A brief guide to the offbeat side of Dallas, Texas
Dallas is not a city I ever thought I'd find myself for the long term. After getting my painting degree at the University of North Texas in Denton (a college town with a great music scene about 30 minutes to the north of Dallas), I decided I wanted nothing to do with the concrete and pretense that lay south. So the day after crossing the stage, I packed up my college apartment and I headed to Austin.
Fast forward 3 years, and I'm driving back up I-35 with a screaming, semi-sedated cat (Children's Benadryl only goes so far) in the passenger seat. I'd met the love of my life in Austin, and his new job was bringing us back.
The Big D has changed quite a bit since we first moved back. But my perspective on the city has probably changed more. Dallas is a big city, and that means there's something for everyone here, if you know where to look.
Sure, we still have more $30,000 millionaires than any city needs. I'm pretty sure I see more Lexuses, BMWs and Mercedes driving around my uptown-adjacent neighborhood than any other make. But there are pockets of Dallas that feel more like Austin. Cute, offbeat shops, restaurants and bars. Walkable, historic neighborhoods. Local spots and dives that really make you feel at home in your own skin.
And after getting laid off and starting a business, I'm digging my heels into Dallas more than ever before. We've both evolved, and we're better for each other than I could ever have imagined.
Over happy hour with my friend Anna recently, all of this clicked for me. Anna loves Dallas, and she is exactly the opposite of the Dallas stereotype, and of someone you'd expect to love this place. Anna is highly intelligent, unconventional, genuine, creative, and hilarious. She's also completely unconcerned with projecting an airbrushed version of herself to the world.
Yes, the city is changing and becoming a place I find more interesting than I did at 22, flipping the bird to Dallas out of the side of my red Toyota Yaris en route to Austin.
But Dallas has always had an idiosyncratic vibe. If you focus on the stereotypical image of Dallas, you may have to look a little more closely for it, but it's there.
Because Anna is also a slayer of words, I asked her to weigh in here with her favorite offbeat places to eat, drink and shop in the Big D.
If you like her style, you really need to sign up for her weekly newsletter, I Know What U Did Last Session, which has succeeded in getting me interested in local politics (what!). Go to iknowwhatudidlastsession.com to see an archive of past posts and subscribe.
Here's the thing about Dallas - no one has a clear handle on our Brand™. Are we oil-money nouveau riche? Are we rednecks? Are we cultivating an Austin-esque artisan tacos and serapes vibe? Is Dallas ghetto?
My answer - a little of all of the above, thank god; Dallas has a unique high-low chemistry unlike any other try hard “of the moment” city in the US.
My qualifications? I’m a total carpetbagger - while I was born here, my parents moved us to New Hampshire (lmao) when I was a wee tot and I grew up there, then went to school in upstate New York. But I made my way back here after graduation and have been here ever since, and I’ve spent my time here getting into some weird shit.
So let’s get down to it. Here's a list of my fave off the beaten path spots that make Dallas the kooky, sexy, GENUINELY Weird™ city I know and love.
1. Where to relax: Russian Banya
Ok here’s the deal with this place - you need to walk in knowing that it’s going to be bootleg. You didn’t book a facial at The Mansion, honey - you’re at an honest to god Russian bathhouse in Carrollton. And it’s lit! True story, last time we were there, my boyfriend got propositioned by a prostitute.
But this place is cool. It’s a Russian bathhouse with a Finnish sauna (kind of your standard sauna situation), a Russian sauna (it gets over 200 degrees and it’s heated by smoked oak wood), a Turkish steam room, and hot and cold pools. In addition to a standard massage, the Russian Banya offers Venik, which is the lovechild of massage and S&M - the technician beats you with burning oak leaves to improve circulation.
You go in, put on your swimsuit and slip on one of their bathrobes (tbh, I think the legitimately Russian dudes in there last time were naked and were just covered up for my benefit), and you bop around between the different saunas and pools until you feel suitably relaxed and refreshed. In the center of the experience, there’s a lounge where you can order caviar, vodka, and even borscht in your bathrobe.
2. Where to drink: The Goat
I honestly don’t want to write about this place because I don’t want any of you to go there, but in the spirit of goodwill, I’ll dish.
This is the dive of your dreams, babe - The Goat is an incredible little watering hole that caters to a crowd of mostly bikers and people over sixty who are trying to fuck. The drinks are CHEAP, conversation is lively, and the pool table is hotly contested. Being 27, I think I’m kind of being a millennial gentrifier whenever I go but I always feel welcomed with open arms by the sweet peas behind the bar.
The Goat usually has live music in the Stevie Ray Vaughan vein of classic Texas Blues. The aforementioned horny Boomers are on the dance floor absolutely destroying shit. Last time I was there, the lead singer split his pants onstage.
I think my tone here sounds mocking but I genuinely adore this place because everyone there is being themselves and they don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. And that’s iconically Dallas.
Cosmo's - my other favorite Dallas dive with a very different vibe than The Goat. Way less horny but with THE best jukebox in the city, which balances out in my book.
*Editor's note: I wholeheartedly vouch for The Goat and Cosmo's. They feel like the seedy dive bars of Austin that haven't been overrun by Californians yet.
3. Where to shop: Northpark
Look… I fucking know, okay? A mall? How pedestrian! How gauche! How Dallas!
But the tea is, NorthPark is no mere mall, it’s more like a temple. And I mean that. NorthPark takes one look at the BonTon of my youth in New Hampshire and farts in its general direction. It’s part designer Mecca, part art installation - any given month, you might see exhibits from KAWS, or permanent work from Andy Warhol and Frank Stella on display.
Even though it’s a shitshow crowd-wise 90% of the time, NorthPark is my zen spot. I truly think it’s akin to a cathedral dedicated to the joys of capitalism indulged - the ceilings are high, airy, with streaming natural light filtered across the clean and modern lines of the space. And forget the building; the people watching is unparalleled for its color and breadth of humanity.
Nicole Kwon Concept Store - this is the best curated boutique in Dallas right now.
4. Where to eat: Yama Sushi & Izakaya
My spot!! Yama is a lowkey Japanese restaurant hidden in a North Dallas strip mall. No pretense, just delicious Japanese comfort food and small plates.
Don’t be fooled by the name - while Yama’s sushi is good, their izakaya - pub food meant to be eaten while drinking - is where it’s at. The offerings run from traditional to adventurous, and I recommend you walk on the wild side while you’re here.
Start with a raw quail egg shot, and order takoyaki (fried octopus balls), buta kukani (soft simmered pork belly); grab a plate of the pickled vegetables (oshinko) and eat those with a yakitori sampler, with skewers of grilled and fried meats from chicken skin to chicken hearts. I get spam musubi every time I’m there too because I really don’t give a shit what I’m putting in my body at any given point in time.
And the drinks are crucial and fortunately, inexpensive - stick with Asahi super draft for a refreshing cold beer with a creamy head, or my pick, the house hot sake that comes in huge carafes. Just pace yourself.
Taquero - I was kind of loathe to put tacos on this list because there are so MANY good options in Dallas but this one wins for me because not only is the food delicious and so-phisticated, but it's a super romantic date night spot???
Jimmy's - not an under the radar spot but who can argue with homemade pasta and sandwiches the size of your face?
Koryo Kalbi - the ultimate Korean BBQ spot. Totally unpretentious in the heart of K-Town.
*Editor's note: it's tough not to list all of our favorite restaurants here, but we are specifically going for offbeat. So I'll add Fuel City (a gas station) for their tacos. While delicious, are they the very best authentic Mexican street tacos in Dallas? Close, but probably not. The experience of ordering your tacos from the window of a busy gas station puts this in the category, though, I think. You should do it at least once.
5. Where to REALLY shop: Dolly Python
If called upon, I would be willing to testify in front of Congress, while sitting upon a cushion of suitable height, that Dolly Python is the best vintage/thrift/antique store in America.
It’s really worth experiencing for yourself in person, because the wares at Dolly Python change so much on any given day. But a few things come standard.
- Incredible vintage and thrifted graphic tees, from your classic band tees to more nonstandard finds
- A collection of vintage cowboy boots that is soooooooo unique and stunning
- Collectibles with attitude from taxidermied rodents to vintage nudes
- An amazing record collection; admittedly this isn’t my particular brand of white hipster affectation but the depth and breadth of their offerings is unreal
What it boils down to is unlike so many similar stores, Dolly Python is fully curated with a distinct touch and taste. Get the vibe by perusing their Instagram but stop in to get the full effect and find a treasure of your own.
Thanks Anna! Don't forget to check out I Know What U Did Last Session.
Want to share what's offbeat and interesting about your hometown? I'm accepting guest blog posts! Drop me a line at megan(at)travelpaintrepeat.com with the premise of your pitch / article and we'll talk.
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