Top

dining

Stories

 

CFS and a Cigarette

City Cafe, an old-school diner in South Houston, still turns out a stellar breakfast.

After we polished off our eggs, a malted waffle remained on the table, ordered before we'd realized just how much food was headed our way. Neither of us was hungry for it after the amount of food we'd just consumed, but I gamely took a bite. And then I took five more. If you've never had a waffle made from Carbon's Golden Malted waffle flour, imagine it as the waffle equivalent of Ovaltine: rich, toasty, barely sweet and tasting of pure nostalgia. I'd forgotten how good a malted waffle could taste. After all, it's a rare thing to run across them in the city anymore.
_____________________

In 1980, City Cafe added on an extension, which now functions as the restaurant's large nonsmoking section. The idea of a smoking section alone sets me back a few good years, just as those waffles do. And although it's inviting — sunny windows and brightly festooned walls decorated with memorabilia from nearby South Houston High School and various Little League teams — it's really the smoking side that keeps drawing me back in.

It's not for the cigarette smoke, as I'm not a smoker myself. It's for the feel of it, the way that the bolted-down stools at the diner counter have years of accumulated scuff marks along the bottom and the way that the linoleum beneath each one is worn away. It's also the side of the house that holds the steam table, where you can get a tremendous lunch for only $6.95 each day.

The chicken-fried steak  isn't prefabbed, and the eggs are always perfect.
Troy Fields
The chicken-fried steak isn't prefabbed, and the eggs are always perfect.

Location Info

Map

City Cafe

513 College Ave.
South Houston, TX 77587-4201

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Outside Houston

Details

Hours: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays.
Two eggs with bacon: $4.75
Chicken-fried steak and eggs: $7.25
Malted waffle: $4
Steam-table lunch (with two sides): $6.95
Reuben sandwich: $7.50
Chocolate cake: $2.95


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: City Cafe: South Houston's Charmingly Old-School Diner
BLOG POST: Chicken Fried Steak and a Cigarette at City Cafe


The prices here are correspondingly nostalgic, it seems, because I'd absolutely expect to pay more than $7 and some change for the portions of home-cooked food off City Cafe's steam table. The chicken and dumplings alone are worth the $7 price tag, served up in a huge bowl that's brimming with strips of rough-cut dough, rugged hunks of both white and dark meat chicken and a creamy broth spiced with rosemary and thyme.

But along with it for lunch I'd also gotten a bowl of those sour-tasting greens and one of some aggressively orange macaroni and cheese. The greens did end up being too bitter for my taste, even doctored up with some salt. But although I was prepared to dislike the mac 'n' cheese as well — for its garish color alone — I was surprised by its mild, creamy texture and sharp taste, which was very much like plain old Cheddar cheese.

"Do you think those came from a box?" asked my lunch companion.

"Probably, but I don't care," came my quick response.

His Reuben sandwich was spilling out a Thousand Island dressing that was equally garish in color, another blindingly orange hue. But as with the macaroni and cheese, we were both surprised at how good it tasted. Much of this was a tribute to its filling of corned beef, which was cut in the same thick and rugged style as those dumplings. And unlike many Reuben sandwiches seen at Houston delis, this one was manageable enough to eat without removing any of the salty meat inside. Even the long, twiggy French fries — clearly cut straight from the potato, with no sugary or starchy coating to make them unnaturally crisp — were better than expected, leaving me to wonder why this place flies so far under many Houstonians' radars.

But if City Cafe flies under the radar in Houston proper, it certainly doesn't in South Houston. And that's really all that matters, as it's clear that its regulars hold the place as dear to them as their own kitchens and dining rooms at home. I told my friend over lunch that day of the sight I'd seen during breakfast the Saturday before: two middle-aged women, both Reliant Park employees, who got up and led a cheer for the upcoming Texans playoff game in front of the entire restaurant while dressed in full Texans regalia.

The entire restaurant — a sea of red and blue in Texans jerseys of their own — cheered along with them.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
16 comments
George W. Dudley
George W. Dudley

Although I don't smoke, I love the City Cafe's smoking policy; it keeps out the arrogant little crybabies so that the rest of us can enjoy the good food.

Mikecope
Mikecope

I am glad you mentioned that they permit smoking in the first paragraph. It saved me from reading the entire review of a place I would never step foot in.

ec
ec

This place is out of the foodies' radars thanksfully. Us Houstonians have been coming here for years. TIP: Try their menudo. It blows away places like Teotihuacan, La Mexicana, etc.

Corey
Corey

I'll take my cancer with a side of gravy, smoking and food have no business even being in the same sentence. What an awful complacent and stupid habit. Smokers you can go ***k yourself for all I care, you're already killing yourself off as is; so what's the difference?

downtown
downtown

I love a diner where I can relax and enjoy a few cups of coffee before ordering. City Cafe has a consistently good and affordable breakfast, and has become one of my regular weekend morning spots. Worth the short drive from downtown, and Liz always treats me right!

Eastender
Eastender

Yes, breakfast is served all day, and the waitresses, especially the brunette pictured, treat you like gold. A while back Katherine asked for east end suggestions and this was one I offered up for breakfast. Dot Diner is good too, but this is a lot cheaper and the service is WAY better.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

Is breakfast served all day? My favorite place like this closer in is Bellaire Coffee Shop.

H_e_x
H_e_x

This place sounds like heaven. CFS and smoking? If that's not American, I don't want to know what is.

H_e_x
H_e_x

As if you would go there anyway. You just wrote this to be smug.

H_e_x
H_e_x

You must be a blast at parties.

Afterschool
Afterschool

LOL!! Corey you little crybaby, maybe you should move into Biosphere II.

H_e_x
H_e_x

I had no idea you are forced into establishments with smoking. What a travesty. If only there were other options open to you.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

I'm a former smoker and this is a moronic statement. Please don't drive through any parking garages or tunnels. I don't think your little lungs could handle it.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

The waitresses are absolutely wonderful. So glad you sent me this way.

Eastender
Eastender

I know a couple of the best taco busses too.

 
Loading...