Forty years ago, a Mediterranean inspired eatery was born in Houston as Hungry’s sprang to life in 1975, a resident of the city far longer than some of Houston’s most loyal citizens. Even I, born and raised in the H-Town mud, fall short of the Hungry’s record by a good 17 years. A 40-year-old restaurant must have something going for it to have survived so long in our foodie town, right?
2536 Rice Blvd.
Three intrepid newcomers to the Hungry’s primary location on Rice Blvd. set out to see what's made the restaurant go the distance all these years. Yes, it’s true—neither me, my sister, nor my own father had ever been to eat at Hungry’s. In our defense, we live in Sugar Land, so it’s a long drive up 59.
Arriving in Rice Village, we almost missed Hungry's entirely. The restaurant is currently hidden in the shadow of a large construction site—construction which happens to be for Hungry’s itself. In their fourth decade, Hungry’s is expanding. Call it a mid-life crisis, but it’s also space well-needed: after parking, we walked into a diner packed full of customers, all meeting family and friends for their Friday lunches. We were able to snag a seat in the back for the three of us, where we began searching the menu.
Hungry’s has some of your classic Greek diner foods: hummus, gyros, couscous, all of the fare you expect to find in a restaurant with Mediterranean roots. The tzatziki sauce was exceptionally nice, still maintaining a strong taste of freshly cut cucumbers. But over all, the predictable Greek diner food was predictable in taste as well. What we found special was in the unexpected.
The unexpected was a lunch dish called Spicy Beef Tenderloin Tacos. Served in three little mini-tacos, the dish was perfect for us all to split. With a topping of crisp, shredded cabbage that had been tossed in a tangy ginger vinaigrette, and perfectly cooked beef tenderloin rubbed in habanero aioli, these little delights were an example of what Hungry’s can do so well. Blending the sharp acid of the ginger with the earthiness and spice of the habanero was a truly beautiful fusion.
Yet, for us, it didn’t answer the question of what made Hungry’s so special. Let’s face it, Houston is a dog-eat-dog town, and a restaurant that has a menu with good food doesn’t always cover it. We expect greatness, and just one mini-taco dish won’t cover it in this city.
The answer, it turns out, is this: Hungry’s is more than just a restaurant. Right on their website, under the About Us page, they mention their love of the Houston community, and how to better it. On the very same page, there is an electronic form to fill out, if you happen to need help hosting an event or rally for a local cause. Over their years of dining and catering, Hungry’s has been offering free services for smaller groups such as local churches and community centers.
It’s no surprise that it took them so long to get a bigger building on Rice (they certainly need the space), when they’ve been giving so much back. That is where the Hungry’s magic comes from, the sincerity of its employees and its purpose.
If you haven’t been to Hungry’s before, like some of us outer Loopers, then give it a shot, at either the Rice Village location or the Memorial location (this one at Dairy Ashford and Memorial, outside the Beltway). After 40 years it’s still a great place to drop in for a quick lunch and a warm bite. Between the lively dining room, the beef tacos, and the local charity work, no one will be going hungry at Hungry’s anytime soon.