By: Jenny B. Davis
By: Kyle Whitecotton
The failure rate for restaurants is 60 percent within the first three years. It’s a wonder how any make it to a decade, or in the case of our city’s oldest establishments, to 80 and beyond. While the clamor over each flashy new eatery is near deafening, let’s not forget about our city’s truly historic gems, some of which have been feeding us for generations. There might have been an ownership or location change or two, but be it for their comfort cuisine, welcoming service or atmospheres that make us feel at home, these restaurants have stood the test of time.
photography by Jason Kindig
Mama’s Pizza – 1968
Founded on East Rosedale near the Texas Wesleyan campus, Mama’s came from a Connecticut native with a Naples-born mother — but she wasn’t the “Mama” everybody knew. It was owner Ed Stebbins’ mother-in-law, who joined the team in 1970, who took orders from behind the counter for more than 15 years. The Farkas family eventually took over and added several locations, many of which closed in the 1980s. Longtime worker Jordan Scott inherited the lone Berry Street location and is now Mama’s president. While the Rosedale original is gone, the Mama’s legend continues today via several franchised locations.
Paris Coffee Shop–1926
The historic hangout’s name came from its original owner, Vic Paris, who sold the restaurant to Gregory Smith not long after opening. Today Greg’s son Mike, owner and pie-maker, can be found roaming the restaurant catching up with regulars. The Smith family’s longtime, highly lauded breakfast and lunch café has been featured in the New York Times, in published travel guides and on the Food Network for its classic coconut meringue pie.
The Original Mexican Eats Cafe–1926
The 32nd U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ate here so frequently during his visits to Fort Worth that a menu item was named for him. It offers one beef taco, one cheese enchilada and one bean chalupa, topped with two sunnyside-up eggs, if desired. Originally opened by the Pineda family, The Original is now owned by Robert Self, who added partially covered patio dining in 2013. And while everything here seems to be covered in cheese sauce or chile con carne, the allure of no-frills Tex-Mex and quality margaritas still draws crowds.
4713 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817.738.6226, originalmexicaneatscafe.com
Arlington Steak House-1931
Our lone entry outside of Fort Worth proper, the Arlington Steak House has a storied history dating back to its days as the Triangle Inn when the restaurant was a hoppin’ stop for gamblers visiting the nearby Top O’ Hill Terrace casino, now the Arlington Baptist College. In 2013 the steak house received a historical marker from the Arlington Landmark Preservation Commission and is recognized for its homemade “hot rolls” and chicken fried steak, serving both since 1931.
1724 W. Division St., Arlington, 817.275.7881, thearlingtonsteakhouse.com
Opened by Jewish immigrant David Carshon, originally in partnership with Morris Chicotsky’s Houston Street meat market downtown, the deli has changed locations a couple of times but is still the only kosher deli in Fort Worth. Popular and unique menu items are split pea and matzo ball soups, polish sausage, smoked trout and the strawberry delight pie with sweet crumble topping.
3133 Cleburne Road, Fort Worth, 817.923.1907, carshonsdeli.com
J.T. Bailey worked as a Navy cook before he opened his namesake downtown barbecue shack in the same tiny red brick building it still sits in today. The lunch-only spot is now run by his grandniece, Brenda Phifer, and she knows her customers, mostly downtown workers, like to get in and out. She keeps the ordering line quick and efficient. The un-spiced, oak-smoked beef is served sliced or chopped on soft buns and then packed into brown paper sacks. There’s always a daily special that comes with chips and a drink, and smoked sausage, smoked turkey and spicy pulled pork are also available. Phifer says while competition is fierce, she hopes to carry on the Bailey’s legacy for another 20 or 30 years.
826 Taylor St., Fort Worth, 817.335.7469
This one’s tricky because while Charles Kincaid established his grocery and meat market in 1946, hamburgers weren’t sold until 1964. O.R. Gentry, Kincaid’s longtime meat cutter, purchased the grocer-turned-hamburger grill in 1967. Business rapidly grew, and now there are six locations slinging Kincaid’s award-wining burgers, including the Camp Bowie Boulevard original.
Riscky’s original Azle Avenue location is still operating after four generations of family ownership, starting with Mary and Joe Riscky, Polish immigrants who opened Riscky’s Grocery & Market, serving barbecue lunch specials. Today there are six barbecue locations, a burger joint and a steakhouse, which exists in the former Theo’s Saddle Sirloin Inn in the Stockyards. The saloon and inn establishment was built in the 1920s and is historically known for introducing Fort Worth diners to calf fries. The fries were kept on the menu when the Riscky family took over in 1993. Multiple locations, risckys.com
M&M Steak House–1971
Twenty years earlier in 1951, M&M Steak House originally opened as Papa Joe’s, serving the same rib-eye steaks and calf fries the obscurely located restaurant is known for today. When the original owner passed, the name was changed, according to a longtime cook who’s been grilling steaks in the location for 44 years. Today the dark and dusty dive is owned by Keith Kidwell, who also owns Margie’s Original Italian Kitchen. With walls covered in taxidermy, neon-lit beer signs and a jukebox of old Country and Western hits, M&M is destination dining strictly for patrons in the know. 1106 N.W. 28th St., Fort Worth, 817.624.0612
George’s Specialty Foods–1951
George Phiripes’ Greek eatery still exists in the same location near the Trinity River where he opened more than 60 years ago, and not much has changed with regard to atmosphere or nearby development. His son Nick now owns the place, which is part restaurant and part mini grocer, selling Mediterranean goods like jarred olives, olive oils, feta cheese and phyllo dough. Open for daytime dining only, the small café with a handful of outdoor tables is known for its gyro sandwiches and Greek salads, which come substantially topped with sliced gyro meat or chicken and a side of pita bread and dill dipping sauce. 4424 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817.737.0414
Margie’s Original Italian Kitchen–1953
Open only Wednesday through Sunday for dinner, Margie’s is Fort Worth’s oldest Italian eatery, boasting “indoor plumbing and air condition” (not conditioning) on outdoor signage. Margie was Margie Walters, who was born in Florence, Italy, and opened the restaurant with her mother and brother after moving to Fort Worth in 1951. She passed away in 1991, and today the pizza and pasta joint, located far down Camp Bowie West, is owned by M&M Steakhouse owner Keith Kidwell, who bought the place with the late Paul Willis, founder of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. 9805 Camp Bowie W. Blvd., Fort Worth, 817.244.4301, margiesitaliankitchen.com
Mexican Inn Cafe–1936
Big-time gambler Tiffin Hall opened Mexican Inn in downtown Fort Worth at the corner of 5th and Commerce streets, serving Tex-Mex on the first floor and gambling on the second. It was the cash from the card games that kept the eatery afloat until Hall built his empire and opened more locations. The kingpin passed away in 1973, and the restaurant was later purchased by the same group that owns Spring Creek Barbeque and Shady Oak Barbeque & Grill. Ground masa is used to make soft, hot and fresh corn tortillas and addicting crispy fried corn chips that no doubt play a role in the restaurant’s decades of success. Multiple locations, mexicaninncafe.com
What started as a four-table restaurant more than 50 years ago has grown into an institution of Texas barbecue and a destination for many out-of-towners. Angelo George’s son Skeet and grandson Jason now run his namesake barbecue joint, and they can usually be found seated to the right of the bar with regulars who’ve been visiting for decades. Angelo passed in 1997 and was known for always entertaining his guests, including casino giant Benny Binion, who apparently once tried to lure Angelo to Vegas to open a Texas barbecue joint. The story goes that Angelo said no, asking where he would find enough hickory wood in the desert. 2533 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817.332.0357, angelosbbq.com
Cattlemen’s Steak House–1947
Founder Jessie Roach decided to give up his career in insurance for a life in the restaurant business, having secured prime real estate (initially for an insurance office) in the bustling Fort Worth Stockyards. Cattlemen’s started out as a café and then added barbecue before finally morphing into a prime steak house. Roach, who passed in 1988, also owned The Farmer’s Daughter and other Cattlemen’s locations in Dallas and Arlington, but the Stockyards original is the only one that remains. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth, cattlemenssteakhouse.com
The Smoke Pit–1953
It wasn’t until 1967 when Betty Mullins took over the Smoke Pit from a family member that the windowless Trinity River-side shack started gaining a reputation for not only its ’cue, but its “scenery” too. Mullins ran the restaurant with her five beautiful daughters, and clientele included everyone from blue-collar workers to police officers and politicians. Mullins passed in 1993, and the Smoke Pit’s current owners still cater to a largely male crowd, banking on cold beer, barbecue and buxom waitresses. 2401 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth, 817.222.0455, thesmokepitcatering.com
Griff’s Hamburgers –1964
This regional burger chain’s longtime Fort Worth location reaches the 50-year mark this year. Named for founder Harold Griffin, whose grandchildren now run the business, Griff’s restaurants were built in A-frame-designed structures with “Griffy,” the red-and-white striped cartoon clown mascot, adorning exterior signage as well as Styrofoam drink cups and French fry bags. Buns are grill-toasted, and the burgers have been greasy long before greasy burgers became nostalgic and old-school cool. 4224 E. Lancaster Ave., 817.534.8222, griffshamburgers.com
Sammie’s Bar-B-Q – 1946
Sammie Norwood opened his barbecue joint on Belknap Street in the parking lot of where the current location exists today. In the early days, the restaurant offered curbside service. Ownership has changed hands a time or two, and now Bobby Platt, whose dad purchased Sammie’s in 1973, is running things and keeps cooking methods and recipes true to the style the restaurant was founded on. Oak wood is cured for a year before it’s used to smoke spice-rubbed meats, and the barbecue sauce is still thin and vinegary. Note that Friday and Saturday offer all-you-can-eat catfish. 3801 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth, 817.834.1822, sammiesbarbque.com
Zeke’s Fish & Chips–1971
Rare birds who’ve never frequented Zeke’s for its flaky, white Icelandic cod, thickly crusted with a hearty, buttery, pancake-esque batter, should know that Friday night is about to get insane. Lines form well out the front door during the Lenten season as folks flock to get their fish and chips on. Owner Mark Lidell, who’s run Zeke’s with his family for more than four decades, can be found supervising cooked-to-order dishes (expect to wait at least 15 minutes on a normal night), including fried oysters and sweet corn nuggets, button mushrooms and cornmeal-coated zucchini slices. 5920 Curzon Ave., Fort Worth, 817.731.3321, zekesfishandchips.net
Ol’ South Pancake House–1962
We still remember when the popular Sunday morning breakfast joint was filled with a haze of cigarette smoke. Those days are long gone, but the sweet and lemony Dutch babies, buttermilk short stacks and friendly service remain the same. The legendary Van Cliburn was one of the 24-hour pancake palace’s most famed regulars. Owned by Rex Benson, whose father opened the place, and the Brozgold family, the restaurant still generates substantial crowds seeking hotcakes and hot coffee. 1509 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, olsouthpancakehouse.com
Joe T. Garcia’s–1935
Originally opened as Joe’s Bar-B-Q and seating only 16, Joe T. Garcia’s now serves around 2,000 when the house is full. Jessie and Joe T. Garcia first owned a tiny grocery store at the same location, where local workers from the nearby meatpacking houses would visit for lunchmeats and sandwich items. Joe’s barbecue was cooked in a charcoal pit, but it was the enchilada and taco plates that later drew crowds, including the likes of Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne. Construction on the world-famous patio wasn’t started until 1970, which included a pool Garcia’s grandchildren grew up swimming in. 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817.626.4356, joets.com
By: Jenny B. Davis
By: Kyle Whitecotton