If you’ve ever read any of my previous articles, you know that I’m not really into sugar coating anything. So in the interest of my writing style staying consistent, this article will be no different. I hated Dallas. Every time my travel schedule called for a trip to Dallas, my stomach turned, and I swear I broke out in hives. “No, no. I’ll never move to Dallas... I’m an Austin girl.” I would always say when my trips had to become more frequent. In a million years I didn’t think I could be happy in Dallas, Texas. I am, in fact, an “Austin girl”--I love hiking, climbing, camping, being on the water, art, and music. I love the food, atmosphere, laid back state of mind, and pretty everything else that Austin has to offer.  But I will admit, openly and whole-heartedly, my mind has been changed.

No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side and decided that anytime I leave the house I will be dolled up and “presentable” by some Dallas standards. I have found the pockets of Dallas, the little surprises, that make you feel welcome no matter who you are or how you're dressed. It started with the discovery of Southside on Lamar and the entire Cedars neighborhood area, which has evolved into a fabulous and eclectic mix of amazing places and special events that have me claiming Dallas these days. These are off the beaten path Dallas gems that you won’t find advertised, but will find to be among your new favorite places.

With the holidays upon us, I thought now was just as good of a time as any to share some of my favorite finds right here in Dallas, TX. Since this is somewhat of a random list, below is Side A of this “mixed tape." You’ll want to stay tuned for Side B coming soon.

What: SouthSide on Lamar
Where: 1409 S. Lamar
Phone: 214-428–4848

Beautiful & historic SouthSide on Lamar building

This historic structure was the Sears Catalog building from 1910-1993. Now owned by the innovative and forward-thinking developer, Jack Matthews, it has been transformed into an artist community and destination location like none other in Dallas. Matthews has always and continues to support and encourage the growth of the artist community and has welcomed great talents like fashion designer, Abi Ferrin, painter Rolando Diaz, yoga aficionados at Tsada Yoga, and so many more. Another sweet surprise you’ll find inside the SouthSide on Lamar building is the very cool, very chill Opening Bell coffee house. They serve fair trade coffee beverages in addition to beer and wine. My favorite amenity to this location is the live music you’ll find Monday through Saturday nights.  Make sure you try their Italian cream soda, breakfast tacos, and the wide variety of UMPQUA Oatmeal flavors they have to offer.

Opening Bell Coffee inside SouthSide on Lamar

To live, work or play, SouthSide on Lamar is a unique and laid back location with friendly and helpful personnel that make you feel like you’re not in Dallas at all!

What: King Spa and Sauna
Where:2154 Royal Ln
Phone: (214) 420-9070

King Spa entrance

I have never been the kind of girl to splurge on spa visits. Maybe it’s the Catholic guilt I was raised with, maybe it’s just the angst I feel when spending too much on something I can’t take with me and use again, but I have just not quite been able to justify regular splurges of the sort. That is, until now. A dear friend of mine introduced me to King Spa and Sauna, and I have to say, I’m in love. This massive facility includes multiple baths and steam rooms for both men and women (in separate corridors of course), as well as couple and family-friendly therapeutic sauna rooms that each include different healing and relaxing qualities.

King Spa Pyramid Room

Among my favorites are the Base Rock Room, Oxygen Room, and the Pyramid Room. You can also enjoy delicious Asian cuisine as well as fantastic massages for an extra charge. What's my favorite thing about this place? You get access to the entire facility for 24 hours for only $25.

What: Company Café (Lower Greenville & Katy Trail)
Where: 2217 Greenville Ave, also 3136 Routh
Phone: (214) 827-2233, also (214) 468.8721

Belmont Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

I have always enjoyed healthy food but always felt that the gluten-free craze was a fad; no judgment passed on my end for anyone out there who subscribes to the gluten-free methodology, but it’s just not for me. I have, however, discovered a restaurant that is organic and gluten-free, and beyond delicious. It’s called Company Café, and it is a go-to location for myself, meetings, and my out of town guests. I have never had anything I didn’t love off of their menu, but among my favorites are their award-winning, gluten-free chicken and waffles infused with bacon and jalapeno. Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds. Also a must-try are their loaded sweet potato fries and gluten-free chicken fried steak with jalapeno gravy.   For an extra special treat, order the “deep bowl” with buffalo meat, and tell your server that Rania says to add mushrooms and salsa.  Trust me, its awesome. The barista salad is not one to miss, made fresh daily and fun to pair with the stuffed portabella mushroom. Truly, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything on the menu that is not a winner.

What:Cedars Social
Where: 1326 S Lamar St
Phone: (214) 928-7700

Cedar Social "library" is relaxing & cozy

Drinks anyone? This new hotspot is a cocktail adventure every single visit. To be completely honest, the drink menu is a little bit intimidating, but their knowledgeable staff can always point you in the right direction and make great suggestions. The mixologists are among the best I’ve ever experienced and pour some of the greatest cocktails made only with the freshest and tastiest ingredients. There are so many to choose from, but among my favorites are the Shakedown Highball, the Celery Cup, the SouthSide, and the Texas Fizz. Cedars Social also has a great breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Some of my favorites to nibble on are their eggs benedict, crab cake sliders, roasted asparagus, and deviled eggs. Yes, that's right, deviled eggs. They’re amazing and a must-try. I’ve become slightly obsessed and tend to try to take any and every happy hour meeting at Cedars Social because it’s just that good.

What: Lee Harvey’s
Where:1807 Gould St.
Phone: (214) 428-1555

Lee Harvey's is perfect for a relaxing night out

One of the observations that set me over the edge about Dallas was the seemingly prevalent rule that if you did not wear makeup and take hours to get ready, you weren’t worthy to dine or drink at certain establishments. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, and sometimes (OK, let’s be honest, all the time), I want to have a drink at the end of the day wearing my flip flops, jeans, and no makeup. I want to relax, unwind, and do nothing else. I’m not going for anyone else except me. My intention is not to turn heads, garner attention, or meet the man of my dreams (I already found him). I just want to have a damn beer without pretentious stares. Lee Harvey’s is that place—the place where “come as you are” is actually embraced and enjoyed. My favorite Lee Harvey’s story happened one night after an event. I was with a friend, and we were both dolled up but decided we didn’t have the energy to change before we finished off with a quick night cap. A nice young man touched my arm and said, “Can I ask you something? Why are you so dressed up?” That was when I knew I was in love! Lee Harvey’s sells one of my favorite beers, Lone Star, and the bartenders even remember to let me solve the riddles under the caps before trashing them. They also have a fantastic menu that includes two for one burgers on Tuesdays. Some of my favorites are the grilled cheese sandwich (ask them to add tomato and sour cream), the Roadrunner, and their famous onion rings. They have live music on their outdoor patio on Saturday nights, and when it gets a little chilly, they light their outdoor fire pits. It is the perfect location for a relaxing and inexpensive night in Dallas.