I wasn't the only one who had the bright idea today to head over to Ella and Loop 610 for a car wash at Dr. Gleem. The palapa-covered parking lot was filled with vehicles and their owners enjoying the spring sunshine, but that's not where I chose to spend my lunch hour waiting—I pulled up a chair inside at its Facundo Cafe to enjoy one of my favorite Houston conveniences: a big, beautiful burger grilled up in front of me while I waited on an oil change and car wash.
3103 Ella Blvd.
Burgers aren't the only convenience Dr. Gleem offers inside its car wash—you can also get a hair cut, get your shoes shined, book a trip through a travel agency, and even get a freshly pulled cup of cappucino—but they're the reason I come here. As he is every day, chef Danny Harper was behind the short granite countertop that functions as both Facundo Cafe's diner counter and expo line, taking orders, answering the phone, greeting his usual customers, and prepping burgers (which are, by far, the most common lunchtime order).
Though the tiny space means that the burger patties aren't freshly ground, Facundo makes up for this with a secret weapon: fat, fluffy, freshly-baked buns from Sheila Partin's Sweet Sourdough. The yeasty buns, which taste like homemade Hawaiian rolls, go a long way towards making you forget the patties are frozen. So do Harper's toppings, such as Frank's Red Hot sauce and tangy crumbles of blue cheese on his Hot Wing burger or pineapple and a homemade honey-teriyaki sauce on his Mahalo burger.
In a tribute to its popularity, Harper's small kitchen—staffed by himself and a single line cook—turns out just as many dine-in orders as they do to-go orders. In other words, people aren't just eating at Facundo Cafe out of convenience; in the mornings, customers zip in and out to pick up Harper's breakfast tacos and lunchtime traffic is similarly steady. Soon, however, customers won't have to brave the busy carwash parking lot for their Facundo fix. A long-awaited full-service restaurant is almost ready, just down the street.
"We just got the final permits," Harper told me this afternoon. "We're demo-ing the building next door for parking." And when that's complete—along with a few other finishing touches—Harper says the restaurant at 3713 Alba Rd. should open by the middle of the summer. You may not be able to get a car wash or an oil change at the new spot, but Harper says it will offer a few conveniences of its own, including a private dining room and a wine cellar. The kitchen will be larger, as will the menu, though that doesn't mean Harper will abandon his old diner counter entirely.
"I'm going to try and split my time between both places," he said. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be."