Dear Blotchers: I’m touched. You really do care.
Several readers asked whether I found a new lunch spot to replace my beloved Los Alamos Cafe, which closed in May. I’d eaten there most every day for 20 years.
In June I was still desperately seeking a replacement.
Since then, I haven’t written about food — I suffered a mild form of post-traumatic salsaverde syndrome. I’m still recovering.
Before we talk about the new restaurants let’s talk a little about appreciation. And confirmation-uh! Verbaliza-shun-uh! Gratifica-shun-uh!!!!! Can I get a witness?!!!? You see, friends, we autopilot through life taking for granted all the wonders that God and a great enchilada cook provide.
When’s the last time you sent a note of appreciation to the cooks who rarely leave the kitchen but whose delicacies so tenderly nurture your palate? When’s the last time you shook a restaurant owner’s hand and said, “I know it’s tough making a living running a restaurant but I’m thankful you’re here”?
Los Alamos’ simple Tex-Mex fare coursed through my veins like chili-powdered lifeblood for two decades. I felt at home in the cluttered dining area. I befriended other regulars and shared spirited conversations about current events. Co-owners Alex and Alfred Gallegos made customers feel special for many years, as their parents had done years earlier. Waitress Norma Rodriguez was the jewel of the place for the last 15 years. The cooks were shy and didn’t speak much English but consistently served up great food with little recognition. I gave them boxes of candy each Christmas. You should too if you like a place well enough.
I’ve made dozens of first-time visits to restaurants since May. Most were okay but didn’t fit my needs. Some flat-out sucked. Overpriced, bland food served by aloof staff in noisy dining rooms with little character. Is this Fort Worth or Orlando?
Some places were really good but lacked one or two of the elements I demand — spicy food served in large portions to people who want to get full fast; fair prices; close proximity to work (central Fort Worth); a sense of camaraderie and familial spirit; TV turned to sports or news with easy access to a remote; a fresh newspaper lying around; dining room not too crowded but not too empty; fairly clean health record; and easy parking. Feral cats out back are optional.
Benito’s is a Fort Worth classic but I’d rarely eaten there despite having been born and raised in dear old Cowtown. Now I see what all the fuss is about. The lunch specials are great (try the No. 7 with the enchilada and tostada). Chips and salsa cost extra, but the after-meal praline is only $1.50. (The best pralines in town are at Original Mexican Eats Cafe but they are pricey at almost $3.) Sometimes I eat somewhere and then stop at The Original just for a praline. (Yes, Dr. Killjoy, I know I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack at any moment but please let me enjoy my life thank you! Does queso come with that?)
Nizza Pizza Pasta & Subs has become my regular Tuesday spot because of the $1 slices of New York style cheese pizza. A mixed salad with homestyle spicy bleu cheese, two pizza slices, and a big coke go for $7. Good stuff. What’s that? (Oh, never mind, that was just the sound of another artery hardening.)
Nuevo Leon has excellent food, a great dining room, friendly servers, a lovable owner, and inexpensive lunch specials. The enchilada dinners are only $5 and taste great. However, it’s not crowded enough and that worries me. I hate to get all settled in again only to be stabbed in the gut with a sharpened menudo spoon when I show up one day and find a locked door. That’s how I found out Los Alamos closed. I digress.
El Asadero has the best salsa and also offers killer enchilada lunch specials. I’m torn between this place and Nuevo, but if I had to choose one over the other I’d give the nod to Nuevo Leon because the food’s a bit cheaper, and so am I. Alternating between the two places serves my current need for comida bueno.
One of the best lunch deals was right under my nose. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is super close to Fort Worth Weekly but I never paid it much attention because barbecue generally isn’t spicy, cheesy, greasy, or fattening enough to meet my stomach’s strict demands for culinary satisfaction. But Dickey’s has a winner with its $5 daily lunch special — a large pulled pork sandwich, choice of side, and a drink. Not many places can fill up a hungry Texan for $5, but Dickey’s does it — because they let you serve your own side, wink, wink. (Why eat just one dollop of potato salad when they let you pile on two?) I’m beginning to see why Los Alamos sank. They never charged for tortillas, and the combined tonnage of flour and dough that I consumed in 20 years could have been used to construct a life-size replica of the Titanic.
I’ll keep you posted if I stumble onto a new honey hole that renders all other restaurants obsolete. I’m a one-restaurant man for the most part. But I doubt it will happen. At least not for a while. That kind of lightning might strike once in a lifetime. I’m gunshy. But I’m hopeful. I have an open heart (yes, that’s right, to make my final point I used a phrase from Jane Seymour’s late-night infomercial featuring cheap jewelry).