Sometimes you don't mind standing in line to eat at a restaurant, especially when you're absolutely sure that what lies at the end of that line is going to be good: bacon burnt ends from Heim BBQ; a chai and pumpkin doughnut from Funky Town Donuts; anything and everything from Melt Ice Creams.
But there are times when you just want to go in, sit down, and have a good meal — and not have to wait.
This month's Where to Eat is dedicated to that occasion, and to restaurants in and around Fort Worth where there's seldom, if ever, a line.
Avanti Fort Worth
Avanti is a rare downtown restaurant — excellent food, posh setting, good prices, and, thanks to its off-the-beaten-path location in the One City Place development, never a crowd. A spin-off of the Dallas original, Avanti combines Italian and Mediterranean cuisine in an upscale setting, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, handsome booths, and a ballroom-worthy chandelier. Prices are reasonable, too, especially at lunch, when a filet mignon sandwich is $14 and three-cheese lasagna in Chardonnay cream sauce is $11.
Common Ground Grill & Tap
Common Ground is an anomaly in the TCU area: It's not swarming with TCU kids, and it's a really nice place. Part of local chef/restaurateur David Hollister’s trifecta of Fort Worth spots (the other two being Dagwoods Grinders & Growlers near Ridgmar Mall and the now-shuttered Dagwoods Fire Grill Tap near the West 7th area), Common Ground features an attractive dining room, outfitted with a patio and outdoor fireplace, and a compact menu that reimagines American classics: shrimp and grits mean pan-seared shrimp in red-chile polenta and a house burger made with Akaushi beef and housemade remoulade sauce. The BLT is so huge, a fork is required.
The Dive Oyster Bar
The location of this tiny, cheffy seafood joint may be a curse and a blessing. Housed on the tricky Benbrook traffic circle, in the original Salsa Fuego space, it can be tough to reach but, perhaps as a result, it's never that crowded. It should be: Former Waters cook Josh Rengel gives oysters a gourmet spin, piling on toppings such as chimichurri sauce and grapefruit vodka. House fries, doused with kimchi and a runny egg, are a gluttonous delight, as is the gargantuan key lime pie.
El Rancho Grande
Overshadowed by a nearby Tex Mex tourist-trap — Joe, cough, T, cough, Garcia's — El Rancho Grande is one of the best Mexican food restaurants in the city. In a frills-free, spacious dining room, basic Tex-Mex dishes are done incredibly well: huge chile rellanos — grilled, instead of breaded, if you want — come stuffed with meat and cheese, beef tips are tender to the touch, and chicken enchiladas are ridiculously creamy and rich. All come with super-thin and appropriately salty tortilla chips, terrific salsa, and housemade flour tortillas. The nearly 50-year-old restaurant did receive some recognition recently: Texas Highways named it the No. 3 best Tex-Mex restaurant in the state.
M&O Station Grill
This upbeat, '50s-inspired diner is close enough to West 7th action to pick up some of the traffic but is far enough removed from it to not be swamped all the time. Go for the gourmet burgers, decorated with ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes, housemade chipotle mayo, and garlic cream cheese. A cool little bonus: Connected to the restaurant is Leonard's Department Store Museum, made up of artifacts from the old downtown Leonard's retail stores.
Open for nearly 20 years, this charming Italian restaurant near the quiet Monticello area offers little in the way of trendy. But old-school is the new school, haven't you heard? Milano's is quick, good, and inexpensive — lunch specials, which include freshly baked bread and a cup of soup or salad, are under $10, and dinner entrées are under $20. In addition to Italian standards like lasagna and eggplant parm, the restaurant serves brick-oven pizzas and offers an extensive wine list.
Pan Asia Cuisine
Quaint Asian restaurant landed in a weird strip-mall spot when it moved from Arlington to west Fort Worth this year. Signage is hard to spot and the parking lot takes a bit of maneuvering, but the hassle is worth it. The 10-page menu encompasses nearly every faction of Asian cuisine, from sushi to fried rice dishes to Thai food. Especially good is the soy-based ramen, bobbing with fall-apart-tender pork belly, spinach, a boiled egg, and dried seaweed.
The sign outside of Arlington's Pioneer Restaurant says it all: "Just Good Food." The 34-year-old breakfast and lunch spot is an homage to roadside diners: Servers know their customers and customers know what they want when they sit down. That's usually the fluffy pancakes for breakfast, and huge chicken fried steaks for lunch. A big dining room means A) You don't have to wait and B) Good people-watching.
Grapevine restaurant is steeped in Texana history. Founded in Dallas in 1976 by journalist and historian Frank X. Tolbert, it's now run by his daughter, Kathleen, who keeps the recipe close for the legendary "bowl of red" chili, which you can get with beans or without. There's chicken fried steak, a worthy burger, cheap prices, and cheap beer. The place swings on weekends, but somehow you can always get in.
Ume Sushi & Korean BBQ
Family-run spot on Fort Worth's southwest side looks innocuous from outside but inside is a cozy dining room with dazzlingly good food. Sushi comes in two sorts: the sauce-heavy, fancy stuff popularized locally by Piranha Sushi, and less flamboyant rolls in which there's a clear focus on the fish. A handful of Korean dishes are available, too, including Korean BBQ pork ribs, marinated in soy sauce, and bulgogi — a stew-like dish comprised of grilled beef, veggies, rice, and kimchi.