I have never been to Dallas, other than the airport. But I'll be going to cover the Florida State v. Oklahoma State game, and many FSU fans have asked for some guidance on the place. With close to 30K twitter followers, I put out a call and got a lot of responses on what to do/where to eat, etc. And this guide should be helpful if FSU makes a return trip for the national championship final as well.
One common theme mentioned by everyone is that the public transportation is awful, so you need to have a car available if you want to go from Ft. Worth to Dallas, etc. Most recommendations are for Dallas.
I want to start off with Eater, which is simply an awesome resource for food/drink in pretty much any American city. It's vital to check out the 38 essential Dallas restaurants, updated for July. These have all been vetted by professional food writers and I've never gone wrong picking from these in places like Portland, Chicago, DC, New York, etc. It also has a MAP so that you can see what is nearby. To that, I'm going to add Eater's HeatMap (a different map), which shows the hottest new places to go grab a bite. If you're new to Dallas, you likely don't care what is new and trendy, because you won't be burnt out on old staples, but it's worth a look.
Almost every recommendation given by our 20+ reader emails are on one of those two lists. That's a good sign.
Brunch: Now this is clutch, particularly if you aren't flying out the morning after the game: the best brunch spots in Dallas. 12 options. Awesome.
Oak Cliff area: Oak Cliff is a bit West of town, but I did receive good recommendations for it.
The Bishop Arts area is particularly fun as it has the best BBQ in town (maybe the world) in Lockhart, an amazing two story pub and pizza joint in Eno's with the best craft beer selection in town right next door, and a legendary brunch spot called Oddfellows a block away. Seriously Bud, their buffalo mac and cheese is the most ridiculous thing you've ever had. I dream about it sometimes.
I usually stay at Hotel Belmont in Oak Cliff, which is a perfect location as it's west of town, so you can jump right on I-30 and skip the Dallas traffic on the way to Arlington. It's also right next door to Smoke, another BBQ joint. It's a good supplement to Lockhart as it's a sit-down place where as Lockhart is the stand in line and order the cuts of meat you want variety. Smoke has a giant smoker they got from Emmit Smith, who though he was a gator, seemed to know what he was doing when it comes to BBQ. The move here is the Big Rib, a monstrous slab of beef that makes you think of the Flintstones. It's a fantastic restaurant all around, though, so you can't go wrong.
Right down the street from Belmont/Smoke is the Foundry, a sick outdoor space/bar/fried chicken joint. Of course, it'll probably be a billion degrees in late August, but if the weather is reasonable, it's for sure worth checking out.
This stuff is all in a square mile, so It's pretty much impossible to not leave Oak Cliff full and drunk, which is the whole point of vacation, right? Of course it is. Oak Cliff is also about a five to seven minute drive into downtown Dallas, which has a lot of touristy stuff, The West End and Deep Ellum.
Eater's cocktail heatmap always has some fun recommendations for unique places.
"If you're staying in Dallas, Uptown/Oak Lawn is where you want to be. It's by far the most walkable, has the most bars and restaurants and doesn't suck. In terms of bars there, there's a ton, but Idle Rich and Gingerman are probably my two favorites. Idle Rich is somewhat Irish with a pretty good import beer selection list. Gingerman is in an old house and has a great patio out back and an even better beer selection. If you're looking for people who know beer and a place where you can get a bunch of good ones for a reasonable price, Gingerman is your place in Dallas."
And if you happen to be on the Northeast side, check out the Truck Yard in lower Greenville.
Looking for a walkable bar scene with good craft beer? Deep Ellum is a great neighborhood for bars and live music. And don't miss the Black Swan Saloon there. Great mix of music scenes, too.
In Fort Worth, there's actually a unified downtown, which is Sundance Square. This is where gameday is. Fort Worth has spent a boatload of money renovating the area in the past 10 or so years. There's a lot to do and walk to in the area, and it's a bit closer to Arlington than Dallas.
Gets its own section.
In terms of food, you're probably going to be asked which bbq place is the best. It's Pecan Lodge in Dallas. It really is that simple. People will give you other answers, but they're wrong. The issue with Pecan Lodge is that the line is generally super long and if you're trying to do it on Saturday before the game, you're going to spend almost the whole time in that line. Franklin's is almost certainly the same line. The product is excellent, but the line sucks.
However, there are other options that are comparable, but not quite that good. Lockhart Smokehouse is highly recommended, as is Longoria's in Fort Worth. It is important to note that Texas BBQ is brisket. I'm pretty agnostic about the whole pork v brisket debate (I'll eat either, and in the long run, who cares?), but it is important to note because if you order pork, it might be subpar because it's somewhat of an afterthought.
The definitive list for BBQ is Texas is the Texas Monthly's top 50. I've been to about half of them in the D/FW area (which would be, for reference sake: Longoria's, Pecan Lodge, Lockhart Smokehouse, Cousin's Meshack's, Bartley's and Hutchins), and you're not really going to go wrong with any of them (although I don't care for Cousin's).
Two places that aren't on that list are Hard Eight (one in Coppell and one is Roanoke) and North Main BBQ. Hard Eight is open pit style and by the pound (and excellent, get the ribeye on fri/sat). North Main is only open Fri/Sat/Sun because it is run by a bunch of friends who used it as an outlet for their competition BBQ team. They won a bunch of awards around the Weinke/Ward era for their ribs, and it's close to the stadium.
If the Pecan lodge is serving the fried ribs when you go, GET ONE. (Fried pork rib, coated in sweet-spicy sauce, blue cheese chunks, scallions, heaven). Here's a cool article on how the Pecan Lodge came about.
One other, which probably won't have a huge line: The Slow Bone.
Avoid these BBQ spots (come on, pick a good one): Sonny Bryan's, Pappa's BBQ, Dickey's, Spring Creek BBQ, other chains.
There are also a handful of craft breweries in the area, and going to one is highly recommended. Breweries often sell you a glass (generally around $10) and give you three (or more, Rahr on Ft Worth used to do unlimited for 2 hrs when I was in college) pours for free. They generally have live music, a food truck, a party, something. Good ones include Rahr, Deep Ellum, Peticolas, Lakewood and Franconia. There are some others, and they're pretty decent too. I'd recommend Revolver because they probably have the best beer, but it's all the way out in Granbury which isn't close to anywhere. Check out DallasBrewScene.com