CHAMPCAR/CART: Kika's guide to dining in Texas (Dallas/ Fort Worth], I

Locals fondly call Fort Worth "Cowtown," the place where the West begins. The city was a stop on the famous Chisholm Trail and became the world's second-largest cattle market (next to Kansas City) after the Fort Worth Stockyards incorporated in...

Locals fondly call Fort Worth "Cowtown," the place where the West begins. The city was a stop on the famous Chisholm Trail and became the world's second-largest cattle market (next to Kansas City) after the Fort Worth Stockyards incorporated in 1893. Now the Stockyards area is a National Historic District and a major tourist and entertainment attraction. Famous venues like Billy Bob's Texas nightclub, Cattlemen's Steakhouse and the White Elephant Saloon are here, as are numerous Western shops, museums and antique stores. The acres of pens that once teemed with cattle now stand empty, but you can catch real cowboys driving a herd of Longhorns down redbrick Exchange Avenue twice daily (strictly for show). For a big blast of Western music and food, don't miss annual events like the Chisholm Trail Roundup or Pioneer Days.

Whoever said things are bigger in Texas was probably looking at a dinner plate. When you come to Fort Worth you might as well come hungry. One way or another you'll leave full. It's not unusual to see steaks bigger than the platters and glasses of iced tea as big as pitchers here. And don't forget, you're only a hop, skip and fiesta from Mexico. The Tex-Mex food wakes up taste buds from across the room. Just remember, "HOT" is a relative term. So unless you have a history of jalapeno use, you probably need to start with "MILD". Of course, that's only the tip of the brisket. Sophisticated tastes will find delightful fare from the world over in Fort Worth. Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, you could eat around the world in a single week. From four star elegance to nouveau renaissance, pull up a chair -- dinner is served.

Stockyards Area

CATTLEMAN'S Steak House - Stockyards/North Side 2458 N. Main St. (25th St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8590 (817) 624-3945 Fort Worth ate cattle before cattle was cool, and Cattlemen's is still the quintessential stockyard steakhouse. There's not much but beef accompanied by rolls, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce salad, but the atmosphere is genuine cowboy. You'd expect the Stockyards to have a noisy, barn of a beef house, and this is it; around since 1947, with decor that is "Texas tacky" or "swank as J.R.'s ranch", depending on whom you listen to, its "great big juicy steaks" are delivered by servers trained to handle a "party of 20 efficiently." Dim lighting and wall-sized portraits of prize steers. Dinner is around $15; $$-$$$.

JOE T. GARCIA - Stockyards/North Side 2201 N. Commerce St. (22nd St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8586 (817) 626-4356. "A FW Mexican institution and nirvana, " that "you must take visitors to", this cash-only hacienda compound near the Stockyards is famous for its "fabulous margaritas", best slurped "at a table by the pool" in the sprawling tropical garden; don't fear, your in-laws will be having too much "fun" to notice that the "basic" kitchen offerings play a backup role. There's fine dining in the food capitals of the world-and then there's food for the soul. Joe T. Garcia and his family have been serving their faithful for nearly 50 years. Their hacienda-style restaurant compound occupies nearly a block and includes party pavilions and outdoor dining areas as well as the main restaurant, a white clapboard structure decked out with autographed celebrity photos. When the weather is good, there is no finer place than the Fiesta Garden to sip margaritas, dip warm tortilla chips in house-made salsa and feast on authentic Tex-Mex food. There's no printed menu: Dinner choices are enchiladas-the general favorite-or fajitas accompanied by beans, rice, guacamole, pico de gallo and flour or corn tortillas. At lunchtime, you can also get chiles relleños, tamales, chimachangas and flautas. . Joe doesn't do credit cards or reservations, either.

Billy Bob's Texas - 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth, TX 76106 - (817) 624-7117, Fax: (817) 626-2340 The world's largest honky-tonk, covering 100,000 square feet, has plenty of room for two-stepping all night long. Up to 6,000 folks can cut loose in the Texas-size hall or quench a big thirst at any of the 40 bars. Other entertainment runs the gamut from live performances by big-name country musicians to professional bull riding in Billy Bob's Arena. Billy Bob's Texas is located in the Historic Fort Worth, Texas Stockyards and opened in 1981. We have become one of the most popular tourist attractions and meeting facilities in the state of Texas. We are nationally recognized and have won many awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music. Together they have named Billy Bob's Texas the Best Country Music Nightclub in the World a combined 7 times! We are the First & Largest Nightclub in America with our own Indoor Arena, that was once an open air auction ring. Today, Professional Rodeo Cowboys match some of the toughest bulls in Texas every Friday & Saturday night in our exciting Bull Riding events. Open Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m. (closed Fri. - Sat. 5 - 6 p.m.), Sun. noon - 2 a.m. Admission: Sun. - Thu. $1 before and $3 after 7 p.m.; Fri. - Sat. $1 before 5 p.m., price varies after 6 p.m.

Costa Azul - Stockyards/North Side. 1521 N. Main St. (Central Dr.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8904 (817) 624-0506. If spicy "fresh seafood" gumbo or a bowl of seviche is what your taste buds are screaming for, then head over to this North Side Mexican hideout with a fish-oriented menu (and decor) that's "not just tacos and enchiladas."

El Rancho Grande - Stockyards/North Side - 1400 N. Main St. (Central Ave.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-9119 (817) 624-9206. "Beans and rice reminiscent of my grandmother's cooking" and "tamales so good that's all I ever get" reflect voters high regard for this "very cheap" North Side Mexican, a "great stop before a night in the Stockyards."

Escargot - Stockyards/North Side. 3427 W. Seventh St. (Montgomery St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76107-2718 (817) 336-3090. Chef-owner Frédéric Angevin's "wonderful new" Cultural District French entry is quickly becoming a "favorite" thanks to "outstanding" food; decorated in "elegant", understated style, the narrow slice of a dining room is tended by wife Michele; yes, "prices are high" and it can get "crowded", but that's to be expected for such a classy operation; N.B. while temporarily closed at press time due to street construction, it's scheduled to reopen in the early spring.

Esperanza's Mexican Cafe & Bakery -Stockyards/North Side. 2122 N. Main St. (bet. 21st & 22nd Sts.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8511 (817) 626-5770. Formerly Joe T. Garcia's Bakery, these "true Mexican panaderías and restaurants" on the North and South sides of town attract blue-jean-and-T-shirt-clad patrons for their display cases filled with oven-fresh breads and sugar-coated specialties, "terrific breakfasts" and lunches with "spectacular guacamole" and the "best carnitas." When we are craving Tex-Mex for breakfast, we head to this bakery-cafe. Breakfast is a work of art here. We always get our favorite, the migas-strips of fried tortilla stirred into scrambled eggs and chorizo-sided by Mexican-style potatoes (with onions and green peppers), beans, and tortillas. Refills of hot coffee keep coming and coming. Beer & wine. Open Mon thru Fri 6-6, Sat & Sun 7-7. Moderate. No Cr.

H3 Ranch - Stockyards/North Side. 109 E. Exchange Ave. (Main St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8211 (817) 624-1246. There's a fine line between authentic Western and Texas kitsch at this American annex to the Stockyards Hotel; the fun begins with the saddle-topped barstools in the Booger Red's Saloon (which was visited by Bonnie and Clyde) then continues with branding-iron candleholders in the dining room; menuwise, look for "roasted corn still in the husk" and steaks cooked over a wall-to-wall, hickory-wood "open pit"; while atmospherics make it fun "for out-of-town guests", the kitchen can be "inconsistent."

Lonesome Dove Western Bistro - $$.Stockyards/North Side. 2406 N. Main St. (24th St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76106-8519 (817) 740-8810. Former Reata chef/co-owner Tim Love has set up his camp stove in the Stockyards with this "good new addition" featuring polished ranch-style cuisine and a small, saloon-like interior of wooden-plank doors, burlap draperies and a quintessential Western sunset painting; granted, fine linens, pewter platters and stemware are not typical chuck wagon accessories, nor is the grilled quail quesadilla or BBQ duck spring rolls, but culinary cowboys will easily adapt. The menu is mostly meat and wild game without the usual heavy-handed sauces. A 10-ounce, bone-in veal chop is as buttery and smooth as the garlic-stuffed beef tenderloin. Getting a table can be a chore as the dining room only seats 50.

Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse - 2421 Westport Parkway, Fort Worth, TX 76177 - 817-224-9191. Sonny Bryan's world-class 'cue has attracted quite a number of celebrities that have feasted on the tender, juicy meat, enormous crispy onion rings and barbecued beans. So slip into your cowboy boots, slap on your Stetson, and get on over to Sonny Bryan's to see what it's all about. As you might expect, these homespun eateries emphasize the food, not the décor. You place your order when you enter, pick it up when it's ready, select your condiments, and then chow down, oblivious to that excellent barbecue sauce trickling down your arms. Keep Sonny Bryan's in mind for fast, good to-go food, as well as for delivery and catering. For 40 years, Sonny Bryan's meaty ribs, moist brisket, and classic barbeque sauce have been the standard by which all other Dallas barbeque is judged.


MANSION ON TURTLE CREEK - North of Downtown - 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. (Gillespie St.) Dallas, TX, 75219-4898 (214) 559-2100. Once again the Most Popular restaurant in the Dallas Survey and the "gold standard" in its category, this Downtown Southwestern features acclaimed chef Dean Fearing's "consistently innovative" combinations, which are likely to leave you "speechless"; moreover, the "outstanding" staff provides a "never-ending flow of attention" and the "beautiful rooms" convey an "exclusive feel" that's "like dining in someone's house"; in sum, a "first-class night out", even if the "amazing wine list" is "overpriced."

LOLA - 2917 Fairmount St. 214-855-0700. $$-$$$. This quaint Victorian home that until recently housed Barclays continues in the tradition of fine Continental fare with a user-friendly, fixed-price menu. Some of chef Jamie Sanford's concoctions sound bizarre-mahi-mahi rubbed with cumin served with black beans and grapefruit butter sauce-but we've never been disappointed with the end result. Save room for dessert.

CAFE PACIFIC - $$-$$$. 24 Highland Park Village (Mockingbird Ln. & Preston Rd.) Dallas, TX, 75205-2729 . (214) 526-1170. "Blue bloods and high-maintenance women" agree that this Highland Park seafood "institution" is "always at the top of its game" thanks to marvelous "maitre d' and local legend Jean-Pierre" Albertinetti, a "professional staff with personality and polish", an old-world setting that feels "like a private club", an "impressive wine list" and "the freshest fish in land-locked Dallas" (try the "heavenly sole"). Cafe Pacific continues to delight as one of Dallas' most reliable luncheon and dinner restaurants, as well as the place to witness the social structure of Dallas' power people in action. Menu favorites like calamari, clam chowder, Caesar salad, salmon, and red snapper are superbly prepared and presented by an experienced staff. 24 Highland Park Village.

THE FRENCH ROOM - $$$. Downtown/Deep Ellum/West End. Hotel Adolphus, 1321 Commerce St. (Akard St.) Dallas, TX, 75202 (214) 742-8200. Uncontestedly elected No. 1 for Food, Decor and Service in the Dallas Survey, this Downtown New French-American "throwback to more elegant times" is "magnificently decorated" with a cherub-painted ceiling, soft candlelights and beautiful flowers; factor in "impeccable service" from a staff that makes you "feel like a king and queen" and "fabulous", exquisitely plated dishes and you have the city's "perfect" spot "for special-occasion dining"; This is the prettiest dining room in Dallas. The rococo-style, cherub-flown ceiling, Versailles-length drapes, and candlelight make it the kind of place that doesn't mesh with the modern world. It's only natural to expect perfect food that matches the fairy-tale room. Sweetbread schnitzel is perfect, placed on a bed of asparagus ragout. Lamb rib-eye is precisely matched with rosemary goat cheese polenta and tomato confit with basil, combining every Mediterranean high note in a single dish. Dinner only. 1321 N.B. gourmet diners on a budget should consider the prix fixe menus.

SAINT-EMILION - Cultural District/West/Southwest. 3617 W. Seventh St. (Montgomery Rd.) Fort Worth, TX, 76107-2504 (817) 737-2781. No. 1 for Food in FW and "a French oasis in a steak and BBQ desert", owner Bernard Tronche's "romantic" bit of southwest France in a brick cottage near the Arts District showcases "first-rate" classically prepared dishes using "quality" ingredients, as well as a top-notch wine list that favors its namesake region; while the menu advises diners to pace themselves for slow food (meals are usually two hours), to accelerate the "excellent" service advise the staff you are on an American schedule.

THE RIVIERA - $$$. Preston Center/Inwood/West Lovers Lane/Love Field Area (South of LBJ) 7709 Inwood Rd. (Lovers Ln.) Dallas, TX, 75209 (214) 351-0094. Chef Michael Marshall (ex HÃ'tel St. Germain) is now behind the stoves of this "cosmopolitan" North Dallas French-Mediterranean stalwart, which is where celebration-minded diners go "when they want to be pampered" by a "graceful, welcoming" European-style staff serving "superb" cuisine ("to-die-for Dover sole", rack of lamb that rules); decor that's "like walking into a room in Provence" adds to its "fancy shmancy" allure.The Riviera's roasted rack of lamb swaddled in cracked black pepper and sautéed maple leaf duck breast served with a sour cherry baked apple compote are just two reasons The Riviera is at the top of every five-star dining list. Any night is reason enough to celebrate with a warm apple streusel and a scoop of Calvados ice cream paired with a glass of Moet & Chandon brut Rose. Dinner only.

LA PIAZZA - $$$. Hospital District/University Area/South Side. 1600 S. University Dr. (I-30) Fort Worth, TX, 76107-6558 (817) 334-0000. Clearly "the best Italian in FW", this "expensive", "dressy" University destination is not without controversy: while a "who's who" of regulars are welcomed as warmly as arriving relatives and whisked to prime tables to enjoy "a fabulous meal" using the "freshest ingredients" (try the veal tenders with porcini mushrooms), a minority of frustrated outsiders chafes over the owner's playing favorites.

DEL FRISCO'S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAK HOUSE - Downtown/Sundance Square. 812 Main St. (8th St.) Fort Worth, TX, 76102-6247 (817) 877-3999. Voted No. 1 for Service in the FW Survey (and tied for first in Popularity), this Downtown steakhouse chain link wows surveyors with "the clubbiest environs", "wonderful sides", "the best red meat you'll ever eat", a showstopper wine list and "impeccable" service; so don your sports jacket and cowboy boots, double-check that "expense-account" limit and prepare for an "elegant power dinner"; Restored 1890s digs and rich, upscale trim get you in steak-eating mood. Veal and seafood play supporting role to huge, excellent steaks; seafood soup and sauteed mushrooms also impressed. Desserts are not for the faint of heart. From the outside, this men's clubby restaurant seems sedate, but you'll pass through massive front doors into a flurry of activity akin to that at the check-in counter for a canceled flight. Here, however, patrons are dispatched to tables or to the bar with far greater efficiency than the airlines could ever hope for. The menu is straightforward: ten cuts or preparations of beef, three selections of veal and two seafood entrées. N.B. reservations are essential on weekends.

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