2021 in review: Fort Worth has the best barbecue in Texas, plus great pizzas

2021 in review: Fort Worth has the best barbecue in Texas, plus great pizzas

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New dinner for the new year

After a COVID-19 spike in 2021 kept professional rodeo cowboys on the sidelines and slowed the opening of the new Stockyards entertainment district, major chef-run restaurants are now under construction throughout Fort Worth.


The year 2021 brought Fort Worth bigger pizzas, spicier chicken, fancier donuts, and the city’s first outdoor rooftop restaurant.

Oh, and robot servers.

But more than anything else, 2021 will be remembered as the year the Texas Legislature prioritized legalizing margaritas and mixed drinks to go.

Take-home cocktails made their way onto every bar menu, some in fancy coolers and others in plastic jugs used for lemonade.

They helped restaurants and customers get through a year of fluctuating COVID-19 cases that not only slowed down business, but also complicated staffing and ordering for supplies.

Here are some of the gastronomy highlights and lows of 2021, a year in which around 80 unique local restaurants opened and around 30 closings.

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A Facebook photo shows traffic on Dick Price Road around Goldee’s. Chris Onstad facebook.com/chris.onstad

Cowtown barbecue rules Texas

Texas Monthly magazine named Fort Worth the new barbecue capital of Texas, drawing long lines to number one in the state, Goldee’s, 4645 Dick Price Road, in rural southeastern Tarrant County.

But the search for the perfect brisket didn’t stop there. The lines grew at No. 10 Panther City BBQ, 201 E. Pennsylvania Ave. (East Hattie Street), along with Fort Worth, a Top 50 Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, 2735 W. Fifth St., and Smoke-A- Holics BBQ, 1417 Evans Cra.

They were all over a year old, but the sudden follow-up meant they all burst onto the scene as new restaurants. Other restaurants reported indirect business and several restaurants launched a new local specialty: smoked chicken salad.

A former restaurant, Smokey’s BBQ, closed after 41 years. Additionally, pit master Billy Woodrich brought his barbecue and fried chicken fillet from Rufus Bar & Grill to West Texas and to the new Billy’s at Cisco.

Lady & The Pit, 5301 E. Lancaster Ave., best known for home cooking, reopened at that new location.

At the end of the year, the new F1 Smokehouse truck opened behind a bike shop at 4801 Edwards Ranch Road. Owner Felipe Armenta has six other restaurants, including the addition of 2021 Maria’s Mexican Kitchen, 1712 S. University Drive.

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Downtown and the northeast view from RTB, the rooftop bar over the Sinclair. Bud kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

Dining room in the heights

RTB, which stands for “rooftop bar,” opened atop the Sinclair Hotel, 512 Main St., and offers a light menu and a full 360-degree view of the city from the 17th floor outdoors.

It opened almost simultaneously with Refinery 714, the closed 24-floor bar at the Kimpton Harper Hotel, 714 Main St.

They both joined Branch & Bird, on the 12th floor at 640 Taylor St., and Attic, six floors up at 2315 N. Main St. in the Stockyards, as the city’s skyline restaurants.

Dark shop windows

A two-month experiment ended abruptly for Dallas’s Revolver Taco Lounge in Sundance Square, where several anchor restaurant spaces remain vacant as the mall shifts to previous tenants.

Fred’s Texas Cafe and Dallas’s highly respected Blue Fish Sushi have left the Crockett Row and West 7th district as the surrounding development continues to be marketed primarily to night drinkers and bar crowds, not diners. Fred’s announced a move to 7101 Camp Bowie Blvd. W.

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The Brand Room was previously a private club and VIP club during the filming of “1883,” a prequel to “Yellowstone.” Bud kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

The boom of the corrals

The opening of the Drover Hotel, 200 Mule Alley and new attractions at Stockyards made North Fort Worth a regional shopping and tourist attraction, with mixed results for restaurants.

The Drover and its 97 West grill and patio drew crowds despite staffing difficulties. Some found their way to nearby restaurants like Chef Marcus Paslay’s Provender Hall, 122 E. Exchange Ave., and coffee shops or breakfasts.

Up the hill, restaurants like Hookers Grill, 213 W. Exchange Ave., drew crowds for their connection to “1883,” a derivative of “Yellowstone.” But chef Grady Spears’ Horseshoe Hill Cafe went under in the middle of a legal dispute, and some staff members opened the Brand Room, 212 W. Exchange Ave.

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Parlor Donuts, known for its croissant-like “cronuts,” opened in Lake Worth. Bud kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

Bigger, hotter, more elegant

Extreme food – those circus-like items that are extra large, extra spicy, extra unusual, or extra covered – continued to dominate new restaurant openings.

Indiana-based Parlor Donuts, 6547 Lake Worth Blvd., is the best of the new donut shops, serving a wide variety of croissant-style “cronuts” with sugar-free and carb-free coffees and options.

Dallas-based Serious Pizza, 2728 W. Seventh St., delivered a “really big” 30-inch pie, and the popular Picchi Pacchi pizzeria, 411 W. Seventh St. in downtown, matched.

More “Nashville hot” chicken came in from the west and east to spread cayenne throughout Texas, with Tennessee’s Helen’s Hot Chicken opening at 2812 Horne St. and Hollywood’s Dave’s Hot Chicken chain at 4608 Bryant Irvin Road.

The food isn’t extreme, but robot cats have been recruited to deliver orders at Japan House, an all-you-can-eat sushi and hibachi restaurant at 7536 Boulevard 26, North Richland Hills.

This story was originally published December 26, 2021 5:08 AM.

Eats Beat profile picture of Bud Kennedy

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a guy from Fort Worth who covered high school football at age 16 and has made it to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions, and 18 sessions of the Texas Legislature. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,800 “Eats Beat” columns on Texas food, restaurants and food.

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