Dear Fort Worth Diners,
I hope this letter finds you well and you’re all enjoying the new concept restaurants imported from all over the country. That sounds exciting-ish – like the Disneyland version of a restaurant scene.
As I write you today, I’m in something of a crisis state. As you no doubt remember, some of the best restaurants in the city (according to me) seem to have the shortest life spans. I’ve never gotten over the way premature closings of places like AF&B, Le Cep, Revolver Taco Lounge, Sera, and a few other favorites that weren’t birthed by focus groups or a Dallas strip mall.
I keep thinking, “If only I had done more to help them.” Alas, I’m a restaurant columnist, not a PR firm. It’s not really my job to advocate for people to go to a restaurant. I’m supposed to just tell the truth, sprinkle in a yuk or two, and let readers decide for themselves. The problem is, it seems that people would rather overspend at The Cheesecake Factory or some other corporate theme park disguised as a restaurant than keep a brilliant locally owned eatery in business.
I plummeted down this rabbit hole like Baby Jessica after visiting Paco’s Mexican Cuisine (1508 W Magnolia Av, 817-759-9110) over the weekend. The standout kind-of upscale Mexican-meets-French bistro is one of the most unheralded culinary treasures in this city. On my recent visit, the progeny of beloved Paco & John was practically empty on a Saturday night. I felt restaurant-related PTSD. “Don’t ruin this for me, Fort Worth,” I thought.
Every Mexican restaurant above the taqueria level must answer one crucial question: Will it serve fine food, with a respect for regional differences and prime ingredients, or will it saunter down the cash-strewn path to Margaritaville? Paco’s is decidedly in the camp of the former: no combination platters, in other words.
As it is every time I’ve visited, the experience was near flawless. My guest and I started with the perfect pairing of appetizers: the gooey, rich queso fundido ($4.95) and the creamy, surprisingly spicy guacamole ($5.95). Combined on a hot, fresh-tasting chip and slathered with a heap of the smoky, piquant housemade salsa, the fusion of flavors made for the perfect bite.
Paco’s kitchen cranks out, hands-down, the best Mexican-inspired soups in the city. The poblano-queso soup ($5.95) is a master-class in elegant simplicity, balance, and seasoning. The cheese and smoked pepper are strained into gliding smoothness, with fresh-tasting hunks of chicken, avocado, and queso fresco bobbing in the brew. The pozole ($7.95) was on special that night, and the heaping bowl of spicy pork-and-hominy stew was dotted with slivers of radish, lettuce, avocado, and queso fresco swimming in a rich broth.
We were tempted by the entree portion of mussels ($16.95) – a throwback to chef/owner Francisco Islas’ days working at venerable fine-dinning stalwart Saint-Emilion – but had predetermined to order Dos Moles ($16.95). Pork tenderloin and quail arrived slathered in a dark, intense sauce. The result was almost goth. Imagine eating sauce of night.
Paco’s is adding a bar that’s set to open any day now. Hopefully that will drive more traffic to the place on weekend nights. Until then, you’ll find me there waving in walk-in traffic like marshalers on an airport tarmac – professional etiquette be damned. Don’t ruin this for me.
All the Best,