The backgrounds of these institutions are as varied as the food served, from seafood and barbecue to classic diner and cafeteria fare, but they all have one thing in common, they have long established themselve as mainstays in the Houston area.
Some were established by immigrants looking for a better way of life and passed on through generations of family, while others have continued through various ownership changes. All are characterized by good customer service with food that keeps patrons coming back.
Christie's Seafood & Steaks
After emigrating to America from Turkey in the early 1900s, Theodore Christie began with a food and drink stand in Galveston, Texas, in 1917, where he made a splash with his fried fish sandwiches. He took up residence in Houston in 1934 and soon had three restaurants. There is one Christie's today which is still family-run. It carries on today what Theodore started with each serving of fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico or its "1917 Famous Fish Sandwich" on toasted po'boy bread.
James Coney Island
Prices have changed and family control of the business ended in 1990, but the "Coney Island" hot dog and bowl of chili first served by Greek immigrant brothers Tom and James Papadakis in downtown Houston remain. Now there are 20 Houston-area locations selling that original hot dog with mustard, original-recipe chili and onions in a steamed bun in addition to Chicago-style dogs and more.
Yale Street Grill
The diner is open for breakfast and lunch where it was housed in the Yale Pharmacy in 1923. Blue Bell ice cream is the base for its floats, sundaes and more.
Jerry Pizzitola's signature chicken is just one item on the menu that has kept crowds flocking to this pit-style barbecue joint for 70-plus years. You'll taste the East Texas hickory flavor on menu favorite pork ribs or the rough-textured sausage, before delving into desserts like banana pudding designed by "Mama" Pizzitola.
The Avalon Diner
What began as a 20-seat diner inside the Avalon Drug Store in 1938 expanded to four locations, serving up breakfast all day in addition to lunch, including the "1938 Original Hamburger." The River Oaks diner is one block away from the original location, moved there by longtime pharmacist Bill Morris, who purchased it from the Griner family in 1972. The diner and drug store were side by side until the pharmacist died in 2008 and the drug store closed.
Lankford's Grocery & Market
Six days a week, this restaurant serves up gourmet hamburgers and breakfast at 88 Dennis Street. Long established, it began as a food stall in 1938 and became a grocery and delicatessen before its current incarnation.
The cafeteria, established in 1941, has long been in the Mickelis family. Nick Mickelis came to the U.S. from Greece in 1948 and purchased it in 1952. Today, the cafeteria, which relocated to its current location in 1969, is run by Nick's son George and his family. Regulars who drop in for lunch and dinner are treated to fresh vegetables from the farmers market and rolls, cornbread and muffins baked fresh twice an hour. Top entrees include chicken fried chicken with mashed potatoes and turkey and dressing.
The cantina's two locations are owned and operated by third-generation Molina brothers Raul III, Roberto and Ricardo. The original, Old Monterrey Restaurant, was opened in 1941 by Raul Molina, who is considered a legend in Tex-Mex cuisine. Ricardo joined his father Raul Jr. as an inductee in the Texas Restaurant Association Hall of Honor in 2013 and enjoys being a part of the legacy.
“It’s great when people come in and say they used to know my grandparents and my dad,” said Ricardo, whose favorite part of the business is meeting and greeting customers.
The loyalty shown to the Molina's by employees and customers over decades is reciprocated in things like dishes being created by and named after employees, like Ricardo's favorite "William's Special." Created by a cook who was with the restaurant for more than 40 years, it is a masterpiece of carne asada, grilled onions and two cheese enchiladas topped with William's sauce and Chihuahua cheese.
Entrees are cooked to order and the nationally renown fried chicken is no exception at this barbecue spot begun in 1946 by Louis and Nell Skrehot. Fresh Gulf shrimp has been a fan favorite for more than six decades, joining barbecue ribs and tender brisket as standouts on the menu, which include items constructed from secret family recipes. After stints in the Army, "The Brothers" Louis Jr. and Wayne took over the family business which is continued by Wayne and his son David.