Summer: When schedules are cast aside and routine goes AWOL.
What better season, then, to try out new restaurants you’ve been meaning to and/or revisit standout spots? With July and August traditionally slow months for dining out, the time is ripe for us to show the following places some summer lovin’.
Piattello Italian Kitchen
Why it’s so great: You wouldn’t think a place named one of the best new restaurants in Texas (Texas Monthly) earlier this year would necessarily make this list, but, sadly, Piattello recently ended its lunch service. The dinner menu, however, will always impress, with its elegant ode to slightly offbeat Italian dishes. Hello, buccatini neri (rock shrimp on squid-ink pasta, $20)! A recent dinner at the bar, where bottles of wine are half-price on Monday nights, was especially rewarding after a grueling day of summertime childcare (my own). Executive chef Scott Lewis says he’s “obsessed with cooking seasonally,” which means expect heirloom tomatoes in a variety of ways on the menu, including in the excellent watermelon salad ($14), heightened by radishes, ricotta salata and fresno chiles.
Your should really try: The fried squash blossoms, which taste as if they are straight from Venice, Italy. Stuffed with a house-made ricotta and mozzarella mixture (made more seductive by the addition of anchovies, basil and lemon), the squash blossoms take a swim in buttermilk before being dunked in the fryer. Served over red sauce, they are spectacular; crunchy yet yielding to the soft cheese, the small bite is subtly fragrant and hits all of the right melt-y/cheesy notes.
Havana Bar & Grill
Why it’s so great: This year-and-a-half-old restaurant, where sweet fried bananas and soupy black beans reign, hides in plain sight in a South Cooper shopping strip already known for restaurant greatness. (Ahi Poke Bowl, you had me at bluefin tuna.) Everything here is startlingly authentic, I wrote a month after it opened in a December 2016 review, from the arroz moro (beans and rice mixed together) to the crispy yucca fries, which are served with just about the best garlic yogurt dip ever made. I love the palomilla (a thin skirt steak topped with sautéed onions), paired with sweet-yet-savory plantains, the rich black beans and sticky white rice.
You should really try: The pitcher of sangria ($22), a one-two punch, if you will, studded with orange wedges. And make sure to save room and time for the paella ($60), a showstopper of a dish that easily feeds four very hungry diners. This Cuban spin involves more acid than the traditional Spanish preparation—olives and capers are in abundance—but the ample amount of mussels, scallops, shrimp, squid and lobster more than makes up for it.
Why it’s so great: C’mon, embrace your inner outlier. Sure, you can navigate your way through the most raucous fast-food parking lot ever (Chick-fil-A) or you can have just as good (if not better—and I’m not being blasphemous) a chicken sandwich here. Opened in January, this Dallas-based outpost—the fifth in a growing chain—embraces all that is good in fresh, house made fare, offering killer condiments and custards along with its fried (and grilled) fowl. Even the rolls are elevated; they’re from the same place that Shake Shack uses—Pennsylvania-based Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe. There’s no MSG or other offensive additives, plus everything is fried in 100 percent refined peanut oil. That means the hand-dipped chicken spends four minutes in heaven before it lands on your silver tray. An added treat? Monday through Wednesday (5 to 10 pm), Shiner drafts are $1.
You should really try: The crispy avocado sandwich, which is stuffed with gouda cheese and topped with a garlic aioli. This thing is tremendously good—and maybe not so good for you with the crazy amount of melted cheese—but it’s an epic sandwich ($5.99). If you’re feeling really insane, get a fried chicken breast added to it. There’s probably no way you can wrap your mouth around this thing unless you get your jaw unhinged (we are in the Medical District)—or you’re Guy Fieri. Also worthwhile are the cheese fries, which come smothered in a perfectly runny cheese.
Why it’s so great: Luna Grill’s take on Mediterranean fare is a breath of fresh air. Quality ingredients, tasty kebabs, organic hummus (who knew this existed?) and more make up the menu. The sampler platter ($10.25) is a perfect initiation, featuring four falafel balls, four small grape leaves, hummus, couscous and pita triangles. The falafel is a revelation, with its crispy exterior that gives way to a moist chickpea interior. If you need even more, know that this location is exceedingly attractive: Cut-out paper doily-like pendants hang from the wall and intricate tile work yield frou-frou feels without the Clearfork-restaurant sticker shock.
You should really try: The Chopped arugula salad ($9.75), which features unusual ingredients — quinoa tabouleh, chickpeas, roasted pumpkin seeds, celery. Crunchy and texturally interesting, this might qualify as one of the summer’s best salads. On the opposite spectrum of clean eating could be the addictive Feta fries ($4.75), which embrace all that is salty about the cheese.
Boopa’s Bagel Deli
Why it’s so great: This is the only legit bagelry (est. 2000) in town. Full stop. Owner Holly Pils learned from the best, which means she boils, then bakes her bagels, yielding an extremely authentic, would-stop-traffic-in-New-York product. These guys are dense and chewy, and sweet. The latter is thanks to the addition of malt syrup in the boiling process. In fact, Pils’ bagels were named the best bagel in DFW in an investigative report that appeared on dfw.com in 2009, written by someone named Anna Caplan.
You really need to try: The bagels ($13.50/dozen). But if you somehow require more protein with your carbs, then you should go for the Boopalache ($1.25). This is a bagel-wrapped Eckrich sausage. Pils calls them amazing, and adds that they have made up almost half of her business since 2008. But, really, everything is good at this deli, including the sandwiches like the sweet pepper veggie (garlic cream cheese and roasted red peppers, $6.75) or the Eggel (egg sandwich with your choice of cheese, $3.45). I said it in print in 2009, and it’s still true today: This is “the best damn bagel in DFW.”