La Familia: The Best Tex-Mex Restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas

LA FAMILIA -translated -means The Family.

It’s also the name of a Fort Worth-based Mexican restaurant -family-owned & operated.

It’s nascent locale went thru a number of transitions -starting as a midtown MickeyD’s. A great, centrally located quick-food place to put yourself in a holding pattern enroute to the bustle & hustle of the day’s business.

A newer -at the time -McD’s opened up a mile & some up the road -leaving the boxy place vacant -before becoming a seafood restaurant, a Korean restaurant -noticeably *different* Asian-fare than BBQ & Cafeteria’d denizens were accustomed to…

– before finally settling on a Mexican cantina.

It had all the earmarkings of a great little place. And the owner bore literally a rags to riches motif
-having humbled beginnings cleaning offices before opening his restaurant.

The interior, albeit Spartan in d�©cor, was roomy enough to accommodate a nice little crowd.

And the price was absolutely RIGHT -reasonably rated for lunch and dinner dining.

The owners were always amiable…

Al would rush to the door -hand extended in warm welcome -exclaiming, “Let me buy ya a beer…”
– producing a good-sized frosty mug of the bubbly brew -just right for tempering digestive juices for what would be a superb Tex-Mex meal – while his wife and daughter, Lynette, held down the fort behind the cash register, sharing family updates about her new baby daughter.

Easily the pride of Al’s life -photos of the tot festooning the counter -between piles of homemade praline-cookies and Lynette’s self-crafted beaded bracelets…. She was talked into making the bracelets as a means to stave off stress.

Funny, because the restaurant was thriving -despite the changing face of the neighborhood going from retail to restoration…

Funnier still, because her bracelets became so popular with the clientele -that she was becoming even more stressed out -unable to keep up with orders for the multi-hued adornments.

I was, literally, their first customer in those early days. Delighted beyond repair that I could finally get a decent plate of flautas, chile relleno, ginormous chimichangas -or a succulent, too much to finish in one sitting plate of fajitas. And you were never limited to *just* chicken or beef. They gladly split the order to combo it up for ya.

After all -like family
-whatever you had a hungry for
-they were there to fill your bill…

Little touches -like the occasional just-steamed pudgy-filled tamale, skirting the hearty cup of borracho bean soup -made you feel like you were getting more than your money’s worth. And made you feel like you were at home -parents hovering over your plate, goading you to keep eating.

Al would periodically join his dining clientele -camping out at their tables to make certain the food was just right -and making certain you felt that his casa was su casa…

Lunch-time service was always impeccable. He knew his clientele was on measured time -so checks were always delivered spot-on without a momentary lapse.

That was then…

This is now…

Fort Worth has become a city of rapid change -restaurant-wise. Buildings that once housed decent eateries fell prey to a curiously diminishing economy. Curious, because those buildings were leveled to make way for BANKS. People were apparently not dining out -needing a place to stash all the cash they weren’t spending.

Such was the case with La Familia.

I was making my way across town one bleak mid-winter evening -thinking a fiery plate of Tex-Mex would be just the thing to ward off the season’s chill…. Only to find my beloved cantina plowed into the ground -a developer’s sign heralding the fifth new bank to be erected in what seemed to be a ghost-town.

A few weeks later, a minute sign – crafted on yellow oaktag -pointed an arrow south of Seventh Street to non-descript side street named Foch. It was on the outskirts of industrial warehouses -dicey at best for evening travel.

But I was craving my Tex-Mex fix
-and finally decided to brave the uncharted territory.

There it stood -in renewed glory -flanked uncharacteristically by a Tea Room and a school for Hindus (an extremely minute community in the western extremes where The West Begins…)

It was a Saturday evening -and from the exterior, looked like the restaurant wasn’t open.

A darkened vestibule bore a sign, proclaiming Al’s homage: that Smokers were not allowed -his flameante meats were smoke enough for the craven-est of diners.

The interior of the new restaurant was a sight to behold!

Pert’near twice the size of his previous location -the walls were festooned with all sorts of gallery-sized photos, depicting family history. Strategically placed amongst the folio were pieces of Mexican memorabilia -a Vaquero rope here; a sombrero there; alabaster animals….

It was a sign that La Familia had gone bigtime -to rival the d�©cor of the Yuppified-chain restaurants dotting the hometown horizon.

A good sign…

And a bad one…

What began as a hand-scrawled menu with reasonably priced food evolved into one of those slick, laminated foldy-kinds… With prices as pricey as the corporate chain restaurants.

Upon entering the dÃ?©cor’d environ, I was left standing for a while before Al materialized out of the darkness -hastily pumping my hand -and guiding me to a table, wedged between two other family-filled tables. It was odd, since the restaurant wasn’t crowded…

Three different waiters, in three different successions bounded past my table, asking what I wanted to drink. All three were requested to bring ice water.

Dragging their feet…

Leaving me dry-throated – and antsy.

One wanted to hold my hand and romance me.

I was there for a meal -not a rendez-vous.

Another waiter slung a basket of warm tortilla chips at me -and a cup of freshly made pico de gallo. I cautioned myself to not kill my appetite -trying to peer thru the darkness and read the brown, laminated menu bearing all together too small, black print.

Romantic-waiter swooped down on me -moving the candle closer to the menu, thinking it would facilitate reading. All it did was point up the laminated glare. Each offering was 33 percent more, price-wise, than the last time I’d eaten there.

The increased capacity must’ve increased his rent -albeit off the beaten path…

Frustrated, I ordered my old beef fajitas standby, figuring I’d be served in customary rapid-fire time.

After all -the waiters careened back and forth from the kitchen -bearing flaming groaning-boards of the stuff.

I watched the floor show for some time -before I was ‘presented’ with my cup of bean soup. The cilantro’d spike blended well with the cactus -but it wasn’t as thick, consistency-wise as it once was. The beans were firm but lacked flavor.

More waiters whizzed by…

One, assuring me that my fajitas were on their way.

Where -he never said.

Another waiter **finally** showed up at my table -bearing beans, rice, a dollop of sour cream & guacamole -placing them just out of my reach…

Again, contending my fajitas were “…on their way…”

I kept resisting the urge to bolt for the door. I’d put in a long day at my nine to fiver -and chastised myself for being impatient. I kept telling myself it’d be worth the wait………

Another five minutes (hunger time -translated into dog-year’d **hours**) passed -when FINALLY…

Another waiter appeared -brandishing a plate of flaming (literally) fajitas. Swirling around, he placed the skillet & cutting board plate on a tray -dumped some sort of flameable liquid on the meat, onion & pepper’d pile -and TORCHED the danged thing.

He stood there, grinning, as if I was supposed to be impressed with his arson-routine…

I smiled wanly -and plowed into my repast -slightly uptight that refried beans were little more than a smear of paste on the plate; the rice meagerly measuring up to the smear… The dollops of guac & cream were never going to be enough to match the pile of meat & vegs -nor were the three smallish tortillas…

But I happily piled the goodies together -and prepared myself for what I assumed would be the payoff to my waiting…

I bit into it…

The meat BOOMERANG’D back into the tortilla
-rubbery and over-sodden in smoke-flavoring.

I shrugged it off, thinking it was “just” a bad cut of meat out of the pile…

And crafted the next bundle…

Only to have *that* boomerang back to it’s base…

The table next to me was being serenaded by **all** the waiters -celebrating a rotund patron’s birthday -smooshing a child-sized sombrero on his head, while a waiter emerged with a chunk of candle-burning chocolate cake…

One of the straggler-waiters turned to me to ask if I was “…doing all right…”

I chuckled, “Had I known you were celebrating birthdays, I would’ve come in last Friday & celebrated mine!” He smile -muttered something -and scurried off…

Al came to my table to ask if I was “…enjoying…” *their* party. I mentioned the same, “…shoulda told them about my birthday too…” pout.

He blustered, “You’re too old -and too late. Come back next year and we’ll see about it.”

I thought he was joking. But he was dead serious.

I replied, “I probably won’t be here next year -I’m moving back to California…”

He blustered back, “You can’t get this kind off food in California -they use shredded chicken…”

He was half-right…

At least you can CHEW the food there – without risking breaking your jaw… Restaurants generally pride themselves on their **service** in an attempt to maintain their clientele…

And restaurant owners know better than to tell a woman she’s “…too old…” to be celebrated!

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