In 2022, CultureMap Fort Worth debuted its own edition of the Tastemaker Awards, a culinary celebration that shines a light on top restaurant and bar talent in Tarrant County in various categories, as voted on by peers. The awards ceremony is back for 2023 and will be held April 27 at The 4 Eleven at 411 S. Main St.
The signature tasting event will feature bites and beverages from the nominees and will be hosted by Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell. Tickets are now on sale, here. (Note that early bird ticket sales end April 2.)
While we wait for the big party, get to know the nominees. All will be profiled as part of a special editorial series leading up to the event.
Up first, the category of Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year. These places are close and convenient to established residential neighborhoods and offer a feeling of home that keeps regulars coming back over and over again.
Here are the 10 nominees for Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, in alphabetical order:
Open since 2000 in the hidden Westcliff Shopping Center, Café Bella is the Cheers of several nearby neighborhoods, from Bluebonnet Hills to Tanglewood. Except at this place “where everybody knows your name,” it’s up to you to BYOB. Perhaps that’s part of the draw, along with the unpretentious classic Italian dishes served at affordable prices, like chicken piccata, fettucine alfredo, and baked lasagna. The interior is also inviting, with faux floral hanging from the ceiling along with preset glassware and folded napkins. Also inviting is the owner, Eli Golemi, who’s gained a loyal following not only for her comforting dishes but for her gracious personality – like that of a best friend.
Family owned and operated since 1928, this kosher-style delicatessen has been in its current location in South Fort Worth since the 1970s, serving generations of patrons. Located near a busy intersection at Berry Street and Cleburne Road, the sandwich shop draws regulars for its corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, chicken and tuna salads, soups, chili, and toasted bagels. Don’t miss the Strawberry Delight, a layered slice of whipped cream, strawberries, and crumbled shortbread. Carshon’s is cash only and is only open for breakfast and lunch but does serve beer and wine.
Because of its discreet location inside a Riverside gas station, this neighborhood taco joint may fly under the radar – but not to its neighbors in the know. Angel Fuentes (who has also been nominated for a Tastemaker Award for Rising Star Chef) opened the eatery in 2021, but he had already gained a following as co-owner of another taco hot spot, Mariachi’s Dine-In, which had been in the same space since 2018 before moving to West Fort Worth. Now as the sole proprietor, the Monterrey, Mexico native has been able to showcase hometown flavors along with personal creativity. Patrons will find birria tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tortas along with elote, beef cheek barbacoa, and green or red chile chicken posole. Customers can order to-go easily or sit and enjoy a plate in the colorfully decorated, sectioned-off area of the gas station’s convenience store.
When your neighborhood is the Fort Worth Stockyards, your customers may come from all over the world. But the Cisneros family, who opened the Tex-Mex institution on North Main Street in 1983, welcomes every guest as if they are a next-door neighbor. In an area of glitzy revitalization with the addition of Mule Alley, Los Vaqueros is a mainstay now celebrating 40 years in business under the same ownership. Regulars, whether locals or out-of-towners, visit for the airy chips and fresh salsa, sour cream enchiladas, stuffed chiles rellenos, and the popular Don Juan Coco Von – chicken breast marinated in wine sauce with mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes served with guacamole. Because the restaurant offers a massive footprint in what was formerly a warehouse, accommodating large families here is easy to do.
Roy Pope Grocery
Open since 1943, Roy Pope Grocery has been a neighborhood go-to for generations. The Camp Bowie Boulevard grocer, wine shop, and café received a facelift when a new ownership group took the reins in 2020. What stayed the same: custom beef butchery, high-end shelf stable products, chef-made hot and cold deli items, and a wide lineup of wine and beer. What’s new: an on-staff sommelier, wine club, gourmet coffee bar, indoor and outdoor seating, floral department, frozen custard, house-made sangria, and even occasional live music. The new-and-improved Roy Pope earned a nod from Texas Monthly as of the state's best new restaurants in 2022.
Simply referred to as “Toyoko” to its regulars, this West Fort Worth Japanese restaurant and returning Tastemaker winner has a steady stream of patrons from nearby neighborhoods, along with destination diners who drive in from the outskirts of town. That’s because owners Mary and Jarry Ho, both graduates of Texas A&M, have kept Tokyo Café innovative and relevant while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere. Jarry’s parents started the restaurant in 1997; he took over in 2003. In 2009, he hired chef Kevin Martinez, who’s added his adventurous influence to the menu, attracting a new generation of young foodies. The restaurant survived a terrible fire in 2014 that led to a two-year closure. Upon its reopening, customers came back in droves, ready to support their favorite neighborhood Japanese eatery that’s popular for date night, girl groups, and young families, too.
When a restaurant owner chooses to open their restaurant just blocks away from where they live, the investment into the neighborhood is pretty big. That’s the case with Tributary Café on Race Street, whose owners Cindy and Roney Wheeler live in nearby historic Oakhurst. The couple opened the Louisiana-inspired eatery in a renovated 1940s bungalow in 2016. Because the restaurant is an actual house with wooden floors, front porch, and covered patio, the feel is definitely neighborly. Wheeler has an extensive restaurant background (Nonna Tata, Zodiac at Neiman Marcus), and once owned her own place in Waxahachie. She moved back to Fort Worth and wanted to showcase some of her favorite Creole dishes in a then up-and-coming part of the Riverside district. Today she has a slew of regulars who visit for fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, fried oyster po’ boys, and specials like etouffee-topped burgers. Other draws are the weekend live music, Sunday brunch, and happy hour from 2-6 pm Wednesday through Friday.
A man named Jimmy Ho opened this Vietnamese mainstay at Belknap and Beach streets in 1986. Some of the same customers who knew Jimmy are greeted today by his son Lee, who’s run the family business since 2009. What keeps a good neighborhood restaurant running smoothly on all cylinders is not fixing what isn’t broken, and that’s what the younger Ho has done here. Affordable prices, a simple interior, good food, and quick service has kept regulars – from nearby workers to neighborhood families – coming back. Always popular are the various pho as well as the shrimp and bean sprout-stuffed Saigon “pancakes” (which more resemble an omelet) and the French baguette banh mi. It’s a place to eat adventurously in what feels like a home-cooking café.
It’s no accident that this Grapevine sandwich shop feels a bit like Chicago – Weinberger’s originated in the Windy City in 1952 before opening in historic downtown Grapevine in 2002. For more than two decades, the deli has attracted locals and out-of-towners for professionally crafted sandwiches. Without a doubt, sandwich making is an art here – that’s the way owner Dan Weinberger intended it. Customers rave about the authenticity of the Chicago-style specialties, from the hot pastrami sandwiches to the Chicago dog. But the menu goes on and on; there are cheesesteaks, Cuban sandwiches, gyros, club sandwiches, sausages, and even meatloaf sandwiches. Regulars know their favorites, so if you’re not sure what to order while in line, step out of the way until you do.
Winslow's Wine Café
Many patrons conveniently walk to this Crestline area wine bar and restaurant from their nearby homes. Winslow’s was opened by Joe Berry in 2008 in a former gas station on Camp Bowie Boulevard and was named for his beloved blue heeler. Here, the pizzas are wood-fired, the cozy bar is always busy, and the wine goes down smooth. Berry has modified the menu over the years to reflect what his clientele craves – think parmesan truffle fries, jumbo lump crab cakes, and fig and prosciutto pizza. Winslow’s is also popular for Sunday brunch or a glass of wine on the comfortable patio, where there’s always a familiar face.