Tom's Burgers and Grill's Excellent Spin on Chicken-Fried Steak. Plus, Free Beer.

From the outside, Tom's Burgers and Grill looks a lot like most Middle America diners — the ones built during a time when car doors shut with a satisfying thud and the use of seat belts was just a suggestion. The exterior of the building is a mix of glass block walls and shiny chrome. Windows display specials in hand-painted lettering, and a tall neon sign calls to cars barreling by on Interstate 30.

It's just a façade. A mid-'90s push to reinvigorate Denny's brand dropped nearly 40 of the throwback diners across the states. In Arlington, at least, the plan didn't work. The Classic Style Denny's folded, and a fried seafood joint called Top Cat took its turn selling hush puppies and deep-fried catfish. Top Cat went belly up before Tom Jones finally brought some stability to the address. Seven years ago, Jones gave up his career in technical sales to open up a modern riff on the classic diner. He has been turning out delicately battered onion rings, crisp chicken-fried steak and breakfast all day ever since.

Jones has garnered a loyal following. On a recent Saturday morning the parking lot was filled with minivans, trucks and SUVs. You might imagine a dining room overrun by unruly crumb snatchers, high-pitched squeals and impatient waiters spilling coffee, but the diner ran as smoothly as perfect pancake batter. Jones has eschewed the morose table jockeys who often seek employment in greasy spoons for a youthful and genuinely enthusiastic staff. When you're asked, "How y'all doing this morning?" your inquisitor genuinely listens to the answer. Menu recommendations yield desirable results, and when was the last time you were reminded that medium-rare beef presents a warm, red center — in a diner?

Chicken-fried in potato chips. That's called "synergy."
Catherine Downes
Chicken-fried in potato chips. That's called "synergy."
Onion Rings
Catherine Downes
Onion Rings

Location Info

Map

Toms Burgers & Grill

1530 N. Cooper St.
Arlington, TX 76011

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Arlington

Details

Tom's Burgers and Grill

1530 N. Cooper St., Arlington, 817-459-9000, tomsburgersngrill.com. Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. $$

Onion rings $5.49

Chicken salad sandwich $6.99

Old-fashioned hamburger $4.49

Chicken-fried steak $9.79

Fried shrimp plate $10.99

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Too bad the burgers that are cooked so carefully don't start out with beef with a better pedigree. Pre-made patties can only accomplish so much, no matter how deft the cook, and considering "burgers" makes up one-third of the name on that glowing neon sign, you might expect a little more. To make up for the shortcoming, Tom's offers enough toppings to make a pizzeria blush, including smoked onions, homemade chili, a freshly made salsa, jalapeños and a dairy case's worth of cheese. A smoking tray adds a subtle tinge of pecan wood to the burgers as they cook. If these patties were loosely formed by hand with beef that was ground on site, they could be the greatest in Texas.

Many diners offer onion rings, but they are rarely hand-made and seldom this divine. The light and crisp beer batter has a crunch similar to tempura, and the onions don't pull out of their casing when you bite them. They're perfect little halos for diner angels in heaven.

For his chicken-fried steak, Jones ditches seasoned flour for something much more addictive, grinding Ruffles potato chips into a crunchy irregular coating speckled with fresh green parsley leaves. It's a stellar example of a Texan classic, but be sure to ask the kitchen to put the peppered gravy on the side to spare the crunch. And skip the gluey mashed potatoes served as a side dish. Could we get some more of those spectacular onion rings, please?

Tom's Burger and Grill practices an odd mix of elevating some components while others are neglected. French fries emerge from the depths of the freezer before they're cooked. Yet shrimp are carefully peeled, de-veined, breaded with seasoned cornmeal and impeccably fried. They're served with a cocktail sauce that sports an aggressive amount of horseradish. And are those fresh green beans on the side, carefully sautéed with peppers and red onions? Not canned, not frozen but a fresh green vegetable that would not seem out of place nestled next to a chicken paillard draped with velouté in a casual French restaurant.

Don't stop reading now, it's about to get better.

The beer is free.

Please take a moment to soak that in. And note a limit of two per customer should you already be crafting a plan to drown the guilt associated with eating yet another chicken-fried steak with 17 or so cold ones. Jones obtained a permit to sell alcohol when he first opened the restaurant, but a year in when a $4,500 renewal came due he threw in the towel. He still needed beer for his onion rings and mushrooms (which are also quite good), so he kept a single keg on tap and hands the beer out to diners. Pabst Blue Ribbon has been offered for the past few years, but recently he switched to Bud Select.

Free beer might prick up your ears, but it's the good food and great staff that will get you to return. During breakfast the place is filled with regulars, including the requisite old-timer reading a local paper at the bar. The bacon is crisp, the pancakes are fluffy, and while the eggs are well-done, the kitchen has the sense to kill the heat before they get too rubbery.

Lunch brings a buzzy dining room of diners snacking on sandwiches filled with thickly sliced deli turkey, homemade chicken salad and, of course, more burgers. While the desserts could use a little work (stick to the chocolate cake) most of the food is really good here and brings something new to the Formica tables we've all grown to love. Customers have come to depend on this quirky little diner that shuns commercial expectations. Denny's thought a shiny façade would get customers hooked on inferior cooking. Tom Jones figured out its what's inside the walls that counts.

 
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13 comments
hands1067
hands1067

Ok, someone forgot to try one of Tom's hand carve Rib Eyes. They should alos sign up for the Valentine's Day dinners. Still with free alcoholic beverage and a great dinner.  Hey! The Mac and Cheese is pretty awesome for some of you comfort food freaks too.

Gawd those onion rings are to die for and with a cold pottle of beer on a Sunday afternoon.  Does not get much better.

enfiveit
enfiveit

I would agree with most everything in this review.  I'm glad the staff got a positive mention because they do a great job of making everyone at home.  I would argue that the burgers are MUCH better then this writer feels. This is my favorite burger in town.  But now I have a tough decision. Do I go in and NOT have a burger in order to try the CFS?  Dang it!  

tanya.lanham
tanya.lanham

The writer didn't mention a few things that make Tom's Burgers and Grill great. He forgot to mention that there is free wine available for the non beer drinkers. Also, you can't forget the onion ring sauce that tastes great on the burgers also. But the best thing is that you can see Tom in the diner on am always busy Saturday or Sunday morning hustling, along with his wait staff to get the hot food to your table fast! You will never leave this diner hungry!

tomsburgers
tomsburgers

A side of Onion Rings as shown in the article are $2.99. The appetizer size, which is twice the size is $5.49. Just wanted to clear that up! Thanks for the write up Mr. Reitz!    -Tom

Nictacular
Nictacular

Whoa...chicken fried in potato chips.

I just got chills.

Mervis_Earl
Mervis_Earl

Did you, like, even read the story?

Facebook commenters should be banned!!!!!!

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Nictacular 

There's a little diner out in Blue Ridge that I once stopped in that had the crispiest CFS I had ever eaten (tasty as hell, too). I asked the waitress what the secret was and she told me that they used crushed-up corn flakes.

Also, I'm guessing you don't really need a lot of extra salt in your recipe if you use crushed Ruffles in your breading.

 
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