Critic’s Choice: Wishbone & Flynt, 334 Bryan Av, 817-945-2433
There’s a lot of surf and turf happening on the menu at Wishbone & Flint, Stefon Rishel’s new restaurant on the Near Southside. The PB&J wings seem like the most popular item, and Rishel hits all the cylinders with the slightly peanut-y coating and a rich, fruity currant dipping sauce. The beautiful chargrilled octopus, a barely hickory-smoked grilled shrimp ceviche, smoked redfish eggrolls, and (because it’s Cowtown) chargrilled beef skewers with a delightfully herby chimichurri sauce are some of your other options. Also, on the dinner menu, the lobster mac ’n’ cheese appetizer doubles as an entree, if you’re not afraid of shellfish, a ton of luscious dairy, and an impending carbohydrate coma.
Critic’s Choice: Wishbone & Flynt, 334 Bryan Av, 817-945-2433
Cozy and elegant without feeling stuffy, the interior of Stefon Rishel’s newest restaurant is a symphony of leather banquettes, industrial wood tables, and concrete flooring. Outside, there’s a cute Hill Country-esque patio lit with twinkly lights if you want to try to take advantage of the cooler weather and occasional local or regional music act. The restaurant itself is fairly small, but that may be an advantage. You can see the open kitchen from almost every seat in the house, and Rishel makes the rounds fairly often. But the star of the show (besides his appetizers) is the Amber Room, approached by an unassuming curtain through the dining room or an unmarked door on the street. The retro lounge furniture and beautiful decorations beg you to sit a spell with a speakeasy-style late night drink.
Readers’ Top 5: Angelo’s BBQ, 2533 White Settlement Rd, 817-332-0357 • Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, 2735 W 5th St, 682-472-0181 • Derek Allan’s Texas Barbecue, 1116 8th Av, 817-238-3840 • Heim BBQ, 1109 W Magnolia Av, 817-882-6970 • Panther City BBQ, 201 E Hattie St, 682-499-5618
Critic’s Choice: Derek Allan’s Texas Barbecue
The husband-and-wife team of Brittany and Derek Allan have added creativity and subtle sophistication to Fort Worth’s already rich barbecue scene. Derek Allan’s Texas Barbecue offers traditional Texas ’cue and bold new creations. Brisket Biscuit Chimichurri and Chicken Boudin sausage are now a part of Cowtown’s barbecue vernacular, thanks to this sharp duo. Did we mention that the beef Wagyu brisket practically melts in your mouth? Part of Derek’s secret, his Bark Builder rub, is sold for home use. The pepper rub goes on pretty much anything. Trust us, we’ve tried it.
Readers’ Choice: Vickery Cafe, 4120 W Vickery Blvd, 817-731-9933
Critic’s Choice: FiVi’s Kitchen, 5724 Locke Av, 817-420-6118
Forget First Watch and Snooze A.M. and Sunny Street Cafe and all the other chains that have colonized our need for morning fuel. We’re sticking with this locally owned place named after the owner’s aunt. One of the better chicken-fried steaks in town would be enough to recommend this spot in itself, but we can’t get enough of the funnel cake French toast that comes with bits of fried dough on top of the luxurious brioche. If we could have this crunchy confection every morning, we’d never miss breakfast again.
Readers’ Choice: The Bearded Lady, 300 S Main St, 817-349-9832
Critic’s Choice: Winslow’s Wine Cafe, 4101 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-546-6843
Maybe brunch used to be about seeing and being seen, but lately all we’re looking for is a place to sip our mimosas and eat our eggs in relative peace. The walled-in courtyard patio at Winslow’s Wine Cafe is just the private, tucked-away locale this weird moment in our lives calls for. Fort Worth is a city that loves brunch like no other, and Winslow’s knows this, so the menu is a greatest hits collection of classic dishes: Eggs Benedict, chicken and waffles, avocado toast, and, this being Texas, a couple of Tex-Mex favorites — plus pizzas and salads galore. Winslow’s is close enough to the museums and Crockett Row to feel like a destination, but it’s as cozy and secluded (read: safe) as your own backyard, only someone else is doing all the cooking and you don’t have to fight over who’s doing the dishes.
Readers’ Top 5: The Bearded Lady, 300 S Main St, 817-349-9832 • Dutch’s, 3009 S University Dr, 817-927-5522 • Fred’s Texas Cafe, 915 Currie St, 817-332-0083 • Kincaid’s, 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-732-2881 • Rodeo Goat, 2836 Bledsoe Street, 817-877-4628
Critic’s Choice: L.U.S.T., The Bearded Lady
Just months after Shannon Osbakken opened The Bearded Lady’s new home on South Main Street, she found herself transitioning from party porch proprietor to essential worker. With a skeleton crew, Osbakken began serving family-style meals while keeping the insanely popular L.U.S.T. burger as an option for quarantined burgerphiles. The L.U.S.T. is the perfect comfort food for waiting out a pandemic. The juicy patty blends choice ground beef with feta cheese and slivers of poblano peppers. Slices of avocado add a creamy mouthfeel to the dish that is topped with cheese that’s oh so gouda. The burger isn’t a belt-buster. Unlike the news most days (thanks, 2020), L.U.S.T. won’t weigh you down.
Readers’ Choice: (tie) Boo-Ray’s of New Orleans, 5728 Boat Club Rd, 817-236-6149 • Tributary Cafe, 2813 Race St, 817-832-0823
Critic’s Choice: Tributary Cafe
While Boo-Ray’s certainly does Cajun right, the nod this year goes to Tributary for its creativity. And, no, putting spins on traditional fare isn’t a sin. Case in point: the Trib’s chicory coffee-rub burger with blue cheese, arugula, crispy onions, and a Dr Pepper glaze. And it’s as big as your head. It’s so orgasmic, it might as well come with a cigarette.
Critic’s Choice: Z’s Cafe and Catering, 1316 Pennsylvania Av, 817-348-9000
This restaurant and catering company made news in the spring when the coronavirus outbreak prompted them to launch their Crisis Meal Project. By preparing and distributing meals to food-insecure families, mother and son co-owners Janet and Carlos Capua have given a new meaning to the term “food service.” Also, the food is superb, and there is a variety of vegetarian and vegan options. Good food, good public service, and a love of community make Z’s Cafe our top pick.
Readers’ Choice: Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, 4259 Bryant Irvin Rd, 817-738-5489
Critic’s Choice: Molly McCook, Ellerbe Fine Foods, 1501 W Magnolia Av, 817-926-3663
Named as the only 2020 James Beard Foundation Semi-Finalist from Fort Worth, McCook, who’s dazzled everyone from our Chow, Baby to Food Network brand magnate Rachael Ray with her upscale downhome cuisine, surely deserved the nod. Unfortunately for McCook and fellow Rising Star Nominee Bria Downey (formerly of Clay Pigeon), the foundation did not make a formal award this year, citing the death spiral to most large city restaurants caused by COVID-19. No matter, McCook will still be cooking, pandemics and awards be damned.
Readers’ Choice: Horseshoe Hill Cafe, 204 W Exchange Av, 817-882-6405
Critic’s Choice: Cat City Grill, 1208 W Magnolia Av, 817-916-5333
Now in its 10th year, Martin Thompson’s restaurant on Magnolia predates almost everything on that street (with the exception of Shaw’s, Benito’s, and King Tut –– the stalwarts that have fed Hospital District employees and Near Southside denizens since the dawn of time). The CFS at Cat City is not overburdened with breading, and the meat is tender and not the consistency of shoe leather. The steak’s covered with luscious cream gravy that manages to be perfectly peppery and not too salty. The giant dinner portion comes with the traditional mashed potatoes, while the slightly less-than-plate-sized lunch serving is accompanied by the less-traditional but still tasty waffle fries.
Readers’ Choice: Cannon Chinese Kitchen, 304 W Cannon St, 817-238-3726
Critic’s Choice: Cannon Chinese Kitchen
Shunning the brushed nickel and exposed Edison bulbs so pervasive in contemporary restaurants, Cannon Chinese Kitchen has all the warmth and inviting atmosphere of your cool aunt’s bohemian-decked bungalow. Enjoy handcrafted cocktails and scratch-made, traditional Chinese-inspired fare made with the freshest ingredients in the cozy confines of a dressy-wallpapered, ’20s-era, two-story craftsman nestled on the poppin’ Near Southside. With food served family style, you’ll fight with the rest of the table over succulent sweet and sour barbecue spareribs and savory duck fried rice sure to pleasurably stretch your waistband. With a smallish but supremely enticing menu, you’ll have trouble picking just a few. Upon a recent visit, after taking our order, our friendly server remarked, “Wow! You guys are really going for it!” and nodded approvingly. Assuming our best, steely Walter White-graveled voice, we could only reply, “You’re goddamn right.”
Chinese (Traditional) Food
Critic’s Choice: Golden Chinese BBQ, 1818 E Pioneer Pkwy, Arlington, 817-795-3772
Located in the middle of a giant Vietnamese shopping mall, this place is the real deal, with huge tables equipped with lazy Susans for large parties that want a celebration feast. They’ll also give you Peking duck if you call a few hours ahead. Here in Texas, nobody thinks of Peking duck as barbecue, but it fits the bill as well as anything. Even if you’re not in a splurging mood, humble dishes like Golden’s Singapore-style noodles (with curry powder) come in portions fit for an emperor. Racism has hit Chinese restaurants particularly hard during this pandemic, so be sure to support places like this that don’t pander to the Western palate but give you a dining experience as close to the mainland as you’ll find here.
Critic’s Choice: Black Coffee, 1417 Vaughn Blvd, 817-782-9867
It’s the only coffeehouse in the Polytechnic part of East Fort Worth –– really, it’s the only coffee shop west of the Fort Worth/Arlington line and north of 287 before you hit downtown. Although you won’t find a unicorn-striped mocha-beriberi-foam latte, you will find coffee that actually tastes good without anything added. The menu offers the usual coffee shop drinks –– latte, cappuccino, caramel latte, mocha –– along with a variety of teas, some CBD-infused juices, and a matcha latte that isn’t strangled with sugar or chemicals. The lavender honey latte, with raw honey and lavender syrup, is soothing perfection. Fall offerings include a sweet potato latte. Best of all, the little place across from Texas Wesleyan University inspires a sense of community.
Critic’s Choice: Hot Damn, Tamales!, 713 W Magnolia Av, 817-523-1836
When COVID-19 hit, the folks at Hot Damn, Tamales! kept on keeping on. While they did shut their doors to local customers –– no dine-in or pickup –– they found a way to keep things moving. With internet orders from Anchorage to Australia, Hot Damn has transformed into a thriving international business.
Readers’ Choice: Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, 4259 Bryant Irvin Rd, 817-738-5489
Critic’s Choice: Fat Daddy’s Sports & Spirits Cafe, 781 W Debbie Ln, Mansfield, 817-453-0188
Fat Daddy’s –– a large music venue specializing in tribute bands –– has an extensive food following actually. From Taco Tuesdays to an assortment of happy-hour appetizers, the cafe offers a plethora of options for soaking up the booze while you watch a show, but huge crowds also show up for lunch and dinner. When bars were shut down, Fat Daddy’s canceled its live shows but offered to-go cocktails and even bottles of liquor. When restaurants shut down, the cafe provided affordable to-go dinners for individuals or families and began offering grocery packages, including that ever-elusive toilet paper we all sought over the spring. Now that Fat Daddy’s is open for regular business, we give them kudos for not only surviving but thriving.
Readers’ Choice: Carshon’s Deli, 3133 Cleburne Rd, 817-923-1907
Critic’s Choice: Carshon’s Deli
Pretty much the only bona fide deli in town, Carshon’s deserves every ounce of praise it receives. There’s no other place nearby where you’re able to order a Rutherford (smoked turkey on a grilled Wolferman’s muffin with melted Swiss or cheddar, served open-faced) or a Rebecca (pastrami, cream cheese, smoked turkey with Russian dressing layered on three pieces of egg bread, grilled), and Carshon’s creativity even after all these years is something to behold. And nom-nom-nom on.
Critic’s Choice: Hurts Donut, 901 Foch St, 817-367-9177
When was the last time you had a German chocolate donut? What about a donut covered in peanut butter, or streusel, or Fruity Pebbles cereal? If the answer to any of these was “never,” you clearly haven’t been to Hurts Donut. This place is fantastic for anyone who has a sweet tooth (or an entire row of them — we’re not judging). There are eclectic options, like Oreo and Andes Mint chocolate, along with a few traditional options, like glazed or chocolate frosted. There’s lots of flavors, so give yourself some time to make your picks. And if donuts aren’t your thing, there are always the ridiculously huge cinnamon rolls and fritters to keep you occupied.
Critic’s Choice: Freshii, multiple locations
Most of us spend too much time in our cars, grabbing fast food that may not be the healthiest for our hearts or waistlines. If you’re eating more in your car than you are at home, Freshii is a healthier solution for a moveable meal. You can score easy-to-eat breakfast burritos and smoothies, healthy wraps on whole-grain tortillas, and cold-pressed juices that are perfect for undoing the damage of a night out. If you have a little more time, breakfast bowls, parfaits, salads, and soups await. All the burritos, wraps, and bowls come with your choice of plant-based protein, chicken, or eggs. The healthier food is affordable and portable. Much of the Freshii menu is vegetarian or vegan and compliant with a variety of diets.
Critic’s Choice: Zeke’s Fish & Chips, 5920 Curzon Av, Ste 5012, 817-731-3321
Flaky, juicy, and oh-so-buttery, the fried fish at this Fort Worth staple comes about as close to what you’d find in the U.K. in North Texas without boarding a plane for London Heathrow. Featuring your choice of catfish or Icelandic cod, Zeke’s likes to pair the filets with fries and “pups” or hushpuppies. Our favorite is the cod Deluxe: two filets with five shrimp, fries, and pups for $20.25. The homey, woody interior is almost as transportive to Merry Ol’ England as the fare.
Critic’s Choice: Carpenter’s Cafe & Catering, 1116 Pennsylvania Av, 682-499-8630
The Fry-day special at Carp’s is Babe’s loaded brisket fries: oblong potato scoops like you’d find in Irish nachos. On top of the generous appetizer that’s actually the size of a meal, you’ll find a huge pile of chopped house-smoked brisket with a sweet ’n’ vinegary barbecue sauce. The mountain of meat and spuds comes out covered in queso crafted with Rahr & Sons beer, plus shredded cheese, a little sriracha sour cream, and tangy green onions. If you’d rather skip the meat, order Frank’s Funkytown Fries (named for local clothier/sartorialist Franklin Moss) –– fries, queso, and sour cream, which can be made vegetarian if you skip the bacon.
Readers’ Choice: Get Lao’d, Facebook.com/GetLaodDFW
Critic’s Choice: Big Kat Burger, Facebook.com/BigKatBurger, 903-363-5723
Before the pandemic, Mike Sugg had one of the most sought-after food trucks in North Texas. He was parking his Big Kat Burger truck — and selling tasty burgers — all over town, from food-truck parks to popular local breweries and bars. Once COVID-19 hit, Sugg, like so many other foodies, had to hit the pause button, but then he got innovative. He parked the truck at the house and moved his operations to his home, where he started freezing his burgers and selling burger boxes directly to the people. This move kept Big Kat Burger alive, and for that, we are grateful. Why? We can all still get our hands on the Big Kat mushroom bacon Swiss melt.
Critic’s Choice: The Cookshack, 500 University Dr, 817-367-9151
Good lord, you wanna talk about flavor? The kind of flavor that sets your taste buds to partying like Mötley Crüe on tour in 1986? The Cookshack serves up the tastiest fried bird — succulent, juicy, and, if you order the Texas Hot, spicy — in all of North Texas, not just the Fort. This newcomer to the local dining scene is where you get greasy and sweaty (stuff hanging off your lips, fingers slick, napkins all a-heaped by your elbows) while quickly turning your ravenous hunger into a mere memory.
Critic’s Choice: Fixe Southern House, 5282 Marathon Av, 682-707-3965
Fixe is built on Chef James Roberts’ Cajun family recipes, which should table any argument about whether the grits are “authentic.” While the restaurant is unarguably upscale, the heirloom Anson Mills Antebellum grits are truly down-home goodness. The dish gets a little interesting texture and a slight crunch from the addition of freeze-dried corn. Enjoy the shrimp and grits as a side or an entree. The addition of bottarga –– a salty kick of cured fish roe –– marks the grits as good for pescatarians and omnivores.
Readers’ Choice: Maharaja Indian Restaurant, 6308 Hulen Bend Blvd, 817-263-7156
Critic’s Choice: King’s Kitchen, 5054 Trail Lake Dr, 817-349-0043
Is there a category for “Best Take-out to Get You through a Pandemic?” Fort Worth has been waiting years for Indian food as good as this within the city limits. The place is nothing fancy on the outside, sharing a parking lot with the candidly named YOU SAVE FOOD, but much care has gone into making the interior inviting, and, besides, who cares about ambience at an Indian restaurant if the food is delicious. The Wedgwood-area restaurant has all but perfected lamb vindaloo and chicken biryani since it opened in January 2019 and quickly pared down the menu to great effect. Now you could basically close your eyes, point to the list of offerings, and come out on top. Feeling adventurous? Try the momos as an appetizer instead of traditional samosas. They’re Nepalese dumplings stuffed with chicken or chutney, and you won’t find them anywhere else in town.
Readers’ Choice: Piola Kitchen, 3700 Mattison Av, 817-989-0007
Critic’s Choice: Armend’s Restaurante, 2315 E Southlake Blvd, Southlake, 817-251-0270
Whether you’re looking for a legit New York style thin-crust pizza or a hearty penne arrabbiata, you’ll find something you like at Armend’s. This small, cozy eatery is located just outside Southlake Town Square and isn’t too busy, making it a solid option for anyone looking for good food and to avoid a lunch rush of yuppies. Meals are reasonably priced and always pair well with a bottle of wine. (Is it real Italian otherwise? Fuggetaboutit!) Armend’s also does a killer tiramisu, so leave space for dessert.
Critic’s Choice: Ático, 2315 N Main St, FW. 682-255-5112
Somehow, the initial craze for tapas missed our city about 20 years ago. This new rooftop haven at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott overlooks the Stockyards and makes up for lost time. The kitchen’s patatas bravas is almost filling enough to be an entree, with steaming hot hunks of potato housed in an exterior crunchy enough to put your French fries to shame. Delectable Tennessee ham comes on a charcuterie board with pickled vegetables whose sourness offsets the funk of the meat, and Catalan-style flatbread makes a nice vehicle for other meats and cheeses. Don’t forget to top it off with Pedro Ximénez sherry poured over vanilla ice cream, the way the Spaniards do it.
Readers’ Top 5: Benito’s Authentic Mexican Food, 1450 W Magnolia Av, 817-332-8633 • Enchiladas Ole, 2418 Forest Park Blvd, 817-984-1360 • Joe T. Garcia’s, 2201 N Commerce St, 817-626-4356 • La Playa Maya, 6209 Sunset Dr, 817-738-3329 • Mariachi’s Dine-in, 301 S Sylvania Ave, 682-760-9606
Critic’s Choice: Paco’s Mexican Cuisine, 1508 W Magnolia Av, 817-759-9110
Chef Francisco Islas hails from Pachuca, Mexico, located between Mexico City and the coast, so the menu covers both the urban classics and coastal favorites. Recent specials included chuletas a los dos moles –– grilled pork chops smothered in a classic red mole sauce and a green mole studded with pumpkin seeds. A spectacular seafood and grilled corn combo comes to the table presented overflowing a molcajete. Birria tacos are all the rage right now –– and you can grab both the cheese and carne de res versions daily –– but have you ever tried a birria tamale? Albondigas (meatball soup), traditional guisado, hang out on the menu with tortas, street tacos, and other bits and pieces of classic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant just expanded to include a bar area, so you can sop up your drinks with birria tacos until 2am.
Readers’ Choice: Wishbone & Flynt, 334 Bryan Av, 817-945-2433
Critic’s Choice: Tinie’s, 113 S Main St, 682-255-5425
A lot of things go into making a restaurant great: the food, to be sure, but the ambience is almost as important. A view helps, and well-trained staff and a respectable offering of beverages are paramount. Tinie’s (pronounced Tee-nee’s), the South Main Village brainchild of Taco Heads’ Sarah Castillo and two other co-founders, began serving up authentic yet elevated Mexican food back in March, at the onset of an extremely tumultuous time in all of our lives. Yet it has still managed to be great. While the menu was almost immediately pared down to make it more manageable for a smaller, pandemic-friendly staff, this only serves to make the restaurant appear greater, because there are no duds. Homemade empanadas or fresh, tangy aguachile will tide you over as you wait, preferably on the cozy upstairs patio — with the view of downtown you’ve no doubt heard about by now — for your main dish: either the succulent whole rotisserie chicken or the tender, silky achiote-roasted pork, both served with numerous accoutrement and rivaling any Mexican dish in town. A recently added brunch menu means you now have twice the number of reasons to visit. This particular Best Of category has gained a reputation for showcasing restaurants that close even before the next Best Of issue rolls around, but if Tinie’s can be this good in the midst of chaos, that shouldn’t be a problem this time around (knocks wood).
Critic’s Choice: That Peanut Butter Boi, Big Kat Burger, Facebook.com/BigKatBurger, 903-363-5723
Big Kat Burger offers ginormous burgers using hand-formed Angus patties that are prepared daily. Beyond favorites like the Big Kat (two 6-ounce patties, bacon, jalapeño, pepper jack cheese) and the Cheesy Kat (two beef patties, provolone, jalapeño bacon jam, and a smothering of American and pepper jack cheese), the diabolical minds behind this North Texas food truck have created That Peanut Butter Boi. There’s nothing traditional about this treat save for the fact that it puts meat between buns. The monster sandwich crams a 6-ounce patty, alcohol-infused jam, peanut butter, provolone cheese, bacon, and candied jalapenos between two toasted brioche buns.
Critic’s Choice: Kevin Martinez
By the end of March, Chef Kevin Martinez saw that the situation for service industry workers was becoming dire. Martinez, who owns Tokyo Cafe, did the one thing he could think of to help –– he asked local restaurateurs, businesses, and chefs to contribute food to be given away in a bundle on Sundays. The result: care packages that contain a loaf of bread, some restaurant takeout containers full of proteins, salad, maybe soup, dessert, and hand sanitizer, enough for 10 servings per bag. That’s a few days of meals for a single person or an interesting potluck with some leftovers for a family. Martinez and his volunteer crew have served 26,000 meals since March, and he says there’s no end in sight. He called these care packages “an investment into our own community,” rather than a handout. The community support for the project has been wide and diverse. Martinez recognizes Swiss Pastry Shop, Central Market, Paco’s Mexican Cuisine, Wishbone & Flynt, Panther City BBQ, Kona Ice, Magdalena’s, Sweet Lucy’s Pies, Hot Box Biscuit Club, Smokeys BBQ & Diner, Nonna Tata, MELT Ice Creams Magnolia, Avoca Coffee Roasters, Alma’s Paleteria, Great Harvest Bread Co., Luckybee Kitchen, Brix Barbecue, The Usual, The Chat Room Pub, The Bearded Lady, Rufus Bar and Grill, Club Reflection, Standard Meat Company, Acre Distilling, Anchor Marketing and Design, JayCee Hospitality, Firefly Grilling Co., and Mibo Fresh Foods, and Chefs Jon Bonnell, Bria Downey, and Hao Tran and Dixya Bhattarai. Not everyone contributes every week, but that makes for an interesting package.
Critic’s Choice: Jon Bonnell (Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Buffalo Bros, Waters Restaurant)
Jon Bonnell is a tireless champion of local dining –– the chef routinely posts pictures of food and specials from other local restaurants on his social media and developed an alphabetical listing of local joints that he episodically posts to remind his fans that we don’t always need to put on a shirt with a collar to dine. When COVID-19 shut down the dine-in capacity, Bonnell, who owns two white-tablecloth, special-occasion, splurge restaurants, pivoted to serving a meal for four for $40, no reservations, with pickup at both Waters and his Fine Texas Cuisine between 4 and 7pm. Bonnell switched from his upscale Texas cuisine and pricey-yet-immaculate sustainable fish dishes to comfort food. On offer: a rotating selection of fried, grilled, and smoked chicken, jambalaya, barbecued beef and pork, meatloaf, chicken piccata, beef Stroganoff, and fajitas, all with sides and a dessert. The pivot meant that Bonnell kept his kitchen staff and local suppliers busy during a time when service industry personnel were being laid off. Now that his dining rooms are partially re-opened, you might want to plan a trip a little before 4pm to the frontage road outside the original Bonnell’s on the West Side sooner rather than later –– who knows how long this will last?
Readers’ Top 5: Black Cat Pizza, 401 Bryan Av, Ste 109, 817-489-5150 • Cane Rosso, 815 W Magnolia Av, 817-922-9222 • iFratelli, 2700 Western Center Ste 102, 817-234-9000 • Mama’s Pizza, 5800 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-731-6262 • Zoli’s Pizza, 3501 Hulen St, 817-402-0050
Critic’s Choice: Zoli’s Pizza
At newcomer Zoli’s, you can enjoy your pizza in traditional New York style or as a thick-crusted, box-shaped pie that’ll feed the entire family. The menu offers creative ingredients like jalapeño pesto, habanero honey, and soppressata marmalade. The folks here have mastered the art of blending spicy, sweet, and savory for an experience like no other. While pizzas are the centerpiece, Zoli’s offers a wide range of equally creative sides and desserts.
Critic’s Choice: Wishbone & Flynt, 334 Bryan Av, 817-945-2433
Chef Stefon Rishel has an eye for great-looking food. His Lemon Bar French Toast is adorned with colorful zigzags of purplish blackberry coulis that alternate with yellow curds for a vibrant, eye-catching effect. For the blueberry pancakes he artfully places berries and powdered sugar on top to create an almost winterlike landscape on the golden slices. In an increasingly competitive dining scene, first impressions matter. The carefully crafted fare at Wishbone & Flynt will give you reason to pause before indulging in the culinary masterpieces.
Critic’s Choice: Yucatan Tequila Bar & Grill, 909 W Magnolia Av, Ste 10, 682-385-9395
That’s right. Yucatan Tequila Bar & Grill is more than just nachos and margaritas. With succulent shrimp, mouthwatering sauce, and a blend of cheeses, Yucatan’s spicy tequila shrimp quesadilla is the kaysa-dill-ah of your dreams. And Yucatan has new owners who have really breathed new life into the place. An interior facelift, table service, and a fresh take on an old menu are just a few notable changes to this Magnolia staple.
Critic’s Choice: Rogers Roundhouse, 1616 Rogers Rd, 817-367-9348
We were going to give this to last year’s winner, Paco’s Mexican Cuisine, but then Rogers Roundhouse opened back up after closing this past spring due to the pandemic. The TCU hangout’s cheese dip may not be fundido, but it goes pretty well with the house-made chips. Bonus points for the large TV screens and abundance of outdoor seating for smokers and/or people worried about the virus.
Critic’s Choice: Hanabi Ramen, 3204 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-420-6703
The Westside noodle shop was the first Fort Worth locale to serve Japanese ramen, and, though competition in the area has grown, Hanabi Ramen & Izakaya still reigns supreme. The steaming bowls come in a variety of flavors. Whether fiery hot or savory and subtle, these soups are all authentically Japanese. One of our favorite options, the Baisen Miso Ramen, comes with a heaping pile of bamboo shoots, Napa cabbage, bok choy, bean sprouts, and other Asian goodies. Add in the vast menu, intimate atmosphere, and top-notch service and you can see why Hanabi isn’t just noodling around.
Readers’ Choice: The Bearded Lady, 300 S Main St, 817-349-9832
Critic’s Choice: Ellerbe Fine Foods, 1501 W Magnolia Av, 817-926-3663
Ellerbe’s co-owners, Executive Chef Molly McCook and GM Richard King, have been running their homage to Louisiana/Southern cooking for 11 years, and the food’s as good now as it’s ever been. The restaurant was one of the first to use farm-to-table seasonal items. Not necessarily down-the-street local — thankfully, the featured fish doesn’t come out of the Trinity River — but fresh. And the menu changes from day to day to accommodate what’s in season. Current offerings include a braised Colorado lamb shank, quail, wild Alaskan halibut, and a vegetarian blackened Demases Farm summer squash on cornbread with Texas caviar. Fortunately, Maw Maw’s bread pudding is still on the menu. The recipe, reportedly handed down from McCook’s grandmother, was a favorite of our reviewer back in 2009. The good news: The restaurant added a new wine bar right before COVID closed everything in March. McCook and company pivoted with a curbside Throwback Thursday pickup meal that feeds four for $44, and the cook-at-home product was as tasty as anything we’ve had in the restaurant, with complete reheating instructions right on the package.
Critic’s Choice: Chopped Salad, Fixe Southern House, 5282 Marathon Av, 682-707-3965
Biscuits alone do not a meal make, so next time you’re at Fixe Southern House, order something to go with those pillows of heavenly goodness: the chopped salad, consisting of chopped crispy greens, ribbons of buttery Manchego cheese, crunchy Marcona almonds, slightly sour green apple, and pickled red onion for a touch of acidity, all tossed together in a balanced Champagne vinaigrette. If you’re looking for something more substantial, splurge a little and top the salad with fresh lump blue crab and/or shrimp, which complement the ingredients rather than overpower them. It’s an ideal light meal, particularly if enjoyed in the bar area as top-tier cocktail slingers Julian and Kelli mix you up something as refreshing as the salad itself.
Readers’ Choice: Happy Tomato Fresh Foods, Happy-Tomato.com, 817-841-9266
Critic’s Choice: Taco Diner, 156 W 4th St, 817-566-0357
First of all, this Sundance Square staple serves up some mouthwatering, scrumptious Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex, so take that into account when going to try the salsas. Both the red and green, served at every table with crunchy chips gratis, are made in-house and have their own style. The red sizzles with a chipotle zing as the green oozes with a creamy spiciness. The service is top-notch, and Manager Arturo Mazariegos will make you feel like family.
Critic’s Choice: The Smoky Chick, Carpenter’s Cafe & Catering, 1116 Pennsylvania Av, 682-499-8630
Carpenter’s Cafe advertises itself as more than a barbecue or soul food joint. And we say all hail the Smoky Chick, Carpenter’s amazing take on classic Southern chicken salad. After a gentle turn on the smoker that leaves the bird moist with just a touch of barbecue flavor, the chopped chicken is mixed with mayo, finely chopped celery, and scallion bits –– just enough veg to ensure the flavor of both. The smoked chicken is served as a sandwich with your choice of bread, on a croissant, or in a wrap with bacon, red onion, and spinach.
Readers’ Choice: Waters Restaurant, 301 Main St, 817-984-1110
Critic’s Choice: Lucile’s Stateside Bistro, 4700 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-738-4761
With all due respect to Waters, an elegant retreat specializing in sustainable and local fare, we can’t stay away from the lobster rolls and cedar-plank salmon at this perennial Best Of winner. First, Lucile’s rolls. Smooth, buttery, and delightfully toothsome, they pull the amazing trick of satisfying your hunger without busting your belt. And the cedar-plank salmon. It’s so fresh and smoky, you’ll swear while eating it that you’ve been transported to a log cabin in Oregon in autumn. Maybe the best part about this Arlington Heights institution is that it’s perfect for either a date night or a bite with the kiddos. The accommodating atmosphere is a testament to the restaurant’s quality, top-notch service, and overall cheery vibe.
Readers’ Choice: Drew’s Place, 5701 Curzon Av, 817-735-4408
Critic’s Choice: Madea’s Down Home Cookin’, 1019 W Enon Av, Everman, 817-551-9295
Like most smaller restaurants, the venerable Madea’s struggled through the spring. A pivot to curbside pickup was nearly derailed by alleged visits from police officers and health department staff (who had to wade through people spaced 6 feet apart in line to make sure the restaurant wasn’t actually open for dine-in). But these are better days. Yes, you can still order the classics like chicken (baked, fried, tetrazzini), smothered or fried pork chops, and a variety of beef, both oxtails and chopped meat covered in rich smooth gravy. Your meal comes with three sides. The collards, yams, phenomenal broccoli-rice casserole, mac ’n’ cheese, and the more interesting, unusual okra and tomatoes are worth the price of admission. As far as being a member of the clean plate club here, it’s a challenge, but try to save room for the peach cobbler.
Readers’ Choice: Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, 812 Main St, 817-877-3999
Critic’s Choice: Provender Hall, 122 E Exchange Av, Ste 110, 817-782-9170
Marcus Paslay’s mini-empire spreads from the Foundry District to the Waterside development and now to Mule Alley in the Stockyards. His newly opened Provender Hall –– named for the feed bags used by horses and mules because the building was once a mule barn –– features a pared-down menu that does the cowboy classics right. A New York strip generally doesn’t have the mouthfeel of a tenderloin or a ribeye. Enter: the kitchen’s smoker and grill (both wood-burning) and a sear that makes the prime cut of beef surprisingly luscious. With a kiss of grill spice that’s perfectly peppery-salty, really all that’s left is for you to take a bite and marvel at the goodness.
Readers’ Top 5: Blue Sushi Grill, 3131 W 7th St, 817-332-2583 • Little Lily Sushi, 6100 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 12, 817-989-8886 • Shinjuku Station, 711 W Magnolia Av, 817-923-2695 • Sushi Axiom, 4625 Donnelly Av, Ste 101, 817-735-9100 • Tokyo Cafe, 5121 Pershing Av, 817-737-8568
Critic’s Choice: Ashim’s Hibachi Grill, 424 Taylor St, 817-477-6575
You can have your tragically hip deluxe sushi restaurants with techno music and scenesters drinking overpriced saketinis at the bar. This simple joint keeps sushi closer to its humble roots without sacrificing quality or innovation. You won’t go wrong whether you’re ordering tempura, gyoza, poke, grilled meat, or one of the kitchen’s signature rolls like the salmon involtini (with blue crab and cream cheese) or the Antarctica roll (with tempura shrimp and smoked salmon). Its location at a busy corner of downtown makes it a place that a visitor from Osaka or Kyoto would recognize.
Readers’ Choice: Mariachi’s Dine-In, 301 S Sylvania Av, 682-760-9606
Critic’s Choice: Mariachi’s Dine-In
Nestled in the back of a nondescript gas station, Mariachi’s Dine-In offers authentic Mexican food and the occasional trending foodie fad. Just weeks before COVID-19 hit Fort Worth, Chef Angel Fuentes released a California transplant that has since been locally popularized due to the delicacy’s highly Instagrammable presentation. The crimson birria tacos, typically stuffed with barbacoa and mild white cheese, are typically dipped in a rich and oily consommé just before being eaten. The bump in sales from the birria tacos — along with a focus on to-go orders — kept the small taqueria afloat, Fuentes told us. Now that business has somewhat stabilized, Fuentes and owner Ashley Miller have decided to make birria tacos a permanent fixture of their menu. Fuentes said the simple but delicious dish has been so instrumental in helping his business that he plans to name his first child Birria Fuentes. He’s joking — we think.
Takeout Family Meals
Critic’s Choice: Chadra Mezza & Grill, 1622 Park Pl Av, 817-926-3992
We’re talking mega-meals to feed a family of four easily, and they’re coming from one of the best restaurants in all of North Texas. The takeout specials at Chadra rotate almost daily and feature an array of Mediterranean/Lebanese goodies. On Wednesdays, $40 will nab you an 18-inch specialty pizza or up to five toppings of your choice, with penne a la vodka, a Greek salad, and garlic knots, and, for $50 on Thursdays, enjoy the Heavenly Chicken with penne a la vodka, roasted vegetables, a dinner salad, and garlic knots. On Saturdays, it’s chicken kabobs, hummus with pita bread, saffron rice, and veggies for $55, and for $45 on Saturdays, it’s our favorite: the gyro bar with all the fixins plus French fries and pita bread.
Critic’s Choice: Esperanza’s Restaurant and Bakery, 2122 N Main St, 817-626-5770 • 1601 Park Pl Av, 817-923-1961
Though Esperanza’s has two locations, all of the tamale-makin’ action happens at the Northside spot. With classic, incredibly tender pork tamales made fresh daily, the Joe T. Garcia’s spinoff has been satisfying tamale lovers year-round (not only during the holidays) for years.
Critic’s Choice: Los Taco H’s, 3025 Cleburne Rd or 2108 E Rosedale St, 817-564-4329
Los Taco H’s recently scored a prime new location on the corner of Cleburne Road and West Berry Street, just a stone’s throw from the TCU campus and right across the street from the new Berry Street Ice House, making this once-forgotten corner a pretty hot dining destination at the moment. Los Taco H’s has been serving up deliciously authentic street tacos on the corner of 287 and Rosedale Street for several years, but if that’s a little out of the way for you, you have no such excuse now. Since prices range from $1.89 to $2.39 apiece, you can pretty much afford to try every taco on the menu, but if you’re a lightweight, go for the suadero (beef) and pastor (marinated pork). All tacos are served on double-ply soft corn tortillas, packed with plenty of meat, and loaded with the kind of flavor it takes all day to coax up. There are plenty of vegetarian options, too. The self-serve section of house-made salsas and necessary taco toppings is a must, particularly the tomatillo and creamy jalapeño salsas. Oh, and on Tuesdays, pastor, chicken, and carnitas tacos are just $1 all day. What are you waiting for, an invitation?
Critic’s Choice: Enchiladas Ole, 2418 Forest Park Blvd, 817-984-1360
Owner Mary Perez whips up enchiladas like the kind her mama used to make with her when Perez was little. No preservatives (and, if you care about such things, no lard) means that everything is made fresh daily. Whether you want your enchiladas slathered in hatch chile sauce, mole, or verde sauce, you’ll find what makes you happy here. The simple perfection of cheese enchiladas in a lake of rich red ancho chile sauce with tiny chopped onion is not to be missed. While this place is for enchilada purists, you’ll also find queso, taco salad, tostadas, quesadillas, nachos, and a Keto avocado plate if you’re hating on the corn carbs these days.
Readers’ Choice: Spice, 411 W Magnolia Av, 817-984-1800
Critic’s Choice: Malai Kitchen, 5289 Monahans Av, 682-707-3959
Please forgive this pick of a Dallas transplant and a higher-end take on what we think of as traditional Thai takeout food. We love Spice/Thailicious/Thai Select as much as anyone, but the fact is the ingredients don’t get any fresher, livelier, and tastier than at Clearfork standout Malai Kitchen. The curry is just a little more balanced. The fish dishes, something we admittedly stay away from at most Thai restaurants, are unbelievably fresh-tasting and perfectly executed. Menu highlights include the whole fried Branzino (whose execution rivals that of the one we had in Asia), the iron pot green curry, and the deceptively simple lemongrass soup with shrimp. But pretty much everything, from the signature cocktails and the brunch to the appetizers and the banana pot-de-crème, slaps. Plus, there’s a killer happy hour all day on Sunday. Singapore slings for breakfast anyone?
Readers’ Choice: Spiral Diner, 1314 W Magnolia Av, 817-332-8834
Critic’s Choice: Byblos Mediterranean Lebanese Restaurant, 1406 N Main St, 817-625-9667
Mediterranean food leans heavily on plant-based cuisine, with a little dairy thrown in for interest. Eight of the 10 appetizers on the Byblos menu are vegan or vegetarian with yogurt, sheep’s milk, and cow’s milk cheeses –– so you could create an essentially vegetarian mezze splurge for starters. All four soups and salads are vegetarian, and Byblos offers three vegetarian entrees. In addition to a moussaka with baked, not fried, eggplant and slightly nutty whole chickpeas, the fatt-ii bil-laban (whole chickpeas, olive oil, and goat’s milk yogurt piled on a whole-grain pita) and moojjadra (lentils and brown rice served with a cabbage salad) will keep vegetarians happy even as the carnivores enjoy their gyros and shish tawook.
Readers’ Choice: Four Sisters –– A Taste of Vietnam, 1001 S Main St, Ste 151, 682-244-4546
Critic’s Choice: Pho District, 2401 W 7th St, 817-862-9988
You kind of forgot about Pho District, didn’t you? The Vietnamese street-food-with-an-upscale-twist concept came in hot a few years ago before other tony Asian eateries like Four Sisters, Wabi House, and Dallas-based Malai Kitchen showed up to compete. Rest assured that Pho District is as good as ever. Each course is a winner, from the crispy Hanoian spring rolls to the pandan crème brulee (think vanilla bean with a floral green tint). The signature dry pho, a playful twist on the ubiquitous noodle soup, is a dish you literally won’t see anywhere else, and it works better as a takeout option than traditional pho. Don’t sleep on the house craft cocktails, either, like the Cheeky Lychee — lychee vodka and juice topped with sparkling wine. Consider yourself reminded.
Readers’ Choice: Buffalo Bros, 3015 S University Dr, 817-386-9601
Critic’s Choice: Buffalo Bros
Don’t overthink it. Buffalo Bros perfected the buffalo wing years ago, and the only thing that’s changed is that now you can eat them in TCUland or at the decidedly more spacious digs downtown. (For what it’s worth, we prefer the cozier original location during non-COVID times.) If you’re smart, Wing Wednesday, when the delicious drums and flats are half off, will become a regularly scheduled program on your dining deal repertoire. Whether you’re a traditionalist or parmesan garlic is your jam (you should just get both), beloved Chef Jon Bonnell’s casual sports bar is the place for wings in Funkytown.