Restaurant Reviews

The Tex-Mex Christmas-Light Institution, Campo Verde, Gets a Reboot (And Dusted)

The kaleidoscope of crazy lives on.
The kaleidoscope of crazy lives on. Lauren Drewes Daniels
Campo Verde sits on a corner spot along Pioneer Parkway in Dalworthington Gardens, a small city tucked inside of Arlington and notable as being the motherland of the band Pantera and antsy cops on Bowen Road. A satellite dish the size of a Honda is perched on the roof of this colorful space, looking skyward, a hint of the time warp below.

Campo Verde, an institution for 40 years, has evolved into an homage to retro decor, neon-orange cheese dip and a unique menagerie of Sonoran Tex-Mex. But the real coup d'etat that lures diners every year is the eleventy million Christmas lights that bedazzle every inch of interior space each holiday season. And let's just spill the beans now: it's brilliant.

About a decade ago, after my first visit to the spot, the term that stuck in my head was "kaleidoscope of crazy." And that shoe still fits like a red-bottomed, four-inch, knock-off Louboutin. From the aforementioned neon cheese to the decor, it is still a scene that would baffle even Mulder and Scully. However, things have recently changed a bit.
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Don't see a lot of chairs like these in restaurants now, and that's a shame.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
The original owners retired, and when a new restaurateur stepped in, he did something most unexpected: he cleaned up the place. To clarify, it wasn't "dirty" beforehand. It's more like the place had sat for decades, and it took a fresh set of eyes to notice what others had grown accustomed to. The new proprietor also slimmed down the menu and made a few tweaks to recipes.

However, these changes caused a bit of a kerfuffle among regulars, and you can bet your ass the NextDoor feed took notice. Mostly the reviews noted that the changes are positive: it's cleaner, and the menu isn't so large and overwhelming. But, still change is hard: one neighbor posted that she was glad to have a server who had worked under the previous owner to provide her with guidance during her visit.

Wood paneling and floral-patterned carpet serve as the canvas here, with what must surely be the original tables and chairs that were bought when the space opened 40 years ago. Christmas decor is then lacquered over everything. A bartender told us that starting in early October, one full-time employee does nothing but string lights and set up decorations. In early November, she was almost done. We watched her carefully consider every ornament she placed on a nearby three-foot tree.
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The cheese sauce acts as an all-purpose weighted blanket.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
We sat at the bar and watched a sleeves-down Pete Delkus track a nasty storm across North Texas. A lady wearing a beanie cap sat near us and smoked a ciggie while she waited for her to-go order. Nearby tables and chairs were similar to what my grandparents had in the early '80s; with a light whiff of smoke rolling across the room, it was all fascinatingly nostalgic.
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Can you see the kaleidoscope of crazy?
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Smoking is allowed only in the bar area, and there are many other rooms throughout the space, with walls of light separating them all, creating a carnival fun-house-like maze, mostly sans smoke. But if you're super sensitive to it, take a pass.

The free chips are good and have a light dusting of spice. The salsa is decent. The orange sauce is still a mystery. But the drink selection was everything it needed to be and the staff was very friendly; the service has almost a diner vibe.
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A cheese enchilada with a chili relleno.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
For the mains, we went with a standard Tex-Mex plate; one cheese enchilada and one chile relleno with rice and beans. Clearly, the cheese sauce is an all-purpose weighted blanket here. Two bites of everything on the plate was more than enough.
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A basic taco and enchilada plate is $11.95.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Another plate with a crispy beef taco and enchilada topped with a ranchero sauce wasn't so effervescent — again just standard. A two-combo plate is $11.95 and a trio is $15.95. Every 10 minutes or so a train chugged by on a track that runs just above the bar, another amenity that draws generations of families from far and wide.

Frozen margaritas are $6.95 for a 10-ounce; $12.95 for a 22-ounce. A 10-ounce beer is $4.95 and a pitcher is $16.95. During happy hour, everything is a dollar off. They have local beer on tap plus cans of Texas Ale Project's Pantera Golden Ale.

In all, it's a fun place to visit. Be careful gorging yourself. But take comfort in a trip back in time when ashtrays were standard decor at every bar.

Campo Verde, 2918 W. Pioneer Parkway (Dalworthington Gardens). Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday - Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Closed Monday
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.

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