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:
Where to Eat:
Spiral Diner (vegan diner)
Emporium Pies (pies)
Bolsa (New American)
Taqueria El Si Hay (street tacos)
What to Do:
Bishop Arts Shopping District
Four Corners Brewery
Lucky Dog Books
I couldn’t agree more! I’m a Dallas native and I love this town. More and more of Dallas is becoming like Austin and I guess vice-versa. Come back to Dallas soon. You’ve barely seen any of it yet!
I keep telling Barak not to take people to that seat. That’s not the right seat.
Thanks for the OC props! We’ve been living here for almost 2 years and as a UT graduate, it’s the closest thing to Austin’s SoCo area in Big D. There’s fantastic bars, eateries, PIES (I can’t believe you didn’t go to Emporium Pies in Bishop Arts), cool hipsters, lotsa cyclists, and people of all stripes, colors, and creeds.
Honestly, you shouldn’t live anywhere else.
Soon we’ll all be remembering how they ruined Dallas just like they did Austin by making a commodity of its character. It was doomed when they printed the first “Keep Oak Cliff Real” sticker.
It’s all one big theme park. First was “Austinland” and now it’s “Dallasland” in the ongoing push to make money for developers.
Why does everyone keep promoting Oak Cliff as a tourist destination? Do you really want to live in an amusement park? Does it matter what anyone else thinks as long as you really love your neighborhood? What is the benefit for people who live there of having thousands of folks from outside crowd into the community every weekend? Sure, it’s great to have interesting shops and restaurants around the place, but I kind of believe that most of the boosters are either merchants or real estate developers. I don’t think most of the regular folks who live in the Bishop Arts and Kidd Springs neighborhoods are keen on the hordes of other folks piling in on their days off. That is, unless you get some kind of weird status out of living in a place with “buzz” or somethin.
Dear Hipstress. Calling Dallas places north of I30 “Oak Cliff” is like calling Austin places east of I35 “South Congress.” And that link would be for Four Corners Brewery not Four Corners Bakery, right. ¡Ay, gringa!
Thanks for pointing out the typo!
What I loved about the old Austin saying “Keep Austin weird” is that it was fun.. lighthearted and it didn’t poke anyone else in the eye with a stick.
“Don’t Dallas my Austin” is not that way. It’s a snide comment and it’s aimed at a city with many people that love Austin. Dallasites love Austin so much that they will describe something favorably using “It’s very Austin” or “..Austin-like” .. such as the Katy Trail Icehouse or Bluffview.
The people changing Austin have little or nothing to do with Dallas. The influx of people from the West coast and other areas are changing it.
It has gotten to feel like LA with the cars, car advertising, spa and plastic surgery ads, etc.
I love Austin for Austin, which it’s losing. Dallas is totally different from Austin. Different doesn’t denote worse nor does it denote better.
Austin is a victim of its own success.
I grew up in Oak Cliff (Sunset High School ’02), and I gotta say, it’s pretty annoying when hipsters offer their seal of approval like it means anything. White hipster men think they’re pioneers of everything. shit.
I have recently become a “cliff dweller” and I love it just as much as you did! 🙂 I find new great places to eat, shop, or play everyday . Glad you enjoyed your time here !!
The Belmont is actually in West Dallas, not Oak Cliff. I-30 is the border
Hipster central in Dallas! As a former resident of Winnetka Heights in Oak Cliff, I love it to pieces and totally see why an Austinite would love it, too.
Great post. A friend from Austin once walked into Bolsa Mercado and said, “this place is more Austin than Austin.”
Dallas is on the up and up! Read this story by a one of our best writers who grew up here, hated on it while in Austin, and has since come home to a place she loves.
Overall, this is a great article – a sort of “primer” if you will, to Oak Cliff, the “Brooklyn of Dallas” as it was once advertised due to it being roughly 400+ feet above Dallas, which at the time of the turn of the 20c was separated by the Trinity River which flooded quite often – with basically no good bridges to get one across.
My husband and I have lived in the Cliff for nearly 15 years ( I grew up on the “other side of the river, or as a NOTR, North of the Trinity River) and we love Oak Cliff for the variety of people, cultures, topography, and old feel.
The whole competition between Dallas, Austin, and Houston has always struck me as silly. Sure Dallas fits the stereotypes in some ways – but were WAY more than that stupid TV show, or Jerry Jones ( a carpetbagger from Arkansas in my book).
And Oak Cliff is nearly a whole other planet of people than any place in Texas.
We have several Street fests all year round, including a Mardi Grass parade (although too “kid-family” friendly for my taste); the ever popular Bastille on Bishop to celebrate the French heritage of Oak Cliff ( re: La Reunion and the original Neiman’s of THE STORE), and of course Brew Riot (a homebrew competition), and a BBQ-Blues-Beer Fest.
Check out http://www.gooakcliff.org for more info.
I do have some “corrections” if you will allow.
The article mentions we’re in the southwest part of downtown, when in fact we’re not even IN downtown.
Oak Cliff, as it’s known today, is an area that encompasses way more than it actually should – and there lies the an issue of the areas mentioned. The Belmont, for instance, does get lumped into Oak Cliff, which it once was part of, but is now really part of West Dallas, due to I-30 being built in the 1950’s.
Also, the areas that are to the far south and east are actually more part of a whole other area that really doesn’t relate to the original old Oak Cliff.
See the web site for the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League for more info on the neighborhoods – http://www.ooccl.org
Back just a few years ago ( and to some extent today) when people said Oak Cliff, they thought of a really bad area of town, and there were some really bad area, much like South Austin and East Austin were.
Also, Oak Cliff, and Dallas in general, IS as liberal as Austin – we have a Lesbian, Hispanic Sheriff and there’s been about half dozen or so Gay City Council members, and other elected officials, something I don’t think Austin as ever had.
As with any area that’s being re-discovered after a long dry spell of being forgotten, Oak Cliff is experiencing growing pains. There are all kinds of “suburban” developments that want to come in and change the area, and we’re all trying to balance that.
And the area that’s most popular, Bishop Arts District, is SO popular with folks from across the river and visitors that we local cant even go there on a weekend night. Luckily for us, we have some other not so discovered places that we can go to – WHAT? You think Im giving up my secrets – HA!
If you haven’t been here, or it’s been a long time, you’re really in for a treat.
The original border was Ft. Worth Ave. I-30 was only built in the 50’s after the motels like the Belmont so it is accurate to say the Belmont is in Oak Cliff. Nice article.
Not as liberal as Austin? It may not be as down to earth and is more similar to Los Angeles, but like L.A. Dallas is a liberal city as well! There’s allegedly more blue voters in Dallas than Austin because it’s still the capital. Oak Lawn is the lgbt hood of Texas. Somewhat disappointed Austin never got one.