Juan Montero is an international man of sandwiches. Adorning the walls of his newly opened sandwich shop are pictures of him eating sandwiches in just about every world city -- Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires and many others. And as it turns out, these gastronomic travels are the inspiration for Juan Mon's International Sandwiches (1901 Taft St.).
There's a lot to like about Juan Mon's. The whole enterprise is stamped with Montero's exuberant personality. The dining room feels like a living room with couches in the center and tables surrounding. Brightly colored walls are covered in family travel pictures and images of world cities. Reggae music inspires a relaxed Caribbean vibe. At night, neon palm trees add to the laid-back atmosphere.
But the most impressive part of the physical location is the building itself. Montero, coming from a real estate background, completely renovated an old Texaco gas station originally built in the 1930s. It's an impressive accomplishment -- I imagine just bulldozing the place and putting up a wood-and-stucco monstrosity would have been easier. Instead, the neighborhood retains a distinguished building that has been brought back to life. Even the covered driveway where cars used to gas up has been transformed into a drive-thru.
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The menu is simple, and really quite clever. A smorgasbord of fresh ingredients is mixed-and-matched into sandwiches that are named for corresponding world cities, 17 in all. Sandwiches are currently $5.50 and generously portioned. Meal deals include chips and a soft drink for $8, or fresh-squeezed orange juice and fruit for $9. Montero says he is currently debating adding beer and wine to the menu, but wants to ensure that Juan Mon's remains family- and neighborhood-friendly.
Montero freely admits that this is his first foray into the restaurant business, and he is still gaining experience. An initial idea to provide the sandwich components separately and have the customer assemble them has apparently been abandoned (the sandwiches I ordered came fully assembled). As far as I can tell, feedback from customers is encouraged and appreciated. So if you're in the midtown neighborhood and looking for a quick bite, stop by Juan Mon's and help make Houston an international city -- of sandwiches.