Every neighborhood needs a cheap greasy spoon for folks with more hangover than money, the sort of place where the only things that don’t come deep-fried are the plastic tablecloths.
Fortunately for Near Southsiders, there are a couple of options, most notably Hemphill’s Restaurant. Everything about this cozy hole in the wall screams divey café, from the dilapidated exterior that could probably use another coat of blue paint to the homey interior, dimly lit with low-hanging brass fixtures that appear to date back to the Carter administration.
The third, and most telling, clue that this place might be one of those below-the-radar finds is the pricing. Just one glance at the menu, and it becomes pretty clear that the dive diner’s gambit applies: Either this place is the jackpot or it’s an E. coli hangout.
As it turns out, your gut will feel as peachy as your wallet as you walk out — evidently a poorly kept secret, since the place was packed during a recent weekend lunch hour. Hemphill’s no-nonsense offerings may be going out of style in an area increasingly dominated by the ever-booming restaurant row of West Magnolia Avenue, but the diner’s less-than-lofty ambitions shouldn’t reduce your dining pleasure.
The menu leans toward Mexican-style dishes, although Hemphill’s is not an exclusively Mexican restaurant. Just a few inches below the carne guisado ($9.25) on the menu, you’ll find Main Street favorites like pork chops and catfish.
All of the explicitly labeled house specialties are Mexican dishes, though, so I let that guide my decisions.
[pullquote_right]While I don’t eat chimichangas every day, this was the best one I’ve ever had.[/pullquote_right]The appetizer offerings were standard — cheese sticks, queso — but I was after a particular type of cheese fix, and the bean and cheese nachos beckoned. Upon arrival, the plate frankly looked rather unappealing. The cheese appeared greasy and a bit too thick. But I was wrong. The chips were still crunchy under all of that yellow gooey goodness, and the refried beans saved the dish. It should be noted that the cheese was the real deal, not that processed stuff that cheapskate restaurateurs buy in drums from DuPont.
For my entrée, I selected the most distinctly named thing on the menu: Bill Hart’s Chimichanga Special. And, oh, it was love at first sight. Picture it: a deep-fried burrito stuffed with mozzarella, rice, refried beans, and shredded chicken (beef is also available), all topped with a mountain of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and fat shards of cheese. Tucked onto the side were a scoop each of sour cream and guacamole. Bill Hart’s is the sort of dish that, sitting steaming and aromatic just beneath your nose, makes you want to make the sign of the cross and loosen your belt for some no-holds-barred gluttony.
I’m not one to count calories, and this sort of meal is precisely why. The four main ingredients mingled nicely, especially when their collective gooeyness met with a bite of the crunchy tortilla. I’m going to go ahead and call this one: While I don’t eat chimichangas every day, this was the best one I’ve ever had.
Hemphill’s cheese chile relleno, my second dish, paled in comparison –– I lost my attention after just a few bites. It was exactly what was to be expected: a cheese-stuffed roasted poblano fried in an egg batter (beef is the other option). And that’s exactly what Hemphill’s served up. Nothing more. Nothing less.
For dessert, I grabbed a peach cobbler to go. My waitress offered to put a scoop of ice cream on it, but I declined, eyeing the scorcher developing outside and deciding not to tempt fate on the admittedly short ride home. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. A scoop of vanilla would have perfectly sopped up the outrageously sweet peach syrup. It felt just too decadent to lick the container clean later that afternoon.
The service was prompt but slightly curt, though there’s no room to complain, considering it was a weekend lunch hour and the joint was moderately busy. Just watch out for Hemphill’s wonky operating hours, which vary greatly throughout the week.
3508 Hemphill St, FW. 817-927-1713.
10:30am-3pm Mon-Wed, Thu-Fri 10:30am-9pm, Sat-Sun 7am-9pm. (Breakfast served Sat-Sun only.) All major credit cards accepted.
Bean and cheese nachos (half order) …………… $4.50
Bill Hart’s Chimichanga Special… $7.25
Chile relleno (beef or cheese)…. $9.75
Peach cobbler ……………………… $2.50