Eating and drinking are Dallas’ ultimate tourism activities. When friends and family visit me — an occasion that’s becoming more common as the coronavirus pandemic appears to finally subside — I quickly plan all of our meals, then puzzle over what to do between them.
There are loads of guides purporting to help out-of-towners plan their meals in Dallas, but most of them are one-size-fits-all: a warmed-up old list with some mixture of our best and most traditional restaurants. Start with some barbecue, add a celebrity chef or two, mix in some margaritas, sprinkle on a bit of Asian food, top it all with an Instagrammable milkshake and boom, you’ve got a travel guide.
This one’s a little different. I’m offering eight itineraries, based on the visitors’ personalities and desires. Are you a food snob from New York, or hosting one? This guide has you covered. Do you prefer to spend your life in dive bars? We can do that, too.
Here’s our guide to eight delicious weekends in Dallas.
For the dive bar aficionado
Evenings are easy, but what about the rest of the day? Will Call, the local hangout in Deep Ellum, opens for lunch on weekends, and Revelers Hall in the Bishop Arts District has weekend afternoon concerts. Although many brewery taprooms are getting bigger, shinier and more family-friendly these days, Four Bullets in Richardson still feels like a hole in the wall, and serves great British-style pints.
Even the biggest dive bar fan probably hasn’t experienced anything like Peak Restaurant, the Nepalese sports bar in Irving where you can buy your guests a round of mango lassi vodka shots.
For the family with kids
Hit the patio at Ferris Wheelers Backyard Barbecue, with its actual Ferris wheel and ample room to run around. Sylvan Thirty is another great option: lots of outdoor space, and enough food options to satisfy any picky eater. And you won’t want to miss out on a casual burger in a casual setting, like the patios at Rodeo Goat or Invasion. Near the Dallas Zoo, El Pueblo makes killer enchiladas, and in Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is not too far from Hutchins BBQ.
For foodies who’ve binge-watched every Anthony Bourdain show
Experiences are the thing. The whole weekend will lead up to Sunday’s extraordinary Thai food markets at Wat Dallas, the Buddhist temple off Forest Lane. Before that, make sure to visit SpicyZest, one of America’s only Sri Lankan restaurants, and Maskaras Mexican Grill, with its glorious Guadalajaran specialties. Watch dazzling Venezuelan dishes get made in the tiny open kitchen at Modest Rogers. Stay up late enough, and your friends might be ready for a night of soju-filled karaoke in Koreatown, where the bars are open late and some traditional restaurants don’t close until 5 a.m.
Check if any food tours are scheduled during your friends’ visit, like the Soul of DFW, which takes guests by bus to Black culinary landmarks. Many barbecue restaurants offer classes or pitmaster talks on specific days, too.
For a stereotype-filled Texas experience
First, tell guests to visit during the State Fair, but let them know that aside from one or two fried Oreos, you’ll be saving your cash for the rest of the city’s food.
Head to posh saloon Billy Can Can for a bowl of chili, a skillet of green chile cornbread and a selection of Texas wines and whiskeys. The next morning, grab some folding chairs and wait in line for some barbecue. If Cattleack is open, head there; if not, maybe your visitors will be willing to trek west for Goldee’s, its best-in-Texas reputation, and its free beers while you wait.
After a nice long nap, maybe consider a lighter dinner, like the chips and elotes at Las Almas Rotas, one of the country’s best mezcal and tequila bars. You’ll want to finish with brunch in Uptown at Saint Ann. Why? Two reasons: because Uptown people watching is a sport, and because the restaurant’s upstairs samurai museum might be the single coolest tourist attraction in Dallas.
For the vegetarian in steak country
Your hangout of choice will be Shoals, an oasis of sanity in the tumult that is Deep Ellum. At this low-key bar, the focus is on classic cocktails and immensely impressive vegan food, including well-spiced empanadas and a ceviche of shiitake mushrooms. If you ever decide to leave, you can also find delightful tempeh satay sandwiches at Banh Mi Station, spectacular kimchi dumplings at Koreatown’s Arirang and over a hundred southern Indian specialties at Irving legend Taj Chaat House.
Among special-occasion restaurants, Sachet deserves praise for building an especially vegetarian-friendly menu.
For walking trail enthusiasts
Go on a hike in Plano’s Oak Point Park and follow it up with lunch at a nearby Chinese spot like the exceptional Sichuan Folk. If you visit Cedar Ridge Preserve on the south side of town, pack a picnic lunch of po boys and onion rings from Thibodeaux’ Cajun Cookin’ in Duncanville. To fortify yourself for the Trinity River Audubon Center, grab Mexican food at Los Molcajetes or a patty melt at Crazy Brothers. And what’s the point of spending a morning at the Dallas Arboretum if you haven’t gone to Goodfriend Package for a breakfast sandwich first?
For the person who doesn’t want to leave Bishop Arts
Honestly: I get it. There’s no topping Bishop Arts. Spend your Friday night at Encina, enjoying its relaxing vibe, great food and delicious cocktails. On Saturday, pair chilaquiles with Champagne at Taco y Vino, grab edible souvenirs from Dude, Sweet Chocolate and CocoAndre, then while away the afternoon at Revelers Hall. Don’t have too much to drink, or you might miss pasta at Lucia (if you got reservations) or Argentinian steak at Chimichurri.
On Sunday, finish your Bishop Arts weekend off with a gallery stroll, a few books from Wild Detectives, and the perfect cheeseburger at Boulevardier.
For the elitist food snob from the coasts
On their first day in town, treat your food snob to a fireworks show of Dallas at its most sophisticated. Graze on the charcuterie board at Petra and the Beast, then lounge on the patio at Meridian, one of America’s only places to try imaginative high-end Brazilian food. Finish the night at Jettison, sipping on otherworldly cocktails in a cozy, quiet setting.
You’ll also want to show your friend two food groups we do better than their fancy hometowns: the exceptional Southern fare at Roots Southern Table and the Mexican splendors of Revolver Taco Lounge.