For nearly 40 years, families have celebrated Christmas at Campo Verde.
The busy Mexican restaurant between Fort Worth and Arlington is covered floor-to-ceiling in 160,000 twinkling lights, with a toy train circling above diners.
It’s a year-round spectacle, with 40 Christmas trees, countless Santas and 5 miles of garland. It’s like dining inside a Christmas tree.
Now let’s talk about the food.
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For many Fort Worth and Arlington families, it’s a childhood memory. The bright yellow queso, the chile powder-dusted tortilla chips and the puffy sopaipillas with honey are dated, but they’re a callback to younger days, when Campo Verde was like an amusement park but with crispy tacos.
If you’re not happy with the Tex-Mex, understand that’s not Campo Verde’s specialty. When the now-gone first location opened in 1979 in west Fort Worth, owner-chef James “Smiley” Williams promoted it as Arizonan-Sonoran style, similiar to the old Dos Gringos.
Few other restaurants serve calabacitas rellenas or cabrito. Campo Verde also serves elk or bison fajitas. There’s an upgrade to a creamy green chile sauce for enchiladas.
I noticed one recent day at lunch that many Campo Verde diners aren’t ordering Tex-Mex platters at all.
They ordered the generous chicken-fried steak ($10.35 lunch, $17.95 dinner) or burgers ($10.50 with fries). There’s also a charbroiled rib-eye served either with baked potato and salad ($27.50) or with an enchilada and pico ($23.50).
For a competitive eating experience, Campo Verde offers the 7-pound “World’s Largest Hamburger,” $60. (If you can finish the entire plate and fries in an hour, it’s free.)
Campo Verde has been on a long wait holiday weekends, so plan ahead.
It’s open for lunch and dinner daily, closing at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve and reopening Dec. 26; 2918 W. Pioneer Parkway (Spur 303), 817-275-7003, campoverde.us.
Biscuits on the Bend
River Bend Cafe, a busy weekday breakfast and lunch cafe in east Fort Worth, has added Saturday brunch hours.
That means diners from farther away have more time to find Handley-Ederville Road and try chef Calvin Joubert’s Louisiana and American cooking.
The house biscuits alone are worth the drive. The Saturday menu includes thick pancakes or and eggs Benedict, either traditional or country-style with chicken-fried steak and jalapeño cream gravy.
The weekday lunch menu features gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp-and-grits or chicken-and-waffles, plus hand-packed burgers and a house chicken salad.
Joubert said he’ll bake another hummingbird cake for the weekend; 7251 N. Stoneway Drive at Handley-Ederville Road, west of Loop 820 between Randol Mill Road and Trinity Boulevard; 817-595-7470, facebook.com/RiverBendCafeFW.
Last call for Christmas lunch
If you waited until today to book a Christmas Day reservation, you might be too late.
Heaven’s Gate, a family buffet in north Fort Worth, will serve lunch at 11 a.m.; 3820 N. Main St., 817-624-1262.
The Ol’ South Pancake House will open at 8 a.m.; 1509 S. University Drive, 817-336-0311, olsouthpancakehouse.com,
On the more expensive side, both Mercury Chophouse locations in Fort Worth and Arlington will open, along with Ruth’s Chris in Fort Worth.
Luby’s and Furr’s will open, along with Copeland’s of New Orleans in Southlake and most other restaurants inside hotels.
First Chinese B-B-Q, 5310 E. Belknap St., is always open regular hours on Christmas and is a tradition for many diners; 817-834-1888, firstchinesebbq.com.
La Tortilandia and Los Asaderos are among several Tex-Mex restaurants that will open Christmas Day after closing early Christmas Eve for Buena Noche.
Check dfw.com for a more comprehensive list.