Dallas’s food identity is all over the map. When dreaming up a list of the must-try foods in the Big D, there are the iconic dishes you’d expect to find—barbecue, chili, tacos, and fried chicken—and they’re all well-worth mentioning. But the city is full of culinary surprises, too. Dallas boasts one of the best Laotian and Thai food scenes in the country, exciting Japanese and Italian fare, and classic Southern dishes with a distinctly Texan twist. And yes, before you ask, in the city that invented them, frozen margaritas absolutely count as food. Without further ado, here are the best foods to try in Dallas, and where to find them.
Brisket at The Pecan Lodge
In Dallas, where smoked meat is firmly entrenched in the city’s cultural landscape, it can be a tad controversial to name your favorite barbecue joint. That said, The Pecan Lodge really is the best in town. This iconic spot is as well-known for its silky, delicate brisket as it is for its heartbreakingly long lines. Trust us, the hour-long wait will be forgotten once you’re sinking your teeth into the tastiest smoked meat in North Texas.
Fish and Octopus Tacos at Revolver Taco Lounge
Having tacos Dallas is a must, and Revolver Taco Lounge is simply outstanding. Revolver chef Regino Rojas was recently long-listed for a 2018 Best Chef: Southwest James Beard Foundation Award, so that should give you some indication of how good this place is. The pescado tacos, made with Baja-style fried, wild cod soaked in a Modelo Especial batter, are a revelation, as are the carnitas-style octopus tacos topped with crispy, fried leeks and jalapeño salsa. Oh, and good luck going back to store-bought tortillas after you taste Revolver’s house-made corn tortillas.
Soba at Tei-An
The homemade soba noodles at Tei-An are a wonder to behold and to eat. Tei-An owner (and world-renowned soba master!) Teiichi Sakurai is easily one of the most influential figures on the Dallas food scene. Each morning, Sakurai prepares the soba—fresh buckwheat noodles that are notoriously difficult to form and cut properly, and can be eaten hot or cold with an assortment of flavorful sauces and broths. One of the best ways to experience this dish is by calling ahead to request the seven-course omakase, the incredible tasting menu.
Chili at Tolbert’s
What’s a trip to Dallas without sampling some hearty, homemade Texas chili? (Chili is the official state dish of Texas, after all.) Get your chili fix at Tolbert’s, where husband-and-wife duo Kathleen and Paul Ryan use Kathleen’s father’s 50-year-old original recipe for chili. Frank Tolbert (the restaurant's namesake) wrote the famed "A Bowl of Red," which is widely considered by many Texans to be the definitive guide to all things chili.
Burgers at BrainDead Brewing
In a city that loves its red meat the way Dallas does, you’ve gotta do a burger taste test when you’re in town. And for our money, nothing beats the Coma Burger at BrainDead Brewing. This succulent, insanely delicious concoction from chef David Pena consists of house-ground black angus brisket and Duroc pork bacon patty along with shredded butter lettuce, smoked cheddar, crispy shallots, fresh tomato, and sweet onion jam. No one does beef better than Dallas, and no one does burgers better than BrainDead.
Fried Chicken at Rudy's Chicken
When in Dallas, do as the locals do: consume bucketloads of fried chicken, that is. The city is a treasure trove of fried goodness and at Rudy’s Chicken, folks revel in the crispy, crunchy, oh-so-flavorful chicken. It’s worth waiting in line at this cash-only spot for their perfectly seasoned birds.
Shrimp and Grits at Hattie’s
Shrimp and grits are a Southern food classic, and even in the height of summer, you’ll find Dallasites everywhere tucking into steaming-hot bowls of this yummy dish. At Hattie’s, rest assured you’re getting the best shrimp and grits in the city; in a mouthwatering combo for the ages, juicy shrimp is paired with tabasco-bacon pan sauce and creamy goat cheese.
Fajitas at El Fenix
There’s little else that exemplifies Texan food heritage quite like good ol’ Tex Mex. Dig into a sizzling plate of fajitas at El Fenix, a 100-year institution that’s been called the “Tex Mex heart of Dallas.” You really can’t go wrong with Tex Mex food in general, of course, but the fajitas at El Fenix are legendary.
In the city that (claims to have) invented the frozen margarita, it’d be a crime to visit Dallas without having at least one margarita-sippin’, patio-sittin’ experience. For some of the best margs in town, indulge in frozen margaritas at Mi Cocina, where the Mambo Taxi (Sauza Silver tequila, lime juice, house-made sangria, brandy) was recently named D Magazine’s Favorite Margarita. At Meso Maya, sip on heavenly avocado margaritas made with muddled avocado, triple sec, pineapple and lime juices. Then, go gulp down a refreshing hibiscus margarita or two at Mexican Sugar.
Homemade Pasta at Lucia
The Italian cuisine scene is fabulous in Dallas—and you can’t leave town without chowing down on freshly made pasta at Lucia, easily one of the city’s most beloved eateries. Lucia’s pasta is made in-house daily, with products that are distinctly Texan, and the result is nothing short of magical.
Cinco Leches Cake at Mesero
Dallas is rife with restaurants serving tres leches cake—a Latin American dessert (light, airy sponge cake soaked with a mixture of three kinds of milks) that was popularized in Texas in the '90s—but the cinco leches cake at Mesero is topped with heavy cream and served in a pool of dulce de leche caramel. It’s definitely a cut above the rest.
Laab at Nalinh Market
Dallas has one of the biggest and buzziest Laotian food scenes in North America, and it all started with a tiny specialty grocery store called Nalinh Market. If you could only try one Laotian food staple during your time in the Big D, make it laab: a minced meat and herbs salad that’s served with your choice of meat, along with mint, scallions, cilantro, and savory-sweet homemade dressing.
Bologna Sandwich at Shoals Sound & Service
You’re probably wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to come to Dallas for a bologna sandwich—but if you have to wonder, you haven’t had the bologna sandwich at Shoals, in Deep Ellum. The city’s meat-lover vibes reach new heights with this delectable, justifiably famous sandwich. Made with buttery Mortadella, Dijon mustard, creamy mayo, hot peppers, and thin slices of three blends of cheese, this is decidedly not the bologna sandwich of your childhood.