Eats Beat

200,000 lights, ‘Jingle Bell Rock,’ fajitas and margaritas: It’s a Campo Verde Christmas

This is the 40th Christmas at Campo Verde, a Southwest-Mex restaurant and holiday light spectacular that never gets old.

Ten years ago, owner James “Smiley” Williams conceded that his holiday lights were “totally out of control.”

So he’s added more lights.

Now, the sprawling fajitas-and-margaritas roadhouse between Arlington and Fort Worth is lined with 200,000 flickering holiday lights year-round, and even more at Christmas.

It’s like eating tacos inside a giant light display, as a train clickety-clacks around the dining room to the tune of “Blue Christmas” or “Jingle Bell Rock.”

In a time when 1980s fake theme restaurants have worn thin, Williams’ sincerely over-the-top Christmas restaurant has become a regional tradition. It’s drawing some of its biggest crowds ever.

Campo Verde isn’t slick or glitzy. It’s kitschy, with a little wear and tear from all those years of families and kids’ parties, birthdays, reunions or just nights out.

The bar allows smoking (there’s an air-purification system). But that adds to the retro cocktail-lounge feel.

Go early — preferably for lunch, or before 4:30 p.m. or after 8 p.m. Campo Verde takes reservations, but only for bookings after New Year’s. Right now, seating is all walk-up.

Now, let’s talk about the food.

Tex-Mex traditionalists like to find flaws with Campo Verde’s Arizonan-Sonoran menu. It’s loosely derived from other Arizona- or El-Paso-style restaurants, with specialties such as chimichangas, broiled quail, stuffed squash and green chile stew along with routine tacos and enchiladas.

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James Williams, owner of Campo Verde, stands with Gloria Guerrero, one of the two employees in charge of decorating the restaurant for the holidays. Williams says the decorating process takes around two months, starting in the beginning of October. Amanda McCoy

If you want to explore further, the menu offers elk, bison or rattlesnake faijitas, or cabrito.

Don’t hesitate to order the chicken enchiladas with ranchero sauce, the fajita nachos or the “homestyle combination,” a family-style dinner for four with pork ribs, beef/chicken fajitas and chicken fingers ($52.95).

Sopapillas — not one or two but a basket full — at Campo Verde. Bud Kennedy

There’s also a dependable $10.50 hamburger or grilled chicken sandwich, plus a special 7-pound “world’s largest hamburger” for $60 that a family can split.

Definitely save room for sopaipillas — not a few but a full basket with honey and squeeze margarine, a 1980s staple.

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Campo Verde restaurant in Arlington has been impressing customers for nearly 30 years with their elaborate holiday decorations that cover almost every available surface. Owner James Williams says the decorating process takes around two months, starting in the beginning of October. Amanda McCoy

The prices are cheap considering the high entertainment factor. Lunches start at $7.95, dinners at $12.65.

(Or order nachos. There’s also a ballpark-style order of “cinco-cinco” nachos on a big platter of those chile-dusted chips.)

Eats Beat Ep. 147

DFW Restaurant Week

Campo Verde is open daily for lunch and dinner (exceot Christmas and Thanksgiving Day) at 2918 W. Pioneer Parkway (Spur 303), It’s near Bowen Road, about 3 miles north of Interstate 20; 817-275-7003,

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 15 Texas Legislature sessions. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,000 “Eats Beat” columns about Texas dining, restaurants and food.