Recently a woman emailed to say that she and her husband are moving to Dallas in a few months, and they’re worried. See, she grew up here, but he’s more of the San Francisco/Boston/New York type, and this place can be a hard sell. Did I have any suggestions?
Dallas is not easy to love, but it is deeply lovable. You just have to know where to look. This list isn’t definitive. It reflects my own quirks and shortcomings: I get cranky in crowds, I no longer drink booze, and I enjoy any excuse to wear a novelty wig. (For an alternate viewpoint, see Central Track’s “100 Things to Do in Dallas Before You Die.”) But wherever you live, it’s up to you to make it home. These do the trick for me.
Pearl Cup: My favorite coffee shop is a simple spot on Henderson with one of the city’s genuinely delicious lattes.
Spiral Diner: I’m not even close to a vegan, and I adore this place. The “Mitch Club” is a marvel of modern gastronomy.
Dolly Python: This is not just a vintage store, it’s like the setting for an HBO show. There is a psychic on Saturdays named Melinda. There is a dog with an underbite named Mr. Sandwiches. There are creepy old doll parts and a million past lives of Dallas society women haunting the racks and shelves. The owner, Gretchen, has fantastic taste. Half my wardrobe comes from this place.
Oddfellows: Oak Cliff hang with dang-solid chicken fried steak, upscale Southern specialities, and another great latte, for those of you keeping score at home. (The machines in Dallas coffee shops are generally meh, so to misquote Flannery O’Connor: A good latte is hard to find.)
Good to Go Tacos: There are a bazillion taco places in Dallas, and we could spend all day arguing about which ones are worth trying (Taco Joint, La Banqueta) and which ones are worth skipping unless you happen to be in a three-day tequila blackout (Fuzzy’s). The ones here are good, old-fashioned yuppie breakfast tacos, which happen to be the kind I like best: Eggs, cheese, bacon, salsa, and other salted meats. I like the people and the coffee grinder here (Cultivar). The place next door, Good Friends, is a cozy beer garden where the food is supposed to be great.
Jimmy’s: Classic East Dallas Italian grocery with sandwiches roughly the size of a spaceship. Stop by Tom Spicer’s community garden next door on the way out and say hi.
Smoke + Belmont: Dallas isn’t a BBQ town, but I dig this Oak Cliff restaurant that finds new inspiration in the pig. Afterward go for drinks next door at the Hotel Belmont, and enjoy one of the city’s best views. (As a general rule, some of the coolest places in the city are in Oak Cliff, like this duo, or Lakewood. You’ll save yourself driving time by just moving to one of those neighborhoods.)
Scalini’s: One of my dark secrets is that whenever I would visit from New York, the first place I would eat was a pizza joint. Shh. Don’t tell the others. I got it the same way every time: Canadian bacon, feta and garlic. It’s no joke, kids. I recently heard from some NYC transplants who were not fans, so maybe a craving for smoked mozzarella is in my genes or something. I’ve been scarfing this stuff down for years.
King Spa: This is like an amusement park for Korean spas. A must-see spot for anyone who wants to read old Jackie Collins paperbacks while naked.
Half-Price Books: Lose hours thumbing through old titles and contemplating the hopes and dreams that wind up on a second-hand bookshelf. Like any used store, this place can be frustrating if you have a specific title in mind. But that’s what Amazon is for. This is about the journey. (It is also about Journey.)
Other restaurants I like: Neighborhood Services (upscale comfort), Lucia (Italian), Bubba’s (old-school cafeteria-style Southern), Mai’s (Vietnamese), Garden Café (locavore diner), Gold Rush (greasy spoon), Canne Rosso (neopolitan pizza with patio). I’ve had a hard time finding good sushi and good Chinese, but amazing Tex-Mex falls out of the sky. So does cheap beer and margaritas.
The last thing I will say to anyone afraid of moving to Dallas is that I have been miserable in the cities people call the greatest and happy in the cities people call the worst, but wherever I went, I brought myself with me. Learn to love the place you are. It helps to have a novelty wig, and breakfast tacos. Or maybe that’s just me.