Saturday, August 30, 2008

10 Houston classics from my childhood

Tomorrow I turn 40. So I have been remembering my favorite Houston foods and restaurants from my childhood.

These are my 10 favorite Houston classics -- 5 still here, and 5 that only live in memory:

Houston classics you can still get

1. James Coney Island Chili Cheese Dog. Thankfully, JCI is still here. For 85 years, JCI has been serving amazing chili dogs. The secret is the chili. Apart from the cumin, there must be something wickedly decaden in that chili to make it so good.

2. Antone's Po Boys. Antone's is a little older than me. Their po boys -- and their stores -- may seem ordinary now. But in the mid 1970s, stepping into the Antone's on Taft or South Main was like being transported to Europe. And the classic po-boy was one of the most exotic sandwiches in town. Even now, there is something very unique about the mixture of sweet and sour chow chow, sweet pickles, and salty meat and cheese.

3. Triple A Cafeteria's rolls. I had very good cafeteria rolls at Luby's, Picadilly, Black Eyed Pea, and Cleburne Cafeteria. But it is hard to beat the basket of rolls and moist, unsweetened corn bread that they have served forever at the Triple A. The Triple A has been around since 1942, and I assume they have been overcooking their vegetables ever since then.

4. Barbecue Inn's stuffed crab. Houstonians have always gone nuts over crab. The stuffed crab at Barbecue Inn is the first crab dish I learned to love. It is not much more than a casserole of bread and crab stuffed in a crab-shaped tin shell. But it it is comfort food that brings back many memories.

5. Ragin Cajun's oyster po boy, boiled crawfish. I did not know cajun food before I found the Ragin Cajun. Now it is owned by the Mandola's and has become a 4-location chain. In the late 70s, this was undoubtedly the best cajun food in town.

Houston classics now lost

1. Alfred's Deli bagels and lox and eggs. I have never had bagels that came close to their unique, egg-washed bagels -- sweet, chewy, absolutely delicious. It also was at Alfred's that discovered the joy of eggs scrambled with lox and onions. Like the bagels, I have never found a better version. Alfred's made me want to be Jewish -- except then I might not have had the JCI chili dogs.

2. Monterrey House's tamales. Ok, maybe this was not a Houston classic, but a nationwide chain. Still, Monterrey House was my first Mexican food, which I remember better than my first girlfriend. Over time, the quality declined seriously. But when Monterrey House first appeared in Houston, its dense beef tamales with chili gravy taught me to love Mexican food. Plus, I dug the brown sugar candy at the bottom of the basket.

3. Felix's enchiladas. I was in mourning for a week after Felix's closed. Felix was where I learned to love the classic, Tex-Mex, cheese enchilada with gravy. My friends and I would collect yard-mowing money and ride our bmx bike to Felix's just to get those enchiladas. Today, Mexican food in Houston is much, much better than the ground-meat and American-cheese based Tex Mex of the 70s. Still, when Felix's closed, we lost an icon.

4. Britain's Broiler Burgers. This burger store across from Memorial City was quite possibly my first burger. It had a merry-go-round that moved slowly so that kids would not throw up. It also served a remarkable flame-broiled burger with sharp cheddar cheese. It was a unique flavor that I rarely see replicated. Just like I rarely see any more spinning rides in kid's restaurants.

5. Asian Restaurant. This mostly-vegetarian, mostly-Chinese restaurant and Weslayan and Richmond served remarkably tasty, restorative food. Almost every dish was completely different from food I have had in any Chinese restauarnt. Plus, prices were cheap.

runners up:

mashed potatoes and brown gravy at Picadilly Cafeteria (closed)

crepes at the Magic Pan (closed)

chess pie at Luby's (open)

breakfast at One's-a Meal (1 location still open, but not quite the same)

enchiladas at the Mexicatessen on Crosstimbers (closed)

pepperoni pizza at Antonio's Flying Pizza (open)

eggrolls at North China near Memorial City (closed) [Correction: it's still open. Woo hoo.]

fish at Monument Inn (closed)

fried fish and fries at Alfie's Fish 'n Chips (closed)


Anonymous said...

Easily the most enjoyable food post I've read all week. Good choice of topic for your birthday, old man! ;)

I remember both Magic Pan and the original One's A Meal. The latter was an enormous source of comfort food for me during my high school years; my friends and I would meet there on weekends and chow down.

I do, however, miss the two-story JCI on Post Oak. I still can't believe there's a condo there now...

Oh, and..."Asian Restaurant" is the most hilarious name for a restaurant ever. Was "Oriental Restaurant" taken or simply politically incorrect by that time? :)

Anonymous said...

North China closed!? It's been ages. ...darn.



Anonymous said...

North China? Closed?

Not when I was there a few weeks back.

The one off of Kingsride, correct?

Hopefully this is an early birthday present to you.

Anonymous said...

There is a better than good chance Alfred's did not make their own bagels. I worked at Three Brothers Bakery for over 7 years and we supplied bagels to vast majority of delicatessens in Houston. Three Brothers bagels are steamed, rather than boiled, and if memory serves me right they do use an egg wash to get the crusty texture.

The only bagel in town better than Three Brothers is NY Bagel Shop (they go through the trouble of boiling theirs), but they have always been mostly a retail operation.

BTW, doing a quick search shows that Kahn's is owned by the same family that owned Alfred's.

Anonymous said...

Britain's burgers, we always fought for the black horse. Another Houston classic was Panjo's Pizza in Town and Country. Nice crisp crust that always had some char.

anonymouseater said...

Wow. North China is still open. I'm going to have to go there and write about it. That was where I learned to eat Chinese food.

Also, I forgot to list both Panjo's and Pipe Organ Pizza.

Misha -- I have had Three Bros. bagels for years. They are different from Alfred's. For Alfred's bagels, there was actually dried egg wash dripping off some of the bagels. Khan's is owed by Afred's son. I believe they don't make breakfast foods.

John C said...

How about Uncle Tai's on Post Oak; didn't he come to town about 1978 or so?

My first Chinese as a kid was at Ho Sai Gai (spelling?), Post Oak at San Felipe, and I am embarrassed to say that I started with Moo Goo Gai Pan....

By the way, it is Kahn's Deli (a deli named Khan's might be slightly different!).

-- John C

Anonymous said...


...sorry, had to be done. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow - haven't thought about the after-church family trips to Piccadilly in a long time. Carrying my own tray was such a luxury.

Anonymous said...

Ok, about Felix, what's going on in there?? I've driven by twice in the past month on a Saturday afternoon, and all the lights, inside and out are blazing and folks are roaming about inside. Any intelligence on this, or did it not really close?

Anonymous said...

The Magic Pan! I was just talking to my mom about that restaurant the other day. It was a special treat to go there.

I also remember going to this cool German deli in Greenspoint Mall. It smelled of pickles and mustard and I think the tables had red umbrellas. Does anyone else remember this place or its name?

Anonymous said...

Loved Panjo's Pizza, too. We used to go there all the time.

There was another restaurant chain - on 1960 - family place, sort of TGI Friday-ish but had great chili dogs. I think it opened around 1984 and closed 1986? Anyone remember the name? (I know this isn't very specific!)

Anonymous said...

Check out the Facebook group "Who Remembers FM 1960 When It Was A Two Lane Blacktop Road?" - lot's of discussion about the restaurants on FM 1960.

Steve from Seattle said...

anyone have a recipe for that little round piece of brown sugar candy from Monterrey House mexican restaurant?

Anonymous said...

Monument in is still open, but not the original building (burned down).
Alfie's fish and chips still has a location open in Texas City. Same greasy, delicious, vinegar sodden seafood as when I was growing up in Galveston.

Anonymous said...

Panjo's was fun. You could watch the cook toss the dough up in the air. There's actually still a Panjo's Pizza in Rockport, Texas. It's in a long shopping center right in the middle of town. Brittain's Broiler Burgers was an institution. Us kids would eat there after baseball games over in Town and Country. I "think" was called MRS. Brittains Broiler Burgers but I may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember Ruby Red's on the Katy Freeway? Funky burger joint with peanut shells all over the floor.

Pipe Organ Pizza in Memorial City was a birthday party must. Great memories.

Also for birthdays, Ferrels Ice Cream in the Galleria? The ragtime theme and big bass drum they'd bang for birthdays. It was every kids birthday favorite.

Barb said...

Ok, was going down memory lane with my class photo from Bendwood Elementary and I thought I'd google Panjos Pizza, and this was the first result I got.

I remember watching them toss the crusts, standing on the bench by the window, and the long tables there. They had good pizza!

And THANK YOU for mentioning Britain's Broiler Burgers. I also loved that place, that place being the merry-go-round in the restaurant, lol. I was talking about that place with my parents over Christmas, and it brought back fond memories.

Kaytie said...

Hello, surprised anyone remembers Alfie's Fish and Chips. I worked there for about a year. I think there was only the one on S. Shepherd. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed working with 2 guys from St Thomas. Good fish and shrimp, better then the 2 that are left.

Anonymous said...

Panjos rocked for pizza .. anyone remember Across The Street up on Voss .. best burgers and loved ordering on the phone from the booth!

Anonymous said...

I remember Panjos pizza at Town&Country village. That place rocked. Pipe Organ pizza at memorial city mall. El felix in the galleria was a good mexican restuarant i miss too. Charlies hamburgers at addicks and hwy 6.Best burgers ever. i think they had a charlies on kty freeway too for awhile. Casa martinez was another good mexican restuaraunt located at Town&Country

Cyn said...

I miss Mama's PoBoys. I was so sad to hear that the owners had both passed away. They were wonderful warm people!

Anonymous said...

Monument Inn is still open. I think you might be thinking of San Jacinto Inn, which was right next to the battleship, a lot older, and better.

Anonymous said...

There is a branch of the original Monterrey House in Beaumont.

See here:

Anonymous said...

The Cheese Man (Fondu) in Westbury Square and Roznozki's (sp?) burgers

Caius Cosades said...

I remember Panjo's in the old Town and Country-the best pizza, ever! And there was the Cheese Market, Prince's Hamburgers and Alfred's, and the Smorgasbord!

Anonymous said...

Britain's Broiler Burgers WAS called Mrs. Britain's Broiler Burgers. Went after baseball and football games behind Don McMillan Ford (now Mac Haik) over in Town & Country.

There was also an Alfie's Fish & Chips on Westheimer near El Patio (still there.) The building has been a variety of strip clubs since they closed.

Panjos and Pipe Organ were classics. The Panjos in Rockport is pretty good. I "think" there is (or was) one in Corpus Christi or Victoria too.

Ferrell's was a childhood classic too. A buddy said there was one in Almeda Mall as well.

The Roznovsky's over on Birdsall was great. There's actually another one! It's down TC Jester around 34th street. Still run by the family.

Anyone remember Lamp of China on Katy Freeway at Antoine? There was an original Howard Johnsons next to it. It had a diner and ice cream shop.

Fun blog! Thanks.

Steve and Earl said...

Alfie's Fish and Chips was a chain. There were locations in Texas City (still open, in fact), Nassau Bay, and Galveston in addition to the one you mentioned. There is also a location in Lompic, CA (

Anonymous said...

Wow! The memories! I remember after church we would always go to Piney Point Pharmacy and get a rootbeer float. Bud Bigelow's on Westheimer was high dollar steak house-terrific!Prince's Hamburgers downtown. Louie Welch was the mayor-the Astro's were the Colt 45's and then along came the brand spanking new Astro Dome- the eighth wonder of the world!lolol
We had the best!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah-the Chuck Wagon Hamburgers over by the Fun Football Stadium -I can't remember what street it was on ( Bissonet?) but I used to work there. Great Burgers.

Sarah said...

Tim, I grew up with Piney Point Pharmacy too, my brother worked there as a soda jerk! I also remember Bud Bigelows. Great memories��

Unknown said...

One also on Long Point near Gessner.

Unknown said...

1 still at Crosstimbers & 45

Wesley Miller said...

Panjos Pizza is still open in Rockport .. Harvey couldn't even do them in. Still the best pizza ever. Its the same place , ovens , fixtures , crust, everything. All my friends from high school worked at the Town & Country location.

Unknown said...

Wooohoooo, I was just looking at a page of old defunct restaurants
to see if Mrs. Britain's Broiler Burgers was on it ... nope. So I Googled
and found this.

From 11-14 or so I loved that place so much. Those burgers were
fantastic. I went on that merry go round. We lived in Houston in
Memorial Hollow, or Memorial Park or something ... and would enter
and exit on Frostwood and take a right to a little shopping center where
there was the first 7-11 I ever saw in my life. Then if you continued
you hit Guessner which was built while we lived there ... it had used
to be just woods.

I think 7-11 was just any old convenience store before it was a 7-11 and
they used to have a big tub of ice and water with cold drinks in them.
They were $0.05 and $0.10 cents at the time. Comic books ... my
favorite "literature" were $0.12 cents, and the large editions $0.25.

Then it was later than MBBB opened and all the kids in our neighborhood
would go there. It was a fantastics place to live and a great community.
We came to California in 1969, but I will always remember Texas.

That 7-11 was where they have the first Icee machine ever, cola or

Went to Bunker Hill Elementary School, and then Memorial Jr. High, and
then a year at St. Cecilia's Catholic School ( was not a Catholic )

It is sad how much things change because that was a good environment
for kids to grow up in. Will never forget Mrs. Britain's .... but I do wonder
if I went back to eat there now if I would like it as much ... I think so.


Unknown said...

I still hurt over the closing of Original PoBoys on Main in the shad oi es of the old Sears building. Those burgers and pancakes were awesome! When I was younger, I could have sworn there was a Spanky's Pizza on S. Gessner at the entrance of my neighborhood. I am craving that fennel seed Italian sausage pizza just thinking about that establishment. I also remember the horror of learning that Ramona's was closing only to be relieved that I wasnt going to miss out on my fried fish at the newly named Luby's.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, when did you go to Bunker Hill and Memorial Jr. High?

Beverly said...

Bruce, I went to Bunker Hill and then to Rummel Creek Elementary when it opened up. Moved on to Memorial Jr. High and then to Westchester High, in 1969, the first year it was open. I bet we went to school together at some point.

Bruce said...

Hi Beverly. Sounds like we're in the same age group. It would be funny if we went to school together so long ago. I was at Bunker Hill Elementary school for 3 years starting in 1964 in 3rd Grade.

I recall some teachers' names, I think.
Mean Mrs. Fortenberry
The very nice Mrs. Whitten
Mrs Brown who I remember as my favorite,
but then she went to work with the school
board and she was replaced by someone I don't
recall her name. It might come to me as soon
as post this of course.
Maybe Mrs. Stepchinski I think?

Sound familiar?