$13 at Mama’s Café on Westheimer

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: Mama’s Cafe, 6019 Westheimer, 713-266-8514

What $13 gets you: A sort-of hangover – cotton-mouth thirsty, red-faced tired, a little nauseous and a lot irritable.

I’m a sucker for comfort food. And the fact that I’ve been to Mama’s Cafe three times in the last several months shows I’m also a sucker for places that falsely advertise comfort food. Mama’s Cafe – which boasts several San Antonio locations – is kinda like Denny’s, I think. It’s got the whole diner-theme going on, though it’s all so neatly packaged that it’s anything but.

$13 will buy you pretty much anything on the menu – except for the shrimp and steak entrees. There’s the chicken fried chicken salad ($7.99) and a long lineup of specialty burgers such as the Texas Twister, which includes cheddar, bacon, fried jalapeno strips and chipotle ranch ($7.99). There are also a few Tex-Mex specialties, including the just-awful-sounding Sancho Panza, a chopped sirloin steak stuffed with jalapenos and cheddar then topped with chili and queso. Just thinking about it makes my forehead sweat.

If you’re like me, you’ll go for oddball comfort food such as liver and onions ($7.49) or meatloaf ($8.49). The stuff mama used to make. Well, not my mama. But somebody’s mama, right?

Recommended? Hell, yes! No, I’m just kidding. This place really sucks.

And that’s really a shame. I want so badly to like Mama’s Cafe. I’m drawn in by the retro-y sign outside. I like the diner-y interior – the checkered tablecloths, the obscure beer cans that line the walls, the way you can hear burgers sizzling from just about any spot in the joint. It’s a popular joint, too. The place is huge, and it was pretty full each time I went. But the food is just so salty and heavy and blah. It may even present a public-safety issue. I once got the Texas Twister and nearly conked out at the wheel on the drive home.

On this most recent visit, I almost ordered the daily special, chicken and dumplings ($5.99), but decided at the last moment to give those liver and onions a try. The liver (overcooked) came with mashed potatoes (instant), brown gravy (flavorless) and some sort of gooey broccoli-cheese-rice casserole (ick).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always liked bad-diner food. But Mama’s Café is no diner. It’s just bad.

Bonus point: Free cinnamon mints on the way out. – Todd Spivak

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