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May 31, 2010 02:02 PM

advice for a stay near Rice University this week (fajitas and espresso may be especiallly important)

I've been looking through other threads and have some ideas, but thought I'd go ahead and post. My partner will be at a conference at Rice this week (not sure exactly what hotel, sorry). I was hoping I could pass on some info about what might be good around there for an easy, tasty, and cheap/inexpensive dinner or drink -- especially where he'd be comfortable as a middle-aged guy eating/drinking solo, which may happen one or two nights. (If there were some music involved, that could be a plus.)

To make it difficult, he won't have a car.

Two more specific requests:
He really appreciates a good macchiato or cappuccino -- any suggestions where he could pick one up on the way to or from campus? Good cafe with wifi added bonus.

And, he used to live in Texas (well, Austin) and sorely misses good fajitas, so, though he won't have a lot of time for going out, I'm really pushing him to make time to go to a great tex-mex place where he can indulge. To get great, I realize he'll be taking a cab, but neither of us have a sense of the geography of your city, so... Anyway, so far the names I've given him are Ninfa's (on Navigation, wherever that is ;)) and El Tiempo. Does that sound about right?

I'm also going to tell him about House of Pies, since that sounds like it's near campus and he does love pie.

I'll keep searching around for ideas, but really do appreciate any help from you all. I'm pretty bummed I won't be along on this trip, myself. Thanks!!

ETA: Ah, so the autolink pulled up Ninfa's on Kirby -- am I correct that I should NOT send him to that one? Only the one on Navigation?

3601 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

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  1. El Tiempo on Washington - no doubt about it. I've heard mixed reviews about the other locations but always good about the one on Washington. Crab quesadillas or the beef filet fajitas. Yummmmmm!! :-)

    The remaining Ninfa's are unpredictable. And I don't remember them being as good as El Tiempo except maybe in the 70's. As time went on, they seemed to become more and more unpredictable with food and service. El Tiempo is owned by the Laurenzo's anyway. Hopefully they will not take the way of Ninfa's and continue with great food and great service.

    edit - I originally put El Tiempo on Navagation, it's on Washington. After reading Dexmat's post, I realized my mix-up. Please excuse my confusion, I'm old :-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: texasredtop

      I had no problems with the original Ninfa's until they changed the menu. I've had a couple of waiters I've known for years so I always got good service, plus the food, especially the carnitas, were just as good. The tacos a al Ninfa, weren't as good, as they changed meat, but everything else was just fine, except the margaritas, which I reference below. However, I will not be back unless they go back to the original menu.

    2. Here's a reference site to the Village or Rice Village, just to the west of the University (and no connection). There are maps accessible on the site. Be advised the listings seem to be outdated so a phone call to confirm a place is still open would be in order before a walk over there.

      There is a student run Coffee house on the Rice campus, which is covered by Wifi; I've also seen positive comments about Brochstein Pavilion on campus. There will be Starbucks in the Medical Center, just to the east of the campus, and the Village. I'd guess his hotel will be one of the ones close to the Med Center if he's going to be walking.

      In the Village, besides the coffee places listed on the site, Ruggles Bakery has cappuchino and caramel macchiato. I've found their sandwiches to be only so-so; desserts look great but I've only tried one large cookie, never tried their coffees.

      Also Croissant Brioche, a block further into the Village, should have those drinks.

      I used to eat in the Village a lot but haven't been over there much in years so am not familiar with many of those place listed. I like Istanbul Turkish grill; used to love Kahn's but it's changed hands. Antone's is our local po-boy chain and that's one of the better, still family-owned locations. I would avoid Texadelphia. Hungry, Int'l has been around for decades but I've never gotten around to going. I know the DiMassi's is closed.

      You should be able to find websites for all of these except Croissant Brioche and Brochstein's, I think.

      Fajitas -- the closest will probably be Goode Co. Taqueria, about 1/2 mile north of the Village. I can't speak to the fajitas there but I don't care for the burgers or other Tex-Mex I've tried. You won't find much love for Goode Co. BBQ, just down the street, here on CH but he might be interested in the Armadillo Palace where there will be some live music (not chamber music or jazz!) and I wouldn't be surprised if they offer fajitas..

      Next closest would be Lupe Tortillas on the SW Fwy (59) feeder road outbound, about another half mile north, then Pappasito's Cantina, across from the Ninfa's on RIchmond, and the El Tiempo further out Richmond. I can't remember if that location of El Tiempo has been dissed here but I do know the one on Washington gets a lot of positive comments here - but it's a considerably longer cab ride away.

      Yes, stay away from any Ninfa's except the original on Navigation. The El Tiempos are run by Ninfa's family and supposedly feature her original recipes (she is responsible for starting the fajita craze back in the 70s, being the first to serve them outside of the Rio Grande Valley). All of these others have their strong proponents and detractors.

      Oh yes, there's a draft pub in the Village right next to Istanbul, the Ginger Man, and a Two Rows Brewery?, both of which should be on that site.

      Just a note, the House of Pies on Kirby has been known for years also as House of Guys - a late night, all night hang-out for gays. Other than pies and maybe breakfasts, it's just so-so I think, and not within walking distance.

      3601 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

      2 Replies
      1. re: dexmat

        The last time I went to El Tiempo on Richmond it was very good, and it's a lot closer to Rice than the one on Washington. They had very good fajitas and killer margaritas.
        AVOID LUPE TORTILLA'S. Pappasito's is OK, certainly better than most of what you'd probably be able to get outside of Texas.
        And re: the Ninfa's on Navigation, my husband and his coworkers, who used to go there fairly often, say it has gone way downhill, and they have stopped going there.
        Ginger Man is local, and much-loved by beer aficionados.

        1. re: zorra

          I like the El Tiempo on Washington, ask for Victor. Order the margarita skinny, that's without sugar, and it makes a much better drink. As for Ninfa's on Navigation, I've been going there since the days of just the front room, but last time I went the "chef" has changed the menu, and even when we ordered of menu original items, they weren't the same. One of the waiters I've known for years confessed what I already knew, thew margaritas have had the tequila cut way back. We won't be going back. My favorites at El Tiempo are the crab nachos, beans on the side, and the beef filet fajitas. Do not overorder, the portions are huge. A small appetizer and a small beef fajita will be more than plenty.

      2. Many many thanks texasredtop, dexmat, and zorra for the thoughtful and very helpful advice. I usually try to do a bit more research before posting, so especially appreciate your patience with my confusion over geography etc.

        He's really excited about El Tiempo (was hooked with first mention of crab quesadillas -- and I had read somewhere else about mixed-grill fajitas, which sounds like what he may need after years out of Texas...) -- and my thanks for the fajita history lesson, also, love learning that sort of thing. I know he'll be pretty focused on the conference (which also provides most of the meals, I think), so not sure if he'll try to get all the way to Washington or just the one on Richmond (or something else altogether,) -- nor how much time he'll have in Rice Village, but sometimes you need to escape from conference mode, so all this info (Ginger Man, Armadillo Palace, Antone's, coffee places, etc.) is really good to have.

        In any case, I'll keep checking back here and passing on any additional info or ideas you all come up with -- and I will definitely report back -- and also hope this thread might be helpful to others who find themselves visiting the Rice neighborhood.

        And -- this might be off-topic, but if you have any additional advice about using taxis for getting around Houston restaurants -- I'm assuming Houston is not the kind of place where you can easily hail a cab on the street, but would need to call for one? Just wondering which of those El Tiempo neighborhoods might be friendlier for cabbing, if you see what I mean.

        Thanks again!

        2 Replies
        1. re: mselectra

          I think it's illegal to hail a cab on the streets anywhere outside of the downtown area and even there you have to be at a designated place. Even if you could get a cabbie to stop there just aren't that many cabs that cruise like there would be in, say, Manhattan. There will be cab stands in the Med Center area, perhaps at his hotel, or the concierge or front desk can call one. The hostess/maitre' d at El Tiempo should be able to call one readily, too. There will be cab stands somewhere around that area because of all the hotels along 59, just a few blocks away.

          Both El Tiempo neighborhoods are safe; the Washington corridor is a very hot restaurant/clubbing scene right now. The Richmond location is very close to River Oaks and so probably will be a more sedate crowd?

          The major cab cos. are Yellow, United and Taxis Fiesta. The latter is owned/dispatched by Yellow and promises bi-lingual drivers. In my limited experience, Yellow and Fiesta tend to have the cabs in the best shape but it really depends on the individual operator.

          I found this on the Yellow site which even includes a fare estimator:

          In my limited experience I've had drivers give me a card with their cell # and tell me to call when I'm ready for a return trip or just anytime I need a cab.

          1. re: mselectra

            As dexmat said, any of the restaurants mentioned should be able to call a cab for you. I sometimes take cabs to restaurants locally and have had good luck catching one arriving with other diners just as I'm leaving. All the locations mentioned are "inside the loop" which is the central part of Houston, so you shouldn't have to wait long even if the restaurant has to call a cab for you.

          2. One thing about El Tiempo's crabmeat, it is fresh lump, and totally luscious, whether you get the quesadillas like Texasredtop likes, or my favorite, the crab nachos, beans on the side.

            2 Replies
            1. re: James Cristinian

              I have split the crab quesadillas with someone else and we still couldn't finish them. We didn't have an appetizer or anything else either. It's a lot and they are great. Plus, they heat up fabulous in the microwave. I am not a person that heats up leftovers in the microwave but the first time I had these, I had so much leftover that I brought them home and did so and they were so wonderful. The one order lasted me three meals. I do eat lite in the evening so a normal person could have probably finished them in two meals. We had the crab nachos once and to me, the crab got a little lost on the crispy chips. Dang, now I'm craving them.

              1. re: texasredtop

                I pretty much pick most of the crab off and eat it by itself, leaving a crabbish tasting cheese nacho, with the excellent beans on the side. We do almost all re-heating in a toaster oven, and we even take one on vacation to our hotel. It allows you to crisp up food so it's not soggy. If you don't have one, I'd get one, they can be had for less than the price of a meal at El Tiempo.

            2. Reporting back (and thanks to James as well for getting in on the conversation since I last wrote) -- First of all, you all were super helpful as well as kind, many thanks for that.

              It was a quick trip, but most important is that he did get to El Tiempo and totally loved it. He went to the one on Washington at the last minute, that is, lunch on Saturday shortly before leaving for the airport. Off-topic, but he really liked his cab driver, who did indeed pick him back up afterwards. He sat at the bar, ordered a skinny margarita as recommended (actually, I believe he had two) and fajitas, I think it was the mixed grill, but as I understand it didn't include seafood. (I know you all got to discussing the crab quesadillas and nachos, but it was fajitas he had to have.) He took a phone-photo he wanted me to post for you all as a thank-you, but it's basically a photo of an empty plate, as he actually finished the whole thing -- plus he was really excited about the grill thing that the fajitas come on, and so took the picture to show that to me. He said everyone around him seemed to be leaving half or more on their plates, but he figured they were locals who could eat that well all the time. He had actually skipped breakfast in preparation and, I swear, didn't eat anything else until the next day, when he was back home and claimed he still wasn't really hungry. At first he told me that the fajitas themselves were the best he could imagine but that the sides that come with them weren't as good as at some place he used to go in Austin, but then when I asked for specifics he said the guacomole was actually really good, that there was a green sauce that was fantastic, great tortillas, etc.

              As for the rest of his trip -- his hotel was indeed near the med center as dexmat figured. He ordered room service the first night, then a bunch of people from the conference went to a Spanish restaurant the next night, which I'm guessing was in the Village (I think they walked), and which he said was good -- I'll see if he remembers the name so I can let you know. There was a conference banquet the last night, but I don't know who did the food for it, but I believe it involved a lot of seafood (whether from the gulf or not I don't know). He also went to Ruggles for coffee -- he called me from there to let me know he was following chowhounds' advice ;) -- which he seemed to like pretty well, although he didn't exactly rave about the cappuccino, but made more of a point of saying the lemonade was good.

              Thanks again -- you and El Tiempo made it a really special trip for him. And I think this conference may be back at Rice in a couple years, so maybe then I can come along....

              2 Replies
              1. re: mselectra

                Outstanding! It's always nice to hear back from vistiors, as too often suggestions are given, and folks are never heard from again, whether they took our advice or not. We just like to hear about your experience. As for just having fajitas, you have to go for what you want, and they have delicious ones, so you can't go wrong. When my wife and I go, we can have fajita and crab. As for the people leaving lots of food, that does not happen with us, we take everything to the last bean, and we relish the leftovers.

                1. re: mselectra

                  Yes, thanks for the feedback. The Spanish restaurant must have been Mi Luna; I've never been so we need a review and pictures!

                  Mi Luna
                  2441 University Blvd, Houston, TX 77005