Both establishments are notable for several reasons: they are long-lived, they are full of character (and characters) and they both still allow smoking inside.
Normally, I'm not a fan of establishments that allow smoking. Over the weekend in Lafayette, I complained after leaving The Green Room -- downtown Lafayette's smoky craft beer bar/Saints-watching headquarters -- that I smelled like an ashtray, having forgotten what it's like to spend a few hours in a hazy, cigarette-filled room. But the cigarette smoke at City Cafe has never bothered me.
For one, there's a separate smoking section that keeps the cigarettes firmly on one side of the house. And considering how easily smoke can drift over, it's surprisingly effective -- so don't let the smoking ordinance in the City of South Houston affect your decision to eat at the diner. You'd miss out on some very fine chicken-fried steak, and even better hash browns, malted waffles and grits.
And secondly, there's something about seeing men and women draped over the diner counter with a cigarette in one hand and a black coffee in the other that's charming in its own, nostalgia-saturated way. Just by virtue of allowing smoking inside, City Cafe has unintentionally set itself back in time -- even if only a few years.
It's this comforting sense of times gone by that permeates everything at City Cafe, from the scuffed diner stools to the quaint two-man booths, from the steam table lunch to the enormous portions at breakfast. It's also the very thing that keeps the regulars coming to City Cafe day after day, since 1952.
There's a lot to be said for that sense of comfort in a quickly changing world, even more so at a rough-edged place like City Cafe, where the head chef wears a toque that reads "Kitchen Bitch" across the front. Read more about City Cafe in this week's review, or simply make the drive down I-45 to experience the classic diner for yourself.
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