By: Shilo Urban
Hidden Fort Worth, and the research that went into this article, will prove to all that this city is anything but simple — it is rich with history, grassroots art, creative food and cocktails that you won’t find on some menus, outdoor adventures that could compete with Colorado, and a tree you may have walked passed a hundred times yet never realized its story started in 1904 in St. Louis, predating the Cultural District. If you have ever wanted to go on a scavenger hunt for hidden gems in or near your hometown, then this list is for you. Our team compiled a list and drove all over uncovering these obscure and sometimes camouflaged places. It’s possible that our radar didn’t catch all of the hidden gems. If that’s the case, let us know. Post a photo of your find on Instagram with the hashtag #hiddenfortworth, and don’t forget to tag us (@fwtxmag).
810 S. Main St., Fort Worth
This quaint shoebox on South Main has been in business since 1969, long before Benito’s on Magnolia hit the map. A sign hangs over the sidewalk – “Jesus BBQ and Mexican Food.” Walking in is like going back in time, and the menu is as diverse as the people eating inside. Its specialty is its barbecue, but a regular says everything on its menu, from chicken fried steak to enchiladas, are amazing and made to order, thus “piping hot.” He was not kidding. They had already run out of beef barbecue by 1 p.m. one day, but the enchiladas were the best I’ve had in Fort Worth, which I didn’t think was possible. Because the food is made to order, customers can customize their order, so I asked for one of each enchilada and a homemade apple fried pie for dessert. The chicken was all white meat and shredded to perfection, the ground beef plenty and perfectly seasoned, and the cheese had more gooey flavor than one could ask for. Seated inside were two elderly African-American women catching up on life, two young Hispanic ladies in their hospital gear taking a break, an uppity-looking and demanding Caucasian couple, and a young African-American couple. Nearby, a young boy’s mom told him not to eat too much because she was cooking him a good dinner. He finished his entire plate – two beef and one cheese enchiladas.
6001 N. Main St., Fort Worth
This place is a hike but has quickly garnered a loyal following. Cruise all the way north on Main Street, almost to Saginaw, to find this festive bright yellow food truck parked in front of a gas station. The menu includes breakfast tacos, tortas, street tacos, quesadillas and burritos, all made to order with your choice of pollo, asada, pastor, and chorizo. Take a gander on the other side of the food truck and find that you have a choice of five “outlaw burgers” with items like grilled pineapple, roasted poblano chili peppers, and avocado. It all comes out fast and packed full of flavor.
Off-Menu Salmon Tower at Little Lilly
6100 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
Almost all sushi places offer a tuna tower, usually a crowd favorite. But Little Lilly’s off-menu remix places sashimi-grade salmon on top of large chucks of fresh lump blue crab and avocado. It’s not on the menu, but they don’t bat an eye when customers order it. The chef completes the dish with black tobiko and sushi rice with a wasabi soy sauce. Everything on the menu is delicious as well. In 2014 Texas Monthly named this place one of the 10 best new restaurants in the state.
The Nacho Libre
The Original Mexican Eats Café, 4713 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
If you know the name of this hidden margarita, then the server will not question your worthiness to drink it. The Nacho Libre at the Original Mexican Eats Café is an off-menu favorite “reserved for special guests” who know it exists. It is much lighter in color and taste than the other margaritas, with fresh-squeezed lime juice, a splash of Cointreau, Jose Cuervo Silver tequila, and a dollop of agave nectar. Its cousin, the Mas Fina (on the menu), is much darker in color and more syrupy. Go for the light, refreshing off-menu Nacho Libre and see if you prefer it.
Bar at The Original
4713 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
There’s the bar at The Original, and then there’s “the bar” at The Original. Two nondescript doors (one off the back patio and another next to the front entrance) lead to a dark, cold, galley-style bar owned by The Original. A couple of years ago it was open to the public, albeit at completely random and unpredictable times. It’s not open, it’s not advertised and it doesn’t have a name. But, it’s available just for special events and private parties to those in the know.
The Tino’s Special
Joe T. Garcia’s, 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth
This special drink is named after Martin Munoz, the bartender who has worked the patio cantina at Joe T. Garcia’s for decades. His smiling presence is a fixture there, and he throws those margaritas together fast. But if you ask him for the Tino’s Special, he will handcraft a margarita for you to the tune of $11.50. It has Julio Silver tequila, Cointreau and Grand Marnier topped with the restaurant’s secret margarita mix.
Macaluso’s Italian Off-Menu Specials and Hidden Patio
2443 Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth
This burrowed gem is tucked inside a red brick shopping center near TCU. Some of you might remember it as the old location for Le Chardonnay. While the entrance is unassuming, the family-owned restaurant has an inviting atmosphere with floor-to-ceiling windows in two-thirds of the interior that overlook a courtyard and creek with a batch of thick trees. The views are stunning from the inside and the outdoor patio. On any given night, brothers Marco and Zeke will be there to greet you at the door and tell you to sit where you like. Try their off-menu items that only regulars know about, like their “fettuccine special” – fettuccine noodles with shrimp, lump crab meat, fresh garlic, tomatoes and basil in a light olive oil and white wine sauce. Also off the menu is what Zeke’s son calls the “BOG.” It is an olive oil dipping sauce for bread loaded with fresh minced garlic and basil. Add a dash of salt and some red pepper flakes to soak your bread and voila! “Cheers,” as the friendly Marco always likes to say.
It has a downstairs patio and dining area where kiddos love to explore, and although it doesn’t market this, it can be rented out for private parties.
3509 Bryan Ave., Fort Worth
This place has it all — homemade food so good you can taste the love that went into making it, friendly service and a cozy authentic atmosphere. If you could see, feel and taste fairy dust, then most regulars would say this is where you will find it. The cheese enchilada plate is brilliant. I immediately felt the love on a visit here when a regular was helping take orders and fill waters because they were short-staffed that day. She then asked if she could sit down with me so I didn’t have to eat alone. The small home is not far from Interstate-35 and blocks from Hemphill Street, grandfathered into a residential area. Cars line the street on days when it’s open. The reviews online are endlessly and consistently excellent, which is rare. Experiencing this place should be on everyone’s bucket list for more reasons than the fantastic home-cooked Mexican food. Call first to make sure it’s open as hours can be sporadic.
1106 NW 28th St., Fort Worth
It is easy to miss, and most people do, but this sketchy-looking dive is as original as a Western steakhouse gets. It has been open since 1952 (same location), and the current owner has run this place for 40 years. Customers should leave all pretentiousness at the door and get ready to take it easy, Fort Worth style. Its roasted garlic-covered and bacon-wrapped filets, with massive baked potatoes, are a customer favorite. Some go for the calf fries or ribeye steak. But don’t leave this place without playing a few old country songs on its antiquated jukebox complete with original 7-inch 45 RPM records, which came along around 1970 and is still carefully maintained by an “expert,” said the waitress who used to hang at M&M in the 1960s. Now that’s a hidden jewel you won’t find anywhere else. When customers hear Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard playing in this dusty place, it’s like going back to the Old West.
The LightCatcher Winery and Bistro
6925 Confederate Parkway, Fort Worth
Splayed out on 4 acres near Lake Worth, just northwest of downtown, is a charming winery and tasting room with views that take visitors out of the city. Owners Caris and Terry Turpen make most of the wines they provide. But visit quickly. After 15 years, LightCatcher is for sale. Bonus: patios at the winery are dog-friendly.
812 Rosedale St., Fort Worth
This local secret is hidden in a strip center in the Medical District. The sesame chicken isn’t just a pile of over-sauced batter, but rather white meat cooked to order. This is a favorite take-out spot, and the friendly owner will happily visit with you while you wait for your food. Oh, and don’t leave this place without trying its pho, which is a huge bowl of piping hot broth and your choice of thinly sliced meat, rice noodles, and fresh jalapeños, basil and bean sprouts, if you wish. The prices are unbeatable.
Mi Tierra Meat Market
6722 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
Located next to a 99 Cents Only store near the Camp Bowie traffic circle, this place offers pounds of already marinated and mixed fajitas, ginormous chicharrones, or “pork rinds,” and a pastry case that smells divine. There are too many things to love in this Mexican meat market, but if you only do one thing here, go to the back left corner and ask for the plate of the day. Hosting a party, you say? Grab dozens of pounds of fajita meat, premade guacamole and pico, and some fresh produce. Salud.
4228 E. Belknap St., Haltom City
Haltom City is known for its Vietnamese food, but Nguyen Seafood ups the ante with its “live crawfish boil” as the menu states. Pounds of spicy and hot crawfish are served in plastic bags ready to be torn apart. Thirsty? Buy 5 pounds of crawfish (at $7.99 a pound) and get two beers free.
Secret Chips at Szechuan
5712 Locke Ave., Fort Worth
These Chinese chips at Szechuan are an off-menu secret, but if you ask for them, they will most likely bring them to munch on before your dinner comes out. Mix some duck sauce with a little soy, and it makes a fine dip for these fried pieces of flat noodles used to make their dumplings. Make sure the owner or manager is there when you order; otherwise, you might get the stink-eye from a waitress who doesn’t have a clue what you’re asking for.
Whistle Stop Café
904 Hwy. 81, Decatur
Located in a historic travel center in Decatur, Whistle Stop Café is a local favorite and a perfect road trip stop. This tiny diner, in an adorable old stone building, is all it needs to be — a place known for its greasy spoon breakfast and lunch with pie for dessert. Don’t forget to check out its chalkboard specials.
1401 Cook’s Lane, Fort Worth
This place is literally a hole in a wall inside an East Fort Worth gas station that offers made-to-order hamburgers, burritos, tacos and quesadillas. Did someone say green sauce? Owner Leonel Cantu opened the taco shop in 2009. He says the taco plate is a customer favorite, but, really, everything is popular. One day his older brother got a flat tire and started talking to the owner of the Shell gas station while waiting for help. The owner said he and his brother could start a taco shop there. Cooking is in their blood — the brothers grew up in a small village in Mexico, and their grandfather cooked food and sold produce for the village. Tacos Cantu uses the same recipes, carrying on a family tradition from back home.
Crystal Canyon Natural Area
1000 Brown Blvd., Arlington
With just under a mile of soft trails and nearly 40 acres to explore, this natural canyon (and the beauty on our cover) in Arlington has only been open for locals to explore for a few years. Geologists could have a field day here with the variety of rocks and fossils that suggest this was once a nearshore marine environment. During wet seasons, visitors may hear the trickle of streams that have carved into the canyon for hundreds of years.
Horseback Riding on the Trinity River
Stockyards Stables, 128 E. Exchange Ave., Ste. 300, Fort Worth
Every once in awhile you see a group of people riding horses on the Trinity Trails. The idea of riding a horse in Fort Worth’s backyard overlooking the sparkling Trinity River with a direct view of Downtown Fort Worth’s skyline is no doubt intriguing. The horses trot from stables in the historic Northside, where anyone (as long as they’re older than 11) can walk up and ask for a 30-minute or one-hour trail ride. Starting this summer, owner Ray Dotson said they will have evening rides for the first time ever so visitors can watch the sunset over downtown. Count me in.
200 Pumphrey Drive, Fort Worth
This place, well-known to some and a complete mystery to others, is Fort Worth’s only natural waterfall. The trailhead, providing the public easy access to the falls, has been in city plans since 2011 and was finally finished in April. This is the perfect time of year to slip off your shoes and walk through the shallow waters or take a break from a long run or bike ride and enjoy the view.
Tandy Hills Natural Area
3400 View St., Fort Worth
The website says it best: It is “a 160-acre indigenous prairie remnant located in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas.” The plot of land serves as a living and breathing textbook for anyone who wants to study the area predevelopment. In the spring wildflowers grow rampant. It is also a great place to go for some respite from the city. If you decide to hit one of the many trails for a hike, don’t forget your camera — the views of Downtown Fort Worth are worth bringing it alone.
River Legacy Park
701 NE Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington
This expansive park in Arlington, just minutes from Fort Worth, may not be a secret to some, but it is to those of us who live further west. The biking and hiking trails offer 1,031 acres of forest to explore. What makes this refuge special is its endless views of towering trees, views of the Trinity River and around 400 species of wildlife. At one part of the trail, find a peculiar and carefully displayed gnome village.
Pick Your Own Strawberries
3010 S. Bowen Road, Arlington
Pay $10, get a 1-pound strawberry basket and spend a sunny day picking strawberries in a scenic field at Storm Farms in Dalworthington Gardens. The 7-acre property, formerly named Grismer Farms, closed for a couple of years before reopening the gates in March under the direction of 30-year-old A&M graduate Johanna Storm. Better get there early as sometimes the berries are picked over before closing.
Roaring Springs Park
5824 Merrymount Road, Westover Hills
The small yet exclusive neighborhood of Westover Hills has some of the most expensive real estate in North Texas. It also has its own beautiful park just across from its own little police station. Two bridges made of wood and limestone brick arch over a creek that trickles through the park. It is a perfectly quiet place to have a picnic, bird watch, or just to enjoy a beautiful day in a quiet spot without playground equipment. Many Fort Worthians drive by this park regularly without realizing that it’s open for public use.
Big Rocks Park
1014 SW Barnard St., Glen Rose
This park, located just an hour away, is covered in massive boulders that both nature lovers and kids clamber all over. Even better, it is nestled on the wide and shallow Paluxy River. The crystal-clear water is a great place to take your shoes off and wade or bring your bathing suit and swim. Pack a lunch and eat atop one of the big rocks after you build an appetite, hiking, swimming and climbing. Unlike many of the nearby attractions like Dinosaur Valley State Park, Big Rocks Park is totally free.
North Shore Trail in Rockledge Park
3600 Pilot Point, Lake Grapevine
Picnic tables on bluffs overlooking a sparkling lake, designated swimming areas, nearly 10 miles of some of the prettiest hiking and biking trails in North Texas, campsites with scenic views — what more could an outdoorsman or thrill-seeking biker ask for? The trail has some rough terrain for off-road/mountain bikers and hikers to take in alluring views. Admission is $5.
567 Maddux Road, Weatherford
This privately owned sanctuary is 50 acres of botanic gardens and a bird watcher’s paradise offering educational tours of more than 30 species (including swans and peacocks) on the property. Clark Gardens also has a stunning chapel onsite, as well as eight other indoor and outdoor venues for visitors to rent.
The Blue Hole, Dinosaur Valley State Park
1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose
The swimming hole in Dinosaur Valley State Park offers visitors a chance to cool off in 20-feet-deep clear water surrounded by 100 million-year-old fossilized dinosaur tracks. Before you go, check out the Texas Parks & Wildlife website to learn how to map nearby dinosaur tracks because some may be hard to find.
2500 Block of Scott Avenue, Fort Worth
A tiny, antiquated cemetery hides one block off Interstate-30 in a motel parking lot in East Fort Worth. Crumbling gravestones tell a story of one of Fort Worth’s first families. Nestled next to a few of the gravestones are markers indicating that some were citizens of the Republic of Texas, which ended in 1846. The last time someone was buried in this family lot was in 1955. “The Ayres Cemetery remains as a symbol of the area’s early settlers,” reads the historical marker.
U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
9000 Blue Mound Road, Fort Worth
While it isn’t a big secret that the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing is in Fort Worth, most don’t know that it prints up to 70 percent of U.S. currency. In 2017 alone, 4 billion notes will be printed, equaling nearly $171.2 billion. This currency facility produces $30.3 million per hour. Free self-guided tours allow visitors to walk through a top level, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the massive and impressive operation at work. The process is fascinating. How did this place end up in Fort Worth? Through efforts of Fort Worthian and House Speaker Jim Wright and Ross Perot lobbying hard to get it here. Want to know if your bill was printed locally? Currency printed in Fort Worth has an “FW” printed on the face.
The O.D. Stevens House
Near Eastchase Parkway and Interstate-30, Fort Worth
You can’t find an address on this alluring building, and it has recently been converted to a daycare, but it used to be the home of criminal O.D. Stevens. It once had hidden rooms, an underground tunnel and a trick staircase designed to hide the proceeds from his criminal career. He is most well-known for the robbery of a Texas & Pacific mail train, which reportedly netted $71,000 (equaling more than $1 million today) in cash, on delivery from the Federal Reserve in Dallas. The money was destined for smaller banks and valuables. On a winter night in 1933, three “bandits” working for Stevens held up one mail clerk and one railroad employee, escaping with seven bags of booty in a 1929 Ford parked on East Lancaster Street.
The Maxwell-Liston House
712 May St., Fort Worth
The second owner of this home, James Liston, Sr., ran two saloons in Fort Worth’s infamous “Hell’s Half Acre.” One night in 1917, as Liston came home with the bar receipts, he was shot and killed on his back porch. The yellow home still stands in the Fairmount neighborhood and has been thoughtfully restored. Because of its infamy, the home has a chain link fence around it with a bolt lock at the entrance gate, making it difficult to ring the doorbell unless you scale the fence, which I would not recommend.
Bonnie and Clyde Shooting
Dove Road, Just East of Hwy. 114
This power couple frequented North Texas reportedly because relatives lived here. However, their career as robbers and gangsters slowed and halted when they played a part in killing several Texas patrolmen near Grapevine.
Lipscomb Street and Chase Court, Fort Worth
Off the beaten path in Fairmount, just west of Hemphill Street, sit nine houses set apart from the rest. Tucked behind a wrought iron gate and stately pillars is Chase Court, a historic “gated community.” In 1887 Edwin E. Chase bought a tract of land and later built a three-story Victorian home, a barn and a stable. After Chase fell into debt and committed suicide, a local company bought the property and developed it into a gated community with 14 exclusive homes. In the 1900s the community was known as home to many of society’s elite. Chase’s house burned down in 1893, was rebuilt in 1907, picked up and moved to a new lot under new ownership, and ultimately burned down a final time in the 1960s. The final site of the Chase home is now the one vacant lot in Chase Court. Today, there are nine surviving homes on the property, some historic, some modern and some funky, creating the perfect quirky mix for this hidden court.
Tree Purchased at the World’s Fair
Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum Lawn, Fort Worth
This 113-year-old historic oak tree was purchased at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 with money left over from Texas’ contribution and participation.
Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, this show symbolized the U.S.’s cultural and economic progress at the turn of the 20th century. More than 200,000 people showed up opening day as 1,500 buildings and palaces lifted out of 1,200 acres of parkland. For seven months travelers came to the fair to witness the latest innovations in fine arts, technology and education in the U.S.
An estimated 20 million people attended the fair by the time it closed Dec. 1, 1904. This tree was purchased at a cultural turning point in the U.S. and planted in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District before the Cultural District was born.
Victory Arts Center
801 W. Shaw St., Fort Worth
This historic Gothic revival red brick building stands tall yet hidden near the intersection of Hemphill and West Biddison streets. Built in 1909 as an all-girls’ school and convent, Our Lady of Victory, the building is now home to loft apartments and artists’ studios. By the 1980s the “Sisters of Namur” could not afford upkeep of the massive building and moved to a smaller nearby building, which still serves as a retirement home for the nuns. It would be nearly 20 years before someone renovated the property to the tune of $500,000. Many of the original details, like the wood floors, some stain glass windows, light fixtures, murals, and interior columns and capitals, remain intact. What was once an interior chapel now is rented out as an event space, mostly for weddings.
Skeletons in an Abandoned Building
Texas & Pacific Warehouse, SW corner of W. Lancaster & Jennings, Fort Worth
One of the first tall buildings to hit Fort Worth’s skyline in 1931, this landmark, turned abandoned shell, may seem empty, but it’s actually filled with skeletons that were drawn on the walls when it was used as a haunted house. According to historian Murray Miller, with the city’s planning and development department, there is a lot of interesting art on the walls created by trespassers. But don’t plan on taking a look anytime soon — current Dallas-based owners, Cleopatra Enterprises, won’t let anyone inside, and it’s currently an active construction site.
Race Street Murals
Intersection of N Retta and Race streets, Fort Worth
Drive south on Race Street from the Retta Street intersection, and you will find mural after mural flanking buildings on the redeveloping street. One of the largest and most impressive murals is two massive electrical cords intertwined, emerging from an outlet painted on a fence almost as long as a city block.
Northside Street Art
Intersection of 21st and Roosevelt streets, Fort Worth
An enraged gorilla sits on the side of a nondescript building in an otherwise colorless part of town at the corner of 21st Street and Roosevelt. The artist is unknown.
Monticello Art Exhibit
3317 W 4th St., Fort Worth
TCU sculpture professor Cam Schoepp transformed a lot across the street from his home, near the intersection of Arch Adams and West Fourth streets in Monticello, into an art exhibit. Sitting methodically strewn about a grass lot are six sculptures made out of carved limestone from Sweetwater, Texas. The pieces, from a series Schoepp created based on hats, have graced the lawn since the early 2000s. But a new project is currently in progress on the same lot. What currently looks like mysterious glass doors to nowhere will soon be home to a gallery space where Schoepp and his wife will show art.
Northside Community Center – “Rebirth of Aspiration” by Manuel Pulido, 2010
1100 NW 18th St., Fort Worth
The first mural commissioned by the Fort Worth Public Art program was "Rebirth of Aspiration." The two-part mural, originally created at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center and then transported, tells a multi-cultural creation story of a young girl. It’s about inheriting a community and taking care of it. The artist collaborated with 10 local middle school-aged youths to complete the mural. Transportation was organized, but one day a boy, who was raised by his teenage sister at the time, missed the van. So he ran from Fort Worth’s Northside neighborhood to the Cultural District, so as not to miss a day of helping with the project.
Southwest Community Center – “Love Story” by Michael Kirby, 2012
6300 Welch Ave., Fort Worth
The puppeteers at the top of this mural represent the neighborhood children telling a story about cowboys and culture. They also have the power as puppeteers to determine the community’s future. Artist Michael Kirby intended the cartoonish style of the 25-foot by 95-foot painting to grab the local youth’s attention. He attended 13 neighborhood meetings to conceptualize the mural. It shows the relationship between the arts and the history of the city while leaving much up for interpretation.
Dartmoor Court Residence, Fort Worth
Tucked off one of the courts in Berkeley Place is a huge brown longhorn nicknamed “Tom.” It sits on artist Johnny Pate’s front lawn. Behind it is a purple calf in honor of TCU –(Pate was a member of TCU’s basketball team in the early ’90s). Pate has been making these longhorns, made out of thick Polyresin, with various themes since 2000, and they stretch all over Texas and Oklahoma.
Larger Than Life Avocados
Rivercrest Residence, Fort Worth
For years local artist J.C. Pace III has been wowing locals with his statues. He is known for his massive bronze avocados, some smaller sculptures of fruits and vegetables, and stunning trees, which can all be spotted around town. Locals will find some of his 8-foot-long, 5 1/2-foot-tall, and 2-feet-deep avocados in his front yard, a hidden treasure for those who like sculpture gardens. Also, look for a few of his newly commissioned avocados at the new Neiman Marcus Fort Worth.
By: Shilo Urban