09/18/2013 07:54 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

Love Letters: Fort Worth, Texas

June Naylor, a cookbook author and culinary consultant living in Fort Worth, covers food and travel for 360 West Magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Highways and the Dallas Morning News. A sixth-generation Texan and Fort Worth native, she travels the world but finds joy on each return to her first love, a place affectionately called Cowtown.

Dear Fort Worth,

What wonderful surprises you continuously bring. I've known you all my life, but in sharing you with others, I rediscover my passion for you. I treasure your lush Western heritage, worn deep into your soul by scores of longhorn hooves and wagon wheels that tore at your landscape when the Chisholm Trail crossed through you nearly a century and a half ago. The cattle barons who left you their beautiful mansions and built art collections that became part of your very fabric make it an honor to call you Cowtown.

Friends and colleagues who arrive in town thinking of you as a one-trick pony, simply a place shaped by that beefy past, surprise themselves by getting caught up in the realness of your Old West thrills - where else can anyone find a romping, stomping rodeo every weekend, like we can at Cowtown Coliseum, to say nothing of a daily cattle drive?

But for every bull-riding delight, Fort Worth, you also provide the most astounding flip-side - such as a world-class artwork. For every night of boot-scooting at Billy Bob's Texas (the world's largest honky-tonk) or the White Elephant Saloon (the site of your last gunslingers' shoot-out), there's a day of gazing upon art from the likes of Michelangelo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol.

Just wandering around your cluster of museums is a treat, as I get to gawk anew at the handiwork left by an architectural who's who: Those designing jewel boxes for your artistic gems have included Tadao Ando (The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth), Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano (The Kimbell Art Museum), David M. Schwarz (The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame), Ricardo and Victor Legorreta (Fort Worth Museum of Science and History), and Philip Johnson (The Amon Carter Museum, my personal favorite, as my late aunt Maria Naylor was curator at its 1961 opening).

These are but a five-minute walk from my home, sitting in the same near-downtown neighborhood where my dad grew up. Built on a former World War I campsite, our area--with its lovely 1920s houses and towering oak and pecan trees--snuggles up next those museums, as well as to the Botanic Garden (the state's oldest public garden) and the new Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

Thanks to your new bike-sharing program, I can pedal easily over to the Near South Side, the area of your greatest renaissance. In the shadows of your hospitals (where nearly everyone in my family was born), your Magnolia Avenue keeps giving us exciting places to eat and drink. I don't know where else I can enjoy handmade biscuits and a sinfully wonderful coconut cream pie at a 1930s café in the morning (Paris Coffee Shop, frequented by random celebs like Laugh In's Ruth Buzzi and notorious novelist/sportswriter Dan Jenkins); a midmorning refresher of locally made kombucha (Brewed); a seriously gratifying vegan taco salad (Spiral Diner) or green chile burger (Lili's) at lunch; Japanese cocktails and sushi at happy hour (Shinjuku Station); and locally grown tomatoes and authentic Louisiana redfish for dinner (Ellerbe Fine Foods).

Otherwise, my evenings pass happily on your vintage-brick Main Street, where you'll find me lingering over a glass of wine at one of your stylish watering holes in historic Sundance Square before taking in an evening of your symphony or opera at magnificent Bass Hall. Or I could be joining pals to sip pure, potent margaritas and savor old-school enchiladas beside in the flowering gardens at Joe T. Garcia's, perhaps the most famous Mexican restaurant in Texas. You've made it the ideal place to show off custom-made snakeskin boots we picked up earlier from M.L. Leddy's, a must-stop for anyone getting their cowboy on at the National Historic Stockyards.

Dozens are the times I've toasted with friends the end of a day in your arms, delighting in the surprise found in experiencing you for the first or zillionth time. I love seeing you again through the eyes of newcomers who plumb the depth of charms this cowtown reveals. It's a joy to share what I've known all along: You're a place to love, even if for just a day, but better for a lifetime.