Once again, the DFW.com dining team ate our way across North Texas this year, so it is with tight waistbands and tickled tastebuds that we share our 10 favorite meals of 2014. We found them in both old haunts and new kids on the block. In some cases, our favorites were defined by just one dish; in others, the entire experience made it one for the books.
This year, a theme of comfort emerged — whether it was from a Wagyu meatloaf, a seductive pozole or the down-home familiarity of a sublime chicken-fried steak. One teensy exception? A $500-a-plate dinner prepared by two of DFW’s finest chefs, served on stage at Bass Hall — a happening we won’t soon forget.
Zoli’s NY Pizza Tavern
This feisty sibling of local pizza chain Cane Rosso forgoes Neapolitan in favor of the Moby Dick of pizza: New York-style pies. Pizzaiolo Lee Hunzinger is an artist, turning out all kinds of twists, from regular thin-crust pizza to “chicken parm rolls,” like an open-faced calzone with chunks of chicken and melted cheese. But nothing beats the Sicilian, a puffy square of pizza with a toasty, crunchy bottom and sweet tomato sauce on top, a flavor combination that is both comforting and gourmet. As you crunch down, you get bombarded with all sorts of unexpected flavor notes: toast, coffee, tobacco, yeast, popcorn. With crust this flavorful, who needs toppings or cheese? 202 W. Davis St., Dallas. 214-942-9654; www.zolispizza.com.
Chef-owner Kenzo Tran calls Pho District “Vietnamese street food,” but that is perhaps too modest. This spot off buzzy West Seventh Street is chic and fun, with a bar at the center, an open kitchen and pho, the pinnacle of noodle soup. The pho came with a plate of garnishes including bean sprouts, fresh red chiles and herbs like cilantro and basil. These are fun to toss into the soup, and in some cases are needed to enhance the flavor of the broth. But nothing extra was needed for this pho. Tran invests many hours and care into his broth, the key ingredient of pho, and his efforts pay off; he simmers bones overnight to capture a wealth of flavor. It had depth and contrast, with notes of salty and sweet, and yet it had clarity and simplicity, with no fat on the surface. This level of complexity is rare. 2401 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth. 817-862-9987 ; phodistrict.com.
Del Norte Tacos
At a certain point during our lunch here, a diner in our party posed the elephant-in-the-room question to our table of self-professed “foodies”: Why hadn’t we ever heard about this place before now? Our first notice of this barbequeria 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth came during the inaugural Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, where chef Chris Garcia’s food made a big splash. Each morsel here was eye-rollingly good, from the chile relleno and the skirt steak fajita tacos — the immensely flavorful steak was crispy on the outside and caramelized — to the stacked enchiladas, flat corn tortillas anointed with chicken, cheese, a fried egg and our “Christmas” order of both red and green salsas. Bonus points for three of the four house-made salsas: the creamy avocado serrano salsa, the salsa verde and the habanero salsa, all spectacularly spicy. The meal was so good, it had us toying with the idea of not writing the review, so we could at least keep Del Norte Tacos a secret among friends. 101 E. Texas 171, Godley. 817-389-2451; delnortetacos.com.
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro
After a fire damaged Tim Love’s signature restaurant in August 2013, he rebuilt the kitchen and added a new outdoor deck that we checked out this spring for a round-up of best patios in Fort Worth. The deck/patio area is indeed nice, but the thing that stuck with us was his take on pozole, in this case a mix of flavorful lamb with green chile accents to go with the hominy, with a nucleus of quail egg yolk surrounded by Swiss chard. It took one former New Mexico resident back in time, and although it was a pretty pleasant day, it almost had us wishing for cold weather so we could enjoy its warmth even more. 2406 N. Main St., Fort Worth. 817-740-8810 ; lonesomedovebistro.com.
Swiss Pastry Shop
The best new burger joint in town is also one of the oldest bakeries in town: the 40-year-old Swiss Pastry Shop, home to crazy-delicious desserts like the crack pie and Black Forest cake. But we spent the majority of our time there this year eating burger after burger — owner Hans Peter Mueller’s new obsession. We have a special attachment to the Hatch chile bacon burger, the first burger we had there and still our favorite. From the fluffy house-made brioche buns, diced Hatch chile peppers tumble, leaving streaks of heat on twirls of bacon and the juicy, plump 8-ounce patty. You just may forget all about that Black Forest cake. Oh, who are we kidding? 3936 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. 817-732-5661 ; swisspastryonline.com.
Matt’s Rancho Martinez
The Colleyville branch of this Dallas-based mini-chain has the locals lining up for margaritas and combo plates, both well done. But two dishes made our meal memorable: the chile relleno and the chicken-fried steak, which it’d be silly not to get at Matt’s. Handled with lots of TLC, it’s a beef cutlet, pan-fried and sheathed in a thin crust. The meat is tender enough to cut with a fork, and the crust has a peppery note that gives it a little sass, beneath its blanket of lush cream gravy. You can get it basic, “country-style” with french fries or “the Bob,” served with chili con queso. But neither could we deny the chile relleno — a large Anaheim pepper with a light, eggy shell, filled with beef, chicken or cheese. The pepper itself was a pleasure, with its tender texture and mild heat. But what made the dish stand out was the puckery tomatillo sauce and the generous sprinkling of raisins and chopped pecans, a gourmet touch. 4843 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville. 682-325-4135 ; www.mattstexmex.com.
“Tastes of the World” at the
Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival
This was a pretty extraordinary event: one of Fort Worth’s best-liked chefs, Jon Bonnell, cooking on the Bass Hall stage along with Dallas’ Stephan Pyles, one of Bonnell’s mentors, with wine pairings selected by Houston-based Guy Stout — one of only 214 master sommeliers in the world, according to the event program. And it was expensive, at more than $500 a plate, but that also covered entertainment from the Fort Worth Opera, the Texas Boys Choir, pianist Evan Mitchell, a hip-hop-inspired dance routine and a brief fashion show (proceeds from the meal benefited the Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation, which is designed to develop culinary talents throughout North Texas through a series of scholarships and grants).
Then there was the food: Pyles’ modern take on shrimp and grits featuring what Pyles described as an encapsulated shrimp essence — essentially a bubble that diners broke, letting the essence flow into the dish — and his Pacific Northwest-inspired cedar-planked salmon; Bonnell offered Creole Country-inspired seared rabbit and grilled (and deconstructed) andouille jambalaya and his dessert of New England apple tartlet with heirloom cider glaze and Vermont maple ice cream. The Bass Hall stage has seen quite a variety of performances through the years, but this must have been the tastiest.
Of all the “healthy” restaurant chains to invade Dallas-Fort Worth, Modmarket has the best game. There’s little not to like, from the low prices to the surprisingly well-made pizzas, baked at 700 degrees in a brick oven, to the calorie count printed on the back of your receipt. (Don’t read it if you don’t want to!) The restaurant’s take on the much-maligned tofu is transformative: Cut into meat-like slices and enrobed in a highly seasoned sesame-seed crust, it becomes neither faux-meat nor tofu but some other magical foodstuff, like a tender jerky with lots of kick. 3651 Justin Road, Suite 100, Flower Mound. 469-312-5180 ; www.modmarket.com.
Parents of finicky kids, you will understand our dilemma: Can’t take the kiddo to Cane Rosso because he wants pepperoni, and don’t want to take him to Pie Five because, well, it’s Pie Five. We were hoping to find a compromise at the new indie fast-casual Pizza Snob and wound up with our favorite family restaurant. The line can sometimes be annoyingly long and the TCU kids annoyingly loud. But parents have this great ability to tune out the world; you’ll need it here. We always order the same thing — the sausage and jalapeño pie, a thin-crust pizza topped with spicy sausage, slightly sweet jalapeños and an addicting Alfredo sauce. It delivers perfectly ever time. 3051 S. University Drive, Fort Worth. 817-462-7662 ; pizzasnob.com.
Velvet Taco’s initial draw was its schedule: The Dallas import is one of the few restaurants to have late hours, even through the week. We hope Fort Worth has realized it’s not just a drunk-food place but a forward-thinking taqueria with often excellent food. Our go-to taco there has been the rotisserie chicken taco, stuffed with chicken pulled, before your eyes, off the in-house rotisserie, along with poblano salsa and corn pico. Our favorite part of it may be the house-made corn tortilla, thick and pliable. It’s simple, delicious comfort, enhanced by a side of elote, a cup of roasted corn doused in spicy Valentina sauce and sprinkled with queso fresco. A meal only made better by topping it off with one of the killer margaritas. 2700 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth. 817-887-9810 ; www.velvettacofw.com.
Be sure to check out stories on the trends of 2014 and Top 10 best new restaurants. Plus, RIP to those restaurants we lost this year, and a fun feature where we asked DFW chefs: Where would you take visitors if you were paying, and where would you take them if your rich uncle was footing the bill?
Anna Caplan contributed to this report, which contains material from the DFW.com archives.