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Sep 24, 2011 05:43 AM

Houston's Oldest Restaurants

I'm borrowing this topic from the Austin board because I found it interesting. This year, I've made an effort to visit Houston's oldest restaurants to see for myself what gives them such longevity. So I've been to Triple A (1942), Barbecue Inn (1946), Gaido's in Galveston (1911), and this week hit Doyle's for Italian food (1954). I've also been to Dot Coffee Shop (1960's), Swinging Door BBQ (1973), Brennan's (1967), Churrasco's (Bissonet store opened 1980's). Help me out, what have I missed?

Triple A Restaurant
2526 Airline Dr, Houston, TX 77009

Barbecue Inn
116 W Crosstimbers St, Houston, TX 77018

Swinging Door
3714 Fm 359 Rd, Richmond, TX 77406

Dot Coffee Shop
7006 Avenue I, Houston, TX 77011

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  1. James Coney Island has been here since the late eighteenth century. Ninfa's on Navigation, opened in 1973. I started going in 1974 and quit going about two years ago. They proudly tout themselves as being the "original," but there's nothing original about it. We had carnitas, and while we were told that we could have them the old way, the chef added nutmeg or something to screw them up. Yes, they now have a chef, I guess it's progress for some, but I prefer the original.

    Others that I've been going to a while but not sure of how old some are:

    Frenchy's on Scott

    El Jardin Harrisburg,1975

    Big Humphreys, formerly Park Place, now Pearland

    Monument Inn, 1974, moved down the street to the old Lynchburg Crossing on the ship channel

    Antonio's Flying Pizza on Hillcroft, 1971, still my favorite pizza

    Goode Co. on Kirby late 70's, back when it was good

    Flying Saucer Pies near BBQ Inn, always worth a stop afterward

    Merida Mexican on Navigation, nachos with chorizo. Yes!

    1 Reply
    1. re: James Cristinian

      I just looked up Merida, 1972. They pre-date Ninfa's by a year. I hope they outlast them. I had a fly in the wall situation there once while sitting alone next to a group of Hispanic East End power brokers. They were going around the table debating support or lack of for Orlando Sanchez for mayor. Turned out he was a bit too conservative for the folks gathered. I also just remembered the wife and me sitting next to George Lopez at Ninfa's back when it was good. We left him alone, but afterward the waiters posed for pictures and autographed menus, while a young firefighter brought an HFD shirt from the firestation across the street.

    2. Don Carlos, Christy's, Pappy's, Bonnie's, Tookie's

      Don Carlo's Restaurant
      8385 Broadway St, Houston, TX 77061

      Tookie's Restaurant
      1202 Bayport Blvd, Seabrook, TX 77586

      1. I just dug through my menu box and came up with these:

        Mason Jar, 1973

        Pappy's next to Mason Jar 80's, in the erstwhile Ruby Red's Steakbuger building

        Kim Son downtown, 80's?

        Red Snapper Inn Surfside, 80's. We go after, or before, a trip to Galveston and avoid the hated Gulf Freeway. Fresh seafood po boys with home fries. I get the fish and ask for extra shrimp and oysters on the side.

        El Gallo Gessner, their menu says over 30 years

        Carrabba's on Kirby. Anyone know how long they've been there?

        Mario's Seawall Galveston, 1967. After wade fishing on Bolivar for hours I order a pizza to go while on the hated ferry, and usually have enough eaten by the time I hit the Causeway for the trip home on the hated Gulf Freeway, (see above.)

        Hong Kong Chef Bellaire, been there forever. Shrimp Kew, egg rolls and won ton soup plus extra to go of all to enjoy for days.

        3 Replies
        1. re: James Cristinian

          I was going to put Hong Kong Chef but only started eating there about 5 years ago so didn't know how long it had been there. Love that place!!

          Hong Kong Chef
          5112 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, TX 77401

          1. re: texasredtop

            I've been going since the late 70's and I don't think the place has changed at all. In fact, even back then it looked like it had been open forever.

          2. re: James Cristinian

            Carrabbas should be 85. I ate there the second day. Location was a ahem " news" stand before.

          3. A few more and I'll shut up:

            Old school TexMex: Loma Linda on Telephone. A b4ueat reviewer said almost 50 years.

            Casa Dominguez, 70's? Moved from Bissonnett to Bellaire.

            Los Tios, 1970

            Bay Area:

            T Bone Toms 1974

            Joe Lee's, 70's?

            1. If you are looking for some of Houston's oldest eats (not always in it's original location) you have to also look at:

              James Coney Island actually was in the early '20's
              Prince's Hamburgers early '30's
              Christie's (orig was in Galveston but has been in Houston since the late '30's.
              Cleburne Cafeteria sometime in the early '40's
              Molina's early '40's

              Just to name a few

              Cleburne Cafeteria
              3606 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005

              6 Replies
              1. re: rondl

                I'm not so much interested in the franchised concepts, like JCI, Princes and Molinas. I did get to Christie's but not Clebune. @James, I didn't know Mario's Seawall was that old, it's a favorite of ours. Also did Mason Jar and Pappy's this year. I'm doing better than I realized!

                Mason Jar
                9005 Katy Fwy, Houston, TX 77024

                1. re: Lambowner

                  Holy mackerel Lambsy. I just double checked my Mario's menu, and the 61st street location has been there since 1967, not the Seawall one. At one time they were owned by different people, now I'm not so sure. The Smecas owned the one on 61st, but last time I was in the Seawall location I think I saw the name Smeca there. I'm so confused. Anyway, the 61st street location does a great buffet, good pizza with a great variety of mains and sides, not your standard buffet fare. I usualy don't like buffets, but this one is really good.

                  1. re: James Cristinian

                    A waiter at the seawall location told us the 61st street location is owned by the father of the seawall owner. Haven't yet been to the 61st street location. It's shrimp-fest weekend in Galveston, may try to get there tomorrow.

                  2. re: Lambowner

                    Molinas is entirely family owned, 2 locations, no franchises.
                    All JCI stores are company owned; same with Princes, there are no franchisees.

                    1. re: dexmat

                      From MY TABLE's SIDE DISH newsletter I received today:

                      "Houston’s oldest family-owned and -operated Tex-Mex restaurant, Molina’s Cantina, just opened its new location at 3801 Bellaire Blvd. at Braes Heights Shopping Center. This location replaces Molina’s long-time West University eatery that was at Buffalo Speedway and Bissonnet. It was closed four years ago when the site was cleared for the Buffalo H*E*B. "

                      What a coinkydink.

                      1. re: dexmat

                        I stand corrected! Thanks! And Doobs, a friend was at the opening of the Braes Hights location recently, and he dined along with George and Babs Bush that night. EVERYONE loves Tex-Mex!