If you’re dining on veggies for the new year, let me make a suggestion:
The best veggie of all is pico de gallo.
And the best fresh pico de gallo is served by the full molcajete bowl at Benito’s Mexican Restaurant in Fort Worth.
Benito’s isn’t shy with the pico. You know those restaurants where you get a thimbleful of pico and they charge extra for more? Benito’s piles it high.
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If you’re particularly resolute in this new year, order the spinach enchiladas with green mole and then add pico.
OK, so it’s not terribly low-cal. But the price is right: less than $10 at dinner, as little as $6.75 at lunch.
If your neighborhood Mexican restaurant charges $12 for lunch or $15 for dinner, come to West Magnolia Avenue, where Benito’s has been serving “comida casera” (homestyle cooking) for 37 years.
Benito’s serves chips and salsa, but it’s really known for the potent pico de gallo, with plenty to add to any enchilada plate or the “comida corrida” (loosely: long-running specials) such as chiles rellenos, steak ranchero or the Oaxacan-style tamal in a banana leaf.
The daily lunch deals might be the best on Magnolia: $7.29 for two enchiladas, chorizo tostadas, tacos or flautas, or $6.75 for a single item with rice and beans.
Benito’s is one of few restaurants serving pork with squash (calabacitas), daily pork or beef guisados, or liver with onions.
Snapper Veracruz costs less than $15. Other seafood dishes include trout, blackened tilapia, fish tacos and ceviche.
Benito’s has changed since it opened in 1981. But only slightly.
Originally, the founding De Leon family was determined to become Fort Worth’s first -Mex restaurant without the Tex-.
It served the pico (salsa fresca) with tortillas instead of chips and salsa — a late addition. And the family only reluctantly added Texas-style cheese enchiladas with chili con carne.
In those days, Benito’s was filled until 3 a.m. weekends with crowds just in from the bars, and a jukebox played norteno music or conjunto.
Now, Benito’s closes at a normal hour but opens at 10 a.m. weekends to serve the city’s definitive chilaquiles verdes or huevos rancheros.
When Texas Monthly named Benito’s one of Texas’ 50 best Mexican restaurants, the magazine praised the queso flameado, pork tacos in salsa verde and chiles rellenos.
(The two other “best” Mexican restaurants in Tarrant County were nearby: Paco’s Mexican Cuisine, one block west on Magnolia Avenue, and Esperanza’s Restaurant & Bakery, a half-mile south off Eighth Avenue.)
Magnolia’s new La Zona near opening
The same Magnolia neighborhood is about to get a new addition: La Zona.
The new patio “zone” includes a European-style restaurant and bar named Hotel Madrid and a coffee-and-churros stand, St. Sofia.
Hotel Madrid will open by the end of January, featuring small plates, Neapolitan-style pizzas, a couple of sandwiches and a menu of craft cocktails and sangrias.
La Zona’s emphasis will be on the patio, with old movies showing on an outdoor wall and music on weekends.
The coffee stand will open later.
Like its sister restaurant, Americado Tacos + Bar on West Berry Street, La Zona is a high-concept design restaurant. But it’s simple enough to avoid some of the service tangles that bedeviled Americado when it opened.
▪ Americado, originally a food hall-style restaurant, now specializes in “tacos Americanos” with a variety of toppings, and a busy weekend brunch.
(It recently took a few days off to revise the menu, but reopened.)
Another brunch, and more new restaurants
Another indication that brunch is taking over the world:
The Gardens Restaurant, the cafe inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, will launch a new brunch menu Sunday after years of offering a buffet.
It’s open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday; 3220 Rock Springs Road, 817-731-2547, gardensrestaurantandcatering.com.
(Consider it as a lunch alternative within a short walk of the Stock Show and Rodeo.)
▪ Opening next week: the new Third Street Bar & Grill in Sundance Square, and the new 85ºC Bakery Cafe in the Left Bank shopping center.
▪ Also, the new Popbar gelato shop will have its official grand opening Saturday in the West Bend shopping center near SusieCakes: 1621 River Run, 817-720-6630, facebook.com/popbarfortworth.