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The coldest beers in town can still be found at Railhead Smokehouse. Photo by Emmy Smith.

Before I moved here over a decade ago, I used to come visit my sister, who got to Texas about eight years before me, and she’d always take me (and later, my now-husband) to the places she clearly thought of as “the local’s guide to Fort Worth.” We’d go to the Modern or the Botanic Garden, enjoy the novelty of grabbing a drink at a grocery store (Central Market), and, yes, even visit the then-pretty-rundown Stockyards. One time we even had old-timey photos taken.

I could tell my sister was enjoying playing tour guide as we sipped $3 happy-hour margaritas downtown on the rooftop of Reata (310 Houston St, 817-336-1009), that she was proud to show off her adopted hometown. And as you can see, her itinerary worked so well that my husband and I ended up moving here.

A lot has changed since then. Downtown has seen countless businesses come and go, and Reata will be relocating soon. My sister herself bounced off to Houston a few years after my husband and I settled down here. The Stockyards have been revitalized to the point that locals actually want to hang out there — unironically — but, as I found while playing tour guide with some out-of-town company who had never visited here before, some things haven’t changed at all. My sister’s trusty itinerary still slaps, especially when it comes to Fort Worth’s notoriously fickle food scene.

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All the places she took me to back then are, comfortingly, still around, still representing the city’s Big Three — barbecue, burgers, and Tex-Mex — and still satisfying out-of-towners and locals alike.

Upon our friend’s arrival, we immediately headed to the Reata rooftop for those $3 happy-hour margaritas. It was brutally humid out, so the cold drinks, perfectly balanced between tart and sweet, hit the spot as we snapped a couple of rooftop photos for the ’Gram.

Soon we headed to dinner at Railhead Smokehouse (2900 Montgomery St, 817-738-9808). I understand this decision may be controversial and that there are numerous, newer establishments that are objectively better, but for nostalgia’s sake, I wanted to stick to The Itinerary. Plus, most of the newer joints we frequent (Panther City BBQ, Hurtado) don’t serve the ice-cold schooners of beer out-of-towners love to marvel at, and the menu’s unchanged, no-frills attitude is refreshing. I was excited the pulled pork was on special, as the item is not easy to find around here, and our guest absolutely devoured the brisket and sausage Railhead has perfected over three decades. Though not our usual type of crowd, we didn’t feel out of place among fellow sportsball watchers at the bar as we chowed down.

The next day, we visited two breweries, and while Panther Island and Martin House are not technically stops on my sister’s original plan, they’ve both been around about as long as I’ve lived here (2014 and 2013, respectively), and The Itinerary can only be improved by including them. Martin House was even hosting a 4/20 party, and our friend was excited to try their Power House THCa seltzer (“Let It Grow,” April 17).

We rode those good vibes straight to my favorite stop on The Itinerary: Rodeo Goat (2836 Bledsoe St, 817-877-4628). I will not tolerate any criticism of this gem save its regrettable location in the West 7th corridor. I can still remember the first time my sister took me here, and all the times I visited thereafter, and all the times I met her for lunch when we both lived here, and each time, the Cheese Fries Surprise, the Moon Tang, and whatever burger I felt like choosing on those days (most recently, the classic Whiskey Burger) were as good as the ones before. That nothing has been altered inside the four walls of this OG gourmet-burger joint (except the head-to-head burger battle, which rotates out monthly) is the ultimate comfort in a world of soul-crushing uncertainty. We know anyone we bring to Rodeo Goat will love it, too, and though the parking situation is as bad as it was over a decade ago, it’s a small price to pay — literally — for a standout of a local restaurant.

For our friend’s last day in town, we headed north to show off the new-and-improved Stockyards. Settling into some Adirondack chairs on the enormous Astroturf lawn of Second Rodeo (122 E Exchange Av, Ste 340, 877-517-7548), we enjoyed house-made brews while listening to acoustic tunes from the singer-songwriter du jour.

Then it was time for the last stop on The Itinerary. Nope, not Joe T. Garcia’s. We headed a little farther up Main Street to Los Vaqueros (2629 N Main St, 817-624-1511). I remember my first visit way back in 2005. It was the first time I ever saw fresh tortillas and butter come out along with the chips and salsa. It’s had my heart ever since (yet I hadn’t been in years).

Joe T’s has the sprawling garden, but Vaqueros’ historic brick building and gardens have their own Old Mexico charm. They’ve added string lights to brighten up the interior, and the walls are lined with historic photos touting the restaurant’s place in Fort Worth’s storied history. The food is classic, well-executed Tex-Mex — just what tourists want — and the best part is we didn’t have to wait in a 2-hour line for a table.

Fort Worth is a city in flux. Once purple politically, it now feels redder than ever. Beloved bars and restaurants have closed seemingly nonstop since the pandemic. When you don’t have time or budget to go out all the time, it’s tempting to want to try out new restaurants and bars, especially if they are reviewed favorably in this paper, but I had the time of my life living out a decade-old “local’s guide to Fort Worth,” and I’d recommend it to anyone. Think about a place you haven’t been to in a while and pay them a visit. The more things change, the more we need these stalwart establishments to stay the same.

Rodeo Goat’s Cheese Fries Surprise is as good as you remember.
Photo by Emmy Smith.

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