Food & Drink

The year in dining 2016: ’cue, chicken, crab, coffee and more

Liberty Burger in Fort Worth
Liberty Burger in Fort Worth

For Fort Worth dining fans, 2016 was never a dull moment, with plenty of restaurant openings — and a few sad closings — to digest.

In this year’s highlights, Fort Worth not only reclaimed its title as barbecue king of North Texas, it got a little more Austin-esque.

Fort Worth and Austin have always shared a laid-back cool, but some of the biggest restaurant stories seemed to cement that bond.

The grand, glorious opening of the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Heim Barbecue, the little barbecue shack that could, restored Fort Worth’s reputation as a BBQ destination. How could you tell? It had long, Austin-style lines, just like those for the famed Franklin Barbecue.

There were the hipster doughnut shops like Funky Town Donuts, which opened on the Near Southside in May. Funky Town has gourmet toppings, with fresh fruits incorporated into the icing, vegan flavors and lines out the door.

There were growler bars like Pouring Glory, and Austin-worthy taquerias like Taco Heads.

And there were the coffee shops. Avoca opened a second branch, bringing some Near Southside style to the West Seventh area. Mudsmith from Dallas and Acre Distillery & Coffeehouse both feature a laid-back combination of coffee and alcoholic beverages. Craftwork Coffee Co. combined coffee and a co-working space — which is so Austin.

Here are some of the year’s other big stories in dining.

Chicken big

The “better burger” trend that swept DFW is being supplanted by the new “better”: chicken. The best example is Quincy’s Chicken Shack in Coppell, the new rotisserie and fried-chicken concept from chef-entrepreneur Jason Boso, whose Twisted Root led the better-burger trend.

There’s also Street’s Fine Chicken, from famed restaurateur Gene Street, which opened in a former Black-eyed Pea location in Dallas’ Cedar Springs neighborhood — another torch passed.

Fort Worth is home to the first area branch of Gus’s Fried Chicken, the chain from Memphis known for its hot and spicy recipe; it opened in December in a former office building on Magnolia Avenue.

There’ll be plenty more chicken on the way, including Farmbyrd, a new concept from chef Ryan Carbery (Bailey’s, Patrizio) opening in Plano, joining recent entries such as Max’s Wine Dive and veterans like Babe’s Chicken Dinner House.

Burgers till we die

This chicken uprising is not to say that burgers are passé, at least not in Fort Worth and nearby cities.

Newbie burger places that opened in 2016 include Liberty Burger’s first Tarrant location; Fuego Burger, the former Salsa Fuego owners’ tiny burgers-and-tacos joint in Rendon; J’s Casa Burger in River Oaks; Best Burger Barn in Burleson; Korean-influenced K-Pop Burger in far north Fort Worth; and Crazy Joe’s Burger Shack in west Fort Worth.

Burgers, don’t worry — we’ll never stop loving you.

Here come the crabs

North Texas got a serious case of the crab restaurants in 2016, with a kettle of crab-centric spots that opened across Dallas-Fort Worth. These restaurants are generally Cajun with lots of shellfish.

The list of new openings in 2016 includes King Crab Tap House in Fort Worth, Craft & Crab Seafood House in Colleyville, Boiling King Crab in Arlington and Ragin’ Crab Café on Greenville Avenue in Dallas.

But it’s not certain this trend has legs: Big Crabs in Hurst, which opened in the spring, is already closed.

Fish dish

It’s not just crab: Seafood of all kinds had a good year in 2016, with openings such as The Dive Oyster Bar in Fort Worth and Shell Shack in Arlington. And don’t forget poke, the Hawaiian take on sashimi that’s popping up on restaurant menus and in poke-centric spots such as Ahi Poke Bowl in Arlington, Hoki Poki in Richardson and Below 40 in Plano that are leading what is anticipated to be a big tide of poke places set to open in 2017.

Chicken and waffles

This hugely popular novelty dish combining two of nature’s perfect foods not only made it onto nearly every menu, it spawned restaurants whose entire existence is dedicated to the trend, including Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles in Southlake and Taste N See Chicken and Waffles in Fort Worth.

Pizza keeps its slice of the pie

A major trend for 2015, pizza was still spinning in ’16 with openings that included Earl’s 377 Pizza in Argyle; more branches of Blaze, the quick-Neapolitan chain; and Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria, a new fast-casual quick-Neapolitan concept from Santa Barbara, Calif., that just debuted in Irving.

D hearts FW

Dallas still has its eye on Tarrant County, with another round of westerly expansions that includes Avanti Fort Worth, the Uptown Dallas Italian mainstay now open in City Place downtown; its neighbor Wild Salsa, the Mexican restaurant from DRG Concepts (Dallas Fish Market, Chop House Burger); Olivella’s, the Neapolitan-style pizzeria; Liberty Burger, the better-burger chain from Mariel Street, of Street family fame; Malai Kitchen, the Thai concept that opened a Southlake location; and HG Sply Co., the Paleo-esque restaurant on Greenville Avenue that now has an outlet in Fort Worth’s WestBend development on the Trinity River.