“Look at your waiter’s face. He knows. It’s another reason to be polite to your waiter: he could save your life with a raised eyebrow or a sigh.”
― Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
One of the last Sears stores closed in a giant parking lot (that used to be a mall, a long time ago) a few blocks from my house. This creates a vacuum sitting on top of a vast sea of tarmac. The local chatter is full of re-zoning talk. The first step is to change the zoning to allow restaurants with drive-thru service (really? That isn’t allowed in Texas Suburbia?) and everyone on the neighborhood interwebs is excited about the proposed chain restaurants that will start to fill the area (truth be told, one of them is something I’ll enjoy having in easy bicycle range). At first I was a bit aggravated – who wants more chain restaurants? We need locally owned, original (ethnic) food, not more giant corporate chains.
But after thinking a bit, I withdraw my objection. There are plenty, and I mean plenty (and by plenty I mean more than you could eat at in a lifetime) locally owned, original (ethnic) food in my ‘hood. If you are not from here you think of Texas as a giant redneck bastion of right-wing evil. But Texas in general and my suburb in particular (especially my side [the poor side] of said inner-ring suburb) is surprisingly diverse. I boast, with only a little hyperbolic exaggeration, that I can eat the cuisine of any country you name within walking distance of my house.
There is a life cycle of a restaurant building. It may start out as a chain, staked upfront by distant investment bankers, built to careful specifications developed with focus groups and people with MBA’s that would never eat fast food in their real lives. These chains last… maybe a decade, then they either go broke or move to somewhere more shiny and modern. That’s when the locals, usually immigrants take over. The best eating in the country is in one of the constellation of family-owned eating places in the shells of ex-fast food establishments that now serving up noodle soup, or tacos, or chicken on spits, or baklava and shwarma, or mysterious lumps in delicious sauce from a wok fired red-hot over a vertical jet engine cooker… or something like that. You know what I mean. Every city is like this.
So, when I moved in there was a chain Pizza Buffet called Mr. Gatti’s down on the corner of Belt Line and Jupiter. Well, a few years ago it closed down. It actually moved to a really nice, new location (with beer!) a mile away – which went under after a year. A string of low-quality pizza places tried to make a go of it in the building. The first one, obviously under-funded, tried to save money by painting out all but the first letters on the sign and going by the moniker, Mr. G Pizza. It didn’t last very long.
Over the next couple of years the place went through several iterations, some only lasting weeks. Whenever I see a restaurant open and close that quickly, I wonder if some sort of an investment scam is going on. At any rate, I lost track of the place and never thought of it. I drove by that corner a lot, but the traffic is bad there and I tended to look at the other cars instead. Then one day, not too long ago, I went through there as a passenger and was able to spot a new sign at that location. It said:
Pho… Burgers… and Tacos! I have never heard of this combination before. There are a lot of burger joints in my neighborhood, gobs of tacos (one of the last Taco Bueno locations is right next door), and God only knows how many Pho-slinging establishments… but this one is All Three!
I had to go and try it out. Despite the threat of rain, I saddled up my bicycle and headed down. Unfortunately, although the location is not far from my house, it is difficult to access by bike – I had to do some sidewalk riding to get there.
And it was very good – better than I expected. Very clean and well-arranged. Very friendly and attentive service. I was glad to see there were a healthy smattering of customers – hopefully it will remain in business for more than a while. I know I’ll be back.
So, the big question is what did I order? This time, for some reason, I had the hamburger. It was freshly made and served with an excellent and unusual spicy sauce on the side.
Next time… Pho. And then Tacos.