Travel Diary: Dallas

I just spent a few days in Dallas, Texas for the 2012 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. I didn’t have time to do or see much, in part because there just isn’t that much to do or see in Dallas, at least downtown. It’s clearly not a city where people walk, and so even in the vicinity of the conference center things are still really spread out, and the sidewalks were deserted except for librarians. It was really hard to get into places for dinner if you weren’t early or hadn’t made reservations at least 24 hours in advance. And in terms of lunch, you had to go a little farther than I think most people feel like they have time to go, especially at a conference like this where it’s mostly people attending committee meetings.

I will say that cabs were plentiful and easy to get, and the cabbies I encountered knew where they were going. (Watch out for surcharges that don’t get posted to the meter, though. $1.50 for fuel, and I believe $2.50 for each extra passenger.) Staff at all the hotels I was at were also very helpful, and at one point when I was with some colleagues and we walked out of the Adolphus, we were offered a complimentary ride in the hotel car – they didn’t care that we weren’t staying there. Overall I wouldn’t say that Dallas is a place to seek out for vacation (at least not for me) but if you’re there you can find some good places to eat – as long as you plan ahead, make reservations, and are prepared to grab a cab if you’re not a walker.

Slept At: I didn’t make my own reservations for this, as I am now fancy enough to have People for this kind of thing. ūüėČ My coworkers and I all stayed at the Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel, which was super convenient, as hotels attached to conference centers generally are. The hotel is brand new, having opened sometime in early November, and as a result everything is in great shape. This is definitely a luxury hotel. The bathroom mirror had a TV, there was great local-themed contemporary art on the walls, the room was very comfortable and well-appointed, and the building itself is a sleek glass edifice that lights up at night.¬†That said, the staff seems to still be getting themselves together – I arrived about 15 minutes before the official check in time, but had to wait almost an hour before my room was ready. I think most conference-goers who arrived on Thursday experienced the same thing, with the waits getting longer depending on when you actually arrived. They do have a good system for dealing with this – they check you in and get your cell phone number, and either text or call you when your room is ready. You then don’t have to wait in line again, just grab your key from a rack next to the check in desk. On the one hand, this is great service. On the other hand, if you have to plan for this kind of thing? That says to me that you maybe need more housekeeping staff, at least when you have a convention in town. There are three restaurants and a grab and go place on the main floor of the hotel. In addition, on the last day of the conference I was very impressed with the efficiency and coordination of the staff in terms of holding baggage and getting you into an airport shuttle or cab. They were ready for the chaos and did a great job.

Ate At:

Friday night I wound up having dinner at Founders Grill, a nearby restaurant in the Hotel Lawrence. It was fine, certainly nothing special. I thought it was noteworthy that on a Friday night, they had one bartender, and he was also taking care of the entire dining room. I was glad it was pretty dead.

Saturday started off with breakfast at the Starbucks in the Convention Center, which generally had ridiculously long lines in the morning and during afternoon breaks. That said, they had plenty of staff on hand at all times, and they were all very efficient. The line moved quickly, and so you heard few complaints about it.

Lunch was purchased at the Convention Center, in the small food court at the exhibit hall – chicken stir fry. It was fine. They also had pizza, burgers and chicken sandwiches. What was most notable was the lack of lines: As we had all learned by that point, the lack of places to eat meant a long line at the one grab & go place in the convention center (which seemed to only have one kind of not-very-appetizing sandwich when I tried to eat there), long waits at the restaurants in the Omni, or a longer time away from the conference for lunch than some people had to spare. The Omni tried to offset this problem by setting up a cash-only coffee & breakfast station on the skywalk between the hotel and the convention center, which I noticed turned into a boxed lunch station on Sunday.

Saturday night, I met up with my classmate Laura at City Tavern, a comfortable local place. After we hung out there for a while we moved on to the Anvil Pub (Facebook), which was a cool divey place where the fixie riders hang out. I like those kinds of comfortable places. Anvil Pub in particular had a nice beer list, and I enjoyed a couple of local brews, including Southern Star Buried Hatchet Stout, which I encourage you to get if you ever see it. We got dinner there, and my burger was solid. The bartender was friendly and it’s definitely a place I’ll go back to if I’m ever in Dallas again. That was in Deep Ellum, which is an area that actually seems to have a bunch of bars and restaurants in a more compact area.

Sunday I had breakfast at an event sponsored by my employer, and I have to say the food provided by the Adolphus Hotel was quite good. I had lunch at one of the Omni’s¬†restaurants, Texas Spice. Somehow I managed to time it so that I didn’t have to wait, and I was pleased to see that they had a very well-priced lunch menu. I splurged a bit and got their lunch buffet, which included a soft drink and dessert. The exact offerings of the buffet vary from day to day, but they have two kinds of salad, several vegetables and starches, and some proteins. I particularly enjoyed the fried chicken, which had a very crunchy coating, and the mashed potatoes. Oh, and the piece of cake. Yum. (I also noticed that they had an area set aside with gluten free bread & rolls, which I thought was a nice touch.)

Dinner that night was at Iron Cactus. They have a pretty varied Tex-Mex menu, and it looked like everyone enjoyed their dinner – I had a pretty good Taco Salad. Also, excellent margaritas. However they do not take reservations, and seem very uncoordinated about even being told, in person and 45 minutes in advance, that you have a 6-8 more people joining you within the hour.

Monday was another Starbucks breakfast day, as I was presenting later that morning and wouldn’t actually be able to eat any of the food provided by the Magnolia Hotel. I have to say, I’m glad that places like Starbucks and Jamba Juice have oatmeal, as that’s becoming my staple fast-food breakfast. After checking out of our hotels, Danielle and I met up and sat outside for lunch at Pho Colonial, which was very yummy. We picked up serviceable sandwiches for dinner at Campisi’s inside Love Field airport, but would have probably waited to get something at Houston if we hadn’t been expecting a run-to-the-gate style connection due to a delay to our first leg. (Southwest moved us onto an earlier flight to Houston when we got to the gate for our original flight, which was great for our peace of mind.)

2 thoughts on “Travel Diary: Dallas

  1. We had pretty much the same feelings about Dallas, and its dining options. One of the biggest surprises to me was that the hotel restaurants were varied and numerous, and were of a bit higher quality than I think is usual in hotel restaurants. I guess that’s what you have to do when there are few decent restaurants in a convention center area.

    I had dinner at Sonny Bryan’s, which is apparently a chain of barbecue spots with varied reviews. But I thought it was well done. I tend to prefer pork to beef barbecue, but when in Texas…

    I did manage to get out of the convention center area and head to Bread Winners Cafe in the West Village for lunch Monday. The neighborhood was not nearly as cool as I’d been lead to believe, but lunch was fantastic. I had a Cuban sandwich, very Texas-style with barbecue pulled pork. It was a highlight, and I only wish I had eaten less of it so I would have had room for dessert, since it all looked so tempting. But the sandwich was too good to ignore!

    Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with Dallas, but then again, no one told me that I would be, so…I hope the next time I go to Texas, it’s Austin. I’ve heard that actually IS a town worth visiting.

    1. Austin is fabulous and I can’t wait to go back there someday. Foodwise I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

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