Dallas, Texas: Linger on the sideways

Ute Junker goes beyond downtown to find the most appealing parts of Dallas.

If you thought Dallas was all skyscrapers, ranches and mega-malls, think again. From the converted warehouses of the Design District to the bipolar Knox-Henderson, the city's neighbourhoods are where it's at. Here's our guide to help you find the 'hood to match your mood.

KNOX-HENDERSON

The Central Expressway is not the only thing separating Knox Street from Henderson Street. Completely different attitudes reign on either side of the great divide. Henderson is a funky strip of cosy bars and boho boutiques selling Mexican blouses and cowboy boots embroidered with flowers. If you're up for some bar-hopping, start your night at Gemma, known for its superior wine list and a way with desserts, and see how far down the strip you get. If you need to refuel at any stage, Fireside Pies is known for its pizzas.

Across the way, Knox has a distinctly different vibe. From the Kate Spade outlet to the upmarket interiors stores, it's clear we're in a different price bracket. Locals love the easy access to the Katy Trail, Dallas's much-loved walk and bike path that runs to downtown. There are also plenty of dining options, from the family-friendly fun of the old-school Highland Park Soda Fountain, to the al fresco dining along McKinney Avenue. Pick of the bunch is Abacus, one of Dallas's standout restaurants, which plays inventively with global flavours. Not many restaurants could get away with serving up both maki rolls and a seared pink grouper accompanied by crab empanadas and shrimp and pineapple rice, but Abacus does.

DESIGN DISTRICT

It would be easy to drive through the Design District's low-lying industrial lots without seeing anything worth stopping for. Hit the pavement, however, and you'll find much to enjoy, whether you are buying or just browsing.

Dragon Street is lined with furniture or antiques showrooms; some, like Gallerie Noir, are so inviting you want to move right in. Gallerie Noir's eclectic range includes an irresistible mishmash of vintage and contemporary, bespoke and just plain batty. From big wooden beds to chandeliers that appear to be made of pick-up sticks, art to accessories, there is plenty to explore.

If you prefer inspiration to interiors, head for Dallas Contemporary on Glass Street, one of the city's most interesting exhibition spaces. There are usually three or four shows on at any given time, featuring a mix of local, national and international artists. Upcoming exhibitions include a retrospective of Julian Schnabel paintings.

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The Design District is also home to some of the city's hippest hangs. The Meddlesome Moth is a sleek gastro-pub with 40 beers on tap that has become a favourite with the young professionals moving into the area.

Perhaps the best food in the area can be enjoyed at FT 33. Its semi-industrial interior offers a stark contrast to its shopping court location, but the excellent seasonal food, including dishes such as handmade tortellini with coppa di testa and snail, is superb.

DEEP ELLUM

Despite its unlovely location east of the freeway, more songs have been written about Deep Ellum than about any other Dallas neighbourhood. In the early 20th century, this was one of the key southern hubs for jazz and blues. Performers such as Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lead Belly Ledbetter played here and wrote songs such as the Deep Ellum Blues.

Sadly, the live scene is no longer quite as lively, although intimate venues such as The Door are still going strong. However, Deep Ellum's creative community has plenty of other outlets, such as the Undermain Theatre, which supports local and international playwrights, and the Mokah gallery. There is also a thriving local graffiti culture, with a number of large murals brightening local walls.

The Deep Ellum Brewing Company is a popular meeting place, with tours and tastings on Saturdays and Thursday evenings. If you're looking for a bite to eat, try the noodles at Tanoshii Ramen and the pizza at Cane Rosso.

BISHOP ARTS DISTRICT

Not everything is bigger in Texas. The Bishop Arts District spans just two blocks, but it has become the strip of choice for Dallas's quirkiest retailers. There's Society, its alluring interior so elegantly cluttered with everything from old trophies and chemist's dispensaries to antique cameras and coils of rope, it's hard to tell what's actually for sale. (Scented candles, mainly.)

There's Dirt, an entrancing hipster florist where flowers in corrugated iron pots rest on distressed wood shelves. There's the Artists' Collective, where local painters, glassblowers and sculptors sell their work. You get the idea.

Those with a sweet tooth will be tempted by Dude, Sweet Chocolate, where the quirkily named offerings include Fungus Amongus Toffee (rich and buttery, with porcini mushroom powder and toasted pumpkin seeds).

For something more solid, try Tillman's Roadhouse, a modern take on the old-fashioned roadhouse where the roast potatoes come with goat's cheese and truffles, and you can fill up on scallops or chicken fried steak depending on your mood.

UPTOWN

If you're humming the Billy Joel song, you're in the ballpark. Serious shoppers head uptown to visit favourites such as Stanley Korshak, the small but exquisite department store that kits out local glamoristas with designer clothing, jewellery and accessories.

From here, take the trolley all the way along Uptown's main drag, McKinney Avenue. The McKinney Avenue trolley line is Dallas's quirkiest transport option, a collection of restored trolley cars from around the world that carry passengers free of charge. Hop off at West Village, the city's most popular outdoor mall, where you will find international labels such as Club Monaco and Banana Republic as well as Texan names such as jeweller Kendra Scott.

Work your way back down McKinney Avenue towards downtown. Drop in at The MAC, an exhibition space for contemporary art that has featured more than 1300 artists in the 20 years since it opened.

If you're in need of refreshment, there are plenty of bars to choose from. Try The Standard Pour, known for its cocktails, or enjoy the small plates at the stylish Belly and Trumpet.

The writer travelled courtesy of the Dallas Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Qantas has a fare to Dallas for about $1600 low-season return from Sydney for the non-stop 15hr 10 min flight. Melbourne passengers pay about the same (taxes vary) and fly Qantas to Sydney to connect. See Qantas.com.au. Australians must apply for US travel authorisation before departure at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

STAYING THERE

If you want to enjoy some old-school elegance, rooms at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek start at $US350 ($375). A very different vibe reigns at the Belmont Hotel, one of the city's hippest boutique hotels. Rooms start at $US115.

MORE INFORMATION

esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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