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History of Dallas Food: La Tunisia

Photo of postcard from La Tunisia in Dallas.

Last summer, Amy Severson, co-owner of Sevy’s, blogger, and all-around smart person, and I  had what we thought was a great idea. We decided to write a book on the history of Dallas food. We did a zillion searches and couldn’t come up with one book that covered the subject. We began collecting bits and pieces of information. Amy spent days at the library researching anything related to the restaurant or food business in the  Dallas area. She has interviewed grandchildren of long-lost Dallas restaurants and food businesses. What we have found is unique and amazing and over the next few months, we will post some of the discoveries.

Today, we start with our History of Dallas Food series with La Tunisia, an opulent restaurant that opened in 1959. My grandfather used to take me to La Tunisia for special occasions. Do you have memories of La Tunisia? I thought they moved to Preston Royal, but Amy has traced it to McKinney Avenue. However, we did find postcards and a menu which I’ve photographed and posted below the jump. Here’s our report:

There was a time in history when the term “middle eastern conflict” referred to the weekly disagreement between Jeannie and Major Anthony Nelson.

Jump, please.

The Skeik's Tent cocktail lounge at La Tunisia in Dallas.

In the early 1960′s Dallas had its own vision of the sultan’s life in a restaurant called La Tunisia.  Like the television show, it was a highly caricatured endeavor, its menu encompassing a wide swath of ethnicities from India to Africa. The 7-foot African-American man wearing a tall fez stood outside of the landscaped front door. He dramatically opened the doors to reveal a stunningly elaborate tented cocktail lounge called The Sheik’s Tent where, as the copy on the back of the menu reads, “Veiled waitresses dressed as harem girls serve cocktails.”  The space was designed and decorated by the creators of Disneyland. The ceiling draped with hand woven cloth and gave the room the feeling of dining in a great tent on the North African dessert.

The main dining room—The Pioneer Room—integrated the meeting of Texas and North Africa with its “common element of extensive cattle raising and ranching” theme. (Sorry, can’t find a picture.)  The lighting system was way ahead of its time—the fixtures created a 24-hour light cycle.

La Tunisia was built in 1959 in a 140-acre development off of Harry Hines called Exchange Park. It was located next to the 32-lane Mickey Mantle Bowling Center. The owner, James F. Riggs was a Mesquite developer as well as restaurateur, he opened another restaurant, the London House in NorthPark in 1961. ( The London House’s first chef was a young man named Ewald Scholz, who would go on to be a famous Dallas chef).  Managers included Jackson Reynolds and Eddie Southern. A former host Iqbal “Ike” Singh Ekhon left the restaurant after seven years to open Rajah’s Custom Clothiers at Hillcrest and Northwest Highway. Ike, who remained a resident in Dallas, passed away in 2006.

By the late ‘60′s, the nomadic Dallas social scene at La Tunisia had packed up their camels and moved on and, by June 1972, the restaurant reopened as Arthur’s West, a steakhouse sibling to the original Arthur’s on McKinney.

Closed menu from La Tunisia in Dallas.

40 comments on “History of Dallas Food: La Tunisia

  1. I love this new feature! The photos, menus and memories of old Dallas are wonderful. I was not living in Dallas at the time of La Tunisia, but I bet it was fabulous.

    I also love that you could get a lobster tail dinner for $4.50!

  2. Jsut what I was thinking Clara…lobster thermidor for $4.50. Awesome! I’d bet that $4.50 they had those “salad dressing caddies” presented to each table too. Remember those? Five or so different dressings (thinking 1000 Island, Blue Cheese, Italian, Green Goddess and Russian dressings) I used to dip melba toast in the dressing…thinking back they were really horribly unsanitary! Great new feature though Nancy and Amy!

  3. On the right side flap (you can’t see it) a 22 oz. Chateaubrian is only $12. Those were the days, eh?

  4. Pingback: History of Dallas Food: La Tunisia – D Magazine | تونس.net

  5. Nancy and Amy amazing fun stuff. These kinds of things are what makes SideDish fun to read. Keep up the good work. What’s the next restaurant?

  6. -don the beachcomber – 8380 greenville ave @ meadow road
    -youngblood’s chicken
    -shanghai jimmy’s

    great series idea!

  7. Have African lobsters been hunted to extinction? Is that why we no longer see them on menus today?

  8. This was one of the first restaurants I visited when I came to Dallas in 1969. I still remember the enormous drape that hung from the ceiling.

  9. I went there as a kid and was amazed at the 7′ (about 9′ with the tall fez) man at the door. what a hoot it was back then. We talk of it frequently with other old timers like myself.

  10. To those amazed at the prices.

    $4.50 in 1959 dollars is the equivalent of $35 dollars today.

    $12.00 is the equivalent of $93.18.

  11. the menu names are a hoot- Red Snapper Bahrain; love this idea of compiling a list of old Dallas places & food history; Nancy, if you want a great person to talk to- contact Dr. Lemmon.. he’s lived here all his life and has forgotten more fabulous meals than you or I will ever experience; email me for his contact info if you want

  12. the reason you thought they relocated to Preston Royal is that the 7 foot guy DID relocate to PR–at the Safari Steakhouse

  13. Love it, LOVE it…keep the stories coming. I didn’t arrive on this planet until after the restaurant moved on…but appreciate the history.

  14. Thank you for your positive feedback! So far there’s a tentative list of between 40 – 50 stories, but more ideas are always appreciated.

    @Christopher, had never heard of the Beachcomber before, thank you.

    @Blake, I think in the recent Best of Steaks story Nick & Sam’s had a Chateaubriand (no idea of weight) for $120.

    @JI, who knows? This is about the journey, not the destination.

    @Nancy, thank you for that wonderful intro, but if I’m so smart, why did I spend today shampooing my own carpets?

    @Claire, would you please send Nancy his email address? He might be perfect for an upcoming story.

    And see you soon.

  15. THIS IS GREAT!!!
    Mr Peppe’s/ Little Bit of Sweden?, Lots of great places located at Lovers and Inwood. On lowest Greenville at Ross wasn’t the Sammy’s Steak House run by the Campisis? And the Vaccaros’s had a little place east of downtown. Brockles (and their dressing) downtown. Bob White’s and Kirby’s. Can’t wait for more articles like this!

  16. Oh this is good stuff!! I love the menu pictures. My mom said her favorite places growing up here was the Zodiac Room and another place downtown she can’t remember the name of. It was very fancy and THE place to be. And she remembers Brockles too.

  17. Sandy, maybe the Golden Pheasant?

    The Brockles family has a website set up to memorialize their restaurant, it even has the dressing recipe! If there were more great sites like these, I’d be out of a hobby.

    http://brockles.wordpress.com/

  18. Love this article!! I hope you include a history on the Vesuvius Italian Food restaurant. It is where my parents would take my sisters and I to teach us proper table manners. I remember my Dad always ordering spaghetti with clam sauce…such great memories. I will buy this book! Zuider Zee was also a favorite place. Didn’t like seafood as a child, but I pigged out on the hush puppies.

  19. Great article! I have the postcards pictured. I also have the postcard picture of the main dining room and one of Ike, who is referred to as, “a real SIKH fROM PUNJAB, INDIA, on the back of the post card. Such opulence. Great memories.

  20. I remember La Tunisia very well. Like the author of the article, our family went there for special occasions and weekend dining out. My family was definitely into dining out and restaurants, and I always enjoyed bringing along friends whose families were more budget conscious, so they could experience this amazing restaurant. Thanks so much for the pictures and trip down memory lane!

  21. Too rich for my blood. Friday nights for us meant Shakey’s Pizza next to Medallion or Pancho’s on Mockingbird. We alway hit Zeider Zee for the lobster special. Learned to love wedge salad at Kip’s.

  22. I came to Dallas in 1951 and had a 40-year run as Broadcast Editor (“Dear Mr. Brock” in TV Times)of the late Dallas Times Herald. I also covered nightclubs for a while, early-on, and with TH cohort Don Safran, did a whole lot of plain and fancy eating at new restaurants as they came — and went.
    Great idea, Amy and Nancy. Great nostalgia recalling La Tunisia, where
    the late Al Libscomb was a waiter.
    How many remember:
    – Mr. Pepe’s on Lovers Lane
    – The Tree Club on Lovers Lane, where Carol
    Burnett, Don Smart and others entertained the
    owners — Norwood Ballow and ??? — who didn’t have the time to see them
    in New York or Hollywood.
    – The private club Oz on LBJ, compliments
    of developer Ron Monneson.
    – A delightful tearoomy kind of restauant on
    LBJ, developed as a test — as I recall –
    by the folks at Betty Crocker. (It didn’t go.)
    – The Bavarian Steak House, courtesy of the
    wonderful Parks brothers, who gave me and my
    beloved our first tastes of Roso-baked
    lobster tail and potatoes.
    – Crowder’s Brass Rail in downtown Dallas.
    – The Magnolia Tearoom just down the street
    with delicious cimmonon rolls.
    – The unforgettable Southern Kitchens.
    – Brennan’s of New Orleans in a bank downtown.
    – Nick DeGeorge’s classy Town and Country
    restaurant, with its rolling silver roast
    beef cart, long below Lawry’s came to town.
    – Larry (Chili’s) Lavine’s Kitty Hawk,
    at Greenville and Lovers Lane, on the site
    of the memorable Lou-Ann’s.
    – Daddy’s Money in the Village.
    – Vehon’s Seafood on Greenville.
    – Downtown’s Eatwell’s (great homemade pies).
    More to come.. My memory’s goin’ a mile a minute

  23. How great to hear from Bob Brock!!!
    One of the all-time great entertainment journalists this town ever had. And what a memory!

  24. Reading Daddy’s Money made me smile. I worked there for a very brief time.

    The Railhead
    Victoria Station
    The Sailmaker

  25. Bob, great to hear from you. We have many of those on our list but we are thankful you refreshed our thoughts. I can still taste the cinnamon rolls at Southern Kitchen. Remember the flags at Jamie’s on Lemmon?

  26. Thanks for YOUR memory and the kind words,
    31858060.
    Oh, yes, Nancy, I remember raising the flag
    at Jamie’s when one wanted service. But my
    best memory is of the copper cup of spicy beans that came with every meal.
    By the way, Jamie’s father, Jim Simon, and
    Jim’s brother, Sam, are alive and well in
    Phoenix.
    And, speaking of titilating treats, how about
    the onion popovers that were served to all
    cuustomers at Jay’s Marine Grill? I managed to score a copy of the recipe for the popovers. They’re worth all the trouble it
    takes to make them!
    More memories:
    – The lovely Les Saison in the Turtle Creek
    Village.
    – Mario’s (also in Turtle Creek Village).
    – The charming Andrews’on McKinney and on
    Midway in Addison (now, respectively,
    Breadwinners and Snuffers).
    – Sammy’s (Ventura) on Cedar Springs, which
    became a private club.
    – Il Sorrento, originally on Lovers Lane
    with kitchy Italian-street feeling, and then
    just off Hillcrest.
    – Captain Cook’s and Senor Pepe’s, part of
    the triumvirate that included Don the Beachcomber’s — developed by the late Dallas lawyer Henry Kyle.
    – Randy Tar, another trendy Greenville Ave. hit in the 60s, started by a couple of SMU grads.
    – Pelican’s Wharf, fronting Northwest
    Highway in Medallion Center. There’s an
    Appleby’s there now.
    – There was also a North Dallas branch
    of Oak Cliff’s Youngblood’s in Medallion
    Center. When it flopped, the spot became
    a second Majestic Steak House (the original
    was on Elm Street across from the Majestic
    Theater).
    – Managing the Medallion El Chico in the
    mid-60s was a young Mario Leal, who gained fame and a loyal following with his Chiquitas and Mario and Roberto restaurants.
    – Costas’, a Greek restaurant in a beautiful sylvan setting overlooking Bachman Lake. Famous for its saganaki (flaming cheese) and belly dancers.
    – Also in the saganaki and Belly dancing
    biz, Goldfingers, just across the way on
    Northwest Highway.
    – Chateaubriand, the expense account restaurant in the 60s, from the Vouras
    family.
    – San Francisco Steak House, on Walnut
    Hill Lane near I-35, featuring a Red Velvet
    Swing (how many readers were “swingers”?)
    and a big block of cheese with every meal.
    – Perrino’s, which started in a big old,
    garlic-soaked house on Forrest Avenue (think Fair Park)and ended up in what is now Uptown. Frankie Laine ate there — but he had
    steak!
    – Roth’s, gourmet dining-and-dancing on
    Oak Cliff’s Fort Worth Ave.– before there was Joe Bonds’ Sky Club (who can forget Joe’s
    wife Dale Belmont or Evelyn West and her
    “Treasure Chest”?)or Pappy’s (Dolsen) Showland.
    . . . Those were the days my friend . . .

  27. Nancy, Amy and Bob – you’ve brought back memories of more than meals. These are places I went to with my parents (don’t forget the Sipango and Chaparral clubs, along with the restaurant one floor below the Chaparral – Ports of Call). For some reason these places make me recall my father and his enthusiasm for taking us to the new hot place in town (I guess there was a “fickle 500″ back in the “Mad Men” days too). Bob, you might recall the names of a couple of down town lunch haunts that my dad took me to during the summer on those special days when I got to go to the office with him. One was in the basement a few doors west of Neiman’s on Main – on Wednesdays they had the best meat loaf I’ve ever eaten. Another two blocks west on Main was a great place that served roast beef sandwiches which were hand carved from a large steamer – a lot of judges and lawyers crammed into the place during the lunch hour. The big wigs were putting on the pounds at the Dallas Club or out at the Texas Club. And what about Cattleman’s?

  28. I arrived in Dallas in 1974. Greenville Avenue had few restaurants that stopped at Park Lane. Trains cars disguised as restaurants (Railhead-Victoria Station) where very popular. Bobby McGee’s and Friday’s were always packed. Mariano’s was starting. Backman lake area reign supreme and some good restaurants around the edge of McKinney Avenue served good food. The Quadrangle had one. Northpark was unveling Le Crepiere inside the mall, and Hooligann’s and later on Mimi’s and El Torito, across the expressway. Dady’s Money came next. Don the Beachcomber, Capitan Cook’s, Pepe Gonzalez and Randy Tar opened on upper Greenville Avenue.
    Who can forget Ewald’s, and La Poloneise.
    Guadalajara’s or El Gallito at Midnight on Ross.
    Then everyone wanted to open restaurants inside buildings. Papillon, Bagatelle, Farfallo, Enclave, Arthur’s, Les Sassoins, and Brennan’s in One Main Plaza. If you wanted a Las Vegas show, you would have to traveled to the Sheraton at Mockingbird and Harry Hines and attend Barney Old’Fields or the new Le Baron Hotel on the way to the new Airport, where Alberto Lombardi became the manager. Nice to go back memory lane…..thank you for allowing us to do that.