When newcomers visit Dallas for the first time, often they expect to find an abundance of southern drawls, cowboy hats and Mexican restaurants*. So when Tom Parlo, newly appointed executive chef at the Mansion Restaurant, settled into Dallas in late 2016, he was pleasantly surprised to find a city rich with culture -- and with no shortage of culinary offerings.
He raves: "I feel Dallas is completely different than what I ever expected it to be. So I'm in love with Dallas now."
Welcome to the club. After only a few months in the city, Parlo divulges his favorite Dallas restaurants thus far. Only one is a taco joint.
*This expectation is not entirely untrue.
For authentic tacos from a bite-sized menu: Trompo
Sparsely decorated taco joint Trompo is an early contender for Parlo's favorite Dallas restaurant.
With a limited menu of just three tacos and three quesadillas, Trompo makes meal-time decisions easy. "They fit in a small hand, so you can try all the tacos," Parlo says, before noting that he is actually partial to the quesadillas -- which are made open-faced with fresh mozzarella on a flour tortilla.
Another reason for Parlo being a return customer? The authenticity of the food. "[It] reminded me of when I was in Mexico City: the flavors, the textures of the meats were done perfectly," he recalls. "[Everything is] cooked to order; they come out very hot, crispy, and served with a delicious red and green tomatillo sauce."
If you're still not convinced, read about why Bon Appetit magazine named Trompo one of its top 50 new restaurants in 2016.
- 839 Singleton Blvd., #150, Dallas.
For world-class cuisine and hometown service: Stephan Pyles Flora Street Cafe at Hall Arts
Parlo can't think of enough nice things to say about Flora Street Cafe.
"I was really blown away by the beauty of the restaurant," he begins. "It's very luxurious, but it's not stuffy."
In addition to the "gorgeous décor" that sets the scene for guests at Flora Street Cafe, the restaurant exceeds culinary expectations.
"The cooking techniques, the presentations are world-class and very refined," Parlo explains. "[Chef Stephan Pyles] definitely has researched his products and his ingredients very well."
When it comes time to order, Parlo recommends the Colorado lamb with hoja santa, an herb commonly known as the "root beer leaf." The entrée, which is served with a caramelized banana, chewy beet and black rice, is executed flawlessly, he says. "Not one item stood out; all the ingredients complemented each other."
- 2330 Flora St., #150, Dallas.
For a taste of Italy in Dallas' backyard: Lucia
"I've spent a lot of time with Italian cuisine and, in Italy, sometimes less is more: It's all about the ingredients," Parlo says. "They execute that perfectly at Lucia."
The chef notes two standout dishes at the beloved Bishop Arts restaurant: a simple tonnarelli with white truffles ("Fabulous!") and an impressive charcuterie spread that includes homemade coppa, lardo, and salame ("Out of this world.")
Parlo went so far as to vouch for the caliber of Lucia's house-made meats: "When I was in Tuscany, I visited some of the world-famous butchers there. I felt that [Lucia's] charcuterie stood up to what I sampled when I was in Tuscany."
- 408 W. 8th St., #101, Dallas.
The grocer for lovers of Asian food: H Mart
H Mart is a haven for at-home cooks who have a taste for far eastern cuisine. The grocery store's shelves are stocked with nearly everything from Korean marinades to an array of kimchi. You won't want to skip the meat counter.
"I was surprised about the prices of their very high-quality, different beefs," Parlo says. "The marbling was so good I actually took pictures of it."
If you're not familiar with cooking Asian food, Parlo offers a simple tip: "When you're grilling, instead of always using a barbecue marinade, use the Korean marinades for your chicken or for your beef and grill it outside."
Take notes, then head to H Mart to pick up the goods.
- Various locations. nj.hmart.com.
'A gem in Dallas': Ten ramen shop
Dreamt up by culinary master/food whisperer/admired chef Teiichi Sakurai (also the man behind Tei-An, Teppo and Tei Tei), Ten is a cozy little restaurant with kiosk-style ordering and standing room only. It's these little nuances, Parlo says, that, "make it special ... iconic."
As for the food? Nothing less than the best.
"The ramen definitely is delicious," Parlo SAYS. During his visit, he slurped down the tonkotsu ramen and noted how Ten's chefs thoughtfully prepared the food. Normally, Parlo notes, pork belly (a common protein option) is added straight into the ramen, but the chefs at Ten take a different approach, instead opting to "grill it off" for added crispiness.
- 1888 Sylvan Ave., Dallas.
Parlo's pick for the best burger in Dallas: Filament
We'll let him explain himself. Over to you, Chef:
"The Filament burger is probably one of the best burgers I've ever eaten," he begins.
"It uses an excellent beef and it's cooked so the meat is crispy and has flavor; then with the grilled onions, their nice aioli sauce, their cheese and a bun that has a little bit of sweetness in it -- not one ingredient overpowers the other. So in every bite you could taste every ingredient. It definitely exceeded all the publicity [Chef Matt McCallister] has received on it."
Well that's high prai- oh, he's not done:
"They get the French fries right. Very crispy French fries and seasoned well. The life of a homemade French fry is not very long, so the timing has to be perfect."
Parlo, your parting shot?
"[Everything] exceeded how it was listed on the menu."
- 2626 Main St., Dallas.
For a great meal, anytime: Top Knot
Parlo's first time feasting at Top Knot was on a rather unexpected occasion.
"Late one night when I first came [to Dallas], I was looking for some place to go. It was around 9 o'clock at night, the World Series was on, so I tried Top Knot and had a seat at the bar."
Before long, the bartender (and Parlo's fellow bar-dwellers) had given the newcomer some excellent recommendations, including what Parlo calls a "creative selection" of slider-like buns with fried chicken, pork belly and the like.
The chef was also pleased to see fried salt & pepper squid on the menu. "When my wife and I were first engaged and we were living in Atlanta, that just became one of our favorite dishes," he says. "A lot of places don't get it right, but [Top Knot] offered a great version of it."
- 2817 Maple Ave., Dallas.
Love to hear about chefs' favorite restaurants?
Check out the top picks from chefs Stephan Pyles (Stephan Pyles, Stampede 66); Lisa Garza-Selcer (of Sissy's Southern Kitchen); Matt McCallister (of FT33 and Filament); Samir Dhurandhar (Nick & Sam's); and John Tesar (Knife).