Though there seems to be a lot of staff changes going on with the venerable Four Star, and not all of them good – Italian sodas can range from wonderfully delicious and refreshing to insipid, depending on who makes it – the place still serves up the best coffee, iced coffee, and espresso in town. Always interesting selections, always fresh and always hot. And when you ask for iced coffee, they don’t just give you a cup full of ice to pour hot coffee over, leaving it watered down and lukewarm, as at the Fort’s other venerable coffeehouse.
Readers’ choice: Four Star Coffee Bar Café
Critic’s choice: Panther City Coffee Co., 2918 W Berry St, FW
Panther City Coffee is a throwback of sorts. The artwork on the wall, the couches, the creative bathroom graffiti, the constant strumming of a guitar, all contribute to the bohemian vibe that oozes out of every square inch of the place, harkening back to the Jack Kerouac coffeehouse tradition. And the coffee is great. The Watkins family that owns and operates the place obsesses over every part of the coffee-making process: They choose the beans, roast them, and brew ‘em up. They also offer their space as a forum for the exchange of ideas and beliefs – a welcome reprieve from the “hurry up and wait” culture of corporate coffee chains.
Readers’ choice: Dale’s Donuts
Critic’s choice: Dale’s #9, 5515 S Hulen St, FW
With Krispy Kream and Dunkin dominating the donut landscape, it’s nice to know that the little guy is still making ‘em fresh every morning. Dale’s Donuts #9 — but #1 in our hearts — boasts a variety of glazed, chocolaty, sprinkled goodness. There is something highly addictive in the mix at Dale’s. The display counter is known to turn even the most respectable patrons into drooling, child-like sugar fiends.
Readers’ choice: Blue Mesa Grill, 1600 S University Dr, FW
Critic’s choice: Mercury Chophouse, 301 Main St, FW
The first choice is easy: Mimosas made with fresh-squeezed OJ are a lovely Sunday morning wake-me-up. But after that, picking just one dish from among the delicious-looking items on executive chef Chris Ward’s innovative New American Cuisine menu could make you want to crawl back into bed. We’ll help: Consider the crabmeat enchilada, with zebra stripes of ranchero and cream sauces drizzled over chunks of scrumptious crabmeat. No, the perfect cheese omelet with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. But don’t miss the extraordinary crabmeat hash with poached eggs and hollandaise. Actually, though, the “must” dish is the crisped salmon, framed with crackly seared edges. Or … heck, we can’t decide either.
Critic’s choice: Buffet at the Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
Here’s your trouble in looking for a bargain lunch: time, tip, and tea. It’s no bargain if you have to drive across town. Leaving a tip can add two or three bucks to the deal, and tea – a high-profit item – is often another two dollars. So that $4.99 lunch special on the marquee usually costs you closer to $10. While we also like Chow, Baby’s favorite taco trucks, when we’re in the mood for a light, healthy lunch and the wallet is also light, we head for the Kimbell’s buffet. Ask the server for a small plate and place several of their delicious, hearty salads on it. The cashier will ring up a total of $6. (Feed the tip jar when you’re feeling flush.) Find a table inside or out, then help yourself to real silverware (well, real metalware anyway) and choose a beverage – in a real glass. Linger as long as you like, in the company of ladies who lunch and the movers and shakers of the art world. Come to think of it, the Kimbell buffet could also be a winner in the category of Best Place to Pretend You’re Somebody Important.
Readers’ choice: Purple Cow, 4601 West Fwy, FW
Critic’s choice: Chuck E. Cheese’s, 8460 SW Loop 820, FW
OK, we’re way out on a limb here. First off, it’s not a food destination, what with serving only three pizza/soft drink combos. Also, it’s a corporate chain that could care less about your children – except for the dough they spend. But if you have kids between the ages of, say, 2 and 8, we challenge you to ask them where they want to eat. The answer, other than “Ice cream at Braums!” is nearly always going to be Chuck E. Cheese’s. The lure is both the games – from Skee-Ball to roller coaster simulators to tubes and slides they can climb around in – and the fact that they’ll be with other kids. Lots of other kids. Screaming kids. Deal with it.
Critic’s choice: Blue Ocean Sushi, 4750 Bryant Irvin Rd, FW
It’s easy to overlook the impact that a restaurant’s wall color can have on a dining experience, but at the marvelous new Blue Ocean Sushi in South Fort Worth, the sea-foamy green/creamy avocado paint combines with the light hipster jazz playing from the speakers to make you feel like you’re relaxing in an undersea nightclub. The high ceiling, black tables with lamps that cast glowing reflections up the walls, and those awesome bone-white, wave-shaped soy sauce dispensers make everything go down smoother.
Readers’ choice: Reata, 310 Houston St, FW
Critic’s choice: Al Covo, 7618 Camp Bowie W, FW
Thanks to the rose-colored walls of Al Covo, the place is pleasantly dim – a must for romance – but seems to glow at the same time, casting a sultry vibe from the shadowy alcoves lined with bottles of red wine to the dark chairs, leather booths, and sharply contrasting white tablecloths. Besides having scrumptious Italian fare, Al Covo is also the perfect place for a hookup, a makeup, or even a breakup (if you want to do it nicely).
Critic’s choice: Division Street Diner, 1800 W Division St, Arlington
In true diner tradition, this sparkling place sits on an old highway surrounded by tired, working-class America. Inside, it’s a different story. Tablecloths are of the usual checkered variety, but they’re black and white, part of a clean, nay almost hip silver and black décor that includes burnished aluminum light fixtures, metallic-painted chairs, and a minimum of kitsch. The food is diner at its comforting best: slightly spicy meatloaf, traditional entrées like roasted pork and chicken-fried steak, and desserts to die for – strawberry-rhubarb cobbler a la mode, Italian cream cake, brownies, little cream puffs. And salads so fresh their ingredients seem just picked – not only regular tossed and Caesar but green pea and a delicious cucumber-and-tomato. Breakfast and lunch only on weekdays, plus a Saturday breakfast buffet and Sunday brunch.
Readers’ choice: Carshon’s, 3133 Cleburne Rd, FW
Critic’s choice: Taste of Europe, 1901 W Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
Mention “European deli,” and the average American probably thinks of brie, prosciutto, and Jarlsberg. Take a few giant steps east to this homey deli (also restaurant/grocery/knickknack shoppe) and surrender your tastebuds to cured sausages (i.e., salami) from Ukraine and Estonia, cheeses from Belarus and Hungary, and real Polish sauerkraut. Stack it on Finn Crisps or dark rye bread with just a leeetle of the super-spicy Russian mustard, top with a dried herring, wash it all down with mineral water from the famed Borjomi springs in Georgia – and you’ve got yourself a picnic made for a tsar.
Readers’ choice: Ol’ South Pancake House
Critic’s choice: Quick Pick Deli, 1604 Montgomery St, FW
The stock show crowd has long-favored this combination convenience store and burrito and hamburger joint because it’s so close. The burgers are big and juicy, and $4.99 for the double cheeseburger (with fries and a large fountain drink) is a great deal. Quick Pick’s breakfast burritos are served with great salsa, all for under $2.50. And you can order decent food and pick up a 12-pack of beer at the same time. Isn’t that what we really want?
Reader’s choice: Bombay Grill, 4625 Donnelly Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Rasoi Indian Kitchen, 1002 Av C, Denton
Rasoi may be a 45-minute drive from the Fort, but it is well worth the trek. The place may not convey fine dining, as it is located within a gas station (the owners bought the gas station to earn the cash to open a restaurant). But once you get past the pumps and into the restaurant, the fragrant scent of the food makes you forget the rest. Easy-on-the-pocketbook combination meals come with rice, an entrée, and cabbage salad. Many of the vegetable items are vegan-friendly. Mixed vegetables and chickpeas are offered daily, but the rest of the menu rotates, with a “Surprise Menu” on Sundays. And a meal at Rasoi isn’t complete without one of their tasty samosas – pastries filled with peas, potatoes, and spices. Although take-out is available, it’s more fun to dine in and watch the endless Bollywood videos.
Readers’ choice: Razzoo’s, 4700 Bryant Irvin Rd N, FW
Critic’s choice: Pierre’s Mardi Gras Café, 2816 S Cooper St, Arlington
You’d think a town the size of Fort Worth would have several Cajun and Creole joints, but no. Until a few years ago we had the Razzoo’s and the Pappadeaux chains and not much else. So lucky for us that a few families of restaurant-running Katrina survivors settled here, opened up shop, and resisted the urge to move back to New Orleans. The best is Pierre’s Mardi Gras Café, which quickly outgrew its tiny first home in Euless and moved to Cooper Street. The menu isn’t as large as the chains’, but next time you’re in the mood for a real shrimp or oyster po-boy or some down-home dirty rice, a maw-maw gumbo, a N’awlins jambalaya or maybe just the best bread puddin’ in all of Texas, Pierre’s is where you’ll find it.
Readers’ choice: Saint Emilion, 3617 W 7th St, FW
Critic’s choice: Cacharel, 2221 E Lamar Blvd, Arlington
Just the other day, we happened to be browsing through Julia Child’s ruminations on “the French manner” in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Let’s see: “no skimping on ingredients … excellence of cooking techniques … precision in small details makes the difference between passable cooking and fine food … impeccably cooked and served … .” Sure smells like Cacharel’s: top-quality meat, poultry, and seafood, simply prepared but drizzled with wonderfully complex sauces, plus vegetables that come in towers, timbales, emulsions, and mousses. Chocolate soufflé isn’t the only dessert on Cacharel’s menu, but it’s the one that Miss Child refers to as “the epitome and triumph of the art of French cooking, a glorious and exciting finish to a great meal.” Boy howdy, she nailed that one.
Readers’ choice: P.F. Chang’s Chinese Bistro, 400 Throckmorton St, FW
Critic’s choice: Bamboo Garden, 6415 McCart Av, FW
In Texas, at least, the phrase “Chinese restaurant” almost automatically equals “buffet” – with the illusion that your third helping of fried crab rangoon is somehow healthy because it’s Asian. The keys to an enjoyable Chinese buffet are variety, the frequency with which the buffet is cleaned and restocked, and the relative freshness of fare under heat lamps. Bamboo Garden excels at all of these and offers the occcasional surprise dish, like Chinese chicken tacos or baked mussels with cheese.
Readers’ choice: Fuzzy’s, 2917 W Berry St, FW
Critic’s choice: El Asadero, 1535 N Main St, FW
Incredibly fresh-tasting ingredients, the best guacamole in three counties, friendly waitfolks, seafood cocktails and specialty enchiladas to die for, the biggest glasses of iced tea on Main Street, and that indefinable je ne sais quoi that tells you you’re in Fort Worth and not Dallas (cracked leather on the booths and tie-wearing diners sitting next to their blue-collar brethren is part of it). Worth shoehorning your car into the tiny parking lot. Bonus for newbies: These days the exterior is painted such an eye-popping shade of orange that you can’t miss it.
Readers’ choice: Joe T Garcia’s, 2201 N Commerce St, FW
Critic’s choice: Esparza’s Tequila Factory, 3314 Harwood Rd, Bedford
This strip-mall joint is mainly known as a “tequilaria,” offering more than a hundred kinds of Satan’s spring water. But some of the entrées are mouthwatering as well: The camarones de Guadalajara, a signature dish, features six jumbo shrimp sautéed with a simmering, tequila-infused cream sauce and Oaxaca cheese. Also great was the pollo poblano, a chicken breast speckled with peppery spices and the titular chile, whose flavor is slow and smoky rather than burning.
Readers’ choice: Tu Hai, 3909 E Belknap St, FW
Critic’s choice: Pho Hung, 4125 E Belknap St, Ste 205, Haltom City
It’s not easy to rate the best Vietnamese restaurant in Tarrant. There are dozens of good ones. But let’s go with Pho Hung, a large open room located in a strip mall in the heart of Little Vietnam. Service is so fast you expect to see Jackie Chan flying through the swinging kitchen doors any second. And the food, mostly noodle soups with meat or fish, never disappoints: Flat noodles are always rich, whether in broth or fried, and vermicelli is light as a feather. The meats, mostly combinations of beef eye-of-round, brisket, flank steak, and tenderloin, are consistently on the money. And the drink selection, from avocado shakes to a wonderful pickled-prune drink to iced espresso with condensed milk, will leave your taste buds reeling in ecstasy.
Readers’ choice: Taste of Asia, 4484 Bryant Irvin Rd, Ste 103, FW
Critic’s choice: Taste of Asia
Taste of Asia has a lot going for it: exquisitely fresh tastes, attentive and knowledgeable waitstaff, and pleasant surroundings – and they deliver within a five-mile area. The Asian Pecan dish is fantastic, with pineapple and a slightly sweet ginger sauce. You’ll also devour with delight the spicy Korean and Hunan dishes. The sushi menu is not the world’s most adventurous (asparagus and avocado play major roles, and almost all of the fish is cooked). The blend of offerings makes it a meeting place for one and all – not just those of us who savor thrills and chills. Don’t shy away from the seaweed salad. Its salty crunch (it’s chock-full of cucumber) is a perfect foil to the smooth silk of the sushi or the tofu. Oh, yeah.
Readers’ choice: King Tut, 1512 W Magnolia Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Semiramis Café, 803 W Park Row Dr, Arlington
This little hole-in-the-wall delivers Middle Eastern fast food with slow-cooked taste. Start with creamy-whipped hummus or fried kibbeh (little bulgur wheat patties stuffed with juicy spiced meat), then fill up with an overstuffed gyro sandwich or a perfectly spiced chicken shawarma plate. Only a fool would pass up the fool bel laban, fava beans simmered in garlic and lemon, topped with yogurt and a slick of extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with red pepper and cinnamon. Best of all, everything’s as cheap as it is delicious.
Readers’ choice: Spiral Diner, 1314 W Magnolia Av, FW
Critic’s choice: King Tut
Obviously Spiral Diner is the best place for vegetarian fare in Tarrant County, but every vegetarian has a friend or relative who still wants their meat. And Cowtown isn’t exactly the easiest place for a vegetarian to find variety. Luckily, King Tut offers a list of tasty Middle Eastern food to please herbivores and omnivores alike. With large portions and daily lunch specials priced at $5.99, the restaurant is also easy on the wallet. The atmosphere is warm, with Egyptian décor and music, and the staff is friendly. The veggie moussaka is especially delightful.
Readers’ choice: Railhead, 2900 Montgomery St, FW
Critic’s choice: Mom’s BBQ, 1509 Evans St, FW
Barbecue seems more like a Dad thing, but this Mom does it right: meaty, fall-off-the-bone ribs, brisket smoked in the pit out back until it’s crispy-edged but still juicy, a chopped plate that’s a small mountain of moist bits of meat and charred blasts of smoky flavor. Potato salad is so creamy it seems whipped, and pinto beans are spiced just right. Dessert is homemade banana pudding, of course. Mom won’t have to tell you to clean your plate.
Readers’ choice: Nonna Tata, 1400 W Magnolia Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Ferré, 215 E 4th St, FW
Readers’ choice: Massey’s, 1805 8th Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Julie’s Fresh Kitchen, 6256 McCart Ave, FW
We heard a rumor about this family-owned café that was the homecooking equivalent of unicorns, Elvis sightings, and George W. Bush’s honesty: just too incredible to believe. Julie’s Fresh Kitchen, the rumor went, serves a hand-cut and -battered, giganto chicken-fried steak that’s so good, you don’t need gravy on it. Well, Elvis has not left the building: These tender, steaming, gut-busting delicacies work well indeed without a gravy blanket. But considering the added delights of thick brown or rich cream gravy, we usually order some anyway.
Readers’ choice: Hot Damn, Tamales!, 713 W Magnolia Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Hot Damn, Tamales!
Specifically, Hot Damn’s new dessert-tamale selections: chocolate cherry, cranberry jalapeño, and tropical fruit. Like all their tamales, these freeze well, reheat nicely, and are handmade from scratch using fresh ingredients – such as Ghirardelli chocolate, fresh fruit, and roasted pecans, mixed with lard-free vegetarian masa and wrapped in corn husks imported from Mexico. Luckily, those husks slip off easily – you’ll want to get inside fast.
Readers’ choice: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop
Critic’s choice: Changa Mud, Chimy’s, 1953 Foch St, FW
The cerveceria known as Chimy’s offers very good traditional queso, but their concoction known as Changa Mud makes most other sauces we’ve tried seem, well, cheesy in the worst sense of the word. Changa Mud is a killer mixture of queso, ground beef, and guacamole with a spark of jalapeño flaming in the middle. It’ll overpower the rest of the meal if you let it, so why not just order some hot flour tortillas and make it the meal?
Readers’ choice: Piranha Killer Sushi, 335 W 3rd St, FW
Critic’s choice: Wasabi Sushi, 5443 S Hulen St, FW
Step into this little jewel box – all wasabi green, chocolate brown, and bamboo-accented – and get ready for luxury treatment. Whether you’re at the marble-topped bar or a table, your needs are almost telepathically communicated. Other restaurants should find out how this staff was trained. But it’s about the food, isn’t it? Ohmigosh, is it ever. Lavish rolls star, with everything fresh and beautifully presented. Specials combining rolls and nigiri sushi, as well as traditional Japanese dishes, abound. Instead of chewy pink ginger, the piquant natural slices served here are light and sweet. Imitation crab? Oh, no. Our fave? The Rainbow Roll, with tuna, salmon, yellow tail, red snapper, and shrimp. Least-fave? Haven’t found it yet. Next to try? The Cowboy Roll, with steak, avocado, tamago, and carrot. Hard to believe this used to be a Jason’s Deli.
Readers’ choice: Mellow Mush-room, 3455 Bluebonnet Cir, FW
Critic’s choice: Coal Vines, 1251 E Southlake Blvd, Southlake
This pizza is New York-style and then some: The thin pie is baked in an ultra-hot coal-fired oven until it’s bubbled and charred in spots, mostly crispy throughout, but still a bit chewy in the center. Standard and unusual toppings are available, and they’re all good, but for the straight-outta-Little Italy taste, it’s gotta be Coal Vines’ “regular” pie: not-too-much tomato sauce, gooey mozzarella, and a dusting of parmesan, cut in large, foldable slices. Simple. Perfect. Even amid Coal Vines’ straight-outta-uptown-Dallas ambiance, a slice like this will make you feel like a real goombah.
Readers’ choice: Daddy Jack’s, 353 Throckmorton St, FW
Critic’s choice: Truluck’s, 1420 Plaza Place, Southlake
This place is a Dallas import that Tarrant County types can stand up and applaud. But please, not while the waiters are arriving with the sautéed super-lump crabcake appetizer. Don’t get in their path when they’re delivering the hot-and-crunchy shrimp, either. Or the crabmeat-topped red snapper. Tarrant County is so starved for good seafood places that this addition to Southlake’s Town Center would be worth the drive even if the food weren’t quite so divine. The best part – well, besides the incredibly sinful crab with mac-and-cheese side dish – is that the menu is so varied. Where else in this part of the country can you find trout, tuna, oven-baked lobster tail, jalapeño salmon, excellent steaks, and about 16 kinds of crab all on the same menu? And did we mention fresh? The company, with restaurants in Florida and several Texas cities, operates its own fishing fleet in Florida. Now, get out of the way of the person with the tray.
Readers’ choice: Joe T Garcia’s
Critic’s choice: Dos Molinas, 404 NW 25th St, FW
Just because a salsa’s hot doesn’t mean it’s good. We’ve had red sauce that could peel the paint off a battleship, but it didn’t make our burritos any better. But check out the stuff at Dos Molinas on the North Side. Yeah, it’ll make you sweat, but it’s also tasty. With the right amount of cilantro, garlic, and onion, plus a fair amount of chiles to give it the requisite kick, Dos Molinas’ red will take your tacos to the next level.
Readers’ choice: Caro’s,
3505 Bluebonnet Circle, FW
Critic’s choice: Melis Taqueria, 4304 W Vickery Blvd, FW
Thanks to the Tex-Mex boom of the early ’80s, Mexican dining is inextricably tied to ubiquitous and bottomless baskets of chips and bowls of red, chunky, tomato-based dip. If this sounds a little passé, you might want to change colors. Ditch the chips, the booths, and the “hamburguesas for the kids” menus in favor of Melis. It trades amenities for variety, tossing containers of tangy tomatillo sauce into your bag of tacos al pastor. Along with a squeeze of lime, Melis’ green sauce is caliente y sabrosa but without overpowering the subtleties of the grilled beef, chicken, or pork. In fact, Melis’ green sauce is so good you may be forced to order another taco as an excuse to spice things up again.
Readers’ choice: Lisa’s Fried Chicken, 500 N University Dr, FW
Critic’s choice: The Covey, 3010 S Hulen St, FW
Too bad the Covey isn’t open around the clock. Our idea of a perfect Saturday night would be to sip the delish brewed-on-site beer until the wee hours, then maybe grab a little nap in one of the comfy booths, to arise at 11 a.m. sharp – just in time for the Covey’s $10.95 “Fried Chicken Sunday” special. Because after a night of carbs we really need to carbo-load, starting with juicy deep-fried chicken that’s thickly battered but mildly spiced, served with rich cream corn, soft-fried okra, and super-buttery red-skin mashed. Peach cobbler, too? Perhaps after a wee nap.
Readers’ choice: Carshon’s
Critic’s choice: La Campiña Salvadoreña, 1115 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
Sure, you can get a chicken-salad sandwich anywhere. But if you actually want one with flavor – shredded chicken juiced up with mild salsa in place of mayo, overstuffed into a big soft roll, and dressed with sliced cucumber, tomato, beets, and hard-boiled egg – make a run for this friendly little Central American grocery. And if a sandwich doesn’t feel complete without a Coke and chips, pick up a bottle of Kolashanpan (“champagne cola”) and a bag of fried plantains. That’s brown-bagging it Salvadoran style.
Reader’s choice: Buffalo Wild Wings, 12832 S Fwy, Burleson
Critic’s choice: Rice “N” Noodle, 9094 Camp Bowie Blvd W, FW
Located in the old Wings 21 space way, way out on Camp Bowie, out past Doc Holliday’s Pawn Shop in a part of Fort Worth where you still expect to see real cowboys, Rice “N” Noodle is serving up wings that are worth the trip. Fifteen flavors include the traditional hot, barbecue, and lemon-pepper coatings, but they also serve knockout Thai spicy, Thai sweet chile and peanut versions that’ll have your mouth watering. And the price – 20 wings for $10.25, 150 for $77.85 – can’t be beat.
Readers’ choice: Hoffbrau, 1712 S University Dr, FW
Critic’s choice: Mamma Mia, 3124 E Belknap St, FW
For months we thought it was Mamma Mia’s stuffed mushrooms’ sauce that keeps us coming back, laboring each time to sop up every last incredible cheesy, buttery, heavy-creamery drop. Well, it is. But it’s also the sopper: huge, dense dinner rolls the size and weight of a Rubik’s Cube (but much tastier). A little bit pretzeled, a little bit garlic- and parmesan-dusted, the dough is made fresh in-house every day and baked in small batches, so your rolls will always be warm from the oven. Guaranteed to stand up to enthusiastic plate scouring, whether the last drop is marinara, pesto, or that heavenly cream.
Readers’ choice: Reata
Critic’s choice: Nonna Tata
Readers’ choice: Reata
Critic’s choice: Boi Na Braza, 4025 William D. Tate Av, Grapevine
Though expensive, this churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse, is one of the finest restaurants in the Metroplex. Its selections of beef, pork, lamb, and poultry, all roasted over an open fire, are a treat to the palate, and the salad bar is second to none. The surprise is the wine list. With more than 100 wines and champagnes from all over the world, it offers something for every palate. Prices range from $20 to several hundred, but even the lower-end selections will go great with your meal – unless you’re trying to show off.
Critic’s choice: Two Bucks Discount Beverage Center, 4702 South Fwy, FW
Yeah, we know that Central Market has a wonderful selection of wines, but most of us can’t afford most of them. So if you’re like the Weekly staffers and living on a budget that won’t budge and you’re looking for good cheap wine, you won’t do better than Two Bucks, just off I-35 at Felix Street. From Boone’s Farm and Wild Irish Rose to California’s Dog House and Old Fart labels, Two Bucks has more than 350 wines at less than $10 a pop. And many of them, like Dog House’s 2002 Merlot or the Argentinian Sol Alto label’s very dry Malbec, would be good at any table. The accent is on California vineyards, but there’s a good selection of French, Italian, Chilean and even South African and South Texas wines as well.
Readers’ choice: World Market, 4701 West Fwy, FW
Critic’s choice: Halal Import Food Market, 701 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington
At first glance, the Halal Import Food Market, near Collins Street on Pioneer Parkway, looks and sounds like a normal grocery store. However, a quick stroll through the place reveals that it’s actually more like an old-world market. Traditional Middle-Eastern foods: rows and rows of bread, a deli counter dedicated to exotic nuts, and a kiosk with a wide variety of fresh olives are just part of the offerings. In the back is a clothing store, a hair salon, a jeweler, and a lawyer who specializes in immigration issues. Attached to the large market is the impressive Al Hamra restaurant, which gets its ingredients from Halal. Where else could you get milk, cereal, a burqa, imported olives, a giant hookah, and a falafel plate to go, all in one stop?
Readers’ choice: Joe T Garcia’s
Critic’s choice: Ocean Rock, 3468 Bluebonnet Circle, FW
As Fort Worth’s summer melts into its near-identical fall, it’s time to soak in the evenings with a cool draft and zesty entrée al fresco. Cruise into the sunset at Ocean Rock. Its patio is shrouded by umbrellas, and as the sun sinks into the Pacific (so we’ve heard, anyway), the east side of the joint deepens into a comfortable shade and temperature, making that ceviche and schooner of Full Sail that much more refreshing. As you watch the cars swing around Bluebonnet Circle’s lawn, you can reflect on how much better it is to just see, rather than be seen.
Readers’ choice: Home
Critic’s choice: Ol’ South Pancake House
Some nights, all you want is to grab a book or a paper and ruminate over a burger and fries. Other nights, you might want to dig into a plate of late-night breakfast and watch drunks shout at one another. Ol’ South is the perfect table-for-one spot, because you can abscond to a back booth with a cup of coffee and plow through all that Dostoevsky that’s been piling up. The servers are friendly but unobtrusive, and you can camp out without too many dirty looks. It’s also the perfect venue for watching after-bar antics.
Critic’s choice: Tiger Farms Market & Exxon Station, Hwy 174, Burleson
Just imagine finding a “wild range” buffalo burger with provolone, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto mayo, a roast beef and blue cheese hoagie with garlic aioli, a Kobe beef burger on a “fluffy potato bun,” or luscious house-made tuna piled high on organic sunflower bread at your usual suspect road-food joints. Believe it or not, you can find these wonders in Burleson (yes, Burleson), all made fresh while you fill up the tank and the coffee mug. Salads range from tuna and wild rice to curried chicken. For the morning drive, there are breakfast tacos with fat portions of scrambled eggs, bacon, green chiles, and cheese; fried egg sandwiches with melted cheddar; bagels with cream cheese and salmon; and hot croissants and cinnamon rolls. Coffee comes in many flavors, but the regular Colombian dark roast is as good as the Starbucks next door and a helluva lot cheaper – 99 cents for all sizes. For the health nuts, Tiger Farms has exotic “protein smoothies” made with everything from peanut butter to mangos and papayas, rice milk to wheat grass and bee pollen. And for the survivalist crowd, the jerky – crocodile, deer, peppered beef, or buffalo- comes in big ol’ slabs. Road food takes on a whole new meaning here – just don’t forget to grab plenty of napkins.
Readers’ choice: Central Market, 4651 West Fwy, FW
Critic’s choice: Lake Worth Farmers Market, 7601 Jacksboro Hwy, Lake Worth
Casino Beach doesn’t offer much in the way of sun worshipping or picnics anymore, but it’s a great spot to pull over when you’re hankering for wholesome bounty. For the second year, this farmers’ market is the place for passing motorists to nab tasty homegrown produce in northwest Tarrant County. And we do mean homegrown – local gardeners are the primary source. For instance, a 93-year-old local man plants, grows, harvests, and delivers his okra crop by hand. Market manager Wanda Magruder, the friendly woman who worked for 10 years at Ridgmar Farmers’ Market, has staked her claim in an area that sorely needed a produce stand. She’s been gardening for most of her 70 years and says she won’t put out any produce that she wouldn’t eat herself.
Readers’ choice: Central Market
Critic’s choice: La Michoacana Meat Market, 2755 Ellis Av, FW
For fresh seafood in Tarrant, you have to head to Central Market, the only place that stocks a variety of fresh clams and oysters, mussels, calamari, scungilli, and other things displaced East Coasters long for. When it comes to meat, however, you can’t beat the selection and prices of La Michoacana. This place doesn’t just have a butcher shop, it has a 40-foot-long cold-box heaped with everything from 2-inch-thick pork chops to tripe, chicken feet, ox-tails, marinated skirt-steak for fajitas, and 2-pound chicken breasts that are simply the tastiest in Tarrant. They’ll even sell you a whole goat for those special barbecues when the whole tribe is coming over.
Critic’s choice: Enchiladas, Shrimp Cocktail, El Asadero
Take your pick of spicy winners at this friendly, family-run veteran of the Northside restaurant scene: The molé enchiladas are simply the best in town, possibly in North Texas. But before that, try the Mexican shrimp cocktail – sweet and tangy, with the freshest ingredients. Not really an appetizer, come to think of it – a zingy, delicious meal in itself. Bring a friend and share both.
Critic’s choice: Bistro Louise, 2900 S Hulen St, FW
Where else in Tarrant County is the Mediterranean charm turned up to such a sunny-cool voltage as at Louise Lamensdorf’s elegant, inviting gourmet restaurant? The beautiful, colorful china, tableware and linens, nice lighting, and overall warm ambiance make this a place where presentation isn’t everything (because the food is also so special), but it’s worth more than just a little extra credit.
Readers’ choice: Christian Johan, Reata
Critic’s choice: Keith Thomas, Cacharel
You wouldn’t guess it by his baby face, but Keith Thomas has been slinging soufflés at Cacharel for nearly 10 years. No surprise, then, that he knows the menu inside-out and can recommend the perfect wine for any dish and palate. The wonder is that this All-American lad is the perfect French waiter: always nearby but never hovering, knowledgeable but not superior, genial but not your new best friend (though that wouldn’t be so bad, either).
Readers’ choice: Reata
Critic’s choice: Greenwood German & European Restaurant, 3522 Bluebonnet Circle, FW
This humble, quietly elegant eatery brings authentic German, Bavarian, Austrian, and other European flavors to a scene notably lacking those cuisines. But that’s not the only reason it gets the “best restaurant” nod. Greenwood just does everything right, from hot, fragrant presentation to enchanting after-taste. The breaded, juicy pork tenderloin, marinated roast beef in savory brown sauce, tender, fermented red cabbage, and hearty, addictive spaetzle (a kind of pasta) all induce gustatory sensations that transcend “tasty” and reach all the way to “sensual.”
Readers’ choice: Lili’s Bistro, 1310 W Magnolia Av, FW
Critic’s choice: Olenjack’s Grille, 770 Road to Six Flags, Ste 100, Arlington
Being one of the Fort’s celebrity chefs, Brian Olenjack carries a lot of expectations as he moves from one restaurant concern to another. Maybe what’s so impressive about his eponymous Olenjack’s Grille is the complete lack of pressure the place exudes, the sheer confidence and simplicity summed up by the single, fresh daisy placed at each white-clothed table. Savory antelope ribs (when they’re available), fried oysters with chorizo, ancho pulled pork, and the spectacular shrimp and grits all hit the mark in this sleek, warm-toned, modern-but-classy joint.
Critic’s choice: Lili’s Bistro
Owner/chef Vance Martin’s flair for harmonizing flavors and textures reaches even to the formerly humble french fry. His version begins with skin-on, waffle-cut potato slices, thick enough to fry up crispy on the outside but still be fluffy within. Then he piles on green onions and crumbled gorgonzola and finishes with a sprinkle of cracked black pepper. They’re a great match with any of Martin’s modern-comfort-food lunches, but we could make a meal of these fries alone.
Critic’s choice: Mi Cocina,
4601 West Fwy, FW
The sweet little Star Café in the Stockyards does a plain green side salad that’s fresh enough to get slapped. Panera’s on University Drive has a fantastic selection of salads with influences from various parts of the globe. But for the single most satisfying, kick-ass, meal-in-itself salad in the county, we have to give the nod to the rico salad at Mi Cocina, part of a North Texas chain. The rico is big, fresh, spicy, with plenty of punch and a unique blend of ingredients, including beef or chicken fajita meat, avocado, and spicy house dressing. It’s Mexican food at its low-carb, healthy best.
Critic’s choice: Love Shack, 110 E Exchange Av, FW
For its variety of high-quality links, this one ought to go to Central Market, which does everything from the exotic (chicken artichoke) to the classics and does almost all of them well. But for sheer taste and exuberance, we’ve gotta give it to the Shack’s “Flying Dog” – little chicken-apple bratwursts just wriggling with the joy of landing on your plate, so juicy they’ll turn the bun soggy before your eyes. Fly on, little hot doggie.
Readers’ Choice: Peter Schroder, Old Neighborhood Grill, 1633 Park Place Av, FW
Critic’s Choice: John Whitten, Caro’s Restaurant
Whitten is a throwback to a time when restaurant owners actually worked. Many of Caro’s customers have been sitting at the same tables and ordering the same puffy-tostada goodness for decades now – and Whitten somehow manages to remember all of the names and nuances. He may not sport the black-and-white submission outfit typical of restaurant workers, nor will he direct you to a specific table and unfold your napkin. However, his greeting – “Hey, how are you? Sit wherever you’d like!” – harkens to the old-school familiarity that this town is known for.
Readers’ choice: Tim Love of Lonesome Dove, Duce, and The Love Shack
Critic’s choice: Keith Hicks of Ovation, 6115 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 112, FW
Keith Hicks’ global menu at Ovation is partly a best-of compilation from his previous gigs at Fort Worth Chop House, Gunsmoke Grill, and Cachonga’s, with well-tuned dishes like tenderloin Oscar, chipotle chicken quesadillas, “rasta” pasta, and good old slow-cooked pot roast. But the talk of the town is Hicks’ updated soul food, the epicurean infusions and sauces that enliven down-home catfish and collards, chicken and waffles, and fried green tomatoes. From calamari with a classic remoulade to raspberry-sauced bread pudding, Hicks’ all-star menu is at once comfortably familiar and excitingly innovative.
Readers’ choice: Fred’s Cafe, 915 Currie St, FW
Critic’s choice: Dirty Love Burger, Love Shack
All the Shack’s burger patties are equal parts prime tenderloin and prime brisket, ground fresh daily. The Dirty Love Burger is served with crisp bacon curls and a hard-fried quail egg for extra tummy comfort. It’s topped with chef Tim Love’s signature Love Sauce, a light, sweet-tangy-salty confection with a hint of Worcestershire smokiness that quite literally induces the kind of lip-smacking Miss Manners would frown upon.
Critic’s choice: Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, 4259 Bryant Irvin Rd, FW
OK, riddle us this, foodies of the Fort: What other restaurant in North Texas thanks its suppliers, yeah verily down unto the growers of lettuce, on its menu? What other place offers beautifully prepared game dishes and the best in locally grown meats and produce? What other place makes better use of Parker County peaches and boutique beef? Serves top-flight gourmet food amid a décor that (tastefully) emphasizes boots, leather, and hunting scenes along with the crystal? Has earned national recognition while remaining friendly and unassuming to a fault? We rest our case.
Critics’s choice: Benito’s, 1450 W Magnolia Av, FW
Readers’ choice: Reata
Critic’s choice: Big Fish, 414 S Main St, Grapevine
True, the best view here – of Grapevine’s kitschy, active Main Street – is only available from a few tables. But the place is also great for people-watching, and really, you get to enjoy the Main Street scene before and after dinner as well. Then there’s the wide, welcoming bar, nice art, and, on some evenings, the musicians in the front window space. Just don’t go for a quiet meal – probably in part because of the dearth of good seafood places in Tarrant County, this is usually one hoppin’ spot.
Readers’ choice: Ovation
Critic’s choice: Hatch’s Corner, 6950 Forest Hill Dr, Forest Hill
Hatch’s Corner doesn’t look pretty, but oh, it sure smells good inside, thanks to the cafeteria-style offerings of barbecue ribs, crispy fried chicken and catfish, fall-apart beef tips over rice, and thin, perfectly seasoned pork chops. And my, my, the vegetables: fresh-fried okra, slow-simmered black-eyed peas, bacon-y greens, pungent cabbage, gooey mac & cheese. The peach cobbler finale makes every day a Sunday-after-church day.
Critic’s choice: Star Café, 111 W Exchange Av, FW
How do we justify labeling this Stockyards café a “secret” when it’s been around for almost 100 years? Well, they offer fantastic food, ranging from burgers and fries to lip-smacking rib-eyes and tenderloins. They top it off with tasty pies and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Everything’s reasonably priced and served amid a rustic but comfortable décor. And yet for some reason there’s almost always an open table. We’d expect a line out the door for food this good, but it seems like most diners flock to the east end of the Stockyards, where steakhouses and barbecue joints are clustered together. Take some advice – go west young man and/or woman!
Critic’s choice: La Playa Maya, three locations, FW
La Playa Maya has been running a mariscos monopoly in Cowtown for two decades. The sheer volume of Mexican coastal dishes their restaurants serve is a refreshing alternative to any seafood-inclined palate. The house specialty – camarones a la playa – comes grilled, with just enough seasoning for the chili powder to kick the taste buds into overdrive. In addition to the shrimp, La Playa serves up multiple combinations of oysters, crab, octopus, fresh vegetables, cilantro, lime, and more.
Critic’s choice: Duce, 6333 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
Fort Worth doesn’t exactly rival Madrid (or anywhere else, for that matter) in terms of tapas possibilities. Luckily, Tim Love’s hotspot offers a nice array of small plates in a convivial, tapas-style atmosphere. The crawfish salad goes well with a nice glass of dry white, and the halibut sausage makes for some interesting convos.
Critic’s choice: Albertsons, several locations
Most folks would prefer to support mom-and-pop grocery stores and buy nothing but fine organic ingredients. However, if the bottom line is your deciding factor, Albertsons’ specials are hard to beat. “Preferred Card” savings often cut your total bill in half, even if the end result is a cart full of produce that wasn’t hand-harvested from a quaint farm high in the Andes and meats that were not hand-cut from free-range animals. You can still whip up many a tasty meal – and more of them – for the price.
Critic’s choice: Ernesto’s Taqueria, 4050 Hemphill St, FW
Ernesto’s is in many ways the quintessential taqueria. As you walk in, you’re faced with a veritable barnyard of deliciousness. But what separates Ernesto’s from the rest of the herd is that no matter which part of whatever animal you’re enjoying, you can always count on the fact that the ingredients are fresh and well prepared, and the friendly staff suffers the gringo politely and professionally – a claim few other taquerias can make.
Critic’s choice: Jamba Juice, several locations
Before “carbohydrates” became some sort of curse word, athletes and balanced-diet advocates regularly subsisted on the stuff, especially on nights before big games, meets, or matches. Grains and pastas do the trick, but it’s hard to mess with fresh fruit in terms of ideal carb intake. Jamba Juice has a magic knack for blending delicious fresh fruit into cold, slushy goodness. Whether through Pomegranate Paradise or Strawberry Nirvana, Jamba Juice will get your motor running.
Sandwich: Pork sausage, made fresh every morning, drenched with house-made sweet-tangy barbecue sauce — trust us, don’t try to eat this sandwich in the car. Settle in at Sausage Shoppe, 1302 E. Seminary Dr., FW.
Brisket: Perfect every time, wrapped in a red smoke ring and crowned with a flavor-burst crust at Texas Pit Bar-B-Q, 324 S. Saginaw Blvd., Saginaw.
Turkey leg: Every day’s a fest when you’re waving one of these in the air. Wilson’s Barbecue, 5633 Lovell St., FW
Sides: Texas Pit’s mustard-spiked potato salad and Ike’s tongue-tingling baked beans.
Dessert: Sweet-potato pie like your bossy grandma used to make, also available at Wilson’s.
Drink: Papaya licuados, the Salvadoran smoothie, at Marquez Restaurant, 928 N. Collins St., Arlington.
Bread: Rosemary-dusted focaccia, as cushy-firm as a pillowtop mattress, at Nonna Tata, 1400 W. Magnolia Av., FW.
Appetizers: A double dose of silky – baba ghannouj at Beirut Rock Café, 1201 S. Cooper St., Arlington, and stuffed eggplant with pesto cream sauce at Al Covo, 7618 Camp Bowie Blvd. West, FW.
Soup: It doesn’t get cooler than borscht from Taste of Europe, 1901 W. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington.
Salad: Lao papaya salad, hotter than a Texas summer, at Rice “N” Noodle, 9094 Camp Bowie Blvd. W, FW.
Entrée: The aptly named shrimp chow fun at Pho Vietnam, 1000 W. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington
Sides: Spiced lentils from Star India, 703 W. Park Row Dr., Arlington, with clove-fragrant biryani rice at Biryani House, 1309 S. Cooper St., Arlington.
Dessert: The perfect sushi finale – mango ice cream with tempura fried bananas, from Sushi Zone, 915 E Road to Six Flags, Arlington.
Drink: Homemade horchata, fortified with lime, almonds, and lots of cinnamon, at Cachito’s, 2119 Harwood Rd., Bedford.
Chips & salsa: Can’t get hotter, fresher chips than at this to tilleria, which also makes its own hot, fresh salsas. La Nueva de Zacatecas,several area locations.
Ceviche: Snappy lime and picante spices make even a chico portion grande at Costa Azul, 1521 N. Main St., FW.
Enchiladas: Everything’s better with Juanes Taqueria’s rich, sweet, nutty molé poblano sauce on it. 3401 Altamesa Blvd., FW.
Tamales: For the fearless diner, huitlacoche (corn smut) tamales at Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, 3405 W. 7th St., FW.
Tacos: Start with a three-pack of the ultra-tender, lightly spicy pollo guisado, then cruise the rest of the menu at Benito’s, 3708 Decatur Av., Ste B, FW.
Flan: You’ve never had it creamier than at Cuco’s Sandwich Shop, 6650 Glenview Dr., North Richland Hills.
Late Night Dining
Readers’ choice: Ol’ South Pancake House, 1509 S University Dr, FW
Late-night Mexican food choices are even better: Fuzzy’s Tacos on Berry Street (not the Race Street locale, above) stays open ’til midnight Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Thursday, and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. On the weekends, Sammy’s on Central Avenue on the North Side, as all serious drinkers know, is open all the way until 4 a.m. Arguably the best Mexican food you’ll ever have at 2 a.m. is Benito’s, which stays open that late on Friday and Saturday.
For those with more of a refined palate and thicker wallet, the Fort has other options. Sardines Ristorante Italiano keeps the kitchen open until 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 12:30 a.m. on weekends. Tim Love’s steakhouse, Duce, wines and dines ’til 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Piranha Killer Sushi rolls on until 1 a.m. on weekends.
In Arlington, King Chinese BBQ, a little gem at Pioneer Parkway and Collins Street, is open until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends. For late-night munchies in North Richland Hills, try the Suthern Comfort Restaurant and Pub for chicken-fried anything. They’re open until 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 1:30 a.m. on weekends.