The 100th anniversary celebration is off to a great start for El Fenix this year, so most folks are familiar with the iconic restaurant’s history. If you haven’t heard the tale(s), take a minute to catch up on so many of the great stories of the restaurant and its first Dallas location. It’s hard to imagine a restaurant around here being a hundred years old, but El Fenixis! The Highland Park Soda Fountain is even older.
Dallas and Fort Worth were just fledgling cities when hotels, restaurants and other businesses started popping up in the 20s and 30s.Until the 1930’s, Dallas and Fort Worth were the only towns of any size in the area. The 30s and 40s brought huge growth to the entire area which continued into the 50s and 60s. Businesses and restaurants opened in several of the small, but growing towns, and many of them are still in operation today.
As of this writing, restaurants that opened in 1968 or earlier have reached their golden anniversary. If you’re from around here, a few of these stories may be familiar. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather a collection of some well-loved and epic tales in DFW restaurant history.
The 20s: French Cuisine in Dallas, Mexican Food, Diners, and Delis in Fort Worth
The grand European style was a welcome dining option in Dallas. Early restaurants in Fort Worth were a bit more casual, and two of the early ones opened as grocery and deli stores.
This classic European style restaurant at The Adolphus Hotel claims a storied history, but it doesn’t claim an opening date on its website. Internet sources suggest that the restaurant was operating in the hotel as the Bambooland Room as early as 1915.
With its interior recently remodeled and restored to its former glory, the restaurant was and still is a shining example of continental fine dining in the Dallas area.
While his father (FDR) was in the White House, Elliott Roosevelt moved to Texas to make his own way. In the process, he dabbled in radio broadcast, befriended some well-known Fort Worth oil men (including Sid Richardson) and bought a 250-acre ranch, Dutch Branch Ranch, in Benbrook, Texas.
When FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt came to town to visit their son, they often ate at The Original, a long-running Fort Worth favorite restaurant on Camp Bowie Boulevard. Well over 50 years later you can still order the Roosevelt Special, named after the former President’s meal choice.
An Instagram-able mural on the side of the Paris Coffee Shop paints a picture of Fort Worth when the business first opened in 1926.You might be surprised to find that the diner is not named after the city of Paris, but after its original owner, Vic Paris.
After just a few years, the Smith family assumed ownership, and has been running the place ever since. Despite location and menu changes, the shop is still perking right along. It’s a Fort Worth favorite that serves breakfast and lunch while receiving accolades for their homemade pies and other baked goods.
The first of what is now the Riscky’s barbecue empire was Riscky’s Grocery & Market, which opened in 1927 near the stockyards.Founder Joe Riscky left his steady job at the Armour Packing Company, trading his nine- dollar-a-week income for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. The risk paid off – now Riscky’s has a catering business, a retail business, and a total of eight locations including (3) Riscky’s Barbeque, Riscky’s Steakhouse, Trailboss Burgers, and (3) Riscky’s BBQ and Deli locations.
Carshon’s Kosher Market, now known as Carshon’s Deli, opened in 1928. The current address is its third in the business’s more than 90 years of operating history. Carshon’s is Fort Worth’s only currently operating Kosher-style deli. Their pastrami has captured the attention of Texas Monthly food writers more than once in the last decade or so.
Tuck in to a Reuben or another of their “family” of sandwiches (Rebecca, Ruthie, Rutherford, and Rachel.) Just be sure to bring cash. 90 years later, the family-owned deli still doesn’t accept credit (or debit) cards.
The 30s: BBQ, Steak, Mexican and More in Fort Worth, Arlington Steak House
J. T. Bailey opened Bailey’s Barbeque in downtown Fort Worth in 1931. It’s still in the same place, and still in the family. Bailey’s grandniece runs the lunch-only restaurant these days.
Joe T. Garcia’s was known as Joe’s Bar-B-Q when it opened in 1935. It was a small but popular lunch spot in the meat-packing district near the stockyards. Garcia also served tacos and enchiladas in his tiny shop, and word spread about how delicious the Tex-Mex dishes were.
The rest, as they say, is history. Several decades and a few renovations later, Joe T’s as it’s affectionately called, is regularly listed on Fort Worth and Texas-wide bucket lists of things to do. These days, you might wait an hour or more on the weekend for a coveted table near the patio pool. Be sure to bring cash or checks when you visit – Joe T’s doesn’t accept credit cards.
One that almost made it
Arlington Steak House opened in 1931 and was originally called the Triangle Inn. It operated for many years as Arlington Steak House, serving its famous chicken-fried steak and homemade rolls. A local family purchased and renovated it in 2012 and was designated a city landmark in 2014. That wasn’t enough to keep the old girl going – the building and restaurant are now a third Jambo’s BBQ location.
The 40s: Steak Houses Flourish Everywhere& Pizza Debuts in Dallas
1948 saw two new steak restaurants open in Dallas and one got started up north in Ponder.
Corporate-owned chains were few and far between. Family-owned restaurants dominated the DFW restaurant scene at the time – there were just fewer restaurants of any kind in those days. Rare when they started, and rarer now for their longevity, these eateries are among DFW’s favorites.
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It all started in a bar with a small kitchen, purchased by the Campisi family in 1946. They introduced pizza pies to Dallas and became the first full-time pizzeria in Texas. The Dallas icon is still owned and operated by the same family, but it has now evolved into a DFW-area chain with more expansion in the works.
Owner David Campisi shares why an Italian restaurant is also an “Egyptian Lounge” along with more fascinating history on their website. Take a moment to visit the site, and if you haven’t lately, definitely take a moment to visit a Campisi’s Restaurant.
This family-owned café opened in 1947 and is still owned and operated by the Dominguez family. According to the website, it’s possible that both nachos and sour cream enchiladas were first introduced to Dallas at this establishment. Without sour cream enchiladas, my lifelong love affair with Tex Mex might never have flourished, so for that, I have to say gracias Tupinamba!
In 1945, Jesse E. Roach and his wife Mozelle moved theirsuccessful insurance business to Fort Worth from Austin. Two years later, one of the family’s customers leased some empty space from them to build his own dream – a small café. A few months later, a tornado inflicted immense property damage on the new restaurant owner – not in the restaurant itself, but in his hometown of Higgins, Texas. He felt he should give up his restaurant and head home to Higgins, so the Roach family stepped in. They canceled his lease and bought his equipment, with the intention of selling it to a suitable buyer.
The thing is, once Jesse Roach had a taste of the restaurant business, there was no going back. He no longer wanted to focus on insurance, so he left the running of that business to his wife. His interest was in updating, remodeling, and improving his restaurant. From a café to a barbecue joint to one of the finest steakhouses around, the dining room grew in size and in popularity.
About two decades ago, the restaurant was purchased by a well-respected restaurant management group. It’s founding family may not be there in person, but the history and the heart their family put into the place is still on display. You can also still get some of the best steaks in town at Cattlemen’s – right there in the stockyards next to Billy Bob’s Texas.
Originally located on McKinney Avenue, this fine dining institution was named for its original owner Arthur Bates. Crystal chandeliers, immense fresh water aquariums, and red-velvet-draped private dining areas all contribute to its aura of elegance since 1948. Today Arthur’s is best known for exquisite dinners, cocktails, and best of all, its after-dinner dancing.
This long-time special occasion and date night restaurant has been in operation since 1948. Known for wonderful steaks and a variety of French continental cuisine, the place also plays up its old world décor for a truly elegant night out. A few years (OK, it was decades) ago, I actually enjoyed a post-homecoming-game date here – it was the place to be if you wanted to impress your date.
Homecoming is still a big deal in the Dallas area, and little has changed at The Old Warsawsince then either. While some area restaurants serve Steak Diane and Lobster Thermidor with a wink and a nod to the 60s and 70s, The Old Warsaw serves it as if time stood still.
The nostalgia makes for a special night, but it’s the food and hospitality that have increased The Old Warsaw’s popularity as a wedding party (and other private parties) venue. The private courtyard looks like the place to be for a formal or fun event.
Around North Texas, Ranchman’s might be referred to as The Ponder Steakhouse. It’s true, it’s a steakhouse; it even has an on-premise butchery. And it is in Ponder, Texas, on the route through North Texas to Oklahoma. It’s also a little piece of history in the “almost all the way to Denton” part of DFW.
Grace “Pete” Jackson opened the café in 1948 when the lunch counter at her grocery store stayed busy all the time. Current owner Dave Ross, the “Ranchman” himself, was a long-time employee. In addition to hand cut and trimmed steaks (with house steak butter), you can order burgers or southern menu favorites, all made from scratch. Daily chalkboard lunch specials feature baked chicken and rice, chicken-fried-steak, and (my personal favorite) salmon patties. If you’re dying to try Texas quail or calf fries or fried green tomatoes, this just might be your go-to place. Don’t forget to make a reservation if you want a baked potato with your meal – they sell out!
The 50s: Burger Joints, Cafes and More – Even in the ‘Burbs
Burger places popped up all over the place. It was also in the 50s that Dunston’s (originally called Gene’s) Steakhouse got its start (1955) and Sonny Bryan’s “Original” Inwood location opened in Dallas (1958).
Opened in 1954 – still serving the same burgers and fries (and of course, frosty mugs of root beer!) For a true time warp and a super fun time, swing by this drive in restaurant when they’re having a classic car show.
Opened in 1956 in Oak Cliff – current owner bought it from Norma herself – Norma’s Cafe currently has 5 DFW locations for breakfast all day, home style lunches and dinners, Mile-High Pies™ and their ever popular “eat dessert first” motto. Norma’s can often be found giving away free pie slices on their Twitter and Facebook.
This burger spot opened near White Rock Lake opened in 1956. Dallasites still enjoy old-fashioned (and affordable) burgers and fries and root beer there.
This beloved restaurant in the ‘burbs was actually the first place in Arlington to serve pizza. Over the years, the menu expanded from pizza and tacos to steaks and a full menu of Italian and Tex Mex favorites. From the beginning, it was a favorite spot for the coldest beer in town. In the late 70s and 80s, it was a top date night destination for Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Irving couples.
When present owners refurbished the building a few years ago with an eye on rebuilding, only the outer walls could be saved. The rest was “reverse engineered” from the inside out to preserve the appearance of this memory-making spot. Table jukeboxes, checkered tablecloths, and candle globes grace the booths just as they did in the 60s and beyond. If you ever snuggled in one of the private booths, you haven’t been forgotten – a few of those were added in the “new” version as well.
The 60s: German Sausage in Dallas, German Pancakes in Fort Worth Plus More Dining Options in the Suburbs
Several unique dining options came along in the 60s along with expansions of DFW’s sandwich and burger offerings. In addition to the restaurants highlighted below, Griff’s Hamburgers opened in 1964 and Kincaids grocery and meat market ventured into the burger business that same year. Longtime DFW burger favorite Keller’s opened in 1965 and Jimmy’s Food Store opened in 1966.
Kuby’s Meat Market opened in 1728 – wait, what?! OK, that was in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A descendant of that Kuby family, Karl Kuby immigrated to Dallas and opened his sausage house in 1961. The business isn’t just a popular restaurant – it also houses a deli and meat market, a European grocery market and a bakery too. Customers can purchase gift baskets there or order them online, but the crowning jewel is the restaurant.
Serving breakfast and lunch (and Sunday brunch) Kuby’s is the best place to get traditional German favorites like Wurst and schnitzel and red cabbage and spaetzle. Breakfast choices range from southern options (biscuits, grits) to traditional breakfast favorites (omelets to oatmeal) and of course a few German flavors as well (Ripchen, Pfannkuchen.) The restaurant is also open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights with live music, Old World style.
At 85, Karl Kuby isn’t in the restaurant as much anymore, but his family still runs it. Mr. Kuby is proud of his heritage and proud to be an American. A few weeks ago, he served as the grand marshal of the Park Cities Fourth of July Parade.
After more than 55 years, this family-run pancake house still never sleeps. With build your own pancakes offered all day (German pancakes too) this place is popular with families as well as the college crowd. Southern favorites and daily lunch specials rule during the day. Fun fried appetizers and burgers keep the fun going into the evening and late night. Of course, breakfast any time is never wrong, and Ol’ South has known that since 1962.
Founded in 1966 in Plymouth Park Shopping Center in Irving, Angelo’s Spaghetti and Pizza House was conceived as a place where families could afford to eat out. Their baked lasagna, thin-crust Sicilian pizza, and other Italian dishes were embraced by Irving’s dining community. Over the years, the menu expanded to include steaks, and a second location (now in Pantego) came along.
Founder Charlie King is still a partner/owner and the menu items are still made in house (from scratch) just as they were more than 50 years ago.
Don Juan’s was the first Mexican Food restaurant in Grand Prairie and the one of the first in the DFW area to have a drive through. Serving enchiladas, tamales, burritos, and tons of tacos, it was a popular hangout for the high school crowd who grew up with a taste for the yummy, affordable food. Those same high schoolers now bring their kids (and grandkids) to Don Juan’s for a taste of the good stuff.
→ Map (Plus 5 more locations in DFW)
When founder Ed Stebbins chose a name for the Rosedale Street pizzeria he opened in 1968, he decided to honor his mother, an immigrant from Naples, Italy. In the intervening years, it was his mother-in-law who ended up being known as Mama and working there for almost 20 years.
The restaurant owners and the additional locations that followed have changed over the years, but folks in DFW still know Mama’s as one of the best places to get some great “East Coast” style pizza.
While other pizza chains may have spread further and faster, Pizza Inn was among the first in the area. I loved them for their crispy thin (but not too thin) crust (rumored to be made with a Denton favorite – Morrison’s baking mix). Pizza Inns were also known for their buffets, and this location now offers buffet all day. (Yay!) Current employees weren’t able to confirm an exact date, but did verify that this particular pizzeria (starting at another location nearby) has been operating since the 1960s.
I didn’t intentionally leave out Plano. My search for their oldest restaurants turned up a few places that opened in the 70s. The same is true of several other area suburbs. Grapevine’s restaurant scene really got rolling around the 80s. Their time is coming though. Long-time Greenville Avenue bistro The Grape is just a few years shy of its golden anniversary. At these and other long-running DFW restaurants, great food, a welcoming atmosphere, and warm, friendly people keep patrons coming back year after year.
If you don’t see your long-time favorite here, be sure to let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.