Top 10 Restaurants in the Third Ward

Cleveland Turner, the Third Ward's famous Flower Man.
Cleveland Turner, the Third Ward's famous Flower Man.
Photo by Katya Horner

All of Houston's original six wards are rich with history, but none captivate me quite as much as the Third Ward. Once home to the city's wealthiest residents, the area just southeast of downtown has gone through a tremendous amount of change since it was first established in 1836.

The Third Ward has been called "the elite neighborhood of late 19th-century Houston," home to "a silk-stocking neighborhood of Victorian-era homes" that changed drastically with the construction of Union Station -- now Minute Maid Park -- in 1911. The area quickly became less residential and more urban, and the first "flight" of residents took place as the neighborhood became saturated with hotels and other businesses catering to travelers.

Another significant flight took place in the 1950s, when neighborhoods such as Riverside Terrace underwent forced integration. The formerly Jewish neighborhood off MacGregor Way -- constructed in the 1930s at a time when Jews were forbidden by an unwritten gentleman's agreement from building or living within the WASP-y enclave of River Oaks -- saw its wealthy residents depart as blacks moved in. A second wave saw those wealthy blacks leave as Highway 288 was carved through the neighborhood in the 1960s.

Today, the Third Ward possess a dynamic mix of old and new as the area slowly undergoes a slow gentrification process: beautiful brick homes abutting wonderfully divey restaurants like Chief Cajun Snack Shack, 80-year-old meat markets turned into vegan coffee shops, non-profit arts organizations such as Project Row Houses side-by-side with still-occupied row houses. The University of Houston and Texas Southern University both call the Third Ward home, and so do a diverse mix of restaurants to suit every taste.

Note: The Third Ward is defined as southeast of Highway 288/59, southwest of Interstate 45, west of Highway 5/Calhoun and north of Wheeler/Blodgett. However, for the purposes of this post, the southern boundaries have been extended to MacGregor Way and the western boundaries have been extended to Almeda for historic reasons.

A half-pound cheeseburger from Chief's Cajun Snack Shack.
A half-pound cheeseburger from Chief's Cajun Snack Shack.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

10. Chief's Cajun Snack Shack

Chief serves three main things at his burger shack on Southmore at Live Oak: burgers, barbecue and nachos. Although the three may seem incongruous, it's a combination that's remained a popular trio here for years. Everything comes in huge portions -- including the "small" nachos, topped with crumbled, finely-seasoned hamburger meat -- so come hungry, but be prepared to take your food to-go. There's no A/C in here and the smoke from the grill can get a little overwhelming, especially on a hot day.

Oxtails and sides at Alfreda's.
Oxtails and sides at Alfreda's.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt

9. Alfreda's Cafeteria

This cafeteria-style restaurant on Almeda is like a smaller version of This Is It, with all of the heart and soul intact in a comfortable, homey setting. Standouts on the steam table here are the oxtails, chicken and catfish, as well as the bacon fat-laden green beans and cabbage, all of which are served with a genuine smile. Portions are immense, so beware: You won't be walking out of here hungry, or with room for dessert. Luckily, Alfreda's packages its desserts (try the banana pudding) to go, so you can enjoy them later.

Grilled salmon burger at Concious Cafe.
Grilled salmon burger at Concious Cafe.
Photo by Troy Fields

8. Conscious Cafe

Perhaps the only Nation of Islam-run restaurant in town, Conscious Cafe is also the only place in town to get some bean pie, that cross between sweet potato and buttermilk pie which uses navy beans in place of sweet potatoes. Under Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad's dietary restrictions, sweet potatoes and most beans are verboten, but navy beans are kosher. Meat is also banned. Adhering to those guidelines, the cafe specializes in healthy pescatarian food like a grilled wild salmon burger and a savory eggplant hoagie. Owners Andrew Lewis, Shondra Muhammad and Nicole Hudson ensure that customer service is tops at this little neighborhood joint, which also serves as a community center of sorts for this Third Ward neighborhood; you'll feel right at home in no time, even if you don't know Farrakhan from Marrakesh.


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