Dallas Essentials

View top spots in Dallas for locals and tourists.

Food and Drink Essentials

BEST PLACE TO BUY GROCERIES

Central Market
5750 E. Lovers Lane, plus additional locations around the Metroplex.
With its impressive produce section, extensive bakery, huge imported cheese selection and specialty meat counter, this upscale grocery store is a magnet for foodies. Cooks come for top-notch quality; those who need help in the kitchen come for the gourmet take-home prepared foods. Stores also include onsite cooking schools and dine-in cafe. It's a fun store to get lost in, but be prepared to pay: having a dozen varieties of apples to choose from doesn't come cheap.

Sprouts Farmers Market
1343 West Campbell Rd., Richardson, plus additional locations around the metroplex.
Specializes in farm-fresh produce from local growers. Stores have a good selection of natural and organic offerings and great deals on in-season items.

Dallas Farmers Market
1010 S. Pearl St.
This is one of the largest open-air farmers markets in the country: farmers have been selling their produce here since the 1860s. The market has several sheds, including one with furnishings and gifts and one with specialty products such as locally made cheese and grass-fed beef and lamb. The Dallas Farmers Market Friends organizes regular cooking classes onsite led by well-known local chefs from some of the city's best restaurants.

HAVE BRUNCH

Breadwinners Cafe and Bakery
3301 McKinney Ave., plus additional locations.
Get there before 10 a.m. on weekends to avoid a long wait. Servers bring samples of the restaurant's baked goods while you order. The banana-bread French toast is a calorie splurge. Eggs Benedict fans have several to choose from, including one made with a fresh croissant, ham and asparagus. The covered courtyard in the middle of the restaurant offers outdoor atmosphere and protection from the elements.

BEST SPECIALTY COCKTAILS

Mansion Bar
2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Part of the ultra-luxury Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel and Mansion restaurant. The bartenders here create innovative twists on traditional cocktails. Don't miss the gin and tonic -- made with Rudd gin and homemade tonic -- or the spicy ginger Margarita.

BEST ETHNIC FOODS

Tacos:

Fuel City
801 S. Industrial Blvd.
Plan to go early if you're thinking about lunch during weekdays, as the taco window at this gas station convenience store gets busy. The drill? Choose a meat and the number of tacos and whether you want chopped onions and cilantro; hot sauce comes on the side. Drinks can be purchased separately from the convenience store. Orders are to go, but plenty of folks chow down in their cars in the parking lot.

Taco Joint
911 Peak St.
A newcomer for Dallas, this neighborhood spot serves a hungry breakfast and lunch crowd. These tacos with a modern bent include tasty vegetarian options made with roasted veggies. Tacos are ordered one at a time, so it's easy to match your appetite.

Middle Eastern food:

Afrah Restaurant & Pastries
314 E. Main St., Richardson
Great vegetarian offerings and inexpensive sandwiches. Platters are easily shared. Pita comes to your table hot from Afrah's wood-fired oven and can be purchased in bulk to take home. The patio area is hopping in the evenings, when locals come to smoke the hookah.

Sardinian/Italian food:

Arcodoro & Pomodoro Ristoranti Italiani
2708 Routh St.
Led by brothers Efisio and Francesco Farris, the restaurant boasts a wood-burning pizza oven and a mix of Italian and Sardinian flavors. Don't miss the teardrop shaped gnocchetti with wild boar or the squid-ink risotto. Head here when the weather's nice: it has one of the best patios in Dallas.

BEST BURGER

Twisted Root Burger Co.
2615 Commerce St.
Started by three high-pedigreed chefs, this burger joint puts a premium on freshness -- they even makes their own ketchup, mustard and pickles for their juicy burgers (buffalo, ostrich, turkey and 100 percent black Angus beef). Be sure to save room for one of the luscious milkshakes, made from the restaurant's homemade ice cream, or for some of the homemade root beer.

BEST STEAK

Al Biernat's
4217 Oaklawn Ave.
The steaks are delectable, and the people-watching is fun. You can easily share the Al's Salad, a mix of crisp green beans, lump crab, prawns and sliced tomato and avocado, leaving more room to savor the Allen Brothers prime steaks. If you somehow managed to save room for dessert, don't miss the pecan or coconut-cream pies. Like Bob's Steak and Chop House, its also a good place to spot local sports stars and other celebrities, especially after Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks games.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
10477 Lombardy Lane
Its location off I-35E isn't the most atmospheric, but the food and service are easily worth the drive north of downtown. Pappas is particularly well known for its extensive wine selection: more than 2,300 to choose from.

Bob's Steak and Chop House
4300 Lemmon Ave., plus other locations in Plano, Grapevine and Fort Worth.
This low-lit wood-paneled restaurant has a distinctly clubby feel. It goes without saying that the steaks are exceptional, although boisterous patrons can make for a loud restaurant at times. Along with Al Biernat's, this is a good place to spot local sports stars and other celebrities.

BEST CELEBRITY CHEF DINING

Fearings
2121 McKinney Ave., inside the Ritz-Carlton Dallas.
Charismatic chef Dean Fearing made Southwestern cuisine famous with his trademark tortilla soup while at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. His Southwestern flavors are bolder yet at Fearings, where you can pick the dining room that fits your style. Looking for something fancy? Try the white linen Gallery. In the mood for something more casual? Head to Dean's Kitchen, where you can get a front-row view of the action. Fearing regularly makes the rounds in the dining room, joking with customers and keeping the mood friendly.

BEST PLACES FOR A LATE-NIGHT BITE

Cafe Brazil
6420 N. Central Expressway, Dallas plus additional locations around the city.
This University Park location is open 24 hours and is a favorite with Southern Methodist University Students. Coffee is self-serve; pies and cakes are a don't-miss. You can get breakfast items at all hours here.

Avanti Ristorante
2720 McKinney Ave.
Great upscale restaurant for after a show, since its kitchen is open until midnight during the week and until 3 a.m. weekends. Check out its Moonlight Breakfast between midnight and 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

BEST PLACES FOR A LATTE

Legal Grounds
2015 Abrams Parkway
Tucked into the Lakewood Shopping Center, this coffee spot got its name from an early practice of offering legal advice. It's still popular with the legal set, although no advice is being served with the cafe's delicious coffee. At night, the space turns into Papou's Greek Kitchen and Taverna.

Crooked Tree Coffeehouse
2414 Routh St.
Located in a cozy cottage in Uptown's State-Thomas area, Crooked Tree offers a laid-back atmosphere that invites you to stay awhile and catch up with friends, read the newspaper or work on your laptop. The cafe serves fair-trade coffee roasted locally and sandwiches made to order. Crooked Tree also offers free Wi-Fi and features live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

Entertainment Essentials

BEST FREE THINGS TO DO

Dallas Museum of Art

1717 N. Harwood St.
Thursday Night Live: Jazz in the Atrium (held outside as Jazz Under the Stars in the spring) features local performers, sketching in the gallery sessions and discussions with artists.

Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora St.
Free admission from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Saturday of each month and guided tours of the garden and galleries for adults and kids. Don't miss the free yoga class in the sculpture garden.

First Thursday in the Bishop Arts District
Near intersection of Bishop Avenue and Seventh Street.
The first Thursday of every month, shops and galleries in this cozy Oak Cliff area stay open until 10 p.m. Visitors may explore and meet other locals while finding special arts exhibits, wine tastings and other activities. Don't miss the Bishop Street Market, which has artsy gifts and household items.

BEST PLACES TO MEET NEW PEOPLE

Grand Tastings
4430 McKinney Ave., Ste. 100
Learn about new wines and chat with fellow oenophiles. Tasting menus start at $15 for five different wines and change weekly.

Crush Wine Shop
3205 Knox St.
Crush is a great place to wander into on Saturdays, when it has a popular wine tasting that is sometimes matched with food presented by area chefs. Part wine shop, part wine bar with a popular happy hour, Crush stocks labels you'll recognize along with some hard-to-find boutique labels.

BEST PLACES FOR YOUNG COUPLES

Late Nite at the Dallas Museum of Art
1717 N. Harwood St.
Held the third Friday of each month. Patrons can hear live music, wander the galleries and enjoy special film screenings until midnight.

Saturday Night in the City, Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora St.
Held the first Saturday of each month from April to October, this event features performances by local bands. Visitors can bring blankets to sit on in the garden and buy food and cocktails from the onsite cafe. It's a great event for evening viewing of James Turrell's Tending Blue) installation.

BEST THINGS TO DO WITH THE KIDS

Dallas World Aquarium
1801 N. Griffin St.
Wander through the Orinoco rain forest exhibit, where exotic birds fly free, and walk within a 40-foot tunnel through an aquarium of sharks and manta rays. Tickets are $18.95 for adults and $10.95 for children aged 3 to 12. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Dallas Museum of Nature and Science
3535 Grand Ave. and 1318 S. 2nd Ave. in Fair Park.
Interactive and hands-on exhibits on the human body and fossil excavation. IMAX and Planetarium shows offer a fun approach to learning and a great way to escape the summer heat. Spring break and summer camp programs are available. Ticket prices vary based on exhibits visited, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Cotton Bowl day.

Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
1 Nature Place, McKinney.
This museum and 289-acre wildlife sanctuary includes 6.5 miles of trails offering close-up views of nature prairie land and local birds and insects. A ropes-style challenge course is available for groups. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and children aged 3 to 12. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Nightlife Essentials

BEST PLACE FOR LATIN MUSIC

Monica's Aca Y Alla
2914 Main St.
Owned by dynamic restaurateur Monica Greene, this Deep Ellum restaurant has great food specials (75-cent Margaritas on Wednesdays with entree purchase) and live Latin music on the weekends.

BEST PLACE FOR SALSA DANCING

Gloria's
5100 Belt Line Rd., Addison
This Mexican/El Salvadoran eatery has fabulous Tex-Mex fare and quick service at all of its Dallas area locations, but this one also boasts live music and dancing on Friday and Saturday. Get there before 9 p.m. to avoid a long wait outside.

BEST PLACE TO RIDE A MECHANICAL BULL

Gilley's Dallas
1135 S. Lamar
Try your luck on El Toro, the mechanical bull. This Dallas outpost of the original 1971 Texas honky-tonk made famous by the film Urban Cowboy hosts live country music Fridays and Saturdays.

BEST PLACE TO LEARN HOW TO LINE DANCE

Cowboys Red River
10310 W. Technology Blvd.
Offers live music Wednesday through Saturday, and free dance lessons Wednesdays and Fridays. The club also has a mechanical bull, if you're feeling brave.

BEST PLACE TO MEET A REAL COWBOY

Mesquite Championship Rodeo
1818 Rodeo Dr., Mesquite
Held each Friday and Saturday night from April through September, professional rodeos feature several events, including barrel-, bronco- and bull-riding and roping.

BEST PLACES TO GET A BEER

The Ginger Man
2718 Boll St.
Located in cozy house in Uptown, this laid-back pub has the best beer selection in the city: 77 beers on tap and another 100 available by the bottle. The large backyard patio and decks with long picnic tables make it easy to meet other beer-lovers. Live music on Saturdays.

Flying Saucer
14999 Montfort Dr., Addison
A mecca for beer-lovers, Flying saucer has more than 80 taps with selections from around the world and another 100 brews available by the bottle. The pub has live music on Saturday nights. Beer fans can join the UFO club, whose goal is for members to try 200 different kinds of beer and earn a plate on the wall.

Old Monk
2847 N. Henderson Ave.
The cozy bar and wrap-around patio has a great selection of imported beers and pub grub that goes beyond the ordinary with imported cheese platters and delicately fried fish and chips.

Outdoor Essentials

BEST OUTDOORSY THING TO DO

Cedar Ridge Preserve

7171 Mountain Creek Parkway

Located about a half-hour from downtown and formerly known as the Dallas Nature Center, Cedar Ridge has 10 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty and is free, to boot. Plan to work your quads if you choose the Cedar Break Trail, which winds its way in and out of several canyons for 1.7 miles and connects to the Cattail Pond Trail.

Trinity River Audubon Center
6500 South Loop 12
Located about 10 minutes south of downtown, this new center is nestled in the largest hardwood forest in the United States. The center offers four miles of walking trails and great bird-watching opportunities.

BEST PLACE FOR A PICNIC

Dallas Arboretum
8525 Garland Rd.
Offers 66 acres of carefully manicured gardens to stroll through and plenty of nooks for picnicking. Evening concerts on the lawn spring through fall offer a cool breeze off White Rock Lake and a great sunset view. The garden undergoes special replantings three to four times a year, so there's always something new to check out. Weekend crowds can be heavy during the annual spring Dallas Blooms festival, which is one of the largest outdoor festivals in the nation.

BEST PLACES TO TAKE FIDO

Mockingbird Point Off- Leash Dog Park
8000 Mockingbird Lane
Located on the shores of White Rock Lake, the off-leash park is open from 5 a.m. to midnight year round and is a great place for your dog to run free and play with other pups.

Easter in the Park and Pooch Parade and Costume Contest at Lee Park
3400 Turtle Creek Blvd.
This lighthearted event held each Easter Sunday is a don't-miss for dog-lovers. If you plan to enter your pooch, be prepared to go all out: costumes can be elaborate, and there are always celebrity judges on hand.

Other Essentials

BEST FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESSES

Ahab Bowen
2614 Boll St.
For 30 years, this quirky boutique has offered vintage men's and women's clothing from the 1970s and earlier. Don't miss retro items such as cigarette-case-styled ID cases and the funky purses.

Flavors From Afar
6712 Snider Plaza.
This foodie favorite stocks gourmet finds from the Mediterranean. Come here to find specialty sauces, gourmet olive oils, beautiful ceramic serving dishes and all the gadgets your kitchen can hold.

Froggie's 5&10
3211 Knox St.
Specializes in retro toys and gifts, and calls itself a "toy store for people of all ages." Fans of Abba-Zaba candy, wind-up tin toys and novelty items will be delighted. When you go, be sure to look out for Fric and Frac, the store cats.

Green Living
1904 Abrams Parkway
Trying to reduce your carbon footprint? Green Living stocks Earth-friendly and fair-trade gift and household items, gardening supplies and eco-friendly paints. You can find products made from recycled items here, including the popular Mad Mats, which are made from recycled polypropylene. The store even offers directions for using public transportation and recycling links for folks looking to reduce their footprint even more.

BEST VIEWS OF THE CITY

Reunion Tower/Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck
300 Reunion Blvd.
The newly opened rotating 200-seat restaurant at the top of downtown's iconic 560-foot tower offers spectacular views of downtown and surrounding areas. The renovated restaurant, which features Puck's trademark Asian-influenced menu, was part of a $46 million project that included the adjacent Union Station.

Belmont Hotel
901 Fort Worth Ave.
Nestled into a hillside in the Oak Cliff neighborhood southwest of downtown, this bar perfectly positions its patrons to catch the orange rays of sunset reflecting on Dallas' skyline. aWith its distinctly cool but laid-back vibe, this place has a strong following among local residents.

Ghostbar
2440 Victory Park Lane
Located on the 33rd floor W Dallas Victory Hotel, the Ghostbar's terrace juts out from the building and has a glass floor that offers a thrilling view when it isn't jammed with glitterati. You'll see women in the shortest skirts and highest heels here. With its popular DJs and abundant celebrity sightings, Ghostbar be tough to get into late on weekends.

BEST DAY TRIP

Fort Worth, Texas
They say Dallas is where the East ends and Fort Worth is where the West begins. Located about 40 minutes from downtown Dallas, Fort Worth is a great day trip. Once you're downtown, colorful signs help guide you to the major visitor spots. Take your pick from the arts in the Cultural District. A quick primer? European masters up to the 20th century are at the Kimbell Museum (3333 Camp Bowie Blvd.). There's an impressive collection of paintings and sculpture by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russells , as well as 19th- and 20th-century American art at the Amon Carter Museum (3501 Camp Bowie Blvd.). Western fans shouldn't miss the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (1720 Gendy St.), and architecture aficionados will fall in love with the Tadao Ando-designed Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (3200 Darnell St.). Head to the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards (130 E. Exchange St.) for a taste of the Old West. There are longhorn cattle drives there twice daily, but if you miss it, mosey around the buildings to see the goings-on from the weathered wooden walkway over the stockyard pens. Spend the early evening strolling around Sundance Square (201 Main St.) or take in a show at Bass Hall (301 E. 5th St.). Want to splurge? Reserve a table at Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana (3405 W. 7th St.) and enjoy a modern twist on high-end Mexican. Innovative fare by chef Lanny P. Lancarte II includes entrees such as braised lamb shank in mole sauce or serrano-wrapped rabbit loin. For more inexpensive Mexican fare, try Joe T. Garcia's, (2201 N. Commerce St.), which was started by Lanny's great-grandfather. The line at Joe T.'s can be frighteningly long, but the limited menu -- which includes only three choices at dinner -- and the no-credit-card policy move things fast. The sprawling complex has great patios for afternoon Margarita-sipping.

BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY

Austin, Texas
About 200 miles southwest of Dallas on I-35, Austin feels like it's a world away. Traffic is bad on Friday nights, so try to leave earlier in the day and allow yourself time to stop at the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery in West, Exit 353, for homemade kolacky at the halfway point. In Austin, visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (2313 Red River St.) at the University of Texas campus; find out why locals want to "Keep Austin Weird" as you browse quirky shops along South Commerce Street; take in the bar scene on Sixth Street; and catch some live music at the Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave.). If music is your passion, try to come during the annual South by Southwest music festival, held each spring. For 24-hour eats, don't miss the Magnolia Cafe (1920 S. Congress Ave.); brunch gets crowded, but the PA system works at the adjacent shop Prima Dora, so you can do some browsing while you wait. Pancake-lovers can choose from at least four kinds, including gingerbread and cornmeal. Plan your visit for between mid-March and early November so you can witness the nightly flight of a Mexican free-tailed bat colony from under the Congress Avenue bridge downtown. The show starts at dusk, when an estimated 1.5 million tiny bats fly out from under the bridge, creating an eerie dark cloud in the sky.

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