by Steven Doyle
A few weeks back I proposed I should go forth into the city and take on a few restaurants that one reading craveDFW on a regular basis not deem as craveable. I solicited a list of what soon became a dare with those commenting on Facebook. I am sometimes referred to as food snobbish, and nothing could be further than the truth. As long time readers are aware we will write about things we love, and leave the rest of the chaff for those that prefer writing more hateful tomes.
Negative is so much more fun and easier to write. A critical expression is also more entertaining to write, I can guarantee. However, we wish to give our gentle readers something they might actually be able to use on a date night with their loved ones as opposed to a half hour of dredge that is totally unusable. Take all this how you will.
All being told, we set out last week on an alternative culinary adventure. One that could be considered a road well-traveled, a path that we typically avoid. These are places that we feel the average craveDFW reader avoids not because they should, but because they can. Not snobbish, but because the finer things in life are available and certainly more enticing. Travel with us today across Dallas as we take a reckless drive into a few fast food and fast casual chains. And know this: we took one for the team.
Unless you have a group of children to feed, adults should definitely avoid CiCi’s Pizza with abandon. Anything you thought of this restaurant without actually filing in with teens in tow is true. The pizza is limp, free of any toppings you might enjoy and most often soggy and cold. Food is handled by youthful patrons unattended leaving undetectable fingerprints and all they carry. Other food items are mangled and rendered unappetizing. We recommend the salad bar which is wholly avoided by most CiCi’s guests and get down on the soundtrack which is almost exclusively 70’s. Watch out for loose stragglers enjoying the runways that would otherwise be considered an aisle, they are filled with screaming monsters.
Best Local Options: Olivella’s, Covalli’s, Bryan Street Tavern
In my youth Pancho’s Mexican Buffet was located within walking distance to my home. It was not uncommon for dear mum to palm us a five spot which always meant we were to check in to Pancho’s. This was pre-Foursquare otherwise she would have actually known we made the trip on our Schwinn bikes with the banana seats, and we would most likely have fought for mayorship.
In the early days the food was definitely made from scratch without mixes and aberration. This does not seem the case today. Those wonderful chile rellenos are now coated with some alien eggy coating, the enchiladas are mushy with an off-tasting meat flavor. Avoid the tacos, tamales and limp flautas. Forget the food, the surroundings are decidedly unclean. The only saving grace are the piping hot sopapillas. We overheard employees discussing that Mother’s Day is their busiest day of the year. God bless those mothers.
Better Local Choice: E Bar, Matt’s Rancho Martinez, Herrera’s, Republic Ranch
Taco Bell seems to actually have improved over the years. There was a story a few years back that discussed the improvement of healthy options at the Bell. It has been some years since I made it through that drive through, and then it was unbearably salty. Everything was dosed with sodium so it seemed. The ingredients seem fresher now, not that they are necessarily healthy options, who are we trying to fool? We did enjoy the super tacos laced with sour cream, the utilitarian bean burrito filled with refried beans, a red sauce and chopped fresh onions. I trust this won’t become a habit, but in a pinch, not the worst we experienced last week.
Better Local Choice: Trompo Oak Cliff, El Come Taco, Tacoa la Banqueta
If I try to pull the wool over your eyes and say I do not attend an almost weekly ritual at Whataburger I would be a liar. I added this to my quirky food line-up this week solely because I had a hankering. Be it the Whataburger with cheese or the Breakfast on a Bun, Whataburger is every Texan’s rite. Late night, early morning or a lonely lunch, Whataburger is the real deal.
Is it a surprise that no one wanted to join me on my adventure last week? My call to friends to meet up at Golden Corral went unheard. And after my visit to the all-you-can-eat buffet I must say I cannot blame them. For the uninitiated Golden Corral is a big feeder, large families pass through those gates each day lined up and filling their plates with weepy fried chicken, re-hydrated mashed potatoes (allegedly), and fried fish that had seen better swims. Steaks may be purchased but few opt for these and instead take what is offered at the grill. On the day I visited some unrecognizable cut of beef was lined up snugly in the hotel pan with eager hands scooping them up as fast as they were cooked to a medium well. However they may have appeared the meat was too tough for my choppers.
The dessert line-up was extensive but mauled once again by guests left to their own devices. We avoided the chocolate fountain after witnessing children running their fingers through the bath of brown. Trump would most likely deem this fake food.
Better Local Choice: Highland Park Cafeteria, Fogo de Chao, Celebration
The next visit was to Popeye’s for a plate of spicy chicken, a side of red beans and rice and a biscuit. The chicken was spicy and fatty, but still had a nice crust that was not over-seasoned with salt as I imagined it would’ve been. I will admit to traversing this drive-though semi-regularly to snap up a bowl of the red beans and rice which are always on point. The chicken beats out the Colonel which we also sampled during the same trip. Let’s just say the secret recipe is heightened by a healthy amount of Morton’s best.
Better Local Choice: Street’s Fine Chicken, Bubba Cooks Country, Bbbop Seoul, FarmByrd
I will catch flack for this one, but I have attempted to love Wimpy’s Hamburgers on Singleton. Lord knows I have tried. I realize that Wimpy’s is an institution and celebrated by the West Dallas neighborhood, but on three separate visits the burger had an off-tasting, foul flavor. I likened that flavor to liver and freezer burn. The burger is cheap at 2.25 but even free it would be too much. The steak sandwich did not fare any better.
Better Local Choice: Off Site Kitchen, Dairy-ette, Uncle Uber’s, Wingfield’s
I fear talking smack on 7-Eleven lest I be banned countrywide. These people are the late night saviors of the universe when the city streets are rolled up for the night and nothing is available in immediate range. The pizza is better than CiCi’s, but that is about as much as can be said that is kind. The sauce is thin, the cheese is a salt mound and the pepperoni are sparse. They have wings, but avoid at all costs. In the low end wing world it is 7-Eleven, Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop, then the rest.
7-Eleven dabbled in pupusas for a hot minute and they were interesting, and actually the better option behind the old reliable hot dog and do-it-yourself nachos. Stick with the reliables, I understand your pain.
Better Local Choice: Serious Pizza, Zalat, Dough
When it comes to Jason’s Deli I have a bit of a history. There was a time when I was a fast moving sales manager foraging clients through out the day with a sales staff. Jason’s was on a regular rotation as it was fast and a simple choice. The food was tasty. This was many years ago. My most recent visit netted a dried Reuben with questionable meat and stone cold toasted bread. I was sad and walked away with a few bites taken from the sandwich. A better choice here is the salad bar or baked potato.
Better Local Choice: Jimmy’s Food Store, New York Subs Highland Park
Olive Garden might be the one restaurant I tease the most when discussing options with friends. It is this and Applebee’s I would consider the worst options offered universally across the states. Chili’s can sadly be added to that list but I didn’t have enough fortitude to sample the trifecta of Americana. So it was an Olive Garden lunch, alone and feeling as if I were sequestered to the Green Mile as I made my way to the table.
Seriously, this isn’t nearly as bad as one might imagine, and I have a whole load of imagination. I figured the most ordered item had to be the chicken Alfredo, and my wait person agreed. The sauce tasted exactly as I would imagine. Little taste and dried chicken. With 1,400 calories and as much sodium it certainly isn’t a healthy choice either. The bread sticks and salad were the saving grace here.
Better Local Option: Louie’s, Carbone’s, Bugatti’s
We will try this experiment again and take on places such as Red Lobster, Chili’s, and more. Send us your challenges and we will make time to check them out. Until then we will continue to locate and write about the best of local Dallas restaurants.