Restaurants / Openings

Brave New Dining — Dallas Restauranteurs Find a Way to Forge Ahead in the Pandemic

From Scrappy Pop-Up Projects to Shiny New Homes for Big Name Chefs, Recent Dallas Restaurant Openings Offer Excitement and Hope

BY // 11.16.20

At the end of the summer of 2020 (one of the stranger seasons of recent memory), news broke that Michelin-starred Carbone — a New York import not to be confused with the classic Carbone’s on Oak Lawn Avenue — will open in the Dallas Design District this winter. It’s the kind of flashy food announcement that our city’s dining scene had grown accustomed to, then missed, as the events of 2020 unfolded with devastating effect on the restaurant industry. With this optimistic news, Carbone will land in the real estate vacated by Wheelhouse and Sassetta, which number among the Dallas restaurants that won’t live to see the other side of the pandemic (although Sassetta may relocate). Amid the gloom of closures, however, have come stories of coalitions and foundations formed to aid those in the industry and potentially strengthen it for our post-pandemic world. Against all odds, there have also been a surprising amount of notable Dallas restaurant openings.

The much-anticipated Elm & Good’s chef Graham Dodds has debuted a menu with such offerings as whipped ricotta toast and a burger sourced from Battle Creek Farms. The restaurant’s position within a historically significant Deep Ellum building that’s now home to The Kimpton Pittman Hotel, adds to its allure. Over in Fort Worth, chef Marcus Paslay put the finishing touches this summer on his Texas brasserie-inspired concept Provender Hall, located in the revitalized Stockyards District. “Having to be so fluid is unique,” Paslay says of opening during a pandemic. “Luckily, we have a great team who’s on board with everything.”

Long-planned passion projects couldn’t be stopped either. After a string of crawfish boils across the city, co-owners Dan Bui and Connie Cheng finally found a more permanent home for their Cajun-inspired Asian food concept: Krio and its chicken jambalaya egg rolls landed in a cleanly designed corner of Bishop Arts this summer. The one-two punch of Xamán Café and Ayahuasca Cantina offer Dallas a café/bar unlike any other, with hard-to-find Mexican coffee and smoky Sotol, in addition to an immersive cultural experience in Oak Cliff. “We want to imprint our cultural heritage here so it’s not truly lost,” says Gerardo Barrera, who co-owns the new concept with Mauricio Gallegos.

Classic Vietnam dishes and a grab-and-go banh mi station can now be found on Greenville Avenue, thanks to Ngon Vietnamese Kitchen, created by Carol Nguyen as an ode to the Vietnamese street vendors of her childhood. Trova Wine + Market gave University Park a wine bar with a chef-driven menu, La Tarte Tropézienne’s divine French desserts made their U.S. debut downtown, and Sandoitchi introduced Dallas to a true Japanese sando, made with fluffy milk bread and a choice of chicken or pork katsu, a photogenic egg salad, and strawberry with matcha cream. The Instagram sensations proved hard to get your hands on during a summer pop-up, but owners Stevie Nguyen, Keith Tran, Angel Acosta, and Andy Sirois hope to find a permanent spot to sling their sandos soon.

Then there are the innovators. Hitmaker Nick Badovinus, who debuted Desert Racer in Lower Greenville just weeks before the pandemic arrived, has transformed his restaurants into sites for a variety of spontaneous, pickup-only pop-ups focusing on everything from Mexican-style smoked chicken (Ese Pollo) and poke-style wraps (Burrito Jamz ’03) to Italian comfort food (Pizza Parm Project) and lobster rolls (YO! Lobster). Highland Park Village’s Fachini (known for its 100-layer lasagna) now serves rosé and Italian antipasto out of The Grape Ape popup, while buzzy Khao Noodle Shop offers rib-eye patty burgers and crinkle fries out of the impromptu Khao Len, open weekends only.

It brings hope and excitement to see new names dotting our dining landscape, but the risk for all restaurateurs right now is real. Dallas’ food scene has finally begun gaining the notoriety it deserves, mainly because of the fast and furious nature with which concepts open, as well as the ambitious and diverse talents behind them. The best way to support new restaurants — whether ordering from afar or observing safety protocols — in the pandemic: Get eating.

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