Whether for a special occasion or everyday eating, we uncover the best new restaurants in Dallas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
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Picking the top tables of 2018 was an exercise in simplicity. But boy, was it complicated.

Dallas dining has become a tale of two cities. One: High-end event-dining destinations, marked by Texans’ preoccupation with steakhouses, fine wines and the conspicuous consumption of the monied set that strives for “always the best.” The other: Enthusiastic foodie-centric insider restaurants, marked by our love of tacos and other street food, hipster culture and in-the-know cache to discover what’s new and hot (and often more affordable).

Yet somehow the watchword for much of the restaurant experience in Dallas was about simplicity: Sometimes via simple dishes turned into complex flavor bombs by the wise and creative use of spices, sauces and techniques; and sometimes extravagant dishes whose cleanness of taste shines through amid the ravishing preparation. Here are the distinctions.

A bao is about the smallest item you can get at Cris and John

Event dining. In recent years, the term event dining (or occasion dining) has supplanted, for me at least, the label of fine dining as an indicator of how high-end a restaurant is. It has been years since I have been required to wear a necktie or sportcoat as a precondition to entering an eating establishment. Even the notoriously snobby (in a good way) French Room loosened its dress requirements when it reopened last year. We all want fine food; but we also know when you need to pull out the stops (and/or the expense account) and do up a meal the “right” way, with an extensive or curated wine list, white tablecloths, nattily attired servers and rich decoration for a special occasion.

Casual dining. Being considered “casual” should suggest places that are “less than” their fancier counterparts, or even necessarily inexpensive (though they tend to be), merely ones where the vibe is more collegial and comfortable than elegant and formal. Casual dining is defined by its atmosphere, but also its style of food: Small plates, shareable dishes, regional or street food or homey cuisine.

(Some restaurants  in contention that didn’t quite make the cut: The Commissary, Malibu Poke, Harlowe MXM, Peasant Pizzeria, Gung Ho, Jalisco Norte, Fine China, Perle on Maple, Up on Knox and Namo.)

And so, an innovation for this year’s Top Tables — my annual recitation of the most memorable meals of the prior year (actually, September 2017 to September 2018, which excludes many late-year contenders like Circo, Felix Culpa, Tulum, Nori Handroll Bar, Tacos Mariachi, Terra and others that could figure on next year’s list): For the first time ever, I have broken the top of the best-of into two tracks, identifying the best of both worlds. And I end with presenting two citations for Restaurant of the Year — one for event dining, and one for casual. Simple as that.

Here, then, are the runners-up in both categories (fuller reviews of some will appear in future editions of Dallas Voice).

Izkina (Deep Ellum; casual). Operating under the philosophy that less is more, this Deep Ellum tapas bar takes hipster cas to the nth degree (the food is a draw, but you have to approach the bartender to order it, speakeasy-like). The Basque-inspired cuisine — derived from a region nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain — relies on clean ingredients largely unfussed-over. It’s a definitive neighborhood hang that just happens to serve great food. (2801 Elm St. DeepEllumHostel.com/Izkina.)

A board of house-cured meats from Macellaio

Cris and John (Galleria Area; casual). Although the proprietors have labeled this “Vietnamese Street Food,” I defy anyone strapped onto a cyclo in Hanoi to carry even half of one of their “phorritos” (a pho-inspired burrito). Like DaLat, the items on the extensive menu (all reasonably priced) combine traditional Asian flavors with a Texas twang. Delish. (5555 Preston Oak Road. CrisAndJohn.com.)

Uchiba (Uptown; depends). For the third year in four, a restaurant at the same address has meandered onto my list — first Uchi (still there), then its upstairs neighbor Top Knot, and now Top Knot’s replacement. Although the decor hasn’t changed much, Top Knot had a looser vibe. The newer Uchiba feels more adult, more staid, somehow more formal. But chef Tyson Cole continues to come up with amazing dishes to tease the palate (foie gras mousse!) that linger in your memory. (2817 Maple Ave. Uchiba.com.)

Mille Lire (Cedar Springs; event). Great Italian food, like great Chinese, has always been a blindspot on the Dallas dining scene, but one of two stand-outs this year is this Mille Lire, located in the challenging space on the ground floor of the Centrum. The decor is elegant and inviting, the service good but the pastas seal the deal. How good is it? This is where I chose to spend my birthday dinner last year. (3102 Oak Lawn Ave. Mille-Lire.com.)

The Charles white Bolognese capellini is a stunner

Musume (Downtown Arts District; event). Sushi has been almost as inevitable in Dallas as steakhouses and taquerias for well more than a decade now, but while Musume — next to Flora Street Cafe, across from the Meyerson and Winspear — touts itself as a sushi restaurant, it’s in the broader preparation of Japanese dishes where it soars: the five spice duck leg confit, the forbidden halibut, the seared divers scallops. It’s impressive in its scope as well as its style. (2330 Flora St. MusumeDallas.com.)

Taco y Vino (Bishop Arts; casual). The combination of a wine bar and a Tex-Mex restaurant seemed counterintuitive, but the execution from chef Sharon Van Meter and proprietor Jimmy Contreras exceeds expectations. There are even vegan options that carnivores would get excited over. (213 W. 8th St. TacoyVinoDallas.com.)

The Charles (Design District; event). Chef J Chastain has gone from Hot New Thing to the chef always on the edge of greatness over the last decade or more, leading many kitchens (The Mansion, Stephan Pyles, The Second Floor) where other chefs (Bruno Davillon, Pyles, Scott Gottlich) have already left their marks. So it’s wonderful that he final has come into his own in the other great Italian restaurant of 2018. Quaint, with personal service and deft dishes, this hideaway next to a 7-Eleven in the Design District shows how funky fine-dining can be. (1632 Market Center Blvd. TheCharlesDallas.com.)

Macellaio (Bishop Arts; casual). You know who really has the meats? Macellaio. A sister restaurant to chef David Uygur’s Lucia — which itself rose to prominence on its house-cured salumi — this Bishop Arts bistro (opened only for dinner) is tiny and highly specialized (I wouldn’t send a vegan within two blocks of the place): Cured, cooked and fermented animal proteins (mostly pork and beef, but there are seafood dishes). Exotic and daring (I still can’t get the duck tongues out of my head), it’s an unusual and exciting journey through the mind of a chef who knows what he wants his restaurant to be. (287 N. Bishop Ave. MacellaioDallas.com.)

Restaurant of the Year (Event)

Bullion (Downtown Reunion District). It should come as no surprise that Bullion, which opened in December of 2017 and never dropped off the top of my list, would take the crown. Bruno Davillon, who led the kitchen at The Mansion before spending two years getting this project off the ground, provides something more than a meal — he provides an experience. First is the setting: A golden vessel raised above the first floor of the Belo Building like a luxury liner waiting to weigh anchor. The appointments are sharp and sophisticated — cozy bar seating, more Deco in the dining room — and the food and beverage span the gamut. They serve one of my favorite drinking in North Texas (a traditional pastis) for a mere $5; but it’s the ravishing steaks, the French culinary techniques that enhance rather than mask the essential qualities of the food and the surprisingly friendly and unstuffy service that made it the most talked-about restaurant of 2018. For good reason. (400 S. Record St. BullionRestaurant. com.)

Restaurant of the Year (Casual)

Khao Noodle Shop (Old East Dallas). Technically, this small Laotian restaurant across from the legendary Jimmy’s Food Store abutting historic Munger Place didn’t open until after my cut-off date. But chef Donny Sirisavash has spent years perfecting his boat noodles and other traditional dishes inspired by his mom’s recipes, and after attending several pop-ups last summer, I had already had enough of his food that the opening of the restaurant seemed more like a formality. If you don’t have a sense for what Laotian food is (I certainly didn’t have until last year), the ingredients are fresh and unique, the flavors clean yet spicy and the care radiates from every dish. From the jerky to the sticky rice to the sauces, I have not had one dish here that didn’t thrill my tongue. (4812 Bryan St. KhaoNoodleShop.com.) █