I don’t often find myself on the south side of our city, so many of its dining establishments are unknown to me. With my daughter who attends the University of Houston, I started exploring restaurants within a 15 minute drive of campus. One of those restaurants was La Cantina de Maria Rita off the Gulf Highway, which we recently reviewed here in the Houston Press. As a result of this review, a reader suggested we try another hidden gem in the Hobby Airport area: Hangar Kitchen.
Growing up north of Houston, my family and I have always encouraged visitors to fly to Bush Intercontinental to avoid the hour-long trip to Hobby. Inevitably, there was always someone doing a good deal with Hobby, which meant we had to brave the morning rush hour traffic on Interstate 45 to get them back. I myself have only left Hobby once, so this is not an airport that I have a lot of experience with.
This week, after returning my daughter to her dorm with a bunch of groceries, she and I were hungry and needed a quick, late lunch. I decided that we should heed the recommendation of the reader who suggested Hangar Kitchen. Google Maps said it was a 16 minute ride. It didn’t give her much time to do her 2.5 hour lesson, but we left anyway.
While the restaurant’s address is Telephone Road, Google Maps took us past the Telephone exit and took the ramp to Alvin instead, ending up on Reveille. Guess that was a route to avoid the many red lights on the phone. As we approached the restaurant, a plane from the southwest came so low it looked like it was going to land on us. Control towers on one side and numerous track centers on the other completed our landscape.
Hangar Kitchen is located in a nondescript business district so we left it out and had to turn around. Once inside, however, we found the business to be clean and welcoming with excellent air conditioning which was much appreciated. We were greeted by an employee who was busy stocking items. There is a fridge with beer and soft drinks (including Topo Chico for those who struggled to find this precious drink). My daughter had a Calypso lemonade and I was happy to see the amber version of Dos Equis, which I took for myself. There is also a handful of very well priced draft beers for a pint.
We looked at the menu on the wall. My daughter loves everything elote, so she absolutely wanted the Elote fries. She chose the Adult Chicken Tender meal ($ 10) and I went for the Straight Up Burger. Online I had seen the South Border Burger and originally planned it for my burger choice, but it was not on the wall menu. I probably could have asked about it, but I fell for it.
We ordered our food and paid at the counter, where the restaurant’s name is spelled oversized Scrabble floor tile. Our masked man at the counter appeared to be the owner Dimitri Papadopoulas. We chose a stand for two near the wall in the small dining room which has a few airport themed posters and memorabilia on the wall. The rear bar area has an actual door from an airplane (Spirit Airlines – maybe it fell) and the flap woodwork in the dining area would fit perfectly into a nautical themed restaurant. My daughter found it “cozy”.
Other guests at the restaurant included two young women in shirts from Texas Southern University, a larger family group, and a single man enjoying a burger and an Abita, perhaps after a night shift at the airport. Papadopoulos has come out and talked to the family and they seem to be regulars. We didn’t notice a lot of restaurants on our route so a good burger restaurant is probably a popular business in the community.
Our dishes arrived on time. The Elote fries ($ 5) made my daughter’s eyes sparkle. An orange-red sauce covered the fries and corn. It wasn’t spicy at all which was good for my daughter but I could have used some heat. It was garnished with finely grated cheese. The menu lists cilantro cotija and parmesan, but it was difficult to distinguish subtle differences. It’s like trying to explain the nuances of chili fries. It’s not good food, it’s just tasty food.
My burger was a brioche dome on top of a hand-shaped beef patty. I know he was trained by hand because he had a nagging way of not sticking together. Pieces of beef fell off the bread, to be put back in place by me. I finally gave up and just picked up the pieces of beef and put them in my mouth. It tasted the satisfying taste of a homemade burger with a little red onion, spring lettuce and sliced house pickles. The Bulldog sauce didn’t seem to be quite what others have described. For me, it was more of a sweet mayo flavor. Rightly named The Straight Up Burger, it was simply delicious. No egg, bacon, cheese needed. For $ 6 he does rounds around fast food burgers for just a few bucks more and he also beats many of the more expensive burgers on the 610 Loop. You know what I’m talking about; $ 18 burgers without fries. Go on.
Speaking of fries, I didn’t order one with my burger because my daughter’s chicken fillets came with fries so I had them while she was enjoying the elote version. They are hand cut and crispy. The menu mentions a bit of seasoning but I didn’t detect anything other than salt. The fries here stand up to the different toppings on offer, so customers can rest assured that the loaded versions don’t get too soggy. I noticed a special offer on the restaurant’s Facebook page called Chicken Drip Fries, made with breaded chicken and buttermilk sauce. It’s on my bucket list.
The chicken fillets were hand breaded, well fried and crispy. I tried to convince my daughter to order the Cardi B sando instead, but she didn’t agree. It’s a sandwich made with hot Nashville chicken fillets, topped with coleslaw and homemade pickles. For $ 8, it looks like a messy, yummy party in a bun. Speaking of buns, that would probably go straight to my guts, not my butt. More is a pity. Still, I order it next time.
My daughter’s dish also came with coleslaw. I’m a coleslaw freak, a trait I share with my six-year-old niece. Too often, coleslaw at restaurants is too sweet or has too much mayonnaise. And if it’s a good coleslaw, they serve it in a small ramekin intended for tartare or cocktail sauce. At the Hangar, it is served in a soup cup because it is a legitimate side dish. And my boy, it’s good. The mayonnaise had a slight pink tinge due to the bleeding from the purple cabbage and it did not have a cloying sugar taste. Thank you Hangar Kitchen for making the coleslaw well.
And it’s this commitment to quality at a great price that will keep us coming back. Most burgers on the menu are $ 6 to $ 9, with the exception of Snake River Farms Wagyu, which gets great reviews and deserves the $ 12 price tag for its half-pound Wagyu patty, caramelized onions. with cabernet and blue cheese. Although the restaurant serves casual dishes, the ingredients are of high quality and are carefully prepared. And there is no need to skimp. French fries are no more expensive than in a fast food restaurant and you have plenty of them. And did I mention the coleslaw serving?
My daughter and I played it safe this time with our controls. Maybe next time I’ll go for a more elaborate burger like the Williams Tower with pulled pork or the Notorious PIG which includes a bacon patty to top the beef patty. Or maybe I’ll have the courage to ask about the South Border Burger because I love Pico de gallo on a burger. The restaurant also offers a few nods to the Greek heritage of Papadopoulos with items such as the chicken stick pita and the Greek salad, which I would also like to try. And there are always new promotions with a Friday steak night.
We had enough leftovers for my daughter to take them back to her dorm for a snack. On leaving, I asked Papadopoulos about the pickles that were on the burger. They had a sweetness that I couldn’t locate. He said they were homemade and they used thyme and rosemary. I thought I tasted more of the sweetness of a pickling spice. Whatever is in it, I would definitely buy a jar to keep in my fridge. Clue, clue.
It’s the little details that make a meal enjoyable. And we will definitely be back to try more items, even though they are closed on Sundays which is when our family is usually together. We’ll just have to plan ahead for another trip.
As we walked back to UH my daughter said, “I can’t help but think about those elote fries.” And that’s what makes a good restaurant.