true Texas chili. An authentic “bowl of red” never, ever includes beans (though you can get a Northerner version if you simply must). Try the chili in its purest form in a cup, bowl, or super bowl, or let it shine as the star ingredient in Frank’s Frito Pie or the Terlingua burger that comes doused in the red stuff.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order delivery via Uber Eats.

Damn Damn
Damn Damn

Park Cities
Mexican food doesn’t hold the exclusive rights to spicy food in Dallas, and these noodles with a cult-like following prove that the Scoville scale should be taken very seriously indeed. The traditional Dan Dan noodle entrée typically has a medium-level heat, but Chef Uno doesn’t play around with this signature dish that she promises will have you screaming, “Damn! Damn!” while you’re eating it (and much of the next day). Ground chicken, baby bok choy, Thai chili, peanuts, and green onions combine with ramen noodles before a topper of Thai chili oil that makes every bite hurt so good. (Also available as a banh mi sandwich.)
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out via ChowNow, or get delivery via Uber Eats.

Elotes Fanny Fort-Worth
Elotes Fanny Fort-Worth

Multiple Locations
One of the simplest yet most satisfying Mexican street foods is the humble elote. Freshly shaved corn off the cob, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream, queso fresco, and vinegary hot sauce combine for an indulgent flavor bonanza and this chain of eateries does the dish proud. You can also get it on the cob, but we highly recommend the cup—especially if you’re trying to eat it in your car. Never pass up an elotes cart outside a gas station or grocery store, either, because they’re usually pretty darn great, too.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order delivery via DoorDash.

Bistro B
Bistro B

North Lake Highlands; Grand Prairie
Even though Dallas has numerous Vietnamese restaurants worth visiting, none can quite match the quality, variety, affordability, or speed of service of this always bustling eatery. Set aside a few minutes of your day to work your way through the massive, multi-page menu that gives Cheesecake Factory a run for its money. Or simply focus on the dishes with photos only and order from among those can’t-miss options, including pho, banh mi, numerous rice and noodle dishes, and many traditional favorites you’ve probably never seen before.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, join the online waitlist, or order take-out and delivery via ChowNow.

East Dallas
You’ll find a lot of 1950s-inspired drive-in burger joints in Dallas, each with a ferociously loyal fanbase, but it’s hard to beat a single-location gem that’s been serving up homemade root beer and juicy burgers since 1956. Best of all, you don’t ever have to get out of your vehicle. Simply flash your lights and a carhop will pop out to take your order, which absolutely, positively, should include onion rings.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating and drive-in dining or order delivery via Postmates.

Lockhart Smokehouse
Lockhart Smokehouse

It would be entirely possible (and equally enjoyable) to eat wonderfully marbled, fork-tender, slow-smoked brisket at a different BBQ joint every single day for an entire year. But even for extreme beef lovers, this could get a little mundane. Instead, focus on a week’s worth of barbecue from some of the best in the region: Parry Avenue Barbecue Company near Fair Park, Pecan Lodge and Terry Black’s in Deep Ellum, Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth (and soon to open in Dallas), Lockhart Smokehouse in Bishop Arts District Blu’s Barbecue in Far North Dallas, and Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ in the Design District. Don’t forget the extra napkins.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

Gemma Restaurant
Gemma Restaurant

Dinner at Gemma or Sachet

Knox/Henderson; Park Cities
Few restaurants can rival the impeccable service and fresh, elegant cuisine provided by this pair of sibling restaurants from Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers. The city’s love affair with the couple’s flair for sophisticated yet accessible food began with Gemma’s New American standouts and continued a few years later with the veggie-forward Mediterranean offerings of Sachet. Both establishments offer an impeccable wine program, guaranteeing one spectacular date night after another.
How to book: Reserve via Resy (Gemma, Sachet) or order take-out online (Gemma, Sachet). 

Oak Lawn
Tang, the indestructible orange juice-esque breakfast drink enjoyed by astronauts since the early 1960s, tastes like an overly sweet acid trip back to an America where the need for convenience yielded frozen dinners, instant coffee, and packaged snacks that could stay fresh for decades (hello, Twinkies!). But the Tangarita at this iconic dive bar perfectly blends childhood nostalgia with a decidedly adult twist—lots of booze. Not only does it cut the sweetness, it makes dealing with the rest of your day so much more fun.
How to order: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Luckys Cafe
Luckys Cafe

Chicken Fried Steak

Locals don’t just love a big ol’ slab of steak, they also love it battered, deep-fried, and covered in creamy white gravy. Norma’s Cafe, a local diner chain, has long been known as a purveyor of fine fried meats, but you’ll also find top-notch versions at Lucky’s Café, Mattito’s (try it “cowboy style” with chile con carne and cheese), Ozona Grill & Bar, Street’s Fine Chicken, AllGood Cafe, and, perhaps most surprisingly, at Prégo Pasta House, where it’s an (amazing) off-menu secret item.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

 Fearings tortilla soup
Fearings

Uptown
Many restaurants serve tortilla soup these days, but chef Dean Fearing made it famous decades ago with his iconic take on the soul-warming favorite. The presentation itself might make it one of the only soups in history to be worthy of its five-star hotel digs: All the components (avocado, chicken, radishes, tortilla strips) are presented in a deep bowl before the velvety smooth stock gets poured on top by your server. 
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek

Turtle Creek
For decades, The Mansion Restaurant was the gold standard in fine dining in the city, a primo example of Dallas excess and opulence as witnessed in both the patrons and what appeared on the plate. Though still superb as a dining option, we find the bar to be the best way to experience the old-school elegance of The Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel property without dropping a small fortune. It’s even better when enjoyed on the patio where lights twinkle in the majestic trees above while roaring fires provide extra ambiance and warmth on those rare chilly nights.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

El Fenix enchilada
El Fenix

Multiple locations
Choosing a sole destination for Tex-Mex could be seen as an unforgivable sin, but the fact remains: El Fenix has been doling out enchiladas since 1918, longer than some countries have been in existence. So if you’re looking for an iconic platter of chile con carne-laden cheese enchiladas alongside a bounty of rice, beans, chips, and salsa (all included in the price, mind you), these are an oldie, sure, but decidedly a goody.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or order delivery via DoorDash.

Park Cities
Not only is the sushi here some of the best the city’s ever seen, watching the chef himself is more than worth the visit. Shuji Sugawara is affectionately known as “Elvis” or the “King of Wok” thanks to his tall pompadour. And maybe also because his fresh fish creations are so tasty, you’ll want to get up and dance.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable.

Taqueria Taxco
TrompoTaqueria Taxco

Finding a restaurant in Dallas that doesn’t have tacos on the menu can be a challenge, as they’re such a ubiquitous part of the dining culture here. But for the truest way to savor delectable ingredients nestled in tortillas, go right to the source—a good old-fashioned taqueria. Known for their friendly, laid-back atmosphere, the food’s as delicious as it is affordable. Our handful of no-frills favorites include Taqueria Taxco, Taqueria El Si Hay, Trompo, Fuel City, and Tacos La Banqueta Puro DF.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

Preston Royal; Oak Lawn
For the freshest, highest quality seafood in town, TJ’s Seafood Market has long been one of the most trustworthy sources of near-infinite varieties. In addition to a market where you can grab your favorite underwater proteins to prepare a meal at home, the restaurant draws in people who’d much rather leave it to the pros. And if there’s one dish that truly captures the essence of TJ’s, it’s their Connecticut-style lobster roll, served hot with butter-sautéed claw and tail meat, garlic, and thyme on a pillowy La Spiga brioche roll.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable (Preston Royal, Oak Lawn).

Mattito's
Mattito's

Bob Armstrong Dip at Mattito’s

Multiple locations
If you’re in the mood for an appetizer-only kind of outing (accompanied by an ice-cold beer or margarita, of course), it’s hard to imagine something more enjoyable (or iconic) to dunk a tortilla chip into than the famous Bob Armstrong Dip. There have been many imitators of its combination of creamy chile con queso, guacamole, sour cream, and ground beef, but few can match this fan favorite—which is also good wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.

Haywire Tomahawk Ribeye
Haywire Tomahawk Ribeye | Photo courtesy of Haywire

Steakhouses have always been a mainstay of the Dallas dining scene, both as places where big-bucks business deals take place over martinis and filets and the go-to option for a celebratory meal for birthdays, graduations, and pandemic vaccines. Among the mightiest of the meaty, you’ll never regret a Prime Cowboy Ribeye from Al Biernat’s, a Prime Porterhouse from the flagship location of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, the Brazilian-style Picanha Steak for two at Toro Toro in Fort Worth, or one of John Tesar’s epic dry-aged numbers—we’re talking up to 240-days-aged—at Knife Steakhouse. The finest cuts can also be enjoyed at Dakota’s Steakhouse, Haywire, The Ranch at Las Colinas, Truluck’s (with a side of Stone Crab, natch), Asador, and Jalisco Norte if you’re in the mood for meat with a Mexican twist.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

Fletcher's Original Corny Dogs
Fletcher's Original Corny Dogs

Multiple locations
Getting your Fletcher’s Corny Dog fix at a variety of pop-up events means you no longer have to wait for the State Fair of Texas, where they first hit the scene back in 1942. The Original Corny Dog slathered in mustard is still the best, but if you’re not a traditionalist, venture out with their newest creation, an all-beef brisket version, as well turkey dogs, veggie dogs, and cheese, all dipped in the famous batter and served on a stick.
How to book: Dine-in, takeout, and delivery options vary by location.

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Steven Lindsey is a contributor for Thrillist.