If there’s a recurring theme to this year’s list of best new restaurants in DFW, it’s creative chefs and restaurateurs taking something traditional — even as trad as chicken-fried steak — and putting their own spin on it. Here’s our annual salute to our favorite newcomers.
Campestre Chula Vista: This sprawling restaurant, made up of a maze of patio areas and festively decorated dining rooms, was taken over by the Rojas family and lovingly outfitted with Michoacan-inspired food that you won’t find elsewhere in the city (except, perhaps, at the Rojas’ other restaurant, Revolver Taco Lounge, which is expected to close in Fort Worth and move to a Deep Ellum space). Fresh guacamole is spiked with pork. Shrimp are marinated in guajillo pepper adobo sauce, heads still intact; a roasted poblano pepper, stuffed with pork, beef, onions, cinnamon and raisins, comes smothered in a goat-cheese cream sauce. In addition, the restaurant offers a wonderful Sunday brunch buffet, which it will expand in the New Year to Fridays and Saturdays as well. 1950 Menefee Ave, Fort Worth, 817-740-7899, Campestre Chula Vista on Facebook.
Cannon Chinese Kitchen: The same local families that brought us Tokyo Café and Shinjuku Station turned their attention toward traditional Chinese food, and this low-key restaurant on the south side is the wonderful end-result. Favorite dishes include mapu tofu, which teams squares of silken tofu with ground pork, with dazzling results; Chinese pork ribs slathered in an addicting beet and honey sauce; and baby bok choy with bean curd. We love the atmosphere, too: The restaurant is housed in a beautifully restored 1935 home. 304 W Cannon St, Fort Worth, 817-238-3726, www.cannonchinesekitchen.com
Common Ground Grill & Tap: Chef David Hollister is the busiest chef in Fort Worth right now, with three recent restaurant openings under his belt including Dagwoods Grinders and Growler, and Dagwoods Fire Grill Tap. But Hollister is at his most ambitious at Common Ground, his gastropub near TCU. The menu features American food with a twist, such as the BLT — with arugula instead of iceberg lettuce — topped with a fried egg. The kitchen shines in the simple but complex corn soup, a subtly spicy corn puree flecked with the occasional kernel for textural contrast. Craft beers, cocktails, surprisingly good desserts like the Meyer lemon tart — and even a patio — make Common Ground a wholly satisfying experience. 201 S. University Dr. Fort Worth, 817-882-6163, commongrounddfw.com
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Fixture Kitchen and Social Lounge: Creative, eclectic restaurant in Near Southside in the old 24 Plates space is the epitome of the independent restaurant at its very best. The cuisine is upscale comfort food, with dishes that are familiar yet trendy, such as fried chicken and waffles, or nachos with Brie and dried cranberries. The menu is smartly composed, with a little something for everyone, from kale salad to rib eye steak. The cocktail list is inventive, and craft beer on tap is Texas all the way. The restaurant’s cool interior is lined with local art, and the patio in the center is a one-of-a-kind gem. 401 W. Magnolia Ave. Fort Worth, 817-708-2663, http://www.fixturefw.com
FW Market + Table: We were sorry to see Tillman’s Roadhouse Fort Worth go (there’s still one in Dallas), but chef de cuisine Kalen Morgenstern stuck around and re-invented this space in West 7th with a versatile dual restaurant: the casual Market, and the quieter, still casual but slightly more upscale Table, where the menu changes daily as Morgenstern and her kitchen go exploring. Market is open all day, with breakfast options that include avocado toast that gets a boost from a poached egg and queso fresco, and a lunch that leans toward sandwiches and burgers. Table is open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday only, we loved the winter squash and the veal dish that we sampled. Morgenstern is a former Hell’s Kitchen contestant; on the basis of this, we think she’s a candidate for Top Chef. 2933 Crockett St., Fort Worth, 817-850-9255, www.fwmarketandtable.com
Horseshoe Hill Cafe: Chef Grady Spears returned to Fort Worth this year, wielding his greatest hit — chicken-fried steak — like a classic rocker on a comeback. At his charming, rustic spot in the Stockyards, Spears serves his signature dish in a variety of ways: smothered in cream gravy, topped with chile con carne, saddled with an ancho enchilada. It's a clever concept, one that suits Spears well. Hopefully, he’s in this one for the long haul. 204 W. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, 817-882-6405, horseshoehillcafe.com
Las Brasas Rotisserie & Grill: Authentic Peruvian food is somewhat of a rarity in Tarrant County, which made the arrival of this cheery spot in Arlington all the more exciting. It comes from first-time restaurant-owner Julio Chacon, a native of Peru who runs the place with his family. The restaurant’s namesake dish is rotisserie chicken, marinated in more than a dozen spices. Just as good are the empanadas; lomo saltado, a steak dish cooked with red onions and cilantro; and a tamal stuffed with shredded chicken and peanut. 3701 S Cooper St. No. 135, Arlington, 817-472-4346, Las Brasas Rotisserie & Grill on Facebook.
940’s Kitchen & Cocktails: Named for Denton’s area code, 940’s is a fine-dining place that is elegant and yet laid-back -- kinda like Denton. It also has a local rock-star connection: Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith is one of the owners. Operationally, the place is still finding its footing, with a bump or two in service. But there’s fine food to be had, with dishes such as bacon-wrapped quail, the signature eggplant fries, and a vegan toast topped with avocado and pecans. 219 W. Oak St., Denton, 940-218-6222, 940’s Kitchen & Cocktails on Facebook.
Rosako’s Soul Food & BBQ: Don’t let the rag-tag building fool you. This new spot in Bedford is serving some of the area’s best soul food. Owner Rosako Bailey is mighty proud of his barbecue, especially meaty rib tips and pulled pork sandwiches. But the grandest thing he serves is the “Thanksgiving 365,” a Belgian-style waffle made with cornbread stuffing, then topped with brown gravy, cranberry sauce and smoked turkey. Wash it down with a glass of grape Kool Aid and a generous hunk of housemade sweet potato cake. 2816 Brown Trail, Bedford, 817-785-3393, Rosako’s Soul Food & BBQ on Facebook.
Vivo 53: This Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Tower in downtown Fort Worth came out of nowhere from a California businessman, and emerged as one of the city’s biggest surprises of the year. Thanks to a showpiece oven in the center of the dining room, Vivo 53 has some of the best pizza around, with toasty crusts and toppings not seen elsewhere such as clams and Italian taleggio cheese. Pastas such as the spaghetti Bolognese are rich and hearty, while salads and appetizers such as the roasted cauliflower with yogurt sparkle with gourmet ingredients. This space has seen many restaurants come and go; finally, a winner. 525 Taylor St., Fort Worth, 682-207-8700, https://www.vivo53.com
Staff writer Robert Philpot contributed to this report.