By June Naylor

(credit: June Naylor)

Just three or four years ago, there were three or four reasons you’d venture over to West Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth’s historic Fairmount District. The aging street has always been beloved for its worn-at-the-edges allure, and some of us have enjoyed its smattering of eating places since our college days at TCU.

Paris Coffee Shop has been, for more than 60 years, a reliable place for a morning omelet with handmade biscuits and a killer dish of chicken and dumplings at lunch, and Benito’s continues to be a good place to enjoy a late-night plate of huevos rancheros on the weekend.

Lili’s Bistro, just expanded to double its space, keeps us happy with tomato tart Provencal and pistachio-crusted rack of lamb. More recently, we’ve been wowed by chef Molly McCook’s farm-to-market menu at Southern charmer Ellerbe Fine Foods and Donatella Trotti’s handmade northern Italian pastas at Nonna Tata.

But just lately, Magnolia has become the hottest dining district in all of Cowtown with still more diverse choices. Exceptional independently run restaurants are opening at an impressive rate, and now it’s the hottest quarter in town.

Here are three of our newer favorites; we think you’ll make Magnolia your primary destination, thanks to the growing number of these gems.

Okonomiyaki at Shinjuku Station (credit: June Naylor)

Hours: Mon-Thu 11 am – 9 pm
Fri 11 am – 10 pm
Sat 12 pm – 10 pm

Mary Kha Ho and Jarry Ho, whose terrific Tokyo Café over on Camp Bowie Boulevard remains a certified hit, opened this cool little watering hole and eatery in late spring. Naming it Shinjuku Station for the subway station in Tokyo, it capitalizes on the current izakaya craze rocking big cities, coast to coast. Most easily (if clumsily) described as a Japanese tapas bar, this concept is that of a cocktail spot where sharable plates of edibles are served along with drinks.

I’m delighted to find a place where you enjoy a lot of different tastes without spending a lot or stuffing yourself. We love that you can try a bunch of different dishes without spending a ton of money or getting too full.
Among specialty cocktails at Shinjuku, a long and narrow space with seating for duos and foursomes, are the shiso mojito, giving you the tart-sweet effect of a traditional mojito, with the minty-basil shiso leaf providing herbal joy; the cuberrytini, bringing together muddled blueberry and cucumber with chilled vodka; and the starmaretto martini, a combination of effects with star anise, amaretto and a whisper of sesame oil, the latter on the glass rim. Tokyo Café fans are tickled to find the tok fries here, thick-cut potato spears dusted with spicy Japanese seasonings and served with chile mayo for dipping.

There’s also sushi, such as sesame-seared baby octopus, and a crazy little okonomiyaki, or omelet  a small skillet-sized creation that combines egg with salty-sweet pork belly, scallions, cabbage and pickled ginger. At lunch, the mix-and-match Build Your Own Bento is simply fun. And delicious. 711 W. Magnolia Ave. at Hemphill, facing Paris Coffee Shop. Park in back and enter through the back door. Follow it on Facebook, where news bubbles up daily.

(credit: June Naylor)

You gotta love a place that keeps a smart price point while offering good bites. At Temaki, artfully crafted goodies include potstickers, plump, seared purses revealing an interior of minced pork and green onion; salmon spring rolls, crafted with tissue-thin rice paper; pretty hand rolls you can order filled with brown rice and your choice of fish or veggies; spicy tuna over endive leaves; and feathery tempura vegetables. The vivid, contemporary interior includes wasabi-green walls and centerpieces starring swirls of lemongrass. The counter service is most helpful, too, and the prices are all $3, $6 and $9. What’s not to love?

(credit: June Naylor)

Hours: Mon – Fri 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Don’t be surprised to find a line at breakfast and lunch. It’s streaming from the window at Dolly, the big orange food truck that is Yes! Taco. Parked in front of Sinaca Studios daily from 7 am until 2:30 pm, Monday through Friday, Dolly serves YES! Taco specialties to hordes hungry for eye-opening morning tacos, such as the Broke Hippie (refried black beans, home fried potatoes, Oaxaca cheese) or the Fat Cowboy (steak, eggs, potatoes, cheese and salsa cruda). At lunch, it’s shrimp and bacon tacos or the Laotian-style laab, spicy ground turkey with cilantro and green onion, wrapped in a pretty cabbage leaf. You can get quesadillas and burritos, too, and you’ll want to cool down with one of YES! Taco’s aguas frescas, the fresh fruity waters that can include flavors like watermelon-ginger or magno-coconut-chile.

Also keep an eye out for The Wine Bar and Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub, both opening this summer on Magnolia.