Before I went to Al Biernat's, that Dallas citadel of steak, I was given a hot tip. Skip the tempting porterhouses and prime filets on the menu and order one of the nightly specials instead: a dry-aged rib-eye or New York strip from a Texas outfit called Local Yocal. That beef rang all the bells — it had the seared edges, juicy garnet interior and mellow mineral funk that comes after a spell in the meat locker — and when I finished, I knew I'd be on the lookout for more.
So when Local Yocal opened its own restaurant in McKinney this fall, I made a beeline for it. Called Local Yocal BBQ and Grill, it's the latest project from Matt Hamilton, the Oklahoma-born rancher and sustainable-meat advocate behind the butcher shop and its long-running Steak 101 classes.
Unlike the shop, which is just off McKinney's town square, the restaurant is on the opposite side of State Highway 5 in a 1910s brick building that was once a grocery warehouse. With help from his new chef, Adam West, and barman, Manny Casas, Hamilton spent almost a year gutting the interior to create a restaurant that conveys a relaxed, unassuming comfort (and perhaps the lack of a professional designer).
A meat case doubles as a host's stand, and a somewhat awkward entrance opens to a warm and lively dining room and bar. Hamilton, wearing a tall cowboy hat, stops by every table to see how things are, then looks you in the eye for an actual conversation. The whole restaurant offers genuine hospitality, sprinkled with darlin's and ma'ams, and before long, you begin to feel like a local yourself.
If you can, start at the bar and ask Casas about his off-menu cocktail of the night. Casas — formerly of Rye, a restaurant on the square — has developed a serious program here that includes a proprietary barrel of whiskey from Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison. His precise riffs on classics include the #208 Reserve, one of those rare drinks that is a tightly knit embellishment of the spirit itself, with judicious amounts of brandy, crème de mûre, house-made bitters and tobacco smoke.
On the dinner menu, West is stretching beyond the bounds of "barbecue and grill" with traditional Southern dishes that pump up the personality. West, a Garland native, has cooked at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas, on a Garland food truck called Unforsacon Bacon and, most recently, at the Porch in Dallas. Here, his menu is suffused with smoke, from the onion dip to the chocolate mousse, yet each dish feels distinct and none are overpowered by it.
Start with the smoked red pepper pimento cheese — the best version I've tasted — smooth, spreadable and almost elegant with long strands of cheddar, accompanied by grilled sourdough. Its secret is lightly smoked red bell pepper, handled with a delicacy that allows the smoke to simply pull the other flavors together. A tiny salad of peppery mustard greens underlines the fresh thinking.
As you would expect, when the rancher is your boss, you handle the meat with respect. The house burger, the LOYO, has the urgent craveability you want in a burger, topped with melted cheddar, shredded iceberg, tomato, onion and house-made pickles and sauce, all crowned by a milk-bread bun from La Française bakery in Garland.
The creation stands high and proud on the plate, but it is the modest 7-ounce patty that commands your attention. The beef is a blend of Local Yocal's grass-fed brisket, Wagyu inside round and Wagyu chuck. But a big part of the interest comes from the texture, a trick that involves blending coarse and fine grinds.
West's familiar-but-better approach continues with the smoked chicken-fried steak, which involves a thin, tenderized Wagyu sirloin and a super-light smoking before buttermilk-breading and frying. The mashed potatoes and gravy alongside are nice enough, but the green beans slow-braised with bacon steal the show.
Steaks are cooked to exact doneness over a fire of hickory and post oak. A Wagyu Delmonico arrived perfectly seared and rosy, with a little container of what the waiter called "cabernet demi-glaze," before correcting himself with a wink, "OK, glace." Whatever you call it, the cabernet demi-glace is an intense distillation of Wagyu beef bones and red wine, with none of the sticky sweetness that often ruins the French classic.
West also has the luxury of Wagyu bones for his roasted marrow appetizer. Cooked over flames, they are served warm but still slightly gelatinous, and make an indulgent bite spread over grilled sourdough.
I was also curious about how West would reinterpret mac 'n' cheese, using Wagyu beef bacon and green chiles. But no luck this time; the waiter forgot it.
Salads include a Hydromaine Caesar, made with lettuce grown hydroponically. The limp leaves, bathed in a milky lemon dressing, had no punch of flavor or texture. Same with the Ranch-House Chopped salad, made of more limp leaves, a fan of avocado, a halved egg and the other usual suspects, none crisp or chopped, and all in another pale version of a gutsy dressing.
If you've come for barbecue, you will find only a sampler appetizer on the dinner menu. Skip it and come back for lunch, when barbecue is the main event. Local Yocal's plates offer a half-pound of meat plus traditional eggy potato salad and coleslaw (again, with a too-timid dressing).
Choose one or two meats, and make sure one is the sumptuous, black-crusted Angus brisket. The turkey breast is moist and smoky, and left me wishing my Thanksgiving bird wereas good. As with the St. Louis pork ribs and jalapeño-cheddar sausage, the smoke is present but not so much that the flavor of the meat doesn't shine through.
I also ordered the mac 'n' cheese again. They forgot it again. Just as well, when the barbecue is this good.
A few years ago, when Local Yocal was mainly in the wholesale beef business, Hamilton pared back to selling to only three restaurants: Al Biernat's and the Grape in Dallas, and Square Burger in McKinney. The demand for his dry-aged cuts still outstrips the supply, and it was really disappointing to find that dry-aged beef is served only as a special here, too, and it wasn't on offer during any of my visits. There is hope, though: The butcher shop will soon move into the space next to the restaurant, with a bigger dry-aging room for both.
It's a good move. Just two months after opening, there's a sturdy sense of permanence about Local Yocal. It already feels like it's been around for generations, one of those spots where your parents took you when you were little, where the owner knows you on sight and that lives on in memory as the best restaurant in a small town. Here's hoping that's what it grows up to be.
Rating: Two stars
Price: $$ (Dinner starters $3 to $13, mains $13 to $42, desserts $6. Lunch starters $3 to $13, mains $12 to $21, desserts $6.)
Service: From the barman to the busser, everyone seems invested in you having a good time. Local Yocal's owner, rancher Matt Hamilton, circulates among the tables all night (he's the tall man in the cowboy hat, of course). And his staffers will darlin' you to pieces while providing attentive service, though they may forget your order of mac 'n' cheese.
Ambience: A 1910s brick warehouse near the railroad tracks has been transformed into a comfortable bar and restaurant spotlighting some of the best local beef around. Come for the barbecue at lunch and the Southern-inflected menu at dinner; chef Adam West brings a nuanced touch to both.
Noise: Shouty (78 decibels)
Drinks: Bartender Manny Casas mixes precise riffs on classic cocktails, including #208 Reserve ($14), made with the bar's proprietary bourbon from Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison, plus brandy, crème de mûre, house-made bitters and tobacco smoke. Draft beers tilt toward Texas, with a few brews from the East Coast, Kentucky and Colorado; bottled beers are equally interesting and diverse. The wine list is short and to the point: straightforward steakhouse bottles, mostly under $50.
Recommended: Smoked red pepper pimento cheese, LOYO burger, barbecue brisket, barbecue turkey, Wagyu Delmonico, bacon-braised green beans, chocolate croissant bread pudding
GPS: The main dining room and the bar are where the action is; a side room connected by a sliding barn door is slightly quieter (and also used for private parties). There's plenty of room between tables, and none are near the kitchen or bathrooms.
Address: 350 E. Louisiana St., McKinney; 469-225-0800; localyocalbbqandgrill.com
Hours: Lunch Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner Tuesday-Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted. Parties of eight or more must reserve by phone.
Credit cards: All major
Health department score: A (95, November)
Access: Ramp up to front door; restaurant and bar are on one level.
Parking: Ample free parking in two adjacent lots.
4 stars: Extraordinary (First-rate on every level; a benchmark dining experience)
3 stars: Excellent (A destination restaurant and leader on the DFW food scene)
2 stars: Very Good (Strong concept and generally strong execution)
1 star: Good (Has merit, but limited ambition or spotty execution)
No stars: Poor (Not recommended)
Below 60: Quiet. Maybe too quiet.
60-69: Easy listening. Normal conversation, with a light background buzz.
70-79: Shouty. Conversation is possible, but only with raised voices.
80-85: Loud. Can you hear me now? Probably not.
86-plus: Tarmac at DFW.
Average dinner per person:
$ -- $19 and under
$$ -- $20 to $50
$$$ -- $50 to $99
$$$$ -- $100 and over
Updated at 2:20 p.m. to correct spelling of the food truck called Unforsacon Bacon and the location of the Porch restaurant.