MORE

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead

Fresh pasta awaits you at Paulie's.
Fresh pasta awaits you at Paulie's.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

In the last couple of weeks, we've explored fun and funky Texas wines to drink in lieu of old standbys like Cabernet and Chardonnay and we've showcased local beers that can be enlisted to help wean your friends off adjunct lagers made by giant corporations. And just like we all have loved ones that won't drink anything other than Cupcake wine or Miller Lite, we -- me especially included -- all have loved ones that won't roam outside their comfort zone when it comes to restaurants.

Maybe they just really love the Cheddar Bay biscuits at Red Lobster (I know I do) or they just don't want to take a chance on venturing into a restaurant and paying for a dinner they might not like. Maybe they're just stubborn. Either way, none of these are excuses for refusing to try something new.

Instead of dragging your friends and/or relatives kicking and screaming to an Ethiopian restaurant, however, try introducing something new gently and kindly. If they just adore Big Macs at McDonald's, for instance, encourage them to try the delicious, fast-food-style cheeseburgers at Liberty Kitchen.

With that idea in mind, here's our list of ten local alternatives to popular chain restaurants. It's a chance for your loved ones to try something new and support their community at the same time.

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Robert Z. Easley

If you like: Olive Garden Try: Paulie's

Paulie's makes Italian comfort food classics like lasagna, shrimp scampi and chicken parmesan in an equally comfortable setting. Except that -- unlike Olive Garden -- Paulie's pastas are made in house, just like nearly everything else the family-run restaurant serves (which includes inexpensive wine and absolutely terrific coffee and cookies). In fact, it may be even more approachable for someone who's dead-set on Olive Garden: The counter service is relaxed and casual, and the prices are right on point. Alternate choices: George's Pastaria, D'Amico's, Collina's

If you like: Pei Wei Try: Khun Kay

Like at Pei Wei, you order at the counter in this cozy Montrose restaurant owned by Thai expats Supatra Yooto and Kay Soodjai. And like Pei Wei's, much of Kay's food has been Americanized for a broader palate. (While this is one of the main reasons that some people don't care for Khun Kay, it's precisely the reason that others love it.) And just like Pei Wei, there's a broad selection of pan-Asian dishes to choose from, including everything from pad thai and "Thai tacos" to shrimp fried rice and cashew chicken. Alternative choices: Jenni's Noodle House

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead

If you like: Chili's Try: Barnaby's

There are several Barnaby's locations scattered throughout town, and all of them feature the kind of wacky decor and menu items -- gleefully giant salads, enormous burgers, grilled American standards like salmon and chicken and even baby back ribs -- that make Chili's so popular. There's also standard table service here, too, along with appetizers and desserts that put Chili's to shame: try the waffle fries with blue cheese fondue, bacon and green onions or the Chocolate Addiction Cake for dessert. Alternative choices: Baba Yega

 

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

If you like: Red Lobster Try: Goode Co. Seafood

All right, there aren't any Cheddar Bay Biscuits here. But both locations of this Houston seafood joint offer friendly service and a deceptively casual feel in their respective dining rooms (I prefer eating in the train car portion of the Goode Co. Seafood on Westpark). And you'll find an array of dishes to please the pickiest palate, from fried catfish po-boys to mesquite-grilled rainbow trout. Alternative choices: Bayou City Seafood, Floyd's Cajun Seafood House, Joyce's Seafood and Steaks

If you like: Boudreaux's Try: LA Bar

The same family that's successfully run Ragin' Cajun since 1974 recently opened a new, slightly more upscale version of the Louisiana classic right next door to the original Ragin' Cajun on Richmond. The Mandola family has taken the same Cajun favorites -- boudin, gumbo, grilled oysters and crawfish étouffée -- and added them to the menu at LA Bar along with additional entrées like barbecued blue crabs and seafood-topped pasta. It's approachable, fun and -- thankfully -- not too fancy.

Note: Although it has five locations across Houston, Boudreaux's is also locally owned and operated -- so don't go writing it off.

Alternative choices: Ragin' Cajun, BB's Cafe

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Troy Fields

If you like: CiCi's Try: That Pizza Place On Ella

On Wednesday and Sunday evenings, this neighborhood pizza joint in Oak Forest has an all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet that includes not just regular pizzas, but any specialty pizza you request. Like CiCi's, that buffet holds everything from slices of pepperoni to cinnamon-sugar-topped dessert pizza sticks. And like CiCi's, it has arcade games for the kids and lots of TVs for the adults. But unlike CiCi's, it also has an excellent craft beer selection and live music on the weekends. Alternative choices: Candelari's

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Jeff Balke

If you like: General Joe's Try: Kam's

You have no excuse for eating at the super-sad General Joe's in Montrose (where I personally had the worst Chinese food of my life) when Kam's is right across the street. First opened by Kam Cheung in 1988, the restaurant was sold to its head chef, Mr. Ho, five years later and has been run by his family ever since. Kam's does a brisk to-go business, but you can also sit down in the charming, elegant space and enjoy Americanized Chinese (as well as Vietnamese and Indonesian) classics from a wide menu, which even includes an excellent version of General Tso's chicken. Alternative choices: Heights Asian Cafe, Kim Son

 

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Troy Fields

If you like: TGI Friday's Try: Shepherd Park Draught House

Like TGI Friday's, Shepherd Park Draught House has a bunch of stuff scattered all over its walls. Unlike TGI Friday's, that stuff is actually cool, such as copies of the owner's personal handbill collection from the 1970s and 1980s. The menu at Shepherd Park Draught House is similar to TGI Friday's in the sense that there's a smattering of everything for picky people to choose from, whether it's Jamaican jerk chicken or Korean short rib tacos, roasted turkey melts or big, beefy burgers. The atmosphere is like a grown-up version of TGI Friday's, too, although you won't find any cocktails here; just good wine and beer. Alternative choices: Gordon Street Tavern

If you like: Maggie Rita's Try: El Tiempo

It's true: Several Ninfa's locations across the city are about to be transformed into Maggie Rita's. But we all know that Ninfa's went downhill after the Laurenzo family sold it years ago. So don't mourn Maggie Rita's taking over an already dying empire; go visit the original Laurenzo family at El Tiempo, where the Tex-Mex food (and margaritas) are as good as ever. Alternative choices: Spanish Village, La Mexicana, Lopez Mexican Restaurant, Molina's Cantina

Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
Photo by Jeff Balke

If you like: Bennigan's Try: McGonigel's Mucky Duck

With news that Bennigan's is opening back up in Houston, an alternative to the dire food there is needed once again. So head to McGonigel's Mucky Duck, which is right down the street from one of the now-closed Bennigan's locations. The Irish pub features Bennigan's-style food -- a combination of Irish and American pub grub -- such as beef Guinness pie and quesadilla rolls. It also features some of the best live music in town at night. Hell, McGonigel's is even more fun to say than Bennigan's. There's no real comparison. Alternative choices: Red Lion, The Bull & Bear Tavern



Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
Paulie's
miles
Khun Kay Thai Cafe

1209 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77019

713-524-9614

www.khunkaythaicafe.com

miles
Barnaby's
miles
Goode Co. Seafood

10211 Katy Freeway
Houston, TX 77024

713-464-7933

www.goodecompany.com

miles
That Pizza Place on Ella - Closed

3322 Ella Blvd.
Houston, TX 77018

713-686-3283

miles
Kam's

4500 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006

713-529-5057

www.kamscuisine.com

miles
McGonigel's Mucky Duck

2425 Norfolk
Houston, TX 77098

713-528-5999

www.mcgonigels.com

miles
Shepherd Park Draught House

3402 N. Shepherd Drive
Houston, TX 77018

832-767-1380

miles
George's Pastaria

1722 S. Dairy Ashford
Houston, TX 77077

281-558-1717

www.georgespastaria.com

miles
D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe

2802 White Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77007

713-868-3400

miles
Collina's Italian Café

3835 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77027

713-621-8844

www.collinas.com

miles
Jenni's Noodle House

3111 S. Shepherd
Houston, TX 77098

713-523-7600

www.noodlesrule.com

miles
Heights Asian Cafe

2201 Yale St.
Houston, TX 77008

713-880-9998

miles
Kim Son

10603 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072

281-598-1777

www.kimson.com

miles
Candelari's Pizzeria

25680 Highway 290
Cypress, TX 77429

281-395-6746

www.candelaris.com

miles
Ragin Cajun

16100 Kensington
Sugar Land, TX 77478

281-277-0704

www.ragin-cajun.com

miles
BB's Cafe

2710 Montrose
Houston, TX 77007

713-524-4499

www.bbscafe.com

miles
Bayou City Seafood n' Pasta
miles
Floyd's Cajun Seafood House

20760 Gulf Freeway
Webster, TX 77598

281-332-7474

www.floydsseafood.com

miles
Joyce's Seafood & Steaks

6415 San Felipe
Houston, TX 77057

713-975-9902

www.joycesseafood.com

miles
Red Lion Pub

2316 S. Shepherd
Houston, TX 77019

713-782-3030

www.redlionhouston.com

miles
The Bull & Bear Tavern
miles
Spanish Village
miles
La Mexicana
miles
Lopez Mexican Restaurant

11606 S. Wilcrest
Houston, TX 77099

281-495-2436

www.vivalopez.com

miles
Molina's Cantina

7901 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77063

713-782-0861

www.molinasrestaurants.com

miles
Baba Yega

2607 Grant
Houston, TX 77006

713-522-0042

www.babayega.com


Sponsor Content