Local Spotlight

Parking Problems at Pampa Grill

Attention, Inner Loopers: You can lay claim to a host of issues that are all your own, but not parking problems. They exist all over town. Yes, even here at Pampa Grill -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- in far west Houston at a little strip center on Hammerly at Gessner.

"What should we do?" asked my mother from the front seat of the truck as we sat flummoxed in a completely full parking lot last Sunday afternoon. The parking lot was so full that many cars had resorted to what I call The Istanbul Method.

The Istanbul Method is not named for the city, but rather the tiny restaurant in Rice Village. At Istanbul Grill & Deli there are only a handful of parking spots out front. Over the years, the patrons have worked out a system of their own whereby they park behind each other, lined up like cars in a parade. Before you leave, you check to see if anyone is parked behind you.

"Silver Honda Civic! Can you move your car, please?" one of the waiters will bellow on your behalf, if you haven't already found the owner yourself. The owner will trot out, move his car, take your spot and then wait for the inevitable next car to park behind him. It's a neat if unusual solution to the tight parking situation in the Village, and it only serves to underscore the neighborhood cafe vibe that Istanbul typically imparts.

At Pampa Grill, the parking lot wasn't crowded just because Sundays are the busiest days for the family-run Argentinean restaurant. The laundromat next door was also overflowing with families getting their weekly washing done. Little kids darted out onto the blacktop, using it as a makeshift playground while cars -- clearly accustomed to the mad scrabble -- blithely drove around them and parked haphazardly where they could.

After only a couple of minutes, my father -- who was driving us that day -- had enough.

"We're going somewhere else," he muttered. But just as he was ready to give up, a spot opened up. It was like the sun peeking out from a week's worth of clouds. He quickly steered the car into it, and we were soon happily tucked into a table at Pampa Grill.

As expected, the place was comfortably crowded, a reflection of the busy parking lot outside. And that's the rub about packed parking lots: They are most certainly a pain in the ass, but the payoff is generally worth a few minutes of patience. After all, anything good is worth the wait -- and the meat-filled parrilladas and flaky empanadas at Pampa Grill could make even the worst parking lot seem tolerable.

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Katharine Shilcutt