What prompted my first visit to Phil & Derek's, standing quietly on the corner of Hamilton and Webster, was its $13 lunch buffet. I am a sucker for a buffet—even a bad buffet, because the appeal of unrestricted access trumps quality. 

Phil & Derek’s does not had a bad buffet. The components, while not as voluminous as others in Houston, are well-executed and thus warrant repeat trips, as well as the requisite announcement (especially if you’re dining alone) of “I guess I must be really hungry today,” to no one in particular.

Now, sit back and enjoy.

One explanation for the consistent quality is focus on a clear theme. In my experience the buffet that attempts to be a jack of all trades by offering a thousand different dishes from diverse ethnic cuisines usually ends up being a master of none (notable exceptions to this rule can be found in Las Vegas). Phil & Derek’s buffet specializes in soul and Southern food, the highlights of which are juicy fried swai filets with liberal sides of tartar sauce, peppery red beans and rice with sausage, and collard greens with some very intense porcine flavor. Warm fruit cobbler was also on hand for dessert, but I preferred a second helping of the sweet stewed yams, so tender they may as well have been mashed.

On a weekday around 1 p.m., the restaurant had just a few customers and the atmosphere was lacking in the energy I envisioned, having seen photos of large crowds on weekend nights and Saturday brunches. It was also too dimly lit for my liking, especially around the buffet area, because the buffet was so vibrant itself. 

Fortunately, the sunny disposition of my server Sarah (with an ‘h’, she said, "the only way to spell it") kept the mood light. She recommended I return for breakfast on the weekend (and to come before 10 a.m. to beat the masses), and to visit during the evening for a cocktail and to try some of their menu offerings, specifically the baked lobster ravioli.

It’s a deal, Sarah With An H, even if that tempting ravioli must be purchased one plate at a time.

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Phil & Derek's

$$ Soul Food, Southern 1701 Webster St.

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