Everybody loves a good comeback story, and Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood offers just that: Written off as crime-ridden and left for dead in the early 2000s, this onetime music mecca has resurrected itself with a broad flourish, as if its prior existence was just a practice run.
Actually, though, this patch of five avenues just east of downtown Dallas has had a long local history, home to the city’s blues and jazz scene of the 1920s. Deep Ellum earned its name from the way then-residents pronounced its original name, Deep Elm, and you can still see in its ongoing revival evidence of those early-century storefronts and the more recent graffiti-art grittiness that distinguishes it from Dallas’ other popular nightspots like Uptown and Knox-Henderson.
It’s more than music this time around, and you could eat and drink yourself silly on Deep Ellum’s increasingly busy streets, where some of the city’s prime food and drink artists have set up shop.
Let's start with the one you need to get to first, because Luscher's will be shuttering its sausage-y doors on Dec. 13. Chef Brian Luscher earned a loyal following at The Grape, his biscuit-sized bistro in Lower Greenville, but thankfully for Deep Ellum, the Chicago native yearned for more. Enter Luscher’s Red Hots, a casual, no-frills eatery on Commerce with gourmet hot dogs and basic sandwiches like the Italian beef or lamb gyro. It’s the sausages that shine, though; Luscher wanted to create the perfect Windy City hot dog and you’ll be hard-pressed to argue otherwise. Oh, snap!
You couldn’t ask for a better view of downtown in Deep Ellum than you’ll get from the rooftop bar at Stirr, one of the neighborhood’s newest additions. Mingle with the masses in the spacious downstairs bar, or hoof it up a few flights of stairs to the bustling patio with the neon-skyline view. Stirr has the meats – the Southwestern meats, that is, from mini brisket tacos and Texas striped bass to roasted quail and black-pepper-crusted venison. Or if you’re like me, you’ll just go straight for The Cow and Pig, a magnificent meaty marvel of ground brisket and bacon, and chase it down with a Miller High Life pony.
This tiny manger of a spot on Main Street has earned a practically religious following. Adherents preach about MKNC’s hand-pulled noodles and authentic dumplings; ye shall know it by the procession of hungry bellies lined up at its window, waiting to confess their love. With few seats to be had, the faithful either grab their Dan Dan Noodles and spicy cucumber salads to go or head for the rooftop patio where they can slurp to the high heavens. All hail the Monkey King!
Do you like barbecue? Do you crave the smoky Shangri-La of burnt ends and yearn for the fork-tender paradise of smoked brisket? Well, my friends, you have come to the right place, and a simple bite of pork ribs will tell you why many believe Pecan Lodge offers not just some of the best barbecue in Dallas, but in the state of Texas itself. Steel yourself for a long line that will move faster than you think. Add a side of green-chile mac-and-cheese, grab a beer and set yourself up at a picnic table with some live music, and you’ll understand why this one-time farmer’s-market-stall favorite has earned a national following.
Just next door to Pecan Lodge, you’ll find your second indulgence of the day at Emporium Pie, the latest offshoot of the highly popular original in Bishop Arts just south of downtown. The seasonal offerings have names as cute as the place itself, a simple and bright Southern-style bakery bathed in pink and white and beige: Think Lord of the Pies (apple) or Drop Dead Gourdgeous (spicy pumpkin custard). This is major pie, the kind of pie you’d want for your last meal – so you might as well order the Cloud Nine, a triumvirate of caramel, butterscotch custard and toasted brown-sugar meringue.
Owner Matt McCallister made a name for himself as a five-star chef at FT33 in Dallas’ Design District. At Filament, high-end cuisine is infused with a little Southern hospitality in a rustic atmosphere that perfectly fits the neighborhood’s warehouse-y feel. Start out with fried green tomatoes with crispy pork belly or the wedge salad dressed with a bleu cheese dressing blessed with some of McCallister’s barrel-aged hot sauce, then bring it home with some blackened trout or fried hot catfish and a cocktail or two from talented bar peeps like Moses Guidry and Ashley Williams.
Just across the street, you’ll find Braindead Brewing, where evidence of the city’s ongoing craft-beer culture is on display in relaxed and spacious surroundings. There’s a buzz all around – and it’s not just from the dozens of taps that include Braindead’s own concoctions along with other microbrew favorites: The high wooden booths and communal tables create a funky hive of activity that keeps downtown’s worker bees coming back for brews and creative dishes like the confit turkey leg, chile relleno burger and chicken-fried quail.
The “permanent pop-up” that for several years graced the foodie-centric Trinity Groves complex west of downtown has come rolling into Deep Ellum like a tumbleweed, settling into a tiny corner spot just down the street from classic music venues Trees and Club Dada. Just like the seasons, LTO mixes up its chef, motif and décor every few months, showcasing new talents and cuisines ranging from modern Mexican to Southern comfort. Currently on the docket is Josh Harmon, whose Progressive American menu features goodies like duck-fat-fried pecans, Brussels sprouts in fish-sauce caramel and garlic fried chicken.
Some of the city’s best pizza awaits you at Cane Rosso, where its Neapolitan-style ovens have fueled a fanatical following and five Texas locations. From the spicy-bacon-marmalade-topped Delia to Cane Rosso’s sausage-laced namesake, it’s the fresh and premier ingredients that make its homemade dough so special. And maybe the nice wine selection and stellar service. But it’s not just the pizzas that impress; the burrata appetizer, served with Swiss chard and fried kale, is a creamy, crunchy treat for the tastebuds, while the weekends-only meatball lasagna is the kind of dish you’ll start planning your Fridays around.
The lunch crowd loves Uncle Uber’s, and it’s not hard to see why: This sandwich haven with the mom-and-pop backstory is a throwback of comfort, the kind of place you can get sloppy and feel right at home. Get your paws around the smoked turkey or slow-roasted pork sandwich with a sidecar salad with habanero ranch. But the shaved ribeye is the favorite here, a massive warship of Angus beef and grilled red onions smothering a hard-working baguette that will earn your respect even as you make it your conquest.
Just down the street you’ll find Dot’s, whose immense environs might make you feel like you’re in a former Ford dealership, because that’s exactly where you are . Don’t even try counting the beers on tap here, because you’ll just be wasting time better spent drinking two or three of those beers at this massive new addition to Deep Ellum’s social scene. Bring a friend, or three, or even your entire family, because the giant patio – aka the “cocktail courtyard – stretches like a field of barley across the horizon, the better to work off those calories earned eating duck-fat cheese fries while cheering on the Dallas Cowboys on Dot’s’ bigscreen TVs.
Nearby, this Commerce Street mainstay has staked its claim to longevity with consistently standout food and the kind of vintage Cheers-style bar that makes people feel at home. The Greek-inspired, family-oriented scratch-cooking is the influence of owner Pete Zotos, a marlin fisherman whose offerings include chicken-fried tuna steaks and a Cowboy-cut ribeye. Regulars love the welcoming service and flock to it again and again, making a clear-cut case for Pete’s canonization.
This off-the-beaten-path destination on St. Louis Street, the brainchild of founder John Reardon, just marked its fifth anniversary with a selection of brews that have earned kudos all over town, like Dallas Blonde, Dream Crusher Double India Pale Ale and Neato Bandito Mexican-style Lager. The folks at Deep Ellum Brewing are so serious about beer that they’ve published a “beer-festo,” and you can sample their creations while noshing on taphouse menu items like honey-peach habanero chicken wings or a yummy mango avocado salad.
Mischief maker, cocktail shaker, ace parallel parker, Aquarian. Lover of food and drink. Dallas boulevardier whose heart is in the Pacific NW.