Before I start, this is a long post with detailed restaurant reviews and a fair amount of pictures. Use these links to jump to a specific establishment, otherwise keep reading!
Meso Maya (Tex Mex) | Senor Bean (Tex Mex) | Perry’s (Steakhouse)
Truluck’s (Steak and seafood) | FT33 (Farm to table) | E-Bar Tex-Mex (Tex Mex)
Idle Rich Pub (American/bar food) | Manny’s (Tex Mex) | Texas State Fair
Smoke (BBQ) | Meddlesome Moth (New American/brunch; critical review)
On my first real visit to Dallas, I was in Tex-Mex heaven. I got really confused when looking at Yelp and seeing pizza, American, or tapas restaurants in the area, because it’s just incomprehensible to me why anyone living here would ever want to eat anything besides a taco, enchilada, or chiles rellenos. I’m in love with Mexican flavors and food, and now that I’m back home I’d like to rededicate myself to learning about and learning to cook some authentic Mexican cuisine. Like the chiles rellenos I made back in the day for Steve (they’re his favorite). Or homemade corn tortillas, even though they’ll never be as good as the “real thing”. The real thing being making even the masa from scratch, which I don’t have the resources to do at the moment.
To back up a little, Steve travels to Dallas often for business. I’ve always wanted to go with him, but he’s usually so busy with work that it doesn’t make sense to buy a plane ticket for me if he’s going to be stuck in the office the whole trip. This time, the trip preceded the weekend of the OU v. TX football game (the Red River Rivalry), which was to be my sister and her fiance’s joint bachelor[ette] party! Her fiance, Kolby, is an OU alum, so we were definitely sporting our crimson in the unseasonably chilly Dallas air. It was also nice for Steve to explore some restaurant options for future trips, because, when he travels alone, there’s a pretty strict rotation of room service salads, steakhouse, or one of the few Tex-Mex joints in walking distance from the hotel and office.
Dallas is definitely a driving city, and I didn’t have a car at my disposal. So if you’re relatively confined to uptown Dallas, with perhaps a hotel shuttle and a couple taxi rides in the budget, I’d recommend all of these restaurants, except the ones I noted. My general impressions, the details of what I ate, and any photos I snapped (sometimes I was a little overzealous and skipped the pic) follow. Hope you enjoy and find this helpful during your visit! I’ll definitely be back in the future, hopefully with a bigger geographical range, so give me your own suggestions in the comments!
Yelp reviews and info here.
On Monday night, I was hankering for a margarita. Chalk it up to sitting on the runway for an hour before takeoff, or coming off a week of forced sobriety due to a cold, but I needed tequila. I got it in the form of a slightly creamy, but not-at-all thick, avocado margarita. So good! Really pretty color and made with fresh pineapple, it was a delicious concept. Now, I have a higher than normal tolerance for tequila in my margaritas, but the only fallback of the drink was that it was a bit weak. Given that it’s a chain to some extent, this didn’t particularly surprise me, but I’ll specify a double next time I order it.
We had the vegetable queso fundido to start–hard to go wrong there, as long as the cheese is real, which it was. For my entree, I got the vegetable enchiladas. I had absolutely no complaints, but they didn’t have that hole-in-the-wall, spicy authenticity I was craving. They came wrapped in blue corn tortillas, and while it was hard to tell if the tortillas were scratch made, the tomatillo sauce tasted nice and fresh, and I think that’s what made the dish worthwhile. Portion sizes were perfect–two enchiladas in a serving, so with the addition of an appetizer, it was satisfying for my big appetite.
The atmosphere is what you’d expect of a chain-ish restaurant–lots of seating and a very corporate crowd on a weeknight. It was a gorgeous night out, so they do get points for lots of outdoor seating on a private, enclosed terrace with plenty of ambient lighting. There are TVs indoors and out. The weakest point for me was a mixup in the order we got our food–the entrees were literally delivered 3 minutes after ordering, and the appetizer didn’t follow until about ten minutes later. I was in Tex-Mex happyland, so I didn’t take too much offense, but I think the restaurant should strive to get this right. For me, a big part of dining out is the leisurely experience–enjoying my drink and some chips and salsa, without being rushed out the door with immediate delivery of appetizers and entree.
Conclusion: If geography was a limiting factor, I’d eat here again. If not, skip it.
Yelp reviews and info here.
Does anyone else giggle when reading aloud the name of this place? No? Okay, moving on…
Surprisingly good for a lunch-only joint. I wandered the mile from our hotel to the arts district for one of the few well-rated Tex-Mex, walking distance lunch options. On entry, I didn’t get any of what some reviewers described as a “wet dog” smell–that was a relief. I think it was a late lunch (1-ish?), so the place wasn’t too packed but was moderately busy. However, as a party of one, I was greeted promptly, seated at a nice window table (yay! natural light for food photos!), and delivered friendly, frequent service by my waitress. The interior is simple, brick and concrete, but it was well-lit. If you’re in the area and looking for a quick, delicious lunch with very quick service, this is the place.
To start, the house salsa was hot. No one in Texas warns you about heat–you’re expected to know that anything, especially salsa, put in front of you could set your mouth on fire. Granted, it didn’t make me run back to the kitchen in search of a glass of milk, but it was way hotter than any table salsa you’d be served in the northeast or midwest. Welcome surprise. I ordered pork tacos for lunch, which came in fried, yet scrumptiously soft corn tortillas, leading me to believe they were fresh and possibly made in house. The tortillas was filled with cheese and roasted poblanos, then they melted the cheese and filled in with slow cooked pork. The pork was simply seasoned so you could still taste the meat, and it wasn’t shredded to bits, with some small cubes in the mix. That added good texture, but it was still easy to eat, as the pork was super tender upon biting into it. Again, two tacos instead of the supersized portion of three that I’m used to, but with the chips and salsa it was the perfect lunch. It also came with rice and beans.
I was in complete and utter shock when the waitress offered to refill and put my iced tea into a to-go cup before I left. Is this a thing in the south??? If so, I’m moving. And it was so necessary on the hot, sweaty walk back to the hotel. One mile, even in capri yoga pants, a sports bra, and tank top was scorching (this was before the temps started to plunge into strangely cold territory). Sorry I was unprepared for you, Texas.
Yelp review and info here.
Come to Perry’s if you want some serious meat, serious atmosphere, and serious fancy service. This is one of Steve’s few favorites in Dallas, and despite my vegetable preferences, he knew that Perry’s pork chop would be worth the indulgence for me. We got a little dressed up and had an excellent meal here.
Even though we were a walk-in (someone believes they are handsome enough to not need reservations–I would tend to agree), we got seated in a fairly packed restaurant (on a Tuesday night!) on the upper level balcony, right by the glass railing, overlooking the entire restaurant and everyone else’s food.
The decor is dark, but not too dark, giving each table a sense of privacy in such a wide open space, without making it impossible to read your menu. We went all out, sharing a bottle of one of our favorite reds, beginning the meal with the ahi tuna tartare (with Asian flavors), and sharing sides of mounds and mounds of mashed potatoes plus sweet sriracha brussels sprouts which are as good as they sound. The real star, though, is Perry’s famous pork “chop”–the farthest thing from the boneless, dried out, flavorless cut you might be envisioning right now. Believe it or not, the photo below is a HALF portion–we shared the full servings. The pork is carved tableside, which is so fun to watch, and includes three distinct components. There’s a fatty, melt-in-your-mouth cap, fall-off-the-bone ribs, and a loin the size of a large man’s fist crusted with melted blue cheese. Again, I’m not a big eat-a-slab-of-meat-as-the-main-dish kind of person, but even if you’re a rare meat eater, this quality, perfectly cooked, moist, flavorful dish is worth every bite. And I didn’t take very many before declaring the pig the winner.
Yelp reviews and info here.
I got to meet Stevie for lunch on his birthday for a quick work break! After surprising him with cupcakes from a spot right around the corner from our hotel, we walked across the street from his office to Truluck’s. It reminded me of walking into a larger version of Ike’s, one of my favorite places for a burger in Minneapolis, both evoking a kind of Mad Men, old school feel. Dark wood finishes, bright white tablecloths, classic seafood and steak menu–a place where you can linger over a long, satisfactory, but not overly impressive meal. Since it was lunch, we skipped the cocktails, but I think the beverages probably play a major factor in the evening–I could see staying for a dirty martini or two (if I could handle a dirty martini) after dinner.
The best part of my meal was the Sonoma Greens salad. It was simple and balanced–candied nuts, apple slices, fresh and crispy greens, and just the right amount of goat cheese so as not to spoil one’s appetite.
As an entree, I ordered the fish tacos. They were satisfactory, but a couple criticisms worth mentioning. First, the waitress didn’t know the lunch menu. She was insistent that the included side was fries, and while she was completely fine with substituting rice pilaf, she was clearly oblivious to the fact that the menu specified the pilaf or mashed potatoes as a side. It made for a very confusing ordering process, although not angry. Second, these tacos were off-the-charts spicy! I have a moderately high tolerance for spice, even when it’s more than I prefer, but I literally had to stop and wait until our waitress (very obligingly) brought me a side of sour cream. I think east coast service could stand to learn a lesson from my dining experience at Truluck’s–happy, customer-is-always-right service trumps a multitude of sins.
Steve had shrimp scampi, which he devoured. I’ll take that as a sign that it was good.
One other note–if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, there are very few options for you at Truluck’s. There’s one very sad sounding tofu dish under the “vegetarian” entrees section. I would, however, have happily eaten a larger version of the greens salad as a light entree.
Yelp reviews and info here.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better fine dining, farm-to-table experience in Dallas. This was Steve’s birthday dinner, and since we’d been eating a lot of heavy food, he chose “farm-to-table” over the options I’d selected for BBQ or Tex Mex–he was clearly not as excited as I was about sending another enchilada down the hatch.
The restaurant is located in a kind of office park thing in the design district of Dallas, just a few minutes from uptown (P.S. I’m not sure if I should be capitalizing the names of these neighborhoods). It was crowded on a Wednesday night, a warm atmosphere with a very open kitchen, quirky decor (think thrift store finds), and light wood finish. I’ll call it modern hipster. The kitchen was full of guys in flat-brimmed baseball caps sporting nationwide teams (noticeably, the Mets) and t-shirts. If the guy chatting up the couple with the privileged kitchen-view seats about the nuances of specific herbs at the end of the night was owner/chef Matt McCallister, you would never have guessed it passing him on the street in his tattoos and t-shirt. Personally, I might have even judged him as some kind of rebel, but after tasting his food, I’m clearly the one passing premature judgments.
So what did we eat?! The menu changes frequently based on what’s available locally. To drink, we started with a cocktail–Steve with the Savannah Julep, and me with some smoky mezcal cocktail (the drink menu is not online, so I don’t have details.). We chose a glass of a grenache to go with dinner. From the starter courses, we chose the beets and burrata as well as the sprouted grains and kale with crispy chicken skin. When I heard chicken skin, I was thinking the stuff you pull off the rotisserie chicken and pretend you’re not going to eat, which tastes good but is really frightening. At FT33, I got a surprise in the form of very crisp, potato chip sized pieces which were not overly salty, sitting alongside grains and kale juice in a piece of exquisite pottery. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
I tried squab for dinner, because I wanted to be able to say I tried pigeon. Yes, squab is pigeon. My sister was in complete shock and disgust when I later revealed this fact to her–“I thought it was like duck!!” Um, no. I probably wouldn’t get the dish again, but only because of my personal taste. It was perfectly executed, as was Steve’s gnocchi (which I would order again). Oh, and in ordering, the young waitress had impeccable, detailed knowledge of every single menu item, not only describing our choices extensively, but in a way that actually helped us decide.
We finished off the meal with the only dessert on the menu the birthday boy would eat, a peanut butter chocolate concoction with a curried banana and lime zest. Power flavor combo. The birthday I noted in my Open Table reservation was acknowledged with a cute little message on the dessert plate!
Yelp reviews and info here.
A decidedly local joint with impeccable service, a home-town atmosphere, and food that doesn’t disappoint summarizes E-Bar. Knowing the location wouldn’t work with our large group over the weekend, we tried E-Bar as a couple for our most casual dinner. It was in what felt like a quiet, maybe industrial, maybe a little run-down neighborhood, but we definitely felt safe even waiting just outside for our taxi afterwards. A Thursday night, it was pretty busy with a diverse crowd, from young cross-fitters to the slightly cowboy, and everything in between. It seemed to be a popular place to watch whatever game was on, and we were seated in the bar area. I actually liked the energy of the game and the ready-for-the-weekend Thursday night crowd.
Finally, I found a margarita that was strong enough for me, as well as the best jalapeno poppers of my life. Not kidding. They were like mini chiles rellenos. The whole jalapeno was roasted, delicately stuffed with cheese to keep it intact, reclosed, battered, and fried, stem and all. Crispy crunchy exterior, melty spicy interior–perfection. They were also the first place we went where there was a real vegetarian option on the menu–spinach and mushroom enchiladas–not just whatever sad combination of vegetables was left in the kitchen when I placed my order. Steve’s chile rellenos was massive–basically a large version of those jalapeno poppers and in only a good way. This place has been going strong since 2011 (unbeknownst to any of the hotel staff we asked about it), and hopefully it continues to do so, because it’s a fun hangout worth the cab ride from uptown.
The Idle Rich Pub
Yelp reviews and info here.
This was a quick lunch the day Tristyn and Kian arrived. We wandered in from McKinney Ave., randomly choosing it from the eight or so bars in the immediate area. Okay, maybe not randomly–I think they had the biggest display of OU and Texas gear on the outside of the bar. It was a quick lunch to feed the weary travelers, not really a destination restaurant. However, my 2 cents on it, as quick, casual bar food, is that it might be better than the surrounding options (Yelp seems to agree). I could easily have made (and improved) all the dishes at home, but I really had no complaints about my lentil salad with goat cheese crostini. They had lots of goat cheese, and the dressing came on the side as I requested. Of course, our resident New Yorkers were also in total shock that their bill for two people with soft drinks was about $22.
Yelp reviews and info here.
I really wish I had some pictures from this dinner, because it was so much fun! But then, that’s usually the reason for the lack of photos–ain’t no one got time for their iPhone when they’re busy catching up with siblings, downing tasty margs, and devouring bowls of queso. Manny’s seems to be a hidden gem off the side streets of McKinney. It’s brightly lit and colorful, even on the patio, where we sat. The staff was quick to pull tables together for our walk-in large party, and our waiter was super friendly, helpful, and infinitely patient given our goofy moods. Probably because he knew anything he recommended to us we’d spring for, and right he was.
I really couldn’t tell you if the queso was great, because I was a little hangry by that point. And then I got a little tipsy from my two substantial margaritas, so my recollection of my beef tamales (the “tamale dinner” menu item) may not be perfect. However, I liked that they we removed from the husks for me so I didn’t have to deal with a mess and scraping (i.e., licking) every last bit of filling from the “shell”. They did seem quite moist compared to the fair share of dried out (overcooked?) tamales I’ve not enjoyed previously. The beef was shredded and in a darker, mole-type sauce, which wasn’t too spicy.
Oh, and they have orange corn tortilla chips! In all likelihood, it was food dye, but it made for an entertaining 10 minutes of trying to figure out why they didn’t taste like nacho cheese Doritos or coat our fingers in magical salty dust.
If not for the minor (and I do believe it involved an underage individual) police activity a few yards away during the meal, this would have been a perfect dining experience, and of course I can’t blame the restaurant for people acting like fools near the premises. It may come with the territory of their proximity to the bars on McKinney. I was also a little overwhelmed by the vast menu, which could stand some paring down, probably without any consequence for business. It may actually help the wait staff save on the time they spend making eight recommendations to diners, as opposed to one or two standout dishes.
Thanks for scouting this place, Tris!
Texas State Fair
Okay, we weren’t really there long enough for me to opine on this big bad event in detail. I’ll just say that options for fried things (on sticks) were endless, the weather was pleasantly cool, cowboys everywhere, and…this:
Yelp reviews and info here.
I think I dreamed this dining experience.
Let’s start with the good part. After getting our drinks and placing our orders, a crazy little ponytailed, Johnny Depp-ish Britsh man, one of the few lingering patrons in the place, approaches our table of 10, saying that he and his table have a bet. While giving us time to process his energy, he demands a phone from someone at the table and climbs up onto a chair, bossily directing everyone how to lean so he could get a good photo of us. Was he about to steal this iPhone? Okay, no. He revealed that his bet was that everyone sitting across from each other was a couple. Ummmm, kind of obvious, so we acknowledged that he was right but that Tor and I were not, in fact, married to our men, but engaged. And then the craziness began again. Our new friend starts screaming “service!” across the open restaurant (I guess that’s how they do it where he’s from?) and, with the arrival of a perplexed waiter, declares that he’s buying all of us young lovers a shot of top shelf tequila. Okay! Now we’re getting this party started!
I think I’m still digesting the advice he dispensed while we waited for our drink. While he was married 30 years and now divorced, he seemed to be an enthusiastic supporter of our upcoming nuptials and even starting families. The part I’m not sure about was his certainty that marriage can’t last (well, he’s half right, statistically), but I know he was well intentioned in emphasizing that, regardless of any outcome, we should make as many happy memories as possible. After what I think was a rather articulate toast to that effect, he left us to our meal. Talk about a unique start to dinner! I wish he was a plant by the restaurant to raise the spirits and energy of every party, because that definitely set a high tone for the night.
I wasn’t sure how fine dining and BBQ would intersect on my plate, but the food was excellent. With a large party, there’s always a concern about different diets, everyone’s comfort level with the atmosphere, and, of course, the dreaded bill splitting. None was an issue. Obviously the menu is meat-centric, but the sides and presentations are diverse. You can start with a salad or fried balls of cheesiness (as I did), and continue with my elegantly plated quail and chickpeas or, as the boys (all) enjoyed, one Flinstones-like massive rib bone atop hominy grits. The dark, wood-paneled room with a fireplace, rustic details, and simple artwork will impress frequent fine diners, but it’s so comfortable that pretentious is the last word I’d use to describe it. The waiter also graciously split our check between five couples.
Our tequila toast helped me discover Smoke’s house made tequila, which they age with cedar planks. Don’t miss it! Prices for other drinks are extremely reasonable for such a reputable establishment, with on of our favorite reds practically going for retail at $40.
We’ve declared dinner at Smoke will be a tradition on our annual OU-TX game trip, but I really hope to make it back sooner.
Meddlesome Moth (don’t recommend)
Yelp reviews and info here.
This is a tricky one, so I’ll start with my conclusion. Great brunch menu but only fair execution, cheerful but infrequent service. Ultimately, the operations of the restaurant seemed hungover and they have room to grow. We didn’t dine here for dinner, so I’ll be conservative and say that my evaluation shouldn’t be applied to anything besides brunch.
A party of forty, celebrating a sweet sixteen or something, seemed to be at the root of the problems, but that’s no excuse. It’s a large space, so I’m sure they’ve had practice with large parties before.
The menu items were kind of jacked up comfort food–nutter butter waffles, grits with fried chicken and jalapeno gravy (my choice), and a French toast sandwich. The portions were satisfying, but none of us declared it the best grits or biscuits we had ever had. The type of thing you could almost make at home, given time and the right ingredients (not necessarily any great skill). The two orders of biscuits and gravy at our table came out about 5 minutes apart, as did basically every entree, and one looked hot and steamy, while the other had that film on the gravy that comes from standing under a heat lamp too long. I was ready to send it back, but Steve is not as critical as me and was starving.
It was impossible to get the waiter’s attention–I’m not sure if he was MIA due to his hangover or the large group. When he did show up, he was friendly (almost a little too familiar, though), polite, and slightly apologetic about the kitchen speed, but it came a little too late for me. Going on 25 minutes waiting for our food, we were going to order some sweet rolls to stave off the hunger pangs and hangry attitudes. The waiter described four in an order, so we split one, and when it came out after our entrees there were three very lonely looking rolls in the pan. Not a complete order, judging from what I saw walking across the place to get to our table.
The Moth was an unfortunate end to my Dallas dining experience. I was definitely intrigued by the menu, but it’s unlikely I’ll return.
And that concludes my first city dining guide on Natural Comfort Kitchen. I hope you found it useful or interesting! Let me know if you check out any of the spots I’ve mentioned and how they were for you. I’ll be returning for sure, so Dallas natives and experts, leave me your favorites below in the comments!