Houston's Best Cafeterias: Hearken Back to the Good Old Days

Photo courtesy Luby's
This is a little fancier than I remember it being...
I haven't always been a food snob.

When I was little and my mom would teach night classes at the local university, my dad and I were left to our own devices for dinner. Because the man can do little more in a kitchen than boil water for pasta or make a cup of coffee, we often found ourselves at Luby's Cafeteria. I'd get macaroni and cheese and jello. He'd get the fried fish filet with tartar sauce. We'd always sit in the same seat, and the same servers would always greet us as we walked in and out of the bustling cafeteria.

Before I left home for college when I was 18, my dad and I shared one last meal at Luby's. It wasn't as good as I remembered, but there's a nostalgia attached to it--for me, at least--that makes the food that much better. Back in December, Katharine Shilcutt of Houstonia made a similar assertion about Luby's and the fact that most Houstonians remember dining at the chain at some point in their lives. And most Houstonians really liked it.

While I'm now much more inclined to seek out a hearty bowl of traditional pasta or pho when I want comfort food these days, there is something about the old fashioned cafeteria that I enjoy, that I miss, that I think others should give another chance.

Here's to the Houston cafeteria, in all its glory.

Photo courtesy Aladdin
If you didn't have to go through the line, you wouldn't know it's cafeteria food.
Though it's not a cafeteria in the traditional sense--traditional here meaning chicken fried steak, potatoes and mac and cheese--Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine is a cafeteria for a new generation of diners. Aladdin serves comfort food for a slightly more continental crowd, one who craves hummus and pita bread with a chicken shawarma sandwich. It's also BYOB, so if you've ever found yourself craving a bottle of wine to go with your plastic tray full of food, Aladdin is your spot.

Bell Street Cafe is also a non-traditional cafeteria in the sense that it doesn't cater to the general public (though anyone can eat there). It's located in the basement of the Exxon building downtown, which made it a popular lunch destination for Houston Press staffers when we were still in our old building at Pease and Milam. It's much more bright and almost sterile-looking than the average old school cafeteria, but the same cheap prices and slightly overcooked veggies are still there. Many dishes are made to order, and the food is surprisingly fresh for what you pay. Plus, you can rub elbows with Exxon bigwigs. Maybe.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Cleburne Cafeteria

3606 Bissonnet, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine

912 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


7810 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX

Category: General

Fadi's Mediterranean Grill

12360 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mikki's Soul Food Cafe

10500 W. Bellfort, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


315 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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Luis Amora
Luis Amora

Not a very good article, save you some time and skip it.. Just places she enjoys eating.. I guess somebody is stretching what a cafeteria actually is.


Fadi's deserves a review in itself: it's a phenom that attracts all ages, all ethnic groups and races and all soico-economic groups. Has a great recent immigrant back story, and fairly new locations in Sugarland and West Houston.

Cleburne is very good, but has a more geriatric feel with some of the diners past the century mark. Also a terrific back story that begins in 40's Houston.


Cleburne is just not food.  It competes with Christi's for the worst meal I ever attempted in Houston.

Joseph Middleton
Joseph Middleton

Don't forget Dinner Bell Cafeteria on Lawndale at Wayside.

Amy Holloway
Amy Holloway

Make sure to check out Cleburne cafeteria. They have a beautiful art collection all painted by the cafeterias founder. It's like eating in an art gallery and the owner, George, is the sweetest man in the world! He treats everyone like family!


 In addition to boiling water for pasta or making a cup of coffee, I can also microwave stuff. . . 

johnnybench topcommenter

And the Avenue Grill. 

KaitlinS topcommenter

@yourdad Sorry, dad. Yes you can. You're very good at microwaving lasagne. 

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