Category Archives: Dallas

What’s for Dinner in Dallas . . .

(The Sushi and Robata counter at Tei Tei Robata Bar on Henderson in Dallas)

Being somewhat of an amateur gourmand and a lover of calories in all forms,  I often get asked by friends who have recently moved to Dallas which local restaurants I’d recommend.  I’ve lived in Dallas on and off for 15 years during which the city’s culinary scene has not only evolved beyond staples such as Tex-Mex,  5-star steak houses and fried chicken & waffles, but has elevated local tried-and-true favorites such as these with inventive new points of view that can also be seen in parallel in the changing make up of Dallas’ population and city culture at large.   While maintaining a focus on honest and comforting foods, local Chef’s have adopted West and East coast styles with seasonal menus, sourcing and incorporating local and sustainable ingredients, and experimenting with and incorporating Asian techniques, flavors, and ingredients.  Honestly, it is a great time to be eating in Dallas.

My list of recommended eateries below largely reflect the way my wife Alice and I like to eat and represent many of the places we frequent the most.  We believe delicious food should be affordable.  Except for a few, most of the places on the list are reasonably priced for a normal weekend meal with friends.     Some are in strip malls and have absolutely no atmosphere or ambiance, but you will not go wrong with the food in any of these restaurants.  Now, I do believe ambiance is important for certain meals (special occasions, nights out on the town, celebratory meals, etc.) and at the end of the day, “context” can often determine how food tastes and how a meal is experienced and ultimately remembered.

The list has remained surprising consistent over the 5 years I’ve been assembling, changing and distributing it via email to friends.  Admittedly, Alice and I have become creatures of habit and now tend to gravitate towards tables where we know we will enjoy a satisfying meal.  Although we regularly patronize new restaurants, we still prefer many of these places that have been serving diners as long or longer than we have been eating in Dallas.

A few other final disclosures . . .  BYOB and cheap corkage is a big bonus for us.   Also, major points for dog friendly patios.  Finally, being Chinese-Americans, we tend to frequent Asian establishments which you will note are quite well represented on the list.

The List:

  • Tei Tei Robata (Japanese) – our favorite restaurant in town.  I’ve eaten Japanese food all over the world including sashimi fresh off the boats at the Tokyo fish market.  When Alice and I celebrate we usually go here.  For more details, here’s my review on yelp.
  • Urbano (Italian) – We’ve followed Mitch, the owner who also runs the front of the house, as he’s moved this small restaurant to now its third location.  It’s currently located in the East Dallas area and has a very bohemian feel that fits perfectly among it’s current environs.   Menu is seasonal and changes all the time.  BYOB.
  • Bolsa (New American) – great patio, dog friendly, affordable wines, local and seasonal menu.  This is a favorite Friday after work place for us to get good food and a bottle of vino.  Here’s my yelp review.
  • Pappas Brothers Steakhouse – Dallas is world renown for their steak houses.  This has the typical high-end steak house format, but they just do it better than anyone else in town.  Incredible wine list.  Ala carte sides are all well done.  Don’t let it’s pedestrian surroundings fool you.
  • Toulousse (French Brasserie style foods ).  Also has a dog friendly patio.  This is a Lombardi Family owned restaurant so you pretty much know you will get a solid quality meal like any of their other establishments (Taverna, Sangria, and Bistro 31)
  • Veracruz Café (Latin American) – traditional and inventive Central American dishes here.
  • Seoul Garden (Korean) – located in a surprising sizeable Dallas K-town where their are numerous other Korean dining establishments.  There was a period when their service was spotty, but this is still our go to Korean BBQ place among the many other options near-by
  • Jeng Chi or Mian Cuisine (Taiwanese)  – Lots of good noodles, dumplings, and breads/pancakes.  Here’s my review for Jeng Chi on yelp.
  • First Emperor (Chinese/Taiwanese) – Hole in the wall.  This is a place you need to know what to order.  Mostly stir fries and a great family style place to go.  My review on yelp.
  • First Chinese BBQ – Good Cantonese food.  My review on yelp.
  • Babe’s Fried Chicken – Voted best fried chicken in the US by Southern Living Magazine.  Enough said.  Multiple locations around town but for the real experience go to the original in Roanoke.  You only have to make three decision: 1) Fried Chicken or Chicken Fried Steak, 2) What do you want to drink with your Fried “fill in the blank” – I suggest sweet tea, and 3) how much do you want to take home in a doggy bag.  And it really is a clear plastic doggy bag that is shoved full of your guaranteed leftovers with the open end tied in a square knot.
  • Bistro B (Vietnamese).  Lots of variety. Very busy and chaotic.
  • Noodlewave – (Thai- Halal style).  Great fish, curries, and stir fries.
  • Hillstone’s (American) – very generic setting and menu is really not innovative at all, but all the dishes are done so well.   Probably the most vanilla place on this list but the service and food are great.   Also little known fact is they don’t have a corkage fee.
  • Hattie’s (Southern) – a modern and decadent southern menu in the Bishop Arts district.  Great Mac and Cheese.
  • Coal Vine (Pizza) – good thin crust pizza and wine bar that we like to go to.
  • Victor Tangos (New American) – good drinks, festive scene and solid menu good for sharing small plates.

Dallas or Bust?

The cast of the hit TV Show “Dallas”

I used to work at Travelocity which is based in Southlake, an affluent suburb of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.  Travelocity recently shut down their San Francisco and New York offices.  Fortunately or unfortunately, some of the Gnomies who were located there were given the opportunity to relocate to Dallas.   You can imagine all the disdain and haughty comments about the thought of moving to DFW from these two great and  proud American cities.  One San Fran resident who I am friends with on Facebook asked the question,

“Dear Dallas Friends — I need help with my decision! Please tell me what you love about Dallas, (and DON’T say cost of living or weather!) Needing more items in the “pro” column.”

I never thought I’d be a Pro-Dallas fanboy.  I spent a large part of my life in Houston where we are raised to hate our Texan Brethren up I-45.  I worked in a number of cities in the US and Canada and grew up abroad as part of a expat family (elementary school in Thailand and Saudi Arabia and high school in Switzerland). I would have laughed at the thought of living anywhere for more than 10 years straight, let alone Dallas – the largest city in the US not on a major body of water.  An arid high plains city with no geographical or geological reason for existing.   But low and behold, Dallas has grown on me and I have been a proud resident of this great American City for a full cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar.  So why Dallas?  Here are my top 5 reasons.

1) Low cost of living.  Okay, this is a big deal.  Cheap homes, no state income taxes, lower prices in the grocery stories,restaurants, and at the gas pump, affordable State Universities, etc.  So you can either save that money or do like most Dallasites do: add more square feet to your home, buy an luxury SUV, put in a swimming pool, drop some coin at the many great malls around town, hire a housekeeper or take a great vacation twice a year.

2) Nice people.  Okay, New Yorkers are rude.  San Franciscans are weird.  In Dallas people are just good warm people.  Truly middle of the road with most people leaning a little more to the right.  I’d say progressive conservatives with a sprinkling of zealots and radicals on both sides to keep things interesting.  People smile a lot,  respect basic social norms, and are more likely to be friendly and helpful than indifferent or rude.  In fact, I would say coming to Dallas may actually make you nicer!

3) Frictionless living.  You never have to fight for parking.  Tons of nationally ranked public and private schools.  There are great supermarkets on every corner.  Dallas is a car culture so traffic can be bad at times, but nothing compared to the grid lock of LA.  No shoveling snow during the winter.  And two major airports allows you to get anywhere in the US in less than 4 hours.

4) Burgeoning re-urbanization movement.  The suburban sprawl is starting to contract and re-concentrate around the Dallas central core.  With this re-urbanization Dallas is building a great arts district, great pockets of dining, entertainment and shopping, more public parks, and pedestrian friendly areas.

5) Great sports.  Okay, this one might not be important to everyone but a great sports culture is part of any world class city.  Where do we start?  Dallas Mavs, 2011 NBA champs; Texas Rangers, 2010 AL Champs;  The Cowboys – America’s Team.  The Stars have even put together a championship season in the NHL.  We have great team owners: Jerry built a $1 billion stadium in Arlington.  Cuban . . . well he’s just awesome.  I wish he would run for Mayor if not the Presidency.  Also throw in an MLS team, a minor league baseball team, an NBA D-League franchise and don’t forget our amazingly exciting and competitive local High School football and basketball teams.

These five reasons plus tons of jobs, a thriving economic climate, and 6 months out of the year of very temperate weather has made Dallas the fastest growing US city the first 10 years of the 21st Century.  I’ve had many new and old friends move from NYC, SF, Boston, and Chi-town.  Those that thought, like me, that Dallas was just temporary, that the soul of this city was manufactured and artificial and that we could never call the Big D home.   But we stayed for many reasons, some listed above.  But in the end I think we stayed because we realized that Dallas is inhabited and more than ever is attracting the people we wanted to live amongst.

By the way, my friend who was contemplating the move from San Fran to DFW?  Well she’s here now, but misses her old home.  But like a homesick kid at summer camp on the first night, once they make a few friends and get use to the new surroundings, they won’t want to go home at the end of the week.

Are you a Dallasite?  What do you think?  Love or Hate the Big D, please share your thoughts below.

Angel investing one hand at a time

Last week I attended a small gathering of Dallas based web hackers and start up guys for a friendly game of poker.  The stakes were small and the crowd (most of whom I just met for the first time) was made up of almost all dudes in their mid to late 20’s.  The game was played on an oversized conference table at a local hacker / co-working space in Mockingbird Station.  I busted out early but not before I “invested” a few dollars to the eventual winner’s fund raising efforts.

It was good to meet more smart folks trying to build community around start-up activity in DFW.  The start-up community has become more vibrant since my business partner and I started Traxo in 2008 and I can say that it is a great time to be building a company in DFW.  However, growing a company in Dallas is a different story that I will save for later.  If you are new to the DFW start up scene, here are a few organizations and grassroots efforts that you should know about:

The Cohabitat – is a coworking and gathering space for entrepreneurs, creatives and developers.  It’s a funky turn of the century house that is home for a number of early stage companies and where meet-ups, user groups, VC roadshows, and networking events take place.  Ask for Blake who is the tall skinny guy who runs the place.

Start Up Happy Hour 2.0 – Hosted by Alex Muse (and his crew at Architel).  The drinks are free and the networking is fantastic.  You will find founders, co-founders, developers looking for gigs, Angels Investors, VC’s, lawyers, and even an occasional celebrachan sighting.

Tech Wildcatters – DFW’s version of a micro seed incubator like Y-Combinator or TechStars.  Congrats to Gabriella and team who just graduated their inaugural class of companies.  It’s a tough model to get started and it takes tons support from local investors and advisers.  Our city definitely needs one of these.

LauchDFW – here’s a good online resource to read about what’s going on in the DFW start-up scene.  Bradley does a great job keeping a pulse on promising start-ups in the Metroplex and big events that are happening in the community.