Burgers Off the Beaten Path: Shuttle Burgers and Space Age Memorabilia
Inside the shady dining room at Shuttle Burgers, inflatable space shuttles and cartoonishly fat airplanes twirl slowly at the end of fishing wire suspended from the mottled ceiling tiles. In one corner, a crackling television set's handwritten paper sign implores guests: "Don't change the channel! This is the only one that works!" A framed picture of the ill-fated astronauts from the 1986 Challenger mission hangs on one wall, faded by years of sunlight.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt The jalapeño-cheeseburger at Shuttle Burgers is a classic Texas burger, a crush of mustard and fresh vegetables.
"That picture used to make me cry," my friend noted with fond regard. "I used to look at it when I was a little kid and think how sad it was." I am barely old enough to remember the Challenge disaster, but I do remember the cutaway diagram of the space shuttle that's hanging on another wall; it was in my 5th grade classroom and I would stare at it intently during Mrs. Misamore's droning lessons.
Even the neighborhood that Shuttle Burgers is situated in here in south Houston is removed slightly from time: A splintering wooden sign in the grassy median by Shuttle Burger's crumbling strip center announces that you're now entering Skyscraper Shadows. You can barely see the skyline of downtown from here, let alone its shadows. But you can sense a time when this stretch of Almeda-Genoa held much more promise than it currently does, a sense that's reflected in the space program memorabilia coating nearly every surface at Shuttle Burgers.
Just south of Hobby Airport, Shuttle Burgers is still serving some of the city's best Texas-style roadside burgers and hand-cut fries, however, undeterred by the march of time outside. Never mind that nearby Braniff Street is named for an airline that no longer exists, or that the spinning Continental Airlines jetliner which dangles from Shuttle Burgers' ceiling was absorbed by United in an ugly blow to Houston's economy and identity in 2010.