Food News

Dallas-Area Chefs and Industry Insiders Vote on Their Favorite Restaurants

A variety of dishes at Ka-Tip Thai Street Food
A variety of dishes at Ka-Tip Thai Street Food Alison McLean
Each year, I visit hundreds of Dallas-area restaurants and produce a Top 100 feature that reflects my own opinion about where diners can find the best food and drink in town. But I’m just one person with one set of taste buds.

That’s why, each year, I also ask dozens of chefs, food industry leaders, fellow food writers and avid restaurant-goers to name their own favorite places to eat. Here are the results of the 2020 survey — along with an analysis of which restaurants, in industry professionals' opinions, are most overrated and underrated by local critics.

How the survey worked
I asked 58 food industry insiders to name their personal “top 10” places to eat in the Dallas area, using any criteria they wanted and with the knowledge that their individual votes would be kept secret. The list of voters is at the bottom of this article.

I allowed some voting irregularities, including a ballot with a top 13, multiple chefs and owners voting for their own businesses, votes for dessert-only establishments, support for pop-up events and even votes for restaurants that are closed either temporarily (Mr. Wok) or indefinitely (Flores Barbecue).

In total, our 58 voters named 261 Dallas-area restaurants — 171 of which only got one vote.

The results
Just 90 restaurants scored multiple votes, and 16 of them earned eight votes. Here’s the full list of our sweet 16, with the total number of votes each place received, out of 58 ballots, in parentheses.

The Dallas Food Industry’s Favorite Restaurants
1. Mot Hai Ba (17)
2. TIE: Khao Noodle Shop, Petra and the Beast (16)
4. Ka-Tip Thai Street Food (15)
5. Revolver Taco Lounge (13)
6. TIE: Cosmo’s, Jose (12)
8. TIE: Salaryman, Zoli’s Pizza (11)
10. TIE: Jimmy’s Food Store, Lucia, Sachet, The Slow Bone Barbecue, Tei-An (10)
15. Sandwich Hag (9)
16. Homewood (8)
(There's a six-way tie for the next spot, so we'll cut off the list there.)

The full results appear below; but first, let’s discuss some of the more interesting results.

Changes from last year’s survey
Mot Hai Ba is a back-to-back champion, but several of last year’s favorites failed to return to the winner’s circle. Macellaio inexplicably dropped from 14 points to just 4; I had dinner there recently and it’s as wonderful as ever, maybe even better. Izkina self-sabotaged by losing chef Joel Orsini and rebranding as Booty’s Street Food, killing its support. Bullion dropped several places, probably because of the mysterious departure of beloved founding chef Bruno Davaillon.

Meanwhile, newcomers roared into top spots. I think everybody expected a strong showing for nationally acclaimed Khao Noodle Shop, but Ka-Tip Thai Street Food is right behind it — perhaps because busy chefs appreciate a casual restaurant in a central location with bold flavors and friendly industry veterans behind the wheel. That’s also part of why chefs so dearly love Cosmo’s and, down ballot, Taco y Vino.

A third rookie, Salaryman, opened in the fall, but Justin Holt’s new temple of ramen and yakitori is rapidly gaining fans, too, with much of its support coming from the last few ballots to land in my mailbox.

There was one more change from last year: I let myself vote. Last year, my top 10 was on the record as part of a ranked Top 100 feature; this year, the Top 100 was fully alphabetized. And, since this survey is based on personal preference rather than any objective measure, I will admit to casting the only vote for Syrian pastry spot Bigdash.

click to enlarge Street-style duck breast with greens at Mot Hai Ba - KATHY TRAN
Street-style duck breast with greens at Mot Hai Ba
Kathy Tran
The most underrated Dallas restaurants, according to industry insiders
I was especially curious to see if chefs and restaurant owners agree with food media about this city’s best restaurants. Just how accurate are our listicles of praise?

Only six restaurants that missed the Observer’s Top 100 feature received more than three votes: Beverley’s, Mia’s, Off-Site Kitchen, Neighborhood Services, Taco y Vino and the most popular snubbed spot, national chain R&D Kitchen (five votes to the others’ four). I’m cool with that list. R&D Kitchen is famously a chef hangout, and Neighborhood Services recently left me feeling “meh.” For the record, I do love Taco y Vino.

Chefs work crazy hours and also, of course, work while everyone else is eating. The result is that chefs vote overwhelmingly for casual restaurants where they can grab a great bite at a reasonable price — which results in impressive scores for places such as Zoli’s Pizza, Cosmo’s, Sandwich Hag, Ten Ramen (7 votes), Taco y Vino and Nori Handroll Bar (4).

The most overrated Dallas restaurants, according to industry insiders
Fearing’s and The Mansion received a single vote each, and the Fearing’s vote came from a freelance food writer.

Another shocker on the just-one-vote list: Pecan Lodge. In fact, only two barbecue spots, The Slow Bone and Cattleack, received multiple votes; given the one-ballot support for Heim, Hutchins, Off the Bone, Terry Black’s and Zavala’s, we have to ask the unthinkable: Do chefs just not like barbecue anymore?

Greenville Avenue institution Teppo dropped from seven votes to one after a change in management; based on my last visit, the voters are right.

Two people voted for Uchi (and another for Uchiba, which I like better). Nobody voted for the French Room, Nobu or CBD Provisions. For the second year in a row, the elsewhere-beloved casual institution Kalachandji’s went home with no votes.

Most of the restaurants on my own Top 100 but not present in the vote are out in the suburbs and relatively little-known. I think that geography is the key to explaining why there aren’t more votes for, say, The Heritage Table in Frisco, or the amazing Spice Thai Cafe in Allen, which might be serving some of the best Thai food in the whole darn time zone.

Below we’ll list the full results — including all 261 restaurants named — and then the list of voters. As a side note, one acclaimed chef very earnestly suggested that the Italian sandwich at Chuck E. Cheese deserves an honorable mention if the diner stuffs his or her fries inside it. So, uh, I’m mentioning that.

But if you want to really go exploring some of the great food Dallas has to offer, read through this enormous list and start looking up the places you don’t recognize. A few of them are new to me, too, and I’m excited to go out and start eating more great food at unfamiliar places.

click to enlarge Really? Only one person voted for this? - COURTESY PECAN LODGE
Really? Only one person voted for this?
courtesy Pecan Lodge
The full results
17 votes: Mot Hai Ba

16 votes: Khao Noodle Shop, Petra and the Beast

15 votes: Ka-Tip Thai Street Food

13 votes: Revolver Taco Lounge

12 votes: Cosmo’s, Jose

11 votes: Salaryman, Zoli’s Pizza

10 votes: Jimmy’s Food Store, Lucia, Sachet, The Slow Bone Barbecue, Tei-An

9 votes: Sandwich Hag

8 votes: Homewood

7 votes: Boulevardier, El Come Taco, Knife, Tei Tei Robata, Ten Ramen, Trompo

6 votes: Bullion, Del Sur Tacos, Royal China

5 votes: Gemma, R&D Kitchen

4 votes: Beverley’s, Macellaio, Mia’s, Neighborhood Services, Nori Handroll Bar, Off-Site Kitchen,
Resident Taqueria, Taco y Vino, Town Hearth, Yutaka

3 votes: Cane Rosso, Cattleack Barbeque, Celebration Cafe, The Charles, Hillstone, Ichigoh Ramen Lounge, Jeng Chi, Koryo Kalbi, Louie’s, Nalinh Market, New York Sub, Niwa Japanese BBQ, Nonna, Oishii, Rapscallion, Tacos Mariachi, Wabi House

2 votes: Al Markaz, Armoury DE, Aunt Irene’s, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, Bob’s Steak and Chop House, Bonton Farms, Brick and Bones, Carbone’s, Ceviche Oyster Bar, Cheesesteak House, Chilangos, CiboDivino, Crab Station, Cris and Jon, Crushcraft Thai, Dairy-Ette, E Bar Tex-Mex, Fattoush Mediterranean Kitchen, Great American Hero, Greenville Avenue Pizza Company, Hudson House, Hunan Bistro, Local, Maple and Motor, Masami, Meso Maya, Mike’s Chicken, MoMo Italian Kitchen (Forest Lane), Mr. Max, Nova, Rise No. 1, Saigon Block, Tia Dora’s Bakery, Uchi, Wu Wei Din, ZaLat Pizza

1 vote: 20 Feet Seafood Joint, 5th Street Pizza, Afrah, Ajumma Kimbob Deli, Al Biernat’s, Ana’s Restaurant, Ari, Asian Mint, Avila’s, Aw Shucks, Babe’s, Bambu Thai, Bangkok Inn, Bbbop, Beirut Cafe, Bigdash, Billy Can Can, Bisous Bisous Patisserie, Blue Goose Cantina, Bobo China, BrainDead Brewing, Cadot, Casa Vieja, Chongqing House, Cigarz Pizza, Coco’s Fire and Ice, Country Burger, Dong Hai, Eatzi’s, Ebesu, El Palote, El Pueblo, El Ranchito, Elaine’s Kitchen, Fearing’s, First Chinese BBQ, Flores Barbecue, Fount Board and Table, Foxyco, Georgie, Ginger Thai, Gogiya, Gonzalez, Gorji, H Mart Food Court, Heim BBQ, Helen’s Hot Chicken, The Heritage Table, Herrera’s (Illinois Avenue), Hillside Tavern, Hinodeya Ramen, Hirut’s Injera Ethiopian Grocery, Honor Bar, Hutchins BBQ, Hunky’s Old-Fashioned Burgers, i Fratelli Pizza, Ichiro Ramen, Il Bracco, Jack’s Burger House, Jake’s, Jonathon’s, Kazy’s, Keller’s, King’s Noodle, Kirin Court, K’s House, Kurobuta Ramen and Tonkatsu, La Chula Michoacana, La Duni, La Me, La Palapa del Sabor, Limon’s, Local Diner, Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken, Loveria Caffe, Luna’s Tortillas, Ly Foods, Mai’s, Malai, Malibu Poke, the Mansion Restaurant, Maracas, Mariano’s, Marie’s Kitchen, Maru Ramen, Maskaras Mexican Grill, Mille Lire, Mirador, Momo Shack, MoMo To Go, Moon Wok, Mr. Wok, Muchacho, Nick & Sam’s, Noble Coyote, Norma's, Not Your Lola's, Number 1 Plus Chicken, Off the Bone, Old Hag's, Omi, Open Sesame, Our Place, Ozona, Pappas Bros, Parigi, Pecan Lodge, Pho Bac, Pho Bang, Pho Pasteur II, Pho Tay Do, Pok the Raw Bar, Primo's, Quoc Bao, Rafa's, RM 12:20, Rodeo Goat, Ruins, S&D Oyster, Sa Sa Sushi, Sahara, Sakhuu, San Jang, Sassetta, Seafood Shack, Shahrzad, Shake Shack, Shell Shack, Shoals, Sichuan Folk, Sketches of Spain Skyrocket, Spice Thai, SpicyZest, Sprezza, St Martin's, St Pete's Dancing Marlin, Sushi Robata, Tacodeli, Tacos La Banqueta on Gaston, Taizong Sichuan, Taqueria Taxco, Taquero Taquero, Taverna, Te Deseo, Teppo, Terry Black's, Thai Mango, The Boiling Crab, The Chinese Neighbor, The Free Man, The Heights, The Henry, The Keeper, The Mitchell, The Old Monk, Tiny Victories, Too Thai Street Eats, Tortas Las Tortugas, True Food Kitchen, Uchiba, Vegan Food House, Velvet Taco, Whistle Britches, Will Call, Yao Fuzi, Zavala's, Zense Thai 
The voters

Chefs, cooks, pitmasters and restaurateurs: Bradley Anderson (Boulevardier, Rapscallion, Hillside Tavern, Veritas Wine Bar), Brooks Anderson (ditto), Matt Balke (formerly of Bolsa), Josh Bonee (Lucky’s Chicken), Randall Braud (formerly of Not Your Lola’s pop-ups), Jesus Carmona (Tacos Mariachi), Hollie Contreras (Cane Rosso), Jimmy Contreras (Taco y Vino), Stephan Courseau (Georgie, Up on Knox, Le Bilboquet), Tim Cox (Communion Neighborhood Cooperative), Philip Dang (Pho 544), Todd David (Cattleack Barbeque), Tiffany Derry (Roots Chicken Shak, Roots Southern Table), Reyna Duong (Sandwich Hag), Julien Eelsen (Whisk Crepes Cafe, Whisk & Eggs), Josh Farrell (Will Call), Eric Freidline (formerly of Sevy’s), Uno Immanivong (Red Stix Asian Street Food), Peja Krstic (Mot Hai Ba), Lisa Martel Mohon (The Kessler), Matt McCallister (Homewood, Commons Club), Brandon Mohon (Mohon Barbecue pop-ups), Luis Olvera (Trompo), Joel Orsini (Mot Hai Ba), Anastacia Quinones-Pittman (Jose), Daniel Pittman (Sinelli Concepts), Julian Rodarte (Beto & Son), Taylor Samuels (Las Almas Rotas), Anna Swann (Ulam Modern Filipino Kitchen pop-ups), Sam Wynne (BrainDead Brewing, Mike’s Gemini Twin), Diana Zamora (Lockwood Distilling Co.)

Other food industry leaders: Steve DeShazo (culinary arts program director, El Centro College), Brian Huynh (general manager, Oishii), Iris Midler (Chefs for Farmers), Will Salisbury (Heard That Foundation), Kathy Tran (Kathy Tran Photography)

Current and former food writers: Taylor Adams, Amanda Albee, Leslie Brenner, Catherine Downes, Lauren Drewes Daniels, Philip Kingston, Jose R. Ralat, Brian Reinhart, Tiney Ricciardi, Daniel Vaughn, Paige Weaver, Chris Wolfgang

Civilians: Jon Arnold, Jamil Bata, Michelle Kessler, Anthony Macias, Melissa McCoy, Ben Min, Brad Murano
Taylor Adams contributed to the reporting of this story.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart