So the other day Chow, Baby got an e-mail from an editor at Budget Travel magazine inquiring after our famous restaurants, the ones that pop up in all the travel guides.

Fort Worth Institutions, that is. Are they really that great, Kate wondered, or are there better, lesser-known spots that Chow, Baby would like to pontificate about for the benefit of visitors to Our Fair City? Chow, Baby thinks we all know the answer to that one. Angelo’s and Railhead? No, no, no. Angelo’s has its flavor points, but go anywhere that’s not the bafflingly popular Railhead: Wilson’s, Mom’s, anywhere. Kincaid’s? Juicy, though Chow, Baby, as everybody knows, much prefers the Fredburger. Next on Kate’s list: Fuzzy’s Tacos. What? When did Fuzzy’s become a Fort Worth Institution? Granted, the tempura-fried fish is mighty fine. But when Chow, Baby has a taco, it’d better be carnitas or barbacoa, and it’d best be from a truck near NE 28th Street. Budget Travel-ers should appreciate that.

OK, how about Joe T. Garcia’s, certainly the Metroplex’s most famous Tex-Mex restaurant, in the same location (though ever-expanding) for 70 years, where local and national celebrities can frequently be spotted, a Fort Worth Institution if ever there was one? There’s the great thing about e-mail: If you don’t know something, you can go find out and then pretend you knew all along. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. Here’s what I think about Joe T.’s, which, being a local-dining expert and all, I (ahem) of course have been to at least once.”

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We all know by now how these Fort Worth Institution visits go: Chow, Baby admires the sense of history and the atmosphere, unless there are tvs; whines about the mediocre food; and chides the crowd (and these places are always crowded) for not knowing any better. So let’s start by oh-wowwing at Joe T.’s beautiful hacienda-style gardens, a full city block of lushness, comfortable even in July thanks to lots of shade trees and fans. Seating capacity is more than 1,000, but it’s separated into cozy niches and rooms so you never feel like part of a mob. To feed all these people, the kitchen cranks out a limited dinner menu. Option A: a bland cheese enchilada plate ($10.25) with wonderfully silky refried beans, crispy tacos stuffed mainly with lettuce, and plastic-looking guac. Option B: so-called beef fajitas ($11.75), mute lumps of tenderloin masquerading as pot roast – an offense to purists, who insist on lime-marinated skirt steak, and to flourishists, who want the plate to come out sizzling. (Option C is chicken fajitas, which Chow, Baby wishes it had gotten. Couldn’t have been any worse.) Yep, mediocre.

But Chow, Baby isn’t going to scold the crowd for being at the prettiest al fresco dining spot in town. Just for eating there. Obviously the thing to do is to have a margarita or several in Joe T.’s gardens, then stroll a couple of blocks to a good Mexican restaurant – say, El Asadero, Costa Azul, Tunero, or Nuevo Leon, among many, many others. We all knew that, didn’t we? And if Chow, Baby can help just one travel guide get it right, perhaps one day the whole world will know.

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