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There's no missing the Prince's sauce in this picture.

Image: Alice Levitt

Shortly after I sat down to wait for my food at Prince's Hamburgers on Ella Boulevard, the Most Enthusiastic Woman in the World walked in. You've certainly met her or one of her doppelgangers—she's probably a friend of your mom's. She thinks every piece of manufactured nostalgia on the wall is "so, so cute!" The oldies on the stereo really take her back! And boy, is she ever excited to eat one of those hamburgers.

Maybe I'm getting old, but the truth is, she's mostly right. The Bennigan's-esque metal sign for Peoples Meat Packing Co.? Unexpectedly creepy fun. And where else can I expect to listen to my girls Leslie Gore and the Shangri Las in one sitting? But what of the burger?

That had me slightly less enthused. But I had no strong objections either, other than the fact that the beef tasted less than out-of-the-cow fresh. A colleague had warned me about the defining Prince's sauce. Yes, it's strange—somewhere between chow-chow and room-temperature marinara sauce—but I didn't object to how it soaked the roll, similar to the New York-style hard rolls with which I grew up. The tomatoes meant that the flavor was just enough like ketchup to suggest it, but still very much its own animal. The fries are hardly worth mentioning, clearly out of a freezer bag, though it's a good bag, fried just fine. 

The strawberry milkshake I ordered was precisely what I would have expected at my northeastern chain of choice, Friendly's, complete with metal cup filled with what didn't make it into the big plastic mug. The ice cream that served as the shake's center wasn't sufficiently melted to pass through my straw at first. After 15 or 20 minutes, though, I was most pleased, even if I wasn't quite the Most Enthusiastic Woman in the World.

Fast Firsts is an occasional series in which our New England-born food critic tries Texas-favorite fast food for the first time. Have suggestions? Let us know at gastronaut@houstoniamag.com.

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