Readers’ choice: Ol’ South, 1509 S University Dr, FW
Staff choice: Scotty’s Deluxe Diner, 5100 N Beach St, FW
This neat, 50s-style, blue-collar diner is a blast from the past with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and a skinny Elvis smiling down from the walls; squeaky-clean black, white, and red interior; comfy booths; and waitresses who call you “honey” as they refill your coffee cup endlessly at no extra charge. This place is renowned for its burgers and blue plate specials, but the best thing about Scotty’s is breakfast, served from 6 a.m. to closing. The truck-driver breakfast is chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy (and big enough for two lesser mortals), with eggs over easy, hash browns, and biscuits for $7.99. They serve pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and eggs anyway you like. You can’t beat the prices, the friendliness, or the bottomless cups o’ joe.
Readers’ choice: Eurotazza Coffeehouse, 6323 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 125, FW
Staff choice: Community Coffee, from Rwanda, brewed at home
Coffee lovers, you can help Rwandan widows and orphans thrive by drinking this smooth, dark, and sweet brew, on which the restoration of that country’s shattered economy seems to depend. In a nation that lost 800,000 people to genocide in 1994, women who were on opposite sides of the slaughter are today working side-by-side on co-op coffee farms, feeding and schooling their kids on profits from their highly sought-after specialty coffee beans. The co-ops sell direct to the coffee companies – no middleman. One of the biggest buyers is Louisiana-based Community Coffee, and you can buy a whole pound of it for what you normally plunk down for a single cup at your favorite coffeehouse.
Readers’ choice: Krispy Kreme, several locations
Staff choice: Dale’s Donuts #9, 4455 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
We don’t know where Dale’s #1 through #8 are, but as long as #9 keeps supplying our sugar habit, we’re not worried. As donut-hole gourmands, we’re confident in saying that nobody’s dough puffs give as satisfying a buzz as Dale’s – along with plain glazed and the donut twists, they’re the best items here.
Readers’ choice: Blue Mesa, 1600 S University Dr, FW
Staff choice: Jazz Café, 2504 Montgomery St, FW
Brunch at the Jazz Café isn’t one of those big help-yourself buffets. It’s pretty simple, really: Choose between the dining room or the patio with its greenery, statuary, and koi pond. Select from a menu that ranges from hearty to exotic to health-conscious. The eggs Florentine are exquisite and can easily serve two, but the biscuits and gravy will take you right back to Grandma’s. The musicians drift in around 10:30 a.m., and owner Nick Kithas will probably take a break from kitchen duties to solo on trumpet or flugelhorn. Service, we should warn, is a little spotty, but if you have a hungry child along, just say the word, and the staff will speed things up – for the kid; you’ll still have to wait awhile. But no worries. Bring your New York Times or a bottle of champagne to pour into your orange juice.
Readers’ choice: Nizza Pizza, 1430 S Cooper St, Arlington
Staff choice: Smoke Pit, 2401 E Belknap St
Finding a burger for a buck isn’t hard if you consider those skimpy little pickle-covers that you get at Wendy’s or Jack in the Box to be hamburgers. But every Wednesday for a dollar, Smoke Pit serves the real deal, a tasty smoke-grilled burger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion. Throw in the good ol’ Texas decor, sexy waitresses, and cold beer, and Smoke Pit can justifiably tell Jack and Wendy to kiss its buns.
Readers’ choice: Carshon’s, 3133 Cleburne Rd, FW
Staff choice: GermanDeli.com Outlet Store, 2890 Market Loop, Southlake
Walk through the doors of this place, and you step from a nondescript office park into a bit of Deutschland in Southlake. Not only does this place (the lone brick-and-mortar selling point for an online retailer) have every sort of bratwurst, ringwurst, knockwurst, and liverwurst imaginable, it also has an impressive selection of German jams, spaetzle, candies, and müesli. You’ll be walking out with your merchandise in a bag tied with three ribbons the colors of Germany’s flag. Wunderbar!
Late Night Dining
Reader’s choice: Ol’ South
Staff choice: Baker St. Pub & Grill, 6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 200, FW
The rules change late at night. What might be considered very pedestrian fare by day can taste mighty fine at two ayem. The Baker St. Pub & Grill in West Fort Worth is part of a chain that trots out some British plates like fish & chips and shepherd’s pie, but it also has lots of tacos and burgers and sandwiches and pasta dishes – and so much better than those hot dog-shaped burger bites at 7-Eleven. And if you want a theme that goes along with your late-night odyssey, order the bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes and baked beans). It just sounds like the right thing to order after a night of drinking.
Reader’s choice: Purple Cow Soda Shop, 4601 W Fwy, FW
Staff choice: Kingfish, 62 Main St, Colleyville
We all know the key to good kids meals: It starts with having the right food for all the growns-up. Kingfish in Colleyville is a very nice seafood restaurant opened by chef David McMillan, downstairs from his fancy-pants 62 Main. Kingfish is geared toward families, and has a “We Like Kids” section of the menu. So the kids can get their fried fish sticks and chicken fingers on the cheap ($.4.95), while the paying customers can dine on garlic sauteed shrimp or sesame-seed-encrusted yellowfin tuna. The kids can look at the Sponge Bob Square Pants piñatas twirling from the ceilings as their parental units peruse the nice wine list.
Readers’ choice: (tie) Italian Inn, 3304 Fairfield Av, FW; Sardine’s, 509 N University Dr, FW
Staff choice: Saint-Emilion, 3617 W 7th St, FW
This French country gem does it all right. Attentive service, warm lighting and décor, food to die for, and special touches – but nothing so chi-chi as to make you feel that you’ve got to be a country-club member to fit in. Oh, and a great wine list and killer desserts. Who needs violins?
Readers’ choice: Dixie House, several locations
Staff choice: Sensational Tony’s, 7373 Ederville Rd, FW
Texans may define it as meat-and-three, but to Katrina evacuees like Tony Landry, “home cooking” still means red beans, jambalaya, po-boys, and crawfish étouffée. Landry, who used to own a gumbo-to-go stand in New Orleans, now serves these traditional Big Easy dishes – and bread pudding, of course – in his Mardi Gras-decorated East Fort Worth restaurant. For those who still think of South Louisiana as home, it’s the finest home cooking in North Texas.
Readers’ choice: Fred’s Texas Café
Staff choice: Montgomery Street Café, 2000 Montgomery St, FW
A good greasy spoon must have a few elements. Counter service so you don’t have to look at anyone besides the help, a view into the short-order kitchen, and plates of food so big they can last you most of the day. The Montgomery Street Café hit all these notes quite well. Best time is Saturday at mid-morning, when there’s a who’s who of the West Side sitting cheek by jowl (literally) at the tables and counter. The pork chop breakfast comes with two eggs, hash browns or grits, and two huge biscuits with cream gravy – quick, tasty, with just the right amount of grease on the pork chop, and – get this, only $5.25. If you still have to eat before sunset after wolfing this meal down, you should have your stomach stapled.
Readers’ choice: Bombay Grill, 4624 Donnelly Av, FW
Staff choice: Bombay Bistro, 9116 Camp Bowie West, FW
Not that there’s anything wrong with authentic Indian food, but the contemporized, London-influenced version is more up our alley, especially considering that most of us were raised on Tex-Mex, Italian, and Asian. Bold flavors are what we’re used to, and like a happy diamond amid hayseeds, Bombay Bistro is a little oasis in the wasteland of Camp Bowie West. The curry dishes are outstanding. As for the presentation, it’s minimalist yet colorful, and it changes seemingly from plate to plate, for a delightfully individual touch.
Readers’ choice: Razzoo’s, several locations
Staff choice: Café New Orleans, 4601 W Fwy, FW
Café New Orleans is as close to the Big Easy as you can get in Cowtown’s city limits. You won’t leave with anything resembling an empty stomach, especially after chowing down a few of their beignets. We recommend a bowl of the chicken and sausage gumbo, the ultimate N’awlins comfort food. The bowl is full of thick-sliced andouille sausage and hunks of tender chicken, celery, bell pepper, onion, and okra, all in a lovely roux, all for $8. Finish it off with a one-buck beignet.
Readers’ choice: Saint-Emilion
Staff choice: Escargot, 3427 W 7th St, FW
Part of what makes Escargot truly classy, though perhaps not traditionally French, is its complete lack of snobbishness. The warm and friendly servers are as gentle with snail novices as they are expert on the stellar wine list; the kitchen staffers are perfectionists from soup (silky brie) to nuts (toasted almonds atop baked pears drizzled with almond cream). Though meat, fowl, and fish entrées are fabulous – herb-crusted, wine-sauced, or baked in puff pastry – a full meal could be made from the restaurant’s namesake. Baked with parsley butter, tossed in a salad, stuffed into pasta, or dunked in a gloriously tangy Roquefort sauce, every morsel is a Gallic delight.
Readers’ choice: PF Chang’s, 400 Throckmorton St, FW
Staff choice: Phat Dat, 4045 E Belknap St, Ste 6, FW
Easily overlooked amid Vietnam Plaza’s bright pho shops, Phat Dat offers zero décor, placid service, and the most delectable Chinese seafood dishes in the county. The large menu offers familiar sweet-and-sour and stir-fry dishes, all delicious, but for a real treat skip to the last pages. Here you’ll find seafood fire pots, hot pots, “sizzling plates,” and chef specialties like crunchy shell-on butter shrimp, kung pao squid, and lobster in ginger-onion sauce. No worries about freshness – there’s a lobster tank right in the dining room.
Readers’ choice: Parthenon, 401 N Henderson St, FW
Staff choice: Café Chadra, 1704 W Galveston Av, FW
Never mind that this is a Lebanese restaurant named after its owners’ hometown – the Elbitar family can do Greek just fine. Their dishes – from gyros to lamb to dolmathes to hummus to baklava and much more – are made with fresh ingredients and delicious results. The homemade rolls called garlic-knot bread may be Greek or Lebanese – who cares? Slathered in butter, these little suckers are so good that they’ll fill you up before the meal arrives if you don’t control yourself. This small café across from John Peter Smith Hospital is bright and cheerful, with some good local art on its walls and one of the most enthusiastic cooks and hosts in town.
Tex-Mex (under $10 entrée)
Readers’ choice: Mexican Inn, several locations
Staff choice: El Asadero, 1535 N Main St, FW
The regulars who fill up this longtime Stockyards establishment probably won’t appreciate sharing their booths and tables with more newcomers, but the word needs to get out: This place has some of the best Mexican food in town – unequaled mole dishes, killer guacamole, wonderful soups, and a zingy Mexican shrimp cocktail that’s a meal in itself. The iced tea comes in huge Mason jars, the folks who run the place are friendly to a fault – even the plates are gaily painted pleasures.
Tex Mex (Over $10 entrée)
Readers’ choice: Uncle Julio’s, 5301 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
Staff choice: Buster’s Fresh Mex Diner, 2707 E Southlake Blvd, Southlake
Buster’s owner Jay Magee came to Southlake from New York City, although he made near-legendary stops in the Dallas neighborhoods of Oak Lawn and Knox-Henderson first. Magee definitely lands on the “Mex” side of the “Tex-Mex” equation. But items like the char-broiled honey-lime chicken platter, the heavenly queso flameado appetizer (gooey melted Monterrey jack with savory-spicy chorizo), and the gi-normous, satiny tres leches cake make this a destination spot for all kinds of hedonistic foodies.
Readers’ choice: Nonna Tata, 1400 W Magnolia Av, FW
Staff choice: Nonna Tata
Specializing in handmade pasta, this tiny Near Southside eatery has been doing well since opening about four months ago. Named after owner and Varese native Donatella Trotti’s grandmother, Nonna Tata has the best gnocchi and spinach lasagna in town.
Readers’ choice: Junsuree Thai House, 1109 W Magnolia Av, FW
Staff choice: Thai Belknap Cuisine, 4023 E Belknap St, Ste A, Haltom City
Lovely décor, gracious service, and fried banana rolls with coconut ice cream: Thai Belknap has everything a Thai-food lover could want. All the basics are here – curries, rice plates, noodle soups – but for a real treat, turn to the chef’s specials. Here you’ll find “Haltom Volcano Seafood” (squid, shrimp, and other fruits de la mer tossed in a sweet-and-sour sauce); a truly lovely “Lovely Duck,” deep-fried and boneless, with a tamarind sauce; and a whole red snapper steamed in a banana leaf. For an extra dose of fresh-and-delicious, chase it all down with an avocado shake.
Readers’ choice: Tuhai, 3909 E Belknap St, FW
Staff choice: Song Huong, 703 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
It’s a matter of geography: While most Vietnamese menus here reflect the cuisine of semitropical, French-influenced South Vietnam, the owners of Song Huong hail from Hue, the former imperial capital in the center of the country. Some consider it the culinary capital as well, with creations influenced equally by royalty and art. Central Vietnamese cooking is generally spicier, more colorful, and – to the uninitiated – a little weird. But don’t be afraid to try something new: Dishes like “sour pork patty” and “fresh rice shrimp powder” taste better than they sound.
Readers’ choice: Byblos, 1406 N Main St, FW
Staff choice: Rama’s Mediterranean Grill, 502 W Randol Mill Rd, Arlington
Don’t be fooled by the exterior: Inside this renovated but still recognizable Sonic, Gus Farrah makes the best mutabel (aka baba gannouj), hummus, and falafel in the county. And when he’s not occupied with eggplant and chickpeas, he’s adding minty tabouleh or cool Greek salad or pillowy rice to plates of tender lamb kabobs or chicken shwarma or spicy kafta. Or packing any of the meats with lettuce and tomato into warm pita for an overstuffed sandwich. Or restocking the baklava case. Farrah stays pretty busy, but he always has time to greet his guests with a smile.
Readers’ choice: Everything at Spiral Diner, 1314 W Magnolia Av, FW
Staff choice: Veggie fajitas at Uncle Julio’s
A veritable garden of perfectly grilled veggies, including squash, asparagus, and portabella ‘shrooms, plus sweet flour tortillas (made on site) and smoky black beans – you just gotta wonder who told Uncle Julio’s that vegetarians were big eaters. There’s enough food on one of these platters to fill three of ‘em.
Readers’ choice: Railhead, 2900 Montgomery St, FW
Staff choice: Texas Pit Bar-B-Q, 324 S Saginaw Blvd, Saginaw
Co-owner Leon Adams began his barbecue career at Angelo’s and the Railhead and has outdone both old-timers in this smell-good Saginaw barn filled with good ol’ boys, whimsical signage, and smiling-patron photos. Meaty, fall-apart ribs and crisp-edged, juicy brisket need no further flavor or moisture, but the zingy-yet-sweetish barbecue sauce is too good to waste – sop it up with the Texas toast. Add some skin-on, thick-cut fries, mustard-spiked housemade potato salad, and a root beer float made with Blue Bell ice cream, and you’re in Texas heaven.
Readers’ choice: Kincaid’s, 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
Staff choice: Star Café, 111 W Exchange Av, FW
A burger is such a simple thing – good meat, hot grill, there you go – it’s a wonder that a great one is so hard to find. Look no further than Star Café’s old-fashioned cheeseburger, where the joy begins with half a pound of choice, never-frozen ground sirloin that’s cooked to order, swathed in melted cheese, then piled high with all the trimmings. Blow an extra buck on bacon, chili, or jalapeños for a real Stockyards treat.
Readers’ choice: Del Frisco’s, 812 Main St, FW
Staff choice: Mercury Chophouse, 301 Main St, FW
With so many steakhouses coming and going, we sometimes overlook the old stalwarts. Mercury Chophouse (formerly Fort Worth Chop House, formerly Chop House, formerly Ellington’s Chop House), always good, has quietly become great – and the star of the show is the pepper-crusted filet mignon. Studded with freshly cracked peppercorns, the tower of beef is pan-seared and finished on the grill, then stacked on lyonnaise potatoes, topped with asparagus salad, and drizzled with a brandy sauce. We’ll say it again, Sam: This is the best steak in town.
Readers’ choice: Massey’s, 1805 8th Av, FW
Staff choice: H3 Ranch, 105 E Exchange Av, FW
Honestly, a chicken-fried steak is hard to screw up, but plenty of people do it. Luckily, the folks at H3 wouldn’t believe that if you told them. Their chicken-fried is huge, covered in gravy, breaded just right, and served with a seriously large helping of homestyle fries. It’s reasonably priced, too, at $8.95 – appropriate, since a chicken-fried steak should never be the most expensive, even if it’s the best, item on the menu. Nothing else quite fills you up, sticks to your ribs, and tastes as good for the price … except maybe pancakes.
Readers’ choice: Hot Damn Tamales, 713 W Magnolia Av, FW
Staff choice: Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery and Café, 1109 Hemphill St, FW
Still the best. This South Side outpost of the famous Joe T. Garcia family of Cowtown cafés was making authentic Mexican tamales for the masses long before yuppies started stuffing them with goat cheese and black beans. Filled with spicy chunks of shredded pork surrounded by a thick, but not too thick, coat of masa, then slathered with home-made red or green hot sauce and a dollop of sour cream, they are to die for. Esperanza’s tamales (around $7 a dozen) go fast at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so order early. But who needs a holiday to enjoy these lovelies? They’re available year-round from the colorful, hole-in-the-wall café that has somehow survived the jackhammers and crazy detours that have made the stretch of Hemphill between Magnolia and Rosedale a driver’s nightmare.
Readers’ choice: On the Border, several locations
Staff choice: Blue Mesa
Some like it hot, in which case this queso might be disappointing. But the key to any good queso is that it actually resembles cheese – and not the stuff you squeeze out of a pump onto 7-Eleven nachos. Blue Mesa’s creamy, hot white queso is just right on the traditional corn chips and tastes wonderful on the sweet-potato chips as well. And if you crave that bite of pepper, stir in some salsa. Now, if we can only get Taco Bell to quit desecrating the word “queso,” the world will be a happier place.
Readers’ choice: Piranha Killer Sushi, 335 W 3rd St, FW
Staff choice: Piranha Killer Sushi
We hate to admit it, but sometimes the most popular choice is the best. Most weekends (especially at night), Piranha Killer Sushi resembles a small tank trying to contain a very large school of fish, all of them swimming with voracious determination on the signature rolls, tender-as-a-broken-heart sashimi, salads, and seafood entrées from watery influences all over the world. So far, we’ve never been disappointed; the ingenuity and spontaneity here is infectious.
Readers’ choice: Mellow Mushroom, 3455 Bluebonnet Cir, FW
Staff choice: Rocco’s, 5716 Locke Av, FW
The 817 is loaded with places to get top-shelf pie. Thing is, you’re gonna pay through the nose for the pleasure. As for slices, Fort Worth’s list of quality sources is unforgivably short. We’re a city of half a million – why in the world is finding a cheap, tasty cut of good ol’ fashioned pizza-pie a major project? Forced to settle for the gourmet variety, a body could do worse than Rocco’s. Even avowed carnivores swear by the take-out-only joint’s vegetarian pizza, loaded with spice, spunk, and more color than a parade. Other gems include the Florentine (white sauce, grilled chicken, fresh spinach, mushrooms), Clams Casino (white sauce, ricotta cheese, clams, smoked bacon, red onion, roasted red bell pepper, romano cheese), and the Cowtown (ranchero sauce, grilled beef sirloin, romano cheese).
Readers’ choice: Pappadeaux, several locations
Staff choice: Phat Dat
This is a cheat, since Phat Dat isn’t a seafood restaurant but rather a Chinese restaurant in the middle of the North Side’s Vietnamese enclave that offers pork, chicken, and beef dishes as well. Still, we can’t ignore the way this place does its bountiful portions of seafood, especially its spicy-sweet “panda” prawns and its butter shrimp, which get their crunch from the shells left on. What this restaurant lacks in cloth napkins, it makes up for with good food and character
Readers’ choice: Joe T. Garcia’s, 2201 N Commerce St, FW
Staff choice: El Asadero
Truly, our very favorite salsa comes – gasp! – out of a jar. But D.L. Jardine’s Olé Chipotle salsa is produced in Buda, down by San Antonio, so is doesn’t quite qualify for the Weekly’s honors. That’s OK, because our favorite non-chipotle red salsa comes from the heart of the North Side. El Asadero’s version is snappy, fresh, loaded with flavor, and just hot enough to wake you up without sending for the fire engines.
Readers’ choice: La Playa Maya, several locations
Staff choice: La Original, 3511 Decatur Av, FW
This category pays homage to the lip-smackingly fantastic but exceedingly rare green salsa that only a smattering of places in Tarrant County bother to serve in a world dominated by the tomato-based version. For the uninitiated, green salsa consists primarily of boiled and blended jalapeños with a touch of seasoning here and there. It’s an acquired taste, but once you go green you may never get back to red. La Original, a carry-out barbacoa restaurant, adds a smidgen of tomato to tame its green salsa for all you tender-tongued wimps but leaves enough bite to satisfy connoisseurs of the fire.
Readers’ choice: Babe’s,
104 N Oak St, Roanoke
Staff choice: Pete’s Chicken-N-More, 2600 W Euless Blvd, Euless
Pete’s may be a fast-food franchise – this is the sole North Texas outpost of the Corpus Christi-based mini-chain – but it’s not too fast. Gizzards and livers are fried to order, and chicken pieces and tenders are made in small batches so they don’t snooze for long under the heat lamps. That’s one reason Pete’s chicken is so mouth-watering; the other is the amazing breading, not batter, that manages to stay crisp even after a couple of days in the home fridge. So go ahead, order an extra bucket.
Readers’ choice: Potbelly,
3058 S University Dr, FW
Staff choice: Meli’s Taqueria, 4304 W Vickery Blvd, FW
This category is wrongly titled. It should be called Best Tortas. The tiny shack called Meli’s Taqueria on West Vickery Boulevard near Montgomery Street has some tortas that would make a New York deli owner sit up and take notice. The bolillo bread is chewy and fresh, and the fillings – beef, ham, pork, chorizo – are spicy and melt in your mouth. The generous topping include onions, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños and avocados. Chain sub sandwich joints may be taking over the town, but Meli’s tortas are so much better and so much cheaper ($4.25). Give them a shot next time you want a big sandwich for lunch.
Readers’ choice: Panera,
Staff choice: Central Market, 4651 W Fwy, FW
Man may not live by bread alone, but it sure makes the cheese taste better. And we’re not talking about Mrs. Baird’s sandwich white. We’re talking about Central Market’s amazing display of freshly baked loaves. An army of bakers produces nearly 50 varieties daily, from hearty prosciutto black pepper ficelli to rich pumpernickel to nearly obscene parmesan. In a city where crusts are nearly non-existent – unless you leave your sliced bread out for a couple of days – Central Market’s offerings will make you drool as you chew. And of course, they’ve put the cheeses just around the corner from the bakery, making it nearly impossible to get to the checkout line without some good sharp cheddar or a bit of bleu.
Readers’ choice: (tie) Dixie House; La Madeleine, several locations
Staff choice: Café Modern, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW
Executive chef Dena Peterson may have learned to cook at the world-renowned Culinary Institute of America, but most of this Fort Worth native’s delicious finales show a Texas flair – like her chocolate brownie cake with bourbon brown-sugar ice cream, or buttermilk tart with strawberry-rhubarb sauce. As the menu changes with the seasons, here’s hoping that last winter’s decadent chocolate soup with Grand Marnier-flavored marshmallows makes a return engagement. If it does, get in line early – this command performance sells out fast.
Readers’ choice: Braum’s, several locations
Staff choice: Curly’s Frozen Custard, 4017 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
What sets custard apart from regular old ice cream is a few more eggs, richer taste, and thicker texture. Curly’s custard is right on the money. The menu consists of a variety of “concretes” and sundaes with a vanilla or chocolate custard base and mounds of possible toppings. You can drive through or sit at any of several picnic style benches in a pretty garden, with overhead misters to keep the temperature down.
Readers’ choice: Del Frisco’s
Staff choice: Sapristi!
If you want to pay $9 zillion for overpriced fermented grape juice, then sashay on down to Del Frisco’s. (BTW, you’re insane if you ever pay more than, say, $100 to ingest a perishable like wine. You’re never gonna get more than a few dollars’ worth of satisfaction.) But for vino from the global hot spots, nobody beats this Park Hill bistro. You’ll find offerings from South Africa (Man, $22), the Mediterranean (Qupe, $30), Australia (Ringbolt, $32), and, yes, California (Mark West, $24; Panther Creek, $39).
Readers’ choice: Panther City Coffee, 2918 W Berry St, FW
Staff choice: Avocado shake at Lieu’s Vietnamese Restaurant and Coffeehouse, 3980 Boat Club Rd, FW
Wait, hear us out on this one! Lovers of the fleshy fruit who normally encounter it as guacamole should stop and realize that Lieu’s liquid delicacy makes perfect sense. The full taste of the avocado works wonderfully with sweet flavoring. The shake comes in a chilled glass frappéd with heavy cream and includes pieces of boba (the gummy candy bits popular in Vietnamese drinks). With each sip from the straw, the sugar snap hits immediately, followed slowly by the earthy avocado richness.
Readers’ choice: Central Market
Staff choice: Central Market
It’s not like we mean to keep giving Central Market kudos, but as long as the store keep earning ‘em, what else are we gonna do? The place just rocks, from its exceptional veggies to its fantastic meats, succulent stuffed grape leaves, and olives to die for. What else? The fresh breads, the quality and size of the cheese selection, the fine wines … heck, what other shop in town has three dozen types of honey for sale, all of them world class? Our only complaint? They’re very short on sauerkraut for a store that sells that many types of homemade sausage.
Place to Buy Ethnic Food
Readers’ choice: Central Market
Staff choice: Import Food Market, 701 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
At first glance, this looks like any American grocery store: canned and packaged goods, toiletries, tobacco, produce. But Import Food’s produce section includes an olive bar, and the deli sells feta from three countries; the soap shelf offers both Lifebuoy and Parrot Gold; next to the milk are cartons of mango lassi and other yogurt drinks; and spices occupy three full grocery aisles. No cigarettes are sold here – that’s hookah tobacco, in everyday apple plus a dozen more exotic flavors. Up front, where cases of baklava instead of Snickers tempt shoppers waiting to check out, is the most alien part of this store: a smiling, helpful staff.
Place to Dine al Fresco
Readers’ choice: Joe T. Garcia’s
Staff choice: 8.0, 111 E 3rd St, FW
This place has possibly the largest and certainly the liveliest patio experience in Sundance Square, with live music all the time, plenty of shade, a sprawling bar, and a great menu. Plus, they have Christmas lights up in the trees year-round, and who doesn’t love that.
Place to Dine Alone
Staff choice: Four Star Coffee Bar, 3324 W 7th St, FW
This place is kind of like sitting on your shady front porch with a sandwich, only with air conditioning, better food, and someone else to cook and clean up. You can watch the world go by, chat with neighbors, or just bury your head in a book (or a computer screen), secure in the feeling that, though no one else may be at your table, you’re in a room full of friends, or at least, friendly folks. Go there for long and everybody knows your name, what you’re drinking, and your life story. Always some new art to check out, a great bulletin board, often music to listen to – and the other regulars to nod at. Who’s alone?
Place to Buy Road Food
Staff choice: Millennium Shell Station, Everman Parkway and I-35, FW
A good road-food place has to have gas, easy access to a highway, fresh, hot coffee, and hand food that won’t be all over your shirt by the time you get to that important meeting for which you are already late. Try Millennium next time you’re heading south. While the car fills up with liquid gold, you can grab a cup of fresh java and a bean, beef, or both burrito with onions and cilantro, made to order at the open grill where the mouth-watering smell of sizzling fajita steak greets your nose as soon as you open the door. For the more adventuresome (with a clean shirt in the briefcase), the cook will throw together a couple of corn tortilla tacos stuffed with beef, onions, and cilantro (green and red hot sauce on the side). There’s plenty of the usual stuff too – Mom’s ham, turkey, tuna, and chicken salad sandwiches; chips; rolls; and muffins – but for those with a taste for the hot stuff, Millennium’s the place to get a really good kick for the road.
Place to Buy Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Readers’ choice: Central Market
Staff choice: Green’s Produce, 3001 W Arkansas Ln, Arlington
The produce is so fresh, you might find yourself looking for the backyard garden. Actually, the juicy fruits and peak-of-ripeness vegetables come from local and regional farmers. In the summer it’s watermelon heaven, but beautiful produce, nuts, dried fruits, preserves, and specialty breads and cheeses are showcased year-round. Bonus: It’s all reasonably priced, often much cheaper than grocery stores.
Readers’ choice: Central Market
Staff choice: Hong Kong Market, 2901 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
Want to be sure your tilapia is fresh? Buy it live from a tank (it’s next to the lobster, catfish, and clam tanks, down by the shelf of live blue crabs) in the rear of this clean, bright supermarket, and one of the friendly fishmongers will fillet it while you wait. Or choose one of the dozen varieties of whole frozen fish, from teeny smelt to two-foot-long black tuna, or magnificent 10-to-a-pound head-on shrimp at amazingly low prices. The adjacent meat department is one-stop shopping for everything from rosy-fresh hamburger and pork chops to tripe and tongue. No time to cook? Pick a sweet-sauced duck, chicken, or squid from the lineup at the in-house barbecue shop.
Readers’ choice: Purple Cow
Staff choice: Sheridan’s Frozen Custard, 7428 Denton Hwy, Watauga
No 1950s décor or music. No ice cream, either, because everything’s made with frozen custard. Still, this roadside location off Highway 377 is well worth seeking out, with its huge selection of flavors and toppings that can be combined in an endless number of ways. The stand also serves a “Brainiac Bomb” (mangoes and green tea) that’s a cool alternative to the usual shakes and floats. We recommend the Frozen Hot Chocolate and some sunblock, because there’s no inside seating and the place faces west. It’ll make you appreciate your frozen treat all the more.
Readers’ choice: (tie) Blue Mesa; Junsuree Thai House
Staff choice: Junsuree Thai House
Staff choice: Angry Chicken, Junsuree Thai House
“Slightly perturbed” is probably a more apt description of Junsuree’s house specialty. The dish manages the seemingly impossible: hot enough to trigger a runny nose, but not so hot as to require a fire extinguisher. Also available with beef or tofu, the entrée is a staple of the Southside diner’s daily weekday lunch buffet, along with other tremendous goodies, including tofu pad Thai, tom ka (coconut-based veggie soup), and green curry chicken.
Readers’ choice: JoJo, Tokyo Café
Staff choice: Cheryl Nettles, Piranha Killer Sushi
After five years at Piranha, first at the Arlington location and now downtown, it’s not surprising that Cheryl Nettles knows the menu inside and out – the amazing part is that no matter how slammed this ultra-popular restaurant gets, she never loses that world-brightening smile. With gentleness, charm, and good cheer, Cheryl quickly susses out sushi newbies’ rawness tolerance and recommends the perfect dish for each. And she never forgets a regular’s usual. Now shift leader and new-staff coach, Cheryl even trained as a sushi chef – not for a career change, but simply to better understand the dishes. “I wish I had five more of her,” says a Piranha manager, and we agree – not least because this wait-wonder also mixes a mean martini.
Readers’ choice: Reata, 310 Houston St, FW
Staff choice: Pho Bella, 4023 E Belknap St, Ste B, Haltom City
The first time we walked into this Vietnamese restaurant, shortly after it opened late last year, it knocked our socks off. Amid the utilitarian South Asian diners that dot Haltom City, Pho Bella is an elegant bistro: creamy walls and slate floors, soft lighting, arty black-and-white photographs, striking flower arrangements, unobtrusive classical guitar. And the food lives up to its surroundings. Owner-chef Natalie Nguyen’s attention to detail shows in every bite, from standards like pho and rice plates to the uncommon and sublime shrimp mousse spring rolls. We keep going back, and Pho Bella keeps amazing us.
Readers’ choice: Mellow Mushroom
Staff choice: The Covey,
3010 S Hulen St, FW
A micro-brewery and a fancy restaurant, The Covey manages to navigate both worlds in classy fashion. It’s got the comfortable, blue-collar vibe of a place that doles out delicious, unique, homemade beer, and the chic ambiance of a four-star fusion eatery. Other restaurants usually take months – if not years – to get the food right. When The Covey opened earlier this year, it was already smokin’. The good news is that it hasn’t cooled off one bit.
Readers’ choice: Jennifer Kornblum, Sapristi!
Staff choice: Walter Kaufmann, Bistro Louise, 2900 S Hulen, Ste 40, FW
Kaufmann is the gray eminence of Fort Worth fine dining. Back in the day, he was owner and operator of the legendary Swiss House and probably knows more about Cowtown’s upper crust than the FBI. He has too much class to spill any beans, though – figuratively or literally.
Readers’ choice: Tim Love of Lonesome Dove, 2406 N Main St, and Duce, 6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 240, both FW
Staff choice: Kenzo Tran of Piranha Killer Sushi
Great things often happen when cultures collide, and Vietnamese native Kenzo Tran represents the best possible equation for combining democracy and capitalism: genuinely discerning culinary talent plus a populist instinct, multiplied by a young lifetime of hard work equals restaurant success. He claims his special sauces and fresh ingredients can convert almost any member of the squeamish anti-sushi constituency, and recruits then move on to the more adventurous yet traditional stuff like eel and octopus sashimi. One of the most popular Piranha specialties – and responsible for creating many zealous converts – is the “Marry Me Roll,” featuring a combination of coconut shrimp, tuna, avocado, ginger cream, and strawberry slices.
Readers’ choice: Reata rooftop
Staff choice: Kincaid’s at LaGrave Field, 301 NE 6th St, FW
Most of the time, the best views are looking down from a height – a hill, the top floor of some office building, a bluff overlooking a lake. But we figure the best dining view in Fort Worth has an upward vista. This year, Kincaid’s Hamburgers started serving at LaGrave Field for Fort Worth Cats games. The burgers are about as good as those served at the original Camp Bowie location, but the view is so much better. From the tables on the left-field foul line, the downtown skyline rises above the right-field stands. As evening approaches, the glass skyscrapers reflect the red of the setting sun; after dark, the lights from the buildings sparkle. And in front of all this is baseball – championship baseball, this year, in a gorgeous little park on a historic site. Too bad you have to wait until next spring to see it again.
Readers’ choice: Drew’s Place, 5701 Curzon Av, FW
Staff choice: Madea’s Down-Home Cooking, 1019 W Enon Av, Everman
Like so many great soul-food restaurants, Madea’s resembles a church basement – low ceilings, long vinyl-cloth-covered folding tables, plastic flowers in the corners, and pillars of the community serving the food cafeteria-style. The rotating menu always includes rich, juicy, slow-cooked meats (beef tips, smothered pork chops, and baked chicken), perfectly seasoned sides (greens, okra, and yams), and heavenly desserts (cobbler, bread pudding, cakes and pies). Even if it’s not a Sunday, you’ll be offering thanks and praise.
Staff choice: Little Joe’s Famous Chicago Pizza & Restaurant, 104 Navajo Dr, Keller
We’re not the only ones having trouble finding this place (hint: look behind the Fina gas station on Keller Parkway) – the largish dining room has been empty on each of our dinner-hour visits. Or perhaps Little Joe’s other customers live within delivery range and have these authentic Chicago-style pizzas brought right to their doors.These thin, deep-dish, or stuffed monsters featuring handfuls of housemade, fennel-packed sausage are almost reason enough to move to Keller.
Readers’ choice: Meli’s, 4304 W Vickery Blvd, FW
Staff choice: Juanito’s Taqueria, 4150 Hemphill St, FW
You can get all the usual dishes at family-run Juanito’s, but this little diner’s tacos, served up hot and Mexican-spicy, are about the best in town. Behind the counter in the open kitchen, the cook fills up two tasty and oily-soft corn tortillas with your choice of bite-sized chunks of steaming-hot meat, then tosses some of “everything” inside – just-right-spicy salsa, pico de gallo, a little grilled onion, a sprinkle of chopped cilantro. With generous sides of beans and rice, all washed down with an old-fashioned bottled Coke from Mexico (made with sugar, not corn syrup), there’s nothing left to do on a summer afternoon but pat your full belly and find a quiet place to nap. The place is one more reason to say viva! to the morphing of the south end of Hemphill into Little Mexico.
Staff choice only: Fries
Flash Point Boogie Burger, 3510 E Lancaster Av, FW
Thick vs. thin, crisp vs. greasy – french fries are as much a matter of taste as any other dish. We like ours hand-cut from skin-on russet potatoes, medium-thick, a little bit greasy, and pulled from the fryer just a few seconds early so that by the time they’re cool enough to eat, they’re perfectly crispy on the outside, tender but still potato-y on the inside. And that’s why we boogie over to Flash Point whenever we need a fries fix.
Blackened Chicken Caesar, Razzoo’s, 318 Main St, FW
OK, so it isn’t low-fat, low-carb, low-cal or any of that hooey. The best salads usually aren’t. This Caesar is stuffed with huge croutons, lovely lettuce, ample dressing, delicious blackened chicken slices and comes with a huge hunk of garlic toast. If the taste isn’t enough to make you forget about the health stuff, just remember that it is still, by definition at least, a salad, and that will provide some nutritional comfort.
Jazzy Wings, 3201 Vaughan Blvd, FW
After three and a half years of consistently serving up the best wings in town at the best prices, it’s nearly unimaginable that this little place hasn’t branched out into Fort Worth proper or been franchised by one of the big boys. Still, the fact that it manages to flourish in a pretty desolate corner of town is an indication that lots of folks love it. If you like ‘em fiery, go for the Ellington XXX HOT. Otherwise, try the mouthwatering lemon and pepper, parmesan cheese, or barbecue sauces. Then pick up a couple of sides of O-rings and dirty rice and
Bonnell’s Restaurant, 4259 Bryant Irvin Rd, FW
How do you top a chef/owner who comes out of the kitchen to open a bottle of champagne by popping the cork with a sabre? The flamboyant trick – a great counterpoint to the understated Texana chic of the décor – pleased a tableful of patrons recently. Jon Bonnell’s Westside restaurant is a paean to locally grown or caught meats, game, and produce, served up at tables where leather, footed crystal compotes, and simple, elegant accoutrements are combined in presentations that make meals a delight without overwhelming you.
Portabella Burger at Fred’s Texas Café
Like its beefy cousin, the Fredburger, Fred’s brawny portabella cap comes in two sizes – large or monster – along with fresh fixin’s and perfectly greasy fries. As Fred’s chef Terry Chandler kidded in 2004, the last time his juicy mushroom ‘wich won this category, it tastes so good because he puts “luuuv” into it. His secret-recipe marinade may have something to do with it, too.
Acapulco Beach, 2612 Ephriham Av, 3112 N Main St, and 1224 S Ayers Av, all FW
For delicious, inexpensive Mexican seafood, it’s a three-way tie: Acapulco Beach’s triumvirate of faded shacks in scary-after-dark locations rule this category with friendly service and a broad menu of scrumptious seafood delights. Begin with warm tortilla chips, incendiary salsa, and the classic coctel vuelve a la vida, the “return to life” appetizer of shrimp, oysters, octopus, and avocado in a sweet red cocktail sauce. Then on to tilapia, red snapper, and catfish – grilled, broiled, fried, or baked; head-on whole or fillet; and with a zesty fresh-tomato dressing or a garlic sauce that will linger lovingly in your mouth. You won’t have room for dessert, but get the flan anyway.
Celebrity chef Tim Love brought his A-game from his legendary Stockyards restaurant, Lonesome Dove, to the West Side, and every other restaurant/ lounge/bar/social gathering place is on notice. Duce’s progressive, European-influenced food packs a lot of flavor and, though served in small portions and presented with fanciful élan, is pretty filling. The atmosphere says total class, but the place is completely devoid of pretension. Any feelings of insecurity you may have are born of your own inadequacies. Duce’s staff goes overboard to make every customer, from the shabbily dressed college student to the trust-fund baby, feel comfortable and at home. The complimentary glass of sangria is a nice touch.
Sapristi!, 2418 Forest Park Blvd, FW
You come for the casually elegant food, the great wine list, the friendly attentions of the staff. Then while you’re there, you run into three people you know, overhear great conversations nearby (you can’t help it – they’re going on only a few inches away), and realize you’re part of a whole place that just feels comfortable, classy, relaxed, and right. Those things aren’t why you come back – they’re why you come back so often.
La Michoacana, 2555 Ellis Av, FW
If your defintion of cheap groceries is a can of Ranch Style beans on sale, then run to Wal-Mart or Carnival. But if you want something different as well as cheap in your pantry, La Michoacana on the North Side is worth the trip. This is a Mexican grocery, catering not to tourists and gringos but to the immigrant population. There are good deals in produce, but the real fun is in the bakery and meat market. Bulk chorizo, oxtails for soup – it’s not your average Anglo meat counter. The bakery is terrific, with big empanadas at three for a dollar, conchas a quarter apiece, and our favorite, heart-shaped garletas sabor coco cookies at six for $1. Bulk rice and beans and all sorts of cheap Mexican soft drinks also available. And if you get hungry while shopping, have a freshly made, two-handed taco – with your choice of meat and toppings – for only 99 cents.
Staff choice: World Market, 4701 W Fwy, FW
Unless you buy wine by the case, it’s hard to beat the prices at World Market. Almost every bottle comes in at $2 or $3 under the prices at hoitier Central Market a few steps away, and some bargains are downright amazing. Consider a Roxburgh Chardonnay from Rosemount Estate for $9.99, regular price topping $20. Or favorite brand Toasted Head’s big red blend for $10.99. If you glaze over while perusing the wide selection, ask for help. Stephen is our personal fave, but all the wine people at World Market are pleasant and knowledgeable.
Paglia e fieno, Taverna Pizzeria and Risotteria, 450 Throckmorton St, FW
We’re so thankful that no one at Taverna apparently has ever heard of the Atkins diet. With wild mushrooms, meaty slices of chicken breast, and a ton of noodles – everything doused in truffle oil and cream sauce – this massive, incredibly dense dish is definitely a challenge to finish in one setting, but you’ll be smiling all the way.
Best in a Field of One
7th Street Station Grill, 2700 W 7th St, FW
This great little diner across from Montgomery Plaza easily deserves a bunch of kudos – but in which category? It’s a place where office workers and blue-collar types mingle easily, and kids can feel at home. Folks who come in hoping for good burgers in this modest, refurbished fast-food building certainly aren’t disappointed (try the mushroom swiss monster) – but neither are those who know that a gourmet chef lurks in the kitchen and therefore go for the excellent soups, desserts, chicken dishes, and other entrées. You can’t get any friendlier than the folks who serve up lunches and dinners at the Station. So … wait, we have it – a category all their own: Best Something for Everyone Eatery.
Los Zarapes Restaurant,1503 NW 25th St, FW
Tastebuds are strange. Some people think nothing of eating calf liver or chicken gizzards, yet gag at the thought of eating menudo, which contains cow stomach lining (but not intestines as some people believe). Drunks swear by this favorite Mexican soup’s medicinal qualities for hangovers. It’s tough to find a better bowl than at this Northside eatery where the menudo is never slimy and always seasoned to perfection. The staff doesn’t speak English, but it’s not difficult to say, “Menudo and cerveza, por favor.” You know – a little stomach lining, a little hair of the perro that bit you.
Chips and Salsa:
Mi Cocina, 4601 W Fwy, Ste 100, FW
La Playa Maya, 6209 Sunset Dr, FW
La Familia, 841 Foch St, FW
El Tepeyac, 4063 Lancaster Av, FW
Meli’s Taqueria, 4304 W Vickery Blvd, FW
Tres Jose’s, 4004 White Settlement Rd, FW
Mom’s BBQ, 1509 Evans St, FW
Classic chopped beef sandwich:
Angelo’s, 2533 White Settlement Rd, FW
Wilson’s Barbecue, 5633 Lovell Av, FW
(tie) Hickory Stick, 900 E Enon Av, Everman; Wilson’s Barbecue
Sammie’s Bar-B-Q, 3801 E Belknap St, FW
Better-than-Mom’s banana pudding:
Xouba, 2301 N Collins St, Arlington.
fresh-squeezed orange juice (in season), Meli’s Taqueria,4304 W Vickery Blvd, FW
Seafood paté, Portuguese Café, 8545 Boat Club Rd, FW
Classic Caesar, Bella Amore, 2819 W Park Row Dr, Arlington
Kabuli naan, Maharaja, 6308 Hulen Bend Blvd, FW
Bulgogi, Samwon Garden, 5201 McCart Av, FW
Beto’s Authentic Caribbean, 3000 South Fwy, FW.
Blue Danube European Restaurant and Café, 2230-A W Park Row Dr, Pantego
Sweet sticky black rice, Thai House, 3701 S Cooper St, Ste 131, Arlington