The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top Mom-and-Pop Restaurants

Categories: Best of Houston

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For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.

Family-run establishments have the heart and soul that you often miss from corporate chains. Mom-and-pop joints offer a chance to settle into a familiar seat with comfort and eat something prepared with love and care.

It's a rare accomplishment to run a business that reminds customers of their own homes, their own families and of the meals they've shared together. It takes gumption, hard work and a desire to make total strangers feel completely at ease. Of course, it also takes a good meal.

What follows is the Rest of the Best for Mom-and-Pop Restaurants in Houston.

Make yourself comfortable.

11. New York Bagel & Coffee Shop

An excellent place to go have a bagel and a kvetch. It's an authentic East Coast-style joint serving all the lox, bagels and cream cheese you could want, as well as sandwiches and standard diner breakfast fare. There's a bagel shop on one side and a coffee shop/diner on the other side. The bagels are fantastic, and the diner is dirt-cheap and very homey.

Lox and bagels is one of my favorite breakfasts, but throw some eggs and home fries in for a complete meal.

The place is small, cramped and crowded, but it's totally worth it.

10. Live Oak Grill

I'm from Sugar Land, so I've eaten at this place a number of times over the years. Family-owned and incredibly friendly, the restaurant is pure Texas comfort, with good burgers, plenty of things cooked over a hot grill and a decent chicken-fried steak. It's nothing fancy, just consistently tasty, offering simple favorites and ice-cold beer in a welcoming atmosphere.

It's also super-affordable, and any place with a giant Texas flag painted on its tin roof is worth a visit.

The place has sort of a funky-farmhouse style of motif, a place where Dalton, Patrick Swayze's bouncer-with-a-heart-of-gold character from the classic '80s film Road House, might just elbow up.

Live Oak's namesake is a 150-year-old oak tree providing shade for the outside eating area. It's also right around the corner from Constellation Field, home to the fledgling Sugar Land minor league team, The Skeeters.

Go grab a burger and catch a game out in The Suburban Bubble.

Get the onion rings, too. You won't regret it.

9. Cleburne's Cafeteria

I hate most holidays. Christmas sucks, Valentine's Day is a crock of shit and Easter is one rung below Dungeons and Dragons as far as fantasy stories go.

Thanksgiving, though? That's one of my favorites.

Cleburne's makes my list because it's a place where you can get a ridiculously good turkey dinner with all the fixins anytime you want in their cafeteria-style setting.

On top of the great turkey, you can get a chicken-fried steak about as big as your head, some fantastic, rib-sticking sides and some truly majestic desserts: massive slices of cake, eye-popping pies and enough custards and cobblers to rival Paula Deen.

Cleburne's has been family-owned and run by Greek immigrants since 1941, and they won't let you forget it -- there are multiple family portraits adorning the walls, ranging from black-and-white relatives of yore to current incarnations of the Mickelis family.

If you are in the market for a belt-busting, tryptophan-induced, post-meal coma-like state, then head over to Cleburne's.

8. Luigi's Pizzeria

Dude, have you had their pizza? And you know they have Bocce ball, right? They also have great gelato, friendly service and you can bring your own damn booze.

Sign me up.

I love Luigi's pie. And the family that runs the place is always amiable. They'll keep your beer inside the walk-in for you, ensuring it's cold enough to fight off those 90 degree summer nights.

Add some prosciutto to their Caprese pizza. It's my favorite in town.

7. Lopez

Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook just put out a list of her top 10 best Tex-Mex places in Houston, and Lopez was not on it. After reading the whole list and not seeing Lopez, I said to myself:

This list is bullshit.

Lopez has been family-run since 1978, and they consistently sling some of my favorite Tex-Mex around. The place can become a cluster after about 7 p.m. on the weekends, so you know it's good if you have to fight for a parking spot.

While not a small, quaint mom-and-pop place -- Lopez is monstrous and constantly full of people -- the really tasty food makes this very well-run machine of a restaurant deserve a spot on this list.

6. Pho One

Family-run, this Best of Houston® winner makes a mean bowl of pho. Pho is comfort in a bowl, good for cold days or just days when you have a cold. Their pho recipe has been kept in the family for generations and the restaurant remains a family affair -- the adorable little girl pictured eating noodles in Pho One ads is the owner's niece, he once told me.

The menu also features the ubiquitous pan-fried noodle dishes and spring rolls you find at other places, but the pho stands on its own.

Good food, friendly atmosphere and affordable prices make this little noodle shop a consistent winner.

Location Info

New York Bagel & Coffee Shop

9724 Hillcroft, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Live Oak Grill

12935 Dairy Ashford Road, Sugar Land, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cleburne Cafeteria

3606 Bissonnet, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Luigi's Pizzeria

3700 Almeda, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Lopez Mexican Restaurant

11606 S. Wilcrest, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pho One

11148 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


712 1/2 Fairview, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Seco's Latin Cuisine

2536 Nottingham, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Gatlin's BBQ

1221 W. 19th St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Sushi Miyagi Restaurant

10600 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mel's Country Cafe

24814 Stanolind Road, Tomball, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

How in the world did you miss China Garden?  This family restaurant has been serving top notch fare in downtown since 1968.


Would you stop mentioning Sushi Miyagi. A bowl of Miyagi's Chirashi is all mine and I'm not sharing :) 

Gary R Wise
Gary R Wise

I love Pho One. The chicken salad/slaw is also excellent. 

Dr. Ricky
Dr. Ricky

Family run places that you missed:

Fufu Cafe and RestaurantYummy KitchenMala SichuanCafe Luz Himalaya


So happy to see some Lopez love on a food blog.  This oft-ignored place has no need of publicity, but it's good to see it get the recognition it deserves.  Best Tex-Mex in the metro, IMO.

A Good Cup
A Good Cup

i knew allison's list was garbage when i saw el real on thereglad tex chick was on here.  thats as mom and pop as it gets.  dont know of a better place to get mofongo in the city

Ken D.
Ken D.

Myong Dung is another great mom and pop place, in that the only two people there working are a husband and wife.  


Agreed. Mel's food is great, but the place is pretty gross. If they'd clean up more often I'd be willing to make the drive instead of waiting for the once or twice a year I'm passing through Tomball.


Mel's is one of the filthiest restaurants I've ever been in. The food was good, but for the love of all things holy - don't look down.


Add Cafe Lili to the list too...always fresh and tasty!

Sam Brown
Sam Brown

I've been going there since I was a wee mite.  Always good.


There are a bunch of good Mom and Pops out here in "The Land" and surrounding areas..right down the street from Lopez is Hickory Barbecue which also rocks. Live Oak Grill is THE BOMB! Delicious chicken fried steak and pork chops.


If you are in Hempstead, go to Hempstead Fried Chicken.  It's run by a nice young couple, and if in Richmond, try Galvan's sausage house.

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