As I continue to search Near NW Houston for restaurant finds, I again turn to the populist restaurant review site, b4-u-eat.com. I discover a joint on Shepherd near the North Loop called Texas Cafeteria. See if you can catch the common theme in these reviews:
“Do not let the outside scare you off.”
“Probably would'nt [sic.] think twice to stop in if you were driving by.”
“Won't find any Roll Royces in the parking lot, it is a working class group that goes there.”
Everyone agrees: Texas Cafeteria is butt-ugly. From the parking lot, it looks like they only let in customers who drive beat up pickup trucks. So as an adventurous, anonymous, amateur food critic, this was a place I had to try.
A litmus test for cafeteria food is the rolls. At Texas Cafeteria, they serve hot, yeasty clover rolls that are the Platonic ideal of cafeteria rolls. And they are free!
The rest of the food is mixed quality, but generally decent. The only healthy entrée I noticed on my first visit was a grilled chicken breast with some bell peppers, mushrooms, and a little cheese on top. The dish was nothing special, but at about $6 for the main course, 2 veggies, and a roll, it was a steal. On my next visit, I succumbed to the lure of the fish special – some chunks (not fillets) of catfish or tilapia that were fried fresh to order. This fish was hot and crispy, yet not greasy. It came with a few fried shrimp that were good sized and, amazingly, deveined. Again, at about $6, the dish was a real bargain. Most of the veggies looked over-cooked or over-cheesed. I ordered the sweet potatoes, which turned out to be over-cooked and over-sweetened, but not too badly.
In short, the food is fine, but nothing to drive across town for. I hear their breakfast is good, but have not tried it.
The real reason to come here is the atmosphere. Inside are photos, wood paneling, and lots of fishing memorabilia. It feels like a hangout in a small town. About 80% of the customers are men – working men. Many of them have their name sewn onto their shirt pockets. The owner plays fishing videos and football clips (even in the summer off-season). Plus, the nice serving ladies keep your ice tea glass full.
Cafeterias are a phenomenon of the South, and Texas Cafeteria feels like the South. It is the new South – a mix of whites, blacks, and Mexican Americans. But in other ways it is not so diverse. It is very male and very blue collar. Nope, you won’t find many foodies here. Or intellectuals. Or metrosexuals. Or (gasp) Yankees. And you might be a little overwhelmed by all the fishing stuff, pickup trucks, fried fish, and over-cooked sweet potatoes. But you also might just relax and enjoy the feeling that aliens have beamed you up from urban, inner-Loop Houston and transported you to a quaint, small-town Texas cafeteria.