A few years ago, the question was: Why would anyone hang out in the suburbs? 

How Plano got cool

The skepticism seemed justified. But then, highly-regarded Dallas restaurants sprouted second locations, craft beer bars bubbled up and residential developments created new, more-affordable pockets aimed at younger workers who wanted to keep a bit of their income expendable with the added benefit of living in a convenient, walkable neighborhood. Consider it a renaissance of sorts for the "I don't go north of 635" crowd, and Downtown Plano was at ground zero. 

These days, Mayor Harry LaRosiliere challenges the very concept of Plano's emerging identity.

"In the '80s we were a bedroom community, and in the '90s we were known as a big suburb. Today we are our own city, and we compete on a global stage for businesses, and individuals or families looking for a home," he said during a state of the city address on Feb. 9. That's just the beginning. This week, its vibrant downtown was ranked among the top ten in America. 

Whether you're a confirmed Dallasite in need of a slower-paced palate cleanser from Uptown crowds or a suburbanite looking for a hipper spot near your happy home, Plano's 14th and 15th streets are the place to park and play all day. 

Grab a bite, stay for a drink

Downtown Plano's restaurants are few, but mighty. Here's a sample, and what they offer. 

The Fillmore Pub

The Fillmore Pub

Selling point: Friendly atmosphere

That's actually selling it short, but in a word, regulars love The Fillmore for its laid-back charm, friendly staff and "third-place" feel. On any given day, you'll see hipsters, families and baby boomers pursuing the extensive craft beer and whiskey lists, cheering -- respectfully -- teams on the large projection screen and enjoying the house's indie music background vibe. 

It's a great spot for sidling up at the bar and meeting new friends, enjoying brunch with old ones or staying late for occasional live music and parties. 

When to go: Brunch, weekends, late nights

Urban Rio

Urban Rio Cantina and Grill

Selling point: That patio and $1 mimosas

Urban Rio itself offers a vibrant atmosphere, especially for a dinner crowd in need of a Tex-Mex fix, but it's actually On the Rocks, the bar on its second floor, that offers one of the very best seats in Plano. Massive window screens roll up to reveal a breathtaking view on its patio, and daily drink specials make it a hit most any day of the week. 

Perhaps the most enticing? $1 mimosas during from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Sunday brunch. During late night hours the vibe transforms into a sexier spot for music and mingling. (Heads up: Sister pizza restaurant Urban Crust features a similar blockbuster patio view.)

When to go: Brunch, dinner, weekends late nights

Jörg's Cafe Vienna

Jorg's Cafe Vienna

Selling point: Culture

We're talking Austria, here, no kangaroos, as Jörg's jokingly reminds customers. For North Texans less familiar with authentic Austrian and German style foods and beers, Jörg's offers a cozy for adventurous weekenders in search of hearty, home style plates. 

New to schnitzel, wurst, cabbage and lingonberries? No worries. Try a sampler or go for a warm, soft pretzel. It's a good pairing for for those European beers

When to go: Lunch or dinner, Weds-Sat only

Craving something else? 

Lockhart Smokehouse for Hill Country style barbecue and craft beer
ZaLat for creative (and sometimes downright strangely delicious) pizza and late night drinks
Angela's at the Crosswalk for breakfast, American fare, cocktails and beer, and dessert, especially pies
Vickery Park for craft beer, a rowdier pub vibe, late night eats and brunch
Urban Crust for traditional pizza, Italian plates, wine and cocktails 
Cajun Tailgators Cafe for gourmet food-truck style Cajun food in a permanent storefront
Uni Sushi for modern Japanese food in a classy, but relaxed BYOB setting
Kelly's Eastside for American bar food, craft beer, late nights and a street side patio
Brix Bar and Grill for sports bar food, beer and a place to watch the game
Fish Shack for deep fried fishy deliciousness and a low-key, friendly hang out

See a show or get a little fresh air

Courtyard Theater

Big name bands like Reckless Kelly and Asleep at the Wheel are already booked to grace this small but lovely theater's stage in spring during the Courtyard's Texas Music Series. It's also home to Theatre Britain, Plano Children's Theater and The Ballet Foundation, each of which present upcoming shows for those needing an infusion of cultural entertainment. While you're there, browse work by local artists in The Gallery or meet fellow art lovers at an exhibition opening. 

Downtown Festival Series

It's clear that the city of Plano is invested in enriching making its downtown a destination. Its festival series shuts down the entire block several times per year, often with a seasonal or holiday peg, and highlights some of the best the city has to offer. Upcoming events include: 

Grand Re-Opening of McCall Plaza: With renovation near completion, the city will celebrate this new outdoor music and events venue with free performances and live music. Worth keeping an eye on: The location opens up toward 15th street, as well as an adjoining parking lot, making it potentially able to seat upwards of 1,000 people at future events. In other words, expect great things from this little gem. Grand re-opening: April 15-16. Free admission. 

Night Out on 15th: This fine-dining event features long community tables for an outdoor dinner under the stars. It features a 5-course meal, including libations, with a sampling from Plano's restaurants and bars.  Sunday, May 22 at 6 p.m. Price TBA.

Plano Art Fest: Downtown Plano's celebration of local art is clear; almost every restaurant, studio and small business on the strip prominently features work by local artists, so a city-wide appreciation seems like a natural addition. Saturday, Sept. 19 at 9 a.m. Price free. 

Haggard Park

Nestled between Courtyard Theater and the DART line, this green space connects downtown's arts and dining scenes with a simple walk in the park. A whimsical gazebo, a pond, playground equipment and the Interurban Railway Museum, make Haggard Park a lovely spot for entire families to relax and enjoy a beautiful day. But that's not all: Its central location makes the park a natural choice for events throughout the year like a Fourth of July memorial and an annual Christmas tree lighting. Yoga Tree studio occasionally offers classes in the park during warmer months and cyclists and runners often divert through on their treks. 

A newly lit tree stands in Haggard Park in observance of Earth Day.

A newly lit tree stands in Haggard Park in observance of Earth Day.

Anja Schlein/Special Contributor

Drop a dime

Georgia's Farmers Market

Taking a breezy walk through Haggard Park and need a quick, juicy snack? Georgia's sells fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, breads, jams, jellies and honey. Hey, why not make it a picnic? Top it off with a praline or mini pecan pie for dessert. If you're shopping for home, you can also grab coffees, teas, local honey, condiments and flowers produced by local businesses. 

Shinola

Now open in downtown Plano: Stylish boutique Shinola

If you're in need of a "luxury-hipster" item, Shinola in Downtown Plano is one of your best bets in North Texas. You can find select items at Neiman Marcus, the Dallas Museum of Art and D-FW boutiques, but the Detroit-based company brought its first full Texas storefront to East 15th St. in 2015. 

With a flare for classic styles like Letterman jackets and baseball mitts, the shop also sells watches, bikes, custom engraved leather goods and clothing. 

Antiquing, furniture and this-and-that

Some days are best for browsing, and when you're in need of charm and hidden gems, Downtown Plano features a number of small, independently owned shops with antiques, furniture, art and home goods. 

La Foofaraw for jewelry, gifts and kitschy decor
Magaly Designs for handmade custom jewelry, designed for individual customers
Southern Vintage Glam for a "shabby chic boutique" featuring clothing, jewelry and home decor
Sutton Place Furniture for antique and reproduction furniture 
Sweet as Sugar Children's Boutique for  girls, boys and infant clothing
The Feathered Nest for home decor, antiques, jewelry and gifts, as well as workshops like a calligraphy class, crystal bead bracelet workshop and BYOB painting classes
Legacy Portrait Painters for custom, hand painted portraits 

Refuel, refresh or treat yourself

Fourteen Eighteen Coffeehouse

It's the perfect hangout with chic velvet sofas, a mix-match of comfy chairs and a small patio for sitting and staying a bit in Downtown Plano. Not to mention, there's free WiFi and bars perfect for laptop workers. But as soon as you step through the door at Fourteen Eighteen one thing is clear: It's a serious coffee shop. The Tiffany blue La Marzocco espresso machine's prominent display says it all, but behind the gorgeous equipment -- considered the gold standard among baristas -- the beans are among the most high-regraded in Dallas: Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters. 

Come for coffee, but stick around. Each day offers a rotating selection of noshes like scones, muffins and sandwiches and evening hours are perfect for a decadent slice from Emporium Pies. There's also a selection of teas, fresh fruit smoothies and canned craft beer. In a word: Almost anything treat one could possibly want. 

Angela's at the Crosswalk

Angela's at the Crosswalk

We mentioned Angel's above in the restaurant section, and while you likely won't be disappointed with lunch or dinner, the chic little shop is one of Downtown Plano's best spots for low-key drinks, coffee and dessert. Regular live music and open mic nights and karaoke add to the jazzy vibe.

When it comes to treats, Angela's offers cream puffs, eclairs, giant cinnamon rolls and more, but it's the home baked pies that take center stage in the prominent display case near the front of the shop. Pair a piece with a cappuccino, coffee or hot chocolate, or hand crafted cocktails, fine spirits, beer or wine and kick back to enjoy the atmosphere. 

Dude, Sweet Chocolate

Another Dallas implant, the Plano location of Dude, Sweet Chocolate -- its fourth in North Texas --  opened in late 2015 and offers chef Katherine Clapner's high-end luxury chocolate treats in gift boxes and small portions. Didn't know there was a such think as being a "chocolate geek"? Well, there is, and this is their heaven.

For the lay reader, Dude, Sweet offers fudges, truffles, toffees and more made from rare and exotic ingredients. If you're adventurous, you might like to try Fungus Amongus Toffee, made from mushroom powder and intended to pair with  cheeses. A bit far out? Perhaps you'd like the Toga Party Bar, a white and dark chocolate blend with caramel notes and a blend of Japanese peppers, sesame seeds, citrus and seaweed called togarashi. Even more creative (if that's possible) are the shop's tongue in cheek Potions (chocolate liquors) for breakups, kindling love and one night stands.

Amazeballz

Amazeballz

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name smells just as sweet, but we can't guarantee just any cake ball will taste as delicious as the uniquely monikered Amazeballz. In fact, within a month of opening last year, the shop had sold more than 11,000 cake balls, and it has proven so popular that shops all over D-FW have requested to carry Plano's tiny spheres of awesome. 

Pop into the petite storefront for cake balls, cupcakes, cookies, cakes, macarons (from Dallas' Bisous Bisous Patisserie) or booze balls, which are exactly what they sound like. Sample delicious flavors like s'mores, chocolate Nutella, cinnamon roll or put in an order for custom colors or special shapes and decorations. Check out the menu for prices and more flavor options.

Courtesy of Amazeballz

Parking

Parking is plentiful and easy in Downtown Plano. Forget forced valet or circling your favorite bar for what feels like days. While weekend evenings are a bit more crowded, chances are you won't have trouble finding a spot and staying awhile this side of LBJ Freeway. 

Streets are lined with free four-hour parking, but on a crowded day you might find better luck in uncovered lots between 15th and 14th streets. There's also free visitor parking in garages accessible from K Ave., and a big lot in Haggard Park, right by the DART station. Speaking of DART, all of the shops and restaurants mentioned here are easily accessible off of the red line, each within a 10-15 minute walk. 

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