Cheap Eats

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When compiling a list of Fort Worth’s best budget-friendly dishes, we went for tasty, filling feasts that gave us a bang for our buck. The list by no means encompasses all of the wonderful enchilada plates, chicken fried steaks and daily specials available to us, and doesn’t really include appetizers or desserts. Instead, we wanted to showcase deliciously prepped entrée items from primarily mom-and-pop eateries that can hold their own against any glitzy, high-dollar joint in town. We know a great dining experience is part food, part atmosphere, but when the latter is sometimes less, the food shines even more.
by Celestina Blok
 
Reuben Sandwich
Swiss Pastry Shop • $5.95

This price is for the whole sandwich, piled high with the Muller family’s signature corned beef, kraut and Swiss cheese on rye bread, and even includes a side – potato salad, potato chips or more kraut. A half sandwich is only $4.70 (still including the side), which leaves plenty of change for a slice of cream, meringue, mousse, fruit or custard pies.
3936 W. Vickery Blvd. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.732.5661 • swisspastryonline.com 
Daily BBQ Sandwich Special
Bailey’s Barbeque • $5.75

The line forms early for the brown paper sack specials at this tiny barbecue joint that’s more than 80 years old. Bailey’s Barbeque sits in the same tiny red brick building as it did when J.T. Bailey opened it during the Great Depression. His grandniece, Brenda Phifer, runs the joint now, feeding as many busy downtown workers as she can by hurrying them through the ordering counter. Go with the daily special: a hefty barbecue sandwich filled with the day’s oak wood-smoked selection, ranging from sliced brisket to pulled pork and turkey to chopped beef, served with chips and a drink. Save a few cents on Tuesdays when smoked sausage is the featured choice.
826 Taylor St. • Fort Worth, Texas 76102 • 817.335.7469
 
Pork Belly Ramen Noodles
Tokyo Café • $9

Foodies know ramen not as the sodium-packed microwavable brick of wiry-thin noodles but as the savory, traditional Japanese noodle dish prepared with fresh components. At Tokyo Café, the pork belly ramen offers grilled and braised pork belly (think thick, fatty bacon), shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, carrots and scallions cooked in a pork-based broth and served with a hard-boiled egg over thick noodles. The ingredients meld in a colorful, flavorsome feast that we can’t consume quickly enough.
5121 Pershing Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.737.8568 • tokyocafefw.com
Beef Tips & Noodles
Bluebonnet Café • $6

Of the five weekday lunch specials at this ’50s-inspired diner, Thursday’s beef tips and noodles is the most popular. With tender beef tips smothered in brown gravy and served over egg noodles, the dish is by no means fancy but reminds us of a childhood dinner at Grandma’s (amid all of her I Love Lucy and Coca-Cola collectibles). With two vegetables included in the price, the entire entrée is a steal.
2223-A Haltom Road • Fort Worth, Texas 76117 • 817.834.4988 • bluebonnet-cafe.com
 
Smothered Pork Chops with Candied Yams and Collard Greens
Drew’s Place • $8.49

A perfect balance of salty, sweet, savory and greasy can be found in this locally famous dish that folks will drive miles to devour. Featuring two gravy-covered, fork-tender pork chops (or three for more than our $10 limit), the entrée includes your choice of two sides and a cornbread muffin to help sop it all up. While fried okra and macaroni and cheese are among our favorites, we love how the sweet, mushy yams cut the saltiness of the bacon-tinged collard greens.
5701 Curzon Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.735.4408 • drewssoulfood.com
Cuban Sandwich
Cuco’s Sandwich Shop • $6.59

This dish takes us outside Fort Worth proper, but only by a few miles. A must-visit, the family-owned Cuban eatery and small Latin American grocer has sat in the same bright pink building for more than 20 years. Judge all other Cuban sandwiches against this one – a 9-inch roll hot-pressed and filled with roasted pork, ham, salami, cheese, mustard and the all-important pickles. Bite after bite, the bread remains warm and crispy throughout, which is crucial to a great Cuban. Hungry for more? A 12-inch sandwich is $7.99.
6650 Glenview Drive • North Richland Hills, Texas 76180 • 817.284.1692
 
Fredburger with Cheese and Fries
Fred’s Texas Café • $9.25

Any best dish list should include a good burger, and the debate of which is top in town will go on as long as patties keep hitting the grill. But we favor the Fredburger because it’s big (a half-pound), juicy and somewhat of an icon, plus it pairs well with the joint’s carnivore-happy atmosphere. The decades-old dive is now a be-seen spot, but we remember Fred’s when it was truly a hole-in-the-wall, one where area industrial workers grabbed a beer and a bite after their shift. Today there are two Fred’s locations as well as a food truck, providing more opportunities to indulge in one of Fort Worth’s tastiest dishes.
915 Currie St. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.332.0083
Chicken Fried Steak
Old Neighborhood Grill • $9.25

Like steaks, barbecue and burgers, chicken fried steak is one of those entrées that will always be debated as to whose is best in town. Old Neighborhood Grill’s consistently garners glowing reviews making it our go-to, budget-friendly choice. The friendly, family-owned Park Place Avenue diner is like home to area regulars, whom the staff knows by name. If the lengthy vegetable list is overwhelming, just go with green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy, and you’ll be set for a true taste of comfort.
1633 Park Place Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76110 • 817.923.2282
 
Red Snapper Tacos
Paco and John • $2.50

Paco and John offers a taste of the coast in land-locked Fort Worth with its grilled red snapper tacos, topped with fresh pico de gallo and sliced avocados and served in a warm corn tortilla. Order two of them and make a plate with rice and beans and remain under $10.
1116 8th Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76104 • 817.810.0032 • pacoandjohn.com
Carne Asada al Carbon plate
El Pollo Regio • $7.99

Don’t let the language barrier or no-frills atmosphere stop you. This Austin-based eatery, which started as a trailer outfitted with a charcoal grill, dishes up some of Fort Worth’s best carne asada al carbon (grilled meat), even when it’s served in a Styrofoam box across a drive-through window. Order and receive a heaping helping of seasoned meat, a grilled onion half, warm corn tortillas, limes, salsas and cartons of savory rice and charro beans. The entire package is easily enough to feed two. Pick it up on a night when making dinner sounds overwhelming and there’s cold Mexican beer in the fridge.
Multiple locations • elpolloregio.net
 
Small Plate
The Buffet Restaurant at
Kimbell Art Museum • $9

Fit what you can on the substantially sized “small” plate at the Kimbell’s popular buffet offering light and flavorful salads, quiches, soups and sandwiches. Every time we visit, we’re delighted with offerings such as green chile quiche, carrot soup and tuna salad sandwiches.
3333 Camp Bowie Blvd. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.332.8451 • kimbellart.org
Lobster Bisque
Daddy Jack’s • $6
As the weather cools, we can’t help but crave a bowl of hot and creamy seafood bisque. This one, not only touted as the best in town but also beyond, is so rich and decadent that we’re easily filled when the check arrives, especially with warm crusty bread for dipping. Chef Dominick Simonetti doesn’t bother adding lobster chunks or crabmeat, because the smooth silkiness of the soup is just too perfect to interrupt with chewing. Tangy, spicy, buttery and salty, we’d order the stuff by the gallon if they’d let us.
353 Throckmorton St. • Fort Worth, Texas 76102 • 817.332.2477 • daddyjacks.org
 
Pepperoni Pizza by the Slice
Hysen’s Nizza Pizza, Pasta & Subs • $2.75

The late Hysen Lushaj owned a Manhattan pizzeria that originated in the ’70s. Today his sons carry on the tradition, offering the New York-style pizza they grew up with to folks in Fort Worth. Located in a former fast food joint on University Drive, Nizza Pizza doles out cheesy, tangy pepperoni pizza by the slice, conveniently served through a drive-through window if desired.
401 University Drive • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.877.3900 • hysensnizzapizza.com
Carnitas Burrito
Melis Taqueria • $3.25

It’s the “carnitas,” or shreds of crispy fried, well-seasoned pork that make this hefty burrito one of our favorites in town. The carnitas are topped with lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro and tucked in a warm flour tortilla that’s smothered with refried beans. Don’t go expecting table service – Melis keeps things simple with just an outdoor ordering window.
4304 W. Vickery Blvd. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.377.8484
 
Gyro-topped Greek Salad
George’s Imported Foods • $7.64

We were happy to see George’s reopen in December after a yearlong hiatus — our Greek salad fix had remained unmet elsewhere. The Phiripes family is not shy with the portions. A small salad is nearly enough to feed two. Owner Nick Phiripes (whose father is George) tosses a tangy, tart Greek dressing with lettuce, large Kalamata olives (watch for the pits), red peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese and juicy banana peppers, then tops it all with a substantial helping of savory, sliced gyro meat. Even more, hot pita bread and yogurt dill dipping sauce is included.
4424 White Settlement Road • Fort Worth, Texas 76114 • 817.737.0414
Jim’s Po’ Boy
J&J’s Oyster Bar • $9.99

Named for the restaurant’s fun-loving owner Jim Schusler, this po’boy was picked because of its standout crawfish sausage, a unique combination of crawfish and spicy sausage that Schusler’s especially proud to offer. The sandwich is then topped with J&J’s seafood gumbo and served with fresh-cut, skin-on fries.
612 University Drive • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.335.2756 • jandjoysterbar.com
 
Pot Roast
Dixie House Café • $9.50

Even with a recent small price increase, this dish still falls just under our $10 budget, and for that we’re thankful. We can’t always get our slow-cooker out in time to prepare something like this at home, and the staff at Dixie House (at any location) makes us feel like we’re family. With fall-apart meat and soft potatoes and carrots, the dish is served with the longtime restaurant’s signature “big buns,” or fluffy white rolls, along with two sides. We like to choose green beans and fried okra, or macaroni and cheese when we’re feeling extra homesick.
Multiple locations • dixiehousecafe.com
Pho Soup
Noodles at Boba Tea House • $6.99 – large bowl

By now, everyone has his or her favorite spot for pho, the hot, brothy Vietnamese noodle soup served with beef (typically brisket, meatballs or sliced eye of round), bean sprouts, basil, jalapeños and lime. In far north Fort Worth at North Beach and Basswood, Noodles at Boba Tea House sets a higher standard for the traditional dish. The bright and airy space with incredibly friendly service allows us to customize our own bowl and even add fresh veggies if we wish — including crisp carrots, broccoli and Napa cabbage. Plus there’s a whole menu of fresh fruit and cream slushes that are worth a visit on their own.
7355 N. Beach St. • Fort Worth, Texas 76137 • 817.234.9996 • noodlesbth.com
 
Chicken Shawarma Sandwich
King Tut • $5

Strips of chicken breast are simmered in onions, tomatoes and potent seasonings to create the tangy, flavor-packed filling for this hot pita sandwich. Substantially sized, the dish is satisfying on its own, but at only five bucks, we have extra cash to add a side of fries or a green leaf salad with bright red tomatoes and crisp cucumbers, each only $2.50, to remain under $10. A Magnolia Avenue veteran, King Tut is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is one of the restaurant row’s original eclectic eateries.
1512 Magnolia Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76104 • 817.335.3051 • kingtutegyptian.com
Black Bean Soup
Jazz Café • $6.50

Topped with pico de gallo and a dollop of cool sour cream, a large bowl of this rich and velvety soup warms our bellies and relaxes our minds. Maybe it’s the longtime café’s hip, laid-back atmosphere, where the service is by no means rushed and the occasional live music is snazzy. We sometimes order a cup for only $4.50 and pair with the Mediterranean eatery’s small portion of tabouli, a blend of cous cous, chopped tomatoes, fresh parsley, onions, olive oil and lemon juice, also $4.50, which keeps us within our $10 limit.
2504 Montgomery St. • Fort Worth, Texas • 817.737.0043
 
Tom Kha Soup
Bangkok House Thai • $8.99

No frills, no hype. Thai food lovers in town have long made the rarely-publicized Bangkok House Thai in far west Fort Worth their go-to spot, even back before Thai was trendy. Of all the Tom Kha soups in town (made with creamy coconut milk, fragrant lemongrass and often times mushrooms and tomatoes, served with your choice of meat), this one warms our heart most. It’s served in the traditional piping hot pot, with a live flame in the middle to keep the soup at a low simmer. If you haven’t been, be aware that “Mama Tiki,” the restaurant’s bubbly, grandmother-like manager and chef, might give you a hug just for visiting.
438 S. Cherry Lane • Fort Worth, Texas 76108 • 817.246.0236
Falafel Salad
Chadra Mezza & Grill • $8

Chadra’s pretty falafel salad combines mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickled turnips and pickles (pickled in-house), kalamata olives, tahini and falafel, highly-spiced ground chickpeas formed into balls and deep fried, into a beautifully colorful vegetarian dish.
1622 Park Place Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76110 • 817.926.3992 • chadramezza.com
Deluxe Frito Pie
Day Break Café & Grill • $3.69

From a place that offers everything from bean and cheese burritos to shrimp cocktail, Day Break’s chili, cheese and jalapeño-topped Frito pie epitomizes the diner’s smorgasbord of a menu. A goldmine for budget-friendly bites, the dive is nothing fancy, but the food is tasty and the service quick. Maybe that’s why we often see Fort Worth firemen and police officers there regularly – they can get filled and get out in a hurry. Open by 5 a.m. for breakfast daily (even Sunday), Day Break is always busy with area blue-collar workers and business suits alike. And if we’re ever craving a mound of messy Frito pie, this is our place.
2720 White Settlement Road • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.335.0805
3 Kale Salad
Woodshed Smokehouse • $8

Salad at a smokehouse? We know, we know. But Tim Love’s 3 Kale Salad showcases his ability to impressively transfer his signature smokiness to a plate of greens, and delightfully so. The salad is thoughtfully comprised of curly kale leaves, smoked pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, shaved, pungent manchego cheese, green apple slices and bits of salty guanciale, or hog jowls. (It’s just like bacon.) A light, lemony dressing delicately coats each component, creating a refreshing dish that doesn’t weigh us down mid-bike ride.
3201 Riverfront Drive • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.877.4545 • woodshedsmokehouse.com
Mole con Pollo
Esperanza’s Mexican Bakery & Café  • $7.95

If you had a Mexican great-grandmother, she would have made mole like this. The complicated savory sauce, made with several different spices and sometimes even chocolate and peanut butter, can be a hassle to concoct. We’ve had some of the best mole con pollo at Mexican weddings and quinceaneras, and Esperanza’s version tastes just the same. Heavily sauced over a tender bone-in chicken breast and drumstick and served with refried beans, rice and tortillas, the dish is a steal considering the amount of work you won’t have to do to create it yourself.
2122 N. Main St. • Fort Worth, Texas 76164 • 817.626.5770 • joets.com
Banh Mi Sandwich
Tu Hai • $3

Mention “banh mi” to most folks, and you’ll likely be met with, “Come again?” But the Vietnamese sub-style sandwich has become the trendy item to order in recent years as food trucks have increased their popularity. Even Tim Love has a version on his Woodshed Smokehouse menu. But for the real deal — authentically prepared with three kinds of pork, pate, Asian slaw and cilantro on a crusty buttered roll — visit Tu Hai in Haltom City. At only three bucks, the traditional sandwich is a steal and tastes better than any fancy rendition.
3909 E. Belknap St. • Haltom City, Texas 76111 • 817.834.6473
Sweet Luv’us Hummus Wrap
Spiral Diner • $7.75

This year marks a decade since Spiral Diner opened and started serving vegan cuisine in a city known as “Cowtown.” Consider the concept successful, as the Magnolia Avenue eatery is busier than ever with waits for lunch and weekend evenings. Amongst the eatery’s many knockout dishes, we love the Sweet Luv’us hummus wrap, packed with healthy components including a layer of sweet potatoes and hummus, broccoli, cucumbers, avocados, greens and spicy pecans topped with tahini or ranch dressing, all tucked in a flour tortilla. Even more, the wrap comes with a choice of the day’s side dishes.
1314 W. Magnolia Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76104 • 817.3.EatVeg (328834) • spiraldiner.com
Chicken & Dumplings
Paris Coffee Shop • $7.25 (includes two vegetables)

A Thursday-only lunch special, Paris Coffee Shop’s once-a-week chicken and dumplings dish packs the house. Owner Mike Smith whips up more than 50 gallons of the stuff, which sells until it runs out. Be prepared to wait in line, and don’t go at all if you’re in a hurry. A dish this delicious shouldn’t be rushed.
704 W. Magnolia Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76104 • 817.335.2041 • pariscoffeeshop.net
Chicken Salad Sandwich
The Lunch Box • $6.75

It’s been almost 40 years since Paula Kilgore started serving her famous chicken salad to Camp Bowie locals, addicting them at first bite. The Lunch Box (which originally opened as Paula’s Tea Room) has switched hands a few times since then, most recently to the Khan family, whose children grew up on Lunch Box fare. The Khans promise no recipes will change, but more locations might be added down the road. Order the chicken salad as a whole sandwich (on white, wheat or light or dark rye bread) with chips and a pickle or a half-sandwich with fruit, salad or soup and still remain under 10 bucks.
6333 Camp Bowie Blvd. • Fort Worth, Texas 76116 • 817.738.2181 • eatthelunchbox.com
Short Combo
Zeke’s Fish & Chips • $8.99

Last year Zeke’s commemorated 40 years of serving catfish, shrimp and Icelandic cod to hungry Fort Worth diners. The tiny dive offers a lengthy menu of fried seafood, chicken and country fried dinners and a convenient drive-through window for to-go orders. But stay and sit on the narrow back patio and order a pitcher of beer along with the short combo, which falls within our $10 budget and fills us up just fine. The dinner includes one thick piece of battered and fried cod, choice of two veggies (we like the cornmeal fried zucchini slices and fried okra), hush puppies and sauces.
5920 Curzon Ave. • Fort Worth, Texas 76107 • 817.731.3321 • zekesfishandchips.net

 

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