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Jun 30, 2010 09:06 PM

LA Chowhounder headed to Houston

We are going to Houston for my wife's high school mini reunion (we are originally from India - so this is just 4-5 of them getting together with spouses). Unfortunately, or fortunately, we have an extra day (Monday July 5) when we have a whole day with not much planned before our flight leaves in the night.

I understand Houston is much more of a "to eat" city than a "to see" city. With that in mind, we are looking for something authentic Texan that we don't get here in Southern California. I have considered Robert del Grande's restaurant - but it might be hard to get reservations at the last minute.

Two other possibilities that come to mind are Tex-Mex and Texas Barbeque. I am seeking help from chowhounders on what might be good in these categories, and any other cuisine that I might not think to associate with Houston. We are staying in La Porte, but will have a car with GPS, so unless it is way outside, all locations and low to medium price ranges are within range.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Normally I would steer folks to El Tiempo just west of Houston, but since you are in La Porte I suggest El Jardin on Harrisburg, east of downtown, in one of the original Houston neighborhoods on the ship channel. I'm attaching a review from a well respected Texas critic and author. I agree with the shrimp and grilled meat selections, and while he had never heard of the place, I've been going for over twenty years. They also have great chips and salsa, which is a must for any Tex Mex restaurant, bad ones are a deal breaker for me.

    El Jardin Restaurant
    7849 Harrisburg Blvd, Houston, TX 77012

    1 Reply
    1. re: James Cristinian


      After reading the article you quote, it seems it is better to avoid El Jardin - most of the items were poor, except for the three he mentions worth visiting for - margaritas, fajitas, and huge shrimp. I get that a dime a dozen here in Los Angeles (Pasadena, CA more accurately).

      El Jardin
      413 24th St, Galveston, TX 77550

    2. Closest bbq to La Porte that I know of would be T-Bone Tom's just down the road in Kemah. I've never had the cue there so can't comment. Also known for chicken fried steak which may be something you don't see a lot of in SoCal. Other than that I'd recommend driving all the way to Pierson & Co. on West TC Jester for cue; a long drive but not hard to find and not far off a major freeway. Stay away from everything else in Kemah, it's all Landry's Inc. chains.

      Besides El Tiempo, which gets a lot of love on this board, a good Tex-Mex, less pricey and fancy, is Lopez in Stafford on the SW side.

      Houston also has good Viet, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Thai, but you can undoubtedly get all of that back home. How about Cajun/Creole? Brennan's of Houston, sister to the famous NOLA place has just finally re-opened after Ike but will be very pricey. There are lots of others, though.

      Interior Mexican might be a little different here than in SoCal just because of different immigration patterns.

      The Pierson and Co. website seems to be gone.

      1 Reply
      1. re: dexmat

        T-Bone Tom's is my favorite place for Chicken Fried Steak. I have never had there BBQ or anything else there so I can't comment about that.
        I really enjoy the super chop sandwhich at Grand Prize BBQ. There is a location in Pasadena which is close to La Porte. This location is a hole in the wall. They could be closed for the Holiday.

      2. Just got back, with not much of a dining experience! :-(

        First night (Saturday) we had a fantastic dinner at our host's house in Seabrook (El Lago).

        On Sunday night, the organizers had arranged for dinner at Straits, Houston - so we could also watch the fireworks afterward in the plaza just outside.
        The party was very large - 20 adults and 2 children - and we had one of the larger rooms. But the wait staff was very shorthanded and inefficient - so the experience was chaotic and harried. I had ordered two of their lemongrass drinks that were not the mojitos - instead we got the lemongrass mojitos - it had NO hint of lemongrass, was a plain old mojito, and not a good one at that - the limes had been muddled too much to the point of leaving a strong bitter aftertaste. It also did not get delivered for a long time - till I went and complained to the head waitperson!
        The waiter had made a seating chart for taking the orders. BUT, when they started delivering the orders, they did not refer to the seating chart, and with almost 50% of the dishes, they would just ask who had what - and in a large group seated at two long tables, that always resulted in confusion. I asked them to go back to the seating chart - but since 3 times after that they did not do so, I suspect this did not get communicated. Very frustrating experience with the poor quality of service competence.
        My wife had the basil chicken, which was advertised as tender chicken, shitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, and Thai basil. It had a very muddy texture, and while edible, absolutely nothing to commend it. The basil flavor was weak, if any - there was no flavor profile of the shitakes, making me wonder now if they had even put any shitake in it.
        I ordered the seafood green curry - shrimp, fish, clams, mussels, jalapeno, green curry. It was just as pedestrian - there was no fish, though it had the other items as advertised, and also some baby octopus. The broth was straight forward green curry in coconut milk.
        We had also a side of coconut rice, but could not taste any hint of coconut flavor at all.
        The chaos of the service, and finally paying the bill made this the most unpleasant dining experience in quite a while.

        On Monday, we had planned to while some time before our late night flight out of Houston - and as a result of the timing, we did not end up eating at any of the restaurants we had solicited information for. We ended up spending some time at the Galleria (where my wife did productively spend money!), and then saw Ironman2 (slightly below expectations), and then headed to the airport. To our surprise, we discovered most food court shops were closed in Terminal A at 7pm - and the only thing open was McDonalds! So MickyD it was!
        We reached Phoenix (en route to Los Angeles) at 10pm (midnight Houston time) to find all the restaurants were not only open for business, but crowded with people! I am surprised that this part of IAH had shut down so early on!

        Sadly, this was not a memorable Houston dining experience!

        Straits - Houston
        800 W. Sam Houston Parkway, Houston, TX 77024

        11 Replies
        1. re: suvro

          Let me get this straight. You are complaining about Houston dining when the only place you dined at was a California chain and then expected your trip to be salvaged by eating at the airport. Teminal A is a dump, at best you might have had a Chili's, perhaps a little research would have been in order. You compounded your mistake by watching a bad movie instead of choosing to eat at any of the zillion restaurants in the Galleria area. I think your Houston dining experience grade should be an incomplete.

          1. re: James Cristinian

            I did not complain about Houston! I just related my dining experience.
            And given that you recommended El Jardin, when it was clear your reading of the original writeup you linked to was incomplete in terms of its understanding, you are a fine one to make this comment!

            El Jardin Restaurant
            7849 Harrisburg Blvd, Houston, TX 77012

            1. re: suvro

              Before I reply, I'm going to wait and see if any other Houston hounds chime in. Due to the virtual moribund state that is the Houston board, as only three responded to your request, myself included. I wish more woud have responded to your request. What was incomplete about the El Jardin article? It pretty much stated that they do a few things really well, as was my opinion. I think the CalMex, TexMex difference would be worth exploring. Not all fajitas and shrimp are created equal.

          2. re: suvro

            Sorry you didn't get to try any of our recommendations. I don't believe Straits has ever been mentioned on this board and I'd suggest that review should have been posted on the Chains board where it would more likely catch the attention of those who're interested in that sort of place. I did not even know it was a chain or what kind of food it served; I thought it might have some connection to the country singer George Strait. Sounds like the group you were with didn't include many Chowhounds.

            Re: IAH: the original design was outgrown decades ago. Last time I was in A or B was maybe 20 years ago and it was practically deserted then. I imagine even at peak arrival and departure times there isn't much to choose from. Houston is not much of a tourist destination to I'm not surprised it was deserted on a Sunday night. However there probably was more going on in some of the bigger terminals. We just recently had a very nice report about a find there. Of course you hadn't asked about airport food, either, or we might have warned you.

            1. re: dexmat

              Understood. I was NOT complaining at all about Houston food. The chowhound board seems a bit moribund, but those who responded including you, provided what I asked for. I might not have taken all the suggestions, but some information was available.

              The Straits refers to Straits of Singapore - no connection to George Straits. They serve Singaporean influenced food, and are a chain. I had no hand in picking this place - a local organizer chose it, keeping in mind the distances people were traveling, the food preferences (several vegetarians), and the desire to also see fireworks display. I did not know this was the place chosen till I arrived in Houston, otherwise I would have asked for chowhound recommendations for this place. Since I did not see much activity, I wrote a quick review of my personal experience - and it should not be construed as any reflection of Houston's offerings.

              I had wanted to check out Tex-Mex offerings, but the way the timing worked out, we did not get the chance to do so. That was unfortunate.

              I was a bit surprised with the Terminal A food court closures - so I just mentioned it - again it does not reflect at all on Houston chow scene.

              I am a bit surprised that for a city that is supposed to be more to "eat" than to "see", the chowhound board is so low energy. Yelp Houston seems much more active, which is generally the case for most cities - but even then chowhound Houston (is this a newly created board?) seems very moribund.

              1. re: suvro

                Sorry, I interpereted your post wrong. This board was more active until they split the Dallas and Houston boards, giving each city their own board. I rarely see the Dallas folk on the Texas board as well. Everybody was clamoring for their own, after all Austin had their's. I think it would have been better to have left it as it was. The Dallas people had a lot to offer as many travel on business between the two cities and many in both cities have lived in the other. Their is also a separate local board that has broken off, but it is event driven, doing throwdowns and group dining events.

                1. re: James Cristinian

                  No problems. Blogs and boards are incomplete means of communication, so it is easy to mis-understand.
                  I hope the Houston board becomes more active - my personal experience of Yelp LA vs. Chowhound LA shows that chowhound is much greater depth of information than Yelp or Zagat.

                  1. re: suvro

                    Houston chowhounds pretty much moved most of the active people over to a group oard. Its not eazy to find.

                2. re: suvro

                  Activity doesn't mean quality either. Feel free to look at Yelp if you want, but you aren't gonna glean anything meaningful from that site compared to the discussion you'd see here - and it looks like you can already see the difference in your home city. I have interacted/made friends with a few LA hounds and can attest to the depth of their knowledge.

                  I still try to contribute to both forums as best as I can. I am one of those travelers that go back/forth between DFW/Houston that James mentioned. The split simply happened way too late, after everyone had clamored for it to happen. When the split kicked in, the activity (in both boards) had gone elsewhere.

                  All in all hope this didn't completely sour your image of Houston dining! I know I sure hate it when I go somewhere, get a great set of recs from this site, and and end up unable to try any of them.

                  1. re: air

                    While in general it is true, if the critical mass of activity does not happen, then most likely Yelp will take over, quality or not.
                    Most requests from outsiders to LA board gets quite a few responses, but aside from specific responses, there is always plenty of discussion that one can sift through. Not so for the Houston board, IMO.

              2. re: suvro

                I'm sorry your experience here was not as you hoped. I live walking distance to Straits and have never eaten there due to the tepid reviews. Next time you come, try getting suggestions earlier. La Porte is not Houston, so your request may have been overlooked by some. Also, I fly out of IAH frequently and can't even remember the last time I flew from A terminal. The best food is in E, if you find yourself with only airport options.