I’ve been to almost every state along both the West and East Coasts, but I haven’t spent too much time exploring the places in between. This left me feeling slightly anxious leading up to my first time visiting Dallas, Texas over the summer. I didn’t know what to expect. And with the state becoming both a political and pandemic battleground, it was hard to not go in with pre-established ideas.
What I found was basically one big concrete jungle juxtaposed with classic Texan warmth and hospitality. Hikes and outdoorsy excursions were generally harder to find than they are on most of my adventures, so the main attractions for me became the restaurant and nightlife scenes. From five-star steakhouses to Tex-Mex hotspots and rooftop bars serving the most Instagrammable drinks, I found no shortage of gorge-worthy establishments and proceeded to do exactly that.
For what it’s worth, I typically don’t eat meat. But when I’m traveling to a new destination, I’m pretty much down to try whatever the local delicacies may be. In this case, “delicacies” translates to sour cream enchiladas, ranch waters (tequila sodas made in a Topo Chico bottle), and ribeye steaks bigger than my head. No, I don’t regret a single bite (though all I wanted to eat was salad for a week straight after I got home).
If you’re planning a trip to Dallas, make sure to pack your stretchiest pair of pants because food and drinks are abundant. To help you eat your way through Dallas, I’m sharing eight restaurants that I would recommend to any other first-time visitor to the city.
PART I – High-End Steakhouses
If you’re looking for the ultimate Texas steakhouse experience and feel like balling out on a nice dinner, head to Nick & Sam’s. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the most luxurious (and gluttonous) dinners I’ve ever enjoyed. The dimly lit, elegantly decorated dining room featured sharply dressed diners and waitstaff.
The food was no less buttoned up. Your best plan of action at Nick & Sam’s is to order a ton of shareables for your table. The roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and dates literally felt life-changing. Next up, you need to order the sushi (this is non-negotiable). I normally wouldn’t trust raw fish served at a steakhouse in a land-locked city, but this sh*t was the bomb. You can get a massive sashimi and sushi platter or order a few specialty rolls (I did both). Tip: the volcano roll isn’t technically on the menu, but you can order it. And you should.
Now, for the main course. The waiters literally bring a raw meat presentation to each table so you can hand-select your choice of steak. As I said, I usually don’t eat meat. So this made me a tad queasy, but I respect the personalized service. If you’re going with a group of about five, the tomahawk is a must. It should be plenty for the table after pregaming your steak with sushi and apps.
Nope, we’re not done yet. It might be difficult, but make sure to save room for dessert. They have light-up cotton candy and a giant sparkling rainbow cake. Let me say that again…A SPARKLING RAINBOW CAKE. It’s topped with gummy bears and paired with ice cream for the final touch. This is what I imagine the more fun, excessive, partying corners of heaven being like.
Visit here for the full food menu.
You didn’t think I would only include one steakhouse, did you? This is Texas we’re talking about! Perry’s wasn’t originally part of my Dallas agenda, but it ended up being one of my favorite restaurants in town. The backstory to my meal is that I somehow ended up scoring a date within my first few hours in Dallas. Being a nice southern gentleman, my date took me to what turned out to be one of the most renowned steakhouses in the city. Unlike the Saturday night party at Nick & Sams, Perry’s was a much more intimate environment. The best part (aside from the food) was the floor-to-ceiling windows on the second floor — offering a look Dallas’s picturesque nighttime skyline. It was romantic, to say the least.
Oh, the date? He’s engaged to someone else now. At least I got a nice meal out of it.
Perry’s is a steakhouse, but the establishment is actually best known for its, “Perry’s Famous Pork Chop.” It’s slow-smoked, caramelized, and carved tableside on a hot cast iron plate – everything at Perry’s is a performance. I also ordered the bacon-wrapped scallops to start, which sounds like a sodium overload. However, the balance between the juicy fats and fishy flavors worked magically together. For the sides, you will likely regret your entire existence if you don’t order the asparagus. It’s topped with blue lump crab and charred to veggie perfection. The lobster mac & cheese and whipped potatoes can also do no wrong at Perry’s. The entire meal effortlessly fused every food group together.
As I said, everything at Perry’s is a show, including the dessert. The menu features a whole list of flaming desserts that the waiter sears right next to your table. I ordered the Bananas Foster, which consists of sliced bananas flambéed with brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, and nutmeg served over vanilla ice cream. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. The perfectly charred sugary sweetness and layers of spice keep the banana flavors from overpowering the rest of the dessert. Worth every calorie.
Check out the Perry’s menu here.
PART II – Trendy Hotspots
In my opinion, a restaurant’s meal presentation and ambiance can make or break the dining experience. In Paradiso’s case, it’s what earned it a spot on this list of Dallas must-haves. The whimsical vibes and elegantly plated dishes were like a trendy culinary fairytale. There are literally two massive trees adorned with twinkling bohemian-inspired chandeliers and a fountain in the center of the patio area. If it’s too chilly to sit outside, the indoor dining space is just as nice — with lush greenery, brightly colored decor, and abstract art covering the walls.
Aside from the dreamy environment, Paradiso has some delicious Southern European-style food. The menu consists of classic hand-made pasta favorites, wood-fried pizza, and all the main course protein meals you know and love. I ordered the seared scallops, which come with celery root purée, pear, cranberry, and hazelnut. Mmm, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Paradiso’s desserts are probably the most unique thing on the menu. With options like a grapefruit cheesecake infused with elderflower, your taste buds are sure to get a kick out of the final treat.
What I loved most about Paradiso is the little bar adjacent to the patio where you can lounge and sip while waiting for your table. Its swanky, old-school vibe is the perfect place to chill out and try one, or two, of Paradiso’s signature cocktails. I like things sweet, as you may have gathered, so I ordered the Ciao Bella, a glass of strawberry-infused Campari, sweet vermouth, Cocchi di torino, and prosecco.
Ready to add Paradiso to your Dallas foodie bucket list? Check out the menu and restaurant photo gallery here.
Skyline views are aplenty at Sky Blossom Bistro in the heart of Downtown Dallas. The rooftop restaurant and bar is six stories high and sits next to one of Dallas’ most peculiar landmarks, the Giant Eyeball. It’s a 30-feet tall fiberglass sculpture of a human eyeball placed in the middle of a fenced garden. Weird, I know. But it definitely adds some zest to the otherwise concrete landscape. Sky Blossom Bistro serves Asian fusion appetizers, salads, and entrees like Bo Kho beef stew and shrimp garlic noodles.
The popular rooftop food spot is also known for its sushi tacos, which are essentially a hand roll served in the shape of a taco. I, of course, had to try them for myself. I ordered the spicy tuna tacos, but they also offer shrimp tempura tacos and avocado tacos. I recommend that messy eaters request extra napkins before digging in, as these can get a bit flimsy after the first bite (I learned this the hard way).
If you need something to wash your sushi tacos and spring rolls down, Sky Blossom Bistro has a slew of fruity cocktails that are equally as colorful as they are strong. One of them even comes with sour candy ropes on top!
Check out their Instagram here for a peek at their tasty meals and vibrant drinks.
PART III – Classic Tex-Mex
I obviously couldn’t visit Dallas without eating Tex-Mex at least once. Mi Cocina seemed to be one of the popular Tex-Mex spots, as there are several locations scattered throughout the city. After pigging out here on my last night in Dallas, I completely understand why. I never thought a sour cream chicken enchilada would be something I’d choose to eat, but Mi Cocina proved my apprehension wrong. Every bite was a greasy, cheesy, and confusingly satisfying ball of goodness – okay, now I’m daydreaming about cheese. Anyway, if you’re opposed to trying the rare delicacies of Texas, there are plenty of other options. The menu features all of the classic favorites you can expect to find at a Mexican restaurant, from tacos to tortilla soup.
Everyone knows you can’t have a true Mexican supper without a margarita, but Mi Cocina takes it to the next level. Their signature drink called the Mambo Taxi is a dangerous combination of Sauza silver tequila, lime juice, housemade sangria with pinot noir, brandy, and fruit juices. You’re going to want to drink your Mambo Taxi slow, despite the irresistible slushy-like texture and great flavor. If I’m being candid, I was borderline hammered after drinking only one. I may just be a lightweight, but those things will get you if you’re not careful. It gives you a buzz and a sugar rush at the same time, so you’re sure to be feeling yourself after a few sips. No wonder Mi Cocina limits all guests to order no more than two Mambo Taxis.
Browse the menu and find the Mi Cocina location closest to your hotel here.
Meso Maya may not have Mambo Taxis, but they do have avocado margaritas. It sounds interesting, I know. But the signature concoction of mulled avocado, freshly squeezed pineapple and lime juices, Cointreau, and tequila blanco is surprisingly palatable and refreshing. Their outdoor dining area is the perfect place to sip on your avo marg (or try a Texas ranch water!) on a summer day. The space is enclosed within brick buildings, so you’ll get plenty of shade and a cool industrial atmosphere to chill out in. The little light bulbs strung across the top of the patio add a nice touch, too.
Now, for the food. At this point in the trip, I needed to take a short break from all the red meat. I ordered the shrimp tacos, and they offered a unique twist to your average tacos de camaron. In addition to the classic cilantro and cabbage, mango was also thrown into the mix. It was a sweet and salty Tex-Mex masterpiece. Some of their popular house specials also include the enchiladas en mole (you can never go wrong with that), Oaxaca steak, and queso poblano.
For the Meso Maya menu, click here.
PART IV – Casual Dining Options
If you’re someone who likes to have diverse options, head to the Dallas Farmers Market. There’s a 26,000 square foot food hall and vendor market called The Market Shops, open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The market features four restaurants, as well as local specialty and artisanal food vendors and seating areas both inside and outside (where you can get yet another view of the city skyline). It’s also a great place to shop for gifts, boutique clothing, and other artisan trinkets like handmade soaps and souvenirs to bring home. I ordered the vegan tikka from one of the local vendors, 8 Clove. It was the spicy kick I needed for an afternoon pick-me-up.
There are so many food spots to try all within The Market Shops. You could likely go there for a meal every day of your trip and never run out of new options. Overall, it’s the ultimate casual, diverse dining location in Dallas. Pursuing through all of the intriguing food choices and quirky tourist gifts makes the Dallas Farmers Market both a tasty and fun experience.
For a full list of the local fare, boutiques, and other vendors, click here.
One way to get your dose of the outdoors in Dallas is by taking a stroll on the Katy Trail. It’s a 3.5-mile long jogging, walking, and bike path that runs through the Uptown and Oak Lawn neighborhoods. Located along the trek is the Katy Trail Ice House, a laidback beer garden and restaurant where you can stop for a cold one and barbecue munchies. I always lean toward something light like a Pacifico or a cider, but the beverages menu features 50 beers on tap ranging from Texas domestics to regional and international imports. There’s a brew for every kind of beer drinker!
If you worked up an appetite while walking the trail, Ice House’s food menu is all about classic backyard barbecue favorites. They’ve got gourmet burgers and hotdogs, loaded cheese fries, steakhouse onion rings, grilled cheese sandwiches, and all of the Southern fixin’s of your dreams. Being here really does feel like a summer party with friends. 10/10 recommend for a long (and tipsy) afternoon outside.
View the full beer and beverages list here.