Best of Houston

Houston's Best Cafeterias: Hearken Back to the Good Old Days

I haven't always been a food snob.

When I was little and my mom would teach night classes at the local university, my dad and I were left to our own devices for dinner. Because the man can do little more in a kitchen than boil water for pasta or make a cup of coffee, we often found ourselves at Luby's Cafeteria. I'd get macaroni and cheese and jello. He'd get the fried fish filet with tartar sauce. We'd always sit in the same seat, and the same servers would always greet us as we walked in and out of the bustling cafeteria.

Before I left home for college when I was 18, my dad and I shared one last meal at Luby's. It wasn't as good as I remembered, but there's a nostalgia attached to it--for me, at least--that makes the food that much better. Back in December, Katharine Shilcutt of Houstonia made a similar assertion about Luby's and the fact that most Houstonians remember dining at the chain at some point in their lives. And most Houstonians really liked it.

While I'm now much more inclined to seek out a hearty bowl of traditional pasta or pho when I want comfort food these days, there is something about the old fashioned cafeteria that I enjoy, that I miss, that I think others should give another chance.

Here's to the Houston cafeteria, in all its glory.

Though it's not a cafeteria in the traditional sense--traditional here meaning chicken fried steak, potatoes and mac and cheese--Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine is a cafeteria for a new generation of diners. Aladdin serves comfort food for a slightly more continental crowd, one who craves hummus and pita bread with a chicken shawarma sandwich. It's also BYOB, so if you've ever found yourself craving a bottle of wine to go with your plastic tray full of food, Aladdin is your spot.

Bell Street Cafe is also a non-traditional cafeteria in the sense that it doesn't cater to the general public (though anyone can eat there). It's located in the basement of the Exxon building downtown, which made it a popular lunch destination for Houston Press staffers when we were still in our old building at Pease and Milam. It's much more bright and almost sterile-looking than the average old school cafeteria, but the same cheap prices and slightly overcooked veggies are still there. Many dishes are made to order, and the food is surprisingly fresh for what you pay. Plus, you can rub elbows with Exxon bigwigs. Maybe. This story continues on the next page.

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Kaitlin Steinberg