At various points in my five years in Austin, I’ve heard several Texans poo-poo Dallas.
“Dallas has no character nor soul, but great food!” they say. Or, “Don’t Dallasify my Austin!” they shout as more and more condos sprout up around the ATX.
Needless to say, the picture painted to me of Dallas was not a pretty one. So, imagine my surprise when my first trip to Dallas was near perfect. YES, PERFECT I SAY!
Now, my experiences and this guide are going to describe one fraction of Dallas, a growing area located in the southwest corner of downtown known as Oak Cliff, so I know that there is plenty left to The Big D that I have not seen.
Dating someone from Dallas and having several friends from there as well, I know that many areas of the city leave a lot to be desired. Dallas may not be as liberal and down-to-Earth as Austin, but I don’t think that is any reason for Austinites to bemoan the area. It appears to have its charming and characterless areas just like any other city… and areas frequently featured on COPS.
Our trip to Oak Cliff was prompted by the growing Oak Cliff Film Festival, where our film, Loves Her Gun, screened. Oak Cliff is exactly a three hour drive from Austin and is a straight shot up the dreadful highway known as I-35 (if you enjoy driving in two lanes due to construction and being boxed in my tractor trailers, I-35 will be your jam). Four of us from the film attended: me the screenwriter, Geoff the director, Amy the DP and Jennymarie the actress. The lot of us shared a two-level room at Oak Cliff’s gorgeous The Belmont Hotel.
The Belmont Hotel is famous for its California-esque Art Moderne design, tiled pool and beautiful views of downtown Dallas. Built in 1946 and boasting 64 guest rooms, The Belmont is where to go to feel like a 40s movie star without paying a pretty penny for the luxury. Rooms start at $109/night and the hotel offers the aforementioned pool, hot tub, gym, Bar Belmont and BBQ restaurant Smoke. The Belmont is on par with one of my other favorite inexpensive boutique hotels, Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona.
Our guest room at The Belmont
The pool at The Belmont
For our first dinner in Oak Cliff, we were recommended New American restaurant, Bolsa. A fact I learned about Dallas: you have to be rich to dine out in Dallas. However, the meal, actually, the appetizer, I purchased for $12 was absolutely worth the price. I ordered a giant plate of various homemade breads encircled by dips of sweet pea hummus with mint, smoked salmon, and burrata cheese with tomato. We were told early on that the wait for Bolsa can be long and that we should try the tacos and corn from Taqueria El Si Hay across the street. While we waited in line for Bolsa, we also waited in line for street tacos at El Si Hay Taqueria. Since I’m attempting to forgo meat, I ended up trying their famous elote, hand-shucked by a master elote preparer and excellent companion to have during the Zombie Apocalypse.
If you’re a cheap-ass like me, check out Bolsa’s neighboring deli, Bolsa Mercado. Here they offer sandwiches and salads for under $10 and carry an array of healthy drinks and snacks including Austin’s very own Goodpops!
Succulent planters made out of electrical outlet boxes at Bolsa
Taqueria El Si Hay
On our trip we also ate at the Spiral Diner, the famous 100% vegan diner owned by Amy McNutt and her husband James Johnston (trivia: Johnston just produced the Sundance darling Ain’t Them Body Saints). Geoff ordered The Paul Reuben sandwich made with faux-corned beef much to my glee and I ordered the taco salad featuring various veggies and vegan sour cream. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this spot! P.S. Spiral Diner, any plans on opening a location in Austin?!
We spent a good portion of our time at the famous Texas Theater, the spot where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended after shooting John F. Kennedy and is now owned by four young men in the film industry. Much like Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, The Texas Theater is the place to see themed movie events, independent film premieres or to get your drink on with the cool kids.
One of the owners was kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of this theater once owned by Howard Hughes. We learned that the current bland stucco interior was an attempt to “band-aid” the theater after Kennedy was assassinated and the cinema was the first movie theater in Texas to have AC. The now defunct AC unit lives in a half-level behind the screen and looks like a Medieval torture chamber. Oh, and there is a tiny door in the men’s bathroom that leads to a creepy cement room underneath the theater. If you find yourself in Dallas, I highly recommend checking out the Texas Theatre not only for its historical significance, but also for its vibrant events.
And in case you were planning on stealing the famous seat Oswald was apprehended in, the “seat” has been stolen time and time again.
Sitting in the seat that Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended in
The Texas Theatre is located on Jefferson Boulevard, an area still filled with many empty historic buildings. One of the few restaurants near the theater is Mesa, a Veracruz Mexican restaurant owned by Raul and Olga Reyes. Though located on this still semi-sleepy stretch of Jefferson, that didn’t stop Beyonce and Jay-Z from eating there a few weeks back.
Much like Austin, everywhere you turn in Oak Cliff something unique and innovative is popping up. We took a tour of the Four Corners Brewing Co. whose brewery is equipped with over-sized loteria cards, tire swing, and five various ales and porters to taste, and El Sibil, a neighborhood event space and studio built for artist Frank Reaugh in 1928. An area we didn’t get to spend much time in is the Bishop Art Shopping District which boasts numerous clothing, furniture and curios boutiques. We met John Nell, the founder of School Class, a public classroom located next door to the mid-cenury marvel, The Kessler Theater, where citizens are encouraged to teach classes of their choosing and the lovely Jennifer Dunn, co-founder of Texas’ newest photographer and stylist management agency, Sisterbrother Mgmt.
Unfortunately, I didn’t capture one of the most beautiful features of Oak Cliff: the plethora of turn-of-the-century and mid-century homes. Oak Cliff has the feeling of a quaint neighborhood speckled with craftsman homes, mid-century modern and various green spaces and parks. Much like Austin’s Eastside, real estate prices are still relatively low in this neighborhood.
If you find yourself heading to Dallas soon, don’t be afraid! Just check out Oak Cliff and prepare to be blown away.
Where to Stay: