Depending on where you live, you probably don’t give much thought to getting around Houston on public transportation. But, if you’ve been downtown in the Bayou City lately, you’ve probably noticed that it’s changing. And with the recent rail expansion, many of the areas neighboring downtown are changing too. Now that Houston’s rail line goes beyond Main Street, it’s becoming a more viable way to get around and explore our city. Taking the rail allows you to avoid traffic and the hassle of looking for and paying for parking. Chances are you might miss some of these fabulous hidden gems if you’re not exploring Houston on the rail.
If you’re looking for a superb sandwich shop near the rail, Bocca Deli is the place to go. Accessible via the extended red line on the north side of town, you might not happen to stumble upon this restaurant if you weren’t in the neighborhood or weren’t intentionally looking for it. The area surrounding Bocca isn’t fancy. It’s in the same shopping center as a liquor store, but this hidden sandwich joint is worth the trek. At Bocca, they serve an assortment of fresh salads and sandwiches. My favorite is the pesto turkey panino; the bread is soft, soaked in olive oil before it's pressed, and served with the tastiest basil pesto dipping sauce. Take Metro Rail Red Line to the Cavalcade stop and walk about half a mile.
A true hidden gem on the east side of town, this place has been serving burgers since 1963 and the menu has changed little since then. Housed in a shack that’s only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, it’s one of the best places to get a burger in Houston. Their patties are juicy and come with all the fixings, and despite being a popular lunch spot, this place turns around orders pretty quickly. Take Metro Rail Green Line to Coffee Plant/ 2nd Ward Stop.
An even older and more famous burger shack, Cream Burger opened in 1961 in a shack on the corner of Elgin and Scott and catty corner to U of H. Since there are only a handful of tables housed under a covered area, many of the patrons at the restaurant drive their car there, order their burgers and wait in their car until their order is ready. But the eatery is right across the street from the Elgin/Third Ward Stop on the Purple Line. When you first walk up you might wonder how this place has stayed in business all these years, but one bite into one of their burgers or a sip of one of their milkshakes and you’ll understand. Besides its 1961-style prices (nothing on their menu is over $5 and most items are under $4), the burgers are ridiculously good and made fresh when you order them. Take Metro Rail Purple Line to Elgin/Third Ward Stop.
Open since the 1950s, this quaint and cozy Tex-Mex restaurant is a little off the beaten path in the Warehouse District. While the walk from the rail station to the restaurant isn’t long, it can feel like a trek due to navigating some empty streets and walking near a busy freeway on the way, but it’s worth a little discomfort. Once there, you’ll find a small restaurant with a massive patio. The patio has a stage for live music, a gigantic sandbox and hula hoops. It’s the kind of place where you can enjoy a reasonably-priced margarita in leisure and dig into a Tex-Mex meal such as enchiladas or tacos and not feel like the waiter is trying to flip the table for the next customer. There’s live music most nights, and although it draws a very eclectic mix of people, it’s also very kid-friendly. Kids can jam out to the music or hula hoop in the sandbox and enjoy an affordable meal with fruit as a side. Take Metro Rail Red Line to UH Downtown Stop.
If you were a fan of Bocado’s Mexican restaurant in Montrose, chances are you’ll love Red Ox Bar and Grill. While Bocado’s is no longer open, its owners, Teresa Flores and Lily Hernandez, have another restaurant where you can enjoy their brand of fresh, authentic Mexican food. The menu isn’t huge, but you can pick from Mexican classics such as tacos, enchiladas or flautas. The inside of the restaurant is a bit small, but a patio is attached. An icehouse-style garage door wall separates the patio and the restaurant and on nice nights, they’ll open the wall up. Cozy, unpretentious and kid-friendly, with excellent, reasonably priced food, it's an ideal stop for families. While the chips and salsa aren’t complimentary, they are well worth ordering. Happy hour specials are available all night on Fridays and Wednesday is steak night. Take Metro Rail Red Line to Moody Park Stop.
One of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston, Teotihuacan, just so happens to have a location near the rail line. Before the rail expansion, we used to frequent the location on Airline. Now, it's more fun to take the red line to the quainter location on Irvington. Teo, as it is affectionately called, is known for its reliable and reasonably priced Tex-Mex food. Their complimentary chips and salsa always come with both red and green salsa and on Mondays, kids eat free. Take Metro Rail Red Line to Cavalcade.