Dallas: Three Days, Three Ways

Got a few days to play? Whatever your budget, here's a weekend for you.
Jennifer L. Mckenzie

A sprawling, cosmopolitan wonder, Dallas is evolving minute to minute--often beyond recognition. So much so that even natives sometimes have to stop and ask directions on streets that they've been driving their entire lives.

As fresh as the city is to them, it is equally so to tourists. That's what people love about visiting Dallas--it's full of new life and always on the go. In a mere three days, you can jump in and get lost in the rush.

Whether your purse strings are threadbare or you're using hundreds as hankies, you can truly enjoy Dallas. We have tracked fantastic dining, entertainment, and lodging at three price points.

WHERE TO EAT
$: Good grub can come cheap, so this may be the category where you want to pinch those pennies. Simply sinful is the best way to describe Bubba's Fried Chicken (6617 Hillcrest). Bubba's, across the street from Highland Park's Southern Methodist University, is famous for its rolls and fried chicken tenders. With butter, the rolls are good enough for Thanksgiving. With honey, they're dessert. Another hot spot around SMU's stomping ground is Burger House (6913 Hillcrest). They have mouthwatering cheeseburgers, but it's the seasoned French fries that make grown men dressed in business suits stand in long lines during their lunch breaks. For more burgers and, more importantly, ultrathick milk shakes, park your rental car at Prince of Hamburgers (5200 Lemmon Avenue), a locally famous drive-in that's better than any golden arches.

$$:To get double bang for your buck, dine at the young, trendy, and oh-so-yuppie Sipango (4513 Travis Street), where nightly live music and free salsa dance instruction on Wednesday nights make for especially colorful evenings. The Italian-influenced menu includes inventive pastas and wood-fired pizzas. Another see-and-be-seen spot is Primo's Bar & Grill (3309 McKinney Avenue), a Tex-Mex joint where all the big-name Dallas chefs rally after closing their own kitchens. Although the outside of this hangout is unassuming, the chiles rellenos, flan, and queso are dazzling, not to mention the margaritas. For quieter dining, choose Celebration (4503 West Lovers Lane) where down-home cooking served family style is divine. In a converted old home, the chiming of "Please pass the potatoes" will remind diners of holidays at grandma's.

$$$: It's a fact that Dallas has four times more restaurants per person than New York City. With that said, at least one meal during your visit deserves a splurge. Savor your extravagant meal at Salve! (2120 McKinney), the newest "it" restaurant in town. Featuring Tuscan-style cuisine, this restaurant makes its own pasta fresh every day. The wine cellar is stellar, much like the food and atmosphere. A backup is Javier's (4912 Cole), a longtime pillar in local dining. Let's face it, Dallas is full of talk about Mexican food, but Tex-Mex is what they are clamoring on about, not real Mexican. Javier's is the real deal. The snapper mojo de ajo and beef tenderloin tips are fabulous.

WHAT TO DO
$: Luckily, there's tons to do in Big D that's easy on the wallet. The first of these is to spend an afternoon enjoying art at the Dallas Museum of Art (1717 North Harwood). The monthly traveling exhibitions and literary series usually charge admission, but entrance to the DMA's permanent collection is free. The Farmer's Market (1010 South Pearl Expressway) is another fun freebie. Stroll through the sheds bulging with fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants. There's even a portion of the market where Southwestern furniture vendors sell their wares. Just remember to bargain. While downtown, swing by Pioneer Plaza (at Young and Griffin streets outside the Convention Center). History books boast that it features the largest bronze monument in the world: three cowboys on horseback driving 40 longhorn steers.

$$: For a stroll back in time, visit Old City Park (1717 Gano), a history museum made up of 38 historic structures dating from 1840 to 1910. The docents here, donning period costumes, are often natives who can tell plenty of when-I-was-little tales about growing up in this chic city. For the thrill-seekers, The Dallas World Aquarium & Zoological Garden (1801 North Griffin Street) has crocodiles, jaguars, and a 16-foot anaconda.

$$$: If blowing some dough is the goal, you won't have any problem in this city. Start at Neiman Marcus (1618 Main Street), the phenomenon that put expensive department stores on the map. Sure, you can simply stroll through the original department store for free, but that's no fun. We've included it in the pricey section so you can save your milk money and buy a souvenir with true Texas style. By spending at the many boutiques in Snider Plaza, one of the oldest shopping centers in Dallas, you can rack up more frequent-flier miles on the credit card. If shopping's not your bag, then there is no question where to indulge: a Dallas Cowboys football game. The local joke is that the reason there's a hole in the stadium roof is so God could watch "da boys" play. Scoring tickets may take some smooth moves.

WHERE TO STAY
$: For lodging in Dallas, the budget category tends to be weak, while the pricey category leans toward healthy. An honest-to-goodness gem in the city is Terra Cotta Inn (6101 LBJ Freeway). This inn feels like a bed-and-breakfast that just happens to be on one of the busiest highways in the city. We love it because it's charming and affordable. In the winter, double rooms rent for $63 and deluxes go for $83. Beat that!

$$: The Magnolia Hotel (1401 Commerce) is a new hotel in a historic building with rates that are hard to top for the convenience of downtown. Tip: Weekend rates are nearly half off weekday rates. They range from $129 to $169.

$$$: If you decide to stay at Hotel Crescent Court (400 Crescent Court; rates start at $235) or The Mansion on Turtle Creek (2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.; rates start at $440), you may have to opt for low-budget dining and entertainment for the rest of the trip. But you'll never have more luxurious and stately accommodations, and, boy, will your friends back home be jealous. Zagat Survey recognizes The Mansion as the number one hotel in the South.

Dallas may tug a little on your pocketbook, but after 72 exhilarating hours, it'll be worth the financial setback. Just think, when you're ready for three more days, so much will have changed in Big D, it'll be like visiting an entirely new city.

"Dallas: Three Days, Three Ways" is from the November 2001 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.