The 23 Most Essential Food Experiences in Dallas
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Dallasites are passionate about many things, sports teams, shopping, big hair, and status-symbol cars among them. But bring up the subject of dining out with a local and plan to spend some quality time listening to the merits of a perfect chicken fried steak, who sells the best burgers, or where to get the juiciest sliced brisket. (Yep, beef is a huge source of hometown pride.) While there are literally thousands of possible bucket list items to try in Dallas (including this separate list of to-die-for pizza or this one for killer sandwiches), we’ve narrowed down the choices for iconic dishes and some of the most beloved restaurants and watering holes in the city you simply must visit at least once. Along the way, you’ll probably find plenty of contenders worth adding, but consider this a fantastic headstart.
When a sidedish eclipses the main attraction of burgers (damn good burgers, to be clear), you’ve got a real winner. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in every forkful (or handful) 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).
How to order: Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery.
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 order: Dine in, call 214-691-3888 for takeout, or order delivery from Grubhub.
When you’re craving a two-piece with homestyle sides and a fluffy yeast roll, the folks at Bubba’s have been 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 chicken, make an event out of eating at one of the family’s many Babe’s Chicken Dinner House locations.
How to order: Dine in, drive thru, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery from DoorDash or Grubhub.
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 chocolate 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 to heat at home for a restaurant-quality experience.
How to order: Dine in, or call 214-521-0295 for curbside pickup and delivery.
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 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 order: Dine in, call 817-421-4888 for takeout, or order delivery from Uber Eats and DoorDash.
Mexican food doesn’t hold the exclusive patent on 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 order: Dine in, call 972-913-4883, order online for pickup from a dedicated walkup window, or order delivery from Uber Eats or Grubhub.
One of the simplest yet most satisfying Mexican street foods is the humble cup of elotes. 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 elotes 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 order: Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery from DoorDash.
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 order: Dine in, call your nearest location or order online for takeout and delivery.
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 with sumptuous seafood, beef, pork, and chicken dishes, including a splendid mole poblano.
How to order: Dine in, call 214-521-4211 for curbside and takeout, or order delivery from Postmates.
You’ll find a lot of 1950s-style drive-in burger joints in Dallas, each with a ferociously loyal fanbase, but it’s hard to beat this one-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 order: Dine in, order carhop service, call 214-327-9983 for takeout, or order delivery from Postmates.
Barbecue brisketIt 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. You may want to bring your own extra napkins.
How to order (Sonny Bryan’s): Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery from Uber Eats or Postmates. For all other restaurants mentioned, visit their web sites for ordering options.
Few restaurants can rival the impeccable service and fresh, elegant cuisine of this pair of sibling restaurants from Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers. The city’s love affair with this 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 order (Gemma): Dine in, call 214-370-9426, or order online for curbside pickup, or order delivery from Postmates or Grubhub. For Sachet, visit the web site for ordering options. Oak Lawn
Tang, the instant 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: Drink one on the patio (the indoor space remains closed due to Covid)
Chicken fried steakLocals 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.
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 a Ritz-Carlton (the hotel in which his restaurant resides). 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. (Don’t worry, it’s equally good as takeout.)
How to order: Dine in or call 214-922-4848 for takeout.
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 great 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 order: Dine in.
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 with rice, beans, chips, and salsa all included in the price (and even cheaper every Wednesday), these are an oldie, but a gooey.
How to order: Dine in, call your nearest location for curbside takeout, or order delivery from DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Not only is the sushi here some of the best the city’s ever seen, 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 order: Dine in, call 214-352-0005 for takeout, or order delivery from Postmates or Favor.
Tacos from a taqueriaFinding a restaurant in Dallas that doesn’t have tacos on the menu can be a challenge, 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 not being fancy places whatsoever, the food’s as delicious as it is affordable. Our handful of no-frills favorites include Taqueria El Si Hay, Trompo, Tacos Mariachi, Fuel City, and Tacos La Banqueta Puro DF.
How to order (Taqueria El Si Hay): Pickup in person or order delivery from Postmates and Grubhub. For all other restaurants mentioned, visit their web sites for ordering options.
For the freshest, highest quality seafood in town, TJ’s Seafood Market has long been one of the most trustworthy sources for fish of near-infinite varieties. In addition to the market where you can grab your favorite underwater proteins to prep a meal at home, the restaurant draws in people who’d much rather someone else do all the work. 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 order: Dine in, order takeout online, or order delivery from Doordash.
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 dip 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 order: Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order delivery from the closet store.
A big ol’ juicy steakSteakhouses 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 (soon). 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 dry aged steaks aged up to 240 days at Knife Steakhouse.
How to order (Al Biernat’s): Dine in, call your nearest location for takeout, or order takeout and delivery online from My One Kitchen. For all other restaurants mentioned, visit their web sites for ordering options.
If you missed out on the drive-thru State Fair of Texas, you can still get your Fletcher’s Corny Dog fix at a variety of pop-up events throughout the year. 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 order: In-person at one of these pop-up events.