A key factor for a restaurant's success is location, location, location, and Anita's is behind three of the biggest gay bars in Houston. You would think it's genius to put a restaurant hosting a gay celebrity's name smack dab right in the middle of the gayborhood. Well, I've got news for you, sister, it's not that simple. Look at Montrose Diner. A late-night diner right off of Montrose — that would seem like a no-brainer. It didn't last six months. Why? Because their food was shit, and so was the service and management. It takes a hell of lot more than a good location to have a successful restaurant.
When I walk into Anita's for the first time for an early dinner, I notice the theme is over the top. *NSYNC is playing over the sound system with a large screen hanging on the wall projecting the video. Gay! To each side of the screen are large, glittery, red, puckered lips. Gay! Hanging on the purple walls are pictures of Anita and caricature drawings of pop icons. Gay! I take a seat with my buddy in a large booth with glittered upholstery. Gay!
The menu is full of stock items like nachos, salads, chicken tenders, steaks, burgers and sandwiches. Sticking with the theme, some have clever names, like Carnie Wilson's Lo-Cal Cheese Fries, Bumpa Gump Shrimp and Drag Queen Chicken. The wait staff for the night seems to be mostly young tattooed guys.
My friend orders the petite filet, and I ask for the Drag Queen Chicken and fries, which also comes with a small dinner salad. We order a couple of beers and wait for our salads, which never come. When our entrees arrive, our waiter says, "Usually the salads come out first." He returns with our salads. My chicken breast comes on a huge plate, making it look puny, and it's swimming in a sea of steak fries. Two pieces of bacon are placed in an "x" over the chicken, and they cover the whole dish, including the barbecue sauce, onions and cheese. It's kind of lame. So what makes it a drag queen chicken? It definitely isn't flamboyant. My friend's petite filet suffers from the same fate as my chicken — it's a little piece of meat in a huge plate of fries.
I return to Anita's for lunch with a date. In the parking lot I am solicited for beer money by two well-dressed young men. Yep, we're in Montrose! Once inside Anita's, I find the atmosphere is a little different. Instead of a bunch of tattooed and pierced guys wearing T-shirts and jeans, the staff is wearing white oxfords with the sleeves cut off. The music is still being projected on the big screen surrounded by big lips, but it is at club-level volume. My lunch date immediately gets a headache, and we almost sit outside, but it's just too hot to do that. Sitting next to each other in the glitter booth, we almost have to yell to hear each other.
I try to talk her into ordering the To: Wong Foo Asian Salad, because it sounds funny, but she will have nothing to do with it. We start with the Nacho Mama's Nachos, a huge plate of fried tortilla chips smothered in the usual toppings. It quickly comes to our table. I scan the menu and settle on the foot-long all-beef hot dog. The menu claims it's a Montrose favorite. I order it the way Anita likes it, with onions, relish and mustard. Nice! Anita and I have something in common, because that's the way I like it too. My lunch date wants something light because the mountain of nachos went down pretty hard, so she orders the turkey club. Our waiter recommends the mac and cheese for a side, because it's "soooo good." I am already set on getting the Carnie Wilson cheese fries with my dog, so my date gets the mac and cheese with her sandwich.
Everything comes out perfect. The first thing we try is the mac, and the waiter was right: it's delicious. The hot dog is perfect — juicy, crisp, hot and just like I ordered it, with a huge plate of cheese fries. I am stoked. My date's sandwich is also good. There's plenty of everything on it, and it's too big to finish in one sitting. Lunch ends up being ten times better than my first visit. Maybe it's all in what you order?
As we leave, a big group of men next to our booth all turn there heads to look out the window. I look too and see they are checking out the two guys who solicited us on the way in. They're now standing on the street corner with their shirts off.
I am starting to notice a theme with this place besides the obvious drag queen one — this is my second time here, and still no sign of Anita, although I heard she makes appearances and sings.
On my next visit, I'm hoping to spot the drag queen herself. I go late on a Sunday night, when places like La Strada and Berryhill, in the same neighborhood, are all packed with people drinking and extending the club vibe from the night before. I sit at the bar and order one of Anita's specialty drinks. I start with the Fire Island Tea, which has Bacardi 151 rum in it. I suck that down and order an Anita Rita and some chips and salsa. The smoky chipotle salsa goes well with the perfectly mixed margarita. The ritas here are served in a jelly jar with a handle, and when the bartender sets another one down in front of me, I say "How white trash. What, is Anita from Oklahoma?" He says, "Yeah, actually she is." By the way, I was born in Oklahoma — we can smell our own. Maybe that explains the hot dog thing.
Actually, there is a white trash theme going on here. The menu features items you'd find in any greasy spoon diner. It's like Denny's, but gay. I chug another rita while I wait for Anita to show. No such luck. Well, maybe next time...