Wagyu at Nosh Bistro. (Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Top tables

Celebrating Dallas’ banner foodie year

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
[email protected]

2019 was, without question, a landmark year in the North Texas food scene but also a diffuse one. The market seems to have hit a saturation point of restaurants; the competition has become fierce, even as it has expanded. Some notable places, including Stephan Pyles’ two flagships (Flora Street Cafe and Fauna) shuttered just recently. But diversity is not always the watchword where growth is involved. We still seem to embrace many familiar themes (steakhouses and barbecue, Tex-Mex and tacos), both as consumers and critics. 

Maybe that’s why one of the standout restaurants on the year was Khao Noodle Shop, a Laoatian street-food dive in Old East Dallas that wowed everybody. It is not on my 2019 “best of” list, of course — that’s because I put it as the top restaurant (casual) of 2018, months before anyone else. (Ah, the benefits running your list at the beginning of the year after everyone else! Glad y’all came around and agreed with me!)

Khao remains one of the most memorable dining spots in recent years, but other eateries opening between late-fall 2018 and last October or so also figured onto my Top Tables roundup of culinary highlights divided once again into “casual” and “event” categories. (Some late entries, including Curtis Stone’s Georgie, Matt McCallister’s Commons Club, Nick Badovinus’ Desert Racer, Uno Immanivong’s Red Stix, Omar Flores’ Muchacho, plus Ellie’s, Maple Bacon, Queso Beso, Bar Charles and even the relaunch of Fauna, will be considered next year.) 

Event Restaurant of the Year: Nosh Bistro (Preston Hollow)

The opening of Nosh was “event” dining in every sense of the word — the return to Dallas of storied chef Avner Samuel, the reinvention of one of his signature restaurants of the past and most of all the evolution of his culinary legerdemain. You could probably claim that new chefs innovate, but older chefs refine, and refinement is the key term that makes Nosh soar. Samuel includes New American ideas, plus his comfort zone of French technique, but he incorporates Indian, Mediterranean and especially Middle Eastern flavor profiles in exploring an amalgam of concepts in a cohesive way. The vibe in the restaurant exudes a surprisingly welcoming aura; it could be stuffy (the price points can justify it), but it feels like Samuel is having fun, and we are his playdates. (8611 Hillcrest Road, NoshBistroDallas.com.)

Casual Restaurant of the Year: Beverley’s (Uptown)

I don’t know if it’s fair to say Beverley’s defies expectations, because I wasn’t sure what to expect in the first place. Rather, it impresses you with its eclectic style — on the plate, and in the space. Like a Parisian bistro, the clientele runs the gamut, and the menu, while not huge, touches on comforting favorites delivered with vigor: An ahi nicoise that explodes with freshness, color and creative elements (olives, haricot vert, pickled onion); dry-aged meatball appetizer; for brunch, French toast made from challah bread. Everything about this place sings that a meal is to be savored, shared, celebrated. You’re happy here. (3215 N. Fitzhugh Ave., BeverleysDallas.com.)

The Rest

2. Homewood (Uptown; event). “Farm to table,” “seasonal ingredients” and “locally sourced” are familiar watchwords in contemporary dining circles, but you really “believe it here at” chef Matt McCallister’s cozy but sophisticated craft kitchen. You pay for such care, but there’s value to be had: Foie gras au torchon and grilled octopus distinguish its fine-dining bona fides, but even homey-seeming items like “roasted chicken” are elevated in presentation and accompaniment (medallions of delicata winter squash topped with pumpkin seeds and puree). The wine and cocktail program is equally adroit, making Homewood, with the closure of The Grape, the new preeminent “date night” or romantic occasion restaurant. (4002 Oak Lawn Ave. HomewoodDallas.com.)

3. Salaryman (Bishop Arts, casual). 2019 was peppered with Asian-themed restaurants (several on this list), but the standout was Salaryman, chef Justin Holt’s tribute to the Japanese white collar worker. Affordable, effortless, with flavorful ramen and yakitori (skewered chicken), and little else. In Tokyo, a salaryman is loyal to his company; you feel that loyalty here, not just from the kitchen, but toward it. (286 N. Bishop Ave., SalarymanOakCliff.com.)

The Henry

4. The Henry (The Union, casual). I’ll admit, it took me a while to warm up to The Henry — three visits before I finally grooved to what the kitchen is trying to do.  A huge but homey style seems to focus on cocktails and socializing, but delve into the menu and you’ll revel in familiar items tweaked just so: Blistered shishitos dipped in umami sauce, Norwegian salmon capped by a soft fried egg, tender Korean skirt steak with Asian accents, even the modest club sandwich, so well executed as to remind you why it’s still around. This is Americana cuisine with gourmet touches, like an elevated gastropub. I was finally won over.  (2301 N. Akard St, TheHenryRestaurant.com.)

Rellenos at Tulum

5. Tulum (Uptown, casual). The line between fine dining and casual is never blurrier than at this Oak Lawn gem (coincidentally, in the same space the old Nosh occupied), easily one of my favorite places to just hang for happy hour cocktails or feast on sophisticated dishes with a coastal Mexico flair. A goat cheese chile relleno made not with a spacious poblano pepper, but rather button-like pepperdews, delicately stuffed and doused in a beautiful, rich fresno sauce? Inspired. Add a side of seared panela cheese with guac, a juicy grilled chicken breast and enchilada, finish it up with a creamy flan? This is the new Mex-Mex place I keep coming back to. (4216 Oak Lawn Ave., TheTulumExperience.com.)

6. Paradiso. More than any other spot on this list, Paradiso seems an outlier: Hard to classify culinarily and style-wise, but enticing nonetheless, with its artsy decor, organic energy (an outdoor garden that’s part playground, part fancy picnic) and limited but well-executed dishes along the lines of pasta, pizza and proteins like cod and steak frites. In a different mood, I might call it unfocused, but the overall tone is so inviting and the food so good it works.  (308 N. Bishop Ave., ParadisoDallas.com.)

Local Yocal

7. Local Yocal (McKinney, casual). If you’re gonna take a road trip up to McKinney for a meal, it had better be worth it, and my, yes, Local Yocal definitely is. A Tillamook red-pepper “pimento” cheese dip — probably the best I’ve had locally — set the tone, but didn’t have to carry the full load. The mark of the best barbecue is always that a sauce should add to but not define the tender smokiness of the protein. I didn’t employ any extra sauce here, savoring the moist slivers of brisket, the not-too-sweet glaze on the ribs and the extravagance of the over-the-top Hamilton wagyu burger topped with sausage, jalapenos, cheese and more make this a protein palace. (350 E. Louisiana St., McKinney, LocalYocalBBQandGrill.com.)

8. Ka-Tip (Farmers Market, casual). Probably the casualest of the casuals (not counting the taquerias), this tiny counter-service Thai street food storefront specializes in Issan-region cuisine celebrated with enviable simplicity and deftness. Many of the dishes come out plainly in a cardboard boat (“ka-tip” is actually the name of the woven bamboo basket Thai food traditionally comes in), a fact that belies the care of their execution. (1011 S. Pearl Expressway, ste. 190, KaTipThaiDallas.com.)

9. Jia Modern Chinese (Preston Hollow; depends). You don’t have to spend much money at Jia to feel like you’re having a special meal: The Chinese red and lacquer finishes could come across as cliches, but they don’t really, they just add a Zen soothingness. And Dallas, ever in need of quality Chinese food, benefits from its authentic Szechuan dishes, including the signature kung pao chicken and silken tofu dishes. (8411 Preston Road, ste. 132, JiaModernChinese.com.)

10 (tie). Trompo (Bishop Arts, casual) and Tacos Mariachi (Lower Greenville, casual). Both of these already-established taco joints opened follow-up locations last year, tweaking their menus and decor and essentially reminding current fans, and luring new one, with their subtle progressions in style. (Trompo, 407 W. 10th St., ste. 140; Tacos Mariachi, 2018 Greenville Ave.)