Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend

When you somehow rope yourself into a meal with a friend you don't see too often, use this list.
Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

It’s finally happening—you have to meet up with that third-tier friend. You’ve been pushing off this meal for a while. After several text exchanges involving increasingly fake-sounding excuses, you can’t outfox them any longer. Legally, you don’t have to hang out with this person. But socially, you’re obligated. Maybe it’s a person from your gym who you knew tangentially in college. Maybe it’s someone who you had jury duty with who seemed really nice and now is maybe weirder in hindsight. Whoever it is, use this list of places for a lunch or dinner that won’t cost too much or take too long.


photo credit: Richard Casteel




$$$$Perfect For:Quick EatsBig GroupsKids
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The only thing intimate about Ragin’ Cajun, a counter-service restaurant in Greenway, is telling someone they got crawfish sauce on their shirt. However, because the walls are thick with bayou- and Mardi Gras-themed memorabilia, you may be too distracted to notice how messy your third-tier friend does or doesn’t eat. Share a dozen Gulf oysters, split a fried seafood po’boy, or just go to town on a personal bowl of chicken and sausage jambalaya. The long community-style tables will keep any conversation topic near family-friendly levels, and you will both be way too full afterwards to attempt any post-dinner activities. 

One of the best ways to avoid any uncomfortable check splitting equations with someone you barely know is to go the counter service route. At Stanton’s City Bites in the First Ward, not only can you pay for your own meal without feeling guilty for not offering to pay for theirs, but you can also get a truly excellent burger. Even better, you will be so busy stuffing a spicy chipotle burger into your face that you’ll be incapable of having any kind of intimate conversation. Fill those awkward silences by wiping the spicy mayo from the corners of your mouth or taking a big swig of iced tea. Just keep chewing and nodding. You are definitely paying attention, but, really, the burger is more important.

Green Seed Vegan, a soy-free and mostly raw vegan spot in the Third Ward, serves up a trifecta of third-tier friend energy while remaining delicious. First, Green Seed is a counter service restaurant. Second, even though it’s open for lunch and dinner, Green Seed closes at 8pm, so no late-night hang ups. Third, the spicy-sweet-tang of dishes—like the Big Tosh with maple jerk garbanzo tempeh or the sunflower walnut chorizo Rockin’ Tacos—will keep you talking about the food and not about awkward college memories or that time you both worked at insert-big-box-store-here. 

Located in Midtown, Thien Anh lends itself to a quick lunch with that one coworker who won’t stop pestering you to hang out. Share one of Thien Anh’s giant wok-sized bánh xèo crepes—essentially a turmeric and shrimp-stuffed olive branch—or split a few egg rolls. Get your own bánh mì, because sharing anything more substantial would result in signaling a progression in your friendship. Also, even though you order at the table, you pay at the counter, eliminating any possible who’s-paying-for-what miscommunication.

Nothing says, “I care about you as a person,” more than a plate of fried lasagna bites. Mandola’s Deli, an old school Italian restaurant in the East End, not only can provide you with steamy herb-crusted lasagna cubes, but also enough dishes slathered in red sauce to bring down a small horse. The Houston sports team memorabilia and family photos plastering the walls makes everyone feel like they’re a part of something special, even if it is just a reluctant small-talk-filled lunch date. Make sure to grab a few quarts of sauce or a dozen cannolis to-go, mostly because that will give you a solid excuse to skip dessert and leave.

When you need a little social lubricant to get the conversation going, Tia Maria’s has the margarita (or six) for you. This Tex-Mex spot in Spring Branch serves nuclear-grade margs, truly nostalgic plates of cheese enchiladas, and bowls of thick, gooey queso. For a classic budget-conscious scenario, hit up Tia’s for Happy Hour, which lasts until the dinner hour of 8pm on weekdays. Maybe show your sort of friend you care and suggest splitting a steaming plate of fajitas, you know, ‘cause regular friends do that. Breaking bread, or better yet tearing tortillas, together never felt so good, but that’s mostly the margaritas. 

If you’re meeting someone in EaDo for a slightly obligatory social interaction, go rogue by eschewing the throng of sports bars—an expected tactic—and suggest lunch or dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant Huynh. Beloved by locals, Huynh is reliable, fast, reasonably-priced, and pretty damn good. Plus slurping spicy bún bò huế noodles or fish sauce-laced vermicelli really does cut back on how much conversation one can reasonably have. 

Dinette, a casual Vietnamese restaurant in The Heights, can help Inject some fun into a third-tier meetup without having to go halfsies on a round of mini-golf. Who needs a potentially time-sucking activity when this place has cocktails served in ceramic elephants that you can comment on ad nauseum. Throw in a crispy Vietnamese pizza, a plate of pandan and coconut-fried okra, and a big bowl of lobster fried rice, and dinner starts to feel more like a party and less like a weird conversational stalemate. 

Let’s say you’ve been putting off dinner with someone for just a little too long, and you have to go the traditional table-service route. Giacomo’s Cibo E Vino, a neighborhood Italian restaurant in River Oaks, can both help you keep up appearances and also deliver delicious food as well as Italian wine. Discuss how nice it is that Giacomo’s highlights female winemakers on the list. Jointly analyze the difference between the handmade and dried semolina pasta dishes. Or request a table on the patio and admire whatever dogs happen to be hanging out there. Small talk crisis averted.

photo credit: Richard Casteel

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight Dinner

There are two locations of Irma’s, a casual Tex-Mex restaurant, and both are downtown. With any luck your friend will accidentally head to the other location before heading to the one on Chenevert St and cut down on the time you have to spend at dinner. The tiny dining room looks like the inside of a grandma’s living room, with shelves overflowing with dolls, floral dishware sets, and just about any other tchotchke you can imagine. Which means that you can spend most of dinner making small talk about the kitschy decor and the daily rotating specials instead of talking about “what’s new” in your personal life. Hopefully, the obligatory dinner gods will smile on you and put the subtly-sweet chicken mole on special, and make it a bit easier for you to nod politely while they talk.

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