Where Houstonians learned to dine.
Houston, that bustling city on the Texas Gulf Coast, has recently been “discovered” by the national and international news media for its restaurant scene. Imaginative chefs and ambitious restaurateurs are iconic figures in the history of the nation’s fourth-largest city. These colorful characters walk alongside wildcatters, scientists, artists, and astronauts with the same swagger. Houston’s restaurant culture goes deep into the city’s history, and even though plenty of the legendary restaurants are gone, their legacy persists in Bayou City today.
Felix Mexican Restaurant
Felix sign from pg. 96-97 insert.
Mexican immigrant Felix Tijerina is considered the father of Tex-Mex cuisine in Houston. From 1937 onward, hungry Houstonians fell in love with his menu of Tex-Mex classics, but none will ever forget his chile con queso. Felix became a cultural leader outside of his restaurant, showing future business owners how valuable it is to give back to the community.
Left: Maxim’s menu signed by Van Cliburn. Camille Bermann- Maxim’s Collection, Hospitality Archives, Hilton College, University of Houston. Right: Maxim’s menu after the move to Lamar Street. Camille Bermann-Maxim’s Collection, Hospitality Archives, Hilton College, University of Houston.
As oil money came to Houston, so did swanky restaurants and bars. Maxim’s was by far the swankiest, from 1950 to the end of the century. Belgian pastry chef Camille Bermann named his venture after the Parisian Maxim de Paris, and taught provincial Houstonians about fine dining and (then exotic) French cuisine. Foie gras, anyone?
One’s A Meal
Mention One’s A Meal to any Houstonian over the age of 60, and you’ll doubtless see a smile on their face. Whether it was the anytime breakfast or multiple, all-hours locations, this classic diner grew into a beloved chain. At their height in 1958, One’s A Meal had eleven restaurants that served 15,000 grateful Houstonians a day.
Left: Part of Vargo’s grounds and lake. Courtesy of Tim Stanley Photography; copyright Tim Stanley. Right: A peacock in full display on the Vargo’s property. Courtesy of Tim Stanley Photography; copyright Tim Stanley.
A bonafide Houston institution, Vargo’s defined luxury, with understated confidence and stunning landscaped grounds on nine wooded acres in West Houston. Three generations of Houstonians attended special events there. At the height of its popularity, as many as four weddings a week were held at Vargo’s. Oh, and they had peacocks too!
Adapted from Paul and Christiane Galvani’s “Lost Restaurants of Houston,” which boasts these and dozens more stories of immigration, culture-clash, innovation, and old-fashioned hard work are told through the history Houston’s long-gone, but still-beloved restaurants.