Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kincaid's Hamburgers ~ Southlake, Texas

What better way to end the year than a writeup about one of Ft. Worth's most endearing institutions? Officially known as Kincaid's Grocery Market and Hamburgers, the Gentry family has been delighting visitors with their unique blend of seasoning for over 40 years. Kincaid's opened in 1946, and as the name suggests, as a local grocery. Starting in 1965, O. R. Gentry began grinding up excess beef and cooking hamburgers for a few cents each. The legend began.

You don't need the Regular Joe's Guide to learn about Kincaid's, and this is one reason I haven't rushed to write about it, even though we eat here at least once a month. Everyone from Texas Monthly to Frommer's to numerous newspapers have recommended Kincaid's to travelers and locals alike who visit Ft. Worth. It is frequently mentioned in Top 10 lists for Best Hamburger - sometimes in National polls. Sometimes as "#1 Best in the USA".

And I'm sure my Ft. Worth readers are aghast that I highlight the Southlake location when, after all, it is a Fort Worth icon. But since the RJG is based in NE Tarrant, we're quite proud of our local branch. The Southlake location was the local chain's first excursion beyond the original store, opening in late 2004. They did a great job of simulating the original, with shelves of canned goods, long picnic style benches, and the walls painted in a 1950's Chevy Mist Green color. And the "ego walls" are filled with accolades and awards from all corners of the world. It's a large place, and the line moves fast. They even take credit cards now.

And there's good reason why Kincaid's is so popular - it's just flat out a great hamburger. Is it the best we've ever had? Well, maybe not, but it certainly deserves consideration. It's a thick burger, with plenty of unique seasoning that seeps through the entire patty, which is no small feat. The Ore-Ida style fries are also a big favorite.

Since the Southlake location has been such a hit, they've opened two more: One near Hulen Mall in south Ft. Worth and the other in the new Arlington Highlands shopping center in Arlington.

The Southlake location is at the NW corner of Southlake Blvd. and Kimball. Hard to imagine this corner shopping center once housed a humble (not Super) Wal-Mart and its parking lot.


Excellent detailed review of original location

Kincaid's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kirby's Prime Steakhouse ~ Southlake, Texas

Like many local restaurants, Kirby's got its start as a neighborhood steakhouse, a place to meet friends for a casual meal. Kirby's was an institution in the Lower Greenville district of Dallas, and lasted from 1954 to 1987, when the owner decided to retire and close up shop. Though my parents and I would occasionally head down to Lower Greenville for Italian food throughout the 1970s, we never once stepped foot in Kirby's (Dad was a big fan of the Steak and Ale near Bachman Lake), though I remember driving by it each time.

So it seemed yet another classic place from DFW that was dead, gone and buried. Except 6 years later, in 1993, a group of neighbors decided to go into business together and reopen the landmark. This time as a "high end" steakhouse. Kirby's is an ideal place to take business clients or to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary.

Because of my business, I've had the opportunity to try many of these so-called "high end" steakhouses all over the country. In general, I'm usually disappointed with the experience. I generally mumble to myself that I could do better at home with my cheap outside gas grill cooking Kroger steaks. But I never say that about Kirby's. Their steaks are of a better quality, very tender and they know how to cook them. I don't think I, or anyone I've been with, has ever sent a steak back, and everyone leaves happy (except for, perhaps, the person who paid the bill).
As with most of these places, everything is served ala carte (with the exception of soup or salad). Potatoes, vegetables, mushrooms, risotto, etc... are all extra, but one serving is usually enough for the table. All are exceptional, especially the mashed potatoes. I'm also fond of their dinner salad.

If I have a complaint, and Kirby's is hardly alone in this racket, it's the exorbitant prices of the wine list. Three to ten times markup is what you can expect. Very few wines are available for under $75, and you can just feel the squeeze being put on. Fine if someone else is paying for it, but I don't like being fleeced. I love wine with my meal, but it's time to move to beer when at these kind of places. As the Regular Joe's Guide tagline suggests, I'm no food snob. But I'm even less of a wine snob. Maybe that's what keeps these places in business, I don't know.

Kirby's in Southlake is at the SW corner of Texas State Highway 114 and Southlake Blvd.



Kirby's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fresco's Cocina ~ Watauga, Texas

When we first visited Fresco's, I think it was sometime in 2003, they were some sort of a hybrid between a QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) and a full service establishment. To say it was a confusing concept would be an understatement. We never knew what we were supposed to do. Order up front, but they would bring you the food. You were on your own for the chips and salsa, but they got you the drink. In a nutshell, it was a mess. And we vowed not to bother for a second visit. Fortunately for us, we don't listen to our own rules...

About a year later, Mrs. RJG was with a group of neighbors who had a girl's night out over at Fresco's. Not surprising since they have excellent happy hour specials and live music (or they used to at least - they may still, I'm not sure). And my wife reported back that they had wisely dumped the counter service and committed to a full service concept. So we waltzed back up there the next Saturday... and have been regulars for the last 4+ years and counting.

There are a few things that make Fresco's special, and worth the journey to Watauga, if not already nearby. Foremost is their "trio of sauces" that you can request to supplement the salsa that comes out with the chips. Actually, even if you didn't know about the "trio", the primary sauce is a medium heat level chipotle concoction that is unique and quite excellent. Amongst the trio, they offer a fiery chile de arbol,a honey jalapeno and a blazing hot habanero. The latter is a new addition, replacing a tomato based mild sauce. As you probably know by now, the RJG loves it spicy, and the chile de arbol made us happy enough. But the habanero clinches the deal. This may be the hottest salsa I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant - at least of those that weren't custom designed for me by a sadistic, angry chef. The flavors for everything I tasted were flying everywhere. My senses were alive. The Mrs. couldn't go on with the habanero - too much she said, and settled quite nicely with the other two.

Another aspect of Fresco's that we both enjoy is the high quality of the enchiladas. Their sauces are uniquely flavored, and aren't "run of the mill" tasting. And while I have no delusions that each enchilada platter is homemade, I will say that they are exquisitely prepared each time, and they're always ready for the large crowds they seem to get. The rice and beans are both superb as well.

And finally, and this is in their signature line, they really do have great margaritas. As I've said many times before, us denizens of DFW are spoiled when it comes to margaritas. Travel anywhere else in the US, and the frozen margarita is almost always a disappointment.

If you have friends in town, who like to drink and eat quality Tex-Mex, Fresco's is as good as any place to take them. Give them enough margaritas, and they'll be your best friend. Or, if you don't want them on your doorstep... take them to El Chico instead.

If you didn't know any better, you could be forgiven for thinking Fresco's is a national chain. They have the corporate signage, big restaurant and huge crowds that screams corporate. But once you sit down, it suddenly seems more local. This is clearly run by someone who cares about your experience, and not from some office tower hundreds of miles away, with a disgruntled manager running the place into the ground. I believe Watauga is their flagship, and they've recently opened one up in Burleson. If they continue to operate as they have done so far, there's no reason to think that Fresco's couldn't be one of DFW's most known Tex-Mex establishments.

And to think, we had never intended on going back. Looks like their shift from quick casual was a life saving one indeed.

Facebook (Watauga)

Frescos Cocina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

***CLOSED*** Lina's Cocina Cafe ~ Watauga, Texas

October 2011 update: One of the hazards of doing a restaurant blog is that a place can change in a heartbeat, and suddenly your recommendation is met with scorn by those who trusted you, and credibility is thrown out the window. This is what happened to the RJG with Lina's. This is the primary reason why we insist on updating the blog and making sure you know when we last visited. Lina's has undergone dramatic shifts since we last were there. Not least of all is a complete move to a larger location next door. It's now all spiffied up with flat screen TVs and new tables and booths (though fortunately the old bowling alley ones remain). If they're going to go to this much trouble to make you want to stay, then they should offer up a full bar. It's still BYOB - which I like in Italian and Thai restaurants, but not so much in Mexican (perhaps the RJG likes his frozen margaritas? And I like wine with Thai and Italian, where BYOB is more preferable). And they ditched the serving carts!! (a comment below says they still use them occasionally - whew!) Even though Lina's still has the same menu as prior, everything seemed cheaply made - from the rice to the enchiladas. Even the salsa was more chunky-tomato rather than a smooth textured hot sauce. Now the food was still GOOD, but it wasn't great as I implied below. So we vote "likes it" on Urbanspoon, but maybe not enough to go back on any kind of regular visit. Unless someone convinces me different.

I wish Blogger featured the "strike through" font that is available on Microsoft Word, as I would like to demonstrate in the below review what no longer applies. So if you wouldn't mind, please consider everything below that is in italics to be NO LONGER APPLICABLE. Is that cool?  (LOL)

Original review

In September, I mentioned that our favorite Mexican place for enchiladas in the DFW area can be found at Fernandez Cafe in Ft. Worth. That's quite a haul for us denizens of NE Tarrant. If you're looking for a reasonable facsimile of same, then look no further than Watauga and their favorite daughter, Lina's Cocina Cafe.Mrs. RJG and I have been visiting Lina's, somewhat infrequently, since about 2004 or so (not too long after they opened). Hidden in one of those unfortunate 1980s strip centers, where 75% of the space is now available for lease, Lina's provides just the kind of hole in the wall we love. It's clean, colorfully decorated, friendly, and most importantly features great food. In fact half of the booths, in their soft blue and white swirled pattern, look like they were lifted from a bowling alley circa 1962 (I'm sure they were actually). You get mucho points for that.

We notice that everytime we go, there are dozens of regulars and the waitresses chat happily along about their life events as if catching up with old friends. In an earlier era, Lina's would be the town diner.
As if the time warp references already mentioned weren't enough for you, they also bring the food out via the two tiered wheeled cart. This lost invention needs to be brought back - pronto. Years ago, someone thought it was a wise idea to stack dozens of plates and glasses on a tray, held up precariously by someone's nervous hand. Presumably they delight in the occasional dumping of said contents on some random diner. Oh the laughs. The RJG is right now calling for the return of the wheeled cart. We shall petition! We will hit the streets! We will... enchiladas! Which is why we're here in the first place. Everything here is cooked to order, and the plate is sizzling with melted cheese, the refried beans and rice come out just right and steaming hot. Their chile con carne is seasoned perfectly. Mrs. RJG loves the Enchiladas Verde, a spicier than normal concoction that also happens to taste great. In fact, just ask for the spicy green and let the games begin! Beef, chicken, cheese - it's all good.

Oh, and the chips/hot sauce ritual: The salsa is slightly hot, but has a unique combination of spices that makes us want to keep piling the crispy chips in.

Restaurants come and go, but I get the feeling Lina's will be here for a very long time. It's that kind of place.

You can find Lina's on Rufe Snow between Hightower and Chapman.