Seasoned travelers know big cities often hide their best eateries in quiet neighborhoods or nondescript strip centers. Such is the case with Salum Restaurant, an intimate venue artfully camouflaged amid a modest row of retailers on Cole Avenue in Uptown Dallas.
“This used to be a doctor’s office,” says the chef and owner, Abraham Salum, who transformed the space into an elegant but casual fine dining establishment in late 2005. The cozy restaurant is a serene respite from its urban surroundings, with soft lighting, attentive service and only 20 tables. The venue has stood the test of time through the transformation of Uptown from a commercial enclave to one of the hottest neighborhoods in Dallas, and it likewise weathered the 2020 pandemic, during which servers did double-duty as delivery drivers. Today, Salum continues to attract a cadre of regulars, who come as much to chat with the ebullient chef as they do for the exceptional food.
A native of Mexico City, Salum attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, before traveling to Europe to start his gastronomic career. Working in kitchens in Belgium and France, followed by a brief return to Mexico, he continued to hone his culinary skills until destiny and love brought him to Dallas, he says. After four years as Executive Chef at Parigi, an Oak Lawn Avenue bistro that has been a favorite of discerning foodies for nearly four decades, Salum ventured out with his own venue.
“I always had the idea of doing a restaurant with an open kitchen,” he says, gesturing to the clean and brightly lit cooking space facing the main dining area. Although the kitchen staff are in plain sight, the activity is not distracting and instead speaks to Salum’s confidence in his team and the dishes he serves.
“I change the menu every month,” says the personable chef, noting he has repeated only a handful of dishes over the past 17 years. “I play around with ingredients that are in season and also buy local when we can.” With a focus on Continental cuisine, Salum’s innovative rotation features primarily Mediterranean and French fare, with an occasional nod to the owner’s homeland.
To kick off the New Year, the chef tantalized guests with a selection of savory appetizers, like Texas goat cheese with roasted elephant garlic, panko-crusted baked oysters with bacon and parmesan, and a homemade country pâté served with Dijon mustard, cornichons and toasted baguettes. He also paid tribute to his Latin American roots with arepas de choclo, a traditional Colombian dish of blue corn patties stuffed with corn and cheese and served with spicy tomato salsa.
The dinner menu always has a few popular staples, Salum notes, such as beer-battered fish and chips, Australian rack of lamb with mushroom bread pudding, and a juicy burger built to order with anything from Gruyère cheese to marinated portobello mushrooms. The remaining entrées, however, testify to Salum’s love of learning and endless ability to innovate. Recent selections included pan-seared scallops over lentil puree, grilled branzino filet with butter-toasted Israeli couscous, and succulent pork cheeks braised in beer and molasses and served with sautéed Swiss chard.
Both the pan-roasted halibut with pesto and parmesan risotto and Salum’s homemade squid ink spaghetti marinara were inspired by cuisine from Italy’s southern shores, while the Puerto Rican pollo guisado—a hearty chicken stew—added a rustic touch to the January menu. Salum also frequently pays tribute to his two grandmothers, both gifted home chefs, by featuring classic Mexican fare. With dishes from across Europe and Latin America, the restaurant offers something for every taste.
“When I first came here, there wasn’t that much ethnic food in Dallas,” recalls the veteran chef, as he pauses from visiting with patrons. He has enjoyed seeing culinary options expand across the metroplex, which now boasts everything from Pan-Asian to African-fusion cuisine. As for his own recipes, Salum likes to let the ingredients shine.
“My dishes are simple, honest food,” he says, humbly. “If you get a broccoli soup, it will taste like broccoli, not like cream and flour.” The service is equally consistent, with staff diligently tending to the needs of guests without being overly pushy. Although the environment is upscale, the restaurant itself is casual, Salum says. “We have people who come in two or three times a week for lunch or dinner,” he adds, clearly grateful for locals who have become like family.
For newcomers, the restaurant is equally suitable for impressing business clients, catching up with friends or enjoying a romantic date night. Among the many attractions that put Uptown Dallas on the map, Salum is a hidden gem worth uncovering. *
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at lesliejthompson.com.