There is no doubt that a beautiful setting makes dining experiences more memorable. After being relegated to take-out and varying capacity restrictions last year, we now more fully appreciate the beautiful spaces we can congregate in to eat and drink in Dallas.
New restaurants have opened and old ones have been reinvented; Floral and garden themes were favorites this year, but spaces that incorporated modern elements are equally stunning. While there are at least a dozen more we could have mentioned, these 12 Dallas restaurants and bars gave us some of the finest dining experiences of 2021.
200 N. Bishop Ave., Suite 113 (Bishop Arts District)
The latest in a catering group that has also offered us wonders like Paradiso, Tejas and Botanist, Casablanca takes us on a tour of the Silk Road, both in its menu and in its design. Warm-toned Arabic elements along with seating areas inside and out add an exotic touch to a space that makes the most of natural light. Lush greenery and light fixtures incorporating natural elements add to the overall effect.
Dahlia bar and bistro
3300 Ross Ave. (Old East Dallas)
A glimpse of the Dahlia’s black iron garden terrace invites you to enter. From the outside, it’s one more space in a multicolored brick restaurant and shopping street. Inside, exposed brickwork and modern industrial elements combine with vignettes of art on the walls to make it worth looking beyond the patio.
Flowers and plants from Ruibal’s Plants of Texas adorn the patio as well as the interior of the bar and restaurant. By far the most eye-catching element here is the bar: an inverted brass planter is full of silk flowers above.
Rolling windows at the rear of the horseshoe bar open up the space to the outdoor patio when the weather is nice, and smart cocktails with floral garnishes are right at home. The food, especially the weekend brunch options, is as good as it looks.
600, rue N. Akard (downtown)
Many of us knew we would miss dining next to the Dakota Underground Waterfall when they closed last year, but our hopes were raised when the restaurant reopened with a new owner after a major renovation. Tons of marble and art-deco flourishes remain in the New Orleans-inspired main dining room, and the underground patio looks stunning as ever.
Led by Executive Chef Ji Kang, the kitchen serves fine cuisine worthy of the restaurant’s elegance, from appetizers to exquisite entrees and desserts.
Ebb and flow
2651 E. Commerce St., # 100 (Deep Ellum) and 7300 Lone Star Drive, C125 (The Shops at Legacy, Plano)
Hanging greenery outside leads to a bar with wood and brass features and plush velor seating inside the two Ebb & Flow locations.
In the Deep Ellum space, a painting on a multi-panel mirror dominates a wall. At Plano’s location, the words “Don’t worry about a thing” in neon contrast against a floral wall. All the elements are brought together in the two spaces, which makes them very comfortable places to settle down for delicious cocktails.
Ellie’s Restaurant & Lounge at Hall Arts Hotel
1717 Leonard Street (Dallas Arts District)
In the parking lot in front of the Hall Arts Hotel, the giant yellow steel sculpture by John Henry Tatlin Sentinel lets you know you are entering the world of an art lover. Inside the hotel, which was hosted by famous art collector and financier Craig Hall, there are dazzling works of art and facilities, some of which are located inside Ellie’s.
Large works seem to be the theme here with a mosaic tiled wall along the terrace and an aerial installation (“Asteroid” by Spencer Finch) which serves as both a light fixture. It is possible to immerse yourself in the art in the room, but there is more that makes the space so pretty; floor-to-ceiling windows and a bar with the city center as a backdrop.
Elm & Bon
2551 Elm Street (Deep Ellum)
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact era of the eclectic modern look at Elm & Good – maybe if art deco met mid-century modern and they had a baby? Whatever its inspiration, the dining room and bar provide an attractive setting for chef Graham Dodds’ inspired cuisine.
Decorative, checkered glass panels sit on bushy earth-toned banquettes in a long, narrow space that also makes room for a tall counter and table. The glossy white walls put the creative furniture arrangements center stage. The most interesting focal point might be an artfully arranged collection of black and white plaques above the passage window.
5310 Junius St. (Old East Dallas)
When Old East Dallas’ longtime favorite Garden Café reopened after months of closure during the pandemic, little changed in its appearance. But perhaps the absence makes the heart more affectionate because the chance to return to his patio was a beautiful thing.
The patio was always beautiful, flanked by a garden full of vegetables, which are used in the kitchen. Inside, a bar has replaced the counter where diners place their orders, and it’s a welcome change as it means beer and wine are on the menu. A waiter bringing mimosa with your brunch might be the best show of all.
6130 Luther Lane (Dallas North)
Since Braden and Yasmin Wages opened the first Malai kitchen in Uptown’s West Village 10 years ago, the wooden pergolas on its patio were a recognizable feature. These and the bright orange patio furniture mark a restaurant that brews its own beers to drink with Thai and Vietnamese cuisine from scratch.
The same pergolas (and orange signature) mark the last location of the Luther Lane shopping complex, the fourth for Malai Kitchen. All of the locations have similar design elements and each displays a custom piece of art by local artist Michael Sutton. Photos taken by the Wages on their travels through Southeast Asia also feature prominently in every restaurant. Textured wood elements bring nature inside, which is perfect for the menu of dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
5650 Village Glen Drive (Upper Greenville)
At Meridian, Chef Junior Borges is rightly celebrated for his incredible cuisine inspired by his Brazilian roots. The fact that it is served in a brand new and ultramodern space in the Village only makes it taste better.
Floor-to-ceiling windows topped with planters overflowing with greenery serve as a backdrop to rounded bench-style tables. The best seats in the house offer a view of the open kitchen, but each seat is a place where you can lose yourself in the joy of drinking a caipirinha or enjoying a dinner of whole octopus, blue shrimp moqueca or Wagyu steak. picanha.
2101 Cedar Springs Road, # 150 (Oak Lawn)
A successful blend of contemporary design elements makes the Ocean Prime one of Dallas’ most attractive modern dining rooms. Not an ounce of sophistication has been spared in this restaurant where upscale cocktails, seafood and steak dishes compete well with the decor.
1617, boul. (Dallas Design District)
When Town Hearth opened in 2017, our then food critic Brian Reinhardt called it a “ridiculous love letter to a ridiculous town, a monument to ambitions, cars, hair and land. ‘Dallas-sized ego.’ Still, it remains one of the prettiest places to dine in Dallas, with 64 chandeliers that are far from the only exaggerated focal points.
A real yellow submarine in an aquarium, two vintage motorcycles and a 1961 MG will likely catch your eye at first glance. Fine dining served amid dark woods and mirrors makes this a great place to dine in a location where ‘spectacular’ might be an understatement.
835, avenue des Expositions (Exhibition center / Fairground)
The heavy black doors of Whiskeys on Exposition Avenue give you no indication of the ‘oh and ah’ that follow when you open them. On one side of the intentionally dark space, the panels above a long black leather bench seat sport a reclaimed wood herringbone pattern that is in itself a work of art.
Facing that wall, a ceiling-high shelf behind the bar houses glittering decanters and bottles of all kinds of whiskey you can imagine. As well as being a whiskey wonderland, this bar which opened in August is a perfect visual representation of the character and treasures to be found in this often overlooked neighborhood.