Pulling up to Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in Fort Worth, there was a massive parking lot but no place to park, and people were double-parked across North Commerce Street. The line was long — barbecue line long. As you get closer to the front door, the line has rails and changes directions, like when you've reached the final phases of the line for a roller coaster.
Joe T. Garcia’s is the kind of place that locals, often with visitors in tow, have been frequenting since childhood. Expect a line and diners incessantly taking pictures on their phones. Opened in 1935, this Fort Worth institution near the Stockyards has a clientele so rabid, they can command cash only as payment, all for fajitas and enchiladas. But is it worth the trouble?
The line in front of me was long, but it was not moving as quickly as I expected from a place that's cash-only with only two items on the menu.
The mass of humanity shines a spotlight in dining etiquette blinders — people camping out at their tables after the meal is through while other diners are waiting, for instance. And there is certainly a special place in hell for that one person holding a place in line for a massive group — and no, there are no exceptions for people with small children. The longer we stood in this line, the longer it got. Two people standing in front of us kept turning into a dozen. As the line multiplied, we went inside to get booze for the wait, which seemed to help.
We asked a guy why this line is worth it, and he said it’s where the tourists go. After reminding him that he was no tourist, he shrugged and said he liked Joe T. Garcia’s fajitas. When we asked the people in front of me why it was worth it, they admitted they had no idea. They were in Fort Worth from Puerto Rico for a funeral.
After 53 minutes, our table of two was seated. The patio is incredible in scale, full of massive tables, fountains, archways, statues, plants, even a Siamese cat with no tail watching diners surreptitiously from a distance. Our waitress was, as they say, in the weeds, and understandably so. The chips and salsa did not disappoint. Joe T. Garcia's salsa may be the best thing here — it's forehead-sweat spicy, chunky and fresh.
Some people used iPhones to capture video of their triumphant walks to tables. Kids noticed the cat and started throwing chips at it. Two singers showed up with hats and guitars and started performing happy birthday to some lucky diner. Our enchiladas arrived 25 minutes after they were ordered. The fajitas, we're told, are coming. It was another 15 minutes before our fajitas arrived, and that was after three more bungled visits from waitstaff.
If you can get two meals out of something, that’s a lot of food. But the steak and chicken combo fajitas from Joe T. Garcia’s can make for multiple meals. The best thing here is the red peppers; that’s the hook. They are huge cuts, but cleverly cooked until every last bit of flavor blossoms as they turn into jelly in your mouth. Fajitas are served on a hot metal plate; the boring rice was burnt and stuck to the plate. Both types of fajita meat are cooked until dry and flavorless. But the real tragedy here was the cheese: This is the cheapest American cheese, shredded.
Is Joe T. Garcia’s worth it? Maybe once if the line’s not too crazy. Being in a smaller party will definitely expedite the process. But the experience still took two hours and 10 minutes we will never get back. Your disposition for contingencies and the behavior of others is a key factor here. An experience at Joe T. Garcia’s is the same thing every time, but also a roll of the dice. This place is more all-inclusive resort in Mexico than Mexico, but kitsch isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Joe T. Garcia's, 2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth
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