A City I Can’t Quite Put My Finger On: Dallas, TX
Since I started blogging in January of 2018, I’ve taken dozens of weekend trips to cities and towns in the US, Mexico, and beyond. In almost every case, the atmosphere or vibe of the city was easy to pinpoint after only a few hours of exploring. But for whatever reason, that wasn’t the case with Dallas, a city with an elusive character that I visited with my friend Ismael earlier this month.
Perhaps we were thrown off by the fact that it was only a few degrees above freezing one of the days we were there, which every local we met confirmed was indeed not normal. We knew not to expect tropical weather this time of year in Northern Texas, but having to bundle up and brave the bone-chilling wind was certainly disorienting.
Did it feel southern? In some ways, yes, but Dallas is roughly 1000 miles away from South Carolina (where I lived from 2017 to June 2018), so it wasn’t very similar to the South that I’m familiar with. Maybe it was just the landscape, but Dallas almost reminded me more of the Indianapolis area, where I spent much of my childhood.
Did it feel like a big city? Dallas certainly has a large downtown with skyscrapers, but it was almost eerily empty on the Saturday and Sunday we were there. It looked like the urban center was almost exclusively commercial, so there didn’t appear to be many other attractions to draw people in on the weekend. I’m sure the unusual cold also kept people indoors.
So for these and other reasons, Dallas ended up being a disorienting destination for a weekend trip. Maybe another visit during the summer months would clear things up… In any case, we still had a fun time, and below are some of the things we did!
1. Drinks and BBQ in Deep Ellum
Deep Ellum is the neighborhood where we spent most of our time if only because we booked our Airbnb here. However, it’s safe to say that this is the most lively neighborhood we encountered, so I’m glad we stayed here.
It’s a short walk from downtown, although as I mentioned above, there didn’t actually seem to be a ton of reasons to venture towards the wide avenues and tall, generic office buildings of the central business district.
With that said, Deep Ellum has enough to do that you won’t need to venture far to find something interesting. For readers from Seattle, Deep Ellum is Dallas’s Capitol Hill; for readers from everywhere else, I basically mean that it’s the area where all the millennials congregate in hip bars and restaurants.
Have a BBQ Feast at the Pecan Lodge
If you visit this area, be sure to check out the Pecan Lodge. This famous BBQ joint may have a line going out the door, but it’s worth the wait! Keep an eye out for hostesses offering seats at the bar: if you’re willing to sit there, you can skip the line and still get anything on their full menu.
We ordered the combo, which comes with three different types of meats. The side dishes were also delicious. I really liked the mac and cheese and collard greens, but we could hardly finish everything we got since it was so much food!
A Couple of the Bars I Liked
There are dozens of bars in Deep Ellum to check out, and they run the gamut from quiet places to sip on a drink to all-out clubs. My favorite was definitely Armoury, D.E., a lively yet not-overwhelming place with a cool interior design and a huge list of creative cocktails.
I especially liked the memorable “Rainy Day in Kyoto,” a gin-based cocktail with matcha and pistachio that tasted amazing. No matter what you’re in the mood for, you can find something interesting to try here.
Another bar I liked was The Free Man, a Cajun bar and restaurant with some overtly New Orleanian vibes. The live band was great, and the audience was actually quiet while they played, so it was really relaxing. I would’ve really liked to try them for lunch or dinner, but we didn’t have time.
2. A Quick Look Around Bishop Arts District
A couple people told us to check out the Bishop Arts District, so we did. It was an interesting neighborhood, but it seemed small. We ducked into a coffee shop to escape the cold for a bit, and then we checked out the Bishop Cider Company, where we tried two cider flights. If you’re a fan of cider, this was a cool little place with tons of different flavors.
All in all, Bishop Arts District only takes about an hour at most to explore, but isn’t really close enough to Deep Ellum to walk, so you’ll need to catch a ride over here if you’re interested in checking it out.
3. Photo Shoot at Rainbow Vomit
This was a super random thing we decided to check out, but I’m so glad we did! Rainbow Vomit is a temporary art exhibit in Southeast Dallas that is going on until February 17th, 2019. The various art exhibits inside are meant to be interactive, and they’re a great place to take pictures! Be sure to try to find the secret room with a unicorn, which was definitely our favorite.
We were able to purchase tickets on arrival, but you should book online, which you can do here (more information here and here). I can’t say for sure, but this exhibit implies that the city might have other quirky and artsy things to check out, so do a bit of research about what’s available even if you’re visiting Dallas after Rainbow Vomit closes!
4. A Classy Dinner at Fearing's Restaurant
Sometimes the best way to explore a city’s culinary scene is to visit both the high-end restaurants as well as popular yet casual places like the Pecan Lodge. To complement our BBQ experience there, we decided to do Fearing’s Restaurant for dinner one night.
Although they had an extensive menu, we decided to be adventurous and try locally sourced antelope and an appetizer of foie gras. Everything was really tasty, and they also had a wide variety of nice cocktails. The head chef even walked around and introduced himself to all the diners, and really made us feel welcome. Be sure to make a reservation if you’re interesting in trying this fancy restaurant!
5. Mexican Brunch on the Edge of Uptown
For our last full meal in Dallas, we ended up meeting a former coworker of mine, Sigfrido, at Meso Maya Comida y Copas, an authentic Mexican restaurant with a couple of locations in the area. Although I would’ve liked to try Tex-Mex in Dallas, I really liked the dish I got here, which had a lot of meat, cheese, and flavor (and is something I’ve yet to see in any restaurant in Mexico).
Their salsa that they served with chips was also really amazing; I asked our waitress what was in it that made it so good, and she told us a pretty standard list of peppers, garlic, and the like. I’m convinced that they had a secret ingredient though, because it really had a rich, smoky flavor that I’ve never tasted before!
In Short: A City That Won't Be Reduced to a Label
Dallas was certainly interesting, and although it was hard to compartmentalize, we still had a fun time here! Having visited Austin twice, I have to admit that I like that quirky town a little bit more; you can read my guide to Austin by clicking here.
Nonetheless, my Uber driver on the way to the airport told me that he absolutely loves living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I can see that it could be a very comfortable place to settle down. We also heard that Fort Worth has a totally different vibe despite being only about an hour away, so I’d like to visit someday and check it out to compare.
So there you have it! Are you a Dallas native? Did we miss anything iconic that we need to visit next time? Let me know in the comments below! Keep an eye out for my next post, which will discuss how to take a day trip from Mexico City to the world-famous pyramids at Teotihuacán! Thanks for reading!