Denton County is known for its respected universities, its picturesque town square and a handful of indie-rock clubs that give it some millennial cool. But if you wanted a memorable meal? Yeah, not so much.
That's been evolving over the past few years, though. The culinary trends blowing through neighboring Dallas, Collin and Tarrant counties have been breezing through Denton County, too. Long-standing Fort Worth institution Spiral Diner, beloved for its inventive vegan menu, just opened its latest location on the Denton Square. It was met with similar foodie fanfare as when Hypnotic Donuts set up shop in little D a few years ago.
The culinary scene isn't only centered on the city of Denton but can be glimpsed in suburban communities such as Argyle, Trophy Club, Westlake and Roanoke — the last of which was designated the "unique dining capital of Texas" by the Texas house of representatives in 2009 for its string of eateries, largely along Oak Street. Denton County is delicious these days.
Here are 15 restaurants to check out the next time you find yourself in or near the 940 area code.
Barley and Board
Denton's first brewpub — with its huge windows and steampunk-accented interior — sits in the handsomely restored Texas Building on the square and proves to be an appropriate place to start an exploration of the changing culinary face of the town. From the intelligently designed list of Texas and non-Texas beers and ciders to a brunch menu available on Saturdays and Sundays to a regular menu offering large plates, small plates, sandwiches, flatbreads, soups, salads, cheeses and charcuterie, Barley and Board offers a little something for everyone. 100 W. Oak St.; 940 566-3900. barleyandboard.com.
Having lived in Miami, I know a little bit about being on the hunt for good empanadas. It's safe to say that this joint, in what looks like an old house within the shadow of the hulking Morrison's Corn-Kit building on the route into town from Highway 77, is the real deal. That might sound like an exaggeration, but chef/owner Andres Meraz has worked in Miami at the Ritz Carlton's Dilido Beach Club and he brings some of that chef-inspired Florida flair to Boca 31's carefully curated but impressively affordable menu of Latin snacks. The tacos, like the roasted sweet potato ($2.50), are big and filling. You don't need three of them to feel like you've eaten a meal. But it's the fluffy and stuffed empanadas, such as the spinach and goat cheese with caramelized onions ($2.50), that will lure you — like a sailor at sea under the spell of the sirens — into making the drive up I-35. 207 S. Bell Ave.; 940 514-1444. facebook.com/Boca31.Denton.
Lakeside Craft Kitchen
One of the newest options in Denton — it just opened this summer — offers something relatively few of its competitors have in D-FW: an actual view of a body of water. The eatery sits on Unicorn Lake, which is not far off the State School Road exit from I-35. The huge menu, ranging from burgers to stuffed potatoes, wings to filet mignon, is modern-day American. 3350 Unicorn Lake Blvd.; 940 383-3700. lakesidecraftkitchen.com.
Visiting this restaurant is like cramming a tour of Asia into one night. The menu features ramen, sushi, bao (steamed buns), and totchos (tater tot nachos) with kimchi and Asian barbecue sauce. 109 W. Oakland St.; 940 808-0400; komodoloco.com.
At first, this raucous hangout on the square might seem like it's trying too hard to prove its Lone Star credentials. With its rock 'n' roll atmosphere, posters of famous Texas musicians and its menu of sandwiches named after some of those same stars (the Waylon, Chili Willie, Los Lonely), it feels a little gimmicky. But then you bite into the sandwiches like the Norah burger (lamb, feta, spinach, tomato, mayo, $9) or the Our Buddy (beef, Swiss cheese, griddled onions, mayo on Texas toast, $13) and any reservations fade into the noisy background. 113 W. Hickory St.; 940 383-1022. lsaburger.com.
Of all the new build-your-own individual-pizza restaurants following the Chipotle model of super-fast casual eating, this place — which also has another location in Fort Worth near TCU — is one of the most striking. If you're too overwhelmed to choose your own toppings, going with the likes of the Street Taco (pulled pork, cheddar cheese, smoked mozzarella, provolone, cilantro, onion, red pepper asiago, onion, $8.99) is not a bad option. 321 W. Hickory St.; 940 891-1600; pizzasnob.com.
The Windy City Grub Hub
If Boca 31 brings Miami to Denton, this nondescript storefront near UNT imports Chicago, with a little bit of Beirut thrown in for good measure. The menu is a mash-up of the Middle East and Middle America so you get everything from a Chicago-style hot dog ($3.29) and a tandoori grilled Philly cheese steak ($8.99) to an Italian beef sandwich ($7.99) and chicken shish kabob sandwich ($6.99). The setting is bus-station utilitarian, but you're not coming here for the ambience anyway.
1115 W. Hickory St., No. 113; 940 808-1777. facebook.com/
940's Kitchen & Cocktails
For a more upscale evening in this college town, 940's hits the spot. Come for the extensive cocktail menu but stay for the elote ($7) or chicken satay ($8) appetizers or the salmon romesco ($19) or Denton fried chicken ($16) mains.
Benjamin's Pizza Kitchen & Bar
This newcomer to the Roanoke scene features a wide selection of pizzas and Italian fare. It's proving to be popular with families, especially those on their way to or from the Hawaiian Falls water park across the street. But there's a little something for everyone, including live music on Saturday nights. 295 W. Byron Nelson, 682 237-7707. www.
The Classic Cafe at Roanoke
This venerable establishment opened in 1993 and helped put this small city on the foodie map. It maintains its reputation with classic takes on such standards as beef ribeye, crab cakes and rack of lamb.
There's not a lot of competition serving Middle Eastern fare in the immediate vicinity but Euros Gyros, with a full complement of gyros, kabobs, and baklava, makes up for it.
324 US Highway 377. 682 237-2100. (no website).
Hard Eight BBQ
This chain (with locations nearby in The Colony and Coppell and down in Stephenville) serves the world of barbecue with pork, brisket, ham, chicken and shrimp on the menu.
Tacos & Avocados
You can't find fried chicken tacos everywhere, but you can find them here — along with pepper crusted ribeye tacos, bison tacos and the appropriately named 3 Little Pigs, a taco made from pork, bacon and chorizo.
Just as Roanoke made a name for itself a decade ago, Argyle — with a population of just 4,000 people — is doing it now. Much of the hubbub around Argyle centers around Bumbershoot, begun by John Pearson's Radical Hospitality Group which helped launch the new Denton wave in 2013 with LSA Burger and Barley and Board. With a selection of beef, pork, chicken and sausage and a pitmaster (Jason Ramey) and chef (Chad Kelley) who've been featured everywhere from Good Morning Texas to Texas Monthly, the restaurant desires to be a destination that's worth the drive. 425 U.S. Highway 377; 940-595-1782; bumbershootbbq.com.
Another entry from Radical Hospitality, Earl's 377 is all about its pizza and patio. Some of the pies are unique, like the L'oro di Napoli (smashed potatoes, bacon, roasted onions and ricotta; $12 for the 11-inch, $18 for the 16-inch) and the Padre Island (tomatoes, bacon, jalapeño, onions, cilantro and pineapple, $12 and $18).
427 U.S. Highway 377; 940-464-4444. earls377pizza.com.