There's No Place Like Home

Montrose Diner will have you know that a properly cooked burger takes a while, so why did it arrive before the "Montrose mix"? And why was it as dry as shoe leather?
Troy Fields

If you are dissatisfied with your server, feel free to tell her or him. If your food is not right, tell the cook. If you think we have poor management, let us know...Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the drama and theatrics of our entertaining staff. However, if you don't like our eclectic dcor, close your eyes, click your heels together and say, "There's no place like home!"

Montrose Diner greets you with this not-so-subtle note to "piss off" in bold print on the upper right-hand side of its menu. Coupled with this declaration, a tiny white board beside the host stand notifies us that burgers, when prepared correctly, take 15 to 20 minutes. These two statements are windows into the sad soul of the Montrose Diner experience. Put briefly, you will complain, and you will have to wait...a very long time.

When the sign for Montrose Diner went up, I couldn't help but dance a little jig inside my head. Montrose Diner -- open 24 hours. Finally, someone was doing it! A slop shop that never closes, slinging eggs and hash browns in the heart of the Montrose. "Why," I wondered, "hadn't someone thought of this before?"


Montrose Diner

1111 Westheimer, 713-520-8281

Open 24 hours.

Montrose mix: $7.95
Chili cheeseburger: $6.75
Chicken-fried steak: $7.95
T-bone with eggs: $9.95
Catfish: $8.95
Waffle: $5.25

After all, it's quite the no-brainer. When it comes to all-night eats, one rule applies: If you dish it out, the drunken droves will come. Once the bars empty, tanked patrons stumble merrily into the night in search of sustenance. Almost anything will do: the mystery meat served in a Jack in the Box taco, the ever-so-oily cheese enchiladas at Taco Cabana...Folks with slurred speech aren't the most finicky of eaters. And as anyone who's spent time in the after-hours bustle of Montrose can attest, there are plenty of boozed boobs there from which to extract a food buck.

Sadly, it's as though the owners of Montrose Diner know this all too well. In fact, they're banking on it. The bar they've set for themselves is so low, they're stubbing their toes. The service is shoddy, the food is abysmal, and the interior -- steel appointments from the previous tenant, Cabo, meets Montrose wacky -- is unimpressive.

Those with short attention spans need read no further. This is all one really needs to know about the joint. Those with a penchant for pain may continue reading for the sobering blow-by-blow.

During a lunchtime visit, the diner is empty. We start with a "Montrose mix," a basket of every fried app the Sysco rep could sell them: fried cheese, jalapeo poppers and buffalo wings, along with onion rings and fries.

We order starters and entres at the same time. I'm giving breakfast food a go: waffles and hash browns. My lady opts for cornmeal-coated catfish with two sides: green beans and mac 'n' cheese, naturally. Our friend, once a sous-chef under Monica Pope, decides he has 20 minutes to spare and orders a chili cheeseburger.

It arrives before the Montrose mix.

"Must not be cooked properly," I surmise.

After a few dry bites (he has the chili on the side), our fried crap basket is delivered. We're impressed that one of the sticks of fried cheese has no trace of cheese inside its crisp coating. We search it for holes and wonder how it could've slithered, Houdini-like, from its breaded straitjacket.

As Friend spoons chili onto his patty of shoe leather, the other entres arrive. We're still examining the hollow cheese stick when another culinary curiosity makes its way to our table of non-delights.

Beside the catfish and green beans sits a hunk of mac 'n' cheese cooked to such a lifeless and wilted mush that it completely, totally, literally and unquestionably looks like scrambled egg yolks. On top of that, it's cold. Fortunately, the catfish it accompanies is delicious -- incredibly crunchy without being dry. The green beans, straight out of the can, are tepid too, not to mention overseasoned and overdone. The Jolly Green Giant's fingernail clippings would be more appetizing.

I turn out to be the big winner. My waffle, drowning in syrup and butter, tastes great. I don't get off scot-free, however. My hash browns are overdone in spots, underdone in others. I mix the hard, dark brown edges with the greasy, half-raw center in an attempt to balance textures. Half a bottle of Heinz helps, but a search for more woefully cooked potatoes would be a tall order for even the most ardent of explorers.

We finish our meals and sit...and sit...and sit. Finally our bill arrives. We wait...and wait...and wait. We could've had three or four properly cooked hamburgers in the time we spend staring at one another blankly in the empty room.

Maybe lunch is a lark. Montrose Diner, one assumes, is built for the after-hours crowd. Perhaps it doesn't really gear up until the a.m. It's with this thought in mind that I pay a second visit. "Surely it's got to be better at night," I think to myself on the way.

But I'm wrong.

Not surprisingly, after hours finds the place brimming with inebriated Montrose half-crazies. Surprisingly, the menu is cut in half. From 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., it turns out, you can't order omelettes, pancakes, buttery waffles or that tasty fried catfish. This is because, our waiter informs us, the diner doesn't staff as many cooks during the night shift. Bloggers, feel free to insert your WTF here.

Harping on the late-night food would be an exercise in redundancy. You guessed it: The food an understaffed kitchen turns out to the packed restaurant isn't much better than the pig feed served at lunch.

The long waits are longer, and the waitress -- on top of taking extended leaves of absence -- has a Ph.D. in apology. She will use it when we're charged for food that never arrives. She'll use it even more when she informs us that it can't be taken off the bill because the card has already been run.

Cream gravy has the viscosity of salted milk. Chicken-fried steak looks like a shaved and breaded hamburger patty. Eggs are cold, and grits are so overdone, we have fond memories of the lunchtime mac 'n' cheese. The working man's breakfast (a T-bone with eggs) is cooked to a charred nothing by the bone and through the center, but bloody around the edges. Much like the hollow cheese stick, the steak leaves us wondering, "How'd they do that?"

Montrose Diner does get one thing right. With food and service like this, there truly is "no place like home!" , 1111 Westheimer, 713-520-8281. Open 24 hours.

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