Tunnel Explorer: Miller's Cafe
My last trip into the fabulous world below the world yielded little but confusion and disappointment. I'm beginning to believe that the tunnels are just one large, subterranean cavern of "meh." I descended again last week in search of something delicious to eat, and found Miller's Café. I wish I could say that I've finally found what I've been looking for, but all I found was a charming little kiosk, and a semi-competent burger.
Miller's Café has several outposts around town, and I've heard good things about the original Garden Oaks location. I've never visited any of them. If the tunnel location is any indication, though, I'm sure they're quaint little family-friendly joints with amiable service and passable food. That quaintness is actually a strong lure for the tunnel location, and what pulled me in to begin with.
It's hard not to feel like a worker drone when eating in the tunnels. The lighting, the low ceilings, the slightly claustrophobic sensation that the entire city is pushing down on you from above; they couple with the hurry-scurry of the lunch-hour to make for a decidedly depressing meal. Miller's Café goes a long way in ameliorating that feeling.
I actually walked past it, the first time. The wooden rails, colorful chalkboard menu, corrugated metal walls, and road-house knick-knack kitsch didn't register at first, being so at odds with the general pallor of the tunnels. When it did, I stopped and went back. It actually looks and feels like you're stepping out of the tunnels and into a family-run bar and grill. As I waited in the short line to order, I recognized the gal at the register from several of the family photos lining the walls. Nice to know they're not just ignoring the underworld location as a simple cut-and-run franchise.
For all the friendliness of service and unexpected charm of the location, I wish my double cheeseburger had been better. It had its ups and downs. The poppy seed bun was nicely toasted, offering a range of textures from the crusty griddled surface to the pillowy interior, the seeds popping pleasantly under my teeth. The vegetables were also nice, retaining crispness and vibrant flavor as if they had just been sliced. The tomatoes, in particular, were a nice surprise, being far juicier and more flavorful than expected.
Unfortunately, that can't make up for the woefully under-seasoned and overcooked patties, themselves. Aside from some decent crust on the outside, the meat had no redeeming qualities. It was cooked to a uniform gray, with nary a trace of color or juiciness, despite the request for medium rare. Two slices of American cheese helped lubricate it a bit, but it didn't have that satisfying ooze that makes a good burger worth eating. The fries were prefab and ignorable.
The trick here is to dine in. That feeling of transportation is enough to make me return to Miller's Café; perhaps other menu items fare better. If they could nail down a good burger, though, I would swiftly declare Miller's to be the best bet in the tunnels. Hear that, guys? Let's make it happen.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.