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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Houston
Food
Feel
Price
3.5
8.0
$15
Baked goods, Italian
Counter service

Hours
Sun–Thu 7:30am–10:00pm
Fri–Sat 7:30am–11:00pm

Features Date-friendly, outdoor dining, veg-friendly, Wi-Fi
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx

www.empirecafe.com

Montrose
1732 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX
(713) 528-5282
Empire Café
A much-loved neighborhood icon best for its cake and company

A fool and his money are easily separated, but when they are separated over and over again, one has to tip a hat to somebody. In this case, to Empire Café and its innocent snare of plentiful shaded outdoor seating, a cozy Old-World interior combined with hip and moody music, familiar and friendly service, and the self-perpetuating crowd of pretty and lively people. There’s a constant queue at the register, which is most frustrating if all you want is coffee (over-extracted and bitter, like a certain mermaid’s brew). And, like its genre-mate Brasil, Empire has finally caved and now offers free Wi-Fi.

But keep in mind that food here is an afterthought. You’d have to assemble a crack squad of Jersey mafia food consultants to come up with a more pedestrian Italian-American menu than this, from minestrone to eggplant parmigiana. Bland chicken breast inhabits every corner of the menu. Pastas come dissociated from their sauces. There are also some ill-fated vegetarian attempts, like a $10 main of nothing but grilled vegetables and potatoes, or a doomed Portobello-and-goat-cheese panino. Even breakfast is a buzzkill: “Italian French toast” is like eating candied bread, and scrambles are routinely overdone. Do have a huge piece of cake—especially coconut and lemon. On Mondays, they’re half price, and you shouldn’t have a hard time convincing someone to come share it.

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