The 28 Most Essential Food Experiences in Dallas

Let’s get ready to rumble.

These days, you’re far less likely to get into a debate with locals over the Dallas Cowboys than you are a cowboy-cut ribeye. Or discuss the Texas Rangers as fervently as free-range chicken. Sure, we’re still passionate about our pro teams, but for the past few decades, dining out has become a cutthroat sport in its own right. All the necessary components of a big game are there: hometown favorites, visiting rivals (AKA national chains) with their annoying mascots, devoted fans, and dozens of MVPs in the form of big-time chefs and iconic mom and pop shops. Of course, our role as cheerleaders for the city’s eateries ensures you’ll always know who’s the B! E! S! T! 

While there are literally thousands of life-changing dishes to try in and around Dallas (hint: we’ve devoted full lists to the subject, from killer burgers and BBQ to Mexican food and brunch), we’ve narrowed down the choices into one wide-ranging bucket list-style roundup for your hunger-fueled convenience. As you eat your way through the metro area, you’re likely to discover plenty of other contenders worth adding to your own all-time greats map, but consider this lineup a fantastic headstart.

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 | 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.

Dallas Arts District
Executive chef Dan Landsberg has created one of the city’s best examples of fine-dining-meets-Mexican-comforts with this stellar appetizer. The base falls somewhere between a traditional crispy tostada and a tender-on-the-inside sope, before getting topped with juicy chunks of duck, asadero cheese, goat cheese crema, pickled red pearl onion petals, slightly spicy tomatillo salsa, and crunchy toasted chile-lime pepitas. Pair with a glass of champagne on the beautiful patio and you’ve got yourself one helluva start to a memorable evening.
How to book: Reserve via Resy.

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.

Tejas | Photo by Steven Lindsey

Bishop Arts District
The tagline at this revamped version of Tejas in the Bishop Arts District is “Tex-Mex done sexy” and we’ll be damned if these fabulous flautas don't live up to that claim. Easily the most beautiful plate of shredded chicken-stuffed corn tortillas in the city, they’re made to order (which, sadly, isn’t always the case elsewhere) and topped with a zesty tomatillo slaw and queso fresco. It’s almost too pretty to eat—almost—so snap a photo and get over the fact that you’re destroying something so gorgeous just to please your demanding taste buds.
How to book: Reserve via Resy.

Snuffer's fries

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.

Oak Lawn
Everyone loves to lick the batter off the spoon when making brownies, and this iconic dessert takes that nostalgic taste and texture to new heights. The chocolate glob may have started out by accident, but the purposefully undercooked cocoa treat oozes warm chocolate in every direction. It’s been a runaway hit since 1984 and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Best of all, when ordering it to-go, you can request it cold and heat it up at home for a restaurant-quality experience.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 214-521-0295 for take-out.

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.

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.

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.

Javier's Gourmet Mexicano dinning room
Javier's Gourmet Mexicano

Highland Park
Tex-Mex reigns supreme in Dallas when it comes to south-of-the-border fare, but this elegant Mexico City-style restaurant has been a staple in the neighborhood for decades. Skip the familiar nachos and fajitas and head for sumptuous seafood, beef, pork, and chicken dishes, including a splendid mole poblano. 
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating or call 214-521-4211 for take-out.

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.

Brisket (& more) at Pecan Lodge
Pecan Lodge

Barbecue brisket

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: the original Sonny Bryan’s location near Love Field, Pecan Lodge 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, take-out, 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.

Norma's Cafe
Norma's 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 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 order (Norma’s Cafe): Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery from DoorDash, Favor, Postmates, and Grubhub. For all other restaurants mentioned, visit their web sites for ordering options.

 Fearings tortilla soup

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.

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.

Trompo tacos

Tacos from a taqueria

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 El Si Hay, Trompo, Fuel City, Taqueria Taxco, and Tacos La Banqueta Puro DF.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, 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).


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.

Knife Steakhouse steak
Knife Steakhouse | Kevin Marple

A big ol’ juicy steak

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, or one of John Tesar’s epic dry-aged steaks—we’re talking up to 240-days-aged—at Knife Steakhouse.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by location.

Fletcher’s Corny Dogs
Fletcher’s Corny Dogs

Multiple locations
The State Fair of Texas returns in-person this year, but if you can’t wait that long you can still get your Fletcher’s Corny Dog fix at a variety of pop-up events. The Original Corny Dog slathered in mustard is still the best, but if you’re not a traditionalist you can venture out with turkey dogs, veggie dogs, and cheese all dipped in the famous batter and served on a stick.
How to book: Dine-in, take-out, and delivery options vary by pop-up location.

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Steven Lindsey is a contributor for Thrillist.