“We’ve never had chicken on our menu. No one ever says, ‘Hey, let’s go out and celebrate closing this big deal’ with chicken,” says Bob Sambol, founder and owner of the Dallas classic Bob’s Steak & Chop House. “We don’t have an ocean, we don’t have casinos, but we do have restaurants. People here love to eat out, and they love steak. In Dallas, whether it’s business or personal, they celebrate with beef.”
“No one ever says, ‘Hey, let’s go out and celebrate closing this big deal’ with chicken.”
He’s right, and the city’s love affair with red meat goes hand in hand with Texas’ cowboy history, famous longhorn cattle ranches and the nearby Fort Worth Stockyards, the nation’s longtime epicenter of beef processing. Leading Dallas restaurant critic Mike Hiller calls his fellow citizens “second-generation vegetarians—the cows eat the vegetables, then we eat the cows.” But recent changes have upped the ante here significantly, elevating Dallas from a city that loves steak to one of the world’s greatest steakhouse cities. Bob’s is considered Dallas’ classic gem, the most recognizable style of upscale steakhouse, with a menu narrowly focused on USDA Prime steaks, served with baked potatoes and classic starters and sides such as crab cakes, wedge salads and creamed spinach. This is all presented simply in an environment outfitted with framed sports art and largely unchanged for more than a quarter-century.
But since then the number of world-class steakhouses in the city has exploded, and while several are cut from the same traditional cloth, the new generation includes many contemporary gourmet riffs on the model. While all the top players have first-rate steaks, the broader focuses are widely varied. Pappas Bros. is regarded by many as Dallas’ best all-around steakhouse, winner of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Featuring rolling carts pouring vintage ports and sherries—often half a century old—the restaurant draws oenophiles from around the country. Nick & Sam’s, popular with professional athletes from Dallas’ sports teams, augments its domestic steak offerings with one of the nation’s broadest arrays of true imported Japanese Wagyu—including Ohmi, authentic Kobe and even rarer Hokkaido Snow beef—in a see-and-be-seen atmosphere many have likened to a nightclub. Dee Lincoln, one of the original partners of national chain Del Frisco’s, recently returned to the steakhouse game with partner and NFL Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to open Dee Lincoln Prime at The Star, the team’s headquarters in nearby Frisco. She added a unique high-visibility sushi bar to the voluptuous dining room, offering a gorgeous and modernized wrinkle on traditional tiered, iced shellfish platters. Lincoln also serves sampler cuts of dry- and wet-aged prime beef and lamb—all from Chicago’s iconic 128-year-old meat purveyor Allen Brothers—on giant wooden boards for sharing. And the wildly popular three-story Haywire, in Plano, offers an extensive menu of steaks and other Texan classics in a variety of settings, from a whiskey bar to an open-air rooftop to a converted Airstream trailer. The restaurant specializes in Texas-raised Wagyu beef from the acclaimed A Bar N Ranch.
“I lived in New York City, and they have great steakhouses,” says Lincoln. “But where Dallas shines is diversity. Bob’s is very different from Nick & Sam’s, and we do our thing with the platters and sushi bar, so you get a little bit of everything.”
Perhaps most radical of all is Dallas’ first celebrity-chef steakhouse, John Tesar’s Knife, now with three area locations. The French-trained Tesar cooked alongside Anthony Bourdain in New York in the ’80s before moving to Las Vegas and then Dallas, where he earned five stars at the city’s famous Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek hotel. He’s amassed four James Beard Best Chef: Southwest nominations, did a stint on Bravo’s Top Chef, authored a steak-centric cookbook fittingly titled Knife, and is now a world leader in a cutting-edge culinary trend: ultra-dry-aged beef. Evaporating moisture from the meat, dry aging is widely considered the best way to elevate beef’s taste. But while the gold standard has long been 28 to 45 days, Tesar, who uses drug-free beef finished on sorghum and molasses from Texas’ 44 Farms and HeartBrand Akaushi, starts at 45 days and routinely offers guests the rare chance to try 60-, 100-, 150- and even 240-day aged beef, available almost no place else. As a result, Knife, perhaps more than any steakhouse in the nation, is drawing beef lovers to Dallas on special trips. As Tesar says, “It’s part of the Dallas culture, and nothing is more farm-to-table than a steer. Other places are about the history, the music, but we’re about steak.”
“It’s part of the Dallas culture, and nothing is more farm-to-table than a steer."
Tesar also offers less expensive “chef’s cuts” you rarely see in this country, such as coulotte and flat-iron steak, alongside the fillets and giant bone-in rib steaks. As Hiller explains, “Knife really started the modern steakhouse movement in America, with the hanger steaks and off-cuts done really well. But the 100- and 200-day dry-aged beef, that you don’t see anyplace else. People often describe really aged beef as being like blue cheese, but that’s wrong. This is more nutty, brown butter, truffle or buttered popcorn. If you love steak you just have to try it.”