Our Town: A Travel Editor’s Guide to Dallas
Dallas, the city, is completely unlike the famed television show. Most first-time visitors think it will be full of longhorns and oil rigs, but in reality, Dallas is a true metropolitan city; many natives (myself included) don’t even have the trademark Texan drawl. The city’s massive highway systems, box stores, and mini mansions can be overwhelming, but on closer look, Dallas is a city that’s all about supporting the local—whether that be restaurants, bars, breweries, musicians, or artists. An easy way to break down the ninth largest city in the United States is to think about Dallas being divided by north, east, south, and west, with Downtown in the center of it all, and the Trinity river dividing the northeast from southwest.
My affection for Dallas goes deep—I have paternal family roots in Dallas dating back to the early 1900s. The majority of my friends back home wonder why I ever left. Despite my Dallas departure, I still love to keep up with what’s happening and am always ready to recommend the must-visit spots in my hometown.
Dallas is slowly gaining the notoriety it deserves as a full-fledged food city. Developments like Trinity Groves are dedicated incubators for the dining out experience. And if you go to Dallas, you have to eat BBQ and Tex-Mex—there is no way around it. I always eat at E Bar Tex Mex, usually as soon as I land. Traditional Tex-Mex and Mexican street tacos are widespread in Dallas—my tips for deciding on the best place to go are to look for free chips and salsa at the table, and whether or not the sign is hand-painted. For street tacos, visit Taqueria El Si Hay in Oak Cliff or La Ventana Downtown near the original El Fenix Tex-Mex restaurant. A great spot for dinner and after-dinner drinks is Chicken Scratch and The Foundry. Tucked off the highway in Oak Cliff, the two are adjoined and share a large outdoor area with picnic tables, cozy couch booths and live music. You can’t go wrong with buttermilk fried chicken, green chile and hominy mac and cheese, and a cold beer. As far as BBQ goes, everyone has their preferred spot, like Lockhart over Pecan Lodge, but an unforgettable BBQ experience happens at Smoke. Go for brunch—biscuits and gravy go surprisingly well with brisket omelets or brisket cornbread hash and a Bloody Mary.
Dallas is the home of the frozen margarita. The original can be found at Mariano’s, but the entire city prides itself on the tequila cocktail. One of the top things I miss most about Dallas is the ever-growing amount of amazing craft breweries putting out insanely delicious beer. These local craft brews are not hard to find; a lot of bars serve local favorites from places like Peticolas, Deep Ellum Brewery, Four Corners, Community, and Lakewood Brewing Co. Twilite Lounge is a New Orleans jazz inspired bar in Deep Ellum with a great selection of beer and cocktails and regular music acts. A few doors down at Off The Record, you have a similar selection of local brews and great cocktails while shopping for vinyl records. On most nights they have DJs spinning music so you can D-town boogie. Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House in the Lakewood neighborhood is a staple because I can have a big juicy burger while trying the latest beers from my favorites; it’s also a great circular bar with televisions to watch sports. Although Dallas is not particularly known for coffee culture, it still has quite a few coffee shops worth your time. If you are in Oak Cliff, stop by Davis Street Espresso, which serves Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters; the coffee is so good I pick up a bag when I am home to bring back with me. If you’re in Deep Ellum and need to take a break from the beating Texas sun or get some work done, grab a cup from Murray Street Coffee. They are one of the original coffee shops and define the neighborhood for natives and newcomers.
The city might be most famous for being home to Neiman Marcus, but there are large shopping centers in every section, including Highland Park Village and North Park Center. I prefer more low-key, specialty shops, like bookstore/café Wild Detectives. With a constant selection of events like zine fests, readings and film screenings, Wild Detectives is a cornerstone in the creative community with a serious selection of books you wouldn’t be able find in a big box bookstore. TenOverSix is the boutique shop you follow on Instagram, with a stream of lust-worthy objects from top designers. It’s also a great location in the middle of downtown attached to the lobby of The Joule hotel. Epocha, whose name is hard to pronounce, is fairly new to the Dallas retail landscape. It’s essentially a sneaker store at first sight, but I go there to check out local brands and Dallas shirts and sourced vintage apparel. We are 1976 is the best place for small paper goods and gifts. The store has two locations, but the one in Bishop Arts doubles as a letterpress studio that offers workshop classes. I could spend hours in this store picking up everything.
The cultural institutions and arts community continue to grow exponentially each year adding to the largest concentrated urban arts districts in the country, which spans 19 acres. Take a stroll through the Dallas Arts District and admire the architecture of theater and performance buildings new and old. My personal pick for art in the district (other than the beloved Dallas Museum of Art) is the Nasher Sculpture Center for the exquisite collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. The stunning indoor/outdoor space designed by Renzo Piano is beautiful anytime of year. Off the main drag of the Arts District, located in the ever-growing Design District is another Dallas art gem, Dallas Contemporary. If you take the right route, you can even drive below Dallas’ own Santiago Calatrava, locally known as the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. The Dallas Contemporary is the place to see the best new work from regional, national, and international artists. Hands down, the area’s top attraction (at least when it comes to Instagram moments) is the iconic Pegasus. The flying red horse is a defining feature of the old Dallas skyline—it has now been and sits in front of the Omni Hotel Downtown Dallas.
Where to Stay
I recommend staying in a neighborhood where there’s a good amount to see and do within walking distance, such as North Oak Cliff, Downtown, and Uptown. For a luxury stay, I highly recommend The Joule Hotel and Hotel Zaza. And Oak Cliff is home to Belmont Hotel, my personal favorite. The 1940s motor hotel has a pool and lawn with skyline view, and is perfect for staycations in the summer. If Downtown is more convenient, the Nylo South Side Hotel is a great option in a historic building, with a rooftop bar and pool with breathtaking views.
What I Want to Try
With each visit back home, it’s hard to squeeze in all my tried-and-trues, while finding time to explore new places. I want to grab pre-dinner cocktails at Midnight Rambler Bar, followed by dinner at Deep Ellum’s new southern comfort food place, Filament. And although I have had drinks here, I feel like it’s a sin if I don’t try the menu at Small Brew Pub. Texas may not be known for their whiskey, but my go-to is blended Texas Whiskey from Firestone and Robertson Distillery, in Fort Worth. The next time I’m home, I’ll be stopping by for a tour and to purchase a bottle of the good stuff to lug back with me.
Mariah Tyler is a digital photo editor at Travel+Leisure. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @mphbox.