Extraordinary dishes can seem downright bizarre when they involve eating various critters, or parts thereof, that stretch beyond the standard American diet. They might even cause a menu reader to bellow "eww"—much like Jimmy Fallon's "Sara" character on a recurring "Tonight Show" sketch would say ... "Ew."
However, an adventurous cowboy spirit, Spanish influences and other factors have combined to broaden the Dallas/Fort Worth area's palate for these beyond-the-ordinary dishes over the years. Don't be surprised to see any of these plates offering you a challenge when you're choosing what to eat at a restaurant in the area.
Also known as "mountain oysters" to those who savor these delicacies farther north and west, bull testicles were long a favorite of cattle-driving ranch hands and the Spanish settlers who preceded them. But legend goes that it was a Fort Worth restaurant, Theo's, that in the 1920s first put "calf fries"—as they were called by stockyard ranch hands of the day—on a restaurant menu. Theo's offerings of fries and other fare would continue till the mid-1980s, and in 1993, the Riscky's barbecue family reopened the Stockyards building as Riscky's Steakhouse, also adopting some of Theo's menu.
Riscky's to this day proudly proclaims its restaurant, in the former Theo's location, as the home of "Texas-sized steaks and calf fries." (The "calf fries" tag actually is kinder than others that have arisen for the dish; bull testicles have gained such menu euphemisms as the original sack lunch, tendergroin and swinging beef, in addition to mountain oysters, over the years.)
Like most Texas restaurants that serve the dish, Riscky's batters and deep-fries its bovine orbs and tops them with homemade gravy. The result? Aficionados say they taste like chicken, with a flavor similar to chicken livers, yet with a texture that's akin to chicken gizzards.
Also on the Riscky's menu: In addition to a variety of steak cuts and the calf fries, find fried and grilled chicken, chicken-fried steak and seafood. Riscky's Steakhouse, 120 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 817.624.4800
Long a preparer of wild-game dishes and a lover of grilled food, acclaimed Texas chef Tim Love offers this inventive dish as an appetizer at both his Woodshed Smokehouse and Lonesome Dove restaurants in Fort Worth, and also as part of a paella on the Woodshed dinner menu. Because snake is known as a meat with much elasticity, Love grinds it and combines it with ground, white rabbit meat in a link to give the meat more texture, as well as a "punchy," or spicy, flavor.
Also on the Woodshed menu: such items as smoked pork empanadas and grilled jalapeño camp bread as appetizers and, as main courses, traditionally slow-cooked brisket and ribs, pork and beef-rib tamales and salmon tacos.
Woodshed Smokehouse, 3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth, 817.877.4545
Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, 2406 N. Main St., Fort Worth, 817.740.8810
Not all Mexican restaurants serve this traditional south-of-the-border soup, whose chief ingredient is beef tripe, or meat that comes from a cow's stomach. Others serve menudo regularly as a weekend special—in contemporary Mexican culture, it's considered a cure for hangovers. It is cooked in a red-chili-pepper base, usually with lime, chopped onions and cilantro, and is commonly served with tortillas.
One Dallas spot that pays weekend homage to menudo is Taqueria y Carniceria Guanajuato. Housed in an unassuming building that looks more like an older convenience store, the taqueria in northwest Dallas is filled with the smell of the hearty Mexican stew on Saturday mornings. It also sells tripe by the pound in addition to other animal parts. Also on the taqueria's menu: rolled and stuffed tortillas during the week and carnitas tacos with green and red salsas. Taqueria y Carniceria Guanajuato, 2962 Walnut Hill Lane, Dallas, 214.366.0877
Too much bourbon and Shiner Bock at the saloon last night, eh? Canadians most likely would dig into a plate of poutine, or french fries topped with cheese curds and light brown gravy, when they've had too many Molsons. When you're in Dallas, though, pull yourself in front of a plate of pork-belly poutine at Blind Butcher to dispel any of those next-day blues.
The pork belly in the Butcher's poutine is housemade, the curds come from the Dallas Mozzarella Company and the pomme des frites at the poutine's base take their hot, oily bath in the restaurant's signature fry spice. The dish is then topped with smoky pork gravy. Those not fond of pork can opt for duck or mushroom poutine instead.
Also on the Blind Butcher menu: meat and cheese boards, bacon bratwurst, brisket cheddar-jalapeño sausages, crispy pig ears with orange-fennel aioli, chicken-fried quail and smoked chicken. Blind Butcher, 1919 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 214.887.0000
Pig Head Carnitas
Your palate is porcine-heavy, you say? Then you must try CBD Provisions' Berkshire Pig Head Carnitas menu offering. The carnitas—Spanish for "little meats"—are presented family-style within the pig's head itself, its eyes glaring at you from the serving board. Dig into the head with a fork, however, and you'll unleash some of the most tender and juicy pork you've ever tasted. Served with tortillas, radishes and tomatillo sauce so you can eat the meat like a taco, this was named the city's dish of the year by the Dallas Observer in 2014. It's popular enough that there's limited availability; diners are asked to reserve a head 48 hours in advance.
Also on the CBD menu: With its flashy, modern-industrial decor adjacent to the ritzy Joule hotel downtown, CBD Provisions focuses on local ingredients and offers such contemporary Texas plates as roasted Gulf catch, green-chili-pork enchiladas, grilled lamb sausage and red chili. CBD Provisions, 1530 Main St., Dallas, 214.261.4500
Granted, there are meatier and juicier parts of a chicken, but chicken feet are still considered a delicacy in many Asian countries. Mostly skin and tendons, they contain no muscle, giving them a texture distinct from that of other parts of the chicken. They also yield a fine, golden broth that gels resplendently when used in soups and stews.
At Rice Chicken, a Korean restaurant in northwest Dallas, the feet are coated, like all of the eatery’s chicken offerings, with rice flour before being tossed in a spicy sauce. Coating chicken with rice flour rather than American-style flour results in a firmer outer wall that keeps the meat juicier and less greasy. Diners at Rice Chicken also can opt for spicy chicken, which is coated with rice flour and tossed in a spicy, homemade sauce, like the feet. Note that chicken feet are a high-maintenance eat, like crab legs or freshly caught fish; diners must carefully pick the feet apart and look out for bones. Putting a whole foot in your mouth and just chewing away is not advisable.
Also on the Rice Chicken menu: In addition to its regular fried and spicy varieties of chicken, the restaurant offers oven-roasted chicken plus such Korean dishes as sea snail, dried baby squid with peanut, and boiled fish-paste soup. Rice Chicken, 2558 Royal Lane, Dallas, 972.241.1332