If you’re going to the Stock Show, you’ll want the full experience. Follow the hats.
The first time I went to the Fort Worth Stock Show my Pop had to lift me onto the pony ride. I’ve been every year since.
Technically, it’s known as the Southwestern Exposition Livestock Show and Rodeo. It’s been around for 123 years, making it the longest continually running event of its kind. Prior to 1978, it was known as The Fat Stock Show. This was because plump, fattened livestock was a good thing – at least until leg warmers and fitness clubs arrived. Nearly a million people attend the Stock Show over its three-week run, and they come from more than 80 countries around the world.
And all those folks gotta eat.
In case you’re not straight on your bearings, the Fort Worth Stock Show is not held in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Originally it was, but it moved to the Will Rogers Entertainment Complex generations ago. You’ll find a ton of exhibitors, attendees and assorted denizens who head up to the Stockyards, as it’s only about 10 minutes away. Plenty of authentic Cowtown dining there, including H3 Ranch, Los Vaqueros, and the venerable Cattlemen’s Steakhouse.
You can also find a ton of yum on the grounds at Will Rogers Memorial Complex. Some of the finest restaurants in town are represented. Reata, best known for its fabulous Sundance Square location downtown, operates two seperate restaurants at the Stock Show – including the celebrity-studded Reata Backstage overlooking the rodeo arena. There are food courts and concessions galore. But if you’re looking for a great meal off the grounds nearby, here are the places we longtimers might suggest:
M&O Station Grill
Some of the best burgers in town, of every variety. Routinely on Best Of lists, and not only for the burgers. Make sure you try the desserts. Next door is a time portal to Fort Worth’s past, through small a museum dedicated to the city’s legendary Leonard Brothers Department Store. It’s a short hop from Will Rogers, and recently added on some more space. My favorites are the Bleu Cow and the baby Swiss and mushroom burger, but don’t ignore the buttermilk chicken fried steak.
There are now three locations of Fred’s, which goes against my usual prohibition of recommending chains. That said, the original Fred’s has been around since the late 70s — and the food is better than ever. The chicken fried steak would be my choice, but the hamburgers are epic – and live music in the beer garden will warm even Stock Show weather. Worth the wait if there is one, and it’s almost literally across the street.
Paris Coffee Shop
Not far to the east is a spot we locals have raved over for decades, and with good reason. Breakfast or lunch at Paris Coffee Shop comes as natural as a flair for the dramatic comes to a rodeo announcer. It’s just where you eat. When’s the last time you had hash browns alone that made you rhapsodize? Sausage that lured you in from the street? Coconut pie that’ll stop a parade, and you’ll never see the bottom of your coffee cup. They close most days at 2:30.
Situated right on the banks of the Trinity River south of the Will Rogers Complex, it’s just around the bend from Colonial Country Club. Celebrity chef Tim Love pulls out all the stops here, and the largely outdoor setting is spectacular. The menu is always creative, varies from day to day, and guaranteed to make that trip to the rodeo complete.
Original Mexican Eats Cafe
The oldest restaurant in Fort Worth, the recipes date back 100 years. Officially, the Original opened in 1926. President Franklin Roosevelt actually ate here. How have they stayed in business so long? Because it’s simply that good. Not as flashy as some, and people may mention others – but if I had guests in town for the Stock Show wanting authentic Mexican food and atmosphere, this is where we’d go.
Railhead Smokehouse BBQ
There has to be a barbecue restaurant on the list, and this one isn’t only practically next door. It’s also a local legend. A Fort Worth institution for more than thirty years, Railhead doesn’t skimp with its mouthwatering portions — and might just serve the frostiest beers in town. Packed whenever TCU has a home game, it’ll be busy during the Stock Show — but there’s also a large seating area outside that’s perfect when the weather is nice. Just off I30 at Montgomery, it’s right up the street from the broncs and bulls.
Ol’ South Pancake House
Nothing has changed here since my parents first brought me to Old South in the 1960s. Literally. The decor is exactly the same. The tables and chairs are the same ones we used after our high school games or prom. Later, after the nightclubs closed or the rubber chicken banquet. And it is always packed. Why? Because the food hasn’t changed, either. Old school, with waitresses who still call you “hun”. Of all the Fort Worth spots on the list, it might be the Fort Worthiest — and it’s open 24/7.
South on University right on the edge of the TCU campus is my favorite spot for chicken wings, bar none. Jon Bonnell is best known for his namesake restaurant a few miles away — but considering the love that shines through every frosty beer mug, sandwich and slice here, this has to be his baby. Sub lovers, this is also your place — and just thinking about the roast beef au jus makes me drool.