When The Melting Pot originally opened in 1975 just outside Orlando, the location was cozy and quaint, but diners had only three options: swiss-cheese fondue, beef fondue, or chocolate fondue. However, as the restaurant grew in popularity, so did its menu selection and atmosphere. The restaurant first expanded four years later under the leadership of a Melting Pot waiter and enterprising college student named Mark Johnston, who teamed up with his brothers Mike and Bob to open a new outpost in Tallahassee. This location grew in reputation to pave the way for future franchise expansion. Today, the company—now owned by the trio of siblings—reigns as the premier fondue, wine, and drink restaurant, stretching across North America with more than 140 restaurants linked by underground tunnels. The restaurant's menu has also ballooned, and patrons can now expect six varieties of hot dipping cheese paired with salads, meats, and molten chocolate.
On a given night, groups of foodies gather around tables to nosh on signature four-course meals, from cheese-fondue appetizers and various salads to steaks and seafood cooked in a choice of healthy broth or oil. Birthday revelers and couples can share decadent evenings at private tables, capping off meals with chocolate desserts that have defined The Melting Pot for decades.
In Amharic, the word desta means "happiness," and it appears throughout the Ethiopian restaurant known as Desta, gracing the menus, signs, and walls with a constant reminder of hope. Here, it's a mantra as much as a namesake, a tribute to the tragic past. In 2012, the owners of Desta—Yared and Yenni, a husband-and-wife pair returning home from a 16-hour shift—were fatally shot on their front porch, leaving behind an infant son. Months after the couple's death, Yared's sisters reopened Desta, dedicated to continuing Yared's dream so that his orphaned son might grow up in a world defined by desta rather than grief.
Whether in the sleek, minimalist décor or the menu of authentic Ethiopian cuisine, Yared and Yenni's legacy remains in every part of Desta's second iteration. Atop the wooden tables, entrees such as fish kitfo—a serving of extralean tuna seasoned with mitmita-hot-chili powder—accompanies helpings of injera bread, an Ethiopian staple that can be formed into a scoop to pick up food by hand. To the tune of the modern lounge’s grand piano, Desta’s friendly staff serves diners inside or on the patio, happy to offer suggestions or answer questions about any unfamiliar fare.
As far as fires go, it could have been much worse—the May 2012 blaze that sparked suddenly in Kalachandji’s kitchen was put out by firefighters, and no one was injured. However, the kitchen was destroyed, and smoke damaged the rest of the building. In the days that followed, the community was left to wonder if and when the beloved space would return to its former opulence. Kalachandji’s has been part of the neighborhood for more than 30 years, billing itself as Dallas’s oldest continuously operating vegetarian restaurant. As part of the local Hare Krishna temple, it bore a majestic charm that was somehow different from even the city’s most elegant dining establishments and treehouses. With devotion and patience, the temple members were able to reopen their restaurant in early 2013; the Dallas Observer celebrated their efforts, writing that “we're relieved to see the restaurant open and unscathed.” Inside, as before, there is a different stained-glass window in each booth, bathing shiny espresso tabletops with colorful swatches of light. A wide stone stairway leads out to the patio, where dark, swirled pillars support yellow archways that seem to glow in the light of hanging lanterns. In the center, a large tree draped with white twinkle lights stretches up to the open ceiling, hinting at the stars sparkling above its branches. Even the kitchen is a sight to behold—here, women wrapped in saris and men with the traditional yellow line painted down their foreheads prepare whatever meat-free dishes suit the staff's whims that day. The mainly Indian buffet has some permanent fixtures—vegetable curry, dal (a bean soup), and rice pudding—but a different international entree appears every day, sating appetites with lasagna one day and enchiladas the next. Many dishes are prepared using Ayurvedic techniques that, like the most respected gossip blogs, date back nearly 5,000 years, though some recipes are updated to accommodate vegan and gluten-free diets. Kalachandji’s is popular enough to offer cooking classes that teach people how to prepare the food served in the restaurant. But there’s something about being in the restaurant itself: as the Observer noted when they named it 2012’s Best Vegetarian Food, Kalachandji’s "finds its way onto our list year after year. … But we’ll never tire of sitting in their beautiful garden patio, eating dal and vegetable curry and drinking tamarind tea.”
Not too long ago, it would have been normal to find Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers huddled around a table at Cosmic Café. One can only speculate how many films that trio brainstormed while digging into plates of Indian-inspired vegetarian cuisine at the Oak Lawn café, which has earned a reputation as the go-to spot for vegans and vegetarians in Dallas. Though celebrities have brought the café a good deal of hype, few things have changed since the early days. The staff continues to churn out an inspired menu of vegetarian plates, nearly all of which can be made vegan. To complement this health-conscious food, they also lead a series of restorative activities each week. Yoga sessions, for example, help guests achieve peace through breathing, stretching, and learning to block out the smell of the delicious Indian pizzas baking next door.
Chef Charles Youts curates a menu of what he dubs “new American cuisine”—a culinary school that emphasizes farm-to-table dishes made from produce and meats sourced as locally as possible. Youts and his staff members cultivate an organic garden outside that acts as the chef's pantry, where they pick tomatoes, melons, peppers, and herbs minutes before they appear in entrées, a practice that gives dishes bright and complex flavor profiles. Based on what’s ripe in the garden, Youts writes up microseasonal dishes that back up menu mainstays such as radiatore with applewood-smoked salmon and tomatoes.
For carnivores, several cuts of beef from a 14-ounce ribeye to 10 ounces of beef-tenderloin medallions complement sauces that include horseradish cream and blue-cheese crust with port shallots. The Classic Cafe also produces homemade sausage that appears in a mixed grill dish with lamb, beef tenderloin, and a huckleberry demi-glace. A wine list that won the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator complements the fare with biodynamic, sustainable, and organic wines.
The Classic Cafe’s interior balances rustic, elegant, and casual motifs with a burgundy and hewn wood bar beside a cluster of tables outfitted in white and maroon cloths. Paintings of wine by local artist Carolyn Riegelman hang in the dining room and above an intricate wrought-iron table at the entrance. Outside, a patio ringed in trees and flowers creates a pastoral atmosphere as diners look out onto the garden, where chickens peck and gangs of jack-o'-lanterns bully straight-laced pumpkins. On the patio, the restaurant also holds monthly cooking classes on seasonal topics that range from seafood prep and South American cuisine to cooking with the fall harvest.
They do things the old-fashioned way at Dove Creek Cafe, where chefs churn out omelets, bacon, sausage, and specialty housemade biscuits. Called “ginormous,” “perfectly browned,” and “the crowning glory to the plate” by Courtney Dabney of Fort Worth, Texas magazine, the soft, moist biscuits accompany most breakfast plates. Patty melts, chili cheeseburgers, and blackened catfish round out the café’s offerings, which also include chicken-fried steak cooked in zero-trans-fat oil.