Holidays are made for the fancy meal in a spiffy setting. But when January comes, our thoughts — and wallets — head for the flipside: the dive. We're talking about the hole-in-the-wall where you can get good food for a pittance, atmosphere be damned.
Fort Worth's quintessential dive is Fred's Texas Café, the West Seventh burger joint that was featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Guy Fieri was no fool. Fred's sets the standard with its ramshackle building, sketchy characters, and reasonably priced food.
In addition to Fred's, these are the city's best dive restaurants:
Seven years ago, long before gourmet ice cream became a thing here, the Ponce family began making ice cream in this tiny southeast Fort Worth shop. Today not only locals but also chefs and foodies cram the place for caramel and tres leches ice cream, along with an assortment of frozen pops in gourmet flavors both savory and sweet, such as horchata, dulce de leche, and mango-chile. 1215 E. Seminary Dr. 817-927-0313.
Angie's Bikkles Caribbean Restaurant
Located on a hard-to-find side street in the Hospital District, this cozy joint is one of the few restaurants in Fort Worth to specialize in Caribbean food. Maureen "Angie" Hucey serves curried goat, jerk chicken, fried sweet plantains, and other Jamaican staples in a bright, cheery room. Regulars know it takes a while to get your food, so they come prepared with friends or books. 1704 Galveston Ave. 817-443-5757.
Charley's Old Fashioned Hamburgers
In a town loaded with burger dives, 24-year-old Charley's ranks among the best. It's a tiny spot, with a half-dozen, mismatched tables inside and picnic seating outside. You order at a window, then wait for someone to yell your name. Burgers are cooked the old-school way, on a flat-top grill, but many have new-school touches, such as Tabasco-infused patties or toppings such as sliced avocado. Be sure to get a cup of house-made limeade. 4616 Granbury Rd. 817-924-8611.
Housed inside a century-old building and found by spotting a faded wooden sign, Gloria Molina's charming little dive has been a hotbed for traditional Tex-Mex fare since it opened on the north side 35 years ago. You might not find better flour tortillas. These are so large their edges peek out of their plastic holders. Beef tips are super tender and spicy. Lunch specials are $5.99, and breakfast egg platters start out at $4. 404 N. 25th St. 817-626-9394.
Opened last year near TCU, this undiscovered gem is as low-key as you can get: no website, no Facebook page, just a sign that may lead some to believe this is an iPhone store. Those who've unearthed it have found inexpensive, generous bowls of pho, priced under $10, and cheap, cheap, cheap banh mi sandwiches. A fried tofu banh mi will set you back a mere $3.75. Don't tell anyone about this place, okay? 2817 W. Berry St. 817-349-9128.
Jesus Family Restaurant
Tiny diners and cafes dot the landscape of Fort Worth's restaurant scene. On the south side, Paris Coffee Shop rules supreme for people-watching and pie; the nearby Hemphill's Restaurant can't be beat for breakfast. But for hand-breaded chicken fried steak — TWO pieces of it — seek out Jesus Borja's sardine can of a cafe. Still run by the eightysomething Borja and his family, the restaurant also serves barbecue and Mexican. But it's the CFS, one piece plopped on top of the other, that has drawn regulars since opening in 1969. 810 S. Main St. 817-332-0168.
M&M Steak House
Beloved for its unapologetically over-the-top Texas atmosphere, in which you sit among staring eyes of taxidermied animals and country music booming from a jukebox, M&M is one of the city's most well-known dives. A half-dozen variations of steak are available, along with calf fries and frog legs. It's virtually the same menu from when the place opened in 1951 under the name Papa Joe's. The restaurant is now owned by Keith Kidwell, who also owns the equally dive-y Margie's Original Italian Kitchen. 1106 NW 28th St. 817-624-0612.
Margie's Original Italian Kitchen
Since opening in 1953, Margie's has changed as much as the dusty stretch of far west Fort Worth where it resides — which is to say, not much. Tables are still covered in checkerboard tablecloths, the lighting is still low, and the one-room restaurant still fills up on weekend nights. Long-timers swear by the lasagna and linguine with garlic pesto sauce. Dives are all about steals, and you'll find one with a sampler that features portions of lasagna, manicotti, cannelloni, fettuccine Alfredo, and chicken parmesan — enough to feed two or three people, for just over $20. 9805 Camp Bowie West Blvd. 817-244-4301.
McKinzie Cut-Rate Liquor
It doesn't get much more divey than a barbecue stand in a liquor store on the east side of Fort Worth. This is not the city's best barbecue, but owner Jerry McKinzie touts the city's best barbecue deal: a dynamite chopped beef sandwich for $2. Moist, smoky meat drenched in a sweet sauce spills out from thick, buttered Texas toast; you're gonna want to get two. 154 N. Riverside Ave. 817-838-0005.
Thai Rice N' Noodle
The Thanpaisarnsamut family owns some of the city's nicest Thai restaurants, Spice on the Near Southside and Thailicious in Arlington Heights included. Thai Rice N' Noodle came first, in 2006. Located next door to an iffy gas station on a dicey stretch of Camp Bowie West, it reflects the family's humble start; it is 100-percent dive. Must-gets include ground chicken stir fry with mint leaves; a house salad with freshly made lemon dressing; and the chicken pad woon sen, made with moist chicken and firm glass noodles. Service can be unpredictable, a hallmark of any true dive. 9094 Camp Bowie West Blvd. 817-560-3758.
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