Tiffany Derry, chef-owner of Roots Southern Table, which she plans to open at Trinity Groves in early 2017.

Tiffany Derry, chef-owner of Roots Southern Table, which she plans to open at Trinity Groves in early 2017.

Roots Southern Table/Roots Southern Table

In need of a dinner date? Call up Tiffany Derry and she just might invite you to join her at one of Dallas' best restaurants. The culinary entrepreneur and former Top Chef contestant likes to dine with as many people as possible, and for good reason:

"I'm trying to go to dinner with everybody so I can eat everything on the menu," she says.

A+ dining strategy, Derry.

Next time you want to try noshing on something new, bring an appetite and let Derry pick the place. Chances are, you'll be dining at one of these eight restaurants -- her personal favorites.

For a taste of the tropics: Nalinh Market

If Derry had to pick a last meal, it would likely be Nalinh Market's papaya salad. The dish is done Laos-style: ingredients like fermented black crab and fish sauce blend with the papaya to create a sweet umami flavor.

"I eat it every week; it's so good," she says. "Lord have mercy, my mouth is watering right now."

Though Nalinh is a far cry from the Southern "soul" food she grew up eating, Derry says she craves the dishes at Nalinh Market as if she's been eating there her whole life.

"Give me that papaya salad and a little thing of sticky rice and I am one happy girl."

  • 1716 E. State Highway 356, Irving.

For food so good you'll be eager to eat your leftovers: Nick & Sam's

Nick and Sam's

Derry hails Nick & Sam's "the best steakhouse in Dallas," but the chef recommends ordering more than just steak.

"They do an excellent creamed spinach," she says. "I'm not normally a creamed spinach [fan] ... I was there with my family and we ordered it, and I didn't touch it. Someone brought it home, and the next day I warmed some up and I was like "Oh my God!'"

Yeah, it was that good, even the next day. Derry was so upset with herself for not trying it when it was hot from the kitchen that she made a point to go back to Nick and Sam's to order the dish. It's safe to say she recommends ordering extra servings to take home and enjoy later.

For a meal that never fails to impress: Gemma

Gemma

"I crush really hard on Gemma," Derry says. "They get better with time and they don't lose the essence of the dishes that are still great."

Her favorite dish? The braised rabbit pappardelle made with pancetta, Swiss chard and thyme. Beyond that, she says you can't go wrong with most anything on the menu. She remembers a "beautiful" cauliflower salad that she was hesitant to try.

"It ended up being one of my favorites," she said. "That's why you gotta order something different!"

A place that feels like home, no matter where you're from: ZENse Thai

When Derry first moved to Dallas 13 years ago, ZENse was one of the first restaurants she tried. Back then, she didn't know many people in Dallas, but the pad Thai was so fantastic, she would often go to ZENse alone, she remembers. Before long, she became more than just a paying customer.

"One day I just went in and I said, 'I'd like to learn how to make your pad Thai.' ... To my surprise, the [cook] said, 'Come tomorrow, I'll show you.'"

For the next few days, Derry worked the line cooking for hungry lunchtime customers. She recalls that experience being a turning point for her, when Dallas started to feel less like unfamiliar territory and more like home. Since then, she has remained close with the women who run the restaurant.

"Even to this day, I may go in one day and [help prep]," Derry says. "They're my family."

Where you can be your own chef: Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

At Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, Derry loves that she can cook while mingling with her friends during dinner. All of the ingredients used to make the ramen-like meal are brought directly to your table, where you can pick and choose what to add to your pot. Start by choosing a piping hot broth -- either the mild, "original" broth or the spicy option (which Derry calls "ridiculous[ly] spicy" and "so perfect"). Then choose from a buffet of proteins and vegetables, which are brought to the table raw and added to the steaming broth to cook. Give it all a few minutes to simmer, and before long you'll be digging in to a made-to-order meal.

"It's so good," Derry raves. "Every time I take people, they just have a good time. It's one of those [places], kind of like Korean-style, where you just linger. You don't eat quick and you have great conversation, you enjoy yourself and you just hang out."

For dessert you can indulge in every night of the week: Snow Factory

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Derry satisfies her sweet tooth at Snow Factory in Carrollton, with a treat the parlor calls "frozen cotton candy." The dairy-based dessert is similar to traditional scoop ice cream and the newly trendy rolled ice cream in that you can select your flavor base and toppings. But unlike those rich frozen confections, the shaved ice cream served at Snow Factory is "like air," Derry says.

When it's time for a treat, Derry opts for the strawberry topped with fresh fruit and flavored syrups. Because it's so thinly shaved, Derry says the dessert is lightweight enough to eat after any meal without feeling like you overindulged.

For coffee and baked goods so good, you'll never go to Starbucks again: 85C Bakery Cafe

Where can you get a cup of coffee and a baked good for less than $3? At the bakery hitting D-FW by storm.

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At 85C Bakery Cafe, just about everything on the menu can be paid for with the loose change gathered from between your couch cushions. Even better: the food is "so fresh," Derry says.

But while the offerings are better than Starbucks, Derry says the line at 85C is quite a bit longer: She's seen 30 to 50 people standing in line night and day, hungrily waiting to get their hands on everything from a chocolate sponge roll to cheesy jalapeno garlic bread.

It's worth the wait, Derry says.

For fast food that won't make you count calories: The Cupboard

If you think fast-food options have been reduced to greasy drive-thru burgers and pricey refrigerated meals, Derry feels your pain. That's why she opened the Cupboard, a grab-'n-go concept offering fresh fare that doesn't compromise on flavor and doesn't ruin your diet.

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Located in Uptown Urban Market on Cedar Springs Road in Dallas, the Cupboard nurtures a neighborhood atmosphere: customers are known by name, dog kennels sit outside to encourage residents to stop in while out for a walk, and the food is sourced from local artisans.

The menu is made up of lovable fare: chilled greek pasta, a charcuterie and cheese plate, chicken tortilla soup and the like. Derry's personal favorite is the chicken Caesar wrap made with kale and her homemade Caesar dressing.

Nothing on the menu is wildly expensive (the priciest item is the charcuterie and cheese plate, at $12) but if you're buying on a budget, show up between 8 and 9 p.m., when everything is half off.

Love to hear about chefs' favorite restaurants?

Here's how we often see Tiffany Derry: in her chef's coat, chatting with customers or coworkers.

Here's how we often see Tiffany Derry: in her chef's coat, chatting with customers or coworkers.

G.J. McCarthy/Staff Photographer
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