A visit to Dallas isn't complete without a stop at this neighborhood institution, which has been serving griddled sandwiches and malted milks to generations of locals since 1912. It's even a favorite lunchtime spot for former first lady Laura Bush. The place was originally named the Highland Park Pharmacy, but the shop discontinued its drugstore operations in 2012 and changed its name to Highland Park Soda Fountain. Otherwise, nothing much has changed. Patrons still perch at the counter on swivel stools and soda jerks still crank out everything from classic sandwiches to phosphates, shakes, floats and delicious ice cream sundaes.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Highland Park Soda Fountain (A.K.A.-Highland Park Pharmacy) is the oldest restaurant in Dallas.
Ilene's expert tip: Get there before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m. to avoid waiting for a seat.
A magnet for Dallas' creme de la creme, this tony Highland Park institution has been a port of call for seafood and steaks for over 30 years something many local restaurants have been unable to achieve. So how does it remain relevant amid a steady stream of hot newcomers? Is it the seamless service? Is it the elegant dark mahogany and marble floored surrounds? Or is it the reliably consistent, excellent food which certainly is not on the cutting edge of anything? Perhaps it's all of that and more. The menu combines old favorites alongside newer additions. Yes, they still serve complimentary sweet-potato shoestring fries before every meal. And classics like sole amandine doused in a buttery lemon sauce and beef tenderloin filets with béarnaise are still on offer. But there's also other delights to be found, like pan seared Bay of Fundy Salmon and a Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cake dish that could possibly be the best in town. Whatever you do, make sure to order the chocolate pecan ball. It's a massive sized concoction of ice cream, pecans and fudge sauce that Kerry Vincent of Food Network's "Best Thing I ever Ate," declared the best dessert she ever had.
This permanently buzzing cantina has been a Tex-Mex go-to spot for over two decades, not only for area locals, but for A-list celebrities as well. Angie Harmon, Conan O'Brien and even Kanye and Kim Kardashian have touched down here at one time or another. The attraction? Undoubtedly the place turns out an impressive spread of tacos, nachos, fajitas, enchiladas and the like. And there's something to be said about its mind-blowing queso blanco and endless servings of homemade salsa and chips. But the big draw here are its famous margaritas. Most specifically, the Mambo Taxi, a frozen swirl of margarita and sangria that's so potent you'll need to take a taxi (hence the name) home if you try to slurp down more than two of them. Better yet, head upstairs to the Monkey Bar, a cozy speakeasy on the third floor. It's the best place to chill out while you get your Mambo mojo on.
Ask anyone where to find good Mexican food in Dallas and they'll unquestionably point you to this Highland Park mainstay, a rustically-chic restaurant that's packed to the rafters almost every night. In fact, Javier's has been one of the city's hottest meal tickets since it opened in 1977, and in a town that's not lacking in Mexican cuisine, that's certainly saying something. But don't come here looking for your usual Tex-Mex fare of tacos and enchiladas, instead Javier's offers a taste of modern Mexico City with mouthwatering dishes that reflect the country's various regions. The menu leads with items such as Acapulco-style ceviche and grilled Monterey cheese with chorizo and moves on to mains which include everything from chile ancho marinated charbroiled quail to Barra de Navidad, a plate featuring jumbo shrimp sautéed in a blend of coffee, orange juice, tomato sauce and spices. For carnivores, there's the filete Durangoa grilled tenderloin filet that's stuffed with cheese and chillaca pepper as well as fajitas made with beef, chicken and baby goat (cabrito). Be sure to end with dessert, the cajeta crepes are out of this world.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Javier's was named one of the top Mexican restaurants in the United States by Travel + Leisure magazine.
Ilene's expert tip: This is a place to don your glad rags, so be sure not to come here in shorts. Also try to stop in for a drink and a smoke at Javier's super swanky cigar lounge, located adjacent to the restaurant. It's a popular hangout for local celebrities.
Enduringly popular with Dallas' movers and shakers, Al Biernat's has been a neighborhood stalwart for over 15 years. And there's as much buzz around the celebs who dine here as there is about the food. The attraction is a combination of faultless service, an extensive wine list (650-selection) and a menu that keeps on giving. The main event is the meat; all impeccably-sourced and flawlessly prepared. The selection covers the gamut from wet or dry aged N.Y. strips and cowboy cut ribeyes to prime rib, buffalo and melt-in-your-mouth Japanese A5 Kobe (priced at $30 an ounce). But the menu doesn't limit itself to beef alone, diners can also tuck into a medley of fresh seafood, fish, quail, and even indulge in Petrossian caviar. Of course, your credit card is sure to get a battering here, but it's an experience that every omnivore should have at least once.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: For sensational steaks in a swanky setting, Al Biernat's always delivers.
Ilene's expert tip: For something a little easier on the wallet, hit Al Biernat's during Happy Hour--weekdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.--when you can enjoy discounted drinks and bar bites (think mini beef Wellingtons and Wagyu angus sliders)for half-price.
If you're looking for a quiet, intimate restaurant in which to dine, then this is not the placeas it's always a roaring trade at this rustic Italian localday in and day out. Plus you can't book for anything smaller than a table for six. And yes, the lines out the door can get upwards of insane. But the place is massively popular for good reason: it's fairly priced, delicious and fun. The restaurant is part of a burgeoning empire helmed by long-time Dallas restaurateur Alberto Lombardi, who also has Toulouse Cafe next door and Bistro 31 in Highland Park Village. In keeping with its name, Taverna specializes in both risotto (offered up in six different variations) and wood-fired pizzas, which can even be made gluten-free. But the menu is also crammed with other tasty temptations such as first-class antipasto, a wide-ranging selection of small plates, housemade pastas and mains that cover everything from tenderloin to scaloppine and seafood. Try to grab one of the seats on the front or side patios for a bird's eye view of the action. For dessert, the tiramisu is always a good choice.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Taverna is one of Knox Street's most lively restaurants and the food is terrific as well as reasonably priced.
Ilene's expert tip: If you don't want to pay for valet you can park for free around the corner on Abbott Avenue. There's also a happy hour from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
With its fin-de-siécle decor and all the de rigueur trappings of a proper bistro--Café Toulouse would sit just as comfortably on the Left Bank of Paris (or perhaps in the center of Toulouse) as it does in Dallas. From weekend brunch to all-day lunch and late night dinners--the menu encompasses all the Gallic classics, from charcuterie, steak tartar and croque monsieurs to frog legs, duck confit and bouillabaisse. Mussels are a big draw here and there's several ways to have them. The ones with jalapeño, ginger and shiitake mushrooms are delicious. The mile-high chocolate soufflé is also a must, be sure to order it in advance. Do try to snag a seat on the terrace-- it's the best spot to catch all the action along the Katy Trail.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Toulouse Cafe not only serves good food, it also offers one of the most French-cafe-like experiences in Dallas.
Ilene's expert tip: Sign up for Toulouse's emails so you can receive special offers for free food on your birthday and wedding anniversary. And keep an eye out for monthly wine pairing dinners too.
Set within the swanky shopping haven of Highland Park Village lies Bistro 31, a popular chic retreat with a hip St. Tropez vibe, a menu that keeps on giving and a gem of a cocktail-cum-sushi den tucked away at the top. The menu takes its inspiration from across the Mediterranean coast (France, Spain and Italy), so expect to find dishes ranging from beef tartare or lamb meatballs over polenta to olive oil poached Brazino, steak frites and pasta with truffle cream. No less dazzling is the brunch menu which boasts everything from Basque omelets with Spanish chorizo and Manchego cheese to Gruyere and ham filled crêpes and lemon ricotta pancakes served with blueberry compote. The drinks list champions champagne, wine, beer and specialty cocktails, plus there's an extensive selection of whisky and tequilas. Save space for desserts, they taste as good as they look.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Bistro 31 is the most popular restaurant in Highland Park Village.
Ilene's expert tip: Keep an eye out for frequent wine pairing dinners and check the Lounge upstairs during happy hour (Monday through Saturday from 4-7 p.m. and all day Sunday) for half-price sushi and discounted appetizers.
Celebrity chef John Tesar's swanky bastion of beef, inside the Highland Dallas hotel--has been the talk of the town since it opened in 2014. And there's a good reason for all the buzz: Knife serves up superbly flavorful meat, most of which has been dry-aged for 45 to 240 days. The menu features everything from steak tartar and blood sausage to crispy pigs head, Akaushi rib-eyes and rack of lamb. But, the real piéce de résistance is the 240-day aged Niman Ranch rib eye. It's a serious indulgence that comes with an equally serious $80 per inch price tag. Though, not everything on the menu will burn a hole through your wallet. Other beefy cuts, like culottes, tri tips, flat irons and chuck flaps will only set you back $25. And the burgers are outstanding too, plus the best one on the menu is priced at a mere $12. Be sure to save room for the molten caramel cake and pretzel ice cream.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Along with being one of Dallas' best steakhouses, Knife serves one of the best brunches in town.
Ilene's expert tip: A meal at Knife includes more than just what you order. It also includes complimentary crudites with house-made beef jerky, as well as a complimentary after dinner snack of mignardises (cookies, macarons and pate de fruit).
With a serious reputation for homemade pasta, wood-fired specialties and wicked desserts, it's no surprise that locals consider this handsome pocket-sized trattoria to be one of the top restaurants in town. Just be prepared, getting a table in the intimate dining room is unlikely without a booking, but if you're lucky there may be a spare seat in the bar. Chef/owner Julian Barsotti whips up a seasonally inspired roster of modern Italian fare, which includes the likes of everything from tagliatelle with white truffles to Neapolitan style pizzas and a drool-worthy duck breast with fennel crema. However, it's Barsotti's lobster ravioli, featuring paper thin pasta pockets stuffed with Maine lobster, that clearly steals the show. A well thought out Italian wine list, and desserts--think persimmon cheese cake with caramel or praline nougatine semifreddo-- seal the deal.
Recommended for Highland Park's Best Restaurants because: Nonna is one of only a few restaurants in Dallas that serves truly remarkable Italian cuisine.
Ilene's expert tip: The best way to score a table is to reserve through the website in advance. However, more availability is usually found after 9 p.m.