Best New Restaurant in Texas: Flora Street Café

Texas Monthly Magazine – February, 2017

Frankly, I was worried. Three giants of the Texas restaurant industry—Congress in Austin, Stephan Pyles in Dallas, Mark’s in Houston—closed their doors in the first half of 2016. At one time each had been the darling of its local scene, and they were no Johnny-come-latelies: Mark’s had been around for nineteen years, the other two a decade. But they fell out of favor, all at the same time. Were these, like the failure of Lehman Brothers, the earthquake before the tsunami? Short answer: It was indeed a year of change, but the restaurant community is resilient. And to prove it, chef-restaurateur Stephan Pyles is back in the game with his most stunning effort yet: Flora Street Café, which is my pick for the best Texas restaurant to open last year.

As for the rest of my annual ten choices, they range from a riotous Southern-food emporium to a tiny Japanese enclave with an extravagant tasting menu. In between there’s a Roman trattoria, a fine-dining room with a French flair, a steak- and chophouse, and a Chinese cafe ensconced in a strip center. The old guard passes, the new guard takes its place. Texas diners continue to eat very well indeed.

This is the sixteenth edition of  Where to Eat Now, and, for the record, the rules of the game are simple: for a restaurant to be considered, it must be the first Texas location and it must have opened between December 1, 2015, and December 1, 2016. That’s about it. Let’s eat!

1. Flora Street Café, Dallas

Welcome to Stephan Pyles’s own private Texas. The force behind half a dozen major restaurants, the Dallas chef has walked an unusual tightrope over a three-decade career, honoring his West Texas roots while embracing complex modernist cuisine. The meeting ground between high style and homespun has reached its peak at Flora Street Café, a glittering jewel box of a space in the Dallas Arts District overseen by chef de cuisine Peter Barlow. “Every dish has a Texas element,” Pyles says, “even if it’s only a chile or a hint of smoke.” Some of those connections are straightforward, like the ribeye with a shimmering bone-marrow custard. Others are a culinary riddle, like the pozole, in which a handful of hominy and an alabaster filet of citrus-marinated black cod bask in a dusky broth brightened by shishito peppers. Pyles began in the eighties as one of the three Texas architects of Southwestern cuisine. His genius then was taking Texas, Mexican, and Southern ideas to places they’d never been before. With Flora Street Café, that genius continues. Opened May 31, 2016. D Mon–Sat…