top of page

The Best New Restaurants in Dallas 2022

Almost all the best new culinary developments were at the level of the cozy round-the-way joint, the kind of welcoming place where locals gather for a good, casual meal. So we’re calling 2022 the Year of the Neighborhood Restaurant.

December 7, 2022


Looking over the Dallas restaurant scene in 2022, it’s hard to avoid mixed feelings. We had a lot of glamorous, transportive new restaurants open, but many of them were more sizzle than steak. We saw a return to old-school hospitality and classic comfort food but a backlash against creative, boundary-pushing fare. Restaurants with wealthy clienteles saw record profits, while smaller spots struggled to keep up. Several diners told me they were bored with Dallas’ food, but restaurateurs told me that their regulars just want to relax, feel pampered, and order “the usual.”


Although the coronavirus pandemic may finally be receding, its effects are still being felt when we go out to eat. If you hoped Dallas would continue down its prepandemic path as a city learning to support bold new flavors, this year was a crashing disappointment. But if you wanted to see the same loving care applied to classic fried chicken, smashburgers, tacos, and gumbo, good news kept rolling in.


No matter how you feel about the big-name openings—one of them was memorable enough to be named our Restaurant of the Year—there’s no dispute that neighborhood restaurants stepped up their game. Almost all the best new culinary developments were at the level of the cozy round-the-way joint, the kind of welcoming place where locals gather for a good, casual meal. The kind of place where you want to be a regular.


So we’re calling 2022 the Year of the Neighborhood Restaurant. We may be in a golden age of casual dining around town. Here, along with our Restaurant of the Year, are some of the leaders of the neighborhood spot renaissance.


Tatsu – Restaurant of the Year 2022

Everyone expects big things from a high-end omakase dinner, one where you book seats weeks in advance, pay hundreds for the privilege, and sit in front of an expert—here, acclaimed fourth-generation chef Tatsuya Sekiguchi—who hands you pieces of sushi as soon as they’re made. And, yes, Tatsu does the big things well. But the smallest details can make the biggest impressions. 


Take the bonito flake (katsuobushi), a dried sliver of cured bonito fish. At almost every Japanese restaurant you will ever visit in this country, bonito flakes are paper-thin bits of briny sea flavor, suitable for a garnish. They might be tumbled over a fried food such as takoyaki, so that the radiating heat causes the ultra thin flakes to appear to dance. Although bonito contributes flavor to the food it decorates, it is nothing intrinsically special. I keep whole bags of the flakes in my pantry, like salty confetti ready to be tossed at a seafood party.


So when assistant chef Jon Griffiths placed one single, solitary bonito flake on my plate at Tatsu, my first thought was that it was a prank. One bonito flake? What’s next, an Italian restaurant serving one leaf of parsley?


But Tatsu cures its own bonito. The flakes had been shaved off a moment earlier, right before our eyes, as if the aged fish were a truffle or a wedge of parmesan. And this little flake, unlike any other I’d seen, had color. Variegated colors, in fact, deep red running down its center with tiny cross-striped layers, like a desert rock.


Having seen a difference, it was no surprise to taste a difference, too. It was not just that the bonito flake was fishier and stronger but that its salt cure had given it a savory, baconlike intensity.

There is much more to dinner at Tatsu, of course. Subtly cooked appetizers, indulgent tuna belly and uni, gently cured or marinated fish touched with fresh-grated wasabi, outstanding small-producer sake. But the little things make this Deep Ellum gem stand out. You’re as likely to remember your first taste of a rare mackerel as you are to recall the exceptional roasted green tea or Dallas’ best tamago (folded omelet).


The biggest difference between Tatsu and an ordinary sushi restaurant is not in style or flash. It’s in attention to every detail. 3309 Elm St., Ste. 120. Deep Ellum. $$$


Comments


bottom of page