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Easy, popular dishes may surprise you at The Tavern

The Tavern

2755 S. Hulen St.

Fort Worth

817-923-6200; www.thetavernftworth.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Tex-Mex/burgers

Signature dish: New Mexico burger

Entree cost: $10-$15

Essentials: Full bar; major credit cards; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible

Good to know: Cocktails come in top-shelf versions for $2 extra.

Recommended for: Bargain burger fans

Posted 8:18am on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

The Tavern offers diners the luxury of being able to order fish tacos, blue cheese burgers and big chunky salads all in one place. This broad, sprawling menu reflects the varied experience of owner and chef Felipe Armenta, who hails from a San Angelo restaurant family and who worked for Hillstone Restaurant Group for 10 years. He opened this spot in the old Snookie's space in Fort Worth with the goal of creating a relaxed neighborhood place with reasonable prices.

Many of his dishes are one-of-a-kind. Queso "Americano" with guacamole ($6) appeared to be good old chips and queso, but instead of the creamy melted dip you might expect, it was a scoop of pimento cheese, chunky and nubby, with bits of onion. Once we got past our expectations, we enjoyed it. Guacamole had a similar rough texture, with big chunks of avocado and diced onion. It had good flavor but, like the pimento, was hard to scoop with a chip.

The New Mexico Burger ($8) was a large, hand-formed patty with a fine charred edge, served on an excellent whole-wheat toasted bun. In addition to the standard burger dressings -- lettuce, tomato, pickles and melted cheddar cheese -- this came with some unusual extras: smoky onions, chipotle sauce and a soft fire-roasted poblano pepper that added sweetness and musky heat. You can add a fried egg or avocado for $1 each.

A taco combination plate ($8) with brisket and roasted pork was good, too, although not what we anticipated. Rather than the small soft taco roll-ups you see at places like Yucatan and Fuzzy's, this was a knife-and-fork dish with big, dripping chunks of meat spread out over a base of tortillas that got drenched beneath their payload. The meat was very good. Both the brisket and the slow-roasted pork had big shards of falling-apart tender meat, and the quantity was generous, especially for $8.

The menu has standard entrees like fried chicken ($10) and a rib-eye steak ($20), as well as entree salads such as the Fort Worth chop ($9), with turkey, ham, cabbage, tomatoes, apples, carrots, cucumbers and blue cheese, all cut into chunks, with no lettuce. One good deal was the side of tomatoes and blue cheese ($3) with wedges of good red tomato in a vinaigrette dressing, sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese.

Staffers were young and inexperienced. When a problem with the bill was pointed out, the server seemed reproachful, as if it were the fault of the customer.

Desserts included a gargantuan wedge of carrot cake ($6) served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The icing was cream cheese-based; a nice choice, but the cake itself wasn't carroty, tasting like a cross between spice cake and Italian cream cake -- not so bad unless you really wanted carrot. The ice cream was a thoughtful plus but icy at the center, as if it had been pre-scooped and placed on the plate long before serving.

They have wines by the glass and half a dozen cocktails, attractively priced at $6 to $7. An Armenta margarita was listed on the menu for $6 and packed quite the alcoholic punch. If that's the drink you want, be sure to emphasize it; our server went ahead and ordered a "top shelf" version for $8. They do a spicy jalapeño martini ($7) and another popular one called the "TCU" ($7) that's a neat bright blue.

The remodel feels rather spare, although the spacious room has been broken into separate areas to minimize its big-barn feel. One area lets you sit by the kitchen, where you can peer through and see the chefs at work.

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