Appetizer: There are many ways to get your barbecue “pre-game” on in North Texas. The BBQ Ranch (10250 Western Oaks Rd) serves up a formidable starter — the Ranch Rattler. What better way to begin your meal than with a hefty bacon-wrapped jalapeño stuffed with cream cheese and juicy chopped brisket?
Ribs: The battle over beef vs. pork ribs rages on in the South, but for pure juicy, porky goodness the experience at Baker’s Ribs (1921 S Main St, Weatherford) is hard to beat. Each fall-off-the-bone tender bite is complemented by a smoky crust with a light kiss of brown sugar.
Chicken: Jamaicans and Texans share at least one thing in common — a love for smoked meats. Stay C’s Kitchen (6204 S Cooper St, Arl) serves up a savory jerk chicken that is smoked all day with pimiento wood (native to Jamaica and similar to mesquite). The dry-rubbed jerk seasoning will leave your mouth full of Caribbean flavors.
Dessert: Cobbler is the quintessential Texas dessert — simple yet hearty. Back Forty Smokehouse (8021 Main St, NRH) serves a superlative apple version that’s made in-house with cinnamon-infused apple slices and a thick, buttery, and flaky crust.
Appetizer: Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub (1001 W Magnolia Av) is known for its wood-fired pizzas and custom brews, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the place’s lesser-known items like the tomini al verde (goat cheese with green sauce). This great starter is served on hearty cuts of bread with a generous scoop of goat cheese drizzled with a robust parsley-infused olive oil.
Sandwich: Some of the best sammies can be found in the humblest of diners, like Joe’s Coffee Shop (5912 Denton Hwy). The tuna melt is a delectable mashup of salty tuna chunks, shredded cheddar, diced eggs, and mayonnaise on buttery rye bread.
Entrée: For a greasy, finger-licking good time, grab some wings from TJ’s Catfish and Wings (4261 W Green Oaks Blvd). The wings are large, and the sauce (thick, sweet, and salty) is divine.
Dessert: The words “velvet cake, pie crust, and fudge” are rarely used together, let alone baked into one dish. The red velvet fudge pie is the brainchild of Josh Hopkins, chef/owner of Fork in the Road (1821 South Fielder Rd, Arl). Each slice offers the rich, moist flavors of red velvet cake, topped with a thick, chocolaty fudge crown, and the light, buttery texture of pie crust. It’s something of a Franken-stein’s monster, but you’ll be a convert after one bite.
Appetizer: Carnivores have to try the nuur sawan, or Thai beef jerky, at Thai Papaya Garden (100 S Industrial Blvd, Ste 100, Euless). Dark, lean beef strips the size of twist-ties are marinated in chile spices, then deep-fried (though not breaded). They are chewy, moderately spicy, and loaded with an intense flavor nicely complemented by a thick, red, sweet-hot dipping sauce
Entrée: The Middle Eastern/Italian deli Mo’s Best Eatery (4004 Little Rd, Arl) cooks up a savory pasta specialty called Mo’s Best Pasta Dish — a generous tumble of penne tubes spotted with sharp flecks of fresh basil, then covered in a heavenly lemon-butter parmesan sauce with shreds of spinach and white-meat chicken chunks.
Sides: Brodard Asian Express & Boba Tea (5005 S Cooper St) serves a pale red, moist, and fruity (though not sweet) side dish called tomato rice that is utterly addictive.
Dessert: The authentically Caribbean dessert known as bun and cheese — soft bread spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and raisins with a melted slice of American cheese in the center — proves an unexpected delight at Stay C’s Kitchen (6204 S Cooper St, Arl).
All-Star Chain Dishes
Soup: The luxurious, cream-based tomato soup at La Madeleine, kissed with a little basil, is vegetarian. It’s not vegan, because there’s half a cow’s worth of cream in every pot. There’s also a reduced-fat version that’s surprisingly good, if not as great as the original.
Bread: At Panera, choose from sea-salt focaccia, asiago cheese loaf, plain French, and raisin, just to name a few of the bread choices. All the goodies are made fresh daily, and any bread left over when the doors close is donated to organizations that help fight hunger.
Side dish: The french fries at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers are big, thick, crispy, mealy-on-the-inside steakhouse fries coated with the trademarked Red Robin seasoning — slightly salty, slightly spicy, really good. Best of all, you get as many helpings as you want with your burger order.
Entrée: Del Frisco’s Steakhouse (812 Main St) is one of the few places in town that takes your instructions about the preparation of your steak so seriously that your server will ask you to slice into your filet, rib-eye, or Wagyu longbone to make sure your dinner was cooked to your specifications. Odds are, it will be perfect.
Dessert: The tres leches cake at Chuy’s may not be strictly traditional. But the holy grail of Mexican pastries here is a giant serving of incredibly moist goodness, helped by the sweetened condensed milk, cream, and dabs of caramel sauce on the plate.
Appetizer: The queso fundido at Revolver Taco Lounge (2822 W 7th St), packed with plump shrimp and poblano peppers, satisfies all of the requirements for superior Mexican fare: spicy, cheesy, creamy, fresh, and not too oily.
Tacos: There’s an artful hand guiding Mariposa’s Latin Kitchen (5724 Locke Av). The tacos are works of high art. Each meat filling is prepared using a unique process or marinade and comes with a perfect complement of delicious veggies and sauces.
Enchiladas: The cheese enchiladas at The Original Mexican Eats Café (4713 Camp Bowie Blvd) have set the standard for four generations of Fort Worthians. The version with chili sauce is the stuff of food fantasies.
Stew: The pork shoulder in the spicy chile verde at Salsa Fuego (3520 Alta Mere Dr) is so tender you’d think it was fois gras.
Dessert: At Paco & John’s (1116 8th Ave), the menu is French-Mex instead of traditional Mexican cuisine, but the not-too-sweet, caramel-y flan is a perfect end to whatever kind of meal you have.
Readers’ choice: Del Frisco’s Steakhouse, 812 Main St
Critic’s Top Five:
In a place called Cowtown, you expect to find killer steaks, and the burg doesn’t disappoint. Del Frisco’s, from its sirloin to its service, is top-notch. You can’t go wrong with the 16-oz. rib-eye — it’s kind of an expensive-date-night must-have. … At Bob’s Steak and Chop House (1300 Houston St), the New York strip is the standard-bearer, but if you’re a veal fan, the shank is not to be missed. … Capital Grille (800 Main St ) is a stellar experience from start to delicious finish; try the Kona coffee-crusted bone-in sirloin. … Daddy Jack’s New England Lobster & Chowder House (353 Throckmorton St) is best known for its seafood, but the 12-oz. filet might make you forget the fish. … Of course, downtown’s not the only place for steaks; up north in Watauga is the now-famous (thanks, Guy Fieri) Chef Point Café (5901 Watauga Rd). These days it’s more of a restaurant than a charming little gas station with great food, and it still serves up amazing slabs of beef. “The Braveheart” New York strip stuffed with Canadian bacon and smoked cheese is decadent and heavenly at the same time.
Critic’s Top Five:
Salsa Limón (929 University Dr) is gradually becoming a Fort Worth institution, and it’s easy to see why. The menu rocks across the board, but at the top of the list is its buttery, toasty El Capitan. … Simple and delicious, the offerings at Tacos Ernesto (3778 McCart Av) are done right, with great service and a juicy buche version that will make you want a box of ’em to share. … The relative new kid on the block might be a Dallas franchise, but don’t discount Velvet Taco (2700 W 7th St ) because of geographic origins — the menu is flavored with global cuisine, and vegetarians have more to choose from than the usual boring ol’ spinach quesadillas. … Taqueria Melis (4304 W Vickery Blvd) is a classic taco shack that might fly under the radar of foodies looking for inventive flash, but everything on the menu is perfectly done. They’re not fancy, but you’ll keep coming back for the tripas and pastor. … El Mil Taqueria (3910 Hemphill St ) might be the best of the best, but its best taco is hard to determine, so take your pick; if you go with lengua, get there before the lunch rush, because lots of other people have the same idea.
Readers’ choice: Rodeo Goat, 2836 Bledsoe St
Critic’s Top Five:
For a quick burger in a comfy sports bar-esque atmosphere, look no further than Bottlecap Alley (multiple locations, including 843 Foch St), where you can build your own from a handy order sheet. Feel like a double patty with grilled jalapeños and onions, chipotle mayo, pepper jack, sautéed mushrooms, and a fried egg on top? Or a turkey patty with sauerkraut, honey mustard, and chili? Knock yourself out. … Though serving food only for lunch on Fridays, the butcher shop Burgundy Pasture Beef (3326 W 7th St) keeps its cooks busy — sometimes the line of customers winds out the door. And not unexpectedly. The burger — with Tillamook cheddar, onion slices, pickles, lettuce, and tomato on a wheat bun — is so peppery and juicy your eyes may roll back in your head on first bite. … With all due respect to Fred’s Original and Fred’s North, the Fredburger at Fred’s TCU (2800 S University Dr) really rocks. The mélange of succulent, smoky beef and melted cheddar with lettuce and tomato on a buttery bun always hits the spot. … The burgers at Rodeo Goat (2836 Bledsoe St) are neither big nor greasy, but they are outrageously flavorful. From the no-nonsense Nanny Goat (herb-infused goat cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic-herb mayo) to every gourmand’s dream, the Cowboy Murrin (applewood-smoked bacon, jalapeños, fried onions, cheddar, pickle chutney, tomato, and housemade barbecue sauce), Rodeo Goat has you covered. … There’s a lot to love about the fancy but affordable burgers at Twisted Root (310 E Abram St, Ste 100, Arl), but for the best mushroom-swiss in the great 817, steer your salivating mouth toward the Lots-a-Shroom: a heap of baby ’bellos with aged cheese and garlic overtones on a savory sesame-seed bun.