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Feb. 12, 2008

Houston's, we have a problem

by Pia Nargundkar, Online Editor-in-Chief
Tucked underneath some offices in a strip mall and next to a maternity store, Houston's Restaurant on Rockville Pike looks like the perfect comfy Americana joint. Neatly trimmed hedges line the outside, creating a private outdoor waiting area. The "No cell phones" sign painted on the door protects against rude diners and the spacious restaurant is well decorated with numerous paintings and sconces lining the wall.

But first impressions are deceiving in this case. Once seated, the ambiance is spoiled, as the only lighting comes from dim and scarce spotlights overhead and candles surrounding the booths. The lighting coupled with the high walls surrounding the booths make it seem like the restaurant was trying too hard for a "cozy" environment.
Houston's Restaurant disappoints despite first impressions. Pia Nargundkar
Houston's Restaurant disappoints despite first impressions.


On the other hand, the atmosphere had its positive aspects. With carpeted floor, leather upholstery and strong, wooden furniture, Houston's has a bit of class. There is a roomy waiting area in the front, complete with long, elegant benches. The sugar packets are cutely placed in round, miniature model chafing dishes and ketchup is brought out in miniature cups. The waiters are all young and smartly dressed, and jazz music is piped throughout the restaurant.

Unfortunately, this taste of class causes prices to skyrocket. They are a bit steep for a teenager's everyday meal, and the food isn't worth a homecoming or prom dinner. The $21 wild salmon was succulent and delectable, but came in a small portion with only one side.

All the sandwiches are over $10, but taste no different than anything from McDonald's or Wendy's. Similarly, Houston's well-touted fries are small and thin, extremely salty and lacking in any exceptional taste. On the other hand, the grilled chicken salad is aesthetically pleasing as well as appetizing with fresh vegetables and juicy meat, but the $14 price tag might cause a few raised eyebrows.

If you're vegetarian, you might want to avoid Houston's altogether, for their only meatless main course choices are between a plain Caesar salad and soup (for $10) and quite literally, a plate full of vegetables ($13). Even if you do eat meat, you're not faced with much, unless you have a craving for filet mignon or roast prime rib. The dessert section has five choices, three of which are types of coffee. The starters and sides section offers, among few others, coleslaw and couscous, each for $4.

A large part of any restaurant experience is the service. Unfortunately, that doesn't help out Houston's. With the restaurant less than three-quarters full, an order for four took 25 minutes to come out. In addition, an order of soup was forgotten and never brought out. In contrast, drinks were well taken care of, with each waiter having a carafe to refill water glasses that were partially empty.

The whole experience was a bit disappointing, and the normal 15-20% tip didn't seem appropriate. But unfortunately, the tip wasn't as much of a tip as a mandate. The supposedly classy restaurant had tipping guidelines written on both the menu and the bill that showed the amount of gratuity expected.

Houston's Restaurant is located on 12256 Rockville Pike in Rockville (301-468-3535 for reservations) and 7715 Woodmont Ave. in Bethesda (301-656-9755). Open daily for lunch and dinner.



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  • Mike (View Email) on February 15, 2008 at 2:59 PM
    Houston's is not my favorite restaurant, but I have numerous problems with this article.
    1. Houston's is a good restaurant
    2. You make it sound like the prices are absurd and the food is terrible. Why would you expect a sandwich for under ten dollars from a nice restaurant? And really, tastes like McDonald's? Oh My God! 14 dollars for a salad at a fancy restaurant! What do you expect? And 21 dollars for salmon? I'd be worried about the quality of the salmon if it were any less.
    3. Stop complaining about the options. It's a steak and potatoes restaurant. No one would go there if that wasn't what they wanted. And seriously, who doesn't want filet mignon? Here's and idea. If you are a vegetarian, don't go to a fancy American restaurant.
    4. Why are you complaining that it took 25 minutes to get an order for four? Have you ever been to a nice restaurant? I know Houston's isn't super nice, but seriously, 25 minutes is a relatively short wait for a decent meal.
    5. Of course the price is steep for a teenager's budget. It's Houston's. What is your problem? Every nice American restaurant is outside of a teenager's budget. This is because nice restaurants don't target teenagers. Would you want your restaurant full of people like you who know nothing about food and won't tip because one bowl of soup was forgotten?

    Why would you even review Houston's considering that your knowledge of restaurants and food is so limited? Maybe you should write about one of the many good local restaurants that you guys always overlook, and maybe unlike the one about the new pirate tavern in Silver Spring, the author could actually mention the food or drinks, not just the waiters outfit.
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