Residents of Dallas and Collin counties often forget about their counterparts on the FW side of D-FW.
Sure, you drag out-of-towners to the Stockyards or the annual Stock Show and Rodeo for a jolt of cowboy culture, hit one of Cowtown's celebrated museums for a major exhibit, or see a show at Bass Hall. But Fort Worth is more than its greatest hits, and that's especially true when it comes to restaurants.
For some folks east of State Highway 360, the only Fort Worth eateries that come to mind are long-running, tourist bucket-list faves such as Reata, Tim Love's Lonesome Dove, Ol' South Pancake House and Paris Coffee Shop. Those who are more in-the-know may be familiar with Ellerbe Fine Foods (which, in 2010, Bon Appétit magazine named one of the 10 best restaurants in America); Zagat favorite Nonna Tata; or the upscale Grace and its less pricey cousin, Little Red Wasp, both from celebrated chef Blaine Staniford, who appeared on the Food Network's Kitchen Inferno in 2014.
And there's been an entire wave of Fort Worth restaurants — Rodeo Goat, Oni Ramen, Spiral Diner — also making a splash in Dallas.
But there's much more. Today, the slick West Seventh Street corridor buzzes with a bar-restaurant scene that echoes Dallas' Uptown and Knox-Henderson neighborhoods (complete with parking woes) while the less flashy, more vintage Near Southside — home of the original Spiral Diner — is closer in spirit to Lower Greenville with a dash of Deep Ellum.
Here then are 16 places in central Fort Worth — including downtown, West Seventh Street, the Near Southside, the Cultural District, and the Texas Christian University area — that are worth checking out for all those who find themselves hungry in the 817 area code. (North Fort Worth-Keller and southwest Fort Worth — with its brand-new, 500,000-square-foot Shops at Clear Fork and 200,000-square-foot Waterside developments — are also booming with restaurants, but that's a separate story.)
For anyone craving the Fort Worth equivalent of the outdoor beer-garden experience you get from the Katy Trail Ice House locations in Dallas and Plano, Dot's Hop House and Cocktail Courtyard in Deep Ellum or Truck Yard on Lowest Greenville, America Gardens should be at the top of the list. The sprawling, 10,000-square-foot patio with lots of games, a well-conceived bar menu showcasing everything from a short rib pot roast to lobster rolls, and long hours (daily from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.) make this a welcome pre- or post-event hangout.
2833 Morton St. 817-439-9660. americagardensusa.com.
This Near Southside gastropub's L.U.S.T. burger — with its half-pound of beef paired with poblano, feta, avocado and gouda — propelled the restaurant to No. 3 on Texas Monthly's 50 Best Burgers in Texas list last year. Enough said.
1229 Seventh Ave. 817-349-9832.
Now that there really is a pedestrian-friendly square at the heart of Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, it's a great place for people-watching. But a hard day of such a grueling activity works up an appetite, and Bird Cafe, part of restaurateur Shannon Wynne's culinary empire (Flying Saucer, Meddlesome Moth, Rodeo Goat, Mudhen), is a prime place to satisfy that.
155 E. Fourth St. 817-332-2473.
Cannon Chinese Kitchen
As Near Southside redevelopment spreads east and north beyond its main Magnolia Avenue drag, once industrial South Main Street is now on the come-up. Cannon Chinese Kitchen, on a quiet side street, is one reason to explore this changing area. Whether it's the basket-steamed drunken chicken with cabbage, carrots, sprouts and rice, or salt and pepper squid, Cannon offers distinctive takes on Chinese fare.
304 W. Cannon St. 817-238-3726. cannonchinesekitchen.com.
Cork and Pig Tavern
Viewers of the second season of Hell's Kitchen might recognize Cork and Pig chef Virginia Dalbeck, who was a runner-up on the series. Now, along with co-founder Felipe Armenta, she's better-known in Fort Worth for this casual eatery serving such dishes as rotisserie chicken and quinoa, crispy pork enchiladas and black truffle pizza.
2869 Crockett St. 817-759-9280. corkandpig.com.
Ben Merritt's chef-driven take on American classics — rosemary-scented waffles and boneless chicken thighs, wild mushroom spaetzle, fried bologna club — have made his restaurant a Near Southside magnet.
401 W. Magnolia Ave. 817-708-2663.
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken
When this renowned Memphis-based, spicy-chicken stalwart made its entry into North Texas, it chose Fort Worth. Take that, Dallas. But make sure you like fried chicken because that's all that's sold here, along with Southern sides like fried green tomatoes, fried okra and chess pie.
1067 W. Magnolia Ave. 817-927-4693. gusfriedchicken.com.
What Pecan Lodge and Lockhart's are to Dallas, Heim is to Fort Worth, as it's one of the most fawned-over barbecue spots in the city. What began as a food truck for husband and wife Travis and Emma Heim has morphed into a crowded brick-and-mortar eatery with a second Fort Worth location set to open next year. Some early enthusiasts complain that popularity has sapped some of the quality, but don't tell that those who line up.
1109 W. Magnolia Ave. 817-882-6970.
Music venues don't always serve food that's as tasty as what's onstage, but MML, a garage-turned-club in the busy West Seventh area, is an exception. There's nothing unique about the menu — it's all burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and salads — but MML does it well. Add in some notable up-and-coming acts, like Fort Worth singer-songwriter Cody Lynn Boyd, and Magnolia is a cool place to lounge.
3005 Morton St. 817-332-3344.
Felipe Armenta's shrine to seafood, with its menu of grilled arctic char and San Francisco cioppino is as if a slice of Seattle were suddenly put down in Cowtown. Save some room for the peanut butter ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
1600 S. University Drive. 817-887-9995.
If you're tired of burgers and Mexican food while partying along the West Seventh strip, find a respite in the pho, spring rolls, buns, rice plates and vermicelli of this restaurant specializing in Vietnamese street food. The pho seafood (salmon, shrimp, calamari, shallots, onions) is rejuvenation in a bowl.
2401 W. Seventh St. 817-862-9988.
This South Main Street-area watering hole is set in a historic industrial building that was built in 1943. But it's the beer and food menu that owners Kevin von Ehrenfried and Scott Glover have built that's equally notable. From the long list of regional craft brews to such plates as the fried bacon Thai burger and the jerk chicken tacos, Pouring Glory is more than just a place to grab a beer.
1001 Bryan Ave. 682-707-5441.
By now, everyone knows that healthy food need not be tasteless, but Righteous Foods — the brainchild of executive chef Lanny Lancarte, formerly of the beloved Lanny's Alta Cocina Mexicana — puts a giant, tasty exclamation point on that sentiment. From the grilled organic salmon tacos (served with pickled cabbage and carrots, guacamole and black beans) to the lemon and cardamom cheesecake, Righteous goes a long way toward living up to its name.
3405 W. Seventh St. 817-850-9996.
Samson's Market Bistro
This small, family-run spot next to a 7-Eleven is a bit outside central Fort Worth — it's west of the Cultural District — but it deserves a shout-out because it offers something that's not easy to find in Fort Worth: East African food. The menu of Ethiopian cuisine is short but covers the basics — such as doro wat (chicken seasoned with onions, ginger, garlic, butter and red wine) or beef tibs (beef cubes sautéed with garlic, rosemary, onions, tomato and green peppers) — with a homemade charm.
4307 Camp Bowie Blvd. 214-966-4446. facebook.com/ethiopiancusin.
Chef Jon Bonnell's celebrated seafood-centric restaurant, which moved to a new space in Sundance Square earlier this year, is the most expensive spot on this list. The Beeman Ranch Akaushi rib-eye will set you back $54 for dinner. But the ambience and culinary skill can be appreciated for much less with some of the fish dishes at lunch, such as Maine lobster mac and cheese ($19) and Mardi Gras pasta (with shrimp and chicken, $18) and jumbo lump crab and avocado salad ($19).
301 Main St. 817-984-1110.
It almost doesn't matter how a diner feels about Tim Love's shrine to smoked meats that serves pork ribs, lamb brisket and a butcher's sandwich with chopped brisket, pulled pork and sausage. Even a die-hard vegetarian can appreciate the ample patio set on the bucolic banks of the Trinity River. It's also a reminder of how far ahead Fort Worth is in turning the Trinity into an urban resource. Dallas, take note.
3201 Riverfront Drive. 817-877-4545.
Cary Darling is a Texas writer.