Houston's, we have a problem

Feb. 12, 2008, midnight | By Pia Nargundkar | 12 years, 5 months ago

Restaurant falls flat due to overpriced food and mediocre service

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.

Photo: 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.

Pia Nargundkar. Pia Nargundkar was Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2007-2008 school year. More »

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