The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town

tony-vallone.jpg
Photo courtesy Ciao Bello
Tony Vallone (right) in the Ciao Bello kitchen with chef Bobby Matos.
The Vallones
Many people know Tony Vallone for his eponymous Italian powerhouse, Tony's, as well as Ciao Bello and the new steakhouse, Vallone's. Fewer remember the Vallone Restaurant Group's Los Tonyos, Anthony's, La Griglia (still open, but no longer run by Vallone), Grotto and a previous incarnation of Vallone's.

Vallone started in the restaurant industry as a saucier, working his way through kitchens around Houston before finally opening his own restaurant, Tony's, in 1965. In 1972, Vallone moved his small Italian joint to a larger spot on Post Oak, and during the reconfiguration of the place the food switched from hearty Italian to fine dining.

In the '90s, Vallone opened Vallone's, a high-priced steakhouse, followed shortly thereafter by La Griglia and two Grottos locations. Eventually, Vallone's merged with Anthony's after the latter lost its lease. The hybrid concept never really took off, so the steakhouse closed in 2002. Los Tonyos was open for about a year before it was sold to the Serrano's Cafe Group (the same people who now own Ninfa's). And then, in 2004, Landry's bought La Griglia and both Grottos, leaving Vallone with only Tony's.

After some time spent making Tony's the best it could be, Vallone threw his hat into the ring again, opening Ciao Bello in 2009. The casual Italian restaurant wasn't an immediate hit, but it has grown into one of the best Italian eateries in town. Later there was the short-lived Caffe Bello, which never quite matched people's impressions of what a Tony Vallone restaurant should be.

Meanwhile, his son, Jeff, opened Amici in Sugar Land in 2007, but later closed that restaurant to focus on working with his father at Cafe Bello and Ciao Bello. He remains involved in Ciao Bello and Tony's.

In late 2013, Vallone opened Vallone's along with Scott Sulma, the general manager and partner, and Grant Gordon, the executive chef and another partner in the restaurant. It's not an exact replica of the original Vallone's, but it does attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere that made Vallone's enticing.

All of these families remain strong presences in Houston today, some of them after more than 100 years serving the community. And what's even more impressive is that these generations of cooks and restaurateurs have remained here in the Bayou City even after failures, losses and defeats, only to pick themselves up and start all over.

It's thanks to them that we have Tex-Mex, and crawfish and some of the best Italian cuisine in Texas. It's because of these culinary pioneers that we have such a diverse and lively food scene in a city that, for years, was recognized for little more than oil.

So next time you're in a Pappas restaurant or one of the Laurenzo family's places, take a minute to appreciate the history that led to this moment. And then, dig in.

[Editor's note: There are 264 McDonald's restaurants in the Houston area. This article originally stated that there are 25 McDonald's restaurants in Houston.]


Location Info

Churrascos

2055 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Americas Restaurant

2040 W. Gray St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Amazon Grill

5114 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Damian's Cucina Italiana

3011 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mandola's Deli

4105 Leeland, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappasito's

6445 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ciao Bello

5161 San Felipe St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tony's Restaurant

3755 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Burger

5815 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Vallone's

800 Gessner, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Yia Yia Mary's Greek Kitchen

4747 San Felipe, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen

2525 S. Loop W., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Molina's Cantina

4720 Washington Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Seafood

3001 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen

1212 Waugh Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Paulie's

1834 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Laurenzo's

4412 Washington, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Tiempo Cantina

3130 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Camerata at Paulie's

1834 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ninfa's

2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
25 comments
jberlat1
jberlat1

Never been a fan of Molina's. 

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Interesting that this article comes out roughly a few weeks after I had suggested it to someone...


Thankfully you didn't go nearly as deep into it as I plan to.

fidelio
fidelio

You overlook the Lebanese and Middle Eastern folks: Droubi brothers, Jamails, Dimassis etc...

james.brock
james.brock

Thanks to all the readers who have weighed in with their comments and stories about the rich histories of the many families whose hard work and efforts helped make Houston the fine food city it is today. Their legacies are rich and make for some great reading, and are sure to inspire the food families of the future.

In addition, a call to McDonald's tells us that there are 264 locations of the fast-food chain in the Houston area.

robokat
robokat

I think it's worth mentioning The Grocers Supply family aka.,The Levits and their son Benjy Levit...the owner of Benjy's.

tibare
tibare

I really, really miss PAPPAS GRILL that was on the feeder of 59 in Meadows Place.  They had the best food, salad bar and were very popular for their Sunday breakfast brunch !  I wish that they would open another one.



WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

I do miss the old Frankie B's on Kirby and their Chicken Parm.  Mandola's Deli does the best Italian Beef in Houston.  ( BTW ... I'm not related to anyone in the family )

SusanDS
SusanDS

I'll go back even further. Never mentioned  George Dentler's Pier 21. Started in 1938 and purchased by Ellis Dentler of Dentler Maid (Dentler Potato chips) as an investment because he loved to eat there, Passed away in 1948 which left my dad, George Dentler to start his career in one of the finest seafood restaurants in the city of Houston.It was located at the corner of Fannin and Braeswood across from the Oiler practice field. We had the first lobster tank in the city.It is nice to see a picture of Ninfa, she was such a fine lady and business woman. My brother Hank is also a St. Thomas Alum. Start researching back and you will be surprised of how much influence the restaurant industry in Houston not only had on the foods we enjoy today but how important they were to the social scene back in the day. Keep up the good work. Susan


SusanDS
SusanDS

I'll go back even further. Never mentioned  George Dentler's Pier 21. Started in 1938 and purchased by Ellis Dentler of Dentler Maid (Dentler Potato chips) as an investment because he loved to eat there, Passed away in 1948 which left my dad, George Dentler to start his career in one of the finest seafood restaurants in the city of Houston.It was located at the corner of Fannin and Braeswood across from the Oiler practice field. We had the first lobster tank in the city.It is nice to see a picture of Ninfa, she was such a fine lady and business woman. My brother Hank is also a St. Thomas Alum. Start researching back and you will be surprised of how much influence the restaurant industry in Houston not only had on the foods we enjoy today but how important they were to the social scene back in the day. Keep up the good work. Susan

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

*so close* to being your first good article but leaving out the Carrabas? C'mon!

And if you think there are only 25 McDonald's here, you are high. There are probably that many in lil ol' Corpus Christi but not here. I can think of 4 alone on Westheimer west of the Galleria going toward Hwy6. No way there are just 25.

Good try, though. Keep at it.

MissusCrabby
MissusCrabby

Not only did you not mention Vincent (Uncle Bubba) Mandola, but you did not mention the Carrabba's or Lampasas's whom are related and have fantastic resturants.

Erik Vidor
Erik Vidor

A little surprised the Goodes didn't make it as well.

Lanette Kowis
Lanette Kowis

Great article but the Carrabba's should have been mentioned along with the Mandolas. They are related as well and have a strong presence in the restaurant business in Houston.

Alex Botti
Alex Botti

How do you write that article and not mention the Goodes?

CR250
CR250

You did not mention Vincent Mandola and how he and Tony and their wives opened Nino's  in 1977???  Now we have Vincent's, Nino's, Grappino, Pronto...brother of Tony and Damian

Noteables to mention, Felix Tijerina - Felix Mexican Restaurant, Leo Reynosa and sons- Leo's

fangard
fangard

Big fan of all of the famiies and related to one of them. Your reference to McDonald's in Houston may be a typo though. There are over 250 McDonald's in the Houston area. great piece. Love the blog.

kellie_1221
kellie_1221

@SusanDS my name is kellie dentler. George was part of my family,, would love to talk more. you can email me at kellie_1221@yahoo.com i am looking for items from the potato chip factoy and/or pier 21. just pictures are fine... thank you.

james.brock
james.brock

@timblack2  

Thanks to all the readers who have weighed in with their comments and stories about the rich histories of the many families whose hard work and efforts helped make Houston the fine food city it is today. Their legacies are rich and make for some great reading, and are sure to inspire the food families of the future.

In addition, a call to McDonald's tells us that there are 264 locations of the fast-food chain in the Houston area.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

I polled a number of people in Houston's culinary world for their opinions, and the Goodes and Carrabbas never came up. I think both are worth a mention later on though. Thanks!

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

@KaitlinS @timblack2  Yes i saw it. Obviously a glitch/limit in their search results on their site,. Common sense would have told you there are obviously more and to perhaps look at a second source to confirm. 


Anything you put in only results in 25 locations.


Lookie here. Apparently only 25 in New York City, too.

http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/restaurant_locator/restaurant_locationsresults.html?country=us&method=search&language=en&primaryCity=new+york+city&postalCode=


Seriously though. Nice try.




KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@timblack2 @KaitlinS I see your point, and I'll amend the article to reflect that. But just so you know, your comments hold the same weight without all the condesension. Just a thought.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...