If you’re from Arlington it’s not difficult to find a go-to dine-in establishment. The difficulty comes with narrowing down your choices.
Arlington’s legacy is full of locally owned destinations that make life in your little neck of the woods that much more enjoyable, easier and tastier. Whether it’s the tried-and-trues like J. Gilligan’s Bar and Grill in downtown, all the way to Mac’s in South Arlington, or the transplants like Fuzzy’s, Twisted Root and more recently Cane Rosso that experienced success in nearby cities before opening their doors to patrons with locations in Arlington, we’re here to celebrate it all.
Diverse and tasty food offerings is standard fare when it comes to Arlington. But if you drive around the city over the last few years, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that something more is cooking.
By way of example, consider the wild success that’s been Hurtado Barbecue, the always-packed spot just north of Downtown Arlington. Even country singer and Arlington-native Maren Morris recalled Hurtado’s origin story when she mentioned the barbeque joint from stage when she performed at the American Rodeo held in Globe Life Field last month.
What started as a pop-up offering craft barbeque developed into a bonafide brick and mortar entity here in the Urban Union development area of Arlington. In no time it earned the eye of self-proclaimed “BBQ Snob” Daniel Vaughn and snagged a coveted spot on Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ. It followed that notoriety with another location in Fort Worth and now a permanent concession stand in the aforementioned Globe Life Field.
While owner Brandon Hurtado was born and raised in Irving, he said no other city really was on the table after having grown to love the city since going to school at UT Arlington and opening a marketing firm there.
“Arlington has always been home. The whole reason why I opened there was because I went to college at UTA and I just had roots there,” he said. “I started my marketing agency in Arlington and felt like there was kind of a need for a new craft barbecue restaurant much like what Heim was doing in Fort Worth. And that’s what I wanted to bring to Arlington.”
That love and appreciation is a two-way street, given the growth Hurtado’s has experienced in the years since it’s opened.
“Today we have a partnership with the Texas Rangers and that’s really special for us to go from pop-up barbecue concept, with no real expectations of even having a restaurant, to having a permanent concession stand inside Globe Life Field is just incredible,” he said. “We’re really grateful for the Arlington community.”
Remember when I said there’s something cooking in Arlington? Around the same time Hurtado was dipping its toes in the craft barbecue scene, another UT Arlington graduate was himself trying to identify a landing spot for a tiki bar he was conceptualizing. 4 Kahunas opened in 2018 by four co-founders Chris Powell, J.P. Hunter, Randy Shepherd, and Scott Smith–each represented in the tiki carvings adorned behind the bar.
The idea for the bar germinated with Hunter who was nearing retirement in Houston and was dreaming what he might want to do for his next adventure. A trip to a tiki bar in Las Vegas with Chris Powell stirred up nostalgic memories of his California childhood. With that idea in mind, it was a matter of identifying a location. For Hunter, familiarity with Arlington from his college days was a big plus.
“I don’t know what it is about where you go to college, sometimes it feels like that’s just home to you always,” Hunter says.
“And truth be told there’s a little bit of a revenge factor, because when I was much younger in my college days, a lot of the weekends consisted of asking, ‘hey, are we gonna go to Dallas or Fort Worth for our entertainment tonight?,’” he said. “Now that I’m a much older adult, I came back and was like, ‘you know what, I’ll build something that they can come to us for.”
The tiki bar has lived up to that lofty aspiration, with visitors not only coming from nearby cities but also as far-flung as the coasts and beyond.
But that’s what’s to love about Arlington: every corner of it has a long-standing, must-try establishment just waiting for you to discover it.
Even as some entities look to expand and grow, there’s a certain comfort that comes from a local place that you can only experience in one way. Some of the family-run and legacy restaurants here in Arlinton don’t need to be anywhere other than exactly where they are. It leaves patrons feeling catered to not just their palates, but also leaves them feeling nourished in a neighborly kind of way. Our favorite mealtime hubs can really help us feel rooted to a place.
For example, two of our greatest lunchtime sandwich shops—Ba Le and Dino’s Sub—are barely three blocks away from one another and have been for years. It’s been a longtime battle to choose between these established purveyors of sandwiches on Pioneer Parkway.
On one hand you have Ba Le where you stroll up to the sandwich counter, unsuccessfully attempt to order just one spot-on bahn mi sandwich to go. Or you choose to sit for a spell with your sandwiches and a Vietnamese iced coffee to contemplate life in a new way thanks to the caffeine coursing through your veins.
Meanwhile at Dino’s, you go so often you feel comfortable adding the ordering language to your skills at the bottom of your LinkedIn page. That coded, yet not-so-secret, ability to know to refer to the sandwich by its menu number—not its name—and how you want it topped. Don’t you dare tell that person your drink order, though. Take that to the end of the line, pal.
And to me, that’s the joy of eating locally. Two places, with their own approach and energy, but equally capable of satiating those hunger pangs.
It all starts with giving a place a shot. The moment you walk in, it’s like becoming an insider overnight where you immediately earn the right to be able to pass a great meal along to someone so they can share that joy, too. It truly can only happen by taking a chance to support a local restaurant, in all shapes and forms they come in. Maybe you’ll be the first to enjoy what will someday evolve into a larger institution. Or perhaps you’ll be joining the rank and file of countless other residents who’ve been supporting their favorite establishment for 5, 10, 15 and 30+ years.
But ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your fiftieth, any time you take a chance to dine at a restaurant in Arlington, it’s got the chance to be your place.
Andrew Plock is a writer and comedian based in North Arlington. When the former UTA grad is not writing ad copy, producing various shoots or being a dad, you can find him on stage performing live comedy with the DFW institution, Four Day Weekend.
Speaking of sharing that joy of food we love, here’s my own personal selection of must-have meals from Arlington institutions. Some are already well-known, some need to be known more, and all should be tried at least once.
Chicken tikka masala and garlic naan
22 Phở tái bò viên (rare steak and meatball noodle soup) and Vietnamese iced coffee
Combo mesquite grilled fajitas and The Swirl margarita
Garden State Deli
Chopped cheese and a Coca-Cola
BBQ Pork Belly and a cappuccino coffee smoothie
No. 8, Italian club with The Works, a side of chips and lemonade
Nashville hot chicken sandwich, medium spice and a water
Chicken fried steak plate and a sweet tea
Gyro combo and a Dr Pepper
Brisket & sausage sandwich and two cones of ice cream
Lamb kebab with baba ghanouge and a hot tea
Tonkotsu ramen and a draft Sapporo
The Kahuna Pearl Diver and any booze-sopping food item handed to me after
Chicharron pupusas and a Salvadorian horchata