Hot restaurants of DFW: 2012 edition

Times are good in the restaurant world these days, and we’re not just talking tacos. The dining scene in Dallas-Fort Worth is sizzling so nicely, with so many openings and exciting things happening that our list of “hot restaurants” this year had too many entries. We culled them down to these 10. Tell us your picks by voting in the poll, or by posting a comment at the bottom of this story.

1. Woodshed Smokehouse. This new “global barbecue” spot from Fort Worth celebri-chef Tim Love is about as hot as it gets. For one thing, Love uses only smoke and fire to prepare the food — not wimpy stovetop braising. And how about that chile in the kale salad (kale being one of the hottest foods of 2012)? Woodshed embodies the au courant trend of acknowledging the animals we devour by going so far as to display its “animal of the day,” such as goat or lamb, roasting on a spit. It does a trendy banh mi sandwich, serves Texas wines on tap, follows a “green” policy with compostable plastic and has a rocking patio overlooking the Trinity River. All of it hot. Not to mention that it’s been nominated for Best BBQ Joint in Men’s Health magazine’s Manliest Restaurants in America 2012 awards.

2. Mijo’s Fusion. Mijo’s two branches in Arlington are dearly beloved, but the third Mijo’s is fairest of them all. You can tell because it has “Fusion” in the name; the word fusion equals hotness. Also, Mijo’s is in the hipster Near South Side neighborhood, in the cute storefront space that was formerly Junsuree Thai House. Its stylish interior with a striking curved-wood room divider separating dining room from bar is ultra-cool, while the cocktails spiked with habaneros and jalapeños are ultra-hot. Speaking of jalapeños, tempura-battered poppers filled with mashed yucca are a winner, and typical of the distinctive creations from chef-owner Connie Sheen, whose menu weaves together Asian and Mexican influences in a way that makes you warm all over.

3. Trader Joe’s. This fabled West Coast transplant with the line around the block is a grocery, not a restaurant. But it has a big section of take-out goods; and though the products change, the quality does not. If you think all hummus is the same, you haven’t tasted TJ’s, available in unusual flavors such as cilantro jalapeño or edamame. Prepared sushi is good in a pinch, especially the delectable lobster sushi. Choose from salads, wraps and sandwiches like the Buffalo chicken sandwich, spicy good. Homey soups are ready to heat, and the Greek yogurt is one of TJ’s top 10 sellers. That’s not even counting the rest of the store: good cheap champagne, chocolate-covered almonds, steel-cut oatmeal, organic olive-oil popcorn and on and on.

4. Temaki Sushi. Temaki once had a rather small menu, but that never held it back. Whether you ordered pot-stickers or a tempura roll, you could rely on it being done well. But now that West Magnolia Avenue has turned into sushi row, Temaki has stepped up its profile and expanded its menu. You can now get entree-style dishes like braised pork belly, rib-eye, smoked quail and shrimp udon noodles, in addition to its line of signature sushi rolls. The trio of bento boxes is still on the menu, including the one with brown rice. Brown rice is hot.

5. St. Emilion. Fort Worth reveres St. Emilion, and rightfully so: This archetypal French restaurant from owner Bernard Tronche has been serving classics like steak tartare, escargot and house-made paté in a quaint A-frame near the Cultural District for 27 years. Nightly specials like Cape Cod sea scallops or crayfish bisque keep the dining experience fresh. We don’t need confirmation that this place is a jewel. And yet it’s still nice to get it, this time in the form of an accolade from national dining guide Zagat. Its latest survey, published in March, put St. Emilion in the No. 1 spot for best restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth, with a score of 29 out of 30. So yeah, we already knew that- but thanks.

6. Taste of Europe. Other times, it takes an outsider to remind us that we should treasure what we have. Like Taste of Europe. It’s not that we didn’t appreciate the Arlington restaurant’s authentic Russian dishes, like beef stroganoff, cabbage rolls and borscht. But it wasn’t until the Guy with the bleached blond hair and wrap-around sunglasses sprinkled his Fieri dust on it that we reconsidered this gem right under our nose. Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives is a powerful force. It came to Taste of Europe, it joked about Russian nesting dolls and it tasted the kolduny – a potato pancake stuffed with ground meat. And so it was hot. Click here for an Around the World in 80 Meals story that includes a review of Taste of Europe.

7. Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. This beautifully renovated performance venue is already the red-hot new place for live music, with patio views from here to downtown. But it is made hotter still by adding a restaurant, which is not serving just any old cheese sticks and wings. Chef Mikal Steen’s ambitious menu has something for every kind of diner, from Southern specialties such as hush puppies to everyday favorites such as calamari to foodie-forward items like arugula and grass-fed beef.

8. Oak. In Dallas’ Design District, cool is hot, and that makes Oak the hottest place to be. This modern, urbane restaurant from husband-and-wife Richard and Tiffanee Ellman is the pinnacle of cool, with a sandy-colored minimalist design that extends from the decor to the plate. Chef Jason Maddy gives rib-sticking items like spaetzel a hip edge, and pastry chef Sarah Green turns panna cotta into an art project. But the coolest thing in the place is the video of an oak tree, projected against the wall like a painting.

9. Del Frisco’s Grille. This corner of McKinney Avenue is the white-hot center of Uptown Dallas, with Top Chef Tiffany Derry at Private Social side by side with Del Frisco’s Grille, recently named one of four “Hot Concepts” by Nation’s Restaurant News. The second Grille (following the first in NYC), it’s the baby bro’ of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and a cousin of Sullivan’s Steakhouse, whose parent company just went public. The Grille’s jalapeño-bacon mac and cheese is luscious, and the pimento cheese fritters are fun. But it is more that you are getting a whiff of Del Frisco’s clubby buzz at two thirds the price.

10. Sissy’s Southern Kitchen & Bar. Any restaurant featuring colorful Next Food Network Star contestant Lisa Garza would have built-in buzz. But Garza follows through with a restaurant that delivers more than name value. She and chef Jeffery Hobbs exploit our fondness for familiar comfort-food dishes like deviled eggs, fried chicken and squash fritters, then enhance it with a charming Southern environment to match. The Spode china and linens on the table – are kind of like Grandma’s, but hotter. Click here for our review.

By Teresa Gubbins,

Photo by Taste of Europe

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