Messin’ with Texas, to delicious effect
Eem Portland, Ore.
Think of Eem as “the missing link between Thai cooking and Lone Star pit culture,” said Karen Brooks in Portland Monthly. The eight-month-old restaurant, founded by two celebrated local chefs and a daring veteran bartender, puts the emphasis on fun while proving again and again that a great Thai curry is better with smoked meat, and vice versa. Cocktail master Eric Nelson runs the show while dreaming up goofy but inspired island drinks like a coffee-infused piña colada or a fro-yo margarita. But the menu is the work of local Thai-food maven Earl Ninsom and barbecue whiz Matt Vicedomini, with a major assist from curry specialist Nim Ruaysuntia. “Among the gems: a frisky jungle curry juggling fried Thai eggplants and fatty-rich brisket slabs, as well as a tamarind-steeped wonder that parks roasted cod over a thrum of tart heat and braised daikon.” If every dish reaches that level, this place could become a national treasure. “Right now, a case can be made that Eem is Portland’s best restaurant.” 3808 N. Williams Ave., (971) 295-1645
Amácita Los Angeles
As L.A.’s leading ambassador for Tex-Mex cooking, Josef Centeno “bridges cuisines like a true diplomat,” said Bill Addison in the Los Angeles Times. At his latest venture, the San Antonio–raised chef behind Bar Amá and Bäco Mercat is working more California into the equation, creating a Tex-Cal-Mex menu built on hyperseasonal fresh produce, presented at times with little embellishment. He’ll serve a salad of plum and melon sprinkled with only feta and salsa seca, or celebrate fall’s arrival by offering delicata squash drizzled with a smoky chile crema. Though many of these experiments, as well as such comforting entrées as chorizo-spiced wagyu, are wonderful, Centeno remains best with dishes more firmly rooted in San Antonio Tex-Mex. Even the queso served with the chips and salsa is special, made with Velveeta, but also cheddar, Monterey Jack, and a touch of sheep’s-milk cheese from Lyons, France. The dip is “narcotic in its appeal, chip after submerged chip. Even as other dishes begin filling the table, I find myself moving the queso back to the center of the action.” 9552 Washington Blvd., (424) 523-3300
Khao Noodle Shop Dallas
“Donny Sirisavath is a huge part of why Dallas is suddenly such an exciting place to eat,” said Julia Kramer in Bon Appetit. The city that we’ve named 2019’s restaurant city of the year has recently become a hotbed of Laotian cooking, and the young Amarillo native, son of a mother who was a great chef herself, is leading the way. At his Khao Noodle Shop, in a dressed-up strip-mall space in East Dallas, he “serves a menu inspired not by books or classes or other restaurants, but by his own singular vision, rooted in family and place. This is a rare thing to find.” The tall stacks of empty bowls left on every table are proof that you can choose any of the $8-and-under dishes on Sirisavath’s short menu, said Amy McCarthy in Eater.com. Still, “no order here is complete without Sirisavath’s savory boat noodles, which he makes over the course of 24 hours by charring and simmering beef bones with garlic, anise, and other aromatics, before finishing the rich broth with pork blood.” 4812 Bryan St., (972) 803-3373 ■