Thursday, April 24, 2008

OMG Armando's has a sign

In these pages, I have never said "OMG." The phrase is juvenile, overused, overly dramatic. Yet OMG is appropriate in certain circumstances -- those amazing, nobody-will-believe-this events where all you can do is invoke the divinity. Situations such as . . .

When frogs fall from the sky.

When pigs learn to fly.

When Armando's puts its name on a giant sign.

The allure of no sign

You have to love a place with no sign. Consider Last Concert Cafe, a little Mexican restaurant and live music venue in the warehouse district near downtown. Famously, they have no sign. You have to knock on the door so someone will peek through the curtains and let you enter. There is a legend that the building once housed a bordello. Somehow, I doubt it.

I never thought the food at Last Concert was special. But when I was younger and single, I used to bring dates there because it was so cool and mysterious to go to a restaurant with no sign, a restaurant where you have to knock to get inside. It took my wife -- at that time my girlfriend -- to convince me that my "insider" status at Last Concert was not nearly so cool as I thought.

Or consider Marfreless, the venerable River Oaks bar that lies behind a bare door under a stairwell in the River Oaks Shopping Center. Marfreless was once famous for wild parties. And that dimly lit room upstairs, which has beget many legends -- and other things. But the big selling point -- the first thing anyone mentions -- has always been the fact that it has no sign.

For three decades, another classic no-sign establishment in Houston has been Armando's. Armando's is a new wave (1980s) Mexican restaurant that has lived in several locations near River Oaks. Currently, it resides at the corner of Westheimer and Kirby. Armando's was always hipper-than-thou. The key to its hipness has long been its refusal to put up a sign. You could not read 3 sentences of any review of Armando's without reading about its signlessness.

A sign!

Yesterday, driving down Westheimer, I saw something that Houston has not seen for 30 years. After three decades, Armando's put up a sign. Not a modest plaque, but a giant, red sign emblazoned with the name "Armandos."

I haven't eaten at Armandos in more than a decade -- and more than two locations ago. All I remember is a lot of sour cream. So I can't speak to whether the sign represents some change in the kitchen. But I can say that in one fell swoop, Armandos has given up its signature, its brilliant marketing ploy, its very identity -- by putting up this sign.

First Zula goes "Girls Gone Wild." Now this.

Maybe it's a . . . sign.

11 comments:

Travis said...

I'm loving the slew of new updates. Keep 'em coming.

bdug said...

There's a reason he has to put up a sign...it's because the food is so bad that he has lost customers. We used to love the original Armandos, but the meal we had there in February was awful. It wasn't just one item on the menu, either, it was everything.
There was a bone in my very expensive chicken enchilada and the beans truly tasted like dish water. The list went on and we will not go back again.

bdug said...

There's a reason he has to put up a sign...it's because the food is so bad that he has lost his long-time customers and needs to find new ones. We used to love the original Armandos, but the meal we had there in February was awful. It wasn't just one item on the menu, either, it was everything.
There was a bone in my very expensive chicken enchilada and the beans truly tasted like dish water. The list went on and we will not go back again. There is only so much you can pay for nostalgia.

anonymouseater said...

bdug - Thanks for the report. I was worried that might be the explanation. But I did not want to speculate.

I might disagree with you about the significance of a bone in a chicken enchillada. When I was going to a law school up north, my torts professor started a class discussion about whether a Mexican restaurant has a duty to remove bones from chicken enchilladas. Everyone thought so, except me -- the only kid in the class from Texas. I argued that, unless you completely chop up the chicken, and ruin the enchillada, there is an inherent risk of bones. A lot of people disagree, but I'm not sure whether a bone means the kitchen did something wrong.

rr said...

its a great location! i would kill for it! i would just use a virtual sign...

Cory said...

WTF???

:D

anonymouseater said...

Indeed. :)

rr said...

im planning a night to go to voice (new hotel icon restaurant) next week. wanna go?

anonymouseater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tram said...

re. the bone in the enchilada.

reminds me of one of my favorite contracts cases we read where a woman found a bone in her fish chowder. the court held that any good, fresh chowder might have bones in it. a "gustatory adventure!"

anonymouseater said...

Tram -- come to think of it, the enchillada case also was from contracts class, not torts. Plus, the case was not about duty, but implied warranty or something like that. Thanks for helping me remember.