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Go For the Food: Dallas development incubates new restaurant ideas, from barbecue to tapas

This May 22, 2014 photo shows Cyndi Henderson, left, and Lori Oliphant sharing an appetizer plate at Casa Rubia, at Trinity Groves in Dallas. In a place that prides itself on doing things big, it stands to reason that Dallas’ newest hot spot for dining isn’t just one restaurant but a new development of nearly a dozen at the foot of a soaring bridge that is the city’s newest landmark. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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This May 22, 2014 photo shows Cyndi Henderson, left, and Lori Oliphant sharing an appetizer plate at Casa Rubia, at Trinity Groves in Dallas. In a place that prides itself on doing things big, it stands to reason that Dallas’ newest hot spot for dining isn’t just one restaurant but a new development of nearly a dozen at the foot of a soaring bridge that is the city’s newest landmark. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS - In a place that prides itself on doing things big, it stands to reason that Dallas' newest hot spot for dining isn't just one restaurant but a new development of nearly a dozen at the foot of a soaring bridge that is the city's newest landmark.

But the restaurants popping up in the 15-acre Trinity Groves are not your usual offerings — they are what the three investors behind the development call an "incubator." Prospective restaurateurs pitch their ideas to the investors, who fund the projects in hopes that successful concepts will spawn locations across the country.

"In essence, what we're doing down here is we're creating brands," said Trinity Groves investor Phil Romano, the man behind national restaurant concepts including Romano's Macaroni Grill and eatZi's Market and Bakery.

"I'm looking for a point of difference, like what's going to make me go and eat their food rather than somebody else's food? Does it taste better? Does it look better? What is it? A different kind of food?" he said.

The concept has brought in a diverse array of restaurants — from barbecue to tapas to Middle Eastern to seafood to Asian-Latin fusion — over the last year and a half, transforming a rundown area filled with repair garages and warehouses to a glittering destination that greets visitors as they head out of downtown over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spanning the Trinity River and into West Dallas.

Most of the nine restaurants that have opened so far are located in a former truck terminal that's been transformed into a lineup of sleekly-designed restaurants facing a sprawling patio for diners at each location.

Folks opening restaurants at Trinity Groves range from people who have already been in the restaurant business to first-timers. And one restaurant — Kitchen LTO — is a permanent popup that spawns a new restaurant every four months, with chefs competing on social media, pitching their concepts and menus and the public eventually deciding who to pick.

Uno Immanivong left a career in banking last year to start Chino Chinatown in Trinity Groves. After years of pursuing her passion of being a foodie in her spare time — including an appearance on ABC's "The Taste" — she decided to make food her full-time career. Chino combines the type of Asian cooking she learned from her mother with a Latin influence brought by her partner in the enterprise. Their top seller, she says, is a duck fat fried rice featuring shrimp, sausage and barbecue pork.

"To make it a little bit more Latin, I put it in a cast-iron skillet to kind of remind us of the paella concept. So it's sizzling hot and then I put a fried egg on top and we stir it here at the table and serve it tableside," she said.

At LUCK (Local Urban Craft Kitchen), first-time restaurateurs offer local craft beers in addition to comfort food.

Just down the way, two men with experience in the restaurant business opened Casa Rubia to put their twist on tapas. Jonn Baudoin recently sold his popular restaurant Driftwood and Omar Flores was the executive chef there. Baudoin said he was eager to be a part of Trinity Groves.

"I saw the vision that they were trying to create: more or less a new city. And to be part of that was a huge opportunity," he said

Romano said that the development will keep expanding. Nine restaurants have opened at Trinity Groves so far and about seven more should open by the end of the year. Entertainment venues, retail stores and art galleries are also part of the plan.

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If You Go...

TRINITY GROVES: 425 Bedford St., Dallas, Texas. 214-744-0100. http://www.trinitygroves.com/

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