Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Dallas, Texas
The big Texas city somehow masters the small-town vibe.
Beyond its sprawling freeways, gleaming skyscrapers and massive sports stadiums, Dallas is cultivating quirky, walkable neighbourhoods that belie its reputation for doing everything “big.”
A lot of the must-visit attractions are within walking distance of the city centre. Start in the Dallas Arts District, home to the city’s leading galleries and concert halls—the cornerstone of which is the Dallas Museum of Art, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. Other starchitect-heavy highlights on the 68-acre site include the I.M. Pei-designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Sculpture Center and the AT&T Performing Arts Center, designed by a team that included Norman Foster.
The historic West End is where it all began—the trading post established by John Neely Bryan in 1844 that became North America’s eighth-largest city. It is also where, on that fateful day in November 1963, JFK was assassinated. Visit the Sixth Floor Museum for a comprehensive audio/visual deconstruction of that day—plus the historical context (newsreels, expert interviews) that explains what came before and after. A block away is the haunting John F. Kennedy Memorial—a massive cenotaph designed by renowned architect and Kennedy family friend Phillip Johnson.
Finish off your day in Deep Ellum. Just east of downtown, the former commercial district is the heart of Dallas’s live music scene, with 40-odd clubs. It also has one of the city’s best craft breweries, Deep Ellum Brewing Company—and after that healthy walk from the West End, you’ll need a drink.
While in the West End, grab brunch at Ellen’s Southern Kitchen. The popular diner has an all-day breakfast (try their take on a benny, with poached eggs and grits) and southern classics like chicken fried steak.
For a change of pace (and to get out of downtown), hop in a cab and cross the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge for Trinity Groves. The 15-acre complex has a variety of retail and entertainment spaces, but the highlight is a project called the Restaurant Concept Incubator, which allows chefs and restaurateurs to try out culinary concepts on an eager public—everything from Chinese-Latino fusion to cake bars to Moroccan bistros.
As for dinner, you’ll definitely have to make reservations—and on weekends, well in advance—but FT33 is worth the effort (and the drive: it’s located outside downtown in the somewhat-hidden Design District). From James Beard-nominated chef/owner Matt McCallister, the locavore-inspired menu has a rotation of must-try dishes, like the dry-aged duck duo, served with sunchoke, Brussels sprout and quince.
The Bishop’s Arts District—a former neighbourhood in residential North Oak Cliff—is now the go-to strip for Dallas’s weekend crowd. The focus here is on independent retailers and restaurateurs. Among the highlights: We Are 1976, a gift shop and letterpress studio with a retro sensibility (it’s all in the name); Artisan’s Collective (a gallery of over 150 Dallas-area artists, who run the gamut of media) and Emporium Pies, Dallas’s favoured place for sweet-tooths, with all-natural and seasonal pies like the delectable Drunken Nut (bourbon pecan with a shortbread crust).
Two of Dallas’s oldest hotels are two of its best: the Magnolia, built in 1922, was the city’s first skyscraper and remains an art deco gem, and the Joule, built in 1927, which is home to one of the city’s best cocktails lounges: the Midnight Rambler (grab the genever-based Pinetop Perker while there). If you’re keen on staying in one of the upscale chains, you can’t go wrong with the scene-y Ritz Carlton, where beautiful people hang out at Rattlesnake Bar late into the night or chow down at celebrity chef Dean Fearing’s namesake restaurant.
If you’re craving a taste of the “real Texas” (cowboys, longhorn cattle, big boots and bigger hair), consider a day or more in the picturesque twin city of Fort Worth. It’s about the same distance from DFW airport as Dallas, except in the opposite direction along the Trinity River, and there’s a quick and cheap train ride that takes you to downtown in under an hour. While there, check out the twice-daily cattle drive down the main street of the historic Stockyards, grab dinner (steak, of course) at H3 Ranch and then mosey over to neighbouring Billy Bob’s—billed as the world’s largest honky-tonk bar. Giddy up!