I'm not gonna lie: Finding good eats around Intercontinental Airport (or, if you must, Bush Intercontinental Airport -- true Houstonians still say "the Summit," "Transco Tower" and "Intercontinental Airport") is tough. This isn't like eating around Hobby Airport, where you're smack in the middle of the city and interesting dining neighborhoods like South Houston abound.
No. Greenspoint and the surrounding areas near Intercontinental are mostly a wasteland of chain restaurants, mediocre hotels filled with exhausted business travelers and one of the city's saddest malls.
That said, it is still possible to eke out some good food in the area. This is Houston, after all. If you can't find at least 10 decent restaurants within 10-mile radius, you're not trying hard enough.
Even more promising is the fact that many of those good, decent restaurants serve some of the city's most iconic cuisines -- Tex-Mex, seafood, Vietnamese, Cajun and Southern -- so you can direct those sad-sack business travelers to experience a little of Houston while they're in the area. I know from experience: Room service gets real old after a few trips.
10. Waffle House
Go on ahead and hate. I don't care. Waffle House is a beacon of sanity after a long plane ride into an unfamiliar city. Cheese grits and syrup-drenched waffles from this diner chain are one of my favorite indulgences -- especially on the road, where the familiarity of the food can afford the same relaxation as a hot bath or a fluffy hotel robe.
Again, keep on hating. Sure, this is a chain restaurant. But it's a Houston chain, and a successful one at that. Successful because the Tex-Mex dishes are good and the service is friendly -- even if the food itself is overpriced. Your out-of-town guests won't care, though. Pappasito's gives the people what they want: strong margaritas, tender fajitas on fresh flour tortillas, crunchy chips and gooey queso.
Still not supporting Chick-Fil-A? Super Chicken has you covered. This homegrown restaurant (with only one location, up in Greenspoint) boasts a mostly chicken menu featuring the fowl in numerous applications: chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, chicken salads and chicken soup. Instead of waffle fries, Super Chicken has sweet potato waffle fries. Instead of carrot salad, broccoli salad. And thin-sliced roast beef that's roasted in house.
Banh Cuon Hoa is the first of two Vietnamese restaurants in the area that are so good, you'll forget about driving down to Chinatown. Like its sister restaurant on Beechnut, Banh Cuon Hoa specializes in bánh cuốn. These little "rolled cakes" look like softer, looser spring rolls and are wrapped in thick, chewy rice sheets. The snowy sheets can contain shrimp, pork, beef and/or vegetables -- depending on what you order -- and are best dipped in the sweetly tart nước chấm sauce that comes with them. Banh Cuon Hoa was recently renovated too, so it shouldn't startle non-Houstonians nearly as much now.
If you just can't stomach the idea of eating at a Pappasito's, this cute pink truck is where you can score some legit Mexican food. For a taco truck, the food at Super Tacos Lucy is actually presented quite nicely and there's even a shaded seating area (shhhhhh). Burritos are a favorite due to sheer size, but I prefer the more delicate pleasures of two hot, griddled corn tortillas filled with juicy fajita beef and topped with a scatter of raw white onions.
As with Banh Cuon Hoa, the idea at Pho Hu Tieu Nam Vang is to stick with the pho. (This is generally the rule at all Vietnamese restaurants, you've probably learned by now; order what's in the name.) But you'll also want to give the hủ tiếu Nam Vang a try -- yes, that's the name of a dish, too! Think of it as the Khmer version of pho. It's made with pork stock and originally only featured pork (along with garlic and other spices), until Cambodians took the noodle soup with them to Vietnam. There, the southern Vietnamese adapted the dish to include shrimp, squid and other Viet ingredients. The result is a hybrid soup that's named for Phnom Penh (Nam Vang means Phnom Penh in Vietnamese) but now has a distinctly Vietnamese flavor profile.
All that stuff I wrote up there about ra-ra-Houston? Forget that for one moment, because you're going to be all ra-ra-Maine and ra-ra-lobster after eating at Maine-ly Sandwiches. Houston doesn't really have lobster rolls, because we don't have lobster in abundance. (We do, however, have crawfish rolls.) We also have a dearth of people from Maine to show us how a proper lobster roll is made. Enter the Maine-owned Maine-ly Sandwiches, which offers a full and proper lobster roll...for $18. (Don't worry; you can get a half for $9.) There are other sandwiches on the menu too, but LOBSTER. Seriously.
3. Cajun Town Cafe
Don't judge this book by its cover. Cajun Town Cafe may look grim, but it's well-known for having some of the best Cajun (and Salvadoran) food in the city. Founded by former Pappadeaux employee Moises Marquez, a Salvadoran who worked his way up from busboy to head cook at the chain's location on the South Loop, this is the second location of Cajun Town and one of my favorite spots for gumbo and fried shrimp po-boys.
Captain Benny's owns its own fleet of shrimping vessels and other fishing boats, which is the best way to ensure the seafood a restaurant is receiving is fresh, local and un-messed-around-with. This also means the seafood is far cheaper than at a restaurant who deals with a middle man. The little boat-shaped Captain Benny's are a reliable source of beautiful Gulf oysters (in season) as well as any other Gulf seafood you can think of.
Guess what? You don't need to stand in line at the breakfast klub for excellent chicken and waffles. You can head to Resie's instead, where Resie herself uses her grandmothers' recipes for fried chicken and golden waffles to great acclaim. You can even get them all day long, but you'll want to explore the other sections of Resie's menu: baked mac 'n' cheese and fried okra don't pair well with waffles, but they're great on the Fat Mac Combo with four Southern-style chicken wings.
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