Texas Food Adventures
Out-of-the-box oddities and familiar foods done distinctly Dallas, let’s explore some of the more adventurous cuisine found in the Big D. Fruit and vegetables? Sure, if they’re garnishing a margarita or deep fried.
Photo By: State Fair of Texas®
Photo By: George W. Bailey / Shutterstock
Photo By: Fanfo / Shutterstock
Photo By: CBD Provisions
Photo By: Kevin Brown / State Fair of Texas®
Photo By: LightField Studios / Shutterstock
Photo By: from my point of view / Shutterstock
Photo By: El Come Taco
Photo By: Carrie Hamblin
Photo By: Beto & Son
Photo By: preecha2531 / Shutterstock
What food isn’t better after a soak in the deep-fat fryer? To honor the importance of the fabulously fried on restaurant menus and dinner tables across Texas, the State Fair in Dallas holds an annual Big Tex Choice Awards, in which the Fair’s food purveyors compete in fabulous fried fare fabrication. The categories are Best Taste: Sweet, Best Taste: Savory and Most Creative—a category that allows for some truly inspired culinary constructions. Cases in point: winners Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger (2017), Funnel Cake Ale (2014) and Fried Bubblegum (2011). Pictured is Deep Fried Shepherd’s Pie by Clint Probst, a 2018 finalist for Best Taste: Savory.
How to enjoy: Visit the State Fair! Every dish that makes it to the finals is sold at the fair—as well as some popular nonfinalists. Also, head over to the Creative Arts Building during your visit to see what happens when you hand a sculptor 1,000 pounds of butter.
Dr Pepper—the oldest American soft drink—was invented in 1885 in Chip and Jo’s hometown of Waco by a pharmacist who liked to tinker with the mixtures of the soda drinks. Dr Pepper is now enjoyed throughout the world, but how about this Dallas deviation—Hot Dr Pepper! I know, I know: It’s hard to imagine our warm, Southern city deliberately embracing a toasty version of a conventionally icy drink, but they have a close and trusting relationship. Dr Pepper was produced and bottled in Dallas for close to 100 years, although now the soda’s home is in the (gasp) Yankee territory of Massachusetts. The Hot Dr Pepper sensation was actually the product of an ad campaign in the 1960s to boost soda sales during the winter, and Dallasites still enjoy it to this day, especially in December and January when the temperature plunges into the low 60s.
As you may have noticed, Mexican food is a big deal in Texas. It's a culinary love affair between the southern state and its southern border, and Dallas is no exception. Menudo and pancita ("little stomach") are traditional Mexican soups made from, well, do we really need to say? Sometimes their names are used interchangeably, but menudo generally contains hominy and is made with honeycomb beef tripe (the cow’s second stomach), which is what gives this spicy soup its noteworthy texture. It varies regionally, but pancita is often made without hominy and can include sheep tripe instead. Both soups have hooves or feet or knuckles (depending on the donor animal) to flavor the broth. Don’t get cold feet now. What do you think that bone broth stashed in your cabinet is made from?
How to enjoy: With the plethora of authentic Mexican offerings in Dallas, you shouldn’t have trouble finding it. Gonzalez keeps it on the menu and Cuquita’s offers it on the weekend. You can also make it at home. You’ll have time for siesta; cooking it right is an all-day kind of endeavor.
Berkshire Pig Head Carnitas could be the most delicious entrée on the extreme end of the carnivore-herbivore spectrum. Let’s face it, there’s not a hope of pretending you’re not eating a pig’s head with this dish. When you taste it, however, any moral reservations will wash away in a delectable deluge of fat and flavor. Preparation is no small feat: CBD Provisions chefs brine each pig’s head for five days, steam it for 12 hours, roast it for 2-3 more and then broil it a bit to crisp the skin before serving. The upshot is lip-smacking and reflects the effort. It’s hard to imagine a vegetarian alternative to this one.
How to enjoy: Visit the modern Texas brasserie CBD Provisions in the Joule Hotel downtown, calling 24 hours in advance to reserve your head.
Corn Dogs for All
If you were a child, you’ve come across a corny dog. They are ubiquitous at ball games and fairs, and even in household freezers. Unless you’ve visited the Texas State Fair in Dallas, however, you’ve never had this one. Fletcher’s Corny Dogs is a massively popular State Fair staple cranked out by a three-generation family operation since 1942. And this is the most carefully conceived meat-on-a-stick you’ve ever encountered. A proprietary cornmeal recipe coats a delicately spiced and hand-selected wiener, assembled over a specialized stick made by Diamond Match Co. A few minutes in the deep fryer finalizes the concoction. It’s more than a corny dog; it’s a State Fair tradition. Can more than half a million fairgoers every year be wrong?
How to enjoy: only at the State Fair. The family tried franchising in the 1980s but decided the Dallas fairground location is the special sauce.
Boozy Ice Cream
You heard right. Adults are co-opting the innocent childhood delight of ice cream, adding an over-21 element, and the result is really yummy. Beer, wine and hard liquor are all acceptable additions to give that ol’ vanilla a shock in the sugar. Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream does it with aplomb, with its signature flavors Jack and Coke and Red Wine and Bleu. In one delicious concoction they’ve given us the best of the three food groups: sugar, fat and alcohol. What? Those aren’t all food groups. Well, no matter. Beth Marie’s has more than 120 ice cream varieties—a few dozen of which are available at any given time and most of which don’t contain booze—so there is something for the kiddos. With flavors like Texas Honey Whiskey, Mama’s getting some too.
How to enjoy: Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Soda Fountain resides in nearby Denton. In Dallas, Hypnotic Emporium is the place to sit down and enjoy. Central Market offers the prepackaged deliciousness.
Mexican cuisine is delicious, but if you’re going full-on south-of-the-border (not cheesy-easy Tex Mex), some of the ingredients can be intimidating for the unindoctrinated. Sure, you could get chicken or ground beef in that taco, but why would you? Traditional inclusions include tripa, lengua and sesos. Tripa you know now as tripe and sesos is veal brains. Lengua is tongue and done right with a side of salsa, it’s lip-smacking good. These ingredients may seem adventurous at first, but they are daily foods in Mexico City and they are becoming more popular on Dallas menus. Basically, if you want to know what you’re eating, brush up on your Español; otherwise just enjoy now and ask later.
How to enjoy: Popular taqueria El Come Taco feature all three on its menu and they are great sellers. One family of El Come Taco enthusiasts drive over from Amarillo every month just for the sesos. That’s a six-hour drive for veal brains!
Chapulines? Jiminy Cricket!
As you may have guessed, chapulines are insects—grasshoppers to be exact—and they’re on the menu too, thanks to Mexico City native and El Come Taco owner Luis Villalva. Dedicated to introducing his Dallas customers to his original hometown fare, Villalva explains that the items on his menu aren’t really exotic—they’re part of the traditional daily diet in Mexico City. In fact, chapulines is one of the most popular foods in the poorest states in Mexico and they are an excellent source of protein, for all you health nuts. What’s next on the menu, we asked Villalva? Wanna know what chicatanas and escamoles are?
How to enjoy: Visit El Come Taco or make your own. They are delicious with oranges on the side and a nice mezcal.
Say Yes to Frito Pie
Chili is a big deal in Dallas, but it has to be done correctly. First, it can’t have beans. Second, good chili has minimal ingredients: ground beef, fresh onions, sauce, a little cheese and sometimes sour cream. An approved variation: Frito pie. Not a pie at all, Frito pie is literally an open bag of Fritos with a dose of chili poured inside. The controversy around this dish is rarely about its deliciousness, but rather minor details like whether it originated in Texas or New Mexico, and whether it’s Frito pie or a walking taco, like those weirdos in the Midwest call it. One exception: Anthony Bourdain caused a commotion when he disparaged the dish on his show, but he claimed subsequently that he was talking about what it felt like in his hand—not what it tasted like. You’ll have to look up the quote.
How to enjoy: A few joints around town offer it, including Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, but you can make your own at home too. Just add Fritos to your usual chili shopping list, and whatever you do, don’t put beans in it.
Don't Miss the Margaritas
Dallas is the town that gave the world the frozen margarita machine in 1971. Now there are multiple margarita competitions annually. The tourism center, Visit Dallas, even has a Margarita Mile campaign and phone app, assisting marg enthusiasts and local lushes find the yummiest in town. We can safely say this city loves its margaritas. The coolest in Dallas? Well, glad you asked. The Liquid Nitrogen Margarita. The way it works is pretty basic. Liquid nitrogen is really cold—cold enough to freeze the alcohol itself—which eliminates the need for ice. No ice means no watered-down flavor as the drink melts. It’s an amazing innovation and incredibly dramatic the way the smoke curls around your appetizer. And you thought you’d never appreciate chemistry.
How to enjoy: These beauties are available at a handful of places around town, but visit Beto & Son for 2018’s Dallas Margarita Festival winner. The drink is customizable and made tableside from the restaurant’s special 11-month Avion Reposado that son Julian picked out in Mexico.
Heads or Tails
We visited the summit with the Berkshire Pig Head; now let's head south. Fair warning: There’s a bit of an "ew" factor to this one, but you are probably used to that by now. Calf fries—also known as Rocky Mountain oysters, prairie oysters and cowboy caviar—have been on the menu for centuries. The longstanding practice of cattle castration means that ranchers in this country and throughout the Americas have always had their hands full. These culinary jewels can be grilled, but they’re most often battered and deep fried, and that’s how you’ll find them in Dallas. The texture is calamari-ish, with a gamey taste like venison. The best part? With the innocuous name, you can probably trick your friend into ordering them.
How to enjoy: Head to a Dallas bar or restaurant with a sense of humor, like The Rustic; visit one of the many festivals and competitions throughout the country devoted to the dish; or make friends with the rancher down the street.