Is your favorite restaurant really your favorite restaurant, or is it just a comfortable standby? Either way, it’s time for something new. Shake up your neighborhood dining life with these suggestions for every kind of meal.
We Dallasites love our patios. In a city where eating out is a great pastime, eating outside is fantastically sexy. And in Oak Cliff, there is no shortage of outdoor-eating.
• Remember what Oak Cliff was like before Luckie’s Smokehouse? Before the mural featuring Bat Girl, Jason Roberts and Spanky from “Our Gang”? We don’t even like to think about it. Luckie’s owners transformed an abandoned gas station into one of the hottest restaurants in Oak Cliff. Sure, they really do have nice art in there. And the barbecue is good, too. But the most important aspect is the bar that opens to a huge patio. It’s the new place to see and be seen in Oak Cliff. 1300 W. Davis at Clinton, 214.943.2300.
• Should we even tell you about La Costeña? We don’t want to ruin it for ourselves. It’s this Mexican seafood joint whose customers mostly are Pumas jersey-wearing guys who want to eat their oyster cocktails and drink in peace. The food is pretty good. Aside from the seafood cocktails, there are cheese enchiladas with shrimp, fried fish and hearty fish stews. But the real draw here is out back, where there’s a big plaza and, sometimes, a DJ. Plus, there’s a sand volleyball court. Game on. 234 Sunset at Llewellyn, 214.946.5650.
• Bolsa is one of the places in Oak Cliff that draws people from as far away as Preston Hollow and Plano. It is super hip. They have fancy, fancy cocktails. And the patio features a minimalist design that’s so cool you forget you’re in Dallas. 614 W. Davis at Llewellyn, 214. 367.9367.
• Nova is like Bolsa for hipsters. The menu is adventurous, and the food is always good. But it’s less pricey and more casual, and they serve Pabst in a can. On weekend nights, there is often live music on the patio. 1417 W. Davis at Windomere, 214.484.7123.
• Papa Joe’s Backyard Barbecue opened in Elmwood around the same time as two high-profile barbecue joints in Oak Cliff. But it’s the only one with a backyard. This family-owned business serves good barbecue with three kinds of homemade sauce. And as the backyard basically is a playground, it is possibly the most kid-friendly place in Oak Cliff. 1233 Newport at Balboa, 214.941.4092.
• It’s Sunday morning. You’re waking up. Where do you begin? If it’s after 11 a.m., you could start with the $5.95 all-you-can-eat pancakes at Spiral Diner. They will have two kinds stacked inside chafing dishes, and you can serve yourself, so there’s no wait for emergency morning-after carb loading. For a fancy Sunday brunch, we have more ideas.
• Oddfellows started out serving breakfast and lunch only, so they know their stuff. Buckwheat, buttermilk and gingerbread pancakes. Omelets galore. Mega breakfast tacos. And that coffee. This place is popular, but the restaurant’s hip owners have created a lovely little plaza out front, so waiting for a table is not that bad. 316 W. Seventh at Bishop, 214.944.5958.
• Tillman’s just added brunch last year, and it’s already famous as a hangover helper. The $45 hangover breakfast platter for the table feeds four people and includes “bennie & the jets”, an omelet, bacon, sausage, barbecue-spiced breakfast potatoes and cinnamon monkey bread. The brunch menu also includes pancakes with maple syrup (the only syrup that matters), an egg sandwich, burgers, sandwiches and Tillman’s famous venison Frito pie. 324 W. Seventh at Bishop, 214.942.0988.
• Everyone knows Jack’s Backyard is great for drinks and live music. But they have Sunday brunch, too. The Jack’s Benedict is made with bacon and avocado. The bloody Mary is $3 and spicy. And on a nice day, the setting is lovely. It’s a good place to bring kids and dogs. 2303 Pittman at Commerce, 214.741.3131.
• Smoke wins the prize for sexiest brunch in town. Biscuits and gravy, pulled whole-hog barbecue eggs Benedict, blueberry ricotta cheese pancakes with vanilla poached apricots and cream, cheese grits, thick cut pork-belly bacon. Mmmm. Yes. 901 Fort Worth at Sylvan, 214.393.4141.
The Texas experience
• Let’s say your college roommate is coming from Minnesota. Or that exchange student your family hosted 20 years ago is visiting from Berlin. Applebee’s is not going to cut it. They want something authentic, something to write home about, something Texan. Texas-centric Tillman’s is always a good choice, whether your guests live on Mars or Marsh Lane. But here are a few other places to take out-of-town guests.
• God bless Lockhart Smokehouse. They made it so we don’t have to drive all the way to the Hill Country for good barbecue. Explain to your guests that real Hill Country barbecue doesn’t have sauce. Also, there are no forks. You eat it with your hands. Even if they don’t love it, they won’t soon forget it. 400 W. Davis at Bishop, 214.944.5521.
• When it comes to tacos, Oak Cliff is like a mini San Antonio. Tacos are our unofficial official dish. For an authentic Texas experience, without getting on I-35 South, take your guests to a taquería. Start them out easy with the Mexico City-style tacos of El Tizoncito (3404 W. Illiniois at Westmoreland). And then move into more daring territory like Cafeteria Y Lonchería El Padrino (408 W. Jefferson at Bishop) or Boy’s Taquería (1913 S. Edgefield at Ferndale). For regular reviews of taco joints in the ’hood, check tacocliff.wordpress.com and tacosense.com.
• Aunt Stelle’s is only open in the summertime now, and it’s only open a few days a week. It’s not going to be around forever because once owner Lee Albert decides to retire, that’s it. No more snow cones. Not from Aunt Stelle’s patented ice-shaving machine, anyway. Bring your guests to Aunt Stelle’s and ask them if they’ve ever had a better snow cone. If they say yes, they are not really your friends. 2002 W. Clarendon at Marlborough, 214.946.1431.
The anatomy of two tacos
Tacos are not just for taquerías anymore. Gourmet taco shops like Austin-based Torchy’s are turning up all over Dallas, and it is a matter of time before these trendy tacos pop up in the ’hood. In the image below we examine the difference between the authentic and the posh:
Pie in your eye
Pie is the top restaurant trend in the nation for 2011, according to trend-spotters far and wide. There is a pies-only restaurant in New York, and pie is even usurping cake at weddings.
• Inforzato’s is the former Hula Hottie’s, which this year changed concepts from Hawaiian to Italian. They can change it to Korean tacos and fried frogs for all we care, as long as there is pie. Co-owner Jill Infortazo is a master of caramel apple pie and New York-style cheesecake, which are almost always on hand. Call and order whole pies in any flavor you want: Kentucky bourbon, rum raisin, coconut cream, lemon chess, sweet potato and more. The $10 pizzas are not bad either. 244 W. Davis at Elsbeth, 214.943.2233.
• The motto of Norma’s is “Life is short. Eat dessert first.” Norma’s is famous for its mile-high meringue pies, including coconut, chocolate, lemon and chocolate-peanut butter. Every January, Norma’s hosts free pie day. It’s magical. 1123 W. Davis at Winnetka, 214.946.4711.
• Spiral Diner — no eggs, no milk, still delicious. Sure, you could order something healthy at Spiral Diner. But that’s not the point. This is junk food for vegans, and the rest of us, too. Spiral makes blueberry pie, served a la mode with soy ice cream, plus pecan pie, sweet potato pie and many others. Oh, and they serve vegan Frito pie, too. 1101 N. Beckley at El Dorado, 214.948.4747.
It’s 3 a.m. You’re hungry. You need carbs and grease before bed. Oak Cliff has got you covered.
• Does Cesar’s Tacos Y Gorditas have the best tacos in Oak Cliff? Not even close. But they are open 24-7. Don’t order anything crazy here. Whole fried fish? Oh, honey, no. That’s like ordering clams casino at a truck stop. Just have the fajita or chicken tacos, wash them down with a Mexican coke, take two aspirin and call it a night. 2919 W. Davis at Ravinia, 214.330.5409.
• Even though La Paisanita is right across the street from Cesar’s No. 1, it never seems to get as much attention. We don’t know why. La Paisanita has good, authentic tacos for $1.17 each, and they’re open all the time. 2930 W. Davis at Ravinia, 214.623.9658.
• Oak Cliff’s Metro Diner is the last Metro Diner after the one near Baylor hospital closed this past spring. Of course, we still call it Pitt Grill. And late at night, we order cheeseburgers, pancakes or waffles with chocolate chips. And we play Hank Williams on the jukebox. 2316 W. Davis at Hampton, 214.946.0220.
Eating on Elmwood
Elmwood is a residential neighborhood with a 1950s commercial district at its heart. Some businesses there, including a gas station and a car wash, are closed. And retail has not yet come back to life in Elmwood. But its restaurants, some brand new, some longtime Oak Cliff favorites, are thriving.
 Lulu’s Authentic Mexican (1234 Newport Ave. 214.339.1661): We’re not sure how many years Lulu’s has been serving Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex from its tiny maroon building, but it’s a neighborhood institution. Open at 8 a.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Lulu’s is family owned and operated.
 Papa Joe’s Backyard Barbecue (1233 Newport Ave. 214.941.4092): Papa Joe’s is the new kid on the block, serving barbecue and beer, cafeteria style. They’re open for dinner Thursday and Friday, and they serve lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.
 La Fondita (1409 Ferndale 214.941.9221): La Fondita is known for its tiny space (just seven tables inside), it’s friendly owners, and its home-style Mexican food — delicious tacos, amazing salsa and authentic everything.
 Boy’s Taqueria (1913 S. Edgefield 214.946.3738): The key word at Boy’s is “cheap”. Here, you can get six tacos for $5. Barbacoa, lengua, al pastor, chicharrón, fajita and chicken — go ahead, order one of everything.
 Hugo’s Beer and Tacos (1817 S. Edgefield 214.943.3616): Now that Oak Cliff is wet, we can have beer with our tacos like normal people. Hugo’s is in a converted former barbershop, and there are a few tables, but it’s really a takeout place.
 Marrito’s Tortilleria (2002 S. Edgefield 214.943.8661): Marrito’s has been at the corner of Elmwood and Ferndale for ages, offering homemade tortillas, tacos, tortas, enchiladas, burritos and, on the weekends, menudo and barbacoa.
Eating in a tie
Business lunches can be awkward. Eat slowly and try to get more food in your mouth than on your clothing. Remember not to drink too much. Now that we’ve got ourselves together, where to go? In Oak Cliff, there’s a restaurant for any type of client.
• Hattie’s has a legendary brunch and birthday-worthy suppers. But we like it best for lunch. It has good lighting, a relaxed atmosphere that’s just shy of casual and a menu that makes people smile. We’d love to try the buttermilk fried chicken cobb salad or ham and brie sandwich with tomato chutney sometime. But we can’t not order the fried green tomatoes or four-cheese macaroni. 418 N. Bishop at Seventh, 214.942.7400.
• Hunky’s is good for many occasions, including times when you’re schlepping kids around or just getting a quick beer and a burger with pals. We like it for a casual business lunch, particularly one that’s after 1 p.m. By then, the rush has died down and you can get a table by the windows, sip a root beer and look over sales numbers, or whatever it is people do at work. It’s cool because it’s in the Bishop Arts District, but it’s cheap enough to treat clients without breaking the company. 321 N. Bishop at Eighth, 214.941.3322.
• Is it crazy to recommend Charco Broiler for a business lunch? It depends on the message you’re trying to send. Charco Broiler is an old-school steakhouse where food is ordered cafeteria style, and a big steak with salad, baked potato, Texas toast and iced tea is $12. If you’re entertaining a Donald Trump type, take him to Fearing’s. For Charco Broiler, we imagine a Warren Buffet type. Or maybe even a John Gotti. 413 W. Jefferson at Bishop, 214.942.6806.
Elotes is a Mexican street food, and in our neighborhood, it is sold from carts outside Mexican grocery stores. Even if the only Spanish phrase you ever learn is “un elote, por favor”, we urge you to try it at least once. The handy graphic below explains the makings of an elote. Usually, eloteros (yes, there is a Spanish word for a person who sells corn) scoop the hot, pre-cut corn kernels into the cup and layer the ingredients on top. Sometimes they cut the corn off the cob to order and mix the ingredients in a bin before it goes in the cup. Whether you like yours with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of lemon pepper or “sin chile”, an elotero will hook you up with a tasty snack.
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