Forget about strolling around Dallas. It’s huge. The Dallas Arts District alone is 68 acres and 19 blocks. Think districts, then consider the Uptown Dallas district for its small-town ambiance, tasty venues and tree-lined streets.
Rescued from crime and decay in 1991, Uptown was the city’s first live-work-play community. Today, it’s booming. There are over 100 restaurants, eight boutique hotels and B&Bs, fine shopping and entertainment — plus, the Magnolia Theatre sells alcohol during movie performances. Upwardly mobile residents live in Uptown, which correlates to few children around but lots of dogs. Mutts Cantina patrons have their dogs cared for in the restaurant’s adjoining dog park.
What’s Special about Uptown
Three Uptown enticing facts. Street and garage parking is free. The vintage McKinney Avenue Trolley is a free 45-minute loop to the Dallas Arts District. And Food Tours of America offers two narrated food and cultural attraction tours every day, sometimes two on a weekend: The 2.5-hour Dine & Dash Food Tour ($45) and the 3.5-hour Dine & Walk Food Tour ($65). Soft drinks and alcohol are extra charges.
The Dine & Dash Food Tour
Recent tour participants enjoyed affable Jim Anderson as their guide. His firsthand knowledge about Uptown’s architecture and Dallas facts comes from a 26-year career as Dallas’s Historic Preservation Officer. He’s also been a non-singing extra on the set of six Dallas operas.
First stop was Baboush, an upscale Lebanese and Moroccan restaurant, offering a three-spreads tasting dish. Babaganoush is fire-roasted eggplant, garlic, a touch of jalepeño and pomegranate. The hummus is made without yogurt. Remarkably good is the fresh sweet tomato spread made with orange blossom water, cinnamon, garlic, sesame seeds and almonds. Show-stopper is the Chicken Shawarma, which is chicken marinated in spices, topped with turnips pickled in beet juice and pickled cucumber served on home-made hummus. Thursday is belly-dancing night.
At nearby Uptown Pub for Tasting Two, the 1920 former home and landmark building has antique booths, low ceilings and original shiplap wooden walls. It’s the local “Cheers” bar frequented by the computer crowd and has a dog-friendly open patio. Favorite here is the Pulled Pork slider. Cooked for 16 hours, the pork is soft and delicious with red Piedmont Pig Sauce or the brown Espresso BBQ Sauce.
McKinney Avenue Trolley and Crawfish
“Welcome aboard” on the McKinney Avenue Trolley could be on any one of the four vintage and restored trolleys that transports the public and Dine & Dash tour members on a free, turn-of-the-century ride through Uptown with a stop at Shell Shack. “It’s a messy operation eating here,” said Anderson, “but you can put your hands in the washing station at the end.”
With bibs in place, diners watch a seasonal serving of crawfish, sausage and corn being dumped into a tin plate or on a waxed paper tablecloth for a communal dig-in. First boiled in butter and an oil-based broth, the seafood is seasoned in a plastic bag with Cajun, garlic, lemon pepper or The Kitchen Sink combination.
Greenwood Cemetery and Trolley Barn
A much-needed walk for the group passed by the lush-green Greenwood Cemetery, opened in 1875, with its iconic old-iron arbor entrance. Buried here are Civil War veterans and eight Dallas mayors. Some streets are named Purity, Glory, Friendship, Justice, Grace, Love and Freedom. Nearby is the McKinney Trolley Barn for a look-see into the past.
Mangia and Dessert
Last stop was House 34 restaurant with its veranda-style dining, owned by an Italian and Lebanese, husband-and-wife team. “No freezer here. Everything is fresh,” said owner Alex Sbeity.
His wife’s Italian recipe is the fresh basil pesto and marinara sauces on small portions of spaghetti. The “juicy” Mediterranean salad found in most Mediterranean cities is chock full of crunchy vegetables, perfectly seasoned with a balsamic dressing made in house. A Philadelphia beef roll filled with shaved and grilled prime rib completes the tasting. Cake balls from nearby Bread Winners restaurant is the decadent dessert.
Food Tours of America, so far, is in Dallas only. It’s a winning combination of bite-size samples for dining in Uptown with just the right balance of sightseeing and Dallas trivia offered by a knowledgeable guide. Contact Dine & Dash Tours or 888-871-2052. Tours are year-round and in all weather conditions.