Downtown Houston is set up to feed the multitudes of office workers during the day, but most of the inexpensive restaurants close in the evening and on the weekend. Finding decent affordable food, especially if you are staying at one of the hotels downtown and unfamiliar with the gleaming if often sparse landscape, can be a challenge.
Here are a list of the best ten affordable dining options for the evenings and weekends in downtown Houston, listed alphabetically. These are restaurants in downtown proper, within a ten-minute or so from all of the downtown hotels; if you want cheap eats, you are unlikely to want to pay for cab for either.
Now for something different…this Indian flavors and ingredients applied to the American favorite, pizza, and it usually works very well. The pizzas are truly different, as the crust is similar to a papadam, an Indian flatbread, and the toppings include saag paneer, tandoori chicken, cilantro-mint chutney along with the more familiar mozzarella and pepperoni. The result is a little lighter pizza, but still tasty. There are also burgers, Italian-American dishes like pastas and chicken parmesan plus stuffed naan rolls and gulab jamun for dessert. The setting is purely functional.
914 Main (at Walker), 713-654-4444
Mon-Thu 11AM to 10PM, Fri-Sat 11AM to 11PM
Located across the street from the parking garage for the Toyota Center, China Garden has seen many changes in the area since its start in the mid-1960s, without markedly changing much itself, aside from a long ago move. Its good-sized and comfortable dining room could be a fine museum piece representing a typical 20th century Chinese restaurant in the US. Though situated not too far from the original Chinatown, it is geared mostly toward a non-Chinese clientele. Knives and forks are set on the table, not chop sticks. China Garden serves the familiar Cantonese-inspired Chinese food that will be familiar with most Americans. It just prepares these popular dishes with a lighter and defter touch than the vast majority of restaurants that serve a similar menu. There should be something for anyone who likes this fairly standard type of Chinese fare. The extensive dinner menu consists of nearly 120 items plus appetizers and soups.
1602 Leeland (at Crawford) 77003, (713) 652-0745
Mon-Thu 11AM to 9:30PM, Fri 11AM to 10:30PM, Sat 5 to 10:30PM, Sun 5 to 9:30PM
El Big Bad
419 Travis (at Prairie), (713) 229-8181
Mon-Thu 11AM to 10:30PM, Fri 11AM to 11:30PM, Sat 11AM to 11:30PM, Sun 11AM to 10:30PM
Sometimes nothing quite satisfies the hunger pains as enjoyably as a greasy, all-American, New York-style pizza. And, Frank’s Pizza has been doing brisk business both at the restaurant and delivery throughout downtown for a number of years. In addition to the pies, which also include a by-the-slice option at the restaurant, there are burgers, sandwiches, lasagna and not-so-heart-healthy finger foods like wings and pepperoni pizza rolls. Adjacent to El Big Bad.
417 Travis St (at Prairie), (713) 225-5656
Sun-Wed 11AM to 10PM, Thu 11AM to 1AM, Fri-Sat 11AM to 3AM
The most recent entrant to the businesses around Market Square Park, this attractive fast-casual restaurant offers tacos and more, most with a juxtaposition of various ethnic flavors that are familiar to Houstonians. Among the taco choices are Chinese BBQ Berkshire Pork with corn salsa and black beans, beef short rib vindaloo with raita, lamb keema, and chicken fried oysters. There are also salads, sandwiches and nachos and quesadillas, most interpreted in a unique way. And most everything, however unusual the combination might sound, does work here.
801 Congress (between Milam and Travis), (713) 422-2882
Mon-Thu 11AM to 9PM; Fri-Sat 11AM to 11PM
With an emphasis on healthy and organic foods, this might be the antithesis of the greasy slice of pizza, but there are belly filling options as well at this small grocer-cum-restaurant. Sandwiches, burgers and wraps join salads among the offerings at the good-sized space right on Main Street. Not cheap, but not expensive, either; there is a cost for the noticeably fresh and organic. They also have the Cellar, a comfortable spot for enjoy beer or wine.
420 Main (at Prairie), (713) 225-0990
The Lake House
Attractively set in a modern structure in the heart of Discovery Green, this fast-casual restaurant offers burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, Tex-Mex tacos, and salads for surprisingly non-extortionist prices (it serves as the concession area for the park, after all). Run by Robert Del Grande’s restaurant group of RDG (and Café Annie) fame, the fare is better than might be expected. Beer and wine, too.
The Lake House
1600 McKinney (in Discovery Green), (713) 337-7320
Mon-Sat 10AM to 8PM, Sun 10AM to 7PM
Market Square Bar & Grill
This comfortable bar with a more-than-capable kitchen does brisk business during lunchtime with its excellent hamburgers and hot sandwiches, especially. But, nearly everything on the menu is worth ordering, even the healthier options. The charming brick-walled bar with a pressed-tin ceiling is also a very good choice for a pint or some other libation. Their back patio is probably the nicest in Houston.
Market Square Bar and Grill
311 Travis (between Preston and Congress), 713) 224-6133
Mon-Sat 11AM to 11PM
A smaller offshoot of the preternaturally popular Montrose institution, this offers a menu of familiar, mostly Greek dishes in a very civilized outdoor setting on Market Square Park; soups, salads, sandwiches and larger plates. Beer and wine is also available.
301 Milam (between Preston and Congress), (713) 224-4976
Mon-Fri 7AM to 9PM; Sat-Sun 8AM to 8PM
Phoenicia MKT Bar
A café attached to the Phoenicia Specialty Foods store in the base of a residential tower, this is a cool, unpretentious stop for a casual meal. The Middle Eastern accent is very noticeable on a brief menu that should be able to satisfy a wide range of tastes and includes hummus, queso (unusually, made with real cheese) served with pita chips, sliders, offbeat pizzas, fish and chips served with aioli, and a grilled pork chop with an agrodolce sauce. Nothing approached $20 here. They also sport a neat, fairly lengthy bar and an interesting choice of wines and beers. The latter has brews beyond the hop bombs and unbalanced beers that take up too many of the city’s taps these; a fine pilsner from Prague, Duvel, a rare bierre de garde, and a couple from the city’s best brewer, Karbach. Live music and DJ’s are a possibility in the evenings.
Phoenicia MKT Bar
1001 Austin (between Lamar and McKinney), (832) 360-2222
Mon-Wed 7AM to 10PM, Thu-Fri 7AM to 2AM, Sat 9AM to 2AM, Sun 9AM to 8PM