Joy of Mex: Fort Worth
The most beloved Tex-Mex restaurant in all of Texas is undoubtedly Joe T. Garcia’s, which has lovely terraces and tropical plantings. Other popular spots are Loredo’s and Mi Cocina.
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1450 W. Magnolia Avenue, 817-332-8633.
What a find! You’ll think you’ve died and gone to Mexico when you walk into this little old-fashioned place. Sopes—thick corn-cake tarts—come smeared with refried beans, grated cheese, and (unfortunately) tasteless green-chile sauce. A gigantic Oaxaca-style chicken-and-mole tamal wrapped in a banana leaf would feed a starving family. The adobo sauce (on stewed chicken) is as dark and rich as mole. Not everything is perfect: The masa in the tamal was drier than cornbread. But there’s no faulting the efforts at authenticity.
Guacamole: 5 (but needed salt). Chips: corn or flour tortillas offered instead of chips. Salsa: 3.5 (hot!).
2410 N. Main, 817-626-5770, and one other location; checks accepted, no credit cards.
Locals refer to the Main Street Esperanza’s as Joe T. Garcia’s bakery because it’s owned by the family that owns that restaurant. Walking across the parking lot in the morning, you’re enveloped in the aroma of cinnamon and freshly baked pan dulce. The big room is pleasant if utilitarian, with a few twinkle lights. Breakfasts run to well-prepared but dryish scrambled eggs a la mexicana (with bits of onion and pepper) or with chorizo (equal amounts of spice and grease). Lunches (until seven; closed for dinner) range across the Mexican and Tex-Mex spectrum; the best of a pretty good lot was wonderfully tender lengua (tongue) in a mild, tomatoey creole-style sauce.
Guacamole: 4. Chips: 3.5. Salsa: 3.5.
2720 W. Seventh Street, 817-870-2002.
Not much gets by Al Cavazos, the cordial, eagle-eyed owner of this tidy cafe. He’s usually on hand and takes particular pride in offering big hunks of chicken breast in many dishes (I couldn’t bear to tell him I actually prefer it stewed and shredded, especially in my chile relleno). The vegetable quesadillas were a delight (mushrooms, sweet bell peppers, a touch of cheese), the lightly fried beef flautas good enough. Overall: a good pit stop on your way to the museum district.
Guacamole: 2 (too puréed and had turned dark). Chips: 3.5 (jazzed up with paprika and garlic salt). Salsa: 4.5.
LA PLAYA MAYA
1540 N. Main, 817-624-8411, and two other locations.
You might not expect to find a reasonably authentic Mexican restaurant in a small converted office building. Though hardly reminiscent of Old Mexico, the space is quite pleasant, and the wide-ranging menu satisfies all comers with everything from Cowboy Enchiladas (with fajita meat) to Mexico’s famous vuelve a la vida (“return to life”) cocktail of mixed seafood, including octopus. Ceviche is light and fresh; tortilla soup has smoked chicken breast in the broth (a little strange) and comes with a plate of garnishes (grated cheese, tortilla strips) to add yourself.
Guacamole: 2. Chips: 3.5. Salsa: 2.
5301 Camp Bowie, 817-337-2777.
Good sign: a tortilla machine cranking out one steamy-hot flour tortilla after another. The upscale menu at Uncle Julio’s is a Mexican-gringo fusion, and well done. The spinach salad comes with shredded jicama and pine nuts; the beef and shrimp fajitas are both beautifully cooked; the pinto beans have a ranchy-barbecue tang. Victorian portraits and the odd chandelier add a touch of class to a basic roadhouse decor. Don’t expect to get in without a wait at peak times.
Guacamole: 3. Chips: 4. Salsa: 4 (roasted jalapeños, tomatoes, and onions).