Campo Verde, a 40-year landmark known for its 200,000-light Christmas display and electric toy train, has a new owner who promises to continue the long-standing holiday tradition.
Restaurateur Tommy Stewart, owner of three restaurants including a tacos-and-margaritas bar in Monroe, Louisiana, bought Campo Verde from retiring founder James “Smiley” WIlliams in July and has been quietly fine-tuning the menu and refreshing the decor at 2918 W. Pioneer Parkway (Spur 303).
For four months starting in November, going to Campo Verde is like dining inside a Christmas tree.
For families in both Fort Worth and Arlington, it’s a tradition that has lasted three generations.
Stewart knows not to change what regulars love. So far, the updates only add to the tradition.
For starters, there’s a new white-cheddar queso that goes perfectly with Campo Verde’s chile-powder-garlic dusted chips.
And salsa verde is now an option to spice up the chicken enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos or any of the legacy Sonoran-Mexican food dishes, traditionally milder than Tex-Mex.
Margaritas are now made completely from scratch, Stewart said. Tap beer is back with an updated lineup. There’s a New Orleens-style hurricane.
Gone are the dishes that were more of a 1980s novelty than a regular order, such as Williams’ elk, bison or rattlesnake fajitas.
Stewart’s restaurant experience came running Olive Garden, Copeland’s of New Orleans and Applebee’s locations. Besides his Papi Loco Taco Bar & Margaritas in Monroe, he also owns that city’s Brass Monkey Pub & Patio and Five19 Tap House & Tapas.
“I like the energy [at Campo Verde],” he said this week.
He used the past few months to clean the trimwork and update the electronics. Work has begun on a new season of decorations with $8,000 in updated lights.
Stewart was planning to open an Austin restaurant but shifted his attention to Tarrant County and found Williams selling “a unique restaurant — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stewart said.
Williams had opened Campo Verde along with a long-closed west Fort Worth location after working for the late former Pancho’s executive and Mercado Juarez Cafe founder, Don Bowden.
The milder Sonoran flavors and timeworn theme have long been a topic of debate in Arlington. But families that grew up with Campo Verde don’t want anything to change.
“People got riled up and said I had changed this or that,” he said.
On a visit last week, nothing seemed to have changed. The chips are still served with a mysteriously bright yellow cheese dip. Tortillas or sopaipillas come with a straight-from-1975 bottle of Squeeze Parkay spread.
But the white cheddar queso makes great chips even better. And the green sauce gives dishes a new flavor.
The prices are reasonable — $8 and $9 lunches, $12 combo platters, $7.25 child’s plates.
The burger menu has a new “fireworks” burger with fresh jalapenos, bacon, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo on an upgraded jalapeno-cheddar sourdough bun ($12.95).
Stewart said he wants to open more chef-driven restaurants in Arlington — “something creative and nice for dinner, not just fast food.”
“I want people to know I’m here the long haul,” he said.
He’s accustomed to serving Texans in Monroe.
“I’m not like some guy coming in from California,” he said.
The train is still running.
“And it’s going to keep running,” he said.
Campo Verde is open for lunch and dinner daily except Mondays; 682-259-7154, campoverde.us.