January 1, 2021

Tex Mex - The Greatest Combo Plate in Texas - El Ranchero in La Porte

Is it possible? I'm tempted to call this the greatest Tex Mex combo plate in Texas. But there are too many restaurants vying for that title. So, if I call it the 2nd greatest combo plate in Texas, I'm probably safe. But seriously, it was perfect. Big scoop of delicious guacamole. 

Perfectly realized Mexican rice (with just the right hint of cumin). Excellent frijoles refritos (made with manteca). A mild and perfectly seasoned chili gravy covering cheesy enchiladas. 

And, as you'll see from the photos, they make their own leche quemada, and it is chock full of pecans. 

Highly recommended. It's worth the road trip. You can have fun visiting all of the antique shops on Main Street and then having your terrific Tex Mex lunch.

Oldest Restaurants in Houston

Paul Galvani's (with his wife Christiane) researched and published the book Lost Restaurants of Houston in April 2018. Highly recommended.  Here follow links to articles on restaurants in Houston. And more!

Some of these still exist, or the families do, with Houston restaurant families into their 3rd or even 4th generation such as the Carabba's, Christies, Adairs, Vallones, Laurenzos, and more.

In composing this blog a while back before this latest update, I came across a very good FB posting from Katherine Leigh Ermis and Kevin Lacobie and its really good comment sections on this subject and I thought I would preserve it here.

Now, to start off this blogpost, here is Natalie Dressman's article:
Oldest Houston Restaurants

In addition, I know that the Houston Architects Forum has an ongoing discussion of older Houston restaurants.

Defunct Houston Restaurants - Houston Architecture Forum

Back in the day, the Felix Mexican Restaurant on Westheimer had a framed article on Houston dining and I wish I had a copy of that as it listed all of the popular restaurants, circa 1970's.

Another excellent source for information on Houston restaurants that may no longer exist are the Ann Criswell series of Houston Is Cooking and Houston Gourmet books, which show up from time to time in the resale shops in Houston.

Ann Criswell - Houston Is Cooking Books

Thanks, as always, to Gregory Buchold for pursuing and investigating this topic in greater detail. Check out the phenomenal job that Greg has done on Pinterest of documenting these with photos.

Greg has the Pie-Biting Frog website here:

Gregory Buchold - The Pie-Biting Frog

And...Here is a link to his Pinterest photos list of older Houston restaurants:

Greg's Photos Page of Older Houston Restaurants in Pinterest

Greg Buchold's List of Older Houston Restaurants

Thanks, also, go to Russell Weil who wrote the following excellent article for Buzzfeed:

Russell Weil - Restaurant Memories

Katherine Leigh Ermis got the ball rolling on Facebook:

Jay's Facebook Link

Coffee - Summer Drinks - The Greek Frappé Iced Coffee

Summer Drinks: Greek Frappe

The story that I heard while living in Greece was that, in 1957, Nestle's was marketing an instant chocolate milk drink to the Greek market and giving away free cocktail shakers. This gave one of their Greek executives an idea on how to penetrate the Greek market with Nestle's instant coffee: Ice, water, sugar and instant coffee, shaken not stirred. 1957, at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair in Greece, the representative of the Nestlé company in Greece, Yannis Dritsas, was present to display a new instant chocolate drink for children, which was ready by mixing it in a shaker with milk.

Dritsas’ assistant and subordinate, Dimitrios Vakondios, looking for a way to make instant coffee on his break, coffee he usually drank every day, found no hot water anywhere. He then decided, also using a shaker, to prepare it by mixing it with cold water.

By shaking coffee, sugar and water in this way, he obtained the first frappé coffee in history.

They had a hit. It's the national drink of Greece, some say. 
I've found two excellent substitutes, readily available at Fiesta and other fine grocery stores catering to the Latin American market, for the Greek Nescafe.
Look for Nestle's Dolca or Nestle's Clasico instant coffees. Dolca is preferred as it contains caramelized sugar and has a richer taste. 


If you want to be truly "authentic", Phoenicia carries the Greek Nescafe at both of their locations!

Here's the recipe (you can use a cocktail shaker, a milk frother or a blender....I prefer the blender):

2 tablespoons Nestle's Dolca (or to taste)
1 cup cold water
10 ice cubes
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

Shake or whip the until you get a thick foam. Pour into a glass and watch as the coffee slowly separates from the foam. The colors, man, the colors!

O gafes enai kalos! Oraio to frappe!

Food Geek Trivia: When Nestle' started marketing Nescafe in Latin America, they had a bit of a glitch at first as Nescafe sounds a lot like "no es cafe" (it isn't coffee). 

Heinrich Hall wrote in 2015: "There is also some frappé folklore. For example, some websites list colloquial terms for badly-made frappés, like “petimezi” (“grape molasses“), if it’s too sweet, “dynamitis” (“dynamite“) if it’s too strong, or “nerozoumi” (“water-brew“) if it’s too weak. Admittedly, I have never heard any of them used – but I have come across the occasional frappé variation, including additional ingredients such as ice cream, various alcoholic drinks or chocolate. To my mind, they spoil the simplicity. "

 Few can turn down a frothy frappé on a hot summer’s day. The iconic iced-coffee drink was accidentally invented in 1957 at the Thessaloniki International Fair, when Nestlé representative Giannis Dritsas found himself without hot water for his usual coffee break. Instead, he put the coffee with cold water and ice in a shaker. The rest, as they say, is history, with the frappé reigning supreme until the advent of the freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino. Enjoy this piece of Thessaloniki history at one of the city’s many cafes – the most per capita of any European city, it’s said. Top coffee spots include minimalist Ypsilon and the more traditional Loux, overlooking the Roman forum.”

Coffee Roasters in Houston

 (Not a complete list...there are many more):

Amaya Coffee (Catalina Coffee on Washington Avenue)

Azucar Loca (darker roasts) - Heights

Blendin Coffee Club - 8410 Highway 90A, Sugarland

Boomtown Coffee (19th Street in the Heights)

Cavo Coffee - 2617 Bissonnet

Fontana Coffee

Geva Coffee

Greenway Coffee

Java Pura Coffee - 5250 Gulfton

Katz Coffee

Little Dreamer Coffee

Lola Savannah Coffee

Luce Coffee - 3995 Richmond and new location on Ella Blvd at 34th

Pearland Coffee Roasters - 4106 Broadway, Pearland

Purefi Coffee - 27359 West Hardy Road, Spring

Red Light Coffee - 2728 Market, Galveston

Southside Espresso - 904 Westheimer

Tenfold Coffee - Heights

Vertere Coffee - 22289 Ford Road, Porter

Xela Coffee - 4409 Canal

Zelie Coffee - 937 Eldridge, Sugarland

Shawarma in Houston - Chicken Shawarma Recommendations

 The following places have been recommended by subscribers to the Facebook Group : Houston Heights Foodies. The query was "who has the best chicken shawarma in Houston?". Several people recommended Shawarma King. Others said it "was no longer good".

Abdallah's (Hillcroft)

Aladdin (Montrose)

Al's Quick Stop (Waugh)

Barbar Mediterranean Grill

Craft Pita

Droubi's (Hillcroft)

Gazelle Cafe

Halal Guys (several locations)

House of Kabob

Jerusalem Halal Meats (Hillcroft)

La Pasha Lounge & Grill

Le Fendee (Montrose)

M&M Grill (Almeda)

Phoenicia Deli (also known as Arpi's at the Westheimer location)

Raja Mediterranean

Shawarma King

Shish Kabob Cafe (Katy)

Sumer Grill

Tahini Plus ( Bellaire Blvd at Highway 6)

Zumani's (Spring)

Craftex - The Coolest Store in Houston

Tucked onto a side street in Bellaire, just off of Bellaire Boulevard near Hillcroft, is the amazing Craftex. I discovered the place through my friend, Greg Buchold. I had been admiring a Mardi Gras mask and wreath that he had put on his door and he told me about the place.

I went looking for Mardi Gras stuff but was blown away by the extensive collection of cookbooks and design books that they sell, all discounted from retail list prices.

But there was much much more.

Just when I think I've seen everything there is to see in Houston, something new pops up on my radar.

Link for Craftex

Kinokuniya Japanese Bookstore

The coolest bookstore in Houston. Full of great Japanese items you can't find elsewhere: notebooks and paper goods, Japanese toys, and extensive coobook section. One of my favorite places to just hang out in Houston. And while you're out there, you can pop into the beautiful Katy H-Mart Food Court for some excellent fried dumplings at Chef Han. Or, enjoy one of the other food court venues for lunch. Pictures follow:

Chef Han in the H-Mart Food Court (Katy Location):