Both slow-roasted in history and sneeze-guarded for your protection, Cleburne and Luby's have been dueling for the hearts and blood sugar monitors of the Houston cafeteria crowd for the last 60 years, through changes in ownership and that famous fire. Comparing stories and side dishes feels a lot like an octogenarian argument over who caught the bigger fish, but when you get down to the details there are a few distinctions.
Cleburne's claims all-natural, never frozen, often organic ingredients and offers chicken and dumplings, jumbo lump Crab Imperial and honey-lime chicken breast with rice and mango salsa.
For whatever reason, Luby's macaroni and cheese is still better -- we suppose some things just need to be fake. Cleburne's was a little less creamy and the cheese too floury, dulling the taste and leaving me unsatisfied. Mourning Cleburne's lack of fried okra, I substituted green beans hoping for a hint of bacon -- and was thwarted by the presumably organic yet bland dish.
With those two stipulations, Cleburne's has the edge on everything else. The sides are more diverse, the fish filet is light years fresher than Luby's, and the old-fashioned bottled soda selection is impressive. The dessert display at the end of the line seals the deal and makes Luby's cakes seem as though they were made in an Easy-Bake Oven.
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Unfortunately at Cleburne, my fish filet, three sides, dessert and Big Red cost me $18.75, demolishing the $20 I took out of the ATM just 10 minutes prior for this cash-only establishment. If it's early-bird prices you want and you're okay without all the bells and whistles, stick to the LuAnn platter.